Skip to main content

We’re thrilled to welcome you back to the Gallery from Saturday 6 June. Please see what we need you to do first.

Menu

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.

George Selth Coppin, c. 1863

an unknown artist

albumen silver carte de visite (support: 10.4 cm x 6.4 cm)

More images of this artwork

George Coppin (1819–1906), English comedian, theatre manager, politician and philanthropist, was widely known as the ‘Father of the Australian stage’. The son of itinerant actors and an erstwhile travelling player and musician himself, Coppin arrived in Australia in 1843 having accepting an engagement as a ‘star’ comedian. He quickly made his mark, his ‘infinite variety’ meeting with approval from the play-going public in Sydney, Launceston and Melbourne. Within three years he was flush enough to acquire his own theatre in Adelaide, but by late 1851, having lost his fortune almost as rapidly, he was in Victoria seeking to reclaim it by performing for the hordes of dissolute and newly-rich folk in search of respite or diversion. Through performing on the goldfields, he rebuilt a portfolio of theatres and hotels. His Olympic Theatre, a prefabricated iron building purchased in Manchester and nicknamed ‘The Iron Pot’, was erected on the corner of Lonsdale and Exhibition Streets in Melbourne in 1855, and he added the Theatre Royal on Bourke Street to his portfolio the following year. In 1856 he acquired the Cremorne Pleasure Gardens, an amusement park on the banks of the Yarra at Richmond where patrons might partake of a ‘novel combination of Theatricals, Equestrians, Tumblers, Wax Works, Wild Beasts, Cosmoramas, Swing Boats, Knockumdowns, Aunt Sallys, Gingerbread, Toy and Lollypop Shops, Shows &c.’

In 1858 he was elected to the Victorian Legislative Council, but after five years, in serious debt, he resigned and returned to tread the boards. In 1874 he became a member of the Legislative Assembly; after 1888, he returned to the Council. Victoria's first Freemason Grand Master, he energetically promoted reforms and innovation in the municipal sphere, including copyright legislation, the establishment of Post Office Savings banks, the St John Ambulance Society, the Old Colonists' Association, the Dramatic and Musical Society, and the development of Sorrento as a tourist destination. Coppin’s other business interests included the Astley Amphitheatre (later the Princess Theatre) and four hotels, some of which he managed in partnership with Gustavus Brooke, the noted Shakespearean actor with whom Coppin had worked in Dublin, and whose sister-in-law, Harriet Hilsden, Coppin had married in 1855. (Coppin’s second wife, incidentally, was Harriet’s daughter, Lucy, whom he married two years after her mother’s death, and six months before the birth of their first child).

Collection: National Portrait Gallery
Purchased 2010

Accession number: 2010.36

Currently not on display

Copyright image request form
Request a digital copy of an image for publication

Artist and subject

George Coppin (age 44 in 1863)

Related portraits

Related information

The Companion

Permanent collection catalogue

Café and shop

On one level The Companion talks about the most famous and frontline Australians, but on another it tells us about ourselves: who we read, who we watch, who we listen to, who we cheer for, who we aspire to be, and who we'll never forget. The Companion is available to buy online and in the Portrait Gallery Store.

Portrait of George Selth Coppin, c. 1895-99 Tom Roberts
Portrait of George Selth Coppin, c. 1895-99 Tom Roberts
Portrait of George Selth Coppin, c. 1895-99 Tom Roberts
Portrait of George Selth Coppin, c. 1895-99 Tom Roberts

The Multifarious Career of George Selth Coppin

Magazine article by Dr Sarah Engledow, 2004

George Selth Coppin (1819-1906) comedian, impresario and entrepreneur, was a driving force of the early Australian theatre.

Lady Barkly, 1863 Batchelder & O'Neill
Lady Barkly, 1863 Batchelder & O'Neill
Lady Barkly, 1863 Batchelder & O'Neill
Lady Barkly, 1863 Batchelder & O'Neill

Carte-o-mania!

Previous exhibition, 2018

Drawn from the NPG’s burgeoning collection of cartes de visite, Carte-o-mania! celebrates the wit, style and substance of the pocket-sized portraits that were taken and collected like crazy in post-goldrush Australia.

Ned Kelly death mask, date unknown an unknown artist after Maximilian Kreitmayer
Ned Kelly death mask, date unknown an unknown artist after Maximilian Kreitmayer
Ned Kelly death mask, date unknown an unknown artist after Maximilian Kreitmayer
Ned Kelly death mask, date unknown an unknown artist after Maximilian Kreitmayer

Sideshow Alley

Infamy, the macabre & the portrait

Previous exhibition, 2015

Death masks, post-mortem drawings and other spooky and disquieting portraits... Come and see how portraits of infamous Australians were used in the 19th century.

We would like to thank our partners.
© National Portrait Gallery 2020
King Edward Terrace, Parkes
Canberra, ACT 2600, Australia


Phone +61 2 6102 7000
Fax +61 2 6102 7001
ABN: 54 74 277 1196

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.