Wherrett portrait of boys in sailor suits

Wherrett portrait of boys in sailor suits

These boys were not necessarily apprenticed in the service of the Navy. Their suits were a fashionable outfit for teenagers of the 1880s: above the knee trousers for the pre-pubescent, below the knee for the teenager.

The Wherrett Brothers (Charles Wherrett and co.) operated a business from 83 Elizabeth St. Hobart between 1872-1881, and a studio called the Melbourne Portrait Rooms at 113 Elizabeth St. Hobart between 1884-1897.

At the time this photograph was taken, they were claiming to be “high art photographers.”

What is “high art” about this photograph in 1880s terms? Possibly the studio decor, in the first instance, which is themed with “sea” items to match the boys’ sailor suits; items such as the painted backcloth depicting cliffs and the papier mache rocks. And is that a shell or two at the boys’ feet? A dried starfish?

The desired effect is theatrical, in the tableau vivant traditions of the period, giving an aesthetic (and thus middle-class) narratological aspect to the plainer modalities of portraiture.

The studio stamp with Vice-Regal patronage, “By Appointment to His Excellency The Governor”, further underscores the upper social class status of the studio and its associated privileges such as the placement of the colonial government’s official insignia of the British Royal Coat of Arms right in the centre of the mount.

© The Private Collection of John & Robyn McCullagh 2006-2007 ARR.

State Library of Tasmania Catalogue details: (also digitised) The Cyclopedia of Tasmania(illustrated) : an historical and commercial review : descriptive and biographical, facts, figures, and illustrations : an epitome of progress : business men and commercial interests.

Publisher Hobart : Maitland and Krone, [1899?]-1900.Description 2 v. : ill. ; 29 cm.
Notes: Ferguson The source of the photograph of Charles B. Wherrett is the Tasmanian Cyclopedia, Volume 1:Full account of the activities of the Wherret & Co. studios, from the State Library of Tasmania’s digitised version at this link: