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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.

Martha Mary Robertson, 1866

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
Gift of Malcolm Robertson in memory of William Thomas Robertson 2018
Donated through the Australian Government's Cultural Gifts Program

Accession number: 2018.33

Currently not on display

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Artist and subject

Johnstone O'Shannessy & Co

Martha M. Robertson (age 22 in 1866)

Donated by

Malcolm Robertson (16 portraits)

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.