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The Australian Tom Thumb (John David Armstrong)
, c.1880

by J D. Cooper

carte de visite photograph (support: 10.3 cm x 6.5 cm, image: 9.2 cm x 6.0 cm)

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John David Armstrong (1857–1943), a sideshow and vaudeville performer known as ‘The Australian Tom Thumb’, made his stage debut in Melbourne in August 1870. Billed as ‘one of the greatest wonders of the age’, Armstrong immediately became the subject of cartes de visite which were sold to patrons attending his performances. In 1871, he was exhibited alongside Chang the Chinese Giant in Melbourne, Bendigo, Geelong and other towns; and in 1879, he embarked on an overseas tour that took in the UK, USA and South Africa. Following his return to Australia, Armstrong went back to the local circuit, appearing at George Selth Coppin’s theatre in Melbourne and at various other venues, causing ‘a diversion of wonderment on all sides’ with his comic songs. He retired around 1910. He claimed to be the world’s shortest Freemason, and later in life often related the story of an encounter with Queen Victoria that occurred when, driving through Windsor, his tiny goat-drawn carriage frightened the horses harnessed to Her Majesty’s coach. Armstrong never married. He died in Melbourne at the age of 86 in August 1943.

Collection: National Portrait Gallery
Accession number: 2014.36