John Carmichael was born in Edinburgh in 1803, and attended the Edinburgh Institute for the Deaf and Dumb, enrolling in 1812. One of his fellow students at the school was Thomas Pattison. Another pupil at the school, Alexander Atkinson, later wrote a memoir about his time at the school, describing Carmichael as “a handsome looking lad”. He noted that Carmichael was a skilled storyteller in sign language, often entertaining his friends with stories about cockfights: “he was in the habit of fixing our stare on him by gesticulating every incident of the last fight” and horse races: “…giving rapid , yet distinct gestural pictures of the different races, horses and their riders, which he had observed with minute attention”. Atkinson also reported that Carmichael had “an excellent turn for drawing”.
His drawing ability would have helped him to gain an apprenticeship as an engraver. After he completed his apprenticeship, he left his home and family in Edinburgh, with its lively Deaf community and professional Deaf artists, and emigrated to the new colony of Australia. Triton in 1825, at the age of 21.
Carmichael maintained an active career as an engraver in Sydney, from his arrival until his death 32 years later. He advertised his services in newspapers, self-published a book of engravings of his own drawings of Sydney, and was given commissions to engrave maps, stamps, and illustrations for publications such Maclehose’s Picture of Sydney, and Strangers Guide in New South Wales (1838). This was similar to a travellers’ guide book to the region.
John Carmichael married Margaret Clune in 1836, and they had eight children. Margaret died in 1851, and Carmichael married Emma Sivewright in 1852. Carmichael died in Sydney in 1857.
Original prints from Carmichael’s engravings can still be found and are becoming popular collector’s items among the Deaf community!