Joseph Fowles was by way of being an early Colonial artistic influencer.
He arrived in Sydney in 1838 with his first wife Sarah, took up a small farm at Hunters Hill, rented from Mary Reibey, and tried to get established as an artist. It’s not clear what he had been doing before arriving in Australia but had kept extensive, illustrated journals during the voyage. By 1840 he had exhibited at least one painting of Sydney Harbour locally and had a studio in the Rocks by about 1846-47. He was gaining a reputation as a fine maritime painter and also for his horse paintings-especially racehorses and military/cavalry horses for commission.
His big (historical) break came in 1848 when he published a collection called Sydney In 1848. This was a series of streetscapes of all the main streets in Sydney CBD, with every building facade represented and drawings of many of the more important buildings reproduced as single plates. It was intended for locals who would purchase it, perhaps even multiple copies, and send it back to England to show the home country how far Sydney had progressed. It was accompanied by a short history of the town to that time and descriptions of the buildings and their occupants. It was so popular it was republished at least twice in the 19th century and then again a few times in the 20th century. It is still used by historians, archaeologists and heritage architects to get an idea of the look and scale of colonial Sydney, taking us beyond our interpretations of maps and traditional street scenes by artists.
Fowles went on to teach drawing at the Sydney Mechanic School of Arts as well as working as the principal drawing master at a series of schools around Sydney including Grammar and the Kings School. He then became the drawing master for the Board of National Education, the forerunner to the Departnent of Education. His text book on drawing became the standard text for drawing classes in NSW.
Aside from all this, his love of racing also saw him establish the Newmarket training stables at Randwick in 1861 to service the newly reopened Randwick Racecourse.
Fowles died in 1878 at what was rumoured to be a seance gone wrong, but was probably just a heart attack while at a friend’s house for dinner.
Read more about Joseph Fowles on the Dictionary here.
Dr Mark Dunn is the author of ‘The Convict Valley: the bloody struggle on Australia’s early frontier’ (2020), the former Chair of the NSW Professional Historians Association and former Deputy Chair of the Heritage Council of NSW. He is currently a Visiting Scholar at the State Library of NSW. You can read more of his work on the Dictionary of Sydney here and follow him on Twitter @markdhistory here. Mark appears on 2SER on behalf of the Dictionary of Sydney in a voluntary capacity. Thanks Mark!