professional photographer, lithographer and inventor, was born in Cork, Ireland, on 20 February 1828. After a classical education, he worked as an engineer experimenting with electricity; among his inventions was a vibratory cure for nervous diseases. Osborne and his 21-year-old wife Anne arrived at Melbourne in the Peru on 25 December 1852.
While working as a photographer for the Victorian government in the Crown Lands Department, Osborne invented the world’s first commercially viable photolithographic process. The invention was a direct response to specific economic and state needs; there was a huge demand for land from the enlarged post-gold-rush population and the government could not print catalogues showing newly subdivided Crown land quickly enough. Surveyors’ large plans had to be scaled down by hand before they could be printed and this time-consuming work delayed the weekly land auctions. So in 1859 the surveyor-general commissioned Osborne to invent a process which enabled large plans to be photographically reduced and then transferred directly onto the printing block. Osborne rapidly solved the problem. A patent application was lodged with the chief secretary on 1 September 1859 and booklets of plans of 'country lots, parishes of Ravenswood and Mandurang’ were being sold to the public two days later for 1s each.
Many lithographers opposed Osborne’s invention, as they believed it threatened their livelihoods, so a Parliamentary Board was appointed to investigate the process on 10 August 1860. This sat for nine days altogether, concluding in January 1861. The board unanimously decided to adopt the invention and Osborne was given a salary increase, £1000 reward and was elected to the council of the Royal Society of Victoria. His assistant, Duncan McHutchinson, received £200. Osborne and his photolithographic experiments were publicised in British, American and French photographic journals from 11 June 1861, when the British Journal of Photography announced his invention, and, after showing some examples at the 1861 Victorian Exhibition, Osborne left Melbourne for England in March 1862. There he found that photolithography had already been patented. Nevertheless, he read a paper to the British Association, 'Details of a photolithographic process, as adopted by the Government of Victoria, for the publication of maps’ (published on 15 November 1862) in the American Journal of Photography and the Allied Arts and Sciences , a journal to which he contributed subsequent articles, and he won a medal at the 1862 London International Exhibition for his process.
On 27 October 1864 the Melbourne Argus announced that it had just received some photolithographs from Osborne, who had been living in Berlin. He had shown these reproductions of sketches, which the artist Berg had made on an expedition, at a meeting of the Geographical Society of Berlin in May 1862. The Argus commented: 'We believe that while Mr Osborne was in Germany he very materially altered and improved his process as there cannot be the slightest doubt that these are incomparably superior to anything he had accomplished before. Amongst them are two excellent chromo photo-lithographs, a branch which, if we remember rightly, he did not touch upon here’. Berg himself, in a letter to Osborne published in a Berlin scientific periodical and reproduced by the Argus , wrote enthusiastically: 'You have solved the most difficult problem which exists in this branch of the art—a problem the solution of which I myself have frequently doubted until I had the result before my eyes. The question, then, whether the photolithographic reproduction of pen-and-ink sketches be possible, and of any value to the artist, has been finally decided by your labours’.
Osborne visited the United States in 1864 to publicise his process. By 1867 he had a photographic studio at the corner of Tenth Street and Third Avenue, South Brooklyn, New York. He became involved in the American Photolithographic Company, formed to exploit his process. He proved successful with other inventions and was employed as a patent expert for a legal firm. Attracted by the cultural environment of Stanford University, he retired to Palo Alto, California, where he died on 20 November 1902.