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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.

The Gallery’s Acknowledgement of Country, and information on culturally sensitive and restricted content and the use of historic language in the collection can be found here.

George Selth Coppin

c. 1863
an unknown artist

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

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

The National Portrait Gallery respects the artistic and intellectual property rights of others. Works of art from the collection are reproduced as per the Australian Copyright Act 1968 (Cth). The use of images of works from the collection may be restricted under the Act. Requests for a reproduction of a work of art can be made through a Reproduction request. For further information please contact NPG Copyright.

Artist and subject

George Selth Coppin (age 44 in 1863)

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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
Portrait of George Selth Coppin
Portrait of George Selth Coppin
Portrait of George Selth Coppin

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.

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Lady Barkly
Lady Barkly
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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.

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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 past and present. We respectfully advise that this site includes works by, images of, names of, voices of and references to deceased people.

This website comprises and contains copyrighted materials and works. Copyright in all materials and/or works comprising or contained within this website remains with the National Portrait Gallery and other copyright owners as specified.

The National Portrait Gallery respects the artistic and intellectual property rights of others. The use of images of works of art reproduced on this website and all other content may be restricted under the Australian Copyright Act 1968 (Cth). Requests for a reproduction of a work of art or other content can be made through a Reproduction request. For further information please contact NPG Copyright.

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