Sydney in 1848, illustrated with copper plate engravings of the city’s main streets and buildings, was an instant success when published in parts in 1848-9. Republished in 1878 and in facsimile in 1962 and 1973, it remains a widely consulted reference work. The book’s author lived for a number of years in Glebe.
Joseph Fowles migrated to Australia on the barque Fortune, leaving London in April 1838 and landing in Sydney nearly fi ve months later. On the voyage he occasionally took the wheel, played the fl ute, did some fi shing, painting and bird shooting, and kept a diary. His wife Emily Lambrick (née Collier ca 1816-61) and sister-in-law were among the female cabin passengers who, on embarking, were wrapped in a chair with a Union Jack and hoisted by rope from the wharf onto the ship. Fowles painted a plaque for the coffi n of the captain’s twoyear-old son who died at sea. Normal practice was for a corpse to be tied in a hammock weighted with lead and thrown overboard. However, in this instance the ship’s bell tolled. The child’s gown and christening cap were placed in the coffin, which was draped with the Union Jack and lowered into the sea.
After a seasick beginning, Fowles enjoyed life on the ocean, particularly sharing meals at the captain’s table. They drank champagne and ate roast beef, turkey and goose, fresh lobster and salmon, gooseberry and raspberry pies. A cow provided fresh milk.
Port Jackson was impressive, the cove alive with boats, the country beautifully green with cedar and other trees, the splendid mansions of the merchants in settings ‘truly exquisite’.
After staying with family friends, the Morrises, in Bridge Street, Joseph and Emily started looking for somewhere to live. They visited Newcastle but settled on Figtree Farm (a house and two cottages on 110 rocky acres ‘six miles from Sydney’) in Balmain. Joseph planned to grow vegetables and fruit and harvest the plentiful fi sh and oysters in the harbour. While living in Balmain he set up as a Pitt Street wine merchant, a business sold in 1844 to Edward Goddard who pledged to sell a quality product at prices ‘commensurate with the depressed times’.
By 1847 Fowles had become a serious painter, submitting seven works – fi ve of ships and shipping – to the fi rst exhibition of the Society for the Promotion of Fine Arts. At its second exhibition in 1849 he showed ‘Byrnes Mills, Parramatta’, described by the Sydney Morning Herald as a ‘glaring and unmeaning mixture of red, yellow and brown’. However, by this time he had achieved commercial success with Sydney in 1848 (printed at his studio at 5 Harrington Street) and had won prize money for marine paintings.
By 1858, having switched subject matter, Fowles was described as ‘Our Colonial Herring’ after John Herring, an English painter of racehorses. As a souvenir of his term in offi ce Governor FitzRoy commissioned Fowles to make portraits of his favourite horse, Sam Weller, and Buffalo Bull and other cattle in the Domain. Fowles frequented the race track near Government House Parramatta and in 1862, employing a trainer Noah Beal, established the Newmarket stables at Randwick, a short-lived venture which ended in insolvency.
Fowles had other sources of income, however. He was the first art teacher at the Sydney Mechanics’ School of Arts and taught at public and private schools including King’s, Sydney Grammar, Camden College, St Barnabas’,
Lyndhurst College and Glebe Point Collegiate School. He trained and examined art teachers for the National Board of Education and its successor the Council of Education. ‘Artist by Appointment to H.R.H. the Duke of Edinburgh’, he published a series of drawing books as standard school textbooks in New South Wales and Queensland.
In 1858-72 Fowles lived in a house with vacant allotments on both sides on Glebe Road between Francis and Mitchell Streets. In 1873-6 he was in Macdonaldtown at Fern Villa Erskineville Lane but had moved to St Johns Road Forest Lodge by the time he made out his will in February 1878. He died of a stroke at Parramatta on 25 June 1878, leaving ‘a wife and young family and several grown up sons and daughters’. His estate valued at £1000 was divided among his widow, three sons and two daughters. His artistic materials and the goodwill of his practice were left to the eldest son, said by Joseph to have ‘artistic tastes’. This son was probably William Henry (184583).
Fowles’ first wife Emily had died in September 1861; her eldest daughter, 18-year-old Augusta Emily, two months later. Both deaths were registered in Paddington and both women were buried at St Stephen’s Newtown. Other children of Joseph and Emily were Joseph jnr who died in 1875 in Brisbane where he was City Surveyor; Emily Frances (‘Fanny’) who married Frank E Baily in Brisbane in 1874, a ceremony attended by her father; and Jessie Elizabeth (died 1909) who married William James Titterton in 1865.
In 1874 Joseph married Elizabeth Harris at Glebe. His second family comprised John Percival (1870-1936) who married Emily Moore in 1891 and Margaret B Handford in 1896 and divorced in 1920; Albert (born 1871); Beatrice L (died 1872); Josephine Amy (1875—1921) and Arthur Edward (died 1927). Joseph’s second wife died aged 63 in Queensland on 26 September 1897.
Mystery surrounded Joseph’s death. The Sydney Morning Herald reported that he had attended a gathering at the home of a friend William Matthews, former headmaster at Glebe Public and then in charge of William Street School, and had suffered a stroke after going to bed. Parramatta artist and historian Collinridge Rivett maintained that Fowles, who had some physical handicaps, turned to spiritualism, an enthusiasm not shared by Emily who banned seances from the Harrington Street premises. The enthusiasm was apparently not shared by Elizabeth either. According to Rivett, Joseph, after travelling by train to Parramatta, was thrown to the floor by a violent seizure during an after-dinner seance. Calling up spirits was a popular activity in the second half of the nineteenth century.
Baily, Frank E Letters 1866-75
Bell’s Life 4.9.1858
Bibliography of Australian Art
Fowles, Joseph Journal London – Sydney on
Illustrated Sydney News 13.7.1878
NSW Births, Deaths, Marriages online
NSW cemetery records
NSW electoral rolls
Queensland Births, Deaths, Marriages online Rivett, J Collinridge the Art Union Story – old Parramatta 1953 Sands directories
State Records NSW
Sydney Morning Herald 1.9.1838; 27.4.1844; 26.7.1847; 27.9.1878