‘The Anzac Artist’ was the name given to the brilliant, South Australian born artist Frank Williams.



The Gallipoli veteran arrived in London in 1919, to further his career and to study in Paris. As a homosexual man, the opportunity to live in such worldly and sophisticated cities must have intensified his desire to leave deeply conservative Adelaide.

Thanks to his successes in Australia Frank had some influential contacts and supporters, including Dame Nellie Melba and the world famous singer and comedian, Sir Harry Lauder. He settled into a flat on the top floor of a building in King Street, Covent Garden, earning his living by designing interiors for wealthy private clients. This led to a very strange act of vandalism.

Early in 1922 he was decorating a room for a client which included several mural panels. As he was working on them one day an attractive young woman called at his flat. She was about 25 years old and gave her address as a West-End hotel. She told Frank that his client wanted to incorporate a portrait of her within the murals, and returned daily for three sittings. Frank then put the ‘portrait panel’ aside, intending to complete the final details at a later date. Five days after the woman’s initial visit he returned home after being out all day to find the painting completely ruined; obliterated by his own tubes of blue and black paint.

The culprit had entered the flat via a window that opened onto a stone parapet only 30 inches wide. Left behind was a trail of muddy footprints.

Next day Frank opened his letterbox and found an envelope containing a considerable sum of money. There was also an unsigned note, apologizing for the destruction of the portrait and offering the cash as compensation. Frank said he would hire a private detective after his client denied any knowledge of the woman visitor.

The paper hinted that the whole thing may have been a publicity stunt and it does seem odd that Frank wouldn’t have checked with his client before agreeing to the sittings;

Mr Williams may find some salve for his feelings in the fact that his experience has yielded him an excellent advertisement, for the story is going the rounds of the British press and occupying space which would represent hundreds if occupied by the praises of somebody’s toothache cure or bunion plasters. (Express & Telegraph, Mar 15 1922.)


During the absence in Paris of Mr Frank Williams, an Adelaide decorative artist….a burglar broke into his flat at Covent Garden and stole his entire wardrobe.

While walking in the Strand after his return, Mr Williams saw a porter wearing one of his suits, He invited the porter to tea at his studio and elicited that the man had bought the suit for 6/-. He jumped at Mr Williams’ offer of 9/- for it.

Mr Williams donned the coat and the porter said, ‘It looks as if it had been made for you.’ ‘So it was’, replied Mr Williams.

The porter then disclosed that an itinerant bagman had offered him Williams’ £15/15/- overcoat for £1 and a new blue suit for 7/6. (Herald, Melbourne, Nov. 29 1923)

Professionally, things were suddenly on the rise for Frank and soon he would be able to afford the best, Saville Row suits. In 1924 there was to be a huge exhibition at the Wembley Amusement Park. Frank was commissioned to design the Palace of Beauty, sponsored by Pears Soap. This wonderful opportunity was thanks to Sir Harry Lauder. During a world tour in 1918 the star had been very impressed with Frank’s innovative stage sets for a ballet in Melbourne. He put in a word for him with the politician Lord Dewer, who in turn recommended him to Lord Leverhulme (Proprietor of Pears Soap.)

The lucrative commission created a lot of interest back in Adelaide;

Some weeks ago I mentioned that Frank Williams had been given the task of designing and decorating the £25,000 ‘Palace of Beauty’ at the Wembley Exhibition. This is what a London paper says about him:- ‘A young colonial artist who was sent to London a little while ago to seek fame and fortune may fulfil his ambition with the ease of a Dick Whittington. He has been to all parts of Europe to get ideas and suggestions from the world’s most famous palaces, and many of their features he will incorporate at Wembley. He told a pressman that he came from Australia to conquer London. ‘It was through Dame Nellie Melba that I came here. I knew her when I was trying to make a name by designing theatrical scenes. She told me I have a genius for colour. I hope she was right. In this Palace of Beauty there will be a peacock fountain of crystal and blue, with lighting effects from under the pool of water. (News, Adelaide, April 4 1924)

There were ten glass-fronted rooms in the pavilion. Each contained an actress or model representing beautiful women through the ages. The characters posed in settings of reproduction furniture from the appropriate eras. Included were Helen of Troy, Cleopatra, Nell Gwyn, Madame de Pompadour, Sarah Siddons and Mary Queen of Scots,

Poor Frank managed to break his leg just as it was all coming together, but it was a great success, and established his reputation as an artistic designer.


I do love this behind the scenes image of Dante’s Beatrice and her pal Cleopatra enjoying a cigarette break. Isn’t Cleopatra’s costume magnificent?

Characters from the Exhibits at The Palace of Beauty, designed by Frank Williams.

It’s hard to believe that Frank would have another two suits stolen, but the following year that’s exactly what happened. However, this time the circumstances of the theft were far darker.


Mr Frank Williams, an Australian artist who served at Gallipoli and settled in London in 1919, was admitted to the Charing Cross Hospital early today suffering from serious wounds and heavy loss of blood. He resided at King’s street, Covent Garden, and was apparently attacked in his own flat, where blood splashes on the staircase and wallpaper have been discovered. Mr Williams managed to crawl to the telephone and seek police assistance before he lost consciousness. Late this afternoon he had not regained consciousness and his condition was considered critical. May 13 1925)

Charing Cross Hospital where Frank Williams was taken after he was beaten up.

Frank had met two men at Waterloo. They drank together and had a meal before going back to the Covent Garden flat. It was there that his nightmare began. He was severely beaten, and suffered a fractured skull.

Early in June he was well enough to give evidence against his attackers, who had been identified and arrested. He told the court that he had been bashed with a violin, and then a bottle. He was gagged with a towel before each man sat on his chest while the other changed into one of his suits. His cheque book and watch were also stolen. The men then cut the telephone wires before leaving him for dead.

The accused; Sidney Cross (23) and Edward Adams (22) claimed that Frank had behaved inappropriately at the flat while they were drinking and dancing. To his great credit, Sir Henry Dickens, who presided over the case, would hear none of that;

Sir Henry Dickens, who prosecuted the men who attacked Frank Williams.

Cross had six previous convictions, including assaulting police. Adams had two previous convictions and was a deserter from the Gordon Highlanders.

Whipping would not be tolerated today, but as Sir Henry noted, the men had behaved like brutes, and Frank Williams had posed absolutely no threat to them. He said it was one of the worst cases he had tried in his entire career. Henry Dickens was the youngest son of novelist Charles Dickens, and appears to have had the same, strong sense of social justice as his famous father.

I can’t help wondering whether the head injuries Frank suffered left him with permanent damage, because his next appearance in the press was totally out of ‘left field!’ On October 7 1925 The Sun newspaper announced that he was engaged to be married. There is little doubt from the wording that The Sun knew exactly how unlikely it was that Frank had fallen in love with Miss Cochrane.

Frank becomes engaged to a wealthy American.

Nothing more ever appeared about the engagement……or a wedding. Let’s hope Dorothy was not left with a broken heart.


A few months later Frank Williams was charged with ‘serious moral perversion’. Several businessmen appeared in court as character witnesses, and spoke of his ability and respectability, but he was sentenced to six months hard labor. His lawyer lodged an appeal, though whether he managed to avoid gaol is not recorded.

Sadly, there is no further mention in the papers of the brilliant ‘Anzac Artist’ and his designs…. in fact, there are no further reports of him at all.

Here is a man who served his country at great personal cost, and whose talent gave joy to many. He had so much more to give, but his life demonstrates the dangers and difficulties homosexual men faced in simply trying to be themselves.


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