Skip to main content

We’re thrilled to welcome you back to the Gallery! 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.

Madame Sibly, Phrenologist and Mesmerist, 1870s

James E. Bray

albumen silver carte de visite photograph (mount: 10.1 cm x 6.2 cm, image: 9.4 cm x 5.5 cm)

More images of this artwork

Marie Sibly (c. 1830–1894), mesmerist and phrenologist, performed in towns throughout Australia for nearly twenty years. Purportedly French-born, she arrived in Sydney around 1867 and worked as a clairvoyant, making her first stage appearances in 1868. By 1871 she was in Melbourne, ‘manipulating heads’ for packed houses at Weston’s Opera House on Bourke Street before embarking on a tour of Victoria. Through the 1870s she toured New South Wales and Queensland, her shows incorporating séances, phrenological readings and hypnotisms whereby audiences members were induced to fight, dance, sing or behave absurdly. A report of one performance described how she convinced two men to fetch a leg of lamb from the butcher; she then made them think they were dogs and they ate it. Her later repertoire included ‘baby exhibitions’ in which prizes were awarded to the specimens with the best mental and physical capacity. She took up land at Parkes in 1877 but continued touring regardless. By the mid-1880s she was in New South Wales again, performing with her daughter, ‘Zel the Magnetic Lady’, and advertising her range of remedies for conditions such as gout, rheumatism and neuralgia. She was known by various names throughout her career although it is unclear how many husbands she had. Having ‘retired from the platform’ she ran a store at Drake, near Tenterfield, where she died in April 1894.

James E Bray ran a business called the ‘Prince of Wales Photographic Gallery’ on George Street, Sydney, which was sold in late 1865. He then went to Victoria, and by early 1868 was reported as ‘having an extensive gallery built at his place of business, Camp Street, Beechworth’. There, he was enabled to ‘execute Every Variety of Photographic Portraiture’, including ‘Cartes de Viste, Tinted or Fully Colored in Water Colors’. He appears to have stocked portraits of international celebrities (such as the conman Arthur Orton, aka The Tichborne Claimant) in addition to taking likenesses for local citizens. Notably, he was among the photographers who documented the Kelly gang and their off-shoots: such as the 22 men of Irish descent who were banged up in Beechworth Gaol for four months without charge in 1879 on the off-chance they might be Kelly sympathisers. Another of Bray’s cartes shows constable Alexander Fitzpatrick, whose attempt to arrest Dan Kelly had initiated the gang’s formation in the first place. Marie Sibly performed in the Beechworth area on several occasions during Bray’s time there. Her reading of certain gentlemen’s heads in Eldorado in August 1871 was judged so accurate that it was assumed she’d ‘received some private information about the parties’; and at a séance in Wangaratta that year, ‘a young man, while under mesmeric influence’ had ‘rudely seized’ the wife of another chap, who struck said young man with a stick. In winter 1879 Sibly was in Beechworth, Chiltern, Corowa, Bright and other towns, variously causing offence, sensation or consternation, it seems, wherever she went – and thus becoming a ‘sure card’ for photographers.

Collection: National Portrait Gallery
Purchased 2017

Accession number: 2017.113

Currently not on display

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

Artist and subject

James E. Bray (age 38 in 1870)

Madame Sibly (age 40 in 1870)

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.

Madame Sibly, Phrenologist and Mesmerist, 1870s James E. Bray
Madame Sibly, Phrenologist and Mesmerist, 1870s James E. Bray
Madame Sibly, Phrenologist and Mesmerist, 1870s James E. Bray
Madame Sibly, Phrenologist and Mesmerist, 1870s James E. Bray

Sibly irresistible

Magazine article by Alexandra Roginski, 2019

Alexandra Roginski reveals a forceful feminist figure in the colonial period’s slippery science, phrenology.

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.

The National Portrait Gallery
The National Portrait Gallery
The National Portrait Gallery

The Gallery

Explore portraiture and come face to face with Australian identity, history, culture, creativity and diversity.

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.