Professional photographer and entrepreneur born in London. Resident of Melbourne, Ballarat and Daylesford he documented the explorers and early colonists of Victoria. Much of Chuck's photography was of men who had 'made good' in the colony.
professional photographer and entrepreneur, was born in London, a son of the metalworker Thomas Chuck and Mary, née Campbell. He was in Melbourne by 1861, the year Thomas Chuck of Octavia Street, St Kilda, exhibited a ’3 ft 6½ in. [108 cm] Iron Continental Mattress and Upper Horse Hair Mattress’ he had designed and manufactured at the Victorian Exhibition. Thomas senior and generations of Chuck descendants continued in the metalwork business, but Thomas junior embarked on a more flamboyant career.
The following year he was both producer and exhibitor of a Grand Moving Diorama of the Victorian Exploring Expedition . Presenting the events of the Burke and Wills expedition in popular form, the entertainment was first shown in an abbreviated version in January 1862 at Kreitmeyer’s Museum of Illustration, 124-126 Bourke Street East, Melbourne, as Return of Burke and Party to Cooper’s Creek , probably one static scene. By April it had assumed its 'grand moving diorama’ format (actually a panorama wound around vertical rollers). Painted by 'Messrs Clark, Pitt and assistants’ ( William Pitt and Thomas Clark ), the scenes were said to have been taken from 'Authentic Sketches and Personal Descriptions by Members of Howitt’s Relief Party’, including drawings by Howitt himself and his surveyor, Welch . There were approximately sixteen scenes, some being added (and perhaps subtracted) during the life of the panorama. They included Arrival at Cooper’s Creek , Death of Burke and Discovery of King with the Natives , and the concluding scene was a 'Magnificent Tableau … showing the monument which it is proposed to erect to the memory of the explorers, and to place in front of the Parliament buildings, Melbourne. This is a very enchanting representation, and is an appropriate wind up to the series. Burke, Wills, Gray and King are here shown as receiving wreaths from the hands of an angelic figure which, from a slightly exalted position, thus rewards these brave men with its benignant approbation.’
Chuck toured the panorama to Ballarat in June 1862, to Sydney in October (held at the School of Arts) and to Hobart Town in February 1863 (the Theatre Royal). By 1866 he had established a photographic business called The London Portrait Gallery at Burke Square, Daylesford, and was undertaking a professional tour through the Western District at the behest of the commissioners for the 1866 Melbourne Intercolonial Exhibition. He took promotional photographic views of the Hampden and Mortlake shire until October then returned to Daylesford. These official views were exhibited by the commissioners at the Intercolonial Exhibition, while Chuck personally showed other photographs of Daylesford and scenes of clouds after a heavy storm, the latter being described as depicting 'the wild and disturbed character of the heavens after an atmospheric disturbance’.
Reviewing the photographic exhibits, the pseudonymous 'Sol’ noted that Mr Chuck of Daylesford ('a photographer little previously heard of’) had provided 'some very creditable specimens’ overall and his excellent views of bush and rock scenery in the Fine Art Gallery were outstanding: 'we had seen no pictures which could have been produced from finer negatives, or ones containing so many of the qualifications necessary to the production of perfect prints … It speaks well for this comparatively young artist’s energy and perseverance, that he should so soon have taken up so creditable a position among older professionals’.
By 1868 Chuck was back at his old St Kilda (Melbourne) address working as an 'artist and photographer’. The following year he opened a separate studio at 4 Collins Street East and sent portraits of the Philharmonic Society to the Melbourne Public Library Exhibition. In 1870 he took rooms in the newly built Royal Arcade, Bourke Street, where he displayed 'some charming coloured views of scenes in the Western District and on the Murray River’. He photographed the great organ of the Melbourne Town Hall during its construction in 1871. Always with a keen nose for publicity, Chuck sent a print of this to the Ballarat Star , which duly reported it.
Chuck produced his most famous image in 1872 – a huge mosaic of 700 photographic portraits, The Explorers and Early Colonists of Victoria , accompanied by a published key. This had taken three years to execute and assemble. It included the explorers Hume, Hovell, Sturt and Mitchell as well as all the squatters and gentlemen of Melbourne. He sold individual portraits from it to the sitters and to the general public, as well as smaller photographs of the composite image produced from a 15 × 12 inch (38.1 × 30.4 cm) glass-plate negative, initiatives which proved popular and financially rewarding. Like many other photographers, he later made further mosaics to cater to this market. At the end of 1872 Chuck sent enlarged photographs of the chief justice ('finished in oils’), Sir Redmond Barry, Judge Williams ('finished in water-colours’) and the dean of Melbourne ('finished in mezzo-tint’) to the Victorian Intercolonial Exhibition in preparation for the 1874 London International Exhibition, as well as cases of small plain and coloured portrait photographs. When sent on to London, his photographs were awarded a gold medal.
'An enlarged photograph of the moon’s face’ was also produced in 1872, Chuck having been entrusted with the negative by the government astronomer, Ellery , who had taken it at the Melbourne Observatory. Again a print went to the newspapers. During this active year the trustees of the National Gallery of Victoria granted him sole right to photograph their collections, despite representations from Charles Nettleton who had previously held the contract. Eighteen photographs of paintings in the gallery’s collection, with descriptive commentaries by Marcus Clarke, were issued in parts from October 1873 to March 1875, then collected by the publisher, Bailliere of Melbourne, as Photographs of the Pictures in the National Gallery of Melbourne Photographed by T.F. Chuck. Under the Direction of Eugene Von Guerard [q.v.], Master of the School of Painting. Edited by Marcus Clarke, Secretary to the Trustees of the Public Library and Museums .
In 1876 Chuck sold his London Portrait Gallery business to Nicholas Caire and moved to Ballarat. Yet in June 1882, when opening a studio in the Ballarat Chamber of Commerce building, he was still advertising himself as of the Royal Arcade, Melbourne. By then he also claimed to be the acknowledged inventor of the 'lambertype’ and 'chromatype’ processes for enlarging photographs. He had sold three such chromatypes, overpainted in watercolours by J.A. Turner and Mr Ford (either Thomas or the later painter William Ford), to the National Gallery of Victoria in 1875; the subjects were George Milner Stephen , General Robe, the Governor of South Australia, and Sir R.D. Hanson, South Australia’s chief administrator.
Chuck’s Ballarat Gallery of Art advertised a 'large assortment of paintings and portraits’ (possibly overpainted photographic enlargements) as well as more conventional photographs, including a number executed in carbon (printer’s ink and gelatin). A selection of his 'Enlarged Carbon Photographs of Australian Scenery’ was shown at the London Colonial and Indian Exhibition in 1886. Other 'works of art’ on display in his Sturt Street shop included large, handsomely framed pictures of the late Judge Barry in his Melbourne University Chancellor’s robes, the late Judge Pohlman and the late R.D. Ireland, as well as 'excellent portraits’ of Sir Francis Murphy, Mr Goldsborough and other well-known colonists. His original Picture of the Explorers and Colonists of Victoria was, of course, also there. It is now in the La Trobe Library, along with many other of his portrait photographs. After his death his son, Thomas Henry Chuck, continued the business.
That so much of Chuck’s photography was of men who had 'made good’ in the colony may not have been solely due to his business acumen. Chuck displayed his moral values in the reply he published in 1877 to Anthony Trollope’s comments on the vulgarity of Australians (especially Victorians). Under the title One Story is Good Till Another is Told , he discerned ennobling virtues in colonisation and argued that the pioneer squatters of Victoria were more worthy of being regarded as gentlemen – even moral aristocrats – than members of the squirearchy born 'with a silver spoon in their mouths’ who stayed at home indulging in their assumed hereditary right to 'bad manners and morals’. A personal tour among several stations had proved to him that five out of every six households assembled their children and domestics daily for family worship. 'I know’, he concluded, 'what constitutes a gentleman, it is one who regardless of extraction, means and occupation is above the sordid influences of the vulgar’.