Such was life

Pioneer portraits

Born in London, Thomas Chuck came to Melbourne in 1863 and opened a photography studio in Royal Arcade, Collins Street. With so few cameras available at the time, photography was regarded as ‘a serious occupation for professional and amateur alike.’ (1) Chuck ‘specialised in [photographing] men- middle aged and elderly men- and he did them extremely well.’ (2)

 Photograph showing a bearded man, Richard Sutcliffe, taken by T. F. Chuck

Richard Sutcliffe, H5056/374

Many of Chuck’s subjects were among Victoria’s first settlers and, recognising this, he collated over 700 portraits, using his work and others, onto a six feet high shield, which he titled The explorers and early colonists of Victoria. The shield only includes colonists who arrived prior to 1843, with the exception of the Right Rev. the Bishop of Melbourne, who landed in 1847. (3)

Collage of more than fifty small photographic portraits, showing Victorian colonist men

Detail from The explorers and early colonists of Victoria, H5056

We have digitized each of the portraits from the shield, and these can be viewed online via our catalogue. Search for a specific portrait using the surname of the person you are interested in and the words ‘Thomas Chuck’.

In 1890 The Argus ran an article advising that a reproduction of the shield was available to purchase. The Library also holds a copy of the reproduction, originally donated by the actor, theatre manager and politician George Selth Coppin.

The Argus, 22 April 1890, p 5, column 4, para 5

Chuck also produced a numbered list of all of the featured portraits, titled Key to the historical picture of the explorers and early colonists of Victoria. This list has been made available online by the National Library of Australia, and can also be read at the State Library of Victoria’s La Trobe Reading Room information desk. If you are having trouble locating your person of interest, browsing this list might help you to find who you’re looking for, under a variant spelling of their family name.

(1) Davies, A & Stanbury, P 1985, The mechanical eye in Australia : photography 1841-1900,  Oxford University Press, Melbourne, p 1
(2) Cato, J 1977, The story of the camera in Australia, 2nd edition, Institute of Australian Photography, Melbourne, p 60
(3) The Argus, 7 December 1872, p 5, column 5

Written by Kent Ball
Librarian, Australian Literature and History Team

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