Born on January 1, 1823 in Glen Cove, Long Island, New York, Townsend Duryea was the first-born son of Hewlett and Ann Bennett Duryea. Little is known about his childhood or formal education, but his first recorded job is as a mining engineer. Around 1840, the year after the invention of the daguerreotype, Mr. Duryea began studying the photographic arts. He opened a daguerreotype studio in the Brooklyn suburb of Williamsburg, and was joined a few years' later by his younger brother Sanford. In June 1852, he successfully applied for patent #9018, a daguerreotype plate-polishing machine.
Mr. Duryea sailed for Australia aboard the Canton in 1853-54, where he entered into a professional partnership with Archibald McDonald in Melbourne. The pair opened two studios before being joined by Sanford Duryea. The operations of the New York studio were entrusted to his two nephews Alva Adee and his brother G. Frank E. Pearsall, who he was caring for and taught himself. The partnership of Duryea & McDonald also opened daguerreotype studios in Geelong and later Tasmania. English-born photographer Charles Nettleton operated the Skylight Gallery in Geelong. Sometime after establishing an ambrotype portrait exhibition in Tasmania (1854-1855), the partnership was dissolved, and Townsend and Sanford teamed to form The Duryea Brothers studio in Adelaide, which introduced the provincial life of South Australia to the rest of the world. Initially, the studio produced only daguerreotypes, but later advertised its collodion plates as "new Processes on Glass and Paper."
In 1857, the brothers closed their company when Sanford moved to Perth to open his own studio. Mr. Duryea then entered into another partnership, this time with William Nixon, which lasted until 1863. Going solo for the first time in his professional career, Mr. Duryea opened his own Adelaide studio, which he ran successfully until 1875. His specialty was cartes de visite postcards for Australia's social aristocracy. During this period, he also offered technical instruction to budding photographers, which included Henry Jones and Robert Sheppard Stacy as well as his own four sons.
Around 1864, Mr. Duryea began experimenting with D.A. Woodward's patented solar camera to produce large sennotypes. This led to the creation of the famous 14-panel panoramic views of Adelaide comprised of 10 x 12" plates. When Alfred, the Duke of Edinburgh and the son of Queen Victoria toured Adelaide in 1867, he obviously liked what he saw because he soon named Mr. Duryea as his official photographer. Several more studios were opened throughout Australia, and Mr. Duryea became the recipient of several awards including a medal at the Paris Universal Exhibition in 1867. A devastating fire at his Adelaide studio destroyed 60,000 glass plate negatives in 1875.
At the age of 57, Mr. Duryea retired from the photography business, sold his studio to William Nixon, and relocated to Riverina in New South Wales to become a gentleman farmer. He enjoyed the agrarian lifestyle until he suffered a debilitating stroke. On December 13, 1888, he died from injuries he received from a buggy accident. Townsend Duryea established a standard of photographic excellence Down Under to which all contemporary Australian photographers aspire.
2011 The Adelaide Park Lands: A Social History (Adelaide, Australia: Wakefield Press), p. 175.
2008 Encyclopedia of Nineteenth-Century Photography, Vol. I (New York: Routledge/Taylor & Francis Group LLC), p. 457.
2012 Photo-Web (URL: http://photo-web.com.au/duryea/default.htm).
Copyright © 2002 - 2019 Historic Camera