Henry Merrilees

Henry Merrilees portrait - Source: Freo Council
Portrait of Henry Merrilees
Source: Fremantle History Centre

Henry ‘Harry’ Merrilees, was born in 1860-61 to James Merrilees of Scotland and Susan Thomas of Ireland, in Victoria, possibly in the Smythes Creek area, near Ballarat. James appears to be a gold miner and briefly visits New Zealand in August 1862, where maybe he was trying his luck on the NZ goldfields. James died just a few years later in 1866, at Ballarat Hospital, after a mine accident.

Not much is known of Henry’s earlier life or how he got into photography. There is mention of a Henry Merrilees owning farm land in Victoria near the South Australian border and another mention of a Henry Merrilees operating a grocery in Fitzroy, Melbourne. It’s probable they are all the same person and perhaps Henry operated a photographic studio from the same premises in Fitzroy. His brother, Alexander, also owned a grocery in later years, so this seems likely.

Around July 1892 we know that Henry moved to Western Australia, going into partnership with Charles Nixon. Together they took over the photographic studio from Tuttle & Co, at  7 William Street, across from the Fremantle Town Hall. The first mention of the business appears in The Inquirer & Commercial News in August 1892. The article writes that the duo previously held photographic galleries in Melbourne and Adelaide.

Portrait of photographer’s Charles Nixon (right) and Henry Merrilees (left)

More about their partnership, under the name Nixon & Merrilees, can be read here.

Over the next few years, Henry makes a number of trips interstate and abroad. In November 1893, he embarks from Albany, on the Oroya, to Adelaide.

In March 1895, Henry boarded a ship, the Bulimba, to Melbourne for a brief trip. He returns to Melbourne for a 3 week trip in August 1895, aboard the Waroonga.

In June 1896, Henry boards the Gera, bound for England to study the latest in photography techniques.

In October 1896, Henry’s brother, Alexander Merrilees moves to Western Australia. He opens a grocery in Fremantle on the corner of Glyde St and Canning Highway.

In July 1897, Henry left London for New York, aboard the St Louis.

In December 1898, Henry boards the Paroo, from Adelaide to WA.

Around 1899, Henry moved into one of the duplex houses at 28-30 Wray Avenue, in Fremantle.

On 20 August 1900, Nixon & Merrilees opened a studio in Piesse St Boulder, offering free photos for babies and a free enlargement for the first month.

Just a month before, a photo was taken by a H. Merrilees, operating from a studio in Hare Street, Echuca, in Victoria. Perhaps Henry had spent time over there visiting family members before returning to open the Boulder studio. The Echuca studio was taken over by another photographer prior to April 1901.

In WA, it seems Henry ran the Boulder studio while Charles ran the Fremantle studio. In September 1901, the partnership was dissolved. Henry then formally opened the Piesse St studio under his own name in February 1902.

Mr A.E. Ewins took over the studio in October 1904, perhaps because Henry wed his sweetheart, Charlotte Ellie Munns, in Beaconsfield, in May earlier that year and maybe took some time off. Henry had put his entire house contents up for sale in September 1904. But it appears Henry was soon back in charge as Mr F.R. Deans took over the studio from Merrilees in September 1906.

In 1905, Henry and Ellie were living in King Street, Boulder, near the corner of Lane Street.

Henry and Ellie later moved to South Australia. Henry died on 23 June 1913 in Kent Town, aged 53 years. He is buried in West Terrace Cemetery.

Not many photos have survived bearing the Merrilees name by itself.


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