The world of Thomas Lawson: Big ships, books and sofas

Thomas W. Lawson in his office, surrounded by the fresh flowers and books he loved. Image courtesy of the Library of Congress.

Thomas W. Lawson in his office, surrounded by the fresh flowers and books he loved. Image courtesy of the Library of Congress.

At the beginning of the 20th Century, the world seemed unbearably young. It had yet to experience a World War or the Great Depression. Fossil fuels were the future and any new technology was seen as a good thing. It became known as the Gilded Age and it must have been heady times for those who had the cash to enjoy it. And there were plenty of those. One, in particular, was Thomas W Lawson. At one time Lawson was thought to be one of the wealthiest men in America with a fortune estimated at over USD $50 million (over $1 billion in today’s money).

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A Sterling day out with the family

Portrait of Captain Edward Robert Sterling

Captain Edward Robert Sterling, 1910-1925
Samuel J Hood Studio
ANMM Collection

My latest research efforts have been focussed on an American shipping family, headed by shipowner and master, Captain Edward Robert Sterling. During the 1900s to the 1920s, Samuel J Hood would take his trusty Folmer & Schwing Graflex camera to Sydney Harbour to photograph vessels and their crew and passengers. Hood relied on the income produced from portraits he took of captains and their families before he moved on to photojournalism. The Sterling family were one of those families, and what a fascinating family album he produced! A thorough search of census, birth, marriage and shipping records later revealed a vibrant family life that seems all the more animated through Hood’s photographs. Continue reading