In 1894, William Augustus Horn, a wealthy South Australian pastoralist and miner, organised an exploration of central Australia. The Victorian government commissioned Walter Baldwin Spencer to participate as the expedition zoologist and photographer. Spencer was foundation Professor of Biology at the University of Melbourne and his experience and the friendships forged on this expedition would see a passion for anthropology emerge that would dominate his career from that point onwards. Spencer not only joined what came to be known as the Horn Expedition, but would later edit the four volume report of its findings. The Expedition lasted only three months due to major issues amongst the other scientists in the group, however it was widely acclaimed and greatly increased knowledge about central Australia.
The photographs taken by Spencer during the Expedition represent some of the earliest images of the centre, and in fact he took the first photograph of Uluru. In the Journal of the Horn Scientific Exploring Expedition (published 1897) for Tuesday June 12 it was reported that, "final preparations were made for dispatching under Mr. Cowle's guidance a detachment of the party to Ayers Rock". On the following day the party "were astir earlier than usual. Mr Cowle, with Professor Spencer and Messrs. Watt and Belt, who desired to participate in the trip, will leave the main party at this place and visit Ayers Rock and, if possible, Mount Olga, for the purpose of obtaining photographs of either or both of them." Spencer and Cowle's party split from the main expedition for two weeks, and in that time this iconic photograph was taken of the remarkable landform that was then known as Ayers Rock, known to local Pitjantjatjara people as Uluru. When the group reformed on 26 June, Spencer was able to report that he had "succeeded in obtaining photographs of both Ayers Rock and Mount Olga", despite the ardous journey. The party "were compelled to travel from dawn until sundown, covering a distance of between eighty-five miles and ninety miles over continuous porcupine sandridges. They were without water - a fact entailing additional anxiety".
WB Spencer was Director of the then National Museum of Victoria (now Museum Victoria) from 1899 to 1928, and the surviving photographs from the Horn Expedition are housed today in the Indigenous Collections at Museum Victoria.