Women of the North

Celebrating the fascinating lives of women in the history of North Queensland

Harriett Brims – photographer

Harriett Brims ran the Britannia photographic studio in Ingham, North Queensland, at the end of the nineteenth century. Harriett Pettifore Elliott was born near Toowoomba, Queensland, in 1864. In 1881 she married Donald Gray Brims, a contractor and coach builder. In the early years of their marriage, the Brims’ made their way to Townsville, where Donald worked as a contractor, and from there they went to Cardwell, where Donald became involved in steam ploughing and sawmilling. By the time the family moved to Ingham in 1894, Harriett and Donald had five children, however, this did not stop Harriett from establishing herself as a professional photographer there.

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Harriett Brims’ photographic studio, inland from Ingham. Photo courtesy State Library of Queensland.

Harriett is listed in Pugh’s Trade Directory as proprietor of the Britannia Studio at Ingham in 1902 (pictured below). Harriett transferred her studio to Mareeba in 1904, and carried on successfully for another ten years. She also worked as a visiting photographer in Chillagoe, Irvinebank, and Watsonville, near Herberton. When Donald sold his interest in a joinery works in Mareeba in 1914, the family moved to Brisbane, and Harriett appears to have given up professional photography at this time.

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Harriett Brims’ Britannia Studio, Ingham, c. 1902. Photo courtesy State Library of Queensland.

According to the Australian Women’s Register, during her time as a professional photographer, Harriett became quite skilled and well known for her work.

Brims was highly regarded for the time and care she put into producing her photographs: ‘many interesting accounts of the labour involved [in] producing photographic plates, [and] devising schemes of processing, etc [sic] give ample evidence of her skill’ (The Telegraph 1938). Her husband, who was also a keen operator, made the dry-plate cameras she used out of maple wood, the carrying cases out of cow hide and the camera shutters out of sheet brass that he salvaged from discarded opium tins.

Brims documented the reality of everyday life in these Queensland towns, capturing early forms of transportation (airplanes and bullock teams), the copper smelters of Chillagoe, local events such as the aftermath of a cyclone, the activities of Melanesian labourers (who both worked and lived in the North Queensland cane fields), social gatherings, local landmarks, as well as some portraiture.

Her photographs were featured in the North Queensland Herald (1907) and the Australasian Photographic Review (1902), the latter in which she was described as ‘the first lady photographer who ever dared, single handed, to face the “stronger sex” in fair and open competition.’

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Harriett Brims – c. 1890. Photo courtesy State Library of Queensland.

Sources: Cairns Post, 11 November 1939, p. 3; The Telegraph (Brisbane), 26 October 1939, p. 16; Australian Women’s Register (for website link, see above).

For further reading, see also: Interpreting Ingham History blog


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