Visual pleasures 15 July 1871: the Dioramas

Visual pleasures for the newly-weds Thomas and Elizabeth Nevin in 1871 were presented at the Hobart Town Hall in the form of panoramas and dioramas. Charles’s panorama (1871) occupied 10,000 square feet of canvas, and each painting was 17 feet by 8 feet.


Crowded houses
The Mercury Saturday 15 July 1871

This advertisement for Charles’s great panoramas and dioramas of the Franco-Prussian War, Suez Canal and Nile, the “finest specimens of scenic art ever introduced to the Colonies”, appeared in The Mecury, Hobart Town, Saturday morning, July 15, 1871, in the same edition carrying the marriage notice for Elizabeth Rachel Day and Thomas Nevin who were married on July 12, 1871.

Four years later, Thomas and Elizabeth Nevin took up permanent residence at the Hobart Town Hall when Thomas was appointed Office and Hall keeper (January 1876). Panoramas, dioramas of the American Civil, the Zulu Wars, and The Confederate Mirror were a staple of popular entertainment during the Nevins’ tenure. Newspaper advertisements attracted huge crowds with enticements of free gifts such as papier mache tables, work boxes, picture frames and baked cakes.

This advertisement ran throughout February 1879.


The Mercury, 14th February 1879.

Moving panoramas presaged the arrival of the moving image on film. This short description from Canvas Documentaries by Mimi Colligan (2003) explains the mechanisms:

Visual pleasures 15 July 1871: the Dioramas
Visual pleasures 15 July 1871: the Dioramas


Although not photographic in nature, the 19th century moving panorama was a form of entertainment that was similar in some respects to the magic lantern show, and in many newspaper reports it is difficult to know whether the reporter was describing a moving panorama painted on a canvas roll or a series of lantern slides projected on a canvas sheet.

The moving panorama, or diorama, consisted of a series of paintings on canvas which were then joined together to form one very long canvas sheet that was wound onto a vertical roller. From this roller the canvas was moved across the stage and wound up on a similar roller on the other side. The canvas could be illuminated from behind, from the front, or by a combination of both, using oil or gas lamps.

Above: Diagram showing a typical arrangement for unrolling the canvas of a moving panorama. Dotted lines show the position of the framework that concealed the mechanism. The picture represents the first scene of the Burke and Wills panorama.

Some panoramas were very large. Charles’s panorama (1871) occupied 10,000 square feet of canvas, and each painting was 17 feet by 8 feet. Mankiewicz’s Pantascope used paintings that were 18 feet wide by 9 feet high, and Riseley and Humphrey’s Mirror of England had 120 paintings that were 25 feet long by 14 feet high, making a canvas that was 3,000 feet long and took two hours to unroll.

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