Man with royal charter

This cabinet card photograph is the first image I’ve shared from Australia.  It was printed at the Anson Brothers studio in Hobart, Tasmania, which was in operation from 1878 to 1891.  Founded by brothers Joshua, Henry Joseph and Richard Edwin Anson, the studio became known for views of Tasmanian scenery, which received medals at the 1883–84 Calcutta International Exhibition and the 1888–89 Melbourne Centennial International Exhibition.

The stern-looking man in the photograph is pointing to a royal charter awarded by Queen Victoria.  Unfortunately, I can read only a few words of it, such as witness and Queen Herself.  On the table in front of the charter is a royal seal.

Man with charter by Anson Bros., Hobart 3

(To open an enlargement of the image above [2.1 mb] in a separate tab, click here.)

Update, July 21: A reader suggested in a comment below that this document may have been a Letters Patent rather than a charter.

I found a partial image online of a charter awarded to Queen’s University in Ontario, Canada, in 1841.  That page also shows a replica of the royal seal which accompanied the charter.  Presumably the charter above was awarded much later, in the late 1870s or 1880s, when the Anson Bros. studio was in operation.  On the other hand, the Ansons could have copied a photograph that was taken earlier, before they opened their business.  It’s possible that the stern-looking man with the charter never stepped foot in Tasmania.  But if that were true, why would the Ansons reproduce the photograph?  It must have had some connection to Australia.*  I intend to reach out to museums there to see if they’ve come across the image before.  If you have any other ideas, do let me know.

Man with charter by Anson Bros., Hobart 2


*Wikipedia has a list of royal charters awarded by decade, including the 1880s.  The University of Tasmania received a royal charter in 1915.


41 thoughts on “Man with royal charter

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  1. Gravitas! Royal charters, still awarded I wonder? I’m also curious as to why all those wonderful, international exhibitions are no longer. They seemed to morph into World Fairs and then disappeared. Hmmm.

    Liked by 3 people

    1. Isn’t that funny that your comments begin with “Gravitas,” Mary Jo! When I opened the post, my immediate thought was, “The damage to the photograph has ruined the gravitas of the occasion it commemorates.”

      Liked by 2 people

    2. When I looked at the list of organizations which have received royal charters, I was surprised at the wide variety. This photo suggests that this charter was for something Very Important. The answer may be lost, but I suspect not. We’ll see!

      Liked by 1 person

  2. I can’t imagine why the studio would reproduce a photo of this nature unless it was related to Australia. I wonder what the other piece of paper is. It is a wonderful photograph and falls in line perfectly with the scenery the studio became known for as there’s a superb attention to detail. The lines and angles throughout harmonize with one another. It reminds me of late Renaissance portraits in the way they would hint at the scenery beyond the figure through windows and other architectural openings. A great mystery! Looking forward to what you discover about it. Happy searching, Brad! ☺️

    Liked by 1 person

    1. The other piece of paper appears to have a stamp on it which may have been made using the royal seal. But that’s just a guess. I love your comparison to Renaissance portraiture! Early photographers often had artistic training which exposed them to significant artistic traditions. I don’t know much about the Ansons, but they were certainly talented and enterprising. I hope to see more of their Tasmanian views online. Thanks so much, Suzanne!

      Liked by 1 person

    1. Sometimes the connections my mind draws surprise even me, but your mention of a full-bottomed wig brought to mind Queen’s song “Fat Bottomed Girls.” Of course I had to listen, and now I’m wondering how long it’ll be before it leaves my mind!

      Liked by 1 person

  3. An unusual image ! Popular wisdom would say that Victorians didn’t like to boast, but this chap has been handed an Important Job and would like it to be remembered.

    The document may be Letters Patent (always plural) rather than a charter. They were issued by the monarch for various reasons, including the establishment of a Royal Commission, a sort of court of inquiry. This is my guess, based on the judicial garb.

    As you have already pointed out it may be a copy and nothing to do with Tasmania/Australia, but there is a Wiki page listing South Australian Royal Commissions, which began in 1859. I think the image is c. 1880, and there were a lot of RCs established around that time, so perhaps some patient digging could turn up a list of candidate names.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Excellent suggestion, Michael! I hadn’t heard of Letters of Patent before. That might explain why the judge is holding more than one document. For now I’ll leave the post as-is, until we can confirm that the he is, in fact, holding one or more Letters of Patent.

      Regarding the age of the photo, I suspect you’re right, based on the condition of both the mount and the print. If we could find additional Anson Bros. cabinet cards to compare this one to, that might help date this one with greater certainty.

      Michael, on a different subject, do you have any interest in photos related to India? I have a large photo, probably from the 1910s or early 1920s, containing a group of scholarly South Asian and European men posing together. I suspect the photo was taken at a British university, although it came from an estate in Texas. I’d hoped to identify the men or the location, but so far no luck.


      1. Thanks Brad. Sorry, I don’t have special knowledge of photos from India, but if you post it I’m sure you will receive interesting contributions.

        I was collecting UK portrait photos in the 1980s and 1990s when they were plentiful and still very cheap. Dealers evidently thought they were secondary to topographic postcards. More than once, I got the pitying comment : “But you don’t know who they are !”

        Liked by 1 person

      2. Portrait photos are still very plentiful, and sometimes cheap, although probably not as cheap as they were in the 1980s and 1990s. Dealers seem to have caught on to the fact that old photos are collectible, which is a good thing overall, because it means they put the photos up for sale instead of tossing them in a rubbish bin. In recent years the number of new listings on eBay has been enormous, including listings in the UK, which has had the effect of keeping prices down somewhat. I wonder how much longer that will be true?

        By the way, I bought this photo from a dealer in Chesterfield, England, in January 2020.


  4. I suppose photographic conventions of the time have something to do with it, but I couldn’t help thinking that this fellow’s expression is somehow reminiscent of the expression often seen in Queen Victoria’s photos. I did notice that most of her photos show a profile rather than a full-face view. I wonder if that was her preference (“Be sure and show my good side!”) or if it was for some other reason.

    Liked by 1 person

      1. Are her journals available? I suspect they’d be as interesting as anything from the era; she’s clearly more interesting and complex than I imagined after our brief exposure to her in school.

        Liked by 1 person

      2. The journals must have been transcribed, but I don’t know if they’re publicly available. She was definitely an interesting and complex person, which may explain why there’s still so much interest in her 120 years after her death.


    1. Hi Lin! So nice to hear from you! You’re absolutely right that the Anson brothers might have printed the photo from an earlier negative that they had purchased. The page you linked to says they purchased Samuel Clifford’s studio and stock in 1878, which also included images made by Thomas J. Nevin, who had been in partnership with Clifford. So, this photo could have been taken by either of those men. I had planned to continue researching the photo, but got busy with summer activities and didn’t follow through. Your interest in the post is inspiring me to pursue it again! Thank you! 🥰

      Liked by 1 person

      1. I was intrigued by the stories of the brothers and dig further into the history of the studio. I thought the photo of W.R. Giblin (in the link I posted earlier) who was the Attorney General then bore a resemblance to the one in your post, but I’ve never been particularly good with faces. I also found two websites that specialize on Tasmanian historians and photographers, you might get some answers from them (if you are pursuing further)!

        Liked by 1 person

      2. Fantastic links! I learned a lot about Joshua Anson from the first one. He had a hard life because of epilepsy. Your second link led me to Beatties Studio, which is a gold mine of early images of Tasmania. John Watt Beattie purchased the Anson Brothers studio and stock in 1892, along with rights to the images they had acquired from Samuel Clifford. Beattie was a very accomplished photographer himself. What an amazing catalog of images he must have had!

        Liked by 1 person

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