The Magic Lantern at Rouse Hill House

The inventory of furniture, household goods and domestic paraphernalia accumulated over several generations at Rouse Hill House includes a magic lantern and a collection of lantern slides.  The lantern was manufactured around 1860 by Newton & Company, optiticians, scientific instruments and globe makers of Fleet Street, London.  It is fitted with an Argand lamp and reflector, a brass focusing tube and a 31/2-inch (9-centimetre) diameter lens able to project a picture 9 feet (2.75 meters) across.  It was lit using sperm whale oil with powdered camphor dissolved in the oil over a gentle heat to produce a white light.  Once the lamp was lit and the lantern positioned before a screen, the slides were placed in a carrier in front of the lantern, their projection usually accompanied by a spoken narrative of some kind.

View of lantern with slides around.

'Improved phantasmagoria lantern' and a selection of lantern slides, manufactured by Newton & Company, London, c1860.  Rouse Hill House & Farm Collection, Sydney Living Museums. Photo (c) Jamie North

The lantern slides surviving at Rouse Hill House are in different formats to create a range of effects: multi-slide story sets, comic slip slides, rack and pinion slides for circular movement, and individual views.  Some slides are broken, others show signs of repair, and the lantern case has lost much of its black, japanned finish - all defects that bear witness to the lanter's use by successive generations of the Rouse and Terry families, starting with the household headed in the 1860s by Hannah Rouse (1819-1907).

Magic lantern scenes

Scenes from 'Tiger in the tub' (left) and 'Pussy's road to ruin' (right).  Rouse Hill House and Farm Collection, Sydney Living Museums.

On 26 January 1866, celebrated as Anniversary Day in NSW, the Rouse Hill House magic lantern featured in a gala event held at the local school.  The day's program had promised a magic lantern show using a pair of lanterns, known as a dissolving view apparatus.  When the show's advertised operator failed to arrive, the Rouse Hill House lantern came to the rescue and was used to project three slide sets, accompanied by narration, to 'a very crowded and demonstrative audience'.  This may have been the first time some some of the locals had seen a magic lantern show. 

The three sets shown that day were 'Tiger in the tub'; 'John Gilpin's ride', another comic story; and 'Pilgrim's progress.'  Both 'Tiger in the tub' and 'John Gilpin's ride' survive in the Rouse Hill collection, but 'Pilgrim's progress' does not.  The Rouse Hill House collection also has a slide titled 'Pussy's road to ruin', a cautionary tale for children.  The narrative and illustrations for each set were taken from well known publications.

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