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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 Australian Tom Thumb (John David Armstrong)

c. 1880
J D. Cooper

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

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
Purchased 2014

Artist and subject

J D. Cooper

John David Armstrong (age 23 in 1880)

Subject professions

Performing arts

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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.

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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 National Portrait Gallery is an Australian Government Agency