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Chapman, Thomas Evans (1788–1864)

by Henry Allport

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

Thomas Evans Chapman (1788-1864), artist, spent the years from 1822 to 1833 sketching in the west of England. In December 1834 he arrived at Hobart Town with his wife, as cabin passengers in the Britomart, bringing a letter of recommendation from R. W. Hay, under-secretary of state for the colonies, to whom he had been introduced by the marquess of Bute, who held large estates in the west country. Chapman had hoped for an official appointment but as none was available, he advertised lessons in drawing and painting, and put examples of his work on display. By the next month he was receiving a good income from his pupils, but by 1836 he had to do occasional clerical work for the Board of Assignment to increase his income.

In 1839 a panoramic view of Hobart Town by Chapman was bought by James Thomson the architect, for publication in England. Next year he called for orders for a series of more than thirty drawings of colonial landscapes which he intended to have lithographed in England, but the project progressed no further. At the same time, when subscriptions for Dr Brain's sketches of Van Diemen's Land and the neighbouring colonies were called for, Chapman's illustrations in the style of Stanfield's views of the Rhine, Moselle and Meuse received favourable press comment. But the book was never published.

He tendered his services to the colonial secretary as drawing master for the projected grammar school to be established under John Gell in 1840, but was unsuccessful. In August 1841 he applied for a clerkship in the office of the principal superintendent of convicts and was appointed as a third-class clerk at a salary of £120. Hit by the depression of the 1840s, he was declared bankrupt in October 1842, though allowed by his creditors to retain his drawing implements and some furniture; he was discharged the following month. His appointment as drawing master to the class of landscape drawing in the Mechanics' Institute in November 1846 brought him fees of £1 a pupil a quarter to supplement his government salary. They rose to £20 in 1853, and in 1855, when he became a second-class clerk, amounted to £180 a year. He died at his home in Hobart on 29 September 1864. A man of intellectual interests, he fostered a love of good literature among his pupils with whom he enjoyed literary discussions.

Chapman was one of the best of Van Diemen's Land's early artists and attracted the attention of the diarist, George Boyes, who praised the technical finish of his drawings. His draughtsmanship was extremely good and his work in water colour clean and bright with a good appreciation of colour values. The work of many of his pupils, among whom were Alexander Webster and James Campbell, shows a close resemblance to his own technique. His work in Tasmania was of more than ordinary interest since throughout his life he had followed the practice of labelling, dating and signing all his sketches and drawings, thus leaving an accurate picture of the Tasmanian landscape in the first half of the nineteenth century.

Select Bibliography

  • correspondence file under T. E. Chapman (Archives Office of Tasmania).

Citation details

Henry Allport, 'Chapman, Thomas Evans (1788–1864)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/chapman-thomas-evans-1889/text2225, published first in hardcopy 1966, accessed online 18 December 2018.

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

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