Australian Historical Art Fund & Heritage Government Residences

Pair of Gothic Bookcases, c.1845

Joseph Sly, (1802 - 1887)
Width: 122.5cm Height: 294.5cm Depth: 49cm

These Gothic style bookcases were produced by the workshop of Joseph Sly of Sydney and are considered to be his best works. The bookcases are also considered to be perhaps the finest examples of Australian colonial cabinet making.


In 1817 Governor Macquarie had stated his preference for Government House to be designed as a "Handsome and Commodious Castellated House". Edward Blore's plans for a Tudor Government House fulfilled Macquarie's request. The plans arrived in Australia in 1834 and by 1843 this Gothic style building was largely complete. This rendered the Gothic style in 1840s Sydney, not only the height of fashion and highly suitable for the houses of the colonial gentry, but also a symbol of the colony's prosperity.

Sly appears to have based his design on an illustration for a "Library Bookcase with Wings and Secretaire" from George Smith's Collection of, "Designs for Household Furniture and Interior Decoration" in the most approved and elegant taste 1808. However Sly has simplified the cabinet by omitting the wings and some of the ornament. The lower section has solid panelled and traceried doors forming a pointed arch, flanked by pilasters with blank lancet arches. The upper stage has glazed doors also forming a pointed arch, crowned with a moulded ogee arch and finial, crested cornice with crocketed finials. Both bookcases bear the stamp: "J. Sly".

This selection represents a small sample of our collection. Our book detailing the collection is currently out of print.
An updated edition has been published in 2017.
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