The first aerial survey of Launceston



Taking the first aerial photograph of Launceston wasn’t an easy feat.

In 1922 local photographer HJ King was commissioned by the City of Launceston to complete an aerial survey of the city.

Before the work could begin, King needed to find both a pilot and an aircraft owner who would be willing to have a hole cut in the floor of their plane — just big enough for his camera lens.

Working alongside local pilot FG Huxley — who had experience as a pilot in the First World War —the duo navigated a small Farman biplane in a grid pattern over the city, taking photographs every 15 seconds, with each image capturing one square mile of the city.

The project used 81 glass plate negatives in total. By hand, it took King more than 200 hours to cut and join the scaled and printed images to complete the final survey.

This project was a landmark moment — the first photographic aerial survey of any city in Australia.

The resulting aerial map is currently on display as part of the HJ King: cameras and carburettors exhibition at the Museum at Inveresk.

Launceston Mayor Danny Gibson said the exhibition showcased a brilliant display of photographic history from across Tasmania.

"To learn about the story behind this aerial survey of Launceston is just fantastic," Mayor Gibson said.

"It truly shines a spotlight on Launceston as a city with a strong history of innovation and offers a fascinating birds-eye-view of our city in 1922.

" QVMAG Senior Curator of Public History Jon Addison said the areal images on display were a great example of photographic innovation in the 1920s.

"King was known for his adventurous approach to photography; documenting many of his adventures across Tasmania from both land and sky," Addison said.

"It’s incredible when you think about the level of detail that went into this project. 

"King delicately and strategically cut images in such a way that would allow for them to all join seamlessly without the joins being highly visible.

"He was certainly a man ahead of his time, and his keen sense of adventure and creativity has left an incredible legacy as explored in our latest exhibition HJ King: cameras and carburettors."

HJ King: cameras and carburettors is now showing at the Museum at Inveresk (2 Invermay Road, Launceston) with free entry. 

Issued 2 December 2022.