This delicate portrait of Quaker sisters Esther (1849–1939) and Emma Mather (1853–1939) was made by a family friend Dr George Fordyce Story, they called ‘Little Doctor’, Dr Story lived with their grandparents Anna and Francis Cotton on their Kelvedon estate at Swansea on the east coast of Tasmania. The sisters father was Joseph B Mather, a Quaker who owned a drapers and haberdashery store on Liverpool Street in Hobart. Two of the girls sisters and their mother Anna had died by 1858. This photograph was probably taken at Kelvedon where the girls spent their holidays.
George Story was a physician, an amateur naturalist and a photographer. He was born in England in 1800 and graduated in medicine in Edinburgh in 1824. He immigrated to Australia with his Quaker friend Francis Cotton in 1828 and took up a position as District Assistant Surgeon at Waterloo Point (later Swansea) convict station until 1844. From 1844 to 1845, Dr Story was in charge of the Royal Society gardens in Hobart, after which he lived at Kelvedon with the Cottons, providing medical and horticultural and technical services to the estate. Story was raised a Wesleyan and later adopted the Quaker faith.
Despite the sisters’ demure posture and simple Quaker dress, Esther, who had already taken her temperance pledge in 1857, was known for her very cheery spirit. She married Charles H Robey in Hobart in 1884 and their daughter Linna (Elinor) studied arts and crafts in England and has a number of craft works in the National Gallery of Australia’s collection. Emma also found a partner within the Quaker circle in Tasmania, marrying William Benson. Elinor and her sister Marguerita donated family material to the Quaker collection at the University of Tasmania. The Quaker collection website contains a number of photographs of the Mather family, including later photographs of Esther and Emma and their children.
The Religious Society of Friends, or Quakers, formed in Hobart in 1832 was the earliest in Australia and remains active to the present day. The Quakers were known for their commitment to thrift, honesty, good works and plain style of dress and lifestyle. The Friends established the temperance movement in Australia and supported various educational, Aboriginal and convict welfare efforts.
Senior Curator, Photography
in artonview, issue 68, summer 2011