Robert Hunt: chemist, photographer and deputy mint master
His job was to direct melting and refining operations at the Mint and to provide expert advice to the Deputy Master on the separation of gold from various ores. He was one of a new breed of formally qualified practical scientists, among the first students of the Government School of Mines and Science Applied to the Arts, established in London in 1851.
He was one of a new breed of formally qualified practical scientists ...
Robert Hunt's family background was notable. His grandfather John was an influential, reformist. printer and publisher. The radical liberal stance of his newspaper The Examiner, edited by John's brother Leigh, led to a series of court appearances for the brothers and ultimately two years imprisonment on a charge of seditious libel. Leigh managed to turn his prison rooms into a kind of political and literary salon, visited by such personalities as philosopher Jeremy Bentham and poet Lord Byron. Robert Hunt's father, Henry, was also a journalist and publisher before selling the family newspaper to philanthropist Robert Fellowes and retiring to France, where Robert received his early education.
Jevons and Hunt made photographic excursions around Sydney Harbour in Hunt's skiff 'The Terror' ...
Once in Sydney, Hunt became interested in the new art of wet-plate photography, an interest he shared with Mint assayer William Stanley Jevons and with Professor John Smith, professor of chemistry at the University of Sydney. They exhibited their photographs together at conversaziones of the Philosophical Society of New South Wales and Jevons and Hunt made photographic excursions around Sydney Harbour in Hunt's skiff The Terror. More poignantly, Hunt used his camera to capture a fragment of the Dunbar, the ship wrecked near South Head one terrible night in August 1857, with the loss of 121 lives, including those of his sisters Sarah and Emily. In a letter to his family in England Jevons described how Hunt had stayed away from work at the Mint for more than a week after the tragedy, 'searching all the time for some relic or trace of his sisters'.
In 1860 Hunt married Mary Paul of St Leonards. They lived at Kirribilli Point in a gothic villa, Sunnyside, until Hunt was transferred in 1870 to the new Melbourne Branch Mint as Superintendent of the Bullion Office. He was acting Deputy Master in Melbourne from 1876 until late 1877 when he returned to New South Wales to take up the position of Deputy Master in Sydney. He arrived back in good time to get involved with preparations for the Sydney International Exhibition, which opened in the Garden Palace in 1879.
When the exhibition closed in 1880, Hunt, as a Trustee of the Australian Museum, was appointed to a committee to establish a Technological, Industrial and Sanitary Museum for Sydney, drawing on the exhibits from the Garden Palace (the forerunner of today's Powerhouse Museum).
Hunt was also a council member of the Royal Society of New South Wales and in 1888 was made a Companion of the Most Distinguished Order of Saint Michael and Saint George. He died in office in 1892.