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The National Portrait Gallery acknowledges the Traditional Custodians of Country throughout Australia and recognises the continuing connection to lands, waters and communities. We pay our respect to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander cultures and to Elders both past and present.

Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander viewers are warned that this website contains images of deceased persons.

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The National Portrait Gallery is calling on family history enthusiasts and amateur historians to help reveal more about the people in Dempsey’s People: A folio of British street portraits from 1824-1844.

Match woman, c.1823 by John Dempsey
Match woman, c.1823 (detail) by John Dempsey

The National Portrait Gallery is calling on family history enthusiasts and amateur historians to help reveal more about Dempsey’s People.

After almost 20 years of research, curator Dr David Hansen has identified 25 of the subjects, but is keen to find more information on the characters in Dempsey’s eclectic folio.

1Old soldier, Salisbury. 2Crossing-sweeper, London. 3Muffin man. 4A maniac. 5Bun man, Plymouth. All by John Dempsey.

‘The folk in Dempsey’s portraits are from a largely marginalised group in the history of art. They are the urban poor of the early 19th century, representatives of the most numerous class of this country’s early settlers, both convict and immigrant. They are ancestors of many contemporary Anglo-Celtic Australians,’ said Dr Hansen.

1Billman, 1825. 2Match man, Salisbury. 3Old soldier, Hadleigh. 4Beggar, Durham. 5Beadle, Winchester, 1823. All by John Dempsey.

‘While we have been able to identify some of the subjects, I am eager to hear from the people of Australia to assist us in filling in gaps in the information we do have, and possibly identifying some of the unknown subjects. If you are interested in becoming a ‘citizen historian’, the portraits are all on display at the Gallery until October, or can be viewed online.’

1Selling watercress, Salisbury. 2Sand-man, Whitby, c. 1825. 3Policeman, Scarborough, 1825. 4Tailor's man, Scarborough, 1825. 5Porter, Charing Cross, 1824. All by John Dempsey.

If you have a family connection to any of the 52 individuals, let us know by sharing your story on social media and tagging @PortraitAu, or send an email to info@npg.gov.au.

1Bathing woman, Bridlington, c.1825. 2Match woman, Woolwich,1824. 3Blind beggar, Woolwich, 1824. All by John Dempsey.

Related information

Copeman, gardener, Great Yarmouth by John Dempsey
Copeman, gardener, Great Yarmouth by John Dempsey
Copeman, gardener, Great Yarmouth by John Dempsey
Copeman, gardener, Great Yarmouth by John Dempsey

Dempsey's people

A folio of British street portraits 1824–1844

Previous exhibition, 2017

Dempsey’s people: a folio of British street portraits 1824–1844 is the first exhibition to showcase the compelling watercolour images of English street people made by the itinerant English painter John Dempsey throughout the first half of the nineteenth century.

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The National Portrait Gallery acknowledges the Traditional Custodians of Country throughout Australia and recognises the continuing connection to lands, waters and communities. We pay our respect to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander cultures and to Elders both past and present.

Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander viewers are warned that this website contains images of deceased persons.