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Martha Mary Robertson
, 1866

by Johnstone O'Shannessy & Co

albumen photograph on carte de visite (support: 10.5 cm x 6.2 cm, image: 9.7 cm x 6.0 cm)

More images of this artwork

Martha Mary Robertson (née Murphy, 1844–1909) married barrister William Robertson (1839–1892) in England in 1863. Like her husband, Martha was from a fabulously successful colonial family. Her father, John Robert Murphy (1806–1891), was your archetypical self-made man, a brewer by profession, who had emigrated to Van Diemen’s Land and then – like William’s father – availed himself of the opportunities presented by expansion to the Port Phillip district in the 1830s. Murphy, according to his obituary, initially took up land at Warrnambool before moving to Melbourne, opening a brewery, and investing ‘in the purchase of city and suburban lands, all of which proved to be investments of the first class.’ By 1850 Murphy was in position to take his children to England to be educated, and it was presumably through their Tasmanian/Victorian connections that Martha and William met there, William having graduated from Oxford in 1862. Their first child, a son, was born in England in 1864. Another four children, three girls and one boy, were born after they’d returned to Victoria. In 1874 the family moved to The Hill, near Colac, one of a number of properties William and his brothers inherited on their father’s death and which they managed in partnership until the early 1890s. William was a keen amateur photographer and his images include those of family life at The Hill, where he died in 1892. Martha outlived him by seventeen years, spending the latter part of her life in Armadale.

Henry James Johnstone was born in Birmingham in 1835 and studied at the Birmingham School of Design before joining his father’s photographic firm. He arrived in Victoria in 1853 and spent three years on the goldfields before returning to Melbourne and opening a studio in Bourke Street with Emily Florence Kate O’Shaughnessy in 1862. Initially trading as Johnstone & Co, it became Johnstone, O’Shannessy & Co in 1864. They operated in premises next door to the GPO until 1886 and were awarded a medal at the 1866 Intercolonial Exhibition. Johnstone meanwhile continued his art studies, taking lessons from Charles Summers and Louis Buvelot, and later under Thomas Clark at the National Gallery School. According to one historian, Johnstone toured Victoria with HRH Prince Alfred The Duke of Edinburgh during his visit in 1867–1868, by which stage Johnstone, O’Shannessy & Co. was one of Melbourne’s most fashionable photographic studios. O’Shaughnessy – whose name appears always to have been misspelt – is believed to have left the business around 1870, although the studio continued to trade under the Johnstone O’Shannessy name. From 1872 Johnstone exhibited paintings with the Victorian Academy of Arts. He left Melbourne in the late 1870s and was reported to be living in California when four of his paintings were shown at the Victorian Academy of Arts exhibition in 1879. By 1881 he was in England, exhibiting regularly at the Royal Academy until 1900. He died in 1907.

Collection: National Portrait Gallery, Canberra
Donated through the Australian Government's Cultural Gifts Program by Malcolm Robertson in memory of William Thomas Robertson 2018
Accession number: 2018.33