HEWITT, Charles (1837-1912)
Melbourne photographer Timothy Noble as Wahnotee in “The Octoroon”, circa 1870
Albumen print photograph, carte de visite format, 101 x 62 mm, verso with imprint of ‘C. Hewitt, Photographer, Australasian Studio, 95 Swanston St., Melbourne’ and contemporary inscription in pencil ‘Tim Noble – as Wahnatee [sic.] in the Octoroon’; the albumen print is in fine condition with good tonal range; the mount has a few light marks and mild toning.
The Octoroon, written by Dion Boucicault, was first performed in 1859 at the Winter Garden Theatre, New York, and was in its time a play second in popularity only to Uncle Tom’s Cabin. It was also extremely popular in the Colony of Victoria, with dozens of productions recorded at venues in Melbourne and on the goldfields during the 1860s and 1870s.
One of the play’s central characters is the “noble savage”, Wahnotee. The Melbourne professional photographer and amateur thespian, the appropriately named Timothy Noble, was photographed around 1870 in costume as Wahnotee by his friend and fellow photographer, Charles Hewitt. Interestingly, Noble himself is best known for his studio portraits of theatre personalities, including Maggie Moore and J.C. Williamson.
The carte de visite we offer here is the only surviving example of this image that we can locate.
A fascinating relic of the overlapping worlds of commercial photography and the theatre in mid nineteenth-century Melbourne.