Stories from the Royal Society of Tasmania Art Collection
7. Frank Dunnett (1822-1891)
Article prepared by the RST Honorary Curator, Dr Anita Hansen, for the August 2022 RST Newsletter
The Royal Society of Tasmania Art Collection includes three pieces by the artist and lithographer Frank Dunnett. Those of you who were at the Society’s Mid-Winter Lecture on 14 July will recall that Marley Large and I spoke briefly about this artist and his work.
The following biographical information is based mainly on data from the Directory of Australian Artists Online. Frank C. Dunnett was a Scottish painter, lithographer and surveyor. In about 1856 Dunnett migrated to Tasmania and found employment with the Hobart Town Survey Office. One of his co-workers was W.C. Piguenit and the two formed a close friendship. Dunnett is said to have given Piguenit ‘advice and instruction in painting’. This is very interesting and I will write more on this in the future.
Dunnett was an experienced lithographer, as the Hobart Town Courier of 12 November 1858 pointed out:
it is no disparagement to our old lithographists whose merits have been cheerfully and freely acknowledged by the colonial Press and the public patrons of their art, to congratulate them upon the accession to their ranks in the person of Mr F. Dunnett, from Days of London, who has drawn on stone a portion of Chalmers’ Free Church and Manse in a manner which has never been equalled in the colony. The print is published by R.V. Hood [q.v.], of Fitzroy Place, from whom copies may be obtained.
There are two copies of this lithograph of the Chalmers Free Church in the RST Art Collection – one however is in need of considerable conservation work. These are inscribed ‘from nature and on stone by F Dunnet’. Click on either image for a larger view.
At the Mid-Winter Lecture Marley Large noted:
“The RST Art Collection provides plenty of reminders that the Church was a very strong presence in early Tasmania. For instance, in 1824, the Presbyterian St Andrew’s Church of Scotland was opened. By 1843, there was a split in the Church back in Scotland called the Great Disruption. The reaction of the supporters of the splinter group in Hobart, was to build a new church in order to worship separately. It was built it in modern Gothic style and became known as the Chalmers Free Church. This significant building and the reverend’s manse next door, became part of the Hobart landscape on the corner of Bathurst and Harrington Streets. Over time, the gap between the two congregations closed and in 1955, Chalmers Church was sold, demolished and replaced, if you can believe it, by a Neptune service station. So, a schism in the Church of Scotland was felt all the way to the fledgling colony. And then all was gone in the blink of an eye and this is what stands in its place now.”
The other piece in the Society’s collection by Frank Dunnett is completely different and shows his skill as a portrait artist. Click on the image below for a larger view.
On 10 December Browne was appointed governor of Tasmania. His predecessors had represented the ‘old order’; as the first governor appointed after the colony had achieved responsible government he was warmly welcomed in Hobart with a carnival which lasted a week. He retained his popularity though the colony was in the grip of economic depression. He tried to encourage immigration to offset the loss of population from Tasmania to goldfields on the mainland, and advocated better farming methods and irrigation. He helped to make important changes in public education especially in the Orphan School and in the teaching of trades. His proposals that the Australian colonies should form a commercial union and use Port Arthur for their penal station were chiefly aimed at increasing Tasmania’s revenue and won him praise for his vision. In his last year the Duke of Edinburgh visited Tasmania and revived loyal sentiment, but soon afterwards Browne’s appointment of a favourite to a post held by an aged public servant discredited him with his ministers and many colonists.
Browne returned to England in December 1868 and in June 1869 was appointed K.C.M.G. From July 1870 to April 1871 he was temporary administrator of Bermuda. He died in London on 17 April 1887. He was survived by his wife who revisited Tasmania privately in 1898.
I want to thank the people who responded to my request for information of the artist Arthur Wiggins. The information provided has increased our knowledge of this wonderful Tasmanian artist greatly.