WILKINSON, JANE (1814-1902)

Full Birth Name: Jane Wilkinson
Married Name & Dates: No identified spouse
Profession: Artist (1851-1896); Photographer/Colourist (1856); Proprietor (1856-1896)
Professional Years: 1851-1896
Where Practised: Dublin, Ireland (1851-1855); Miss Wilkinson’s Photographic Studio, 144 Lonsdale St, Melbourne, Vic (Feburary to March 1856); Artist, Ellesmere House, Albert St, East Melbourne, Vic (1856); Artist, 126 Collins St, Melbourne, Vic (1857-1859); Teacher, Academy for Drawing and Painting, 94 Collins St, Melbourne, Vic (1859-1860); Teacher, Academy for Drawing and Painting, 174 Collins St, Melbourne, Vic (1861-1895); Artist, 55 Collins St, Melbourne, Vic (1896)
The Argus, 22 March 1856


The Mystery of Miss Wilkinson’s Photographic Studio



Jane Wilkinson owned and operated one of Melbourne’s earliest photographic businesses, or so it seems. Although her business was open for only 47 days between February and April 1856, it appears that Wilkinson had combined her training as an artist with the then-new technology of photography. Her business “Miss Wilkinson’s Photographic Studio” was at 144 Lonsdale Street, between Russell Street and Stephen Street.[1]

Jane’s parents, Franciscum Rossin (Frances Rawson) and Thomas Wilkinson, had married in Dublin on 21 April 1800.[2] Over the following years Frances gave birth to thirteen children, five of who survived into adulthood. Two of the survivors, Jane of course, who was born in 1814[3], and her younger brother William Augustus Wilkinson, born in 1820, both pursued life-long careers in art and music, respectively.

In Dublin, Jane had had some success as a student artist at The Government School of Design. In 1851 when she was in her mid-30s, she and many of her fellow students were awarded prizes by the Royal Dublin Society[4] for their creative endeavours. Jane was amongst the top students of both sexes to be awarded the Books Prize, considered to be the top prize. She had presented one work to the committee for assessment entitled, Model of a Bust (Night), for which she received the following books: Lanzi’s History of Painting, Patterson’s Zoology, and the Hand-book of Anatomy.[5] In what was typical of the era the women were excluded from the awards ceremony and separate ceremony took place at The Royal Dublin Society building. This exclusion was on the basis that “the occasion would have been both inconvenient and disagreeable to the female students.”[6]

William pursued a career in music, and on 21 September 1847 opened a Musical Academy[7] in Dublin’s Mountjoy Square,[8] a district that attracted leading Irish writers, poets, politicians, businessmen, and clergymen. William had recently wed Anne Jane Byrne when they opened the Academy and the couple undertook to teach pianoforte as well as Italian and English singing.

Eight years later, Jane, now in her early 40s, along with her aging mother, brother William, sister-in-law Anne, and their daughter Mary and migrated to Australia and arrived in Melbourne on 26 September 1855.[9] What had prompted their migration seems to have been a job opportunity for William:

In 1854 the organist William Wilkinson was imported from Ireland to be Director of Music at the new St. Patrick’s Cathedral, only to find when he arrived that the cathedral was being demolished to build an even larger one. He became organist of St. Francis’ where he remained until his death in 1864. [10]

Their mother, Frances Wilkinson died ten days after their arrival.[11] Without the need to care for her mother, and after a suitable period of mourning, Jane was at liberty to use her talents as an artist for gainful employment. She rented space at 144 Lonsdale Street and on 21 February 1856 announced in the Educational columns of The Argus that she was providing tuition in painting, drawing and in the use of oils, water colours, and crayons.

The fact that she called her business “Miss Wilkinson’s Photographic Studio” strongly suggests her business was photography. However, there is no mention or assessment of her photographic work as might be expected. Hence, the reference may refer to her work as a photographic colourist but confirmation either way has yet to be found.

“Miss Wilkinson’s Photographic Studio” remained in business for only a very short period, closing its doors on or around 29 March 1856.[12] Jane advertised that she was moving to new premises in East Melbourne, Ellesmere House on Albert Street, opposite St. Peter’s Church, and from here continued to provide drawing classes. Over the coming years Jane moved her drawing classes to new premises several times, but there is no further mention of photographic work.

Jane Wilkinson died at her home at 442 Punt Road, South Yarra, on 15 September 1902 after suffering a three-week of bronchial pneumonia.[13] She was buried in the Melbourne Cemetery on 17 September 1902.





[1] Stephen Street was renamed Exhibition Street in 1880 see PDF produced by The Royal Historical Society of Victoria: Melbourne’s streets and lanes: what’s in a name? – Royal …

[2] National Library of Ireland. Catholic Parish Registers: St. Michan’s, Dublin City. https://registers.nli.ie//registers/vtls000633586#page/378/mode/1up

[3] Death Certificate, Jane Wilkinson, No 4106/11605. District of South Yarra in the State of Victoria. Her birth year has been determined by subtracting her age at death from the year of death as her birth or baptism record have yet to be found.

[4] Proceedings of the Royal Dublin Society, No IX. Ninth Public Distribution of Premiums Awarded to the Successful Students at The Annual Competition for Prizes in Drawing and Modelling, being the First under the Superintendence of the Government School of Design, Monday 10th February, 1851, pg cxxxii; The Freeman’s Journal, 11 Feb 1851, “Royal Dublin Society – Government School of Design”.

[5] Ibid.

[6] ‘Royal Dublin Society – Government School of Design’, The Freeman’s Journal, 12 February 1851. The presumption here is that the women would have been embarrassed by the public nature of the event.

[7] ‘Advertisements’, The Freeman’s Journal, 16 October 1847, pg 1.

[8] For details on Dublin’s Mountjoy Square see: https://mountjoysq.com/

[9] Inward Overseas Passenger Lists (see Microfiche Copies: VPRS 7666 United Kingdom Ports; VPRS 7667 Foreign Ports; VPRS 13439 New Zealand Ports) ( 947 ) : https://prov.vic.gov.au/archive/3AFAF4A2-F96C-11E9-AE98-C1235E0566FF?image=308

[10] John H. Byrne, Echoes of home: music at St. Francis, 1845-1995 ([Melbourne]: St. Francis Choir, 1995), 63 as quoted in Graeme Skinner (University of Sydney), “A biographical register of Australian colonial musical personnel–W (Wei-Wilk)”, Australharmony (an online resource toward the early history of music in colonial Australia): https://www.sydney.edu.au/paradisec/australharmony/register-W-2.php ; accessed 14 June 2022

[11] Death certificate, Frances Wilkinson, No 1505/5583. District of Melbourne in the Colony of Victoria.

[12] ‘Educational’, The Argus, 9 May 1856, pg 6

[13] Op.cit.