On the other side of the world

The Box

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For our final artists post we’re looking at two locally-born men who both continued their artistic practice (as well as trying their hand at other types of work) on the other side of the world.

Henry Hainsselin

Henry Hainsselin was a painter and engraver who was born in Devonport in 1815. Records show that he was baptised on April 20, 1820. His father Dennis was an auctioneer – an occupation that Hainsselin’s brother, Thomas would also go on to have.

Hainsselin studied in the Netherlands. On his return to England he exhibited his paintings at the Royal Academy every year from 1843 to 1853 with the exception of 1847.

He painted this self-portrait around 1850. He appears to be challenging the viewer to a duel. It’s a technique called trompe-l’oeil. Translated from French, it means ‘deceive the eye’ and is used to describe paintings that create an optical illusion of a real or three dimensional object or scene.

In April 1853, Hainsselin headed for the other side of the world and sailed from Plymouth to Australia on the Emma Godwin. He reached Melbourne on September 11 and set out for the Ballarat Goldfields.

Ballarat is located about 65 miles away from Melbourne and was one of the most significant Australian ‘boom towns’ of the Victorian era.

Gold was discovered there in August 1851 and within months around 20,000 people had rushed there. Unlike many other gold rush boom towns, the Ballarat fields yielded gold for decades – transforming what had once been a small sheep station into a major settlement.

Hainsselin created a series of works inspired by this. Three watercolours still exist called ‘Portrait of a Digger’, ‘Prospector’s Hut, Ballaarat’ and ‘On the Diggings at Ballaarat’.

Although returning to art on a regular basis he also seems to have tried his hand at a number of other jobs.

In January 1855 he was living in Melbourne and working as a ‘draughtsman on wood and stone’. This venture was not successful and by the following summer he was on the electoral roll as a miner. In 1857 he was listed as an artist.

In July 1860 he appears to have moved to Rutherglen – another gold mining town, this time about 170 miles from Melbourne. He purchased land, set up as a ‘sharebroker and photographer’ and acquired the nickname ‘Johnny Allsorts’ on account of his many different skills and occupations.

In early 1878 he returned to Melbourne and for the next few years worked an as an art teacher, taking part in annual exhibitions along with his pupils.

In 1886, for reasons unknown, he returned to England and moved to the north. His last recorded exhibit is from that year in a show at Manchester City Art Gallery.

Edwin Harris

Artist and surveyor, Edwin Harris was born in Plymouth in 1806.

We believe he was about 19 at the time he painted this fine interior of St Andrews Church to prove his artistic ability and secure permission to study the collections of the Plymouth Athenaeum.

Harris had strong links with St Andrew’s. It’s where his wife Sarah Hill (1806-1879) and her sisters were baptised in the early 1800s, where he and Sarah married in 1833 and baptised their eldest son in 1835.

The painting shows the church before restoration work took place in the 1800s.

Edwin, Sarah and their three eldest children Hugh, Emily and Catherine, eventually emigrated to New Plymouth, New Zealand in late 1840. Like many others they went with great hopes only to find things were much harder than expected.

They went through some tough times – losing two children, witnessing the events of the first Anglo-Maori War and losing almost all their possessions when their first house burnt down.

Links to family in Plymouth provided emotional and financial support. Edwin turned his hand to different jobs to make ends meet, from surveying and giving drawing lessons to farming and selling timber.

Despite these hardships, his daughter Emily went on to become one of New Zealand’s first professional female painters. She worked mainly in watercolour and was known for her works of plants and flowers.

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