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Australian Dictionary of Biography

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Bock, Thomas (1790–1855)

by William Bryden

This article was published in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 1, (MUP), 1966

Thomas Bock (1790-1855), artist and engraver, was born at Sutton Coldfield, Warwickshire, England. He became a cathedral chorister at nearby Lichfield, and later was apprenticed to Thomas Brandard, an engraver in Birmingham, where he worked with W. Wyon, later engraver to the Mint. On completing his apprenticeship he set up as an engraver and miniature painter in London, and in 1817 was awarded the silver medal by the Society of Arts and Commerce for an engraving of a portrait. He was married with five children by April 1823 when found guilty at the Warwick Assizes of administering drugs to a young woman. Sentenced to transportation for fourteen years he arrived in Hobart Town in the Asia in January 1824, and was assigned to the Naval Officer, Dr Edward Bromley. Exemplary conduct earned him conditional pardon in June 1832 and free pardon in November.

Bock's career as an engraver and portrait painter did not stop with his transportation. In December 1824 he engraved a plate for a four-dollar note for the directors of the Van Diemen's Land Bank and received public acclaim for his workmanship. He engraved the plates for the 1829, 1830 and 1835 Almanacks published by Dr James Ross, and a number of bill heads and commercial cards listed by C. Craig in The Engravers of Van Diemen's Land (Hobart, 1961). From 1831 he had a gallery in Liverpool Street, Hobart, but he later moved to Campbell Street where, as the first professional painter to practise in the colony, he gave lessons in painting and became well known for his portraits of wealthy settlers. He was commissioned by Lady Jane Franklin to paint the portraits of some Tasmanian Aboriginals. Now in the Tasmanian Museum and Art Gallery, Hobart, these paintings are of importance as they were completed before contact with white settlers affected the Aboriginals' appearance. He painted in both oils and water-colour and used pastel touches with effect to give expression to eyes so that his best portraits reveal the character of the sitter as well as the likeness. In 1843 Bock visited Sydney but returned to exhibit at the first major art exhibition, which was held in Hobart in 1845. He exhibited again the following year although he was then recuperating from a severe illness. His early interest in music continued in the colony where he numbered William Wallace among his friends. Bock died in Hobart on 18 March 1855.

On the death of his first wife, Bock had married Mary Ann, née Spencer, in July 1850. Of his seven colonial-born sons, two inherited his artistic ability. The eldest, Alfred (1835-1920), who worked in Hobart as an engraver and daguerreotype photographer, painted portraits and landscapes. William, the third son, also an engraver, executed many illuminated addresses for the New Zealand government.

Many of Thomas Bock's portraits are owned by Tasmanian collectors and descendants. Among the best are those of George Marshall in the possession of Mrs P. G. Marshall, Hobart; Mr and Mrs Thomas Tilley in the possession of Mr P. H. T. Stops, and Mr and Mrs Richard Lewis in the possession of Mr Hubert Lewis, Hobart. A number of Bock's pencil drawings of Van Diemen's Land identities are in the Dixson Library, Sydney.

Select Bibliography

  • Mercury (Hobart), 21 Aug 1931
  • correspondence file under Bock (Archives Office of Tasmania)
  • Registrar-General records (Hobart).

Related Entries in NCB Sites

Citation details

William Bryden, 'Bock, Thomas (1790–1855)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 1966, accessed online 21 October 2020.

This article was first published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 1, (MUP), 1966

View the front pages for Volume 1

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