THE MYSTERY OF THE MACQUARIE MINIATURES

TASMANIAN TREASURES

On September 17  1879  the much anticipated Sydney International Exhibition opened in the vast, purpose built Garden Palace. It was located at the south-western end of the Royal Botanic Gardens.

Sydney International Exhibition.

Sydney International Exhibition.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

On October 27 The Sydney Morning Herald reported;

There are two  or three more than ordinarily interesting exhibits in the Tasmanian Court [within the Exhibition]  which have not yet been mentioned. One is a pair of portraits of personages whose reputation is familiar to all who are acquainted with Australian history……. The article went on to talk of the legacy of Governor Lachlan Macquarie.  It concluded;  His portrait  and that of his wife, will be found in the Tasmanian Court, represented by two miniature paintings of Major-General Macquarie and Mrs Macquarie. The Governor appears dressed in full regimentals, and Mrs Macquarie wears the neat and simple dress of the period — 1810-1822.


Unfortunately I don’t have  permission to publish an image of Macquarie’s portrait, but it is similar to this one , held by the Library of New South Wales.

Miniature of Lachlan Macquarie ( Courtesy Library of NSW)

Miniature of Lachlan Macquarie ( Courtesy Library of NSW)

 

but here is Elizabeth;

The miniature of Elizabeth Macquarie. (Pinterest)

The miniature of Elizabeth Macquarie. (Pinterest)

The miniatures  measure 9.2 x 7cm. They are  water colour on ivory;  the work of the colonial artist Richard Read Snr. Read was an ex-convict who had been transported to New South Wales in 1812. He quickly earned his ticket-of-leave, and  in 1814 he opened Sydney’s first art school. His portraits were much admired and he was patronized by the settlement’s leading citizens, including  the Governor.   When the  Sydney Exhibition closed, the portraits  were returned to Tasmania.  They were  then held  in private hands, but  a report in the Mercury on July 2 1898 read;

Governor Macquarie – Yesterday the curator of the Tasmanian Museum and Art Gallery received from Mr William Giblin, two very beautiful miniatures painted on ivory. The subjects are Governor Colonel Lachlan Macquarie and Mrs Macquarie.  The Portraits were presented many years ago to the late Mr Thos. Giblin at this city, and were painted by Read in the year 1819 and will prove a valuable acquisition to the Tasmanian Art Gallery.

Entrance to the Tasmanian Museum and Art Gallery

Entrance to the Tasmanian Museum and Art Gallery

The miniatures  may have been completed by  a renowned Sydney artist, but they were  considered part of  Tasmania’s cultural heritage . One hundred years after the death of Governor Macquarie  the  gallery expressed its delight in owning them. It is interesting  to note that the writer   emphasized  Tasmania’s close connection to Macquarie,   as though  justifying  its right to retain the tiny  artworks, despite strong interest from  New South Wales.  It is a clear illustration of the ‘little brother-big brother’ syndrome, which endures to this day;

An exhibit which immediately attracts attention consists of two miniatures; those of Governor Lachlan Macquarie and Mrs Elizabeth Macquarie. These are highly prized by the museum authorities. There are several collectors in Sydney who have expressed a keen desire to carry them off to the mainland, but Governor Macquarie belongs just as much to Tasmania as to New South Wales, seeing that during his period of Governorship Tasmania was attached to the Mother State.  Macquarie’s influence is still remembered when we recall the nomenclature of Hobart’s main street as well as several more towns and districts in the Island.
[Mercury, October 13 1924]

As a writer/researcher with an insatiable curiosity, I began to wonder how Mr Thomas Giblin came to possess the miniatures; such rare items and painted in Sydney.

Thanks to the wonderful archive of digitised  Australian newspapers called TROVE, I  finally stumbled upon some more information .  On August 5  1879 the following article   appeared  in The Mercury newspaper

PICTURES FOR THE SYDNEY EXHIBITION – A number of the pictures that have been contributed by the colonists for the exhibition in Sydney are now on view in the refreshment room of the Parliamentary Buildings…….Over the mantlepiece are two ivory miniatures of Governor Macquarie and his wife. They were presented by the late Governor to Captain Briggs, who gave them to Mr Thos. Giblin, the current exhibitor.

Thomas Giblin had recently retired (1874)  as General Manager of The Bank of Van Diemen’s Land. He had been with the bank for 46 years, after arriving in 1827 aged 19. What connection could he have had with Captain Briggs?

Captain James Briggs was an army man.  He  was appointed Commandant of the penal colony at Macquarie Harbour in 1829 and served there until 1831. He  arrived at Port  Jackson with  members of  the 63rd Regiment on December 24 1824,  more than two years after Governor Macquarie and his family  had left the colony.  It  is  therefore  completely implausible that he received the miniatures as a gift from the Governor. There is some evidence that  Captain Briggs was a collector of sorts. At the old Macquarie Harbour  penal station there is a  brass Russian samovar which belonged to him. It is believed it may be  a souvenir of the Napoleonic wars.    Hmmm….the mystery  of those rare  miniatures continues.

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4 Comments
  1. I think you’ve all but solved the mystery Pauline, in stating that Briggs was a collector. Just like today people in high places desire to acquire treasures to show off to their contemporaries.
    That’s a stunning portrait of Elizabeth Macquarie. Where can we see the matching one of Lachlan?

    • Pauline

      Sorry, should have made this clearer, Christine. Both portraits are in the Tasmanian Art Gallery. Unfortunately they cannot be viewed on line. Understandably the Gallery requires a fee for publishing, which I can’t justify on a website. Elizabeth’s portrait somehow ended up on Pinterest.

      • Not to worry. It was more the mystery of the convoluted ownership of the portraits that was the main interest.

        One of these days I hope to get back to Tasmania for a visit, so this is another incentive.

        • Pauline

          I’ll be in Tasmania in September, looking forward to seeing the portraits myself.

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