Any references to Australian landscape photography at the turn of last century must include John William Lindt and Nicholas John Caire.
While both pursued different photographic trajectories, they were equally charmed by the area north of Healesville including Fernshaw, Black Spur, Narbethong and Marysville.
And between them, they did much to popularise these magnificent forests to Melbourne day-trippers.
Lindt was born in Germany in 1845 and ran away to sea on a Danish ship at age 17. He jumped ship in Brisbane and after working at various jobs, bought a photographic studio at Grafton NSW in 1868.
He moved to Melbourne in 1876 and set up business at the posh end of Spring Street directly opposite the Treasury buildings.
But Victoria’s economic depression in the early 1890s forced him to close his city studios, and in 1895 he quit Melbourne altogether and moved to Narbethong on the Blacks Spur where he purchased about 80 acres and built The Hermitage.
The Hermitage was a picturesque complex of six separate timber buildings, set in landscaped gardens on a steeply sloping site of mountain ash forests. The garden was designed by Ferdinand Von Mueller, a friend of Lindt’s.
For the next fifteen years Lindt improved the property, and it grew to accommodate about 30 well-heeled guests. The buildings included the main house, studio, smoker’s cottage and guest house.
In the 10 years between 1882 and 1892 Lindt sold over 25,000 prints of the Black Spur, including a massive tree he named Uncle Sam, which measured 40 feet girth and 250 feet tall.
The tree was about 2 miles north of Fernshaw on a bend on the old road. This road, R24, is now within the closed catchment and not available to public access.
A new road was built from Fernshaw over Dom Dom saddle in about 1930, which then became probably one of Victoria’s most iconic and scenic forest drives.
In 1904, Lindt and Caire wrote the “Companion Guide to Healesville, Black’s Spur Narbethong and Marysville”. The guide advised of walks to be enjoyed, the trains that would get you there, and the scenery to be relished and photographed.
The road in the main follows the eastern slope of the valley of Myrtle Creek, and about two miles from Fernshaw takes a sharp turn round the head of one of its feeders. In the angle of this elbow stands a great gum tree known as “Uncle Sam.” This spot has been rendered historical by the fact that Her Royal Highness the Princess of Wales (then Duchess of York) and party camped here for luncheon during her visit to this locality in 1901.
But in January 1908 Caire reported that Uncle Sam had been uprooted in a storm.
Lindt died dramatically of a heart attack at the age of 81 during the February 1926 bushfires. The nearby ranges had been smouldering for days before bursting towards The Hermitage which was suddenly surrounded by burning forests. A sudden cloudburst quenched the flames, and John William Lindt was dead.