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Niels Peter SCHOURUP was a Danish artist and cartographer who came to South Australia in 1862. He established a photographic studio at Port Adelaide where he became known for his photographs of local shipping. Above: Schourup's carte de visite of an unidentified ship at Port Adelaide. (Text continues below)


Peter Schourup was born in Nykobing, on the island of Mors in Northern Denmark, in 1837. By the time he emigrated to South Australia in 1862 he was an accomplished artist and cartographer who had trained at the Royal Academy of Arts at Copenhagen. He left Copenhagen on board the 897 ton British sailing vessel William Jackson, which was carrying a cargo of timber to Port Adelaide and had three passengers in the cabin, including Schourup.

In letters he wrote home to Denmark he described his experiences both on board the ship and after he arrived in Adelaide. When the ship reached South Australian waters he wrote, ‘Today we have been at sea for 95 days, and we expect to arrive at Port Adelaide in 5 or 6 days. It will be quite nice to see land again after having seen only sky and water for a quarter of a year… I have drawn portraits of the captain and the mates – to their great pleasure – and it is probably because of that that I am their favourite...’

‘6th January, 1863. – Today we can see land again. Although we have been as comfortable as possible, I feel an indescribable joy at seeing God’s dear earth again. It is Kangaroo Island we can see – about 35 miles from Port Adelaide. We will probably not reach it until tomorrow as the wind is against us, and we must tack.

‘Adelaide, 25th January – As you can see I have already been here for 3 weeks. We came ashore on the 7th, and the voyage lasted a total of 101 days. The reason I have not written before is that the mail does not leave until Wednesday morning; it is picked up only once a month.

‘The luck I had on the sea seems to follow me on land. After a few days I obtained a job with a photographer, Professor Hall, and, curiously enough, the first thing I did in Australia was to paint my own portrait – as a test. They do not ask for recommendations here, but rather, ‘what can you do?’

‘You can see from the enclosed article which I have cut from a newspaper that the test turned out well. I thought it might please you to see me favourably spoken of in the town’s principal newspaper.’ The newspaper Peter Schourup referred to was probably the Advertiser, which said: ‘We had an opportunity on Saturday of inspecting some beautiful specimens of art at Professor Hall’s studio in Hindley-street. They are portraits taken by the ordinary photographic process, and afterwards painted in oils on the glass with great skill. The likenesses are correct and faithful, as photographic portraits must be; and the subsequent oil colouring has an excellent effect. The artist employed by Professor Hall is a young Dane, lately arrived in the colony, and the portraits painted by him are very clever, and well worth inspection.’ The Register also referred to Professor Hall’s innovation. ‘It is a combination of portrait painting and photography. The photograph, on glass, is first taken, and is then treated as a groundwork for an oil painting, the colours being laid on by an artist skilled in this kind of work. The result in many instances is shown to be a portrait possessing the correctness of a photograph and the softness of an oil painting. But the process is somewhat expensive, and does not in all cases preserve a striking likeness. Most of the portraits taken, however, in this instance are good, and no doubt many persons to whom this mode of colouring is new will be glad to give it a trial.’

In his letter Schourup described some aspects of life in South Australia. ‘Some Englishmen are very nice people, and I live here in the house of the professor as though we had known each other for many years. The first day I was there I was invited to go for a drive with his family. We went to the seaside 2 Danish miles from the town where we enjoyed ourselves the whole afternoon. Since then I have made many excursions together with them: in short, they show me much attention, so you can see that I am very well off for the time being. But Paradise is never perfect, and we are plagued by many things, such as mosquitoes, a kind of gnat, and a most terrible heat which is sometimes as much as 30 to 400 C. I have never before been able to sweat – but here I sit quietly and sweat the whole day. How it is possible to endure hard labour I do not understand.

‘I would like to give you a description of this strange country, but time and place do not permit and I do not know much about it yet. Let me just tell you that it is not without reason that Australia has been called the country of wonders. Here you can find animals, birds and plants of such strange shapes, colours and characteristics as cannot be found anywhere else in the world…

‘I do not yet know how much money I will earn, but I feel certain I shall be able to repay the money I borrowed from the Savings Bank within the time stated… You probably won’t see Uncle Niels, but if you should, please give him my regards. To think I might have stayed at home because of him and never have been so happy as I am here now – and I feel sure that in time I shall also be able to earn some money. I must admit that it is perhaps more luck than wisdom which has led to my success, as there are many emigrants here who are very badly off… My address is Mr Schourup care of Professor Hall, Hindley Street, Adelaide, South Australia.’

It seems likely that Peter Schourup learnt the art of photography from his benevolent friend Professor Robert Hall (q.v.), as on his arrival he was demonstrating his skill as an artist but by the end of the year was practising photography.

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Above: The "late Mr P. Schourup" from Fifty Years of the Port Adelaide Institute (1902). Above: Carte de visite by P. Schourup, pencil inscription "Lauritz Benz, master of the Norwegian barque Heimdall, Port Adelaide the 9th November 1868"

On 5 November 1863 an advertisement in the Register informed the public at Port Adelaide that P. Schourup had opened a portrait room at Mr Lavin’s on North Parade, Port Adelaide, business hours 9 am to 4 pm. John Lavin was a grocer and confectioner on North Parade (Lewis directory 1862). Schourup’s directory entries as a photographer on North Parade did not start until 1867 and the last was in the directory for 1874.

What are presumed to be Schourup’s first cartes de visite carry the printed inscription, ‘P. Schourup, of the Royal Academy of Arts, Copenhagen, Portrait Painter and Photographer, Port Adelaide.’ On his later cards, of similar design, was ‘P. Schourup, Artist Photographer, Port Adelaide.’

In September 1867 the Register commented on his photographs of the new press boat: ‘We have seen an artistic production from the atelier of Mr Schourup, Port, representing the new boat recently built by Mitchelmore for the Shipping Reporter. This boat is the largest ever laid down for the beach service, and although under jury-rig when taken presents a very fine appearance, especially as the artist has succeeded in producing a good picture with all sail set…’

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Above: Schourup's undated cabinet photograph of the Bundaleer at Port Adelaide.

When Prince Alfred, Duke of Edinburgh, arrived in South Australia a few months later Schourup was able to obtain photographs of the Duke’s frigate, HMS Galatea. The photographs were on sale at E.S. Wigg’s stationery shop in Adelaide and at Schourup’s Port Adelaide Photographic Rooms. The photographs were reported in the Register on 25 November 1867: ‘By the courtesy of the Commander every facility was afforded [Schourup] in producing a series of pictures which are highly interesting, and as works of art reflect great credit on the artist…’A detailed description of the views then followed: one taken with the camera on one of the steamer’s paddle-boxes; another from the fore bridge showing the drummer, commander, and the deck fittings; and a view from the starboard gangway, showing a group of officers standing beneath the bridge.

Schourup’s views of Port Adelaide were also noticed by the Register on 5 January 1872: ‘Mr Schourup has made it a specialty of his profession to pay particular attention to photographing nautical scenes, and the positions of some of his ships are excellently chosen. Lately he has taken several views of the Port as it is seen from the opposite river bank... Should the views stand the lapse of time, in a few years hence they will prove interesting records of the past.’ The article went on to describe the photographs, detailing the vessels and buildings recorded by the camera. ‘Altogether the pictures are gems of art reflecting great credit on the photographer.’

A few months later the Register reported that Schourup, ‘who has long been favourably known to the public because of his artistically arranged shipping views as well as the clearness of the portraits he takes,’ had made improvements to his studio, using an ingenious arrangement of curtains to give a softness of light and shade which greatly improved his portraits. Some of Schourup’s views of the Port were included in the South Australian exhibit at the 1873 London International Exhibition.

By June 1882 Peter Schourup had moved to New Zealand and established a flourishing photographic business at 150 Colombo Street, Christchurch. His health failed before he had an opportunity to return to Denmark, and he died on 24 January 1887, at the age of 49.

End.