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A Portrait of Colonial Childhood

A Portrait of Colonial Childhood

A series of photographs of the De Salis children showcases a colonial childhood

Three Young De Salis Family Children, Playing with a Cart in the Garden, Cuppacumbalong, Australian Capital Territory, c.1893, nla.cat-vn4664405

The seven children of George and Mary De Salis grew up in Cuppacumbalong and Lambrigg homesteads (both now on the southern outskirts of Canberra) in the 1880s and 1890s. Descendants of Leopold Fane De Salis, a Florentine count, and the offspring of a prominent local grazier and New South Wales politician, they began life with many of the advantages that money and power had to offer, at least until the family fell on hard times in the wake of a depression that almost ruined them in the 1890s. The children’s daily life at Cuppacumbalong was recorded in dozens of family photographs.

A Young Nina De Salis in the Garden, Cuppacumbalong, Australian Capital Territory, c.1893, nla.cat-vn4663230A Young Charlotte De Salis, Cuppacumbalong, Australian Capital Territory, c.1893, nla.cat-vn4664366

Nina, Charlotte, May and George De Salis Picking Fruit in the Garden, Cuppacumbalong, Australian Capital Territory, c.1892, nla.cat-vn4649458Emily, Rodolph, Charlotte and May De Salis Sitting on a Garden Bench, Cuppacumbalong, Australian Capital Territory, c.1890, nla.cat-vn4661057

De Salis Children in Fancy Dress, Cuppacumbalong, Australian Capital Territory, c.1900, nla.cat-vn36900, Australian News and Information Bureau

In an age before television and radio, children—country children in particular—had to make their own fun, and many households has a ‘dressing-up’ box for charades and amateur dramatics. The imaginative costume work here may have been make-believe, but the swords (and perhaps even the pistol) look real enough. 

Rodolph and George De Salis in Sailor Suits Sitting in the Garden, Cuppacumbalong, Australian Capital Territory, 1892, nla.cat-vn4650278Rodolph De Salis Riding a Tricycle in the Garden, Cuppacumbalong, Australian Capital Territory, c.1890, nla.cat-vn4660997

Nina, Charlotte and May De Salis Having a Tea Party at Lambrigg Homestead, Australian Capital Territory, c.1895, nla.cat-vn4649790

Charlotte De Salis Seated in the Garden, Cuppacumbalong, Australian Capital Territory, c.1893, nla.cat-vn4650010May De Salis with Dog in the Garden, Cuppacumbalong, Australian Capital Territory, c.1893, nla.cat-vn4649419

These images and captions appear in Spinning Tops and Gumdrops: A Portrait of Colonial Childhood by Edwin Barnard, released by NLA Publishing in March 2018. Barnard is an author, researcher and book designer, with a particular interest in history and archaeology.