One of the pioneers of early photography in the 19th century along with his stepfather Thomas Bock, Alfred Bock also pursued a number of other interests including botany, painting and engraving. Mostly a resident of Tasmania, Bock also spent time in Victoria and New Zealand.
painter, professional photographer, engraver and craftsman, was born in Hobart Town on 19 April 1835 (although the register of Holy Trinity Church, where he was baptised, gives his birth date as 9 April), younger son of Alexander Cameron, a seaman, and Mary Anne, née Spencer. Within a few years his mother formed an association with and eventually married Thomas Bock whom Alfred seems to have regarded as his natural father and who taught him drawing, painting and photography. Alfred, however, lacked his stepfather’s drawing ability; his portraiture in particular lacks intrinsic merit. Other interests included music and small boats – as a young man in Hobart he took part in the regattas of the 1850s and 1860s – and he seems to have had more than a casual interest in botany. Later at Sale, Victoria, he prepared, in conjunction with the Victorian government botanist Ferdinand von Mueller , some photographs of herbarium specimens and a series of hand-coloured cartes-de-visite of the wildflowers of Gippsland.
Alfred Bock married twice. On 24 July 1858, he married Mary Anne Parkinson, the second daughter of Robert Parkinson of Hobart Town. They had six children, of whom the first five were born in Hobart. Their second child, Amy Maud Bock (1859-1943), became, according to the New Zealand Dictionary of Biography , 'New Zealand’s most celebrated and energetic confidence trickster’. Mary Anne died in a Melbourne lunatic asylum on 14 January 1875 and on 25 March 1882 Alfred married Eleanor Rachel Blackburn, granddaughter of the architect James Blackburn. Eleanor and Alfred had seven children, the three eldest sons being born in New Zealand.
Alfred Bock’s major interest increasingly became photography. He inherited Thomas Bock’s daguerreotype establishment at the family home, 22 Campbell Street, and in April 1855 announced his own photographic business. At the end of July he moved into W.G. Elliston’s premises at 78 Liverpool Street, Hobart Town, formerly occupied by the photographers Duryea & McDonald , where he built a 'Crystal Palace’ studio and purchased photographic apparatus from Andrew Ross of London. Apparently because of continuing financial difficulties, Elliston’s rooms were again available for rent in October 1855. Bock’s photographic establishment moved several times. By 1857 he was at 18 Macquarie Street; on 6 February 1858, the Launceston Examiner announced he was insolvent. Later that year Bock re-established himself at 140 Elizabeth Street, where he remained until June 1865 when he was again declared insolvent. On 2 August the 'Stock-in-Trade of a Photographer, comprising – Instruments, Chemicals, Background, accessories, chairs, tables, pedestals, vases, and many other necessary articles for taking photographic portraits, &c.’ was auctioned from his premises on behalf of John Milward, the assignee of his estate, along with 'A large and exceedingly well furnished glass house, 22 feet by 8 feet [6.7 × 2.4 m], with dark room attached’ and 'A few choice oil paintings in gilt frames, show cases, and photographs and a small collection of books’.
With Thomas, Alfred had practiced photography commercially from its beginning in the daguerreotype form and he was concerned in every stage of development of the technique in Australia, undertaking innovative work in connection with the wet-plate process. Davies states that Bock introduced the carte-de-visite to Hobart Town in 1861, its first appearance anywhere in Tasmania. In 1864 he himself claimed to be the only person in the colony using the genuine sennotype process, a technique that gave a rich three-dimensional effect to portraits by overlaying a waxed albumen print on a normal photograph. The claim led to a lengthy controversy with Henry Frith , aired in the press from April to July. In the Mercury of 3 September 1864 Bock advertised that he had 'succeeded, after a great number of experiments, in producing ALBUMPORTRAITS, by a modification of the SENNOTYPEPROCESS, retaining all the relief, delicacy, and lifelike beauty of the larger pictures’. He became most expert at the process and introduced a variation for cartes-de-visite in 1864. He continued to advertise sennotypes and 'every description of Photograph from Locket to Life-size, executed in the most perfect manner’ until he left Hobart Town. His repertoire also included oil portraits painted over solar-enlarged photographs. His painted photographs of J. Boyd , civil commandant at Port Arthur, and 'the late Captain Spring’ were commended in the Mercury of 14 July 1866.
Bock’s income from photography was supplemented by a variety of pursuits. An address presented to Rev. W.J. Dunne was illuminated and engrossed by him in 1866. He engraved the silver cups presented to John Ritchie (1855) and T.C. Brownell (1858), a medal designed and made by Charles Gaylor (1862), a salver presented to Dr E.S.P. Bedford (1863) and a silver spade used to turn the first sod on the Launceston and Western Railway (1868). He produced engravings on paper of portraits and buildings and did the St George and Dragon series of Tasmanian revenue stamps in 1863-64. Clifford Craig describes him as 'an accomplished and versatile engraver’ and lists a number of extant works in his volumes on Tasmanian prints, including a portrait of the murderer William Griffin ; interior and exterior views of St John the Baptist’s Church, Goulburn Street, West Hobart; St Michael’s Church, Campbell Town; the Town Hall, Hobart Town; and the Johnson home, 'scene of the Glenorchy murders’. Nevertheless, despite all such efforts, the business was not a commercial success.
In 1867 Bock moved to Victoria and settled at Sale where he again conducted a photography business, producing not only the popular cartes-de-visite from his studio in Foster Street but also enlarging hand-coloured photographic portraits of Gippsland notables. At the 1880 Melbourne International Exhibition, Sale Borough Council was exhibiting two Alfred Bock watercolours, Redbank, River Avon, North Gippsland and On the Albert River, South Gippsland , possibly painted earlier. Bock himself showed his work at various exhibitions – the London International Exhibition (1873), the Philadelphia Centennial Exhibition (1876), the Sandhurst (Bendigo) Industrial Exhibition (1879), the Adelaide International Exhibition (1887) and the Paris International Exhibition (1889) – and gained several awards.
In 1882 Bock advertised the sale 'of the whole of his portrait and landscape negatives as well as those by the late Mr Jones and others, to Mr F. Cornell of Foster Street, Sale’ and went to Auckland, New Zealand. The family was back in Melbourne by 1887 where they remained until about 1906. Then Alfred retired from business and settled near Wynyard, Tasmania. He died there on 19 February 1920, survived by his second wife and a number of his children.