Australian Historical Art Fund & Heritage Government Residences

Medallion of William Charles Wentworth, 1854

Thomas Woolner (1825-1892)
Diameter: 23cm

In 1852 Thomas Woolner emigrated to the Victorian goldfields of Australia but was unsuccessful making his fortune.  He had been a member of the key artistic movement in Britain, the Pre-Raphaelite brotherhood, and his emigration to Australia inspired fellow member Ford Madox Brown to create the well known emigration painting, "The Last of England".

Abandoning his search for gold he reverted to sculpture, making medallion plaques of prominent society figures of Melbourne and Sydney. He began with the politician William Charles Wentworth who wrote to the artist in 1854: "I beg you to allow me to testify the satisfaction I feel at your medallion of me".

W.C. Wentworth (1790-1872) was a key figure in the early days of the colony; he was a lawyer and later a politician. He took part in the first European crossing of the Blue Mountains, NSW in 1813 which was significant for the development and growth of the settlement. He was co-proprietor and joint editor of The Australian, the colony's first independent newspaper from 1824.

Born illegitimately in Australia of a convict mother and criminal but un-convicted father, Wentworth had already fathered two children of his own by 1829 when he married Sarah Cox, herself the daughter of ex-convicts. As a result of this union and his past, they were shunned by other important families and social groups in the colony - Wentworth was not deterred and became a member of the first NSW legislature in 1834, advocated the right of ex-convicts to enter political power and discouraged voluntary immigrants, he also promoted the bill proposing the founding of Sydney University in 1852.

In 1854 Woolner travelled to Sydney to make more portraits of the important men of the colony and hoping to win the commission for a life-size statue of W. C. Wentworth. In the same year, he reluctantly returned to England to execute larger scale works, intending to sway the judging committee in his favour. He did not win the commission, which was awarded to Italian, Pietro Tenerani, and he never came back to Australia. Tenerani’s life-size marble statue of Wentworth stands in the Great Hall, Sydney University.

A statue by Woolner of Captain Cook was unveiled in 1879 in Hyde Park, Sydney, a small alabaster copy of which can be found in The Australiana Fund Collection at Admiralty House.
1980.1 Capt Cook Hyde Park

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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