Level 3 Mortlock Wing State Library of South Australia North Terrace Adelaide SA 5000
SLSA image Sweet

Rare Books Group

The diverse life of Samuel White Sweet - sea captain, surveyor and photographer

Elizabeth Dunlop and Jill Kerby

Considered the colony’s foremost documentary photographer of the time, Sweet also made many sea voyages in the waters around Australia.

Samuel White Sweet was born on 1 May, 1825 at Portsea, Hampshire, England. He joined the Royal Navy at the age of nineteen, and subsequently The Board of Trade, taking him to various parts of the world. In 1864 he migrated to Australia with his wife, Elizabeth (nēe Tilly) and four of their English born children. After failed ventures in Queensland, Sweet settled in Adelaide where he worked as a photographer.

In January, 1869 Sweet took command of the two-masted schooner Gulnare, which was later bought by the South Australian government for the Northern Territory survey expedition. He sailed from Adelaide to Darwin several times with mail and supplies, photographing the settlement and landscape between official duties. Acquainted with both George Goyder and Charles Todd, he had the opportunity to record many historic events.  His photograph of the planting of the first pole of the Overland Telegraph Line is the only one in existence of that occasion.

Taking part in the survey of the Roper River the Gulnare was grounded on a reef near the Vernon Islands and later condemned. Returning to Adelaide Sweet was master mariner in a line of colliers. Censured after the grounding of the Wallaroo on Office Beach, Wallaroo, he retired and opened a photographic studio in Adelaide travelling throughout South Australia concentrating on landscapes.

Considered the colony’s foremost documentary photographer of the time his photographs were exhibited in local and international exhibitions to much acclaim.

Samuel White Sweet died suddenly of sunstroke on 4 January 1886 at “Halldale” near Riverton. A memoir written by Elizabeth Sweet in 1907, Early Experiences in the Northern Territory – the Pilot of the Roper, is held by the State Library of South Australia together with Sweet’s photographic images in the RGSSA and SLSA photographic collections.

Elizabeth Dunlop and Jill Kerby will present a glimpse into the life of the man and his legacy.

Image from SLSA collection North Adelaide B3334

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Date and Time

25 July 2024
10:00 am

Jervois Room, State Library of South Australia

Members: $Gold coin
Non members: $5