Shapeshifter. The strange life of John Hampton Christison Professor of Dancing 1858-1923
The life of John Hampton Christison could quite easily be construed as a work of fiction. John was a remarkable man in many ways and was typical of his era in others. His fortunes foundered many times as he navigated the difficult waters of 19th century commerce and the passage of his life was marked by dramatic changes in occupation. Like many in colonial societies John was not averse to claiming a status above that accorded him within the restricting social structures of Great Britain. Time and again he claimed a past that exceeded his humble roots. Somehow, despite a series of personal crises, extended absences and behaviour that would have outraged the sensibilities of his contemporaries, John maintained the love and respect of the community of Maitland. Today that town remembers him for what was the passion of his life – the desire to dance and teach others the arts of dance. His descendents remember a rather different person. An exploration of John’s life reveals a talented, narcissistic and intriguing man who seemed skilled in the arts of teaching and self-promotion. His story crosses vast oceans and straddles the Australian continent. It also intersects with some of the great events that forged the Australian nation.