The barque “Harriet McGregor” 1870s

SEMIOSIS: Stereographs and reading the image

Title: Photograph – Princes Wharf Hobart – stereoscopic photograph showing buildings on Old Wharf ? [sic -New Wharf]
ADRI: NS1013-1-1087
Source: Archives Office of Tasmania

The Stereo Negative
Inscribed on this glass plate taken with a stereo camera of a ship berthed at the New Wharf, Hobart – not the Old wharf – is the wording “Taken 4th Feb 1871” on the right hand side. Mirror-flip the image vertically, and wording becomes clear, the hand-writing identifiable, and therefore the photographer who took it. This is Thomas J. Nevin’s handwriting, examples of which are found on the versos of photographs, and on the birth registrations of his children 1872, 1876, 1878, 1880, 1884, and 1888. The only birth registration not signed by Nevin was of his son Thomas James Nevin jnr in 1874; it was signed by his father-in-law master mariner Captain James Day while Nevin was away on business at the Port Arthur prison.

This photograph was taken for commercial reasons, possibly on commission for the owner of the ship and intended to be used as a visual complement to the printed advertisement. The name of the vessel is either absent or not discernible, even at high resolution. However, a check of shipping movements on that date listed in local newspapers reveals several contenders in a very busy port. For example, on page 1 of  the Mercury, Saturday, 4th February, these advertisements included the following details:

The brigantine Swordfish, clipper brig Wild Wave, and clipper schooner Hally Bayley

Clippers Wagoola and Windward

Clipper barques Harriet McGregor and Southern Cross.

Source: [No heading]. (1871, February 4). The Mercury (Hobart, Tas. : 1860 – 1954), p. 1. Retrieved April 22, 2015, from


TO SHIPPERS OF WOOL, & – FOR LONDON DIRECT. The fine new clipper Barque “HARRIET McGREGOR,” – 340 tons register, RICHARD COPPING, Commander. The above vessel having her dead weight on board, is now ready for taking in wool, &c. For freight or passage apply to
41, New Wharf.

In all probability, the ship in this photograph was the Harriet McGregor, owned by Andrew McGregor and Captain Charles Bayley, laden and ready for its maiden voyage. The photograph was taken to supplement the advertisement, giving clear visual information about the ship’s size and location. It would have been displayed in McGregor’s shipping office at New Wharf as well as in the windows of the Mercury newspaper office and in photographer Thomas Nevin’s city studio window in Elizabeth St.

The Harriet McGregor cleared Customs two days later, on the 6th February 1871, and hauled into the stream (the River Derwent) early on the morning of the 7th February, per the notice.


THE new barque Harriet McGregor, Captain Richard Copping, cleared out at the Customs yesterday for London, with a general cargo of wool oil, bark, and sundries, worth about £20,000. In addition to a quantity of old metal and sundries, she takes 7,100 trenails, 7 tons of old iron, 191 casks sperm oil, 1500 palings, 2 tons bones, 40 tons bark, 250 bales of wool, and 54 bales of leather. She will haul out into the stream at six o clock this morning, and will set sail during the day. Mrs Copping accompanies Captain Copping on this voyage.

SHIPPING INTELLIGENCE. (1871, February 7). The Mercury (Hobart, Tas. : 1860 – 1954), p. 2. Retrieved April 22, 2015, from

Mirror-flip the image(s) and the ship appears readying to leave. The bowsprit – ie. the pole (or spar) extending forward from the vessel’s prow – now points to the left, in opposition to the meaning of the original image above. The left to right inward message is now reversed.

When mirror-flipped, “Taken 4th Feb 1871” is now visible and legible, on the left. Hardly a seam between the two images is visible on this reproduction of the plate, but once printed and mounted, the two images would appear separate. Usually the second image on the right shows the camera was moved slightly to the right, if a single lens camera was used, to create the 3D effect when looked at through a stereoscopic viewer. The print, of course, has to be produced from the image showing the bow-sprit pointing to the right because the wording “JOHNSON BROS” on the warehouse behind the ship at New Wharf would otherwise appear back-to-front. In the mirror image, however, the ship is facing the river, not the town. This gives rise to another meaning, one confluent with the pressing tenor of McGregor’s advertisement published on the same day: this ship is about to leave, so potential exporters and passengers had better hurry up and make final preparations before departure.

Going one step further, joining the one image to make two images of the single image bearing the handwritten inscription, a contradiction in meaning arises. The mirror half image flipped to make the handwriting legible on the left suggests the ship is facing the Derwent, outward bound. The same image, halved, as displayed and digitised by the Archives Office of Tasmania online, suggests the ship has just arrived, still in the inward bound position. Of course, these contradictory images could never be printed as a stereograph for viewing through a stereoscope; they would make no sense, but when the printed stereograph is viewed through a stereoscopic viewer, three images are visible: a central image in 3D, and the image split into two, one on either side, one in reverse. Very different spatial relationships between objects in a landscape view, or interpersonal relationships between people within a single image can be suggested by printing a photograph in reverse from the negative. Conventionally, spatial readings are predicated from theme to reme (left to right) where meaning is taken up and applied from the reme to make sense of indicative signs, those vectors which point along the plane on which to establish cultural meanings. Paradigmatic and syntactic applications of these cultural signifiers to the textual, interpersonal, and contextual relationships within the photograph, and external to the image, the viewer’s status as audience with the photograph’s creators and producers, when interrogated, can render a reading of the photograph.

Captain Richard Copping (1821-1892)

Captain Richard Copping and wife Elizabeth
Maritime Museum of Tasmania wall display
Photo copyright © KLW NFC 2014 ARR

This account by Captain Richard Copping of his time in command of the Harriet McGregor was published in Chapter 7, pp 91-93, of Tall Ships and Cannibals (Ian Walker, 2005). The full account of his command, as told by himself, is online – read more here … . This is an extract:

In January 1871,I took command of a new and beautiful barque, called the Harriet McGregor, designed and built by Mr. Alexander McGregor regardless of cost. She was going to England to be classed at Lloyd’s to see what class they would give a vessel of this description as no vessel built in Tasmania had received over nine years.
We sailed for London on the 9th February; on the 18th March off the Rio de Plata we had the misfortune to lose an apprentice overboard in a heavy gale of wind. The day after this I cut the top joint of my forefinger off. We arrived at Dungeness on the 18th of May, after being nearly three weeks in the chops of the Channel…
… I made four voyages to London, two to Adelaide and one to Mauritius in less than four years in the Harriet McGregor, but she was a most unfortunate ship for me, for during my command I had cut part of my finger off, broke three ribs twice in one place and broke my left shoulder and poisoned my right hand by pulling on a new rope in the night, something pricked my hand like a pin and it has never got well since; it was something in the rope, made of flax and manilla.
In December 1874 I was appointed to a new ship Mr. McGregor had bought for the London trade, called the Lufra, a beautiful model, had been built for the China tea trade. We had now three ships running regular in the London trade, besides chartering others and the skippers patronised his ships. They were all first class fast ships and the shippers’ goods were taken care of, so in such a few years he had secured the bulk of the trade.
I sailed on the 13th February 1875, so from a poor little fisherman’s boy I had become the commander of the finest ship ever owned in Hobart Town; with the most valuable cargo but one that had ever left Tasmanian shore, namely £70,000 the most valuable I had also carried when on the first voyage in command of the Hobart Town built barque Derwent in 1854, when I took one ton and a quarter of gold besides sperm oil and wool etc. I was then the first Tasmanian that ever sailed a ship around the world.

Ian Walker, a Copping family descendant, published this rich resource in 2005 of Captain Richard Copping’s own diaries and family memoirs, including log books of the ships and crew he commanded, and the provisions he made for his extended family.

Walker, Ian (2005) Tall ships and cannibals : the story of Captain Richard Copping of Hobart town.
Hobart : Navarine Publishing, 2005 (First edition Private Collection KLW NFC Group)

Photograph of Captain Alexander Leslie of the Harriet McGregor, (Walker, 2005:97)

Voyages of the Bella Mary, Harriet McGregor and Lufra (Walker 2005:110)

Harry O’May, in Wooden Hookers of Hobart Town, Whalers Out of Van Diemen’s Land (1978, pp 90ff) gives a glowing account of the Harriet McGregor, summarized mostly from Philp’s booklet (1934) and Mrs Isabella Leslie’s obituary (1934).

Wooden hookers of Hobart Town ; Whalers out of Van Diemen’s Land /​ compiled by Harry O’May.
O’May, Harry, 1872-1962, (compiler.)
Edition Second impression.
Published [Hobart], Tasmania : T.J. Hughes, Government Printer, 1978.

Captain Alexander Leslie (bdm not available)
The Harriet McGregor’s former chief officer, and commander from 1874 to 1889, was Captain Alexander Leslie (details from Mrs Leslie’s obituary, Mercury, 6 August 1934, page 5). Mrs Isabella Leslie (1841-1934) named one of their daughters Harriet McGregor Leslie (born 16th October 1877), after the ship and the owner’s wife who died in 1878. Four of Isabella Leslie’s six children were born on board this vessel. According to Harry O’May, Alexander Leslie assumed command in 1874 of the Harriet McGregor when Captain Copping joined the Lufra after only three voyages (Harry O’May, Wooden Hookers of Hobart Town, Whalers Out of Van Diemen’s Land, 1978, p.90)

The barque Harriet McGregor arrived at Hobart with Mrs Leslie and two children on 3rd November 1879 from Port Louis, Mauritius. The ship was commanded by her husband Alexander Leslie and carried a cargo of sugar. This account of the vessel, written in 1934 by J.E. Philp [click here], notes that the turnaround time was just eight days between arrival and departure. Philp’s booklet includes photographs of Captain and Mrs Alexander Leslie taken in advanced age (1910s?) but, importantly for this discussion, there is also a black and white print from the 1871 stereograph glass plate, so somewhere deep in the archives or private collections, Nevin’s 1871 mounted stereographic print of the Harriet McGregor might be extant.

Port Officers Log of Arrivals
Derwent pilot was Captain William Harrison
Harriet McGregor, 3 November 1879
TAHO Ref: MB2 39 1 26 Image 392

Fourteen Years at Sea, Mrs. Isabella Stewart Leslie, widow of Captain Alexander S. Leslie, who from 1874 to 1889 commanded the famous barque Harriet McGregor in the London-Hobart trade, died in Brisbane last week.
The death of Mrs. Leslie breaks a link in the chain of Hobart’s notable calling ship days, for she accompanied her husband on many of his voyages, and several members of her family were born on the vessel. Captain Leslie’s name was a household word in Tasmanian shipping circles, and his wife was no less well known for the remarkable fact that for 14 years she made voyages in the vessel. In the interesting story recently published in book form of the Harriet McGregor, which was built at Hobart in 1870 by Mr. Alexander McGregor, it is recorded that the notable period of the Harriet McGregor‘s story was between the end of 1874 and 1888, and with Captain Leslie in command, the fame of the ship became world-wide. Mrs. Leslie joined the vessel in London in 1875, and for 14 years thereafter was one of the after-guard and a mother to the apprentices. The cabin of the Harriet McGregor was the nursery, and the poop the play-ground of her children-born at sea and named appropriately in that association. Four out of six of her bairns were born aboard the little barque: Harriet Mc-Gregor Leslie, born when the ship was in London docks; Alexander McGregor Leslie, in the River Derwent; Agnes Mary Leslie, born within sight of the Scilly Iles, from two of which – St. Agnes and St. Mary’s – her names were chosen; and Robert William Leslie, when the ship was in the North-East Trades.
Mrs. Leslie’s record is unique in sailing ship history. That she was a brave woman to make her home for 14 years on a sailing ship trading to such a distant port as London, battling round Cape Horn, with few days in dock, goes without saying. The vessel, in command of Captain Leslie, sailed 500,000 miles. In the story of the Harriet McGregor the vessel is aptly described as a “wonder ship,” and it will be unhesitatingly agreed that Mrs. Leslie was a “wonderful woman”. Her death will be regretted by a large circle of friends. She lived to the great age of 93 years.

Source: Mercury (Hobart, Tas. : 1860 – 1954), Monday 6 August 1934, page 5

Top left: Mrs Isabella Leslie died aged 93 yrs in 1934.
Top right: Captain Alexander Leslie, photographed ca. 1910,
Bottom: Possibly a print from the left image of Nevin’s stereograph glass plate of the Harriet McGregor 1871.
Published in J. E. Philp, The Harriet McGregor (1934)

Six months after taking this photograph of the Harriet McGregor in February 1871, Thomas J. Nevin married Elizabeth Rachel Day (12 July 1871), daughter of master mariner, Captain James Day and niece of the renowned Captain Edward Goldsmith who established the Domain patent slipyard in 1854 where the Harriet McGregor was built in 1870. Her circle of friends included the wives, daughters and nieces of established shipping families – the Morrison family of New Wharf, the Bayley family of New Town, the McGregor family of Battery Point, the Domeney family of North Hobart, the Chandler family of Glenorchy, and individuals of shipping renown such as Phillis Seal etc – many of whom she invited to Thomas Nevin’s studio to sit for a portrait, some of which are now viewable on this site.

The Camera, Print and Mount
A print of this ship the Harriet McGregor as a stereograph may not be extant, at least not in public collections. If it were printed at all, it would have been pasted into one of these mounts commonly used by Thomas Nevin for stereographic viewing from the late 1860s through to the mid 1870s:

the double arch on buff card
the double arch on yellow card
the square with diagonal corners at top on yellow card
the double oval on buff card
the binocular double image on buff card

The stereo cameras he used were probably made by Dallmeyer or Dubroni (pictured).

Another ship photograph by Nevin is this one taken of a group of visiting VIPS on board the City of Hobart on their way to Adventure Bay,31st January 1872 which he printed as a stereograph on a buff mount. See this article.

The Colonists’ Trip to Adventure Bay
VIPs on board The City of Hobart, 31st January 1872
Stereograph in buff arched mount by Thomas J. Nevin
Private Collection KLW NFC Group copyright © KLW NFC Imprint 2015

The square royal blue label with T. Nevin’s modified design of Alfred Bock’s stamp from the mid-1860s and the wording in gold lettering, framed on a cartouche within gold curlicues, is unique to this item, not (yet) seen on the verso of any of his other photographs. Similar wording appeared on Nevin’s most common commercial stamp from 1867 with and without Bock’s name but always with the addition of a kangaroo sitting atop the Latin motto “Ad Altiora”. Here, Bock’s name is still included within the design although Nevin acquired Bock’s studio five years earlier, in 1867: “T. Nevin late A.Bock” encircled by a buckled belt stating the firm’s name within the strap, “City Photographic Establishment”. The address “140 Elizabeth Street Hobarton” appears below the belt buckle and inside the badge motif.

The name “Graves” with a half-scroll underneath in black ink was most likely written by Thomas Nevin himself as a reminder of the client’s name for the order. The handwriting is similar to his signatures on the birth registrations of his children in the 1870s.

The pencilled inscription “On board City of Hobart, Cap Clinch, Visitors Trip Jay 1872” and the deduction of the years “1947-1872=75 ago” was written by a descendant of the Graves and Miller families, probably by daughter Jean Porthouse Graves who wrote “My Father” above the right hand frame on the front of the stereograph and a partial arrow pointing to John Woodcock Graves (jnr), She had pasted this photograph, and others taken by Thomas J. Nevin of the same group, into a family album (KLW NFC Private Collections 2015).

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