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Spurling, Frederick (1850–1942)

by Christine Burgess

Frederick Spurling, photographer and labourer, was born on 22 January 1850, in Church Street, Hobart Town, Van Diemen’s Land. He was the third son of Stephen Spurling 1st and Louisa Spurling née Lovett. At the time of his birth, his father was employed as a clerk in the Convict Department, Van Diemen’s Land.

It is possible Frederick attended the Chalmers School in Hobart Town. However, his formal education probably ceased around the time of his father’s 1861 bankruptcy. In 1863, when he was then thirteen years old, their parents took Frederick and his elder brother Stephen 2nd to Invercargill, New Zealand, where they established a grocery and bakery business, supplying goods to those en-route to the goldfields.

Frederick returned to Hobart Town with his parents in early 1864, and shortly afterwards, his father established a photography studio at 76 Murray Street. By 1867, Frederick and Stephen 2nd were assisting in their father’s business, but this arrangement ended in 1873 when Stephen 2nd moved to Launceston. Two years later, when his father’s business was declared bankrupt, the glasshouse at the rear of Frederick’s residence was auctioned to help pay the creditors. In May the following year, Frederick decided to retire from photography, and he advertised the sale of some 10,000 negatives and photographic equipment. Presumably, these items were the residual from his father’s business.

On 22 October 1877, Frederick married Angelina Mary Hackett (c.1861-1910) in the Pier Hotel, Swansea, Tasmania, by special licence, according to the rites of the Church of Scotland (Presbyterian). Mary (as she was usually known), was the second daughter of the then deceased James Hackett of Hobart Town. The name of her mother is unknown. The couple had eight children, Frederick Harold Stephen (1876-1902), Ethel May (1878-1902), Frank (1880-1943), Linda (or Lynda) Lilian (1882-1947), Leslie Lovett (later known as Richard Leslie and Dick) (1884-1962), Irene Elsie (known as Daisy) (1886-?), Percy Norman (1888-1974) and Sydney Roy (known as Roy) (1890-?).

The 1880s and 1890s were an unsettled period for Frederick and Mary. From the records of the birthplaces of their children, it seems the family moved around Tasmania for some time. In 1881, Frederick was taking photographs in Campbell Town, but the family returned to Hobart the following year. Although in 1886, he was operating as a photographer in Hobart, throughout this period Frederick experienced financial difficulties, and on several occasions, he appeared before the courts for failing to provide child maintenance.

By 1899, it seems husband and wife were estranged. Mary remained in Hobart, and Frederick moved to Fingal, in the northeast of Tasmania. For the next decade, Frederick apparently had no permanent address, but in 1909, he appeared in the records as a photographer in Fingal. The following year, his wife’s death certificate recorded Frederick’s current employment as a labourer. He again disappeared from the records for four years, but from 1913 until 1937, he worked continuously as a photographer in Fingal.

Frederick then returned to Hobart, and spent the remainder of his life living with his son Richard at 283 Argyle Street. When interviewed for a newspaper article on his ninety-second birthday, Frederick recalled his long and eventful life. He claimed he had known the bushranger Martin Cash, and stated that he had taken the photographs used to illustrate one of the books on Cash’s exploits. Since his photography career had spanned some seventy-five years, the article described Frederick as possibly ‘Tasmania’s oldest photographer’. Frederick died eleven months later, on 15 December 1942, at his son’s residence. His funeral was held on 17 December, and he was interred at Cornelian Bay Cemetery.

Of all four Spurling photographers, Frederick was the least prolific and very few of his photographs have survived. Those that do either depict rural scenes, or feature people (and sometimes animals), and provide limited clues as to his technical skills and aesthetic sensibilities. A few of his images are held in private collections. In addition, the Queen Victoria Museum and Art Gallery (Launceston), and the Tasmanian Museum and Art Gallery, both hold small collections of his work. In the early twentieth century, his images occasionally appeared in the Weekly Courier newspaper. The only known portrait of him appeared in the Mercury newspaper on 22 January 1942.

Original publication

Additional Resources

Citation details

Christine Burgess, 'Spurling, Frederick (1850–1942)', Obituaries Australia, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, https://oa.anu.edu.au/obituary/spurling-frederick-1577/text1650, accessed 28 November 2021.

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