On board the Harriet McGregor 1871-1880

SEMIOSIS: 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 http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-page781520


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 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 http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article8865695

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. The stereographic potential of the image also appears to be clearer, or does the direction in which the ship is now pointing, out away from the town as if ready to leave, re-enforce what we know from having just read the advertisement, viz. that this is the Harriett McGregor, easily deduced from the newspaper notice of her imminent departure on 7th February 1871? 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.

The Paradigms
Coming or going? Arrival or departure? Left to right, or right to left? Obverse or face? Negative or positive? Factual or fictive? The narrative significance of an image to viewers emerges from their application of cultural signifiers to the textual, interpersonal, and contextual relationships within the photograph, and external to the image, their status as audience with the photograph’s creators and producers. These factors, when interrogated, can render a reading of the photograph below in relation to the print from a glass plate of the ship (above) in the absence of the photographer’s final stereographic prints of 1871.

Photo copyright © KLW NFC Imprint 2015

The photograph above was published in Dan Sprod’s book,Victorian and Edwardian Hobart From Old Photographs(1977, Ferguson) with the date (1880) and the ship named as the Lufra. Sprod’s caption reads:

Captain, his family, and ship’s officers of the barque Lufra, New Wharf, 1880s.

Who had Dan Sprod in mind when he captioned this photograph? Was it Captain James Rogers or Captain Richard Copping, and was the Captain’s family the woman holding a toddler or the wife of the man at centre, possibly the Lufra‘s First Mate, Cephus Mathews?

Captain Copping had resigned command of the Lufra in 1878 due to ill-health, succeeded by Captain James Rogers, so he was not in command of the Lufra in 1880. The First Mate of the Lufra ,Cephus Mathews,was lost at sea on the return voyage from London , but was it in 1878 or 1880? It was in the same year, according to this retrospective published in the Mercury 29 June 1936, although his death was registered in Tasmania in September 1880 (Tasmanian Names IndexRGD35/1/9 no 2925):

Captain Copping resigned command of the Lufra In 1878 owing to ill-health, and he was succeeded by Captain James Rogers, with Cephus (Tip) Mathews as chief officer. She sailed under her new master on January 28 of that year for London two days before the Wagoola, but arrived home 12 days before her. The value of her cargo on this trip was £67.724. On her return voyage she was out only 88 days from Gravesend, and it was on this trip that Mathews was lost overboard. His wife and child were passengers on the barque.

Source: LUFRA—A HANDSOME CLIPPER OF OTHER DAYS. (1936, June 29). The Mercury (Hobart, Tas. : 1860 – 1954), p. 8. Retrieved August 10, 2015, from http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article25205505

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

Dan Sprod chose to publish the photograph with the Lufra caption possibly because it has survived as an early generic image of a Captain with a family and his crew on board one of the best known barques of the period. Sprod dated and captioned this photograph “Captain, his family, and ship’s officers of the barque Lufra, New Wharf, 1880s” perhaps with the death of Cephus Mathews in mind. Mathews was lost at sea from the Lufra in 1880, a tragedy for his wife and child who were on board, according to Harry O’May author of Wooden Hookers of Hobart Town, Whalers Out of Van Diemen’s Land (1978). O’May says of the barque Lufra (page 89):

“On her outward voyage in 1880 she had the misfortune to lose her First Mate, Cephes Mathews, who was a very popular officer and a thorough seaman. It was a very sad occurrence as Mrs Mathews and child were on board on their way to London.”

Were Mrs Mathews and child on the way to London from Hobart or from London to Hobart when her husband was lost at sea? The Mercury‘s retrospective report (above, dated 1936) states that Mathews was lost overboard from the Lufra just 88 days out of Gravesend on the return trip to Hobart, and not on their way from Hobart to London. These contradictions across a century of reporting and publishing (1871-1978) in no way diminish the resonances of both the various textual accounts and the image that Sprod chose to underscore its visual and emotive appeal by association with the Lufra. However, by bringing the photographer’s practice into the picture, another story entirely can be told, whoever that photographer might have been.

Who is the Captain, really?
The Captain in Dan Sprod’s published image is unnamed, and possibly for a good reason. Is the man wearing a different uniform from the others at extreme right the Captain of the ship on which he stands, or is it the man seated at the focal centre of the image? If the man propped against the roof of the cabin stairwell on the viewer’s extreme right is the same man who appears on this wall display at the Maritime Museum of Tasmania (photo above), then that man was Captain Richard Copping, albeit with the wrong date, as he retired command of the Lufra in 1878. So this group photograph with someone resembling Captain Copping on viewer’s extreme right was taken on board another vessel in 1880, the Harriet McGregor, for example, and not on board the Lufra. The Harriet McGregor was commanded by Captain Alexander Leslie from 1874 to 1889 (details from Mrs Leslie’s obituary, Mercury, 6 August 1934, page 5). The unnamed captain in this image chosen by Sprod, therefore, was probably the man at the centre, the Harriet McGregor‘s former chief officer and commander by 1874, Captain Alexander Leslie, and not the man on extreme right in a light suit. The Captain’s family then would be the woman and child, Mrs Isabella Leslie (1841-1934) with one of her six children, possibly her daughter Harriet McGregor Leslie (born 16th October 1877), named 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.

Who is the Captain – the man on extreme left or extreme right, or the man at centre?
Copy from Victorian and Edwardian Hobart From Old Photographs (Dan Sprod (1977)
Sprod gives the source of the image as the Archives Office of Tasmania
Photo copyright © KLW NFC Imprint 2015

The woman holding a toddler in this image is sitting equidistant between the man seated at centre and the man on extreme right. Because of Sprod’s caption, and conventions of reading texts and images from left to right, taking up meaning from the reme (the last signifier along the reading plane), one would assume that she is the wife of the man at extreme right because of Sprod’s sequential wording and because both are gazing towards some person or event outside the frame, unlike the four other crew members who all faced the camera at the point of capture. Or so it would seem to the viewer of the print, but what if the negative was viewed from the obverse? The tenor of interpersonal relationships between the people in the image and its context would acquire new and possibly more historically accurate meanings.

Presupposing that the man on the right leaning against the cabin stairwell roof is Captain Richard Copping in early middle age (1821-1892): compare the photograph of him and his wife Susannah Elizabeth Mann (they married in 1856) on the wall display (photo above) at the Maritime Museum of Tasmania with this young woman and child whom Sprod designates as the Captain’s “family”. It is apparent that the woman holding the baby, who looks to be about 30yrs old, was not Mrs Copping. She therefore has to be the wife of the man seated centre frame; that he therefore is the Captain, Alexander Leslie, and that the man on the extreme right wearing a light-coloured uniform is a visitor on board. Perhaps he was the Derwent pilot Captain William Harrison whose first pilotage in 1879 was the Harriet McGregor (Philp, 1934: 31). 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)

Who is this man? The Derwent pilot Captain William Harrison?
Detail of image in Sprod (1977)

Flip the image of the group and a new relationship between the woman and child, and the men is created. Was she the wife of the man at the centre of the frame, Captain of the Harriet McGregor, Alexander Leslie, now on her left-hand side? Her gaze is now directed away from the “visitor” who might be Captain Copping or Derwent pilot Captain William Harrison, and across the body of the man seated at centre who may well be her husband.

Photo copyright © KLW NFC Imprint 2015

The image reversed: the “visitor” is now on the viewer’s left. The woman now appears turned in towards the man in the centre, and away from the “visitor”.

Placing the “visitor”, the woman and child on the viewer’s left allows another reading of the social relationships between subjects in the image, of the state of affairs of their world, and of the structures of the world as they appeared for the photographer. A semiotic reading – that is, reading the significance of these personal spatial relationships through our conventions of left to right predication (theme to reme/reme then becomes the uptake for the theme in the viewer’s assumption expressed as explanation) and markers along the vectors – would further refute the idea that the woman is the wife of the man in the light-coloured uniform at extreme of image. The toddler’s shawl is one such sign. It is draped over the arm of the seat where the man at the centre of the photograph is sitting, linking her status and the child’s as his wife and family. He is therefore the Captain of the ship, and that ship was the Harriet McGregor.

The photograph of Mrs Leslie on board the barque Harriet McGregor was taken on or soon after 3rd November 1879 on her arrival in Hobart as a passenger with two children 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

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)

The photograph below depicts the Harriet McGregor at the New Wharf, Hobart, taken some time between 1871 and 1879, reproduced from a glass plate by Alan Green (State Library of Victoria).

State Library of Victoria
Title: HARRIET MCGREGOR [picture]
Author/Creator: Allan C Green 1878-1954 photographer.
Date: ca. 1900-ca. 1954
Description: 2 negatives : glass ; each 12.1 x 16.6 cm. (half plate)
Identifier(s): Accession no(s) H91.250/130; H91.250/131
Source/Donor: Gift of Mr. Allan C. Green ca. 1940.

Dan Sprod’s unidentified “Captain” in the group photograph, we can now assume, was the man seated at centre, Alexander Leslie, and his “family” – shown as a young woman with a two-year old daughter – we can now assume was Mrs Isabella Leslie. The ship was not the Lufra, therefore, but the Harriet McGregor, and if the photograph was taken in late 1879 or early 1880, the child would have been their two-year old daughter Harriet McGregor Leslie. The identity of man in the light-coloured uniform whom viewers might initially assume was the Captain of the vessel, must remain inconclusive, but he could well have been the Derwent pilot Captain William Harrison on his first pilotage in 1879 (Philp op cit.). Another crew member mentioned by Philp (1934:32) on board in 1879 was Ned Cleverly, possibly one of the young men standing behind the seated couple. Other former crew identified by Philp through the decades were: Mr. W. Burke; Captain Sir John Evans; Captain Athol Morrison; Captain Fred Makepeace; Mr Barney Riley; Mr Percy Napper; Mr Hugh Macquarie, and Mr Percy Garde.

Thomas Nevin may have photographed this group on board the ship he first photographed with the intention to produce stereographic prints in 1871 for the ship’s owners. Six months later, in July 1871, he married Elizabeth Rachel Day, daughter of another master mariner, Captain James Day and niece of the renowned Captain Edward Goldsmith who established the Domain slipyard in 1854 where the Harriet McGregor was built in 1870. Her circle of friends included second-generation 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 Chandler family of Glenorchy etc – many of whom she invited to Thomas Nevin’s studio to sit for a portrait, some of which are now available on this site.

Captain Richard COPPING (1821-1892)
Taken ca. 1890, unattributed
Archives Office Tasmania
Ref: PH30/1/1984

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.

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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