# 13724

Photographer unknown.

Photographic portrait of King Tidy, Brisbane, circa 1868

$5,500.00 AUD

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[Title from engraved breastplate worn by the subject]. Albumen print, carte de visite format, 90 x 60 mm, on mount 104 x 65 mm; numeral “9” inscribed in ink in contemporary hand at lower margin recto of mount; verso blank; the albumen print in fine condition with rich tonal range.

We can locate only two other copies of this image in public collections. One – an example with somewhat gaudy watercolour embellishment – is contained in the Archer Family Album in the John Oxley Library; it is reproduced as Plate 1 in Michael Aird’s Portraits of our elders (Brisbane : Queensland Museum, 1993). The other is held in the Pitt Rivers Museum (1998.307.387). The Pitt Rivers example was probably collected around 1868 by J. F. Berini, one of numerous travellers known to have sent photographs of indigenous subjects to the Hamburg studio of the photographers and publishers Carl and Frederick Dammann, and it bears a contemporary inscription verso: “King (Chief), living not far from Brisbane, Australia, who although in an entirely savage condition was a patron and friend of the natural scientist Dr. Berini on several occasions. He gave Berini particularly a secure escort on his way to areas never before explored or entered by a white man.”

This imposing portrait, photographed from a low angle in order to invest its subject with power and gravitas, was most likely taken in the studio of John Watson, Daniel Marquis or Thomas Bevan. The photographer has purposely composed the sitter in the manner of a classical statue – we are instantly reminded of the Roman god Neptune or his Greek counterpart, Poseidon – with Tidy’s three items of regalia prominent: his breastplate (sometimes referred to as a king plate or gorget), which would have been given to him by local white authorities or settlers; a crown, perhaps made from tin, and also made for him by Europeans; and a spear – the only one of the three objects of indigenous manufacture. Although it is tempting for us to conclude that Tidy’s dignity transcends the mocking nature of the accoutrements bestowed upon him by white society, this interpretation of the portrait may be a little simplistic: it is not for us to judge whether or not these symbols carried significant meaning for Tidy, and in fact his expression may connote a fierce pride in wearing them, rather than a defiant attitude in the face of derision.