Joseph Fowles (1810-1878)

Douglas Barrie in his classic 1956 book The Australian Blood Horse gives Sir Hercules prominence (pp.117–18) in his listing of Colonial-bred Stallions of the 1840s. Stating that the breeder in NSW was Charles Smith and detailing the pedigree, he notes that Sir Hercules “was one of the greatest of early Australian-bred sires. He was purchased in 1845 by Mr Thomas Icely of Coombing, where he stood. “Sent to New Zealand in 1852, and returned to New South Wales in 1857 to Mr C.G. Tindal’s Ramornie Stud where he remained until 1861; died at Bylong in the stud of Mr John Lee in January 1866 … “He established a male line that survived until the twentieth century through Abercorn (Australian Racing Hall of Fame) who was exported to England in 1898”. Barrie also reminds us that Sir Hercules’s son Yagendon sired two champion winners of the Melbourne Cup who became noted sires in their turn: Chester and the unbeaten Grand Flaneur.

(b. UK, arr. NSW 1838, d.1878)
Born UK, date unknown. To NSW August 1838 with his wife. Died NSW 1878 Brief article by Jocelyn Gray in Australian Dictionary of Biography, vol.1 (1966) “He was noticed in the Sydney Morning Herald on 26 July 1847 for his contributions to the first exhibition of the Society for the Promotion of Fine Arts in Australia. Of the seven paintings by his hand five were of ships and shipping, and it was as a marine painter that Fowles first made his reputation in Sydney. Marine paintings also made up the main part of his contribution to the exhibition of 1848.

“In July 1848 Fowles published the first part of his series Sydney in 1848; his forty illustrations of the 'elegant' streets and buildings were made with painstaking accuracy 'to remove the erroneous and discreditable notions current in England concerning this city'. By 1858 Fowles had won a new reputation when Bell's Life in Sydney and Sporting Chronicle designated him 'Our Colonial Herring' as a result of a series of portraits of 'celebrated Australian cracks', racehorses and riding horses. The first notice of Fowles's work in this field appeared in the Illustrated Sydney News, 13 January 1855, the subjects being two much admired portraits of favourite mounts which the governor had commissioned from him. Three paintings of horses were contributed by Fowles to the Art Exhibition of 1857, together with views of English and Australian ships and shipping. As well as marine and equine subjects he painted landscapes of Sydney and its environs, and recollections of English scenes.

“By 1855 Fowles was training and examining young art teachers in drawing for the National Board of Education. In 1867 when it was succeeded by the Council of Education he continued as teacher and examiner under the new organization, his application for reemployment claiming that he had devised a 'system of teaching elementary drawing adapted for large classes', and a series of eight graded 'Elementary Free-Hand Drawing Books' which he had composed during the 1850s, and which were sold in Sydney at 1s. a copy. On the cover of these booklets he was styled 'Artist by Appointment to His Royal Highness the Duke of Edinburgh, Drawing Master to the Training School and Public Schools of New South Wales, the Sydney Grammar School, The King's School, the Lyndhurst College, the New School … Glebe Point Collegiate, etc'. In an obituary notice he was described as the 'Father of drawing in the city'.

“Fowles died, after a third paralytic stroke, on 25 June 1878, and left a widow and two married sons, the eldest of whom was also an artist, and who inherited his father's practice.” In my opinion, Joseph Fowles was superior as an equine artist to any other artist painting in Australia in the nineteenth century before Mark Gawen, and the contemporary comparison as ‘our colonial Herring’ (referring to British artist John Frederick Herring (1795–1865) seems apt.

Dr Andrew Lemon AM FRHSV


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