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  1. ITV Report

The scandalous life of a Birmingham convict artist

An art exhibition is being shown in Birmingham, revealing the life of a little known convict artist called Thomas Bock.

The Ikon Gallery is displaying his artwork for the first time in the UK.

Bock was born in Birmingham in 1793, and trained as an engraver and miniature painter.

In 1823 he was found guilty of trying to terminate the pregnancy of his teenage mistress, and was sentenced to transportation to Australia for 14 years.

He had to leave his wife behind in Birmingham, along with his five children, and travel to Van Diemen's Land, now Tasmania.

There, he was quickly pressed into service as a convict artist.

Linzi Stauvers, Head of Learning at the Ikon Gallery, explains how Bock then went on to have another life in Australia:

He had another family in Tasmania, he had five other children whilst all of his Birmingham family died probably as a consequence of him being deported.

We've tried to do some research to see if there are any descendants of Bock's here in Birmingham and there is still his mistress's child Ann Yates who survived.

We haven't been able to trace them but it could be actually there are some living relatives of Thomas Bock here in the city.

– Linzi Stauvers
Mithina (Mathinna), 1842 Credit: Allport Library and Museum of Fine Arts, Tasmanian Archive and Heritage Office

At the heart of the exhibition is Bock's series of portraits of Tasmanian Aboriginal people, now in the British Museum.

The sitters have a demeanour that conveys both pride and despair, suggesting that Bock, being marginalised himself, closely identified with them.

Ikon's exhibition also includes a number of nude life drawings as well as daguerreotypes by Bock - tiny photographic images on silver plate, mounted and glazed in cases - depicting people he would otherwise have drawn or painted.

The Thomas Bock exhibition is available to see at the Ikon Gallery in Birmingham until 11 March.