The drawing room at Bishopstowe – <em>a rare view of the colonial interior</em>

No. 15 The drawing room at Bishopstowe – a rare view of the colonial interior

Before the arrival of photography, very few depictions of the interiors of Tasmanian colonial houses were made. This intimate and minutely-detailed sketch of a domestic interior, made by Anna Maria Nixon (1802–1868) – the wife of Francis Russell Nixon, the first Anglican Bishop of Van Diemen ’s Land – is rare in the history of Australian art. Showing the drawing-room at their first house in Hobart, Bishopstowe, it was also an unusual subject choice for Anna Maria, whose work was predominately landscape sketches and watercolours. more...

Both Anna Maria and her husband were talented and prolific amateur draughtsmen. She made this drawing to accompany a letter to her mother, written late one evening two years after they had arrived on the island. Anna Maria included a numbered map and key to help describe and locate the objects in the room:

1. Organ (still without a case)… 13. Very pretty Huon pine bookcase – Bailey’s best hob… 14. St Sebastian… 15. W.H’s sofa table covered with the blue cloth given me in 1836 by Honoria – on this is my Indian desk & here is my Account drawer & here I write in the morning… 26. A round table at which I am now writing Good night 11 o’clock p.m. Jan..

The sketch shows a fairly informal room, though the art, busts and globes are indicators of the occupants’ education and high social standing. One end of the room – fitted with wall-to-wall carpet – is dominated by a symmetrical arrangement around a gothic-style organ, while objects also neatly flank the tall bookcase.

The drawing gives us a rare view into a colonial interior, telling us what objects were to be found in rooms of this sort in the houses of the better-off colonists. With the map and key, it also shows us where objects were placed in the room and tells us where some of them came from. Contemporary consumer culture emerged in the nineteenth century, with British manufacturers producing an ever-increasing variety of goods. Tasmania was one market for these goods and they dominated the colonial interior. Thus, like most such interiors, the Nixon’s drawing room is dominated by imported objects with a small number of colonial pieces. By singling out the use of Huon pine for two pieces, Anna Maria, indicates a certain pride in this local material. Her mention of ‘WH’ as the maker of the sofa table identifies William Hamilton (c. 1796–1885), the most successful furniture craftsman in the colony. Likewise the large bookcase is made by the Nixon’s servant, Bailey.

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  • Object maker: Anna Maria Nixon [artist]
  • Object date: 1845
  • Object size: 18.4 x 27 cm
  • Object location: New Town
  • Object display location: Off Display
  • Object source: Presented by Miss Nora Nixon, 1954
  • Accession number: AG1003