We have combed our collections at Sydney Living Museums to uncover a wealth of 19th and early 20th century inspiration for those interested in the history of facial hair.

Spanish proverbs: God gives beards to those who have not got chins.

The Australian, Thursday 4 August 1825

Clean-shaven gentry

In the early years of colonial life facial hair was relatively unusual, especially in the gentry. John Macarthur of Elizabeth Farm, Alexander Macleay of Elizabeth Bay House and William Charles Wentworth of Vaucluse House were all clean-shaven their entire lives. A notable rebel to colonial fashion was Sir Henry Brown Hayes, a transported Irishman who lived at Vaucluse House and who “vowed never to cut the Hair on his Upper lip” until released. In consequence, wrote Judge-Advocate Ellis Bent, Hayes sported a moustache which was “very long and [gave] him a very formidable and grotesque appearance”.

In 1821 the Hobart Gazette announced to its readers that: “A Chemist of Paris has invented a soap for the beard, which will take it off without the use of a razor!!! We hope that this article will speedily find its way hither.”

Beards back in fashion

By the mid 1800s facial hair again moved into fashion - just as the classical Romans of the Hadrianic period before them quickly adopted ‘Greek’ style beards after centuries of smooth chins. Macleay’s nephew Sir William John sported a full beard, giving him the air of a Greek philosopher.

Edwin Stephen Rouse (1849-1931; inherited Rouse Hill House in 1862 aged only 13) stands out in this collection as possessing a particularly fine beard and moustache; the photographs of Edwin below show him both in a relaxed, brushed-forward style, and in a groomed alternative with a full moustache that covers the top lip and sweeps down to the sides; a style suitable for the squire of Rouse Hill. Likewise, his centre-parted hair is respectively brushed or slicked down.

Sepia toned portrait of Bearded man.
Cabinet card portrait of Edwin Stephen Rouse. Sydney Living Museums
gelatin paper print, sepia toned portrait photograph of man. He wears a dark coloured suit with a collar and cravat. A pin is attached to his cravat. He has a full beard.
Cabinet card portrait photograph of Edwin Stephen Rouse, 1880-1890. Sydney Living Museums

A c1854 volume in the collection at Meroogal, Nowra – a house usually associated with four generations of women – sets out the history of the beard in a lecture by T. S. Gowing entitled The philosophy of beards: A lecture physiological artistic & historical.

Old black and white illustrated book cover with three drawings of men with varied facial hair.
Front cover of book, titled: 'The philosophy of beards: A lecture physiological artistic & historical', by T.S. Gowing, c1850. Meroogal, Sydney Living Museums

To Gowing the beard had returned to European civilisation with the rise of Napoleon, “and a more simple, severe and classic taste” – the neoclassical Empire style. Somewhat ironically the ‘Imperial’, a short pointed goatee, was restricted to the military and not, Gowing notes, worn by the 'Emperor' himself.

“With every attempt at freedom on the continent” he continues, “the Beard reappears; …it was one of the most effective standards in the war of freedom, when Germany rose against Napoleon". In 1830, it was partially revived in France, and later still it has made many a pergered continental monarch “quake and tremble in his capital”, and reminded him that in spite of neglected promises and false posts, the rain of injustice 'hangs but on a hair' of which the police will not always be able to check the free growth.”

The beard was intended by nature to:

…combin[e] beauty with utility, to impart manly grace and free finish to the male face. To its picturesqueness poets and painters, the most competent judges, have borne universal testimony. It is indeed impossible to view a series of bearded portraits, however indifferently executed, without feeling that they possess a dignity, gravity, freedom, vigour, and completeness; while in looking on a row of razored faces, however illustrious the originals, or skilful the artists, a sense of artificial conventional bareness is experienced.

An abundance of styles

By the 1860 and 70s facial hair was worn in a multitude of styles: grown to a point, square-cut, flared, as a goatee with sideburns, the ‘handlebar’, sans moustache and of course the iconic ‘mutton chop’ – named quite literally for the shape of the cut of meat. Three photographs in this selection show Edwin Stephen’s brother, Richard Rouse (1842-1903) of Guntawang, in the various stages of growing a truly prodigious set of ‘mutton chops’ that eventually flows over his shoulders.

A framed albumen print photograph of a man. Full length portrait of him sitting on easy chair, half facing camera L, legs crossed, both hands resting on lap, the R holding a riding crop.
Richard Rouse Jnr. (of Guntawang). Sydney Living Museums
Cabinet card in photograph album, square cornered sepia toned portrait of bearded man, seated towards camera right with his face looks directly at the camera. The chair is armless and upholstered, and there is a length of dark fabric hanging behind
Cabinet card in photograph album, portrait of Richard Rouse (1866-9). Sydney Living Museums

Fashion and male dignity aside, to the Victorian gentlemen an abundant moustache was a challenge when eating and drinking. As the owner of a full moustache and like generations of Victorians and Edwardians before me I often resort to a ‘moustache cup’, which has a built-in guard that sits above the lip.

By the late 19th century, and with full beards now associated with the passing Victorian age, the fashion was switching to the moustache alone – note the photographs below of William Quinton Mason and the very dapper Dr James Adam Dick, who sports a moustache with long, waxed points.

Black and white photo of moustached man.
William Quinton Mason, around 1898. Caroline Simpson Library and Research Collection, Sydney Living Museums
Black and white silver gelatin photo of man in dress uniform, with waxed moustache.
Dr James Adam Dick in uniform, circa 1901. Sydney Living Museums

If you study the group photograph of the Sydney Hunt Club (at top of this page), as assembled at Rouse Hill House in 1895, you’ll notice that only two elder men now sport full beards – most notably the distinguished Edwin Stephen Rouse in the front row - while 13 men feature moustaches. Bush poet ‘Banjo’ Patterson, standing third from the right in the back row, is one of four younger men who are clean shaven. For the opening decades of the 20th century full beards became the preserve of the older gentleman from the previous century, and the moustache reigned.

This continued for many years, particularly for the military. Photographed in 1936, Superintendent John Thomas Pattinson has a typical example, full but swept to the sides and a slight point.

Moustached man in police uniform and cap.
Black and white portrait of Superintendent John Thomas Pattinson, New South Wales, Australia, 1936. Sydney Living Museums

A law above fashion

The finishing advice on letting a style of facial hair ‘choose itself’ goes to Gowing:

Permit me to conclude … by reminding all who wish to let their Beards grow, that there is a law above fashion, and that each individual face is endowed with its individual Beard, the form and colour of which is determined by similar laws to those which regulate the tint of the skin, the form and colour of the hair of the head, eyebrows, and eyelashes; and therefore the most becoming, even if ugly in itself, to their respective physiognomies. What suits a square face, will not suit an oval, and a high forehead demands a different beard to a low one. Leave the matter therefore to nature and in due season the fitting form and colour will manifest themselves. And here parties who have never shaved have this great advantage of those with yielded to the unnatural custom, that hair will only be visible, even when present, in its proper place, be better in character and colour, and more graceful in form.

About the Author

Dr Scott Hill
Dr Scott Hill
Formal studies in architecture, along with travels through Asia and Europe, furthered Scott’s interest in colonial building, domestic design, and the intrinsic relationship between architecture and landscape.

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