Alexander William Norton (c.1827–1907)
Cedar and rose mahogany
Provenance Sir Henry Parkes
Height 113.5 x depth 52 x width 116cm
This campaign secretaire belonged to Sir Henry Parkes. Known as the Father of Federation, Parkes (1815-1896), dedicated himself to the lengthy campaign of the Federation of Australian States, which upon his death was taken up by Edmund Barton, and finally achieved within five further years.
Parkes was a key rival of the established conservative leadership. He was elected to the NSW Parliament in 1856 and was Premier five times between 1872 and 1891. He was a strong advocate for: the cessation of transportation; better education facilities, including those for the destitute; improving hospitals; a cohesive training of nurses. Deakin wrote, ‘…his personality was massive, durable and imposing…a large-brained self-educated Titan whose natural field was found in Parliament and whose resources of character and intellect enabled him in his later years to overshadow all his contemporaries.’
Acquired in 1992 by The Australiana Fund having originally been purchased from the sale of Parkes’ estate, it was made circa 1880 by prominent early cabinetmaker, Alexander William Norton (c.1827–1907) who was in business from 1869 to 1907. Norton had previously worked in the workshop of the highly regarded colonial cabinetmaker, Andrew Lenehan, examples of whose work can also be found in the Fund Collection. Norton was a judge in the Intercolonial Exhibition of 1870. He achieved prominence throughout the following decades with his fine pieces; he exhibited in the International Exhibition in 1879 – receiving high commendations.
Norton’s maker’s label is glued to underside of the lower cabinet, and there is a handwritten portion of writing paper in pen and ink: ‘With care/Sir Henry Parkes/Parramatta’
As Margaret Betteridge suggests, the label to take care suggests that it was designed for travel, as a working desk and compact portable trunk packed with necessities; perhaps it accompanied Parkes ‘around Australia on his Federation crusade – and maybe as far as England’.
19th Century Pictorial Furniture Fahy and Simpson p99, p334
Australian Dictionary of Biography
Sotheby’s catalogue Fine Australian Paintings and Books, 23 August 1992
Margaret Betteridge Furniture Australia Revealed 2013, pp18-19.