A side. Augustus Baker Peirce: my favorite American-Australian

27 Feb

While until now I haven’t been keeping up on Pacific Rim research that has appeared since my book came out, I’ve decided to go back online and check on some of my favorite characters and stories.  And lo and behold, there was a wonderful portrait of Augustus Baker Peirce, one of the book’s important figures, the picaresque hero of the gold rush era in Australia!  Peirce was an American who jumped ship in Melbourne in 1859, and stayed there, having wild adventures, until returning to Massachusetts in the early 1890s.  (The photo was found in the Holtermann Collection at the State Library of New South Wales, http://blog.sl.nsw.gov.au/holtermann/index.cfm/2010/1/22/guss-excellent-adventure). As I write in my book,  Peirce “worked at various times in his 30 years in the colony as a sign painter, a butcher, a snake-oil salesman, a theatrical set designer, a sailor, an actor, a singer, a river boat captain, a photographer and …panorama painter”(Images of the Pacific Rim, p. 37).  He wrote a marvelously exaggerated story of his exploits, Knocking About, published by Yale University Press in 1924, which served as an important source of information for me on popular imagery in the gold country.  He really looks a lot like I expected him to look!

The Holtermann Collection also includes a wonderful image of one of Peirce’s many ventures, a travelling tent show, photographed by the inimitable Merlin & Bayliss:

That must be Perice in the cape.  So satisfying to see all of these remarkable images appearing online.

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