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  • Title
    The Newcastle Collector's Chests, ca. 1818
  • Level of description
  • Date

    ca. 1818
  • Type of material
  • Reference code

    These two cedar and rosewood chests were made in Newcastle around 1818. Based on military campaign chests, with hardware which sets flush with their surface, they were almost certainly commissioned by the commandant of the Newcastle penal settlement, Captain James Wallis of the 46th Regiment.
    No contemporary records of their design and creation have survived, but it is assumed that the chests were conceived by Wallis, and constructed using the available convict labour at his disposal. It is clear that the artist of their painted wooden panels was Joseph Lycett (Lycett also collaborated with Wallis on a series of twelve engravings, later published as An Historical Account of the Colony of New South Wales, London 1821, which were engraved in Newcastle by another convict Water Preston - see PXD 373). The paintings depict a number of views of the Newcastle district, and Newcastle itself, as well as a selection of copies of plates from William Westall's Australian Scenery of 1814.
    It is likely that the cabinets were made by Newcastle convict cabinet maker William Temple.
    The chests were designed to display natural history specimens, although only those in the Macquarie Chest have substantially survived. All that remains of the specimens in the Dixson Chest is a drawer of beautifully arranged shells. It does appear that the specimens in both chests are all from the Newcastle district. The chests seem to be a celebration of the diversity and yet also patterns of nature. The chests are about pleaure in natural environment - and Wallis's pleasure in the Newcastle environment is clear from a surviving manuscript in which he describes hunting with Burigon Jack (PXD 1008 v.1) - and the order and design supposedly apparent in nature. They do not attempt to engage in any way with the more sophisticated debates of taxonists and naturalists.
    Circumstantial evidence strongly suggests the Macquarie Chest was given by Wallis to Macquarie, most likely as a gift to his most significant colonial patron. This was not an uncommon practice - Macquarie himself often sent Australian natural history specimens to his English patrons.
    The Dixson Chest was purchased by Sir William Dixson in London in 1937. It provenance prior to that has not been established.
    The chests do differ both in size (slightly) and in important points of construction. The Dixson Chest has a more sophisticated mechanism for removing the top tray of specimens.
  • Access Conditions

    Access to this pictures collection via appointment only. Please submit your request through Ask a Librarian
  • General note

    Reference: 'Rare and Curious - The Dixson Galleries and Strathallan Collector's Chests' / by Elizabeth Imashev, in the Australian Antique Collector, 41st edition, January - June 1991. See also PXn 673 Mitchell Library
    Reference: The Strathallan Cabinet catalogue / prepared by Anne McCormick for Ruth Simon. Sydney : Hordern House, 1991.
    Reference: Joseph Lycett. Convict artist. / John McPhee editor. Sydney : Historic Houses Trust of NSW, 2006
    Reference: Exotica. / Elizabeth Ellis. Sydney : State Library of NSW, 2006
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