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George Peck's Theatre of the Arts
To cite this:
"George Peck's Theatre of Arts"
in Graeme Skinner (ed.), Australharmony (an online resource toward the history of music and musicians in colonial and early Federation Australia):
http://sydney.edu.au/paradisec/australharmony/INSERT page address here.php; accessed 29 March 2017
This web article by Tasmanian reseacher and writer Robyn Lake was first published online in 2000 in Adventures in Cybersound. Dealing primarily with the musician Peck's other career, as a fine arts worker and entrepreneur, it is re-presented here with only a few small emendations taking account of data that has come to light since it first appeared.
George Henry Peck was born in Hull, Yorkshire, England, in 1810. In 1833 he emigrated to the British penal colony of Van Diemen's Land (now known as Tasmania), Australia. Settled in Hobart, where he advertised as a carver and gilder, and, in 1834, opened a Repository of the Arts. Promoted vocal and instrumental concerts, which often featured his own violin solos 'after the manner of Paganini'.
Creator and proprietor of the 'Artium Pecciano', a Mechanical and Picturesque Theatre of the Arts, which he successfully exhibited in Tasmania in 1834 and 1835. In 1837 he organised Australia's first Art Exhibition at the Argyle Rooms in Hobart. The same year he began work on a Panorama and Model of Hobart Town. After his return to England in 1839, George Peck exhibited the Model and Panorama in London and Liverpool.
For the next ten years he lived in his hometown of Hull, where he established a business as an 'Artist in Figure and Ornamental Wood Carving'. During this period his most important commission was to carve the poppyheads and pew elbows for the restoration of the Holy Trinity Church in Hull. Travelled to California where he promoted and participated in 'Promenade Concerts a la Julien'.
Returned to Australia in 1853, and lived in Melbourne, where he taught music and was active in the Formation of the Victorian Society of the Fine Arts. Moved to Sydney in 1858 and opened Peck's Music Repository. Though his original profession was that of carver and gilder, George Peck was also a professional musician, often acting as Leader of the Orchestra for theatrical companies in Hobart and Sydney. He also composed and arranged music.
George Peck died in Sydney on 20 September 1863. Throughout his life he used his creative abilities to try and bring about a greater awareness and appreciation of the arts which were concerned with 'the beautiful'.
'The Cleverest Machinist we know of in the Island'
Van Diemen's Land, Australia, was the Island referred to in this quotation from Hobart's Morning Star and Commercial Advertiser of April 10, 1835. When George Peck received this accolade, the island Colony, established by the British Government in 1803, had a population of almost 40,000, including 17,000 convicts.
Why a person with his skills chose to travel to this remote and hostile place is not known, but as a result of his endeavours he became known as 'our fellow townsman Peck, who has laboured so hard to promote a taste for the fine arts'. One of his most successful ventures was an entertainment he called 'Artium Pecciano', or Theatre of Arts.
He described what patrons would experience as follows:
An entertainment of the most novel and amusing description, on the plan of the celebrated Monsieur Thiodon's Theatre of Fine Arts, which consists of a Series of beautiful views, variedfrom time to time, of all the most celebrated places in the world, not on a flat surface, but by absolute scenic models, retiring from the spectator, ships, Boats, Figures, etc., moving by mechanical means, forming a charming coup d'oeil, that will delight and surprise the beholder'.
'Thiodon's Grand Mechanical and Picturesque Theatre of Arts' was inspired by the celebrated stage designer and artist Philippe de Loutherbourg's Eidophuskon, which was exhibited in London in 1781. Within a miniature theatre setting, de Loutherbourg created moving panoramas, using three dimensional sets, lighting and sound effects to represent shipwrecks and natural wonders, such as Niagara Falls.
The Eidophuskon, presenting the scene in Pandemonium; watercolour by Edward Francis Burney (wikipedia commons)
See also this scene from de Loutherbourg's Eidophuskon reimagined in 2005 by a team from the Australian National University on Vimeo
Thiodon's show had been successfully exhibited in London since the 1820s. Like museums, panoramas, scientific lectures, etc., Theatre of Arts was promoted as a suitable leisure activity for those seeking a rational and moral entertainment.
Monsieur Thiodon assured the public that:
The Entertainments offered at this Theatre are quite distinct from that of a Theatrical Description, and on this Account, together with its suprising Ingenuity, Character' and harmless Tendancy, is peculiarly calculated to attract the Notice and support of those, whose Religious Tenets forbid their Participation in Amusements of a more marked and decisive character'.
George Peck used many of these exact phrases when advertising his Theatre of Arts in Tasmania.
After his arrival in 1833, 23 year old George Peck settled in Hobart, Tasmania's largest town, where he set up business as a carver and gilder, organized several vocal and instrumental concerts, and became involved in the establishment of the Colony's first professional theatre company.
In 1834, he spent some months in Launceston, the colony's only other large town. Though he was there as Leader of the Orchestra for Samson Cameron's Dramatic Company, George Peck also advertised as a carver and gilder and violin teacher. Obtaining sufficient patrons for any of these activities in a town of 6000 people, one third of whom were convicts, was a daunting task.
However, he decided to undertake an even more ambitious project. This was to offer a 'rational and scientific' leisure activity to the town's 'respectable' families. In July 1834, George Peck, in partnership with John Fawkner Jnr, the proprietor of Launceston's Cornwall Hotel, advertised an amusement 'for the lovers of the Fine Arts'. Fawkner was a man of action.
Besides being an inn-keeper, he was also an auctioner, builder, butcher, baker, orchardist, ran a circulating library from a room in the Hotel, a coach service, and had started Launceston's first permanent paper, The Advertiser. Realising that there were even more opportunities on the mainland, he left Tasmania in 1835, and is acknowledged as one of the founders of Melbourne.
From Grave to Gay.
The Undersigned, always anxious to promote amuseument, promises to the Lovers of the Fine Arts, a choice treat. The tedium of the winter evenings will agreeably relieved by an inspection of a novel invention, called THE FANTASCOPE. This interesting exhibition will be open to the Public at the Cornwall Hotel, each Evening, from six till nine o'Clock,
John Fawkner, Jun.
P.S.- Also, various Panoramas, Myrioramas, and a Portable Diorama
[Advertisement], Launceston Independent (9 July 1834), 1
THIS novel invention, which combines so much amusement in simple forms, and is io well fitted to pass the winter evenings agreeably, is to be seen at the Cornwall Hotel, every evening, from six to nine o'clock.
Panoramas of London, the Thames, the Rhine, ind the Maine ; with Clarice's Mynorama, and Portable Diorama; thus affording a treat to the lover of the fine arts, and to those who prize rational pleasures. July 2, 1834.
Launceston Advertiser (17 July 1834), 1
The FANTASCOPE (or Phenakistiscope) was an optical toy which consisted of a series of separate pictures depicting stages of an activity such as juggling or dancing, arranged around the edges of a slotted disk. When the disk was placed before a mirror and spun a spectator looking through the slots perceived a moving picture. The Phenakistiscope, devised by Belgian optician Joseph Ferdinand Plateau in 1832, was marketed in England by Rudoph Ackerman, founder of Ackermann's Repository of Arts.
[Advertisement], Launceston Independent (6 August 1834), 1
In August, music was added to the evening's amusements. The 'ILLIMITABLE LANDSCAPE', advertised was a myriorama, or landscape kaleidoscope. Invented by the Frenchman Bres in the 1820s, the one used by George Peck was probably based on Clark's Myriorama, which depicted an Italian Landscape. It consisted of 16 oblong cards that could be combined in various ways to form different scenes, (it was claimed that 20,922,789,888,000 changes could be made using the cards).
Such optical novelties were more often found in the drawing room or nursery in England, rather than forming part of a public amusement. However Launceston did not yet have a museum or art Gallery, so George Peck's entertainment offered a suitable leisure activity for families. Support for his 'Optical Amusements' encouraged him to create his 'Artium Pecciano', or Theatre of the Arts.
[Advertisement], Launceston Independent (4 October 1834), [?]
Utilizing his skills as a draftsman, ornamental designer, carver and painter, George Peck spent several months creating the backdrops, individual figures and effects needed for his show. His knowledge of Monsieur Thiodon's successful Theatre of Arts enabled George Peck to produce Scenes that had most proven audience appeal. Though advertisements do not mention the physical size of these 'Mechanical and Picturesque' shows, press reports suggest the viewing area was no larger than a good-sized window.
Through a combination of painted scenes, lighting, music, and mechanical figures, patrons visiting a Theatre of Arts, or Theatrum Mundi as they were called in Europe, saw 'live' depictions of historical events, foreign countries and nature's grandeur and power. Unlike marionettes, no wire or thread was used to put the flat cardboard or brass object, such as a soldier, donkey, or ship, in motion.
Each was set with a cogwheel, which ran over a strip of felt, which set the figures into their natural movements when hooked on a revolving belt running in front of the painted scenery. Other devices such as little wheeled trolleys were sometimes used to animate the figures, which were about 10cm in height.
Theatrum Mundi Figure, 'Napoleon and Horse' 19th century; from Rolf Mäser (ed.), Theatrum Mundi (Dresden: Staatliche Kunstsammlungen, 1984), 47
George Peck's 'unique and highly mental amusement' opened in October 1834, with the entertainment offering to 'advance the Launcestonians to a proud pre-eminence in the moral world and les beaux arts.' Unfortunately the reality of life in Launceston at the time was very different.
If a potential emigrant had the opportunity to read a Tasmanian newspaper in 1834 a truer picture would emerge. It was a land of bushrangers, prisoners, business insolvency and government mismanagement, where only the privileged few had time to discuss 'the fine arts'.
THIS unique and hihgly mental amusement will be opened for the FIRST TIME, THIS EVENING, the 13th Instant, and will continue open every Evening during the week; thus affording the lovers of fine arts and harmony an intellectual treat, which must then close in consequence of Mr. G. Peck's numerous avocations, requiring his presence in Hobart Town.
It is hoped that th present amusement, which the strictest religionists may frequent without fear of having their pious feelings outraged, and which affords to families such an innocent amusement, and also the hour of closing agreeing with regular family arrangements (viz. to finish at 10 o'clock,) will meet with the support of all parties; particularly as this is the first attempt at introducing simple, pleasing, and instructive amusement in these colonies; and should the patronage be commensurate with the attendant expense, and the spirit of enterprise which has produced it, it will at once advance the Launcestonians to a proud prominence in the moral world and 'les beaux arts.'
The amusements of the evening will commence with
A choice and varied election of Vocal and Instrumental Music.
Will exhibit a splendid Swiss Drop Scene, in which will be embodied a view of the Swiss Alps, and a mountain lake; monasteries, chapels, boats, figures, &c. On the drawing up of this scene, the Lago Maggiore will burst at once in all its splendoor on the audience; the Isola Bella will be discovered rising as it were from the bosom of the lake; the prospect will be bounded by the sublime summits of the snow-clad gigantic cliffs of the Higher Alps; a Catholic procession will pass over the bridge in the foreground, and also an army will defile over with its baggage, &c. &c. The boats usual on the lake, with the peasantry, will pass and re-pass in the costume of the country. A regatta, and the representation of the climbing of a slippery pole, with its attendant antics, will close this scene. The whole of which will be accompanied by appropriate music.
This delightful soiree will conclude by a display of Phantasmagorical Representations of various celebrated men and various grotesque figures.
The Orchestra will be complete. A gentleman amateur has promised to preside at the piano-forte.
ARTISTE AND LEADER OF THE BAND,
MR. GEO. PECK.
TICKETS (not transferrable), front seats 4s. each, back seats 3s; Children under ten years of age, half price; to be had at the Cornwall and Launccston Hotels only. NO MONEY TAKEN AT THE DOORS. Cornwall Hotel, October 11, 1834.
[Advertisement], Launceston Advertiser (13 October 1834), 2
After a short season of his Theatre of Arts in Launceston, George Peck returned to Hobart, taking up management of the Theatre Royal for a short period in November 1834. He also continued to operate the Fine Arts and Music establishment. By mid February preparations were completed for his Theatre of Arts to be shown in Hobart, where it was received 'with unbounded applause'.
[Advertisement], Colonial Times (17 February 1835), 51
"Theatre of Arts", Colonial Times (19 February 1835), 3
During the nineteenth century many thousands of people visited shows such as the Theatre of Arts. These 'Grand Pictorial and Mechanical Animated and Moving Representations' were exhibited in many countries under a variety of names, and form an important part of pre cinema history. Like the modern documentary, they portrayed historical events and scenic wonders.
Creating his Theatre of the Arts had been an expensive project. Though the entertainment was proving successful, George Peck knew that he had to introduce new scenes if he was to continue to attract patronage. Technological advances allow today's media to bring us news of an event as it happens, but for an entertainment provider such as George Peck things happened at a very different pace.
In London on 16 October 1834 a fire severely damaged the Houses of Lords and Commons. It was not until 21 February 1835, Tasmania's own rural interior having only recently been ravaged by fires, that Hobart's True Colonist was able to provide details of the event. The report described an occasion full of spectacle.
Scarcely had we condoled with the sufferers in the interior from the effects of the numerous fires in the bush last week, when the recent arrivals informed us of the destruction of these two great edifices . . .
The Fire Department's great floating engine was towed by steamer from Rotherithe, to help fight the blaze, barricades and fences had to be erected 'to keep off the mob, who notwithstanding carried away a great many articles.' Lords, Earls, and 'many other gentlemen of rank and influence' became involved, Lord Althorp reportedly saying 'Come, never mind the House of Commons, let it blaze away, but save, oh! Save the Hall.
"DESTRUCTION OF BOTH HOUSES OF PARLIAMENT BY FIRE", The True Colonist (21 February 1835), 3
George Peck realised the public's great interest is the event, and in March 1835, a month after the news had reached Hobart, he announced that a new Drop Scene 'The Burning of the Houses of Lords and Commons' was to be included in his Theatre of Arts. Newspaper reports and imagination enabled him to bring all the drama and action of such an event to his audience.
[Advertisement], Colonial Times (31 March 1835), 8
Beginning with de Loutherbourg's first 'Eidophuskon' in 1781, Scenes such as the Storm at Sea and Buonaparte Crossing the Alps had been the backbone of 'Mechanical and Optical Entertainments'. George Peck's Theatre of Arts was no exception, but as the Hobart season continued, a more topical scene was also included in the programme.
When His Excellency, Colonel George Arthur, Lieutenant Governor of Van Diemen's Land, and his family, honoured the performance with their presence on 1 May 1835, the programme incorporated local views and figures. The scene featured 'A splendid view of Mount Wellington and part of Hobart Town', and 'The Death of the Kangaroo', and was the first introduction of Australian material into this type of entertainment.
[Advertisement], Colonial Times (28 April 1835), 3
'The Death of the Kangaroo' was the last scene George Peck created for his Theatre of Arts, and the Hobart season finished soon after. In mid April the cost of admittance was reduced 'in order to give all classes an opportunity of witnessing it'. On 15 May 1835 George Peck offered for sale 'two Splendid sets of paper hangings' and 'an excellent cast iron Turning Lathe'. The latter had no doubt been used in making mechanisms for the scenes and figures created for the show.
It had been a great achievement to create, promote and operate such a complex entertainment. In addition to scenery, lighting, and mechanical figures, music played a very important part in the Theatre of Arts. George Peck's skills in this art certainly contributed to the success of his shows. As there was no dialogue, music helped highlight the various moods and actions within a scene. An evening's performance was usually divided into Three Parts, with musical or vocal performances entertaining the audience while scenes were being changed.
In addition to a Band, George Peck had announced 'a YOUNG LADY, Of the most Promising Talent, will make her first Appearance in Public, In a brilliant CONCERTO on the Piano Forte.' The reviews of 12 year old Miss Pettingell's playing of 'two splendid concertos by Panorma' confirmed her talent, in spite of her agitation, caused by 'the confusion which prevailed owning to the pressure of the audience, and the mischievous tricks of some very rude boys'.
Though Miss Pettingell continued her piano solos on other occasions during the Theatre of Arts season, sometimes it was George Peck himself who performed during the Scene changes, playing his 'admired Imitations of the celebrated 'PAGANINI' on the Violin'. At concerts soon after his arrival in Tasmania in 1833 George Peck's violin playing had 'astonished as well as amused the audiences'.
Whatever the occasion, George Peck tried to offer real entertainment to his audiences. His position as Leader of the Orchestra during theatrical seasons entitled him to a Benefit Evening, which included pieces as 'Timour the Tartar' and 'Frankenstein:or The Monster'.
[Advertisement] The Tasmanian and Australian Advertiser, Austral-asiatic Review (26 August 1836), 288
Though George Peck continued to live in Tasmania for some years, he did not stage another season of his Theatre of Arts. Samson Cameron viewed Peck's entertainment as opposition to his Dramatic Company's performances. Hobart's True Colonist reported that the two entertainments were quite separate, and suggested that the two settle their differences for the public benefit.
George Peck did later resume his role as Leader of the Orchestra for Cameron's Company. He also undertook new entrepreneurial activities, and in August 1837 held Australia's first Art Exhibition at Hobart's Argyle Rooms.
Nor were the many skills used to create the Theatre of Arts wasted. In 1837 George Peck announced that he had 'undertaken the completion of a PERFECT MODEL of HOBART TOWN, intended for transmission to England, where this Colony is exciting daily increasing interest and curiosity'.
During the next two years he and the talented modeller Francis Low worked to bring this ambitious project to completion. The Model was to be exhibited in combination with a 'Moving Panorama of the Romantic and Picturesque Scenery in the Environs of Hobart Town'. The Model was exhibited in Hobart and Sydney before George Peck took it to England in December 1839.
[Advertisement], The Austral-asiatic Review, Tasmanian and Australian Advertiser (2 April 1839), 1
Peck had originally hoped to hire a room at the Egyptian Hall for his London venue, the Exhibition actually opened at the Gallery of the Society of British Artists, Pall Mall, in August 1840. Review's for Peck and Low's 'Splendid Work of Art', a unique combination of Model and Panorama, emphasised the 'perfect idea of the place and scenery' the Exhibition provided.
We have read many a volume on the colony, and, what is more, we have reviewed them; but we can safely say that we never obtained so satisfactory an idea of it as by an hour's visit to this Exhibition. Were we thinking of emigration, we should examine it very carefully. After all, it does not look so tempting as the Company advertisements, prospectuses, &c. &c., make out. The fields are greenish, no doubt, and the water clear; but there is no richness of hedgerow, exuberance of vegetation, grandeur of forest scenery. The trees are not pleasing, and they look scattering and unsocial. In short, we in dear old England must see that it is another land.
Handbill printed in England, 1840, advertising Mr. G. Peck's magnificent model of Hobart Town, the capital of Van Diemen's Land, front (top), back (below) (State Library of Tasmania TL.P 919.4661 PEC)
As for his 'Artium Pecciano' or Theatre of Arts, George Peck took it to Sydney in 1838, where it was exhibited by another entrepreneur, Edward Barlow. While retaining scenes such as Buonaparte Crossing the Alps, Barlow commissioned the scene painter George Keough to create Drop Scenes with more 'local content'.
Theatre of Arts operators often adapted a scene to provide the public with more relevant material. John Harrington, a showman who toured part of the original Thiodon's Theatre of Arts around many American towns in the 1860's, tells of turning the Crimean War 'Siege of Sebastopol' into 'Fort Sumter and Charleston Harbour'.
Our figures of Russian soldiers did not need much painting to turn them into secessionists, and we had only to paint out the redcoats of the British and color them blue to make the Federal. Sebastopol stood a little too high on the rocks for the City of Charlestown, but we painted the rocks down. We turned Balaclava into Castle Pinckney, and we had room enough in the Black Sea to slip in a very nice Fort Sumter. The same holes through which we used to puff smoke in bombarding the Malakoff serve in firing at Sumter, but Sumter had to have a few additional holes.There was a night scene in the Crimea with a horse moving along, and Lord Raglan going out to look at the dead on the field of battle. Horses are all alike in pictures. Lord Raglan makes a good Major Anderson; but as no one was killed at Fort Sumter all we can do is tell our audiences that the Major is out surveying the ruins from James Island just before going on board the steamer that conveyed him to New York.
Though the actual content of Theatre of the Arts shows changed little, advertising altered to attract a different audience. When George Peck first staged his Theatre of Arts in Launceston in 1834, he promised an intellectual treat 'that the strictest religionists may frequent without fear of having their pious feelings outraged'. Twentyfive years later, the staging and scenes depicted in such shows had changed little, except for improved lighting.
But patrons at Barnum's American Museum in New York were to experience an 'AMUSING-BIZARRE-ORIGINAL' 'ANMATED WORLD' when the original Thiodon's Theatre of Arts opened there in August 1858. Though attendance declined with the introduction of newer forms of entertainment, a visit to the Theatre of Arts still provided an evening during which the 'wonderfully natural movements and droll pose keeps the audience in continuous surprise and merriment'.
After the death of Joseph Thiodon, the creator of Thiodon's Theatre of Arts, his son in law Thomas Henry Aspinall became proprietor of the Show, and adopted the name 'Monsieur Aspinall Thiodon'. The entrepreneur George Coppin brought the Show to Australia in 1870. Aspinall Thiodon and his family remained in Australia, taking Thiodon's Mechanical Wonders to many towns and cities during the next twenty years, almost until the beginning of modern motion picture exhibition in 1896.
For a Theatre of the Arts Scene to become a favourite, as much action as possible needed to be incorporated into the 'story' being portrayed. The 'Splendid New Marine Drop Scene' painted by George Peck in Hobart in 1835 provided a background for his version of a marine scene that was depicted again and again by other exhibitors throughout the eighty years that this type of entertainment survived.
Dr. Judd, who went to England in the late 1850's for P.T. Barnum, to bring the original Thiodon's Theatre of Arts to America, described how the scene worked. 'Guns and cannon in the ships and forts were so fixed that the operators behind the scenery could puff smoke through them, and the boom noise would be imitated on a bass drum.'.
[Advertisement], The True Colonist (28 February 1835), 1
The miniature steamers George Peck created to sail the waters off the 'Isle of Elba' in Hobart in 1835 were probably the same ones used in Sydney some years later, as part of Barlow's Theatre of Arts topical scene 'New Settlement at Port Essington'. In fact these same vessels may have been as part of Francis Low's short lived 'Petit Theatre', which was exhibited at the Pavilion in Sydney in 1842, in conjunction with the display of his partly completed Model of Sydney.
Patrons visiting Thiodon's Theatre of Arts at the Cosmorama in London in 1833 saw a marine scene set off the Island of Malta, 'a Revenue Cutter chasing a Smuggling Lugger, on which she will fire - the arrival of the ENGLISH FLEET, they cast Anchor, and fire a SALUTE.'
In 1853 at Sydney's Royal Marionette Theatre the action was located at Waterford, Ireland 'arrival of screw steamer City of Dublin - Signal Station indicates her approach'. A visitor to P. T. Barnum's establishment in New York in 1858 would have seen steamers off Constantinople and the Bosphorus, and when Thiodon's opened in Melbourne in 1870 the marine action took place off Gibraltar.
For audiences it was not the scenery, but the antics of the figures that made the entertainment so enjoyable, even if they sometimes appeared in rather unlikely settings. When Thiodon's Mechanical Wonders was staged in Launceston in 1890, The Examiner reported:
The exhibition opens with a pretty scene, taking in the rock and town of Gibraltar, and on the African shore is made to appear a rather unusual procession, even for that country, consisting of a man wheeling a barrow, a camel with a monkey on its back, the camel being rather eccentric as far as his walk is concerned, a peacock, a cow and calf, some pigs, and various other animals, the procession appropriately winding up with a man with a gun.
Another scene in the same programme was 'Buonaparte Crossing the Alps with 30,000 men'. The illusion of 'sublime summits of snow clad gigantic cliffs of the Higher Alps' being crossed by 'an army with all its baggage etc.' was a spectacle particularly suited to the Theatre of Arts. Perhaps some of the 'small attendance' at Launceston's Mechanics' Institute in 1890 included descendants of families who saw George Peck's representation of the same event at the Cornwall Hotel in Launceston in 1834.
[Advertisement], Launceston Examiner (13 January 1890), 2
Though George Peck's Theatre of Arts advertisements might be more fanciful than the actual presentation, there is no doubt his show was of a high standard. He went to great expense to stage the entertainment within a classical setting, in the tradition of de Loutherbourg's Eidophuskon. Part One on the opening night programme in Hobart in 1835 was 'Antiques, Architectural Proscenium and Silk curtain; caryatides, supporting an entablature; with trophies, etc.'.
Hobart's newspapers praised the design and execution of George Peck's Theatre of Arts. They were not always so kind to him. After his appearance as Young Rapid, in A Cure for the Heartache, the writer noted:
As it was his first attempt on this stage to sing, we hope it will be his last. He may fiddle, but both singing and dancing, two of its great accompaniments, he is most deficient in.'
Remembering that George Peck created his Theatre of Arts in a small colony 12,000 miles from England, in 1834, it is perhaps his ingenuity that we should most admire. It was less than forty years since the colony had been established as a British Penal Colony, and few items were manufactured in the Colony. Tasmania's inhabitants often had to wait more than six months between sending an order to England and receiving the goods. Many times George Peck would have had to improvise or adapt materials to make his 'Realization of Lilliput'.
Mr. Peck perseveres in his amusements, which are pleasing, instructive, and gratifying to every lover of the Arts and Sciences. He is certainly the cleverest Machinist we know of in the Island, and deserves encouragement.
Morning Star and Commercial Advertiser (10 April 1835)
As George Peck realised the importance of publicising his many endeavours, it is possible to follow his fortunes wherever he lived through dozens of contemporary newspaper advertisements and reports. Though nothing remains of George Peck's Theatre of Arts, there are existing examples of some of his other activities. They include a lithograph of Sir John Franklin published by Peck's Repository of Arts Hobart in 1836, a painting of the Tasmanian residence 'Timsbury', near Hobart, and music composed and arranged by George Peck during his time in California in the 1850s and after his return to Australia in 1854.
An existing example of his work as a wood carver is 'The Play Scene from Hamlet', one of the many individual alto relievo carvings he executed to sell or offer through art unions. Most importantly, his largest commission as a carver also survives. During the 1840's restoration of Holy Trinity Church in George Peck's hometown of Hull, Yorkshire, England, he was commissioned to design and execute decorative carving work on the church pews. Basing his designs on examples in medieval churches, he carved the pew elbows, and more than 150 different poppy heads.
These carvings depict an amazing array of strange beasts, angels, foliage, human and imaginary figures, forming a permanent 'exhibition' that shows George Peck's talent and creativity.
© Robyn Lake 2000, 2015
Robyn Lake was born in New Zealand in 1943, and moved to Queensland's Gold Coast with her family in 1959. That year her father George Gilltrap established Gilltrap's Auto Museum , an attraction which featured an amusing live show telling the history of transport. For thirty years Robyn was involved in the management of this premier tourist attraction.
In 1994 she and her husband Denis moved their antique furniture restoration business to Launceston. They have extensively researched the manufacture, importation, sale and use of furniture in Tasmania during the first hundred years of European settlement.
Robyn is a regular contributor to Australiana, the journal of the Australiana Society. On three occasions she has won the society's annual Peter R. Walker Australiana Writing Award. Her current research (2015) aims to uncover the stories of the more than 500 convicts with furniture trade related skills who served their sentences in Van Diemen's Land.
Altick, Richard D, The Shows of London (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1978)
Bradshaw, Richard, "The Merlin of the South", Australasian Drama Studies 7 (November 1985)
Judd, Dr., "The Old Panorama", The Billboard (5 December 1903), 25, 26
Kerr 1992, 612-14
Mäser, Rold (ed.), Theatrum Mundi (Dresden: Staatliche Kunstsammlungen, 1984)
Oppenheim, Helen L., Colonial theatre: the rise of the legitimate stage in Australia, 1824-1847, State Library of New South Wales, Mitchell Library, typescript
Pesvner N., Neave D., The Buildings of England: Yorkshire: York and the East Riding (London, 1995)
Information on the Thiodon family from Richard Bradshaw
© Graeme Skinner 2014 - 2017