Thomas BOCK, Portrait of two boys Enlarge 1 /1

Thomas BOCK

Sutton Coldfield, England 1790 – Hobart, Tasmania, Australia 1855

  • Australia from 1824

Portrait of two boys 1848-50 Place made: Hobart, Tasmania, Australia
Creation Notes: based on dating of a similar style double portrait of the Barnard brothers
Materials & Technique: photographs, daguerreotype Support: cased

Dimensions: case closed 7.0 h x 6.0 w cm case open 7.5 h x 13.0 w cm
Acknowledgement: Purchased 2009
Accession No: NGA 2009.921
Subject: Portrait: male Portrait: mother and children

The first commercially available photographic portraits in the 1840s were daguerreotypes. By the mid 1850s, a wide range of middleclass sitters across the world could have a high-quality image—often beautifully hand-coloured—of themselves and their loved ones. These images were especially poignant in distant European colonial societies where settlers might rarely or never again see their families.

The daguerreotype was first demonstrated in Australia in Sydney in May 1841. Late the following year, London’s George Goodman set up the first commercial studio in Sydney, claiming to have an exclusive license to use the daguerreotype in the colonies. Goodman was working in Hobart in August 1843, where he came in direct competition with British convict artist Thomas Bock.

Although an engraver by trade, Bock had a keen interest in photography and, in the Hobart Town Advertiser of 29 September 1843, he advertised that ‘in a short time he would be enabled to take photographic likenesses in the first style of the art’. Infuriated, Goodman threatened legal action and Bock promptly withdrew until five years later when he opened a portrait photography studio in Hobart.

Bock’s stepson Alfred assisted him in the photography-side of the studio business. They had seen daguerreotype portraits brought from London by Reverend Francis Russell Nixon in Hobart in June 1843—before Goodman’s arrival in Tasmania—and had purchased a camera from a Frenchman in Hobart so that they could learn the new art form using photographic formulas published in English magazines. Their lack of proper training, however, shows in Hobart dignitary GTYB Boyes’s records of August 1849, in which he comments, ‘Bock understands the nature of his apparatus but very imperfectly!’ Despite this and other unfavourable remarks between 1849 and 1853, Boyes continued to visit Bock’s studios for daguerreotype portraits.

Bock’s portrait of two freckle-faced boys dressed in matching outfits shows that he was a skilled photographer by 1848—a year before Boyes’s initial disparaging remark. Any parent would have been thrilled by such a vivid image of their sons, especially as, like many colonial sons, they might be getting ready to be sent ‘home’ to the United Kingdom for schooling. The image of the boys was a memento for their parents as well as proof for relatives in Britain that colonial society could produce the same
well-dressed and well-bred young boys as the old country. The sitters are as yet unidentified but the daguerreotype has been dated by comparison with several identified examples of double portraits of children that have survived out of the hundreds of images made by the Bock studio.

Gael Newton
Senior Curator, Photography
in artonview, issue 61, autumn 2010

in artonview, issue 61, autumn 2010

Although an engraver by trade, colonial artist and emancipated convict Thomas Bock was one of the first artists in colonial Australia to take up photography. Having seen daguerreotype portraits brought out from London, in June 1843 Bock bought a camera on sale in Hobart and set to work following an imported instruction manual. He first advertised in the Hobart Town Advertiser on 29 September 1843, that ‘in a short time he would be enabled to take photographic likenesses in the first style of the art’. He was threatened with legal action from London daguerreotypist George Goodman, who had purchased a colonial license in 1842 from Richard Beard who held the daguerreotype patent for England and her colonies. Five years later Bock opened a portrait photography studio in Hobart assisted by his stepson Alfred.

Bock’s portrait of two freckle-faced boys dressed in matching outfits shows that he was a skilled photographer. Any parent would have been thrilled by such a vivid image of their sons, especially as, like many colonial sons, they might be getting ready to be sent ‘home’ to England for schooling. The image of the boys was a memento for their parents as well as proof for relatives in England that colonial society could produce the same well-dressed and well-bred young boys as the old country. The sitters are unidentified but the daguerreotype has been dated by comparison with several identified examples, which are all that have survived of the hundreds of images made by the Bock studio.


Text © National Gallery of Australia, Canberra 2014
From: Collection highlights: National Gallery of Australia, National Gallery of Australia, Canberra, 2014