What Leanne Morris saw when she held the fragile 97-year-old film up to the light shocked and intrigued her.
It was a bizarre scene. A man stood with a hangman’s noose wrapped around his neck, his tongue sticking out and eyes closed as four savage looking men speared his abdomen and raised empty bottles above their head in thick bushland.
“I was a bit shocked at the hanging, I didn’t know there were hangings in Maitland,” said Mrs Morris as she held the delicate film, one of 100 negatives kept in pristine condition in a kahki Kodak Negative Album since 1914.
The album, two small worn bound books and a plastic folder with typed A4 pages were picked up for $20 at a garage sale south of Brisbane by family friend, Grant Sattler.
The former Maitland local made the discovery amongst a plethora of household bric-a-brac and by coincidence when he opened the box he found a Maitland address written inside:
Mr S.R. Fairhall
46 Charles Street
He didn’t take a great interest in the negatives inside but knowing that Mrs Morris was a history buff he sent the delicate pieces back to Maitland.
Mrs Morris’ eyes may have been the first to gaze on the images since they were bought from Morpeth Antique Shop in December 1979 for $5, as revealed on the opening page of the album.
Whoever made the purchase transcribed the handwritten notes from one of the small books, typed them out and put them into a plastic folder – even noting their purchase 34 years ago.
The notes, assumedly made by the photographer – Stanley Raymond Fairhall, give numbered descriptions of each of the 100 photographs he took between 1914 and 1917.
“Views of Annual Procession at Orphanage of Campbells Hill taken Sunday at 4.00 O’clock pm 8th October 1916.
“Harry Fairhall taken at Charles Street W M Easter 1916.
“Ernie taken at side of house.
“Adeline taken in yard Charles Street 1915.”
Adeline was Mr Fairhall’s wife according to an online genaeology of the Fairhall family.
Mr Fairhall was born in Morpeth on April 13, 1891 and married Adeline Wakely in 1910. The couple settled in West Maitland, now known as Maitland, in 1913 with their children Cecil Stanley and Ernest Ivor Fairhall who regularly feature in the photograph collection.
The other photographs are snapshots of the family’s life in Maitland – their children, friends, there are portraits of women, children and families taken in the backyard or along the side of the Fairhall’s house.
Mr Fairhall shot funerals, fishing trips, boats, soldiers and firemen, days at the beach and hidden among them is the first image Mrs Morris pulled from the pack – the notorious hanging photograph.
What Mrs Morris thought was a photograph capturing the violent death of a man is more likely to have been a staged shot taken on a camping trip. In the next photograph the men are posing around a tent in the bush, one is holding a bottle of whiskey or rum, another reading a newspaper and a third with a tin of Arnott’s Biscuits under his arm.
Homicide or horseplay, whatever the images are Mrs Morris wants to return them to the family.
“I’ve never seen anything like it, I love digging into family history and I would love to see if any of the family are still here,” Mrs Morris said.
“I knew we had to contact the Mercury because the Mercury is Maitland.”
She said if there was no family left to claim the pictures she’d like to see them on display.
“I’d like to see who they belong to. I don’t want to see them thrown back in the box and forgotten?If I can’t find the family I would like to see them in a museum.”