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The Burke and Wills Monument, 1869

Thomas Foster Chuck

albumen paper photograph on carte de visite (support: 10.1 cm x 6.4 cm, image: 9.3 cm x 6.2 cm)

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From its outset, the Victorian Exploring Expedition (later renamed the Burke and Wills Expedition) provided much material for artists. William Strutt, for example, made portraits of expedition members and depictions of its preparations at Royal Park, while Burke and Wills both sat for the Melbourne photographer Thomas Adams Hill shortly before their departure in August 1860. Their deaths less than a year later, however, generated a plethora of portraits in a variety of formats. Sculptor Charles Summers (1825–1878) created waxworks of Burke and Wills soon after news of their lamentable deaths became known and was subsequently awarded the commission to create their official memorial. The monument was installed at the intersection of Collins and Russell Streets in 1865 and was the largest bronze casting carried out in Australia to that date. Thomas Foster Chuck, photographer and entrepreneur, also sought to cash in on the epic failure of the expedition. In early 1862, he and several others – including artist William Pitt, a scene painter for George Selth Coppin’s Theatre Royal – devised a ‘Grand Moving Diorama’ which toured south-eastern Australia in 1862 and 1863. Based on first-hand accounts and sketches by Strutt and others, the diorama consisted of sixteen painted scenes – one of which featured ‘Novel and Dioramic Automaton Effects’ in the form of mechanical camels – and was billed as ‘the most interesting and superior Entertainment ever exhibited in Australia.’

Thomas Foster Chuck had studios in Melbourne and Daylesford from the mid-1860s and exhibited examples of his work at the Intercolonial Exhibition in 1866. In Melbourne, he traded as the ‘London Portrait Gallery’ from this address on Collins Street and later from the Royal Arcade on Bourke Street. In 1870, he commenced work on his mammoth Historical Picture of The Explorers and Early Colonists of Victoria, a photographic mosaic of over 700 individual portraits. It was completed in 1872 and was something of a money-spinner for Chuck, who sold individual cartes de visite of the sitters as well as prints of the composite image. A selection of Chuck’s portraits received an honourable mention in the photographic section of the Victorian Intercolonial Exhibition of 1873, and were awarded a gold medal at the London International Exhibition in 1874. In 1876 he moved to Ballarat where he opened his ‘Gallery of Art’ and continued to produce various types of photographic works, including hand-coloured ‘chromatypes’ (he was one of several photographers who claimed to have invented this process) and his much-admired composite portraits.

Collection: National Portrait Gallery
Purchased 2001

Accession number: 2001.22

Currently not on display

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