30 July, 2017

Fred Kruger

From the earliest days of European settlement, artists recorded the environment in which they found themselves and often their sketches, paintings and later photographs included the creeks and river systems of the regions they visited or in which they lived. This was also true of the Barwon River catchment. In the earliest days of settlement, artists such as George Alexander Gilbert, Samuel Thomas Gill, Charles Norton, Louis Buvelot, Eugene von Guerard and a host of others, recorded their surroundings and in the process created some of the region's best known artworks.
By 1879, a noted landscape photographer by the name of Fred Kruger had established himself in Skene St, Newtown and was rapidly becoming known about Geelong. In November he was invited to photograph the opening of the new Corio Bay Rowing Club boat shed, located near the Yarra Street Pier (Geelong Advertiser, 29th November, 1879). The following month, he was commissioned to photograph both the exhibits and the building when the newly-erected Geelong Exhibition Building hosted an Industrial and Juvenile Exhibition, boasting some 30,000 exhibits.
Geelong Exhibition Building, Fred Kruger (1882), Image held by the
State Library of Victoria
Over the course of the next eight years, Kruger contributed greatly to the photographic record not only of Geelong, but the entire region, including the Barwon, Leigh and Moorabool Rivers. So who was Fred Kruger?
 Johan Friedrich Carl Kruger was born in Berlin, Germany on 18th April, 1831 to a working-class family and as a young man, went into business as an upholsterer. By April, 1863 when his wife Auguste Wilhelmine Elisabeth Bauman and their three year old son Hans arrived in Victoria on the ship Macassar, Kruger had already settled in Rutherglen where he was a partner in his brother's furniture business which had operated since 1854. Soon after their arrival, a daughter was born to the couple and Kruger became the sole owner of the business which he sold before moving to Taradale where he established himself as a cabinet maker.
The births of two sons were registered at Taradale in 1866 and 1867 but the family did not remain long in the area, instead moving to Melbourne where Fred established a photography business in Carlton, later moving to Prahran then Preston. He soon developed a reputation as a landscape photographer, winning awards both internationally and in Australia as well as receiving acclaim for his photos of indigenous Australians.
Auguste and Fred went on to have a further six children, all born in Melbourne however at least five of their nine Australian-born children died as infants in their first year of life. Then, some time during the late 1870s or early 1880s Kruger and his remaining family moved to Geelong where they lived in Skene St, Newtown.
During his time in Geelong he took numerous photos of local scenes, travelling also to surrounding towns including Queenscliff, Point Lonsdale, Ballarat, Werribee, Winchelsea, the Otways and many places in between.
The Leigh River, near Inverleigh, Fred Kruger, 1882. Image held by the State
Library of Victoria
In order to make a living, Kruger accepted commissioned work both from the government and local landowners who wanted a visual record of their estate. He is also known to have taken photos of the Barwon in flood as well as shipwrecks off the coast at Point Lonsdale, as images of such events were popular with the buying public.
Kruger's 1881 Photograph of the paper mill at Fyansford. Image held by the
National Gallery of Victoria
I suspect, but do not know, that Kruger's photo of the paper mill may have been taken not long after extensive flooding hit the region. Kruger's photo above shows the ana-branch which connects the Barwon (left) to the Moorabool (right) a short distance above the confluence of the two rivers. Between the river and below the ana-branch is the almost completely denuded Redgum Island. In my image below, the course of the now tree-lined ana-branch runs through the middle of the shot with the lines of the rivers just visible to either side as an indentation in the trees.
A similar view of the paper mill taken May, 2016. At the time, I had no idea
I was standing so close to the spot where Kruger stood some 135 years
ago to take his photograph
In addition to a number of photographs taken near Batesford and the now non-existent town of Viaduct on the lower reaches of the Moorabool, Kruger also visited both Lal Lal Falls and the nearby Moorabool Falls in 1882, perhaps on his way to Ballarat.
The Moorabool Falls on the Moorabool River near Lal Lal, as seen by Kruger
in 1882. Image held by the State Library of Victoria
Moorabool Falls, April, 2012
On the 15th February, 1888, after contracting peritonitis, Fred died at the home of his son in the Melbourne suburb of Surrey Hills. His wife Auguste lived a further 25 years, dying at Preston in 1913. Over the years, his photographs have remained popular and as recently as 2012, the National Gallery of Victoria who hold a large number of his photographs, hosted the "Fred Kruger: intimate landscapes" exhibition. An earlier exhibition was held in 1983. Many of his works can also be found in digital format across the Internet.


  1. Hi Jo - I rarely go to the NGV site looking for images but as a great fan of Fred Kruger I was delighted to find so many (145) high quality images including some that are not on the SLV site or a much lower quality on the SLV site.
    Thanks so much for this lead!

    1. Hi Susie,
      All the photos were found through Trove, I didn't look directly at the NGV, so I guess they are now contributing to Trove themselves.
      Glad the post was useful!

  2. Oh - I wasn't even think of Trove - as you said it looks like NGV are adding their collection to Trove. I just went to the NGV site, put in Fred Kruger - and there were 145 high quality images! There are SO many ways to find the same thing on the web! It's a bit like 'Trivago'!

  3. Jo, I love the accuracy, completeness and insight that characterises your writing. It is always a delight to find your latest blog on my iPad. And, I especially appreciate the research tips you share so readily. Thanks...