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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.

Clara Crosbie, aged 12 years, now on exhibition at the Australian Waxworks, c. 1885

Carrington Photo Galleries

carte de visite photograph (support: 10.4 cm x 6.3 cm, image: 9.0 cm x 6.1 cm)

More images of this artwork

Clara Crosbie gained widespread sympathy and short-lived fame after enduring twenty-one days in the bush near Yellingbo in Victoria in mid-1885. Clara had gone astray while trying to make her way home from a visit to a neighbour and had taken refuge for three weeks in a hollow tree before being found. Suffering exposure and starvation from her ordeal, it was reported that ‘she had not tasted the least thing during the whole three weeks (except once having chewed a bit of bark)’. Following her rescue by two men – a pianoforte tuner, Mr. Smith, and a farmer, Mr. Cowan, who found the ‘little creature’ in a state ‘so weak she could scarcely stand’ – she was admitted to Melbourne Hospital suffering lacerations, swollen feet and chafed knees (due to her cramped position while sheltering in the tree). Her inclination to sleep and rest rather than wandering exhaustedly about accounted for her comparatively good condition. Upon being discharged, she was despatched to the Protestant Orphanage in Brighton where she remained for some time while authorities decided what to do with her. (There were suggestions in the press at the time that Clara’s mother was an unfit parent). Bizarrely, they determined that a desirable solution was to ‘offer’ the girl to Maximilian Kreitmayer, a Melbourne waxworks proprietor. Clara’s mother was favourable to the proposal and decided that Kreitmayer would ‘clothe, educate and bring [Clara] up properly.’ A further agreement was made whereby Kreitmayer paid Clara’s father a handsome three pounds a week for the privilege of exhibiting her. Twice each day Clara would perform a scripted account of her frightening story and of how she ‘lived in the Bush for 21 days WITHOUT FOOD.’ On 11 January 1886, the Sydney Morning Herald reported that around 150,000 people had visited the show.

In this carte de visite – an advertisement for and a souvenir of her appearances at the waxworks – Clara feigns one of the times during her ordeal when ‘she prayed to God to preserve her life.’ Some scholars have suggested, however, that the girl in this photo is not the real Clara but a stand-in.

Collection: National Portrait Gallery
Gift of John McPhee 2018

Accession number: 2018.146

Currently not on display

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Donated by

John McPhee (4 portraits)

Related portraits

1. Clara Crosbie, c. 1885. All Arthur William Burman.

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.

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.

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The National Portrait Gallery
The National Portrait Gallery

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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.