A little mystery – ‘The Sisters’ and the cabinet card photograph

Lissa Mitchell, Curator Historical Photography uses her detective skills to uncover the full story behind a late-1880s photograph.

Sepia-toned photograph of women posing

Miss Anderson, left, and the gipsy chorus from “The Sisters”, including Nelly Irvine, Amy MacLean, and May Irvine. Large format cabinet card photograph by John Morris, 1889, Dunedin, 150 x 200 mm, Te Papa (O.020784)

In the photography collection there is a large cabinet card photograph (above) with the torn remains of a newspaper article attached to the back.

Using words from the remaining text as search terms on Paper Past I was able to locate the original article and therefore date and record information about the photograph on Te Papa’s collections database.

Here is the extract about the production that the women above were featured in:

On Friday and Saturday evenings at St Paul’s Schoolroom a delightful little operetta and farce were performed. The operetta was entitled “The Sisters.” One sister is stolen by gipsies, but returns suddenly one May day just in the middle of the feast. The May Queen (one of the sisters) was taken by Miss Ross, who, in white lace and white May blossoms, looked remarkably well. She had the soprano part to perform, and she rendered the music excellently. Miss Anderson, as the gipsy sister, charmed everybody with her sweet singing. She made a pretty gipsy with long scarlet hooded cloak and handsome gipsy dress’; and the chorus made a pretty picture too — half as May girls, the other half as gipsies, the costumes being the very personification of good taste. In the chorus I noticed the Misses Irvine, Wise, Muir, Smith, M’Donald, Towsey, Irwin, and Pollen, among many others whose names I do not know. – Otago Witness, Issue 1978, 24 October 1889, p. 33.

Newspaper clippings

The back of the cabinet card with the original newspaper article attached but torn off at some point. Photograph by Lissa Mitchell

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