State Library Victoria > La Trobe Journal

No 54 March 1995


The Mysterious James Gilbert
The Forgotten Sculptor

Few of the innumerable patrons who pass through the classical portico of the State Library each day can fail to notice the imposing statue of Sir Redmond Barry in the centre of the forecourt. Even more than a century after his death, on 23 November 1880, his name still means much to those who know anything of Victoria's history, even if only that he himself was dead just 12 days after he had condemned to death the most celebrated of those accused before him.
The statue is portentous, perfectly capturing the confidence and power of one of the leading Victorians of his time, a man with a finger in every pie. Admittedly he never attained the post he coveted, that of Chief Justice, so he is shown here in the robes of his otherwise most influential position, that of Chancellor of the University.
The artist who received the commission to create this statue was James Gilbert.1 He does not appear in the Australian Dictionary of Biography, not even in its ‘missing persons’ index. The Book of the Public Library notes only that he won the design for the statue after Barry's death, and that it was completed by another.2 Gilbert does not appear in W. Strickland's Dictionary of Irish Artists, 1913, but this may be explained, as we shall see, by his emigration at an early age. Those of us who rely on the immense labours of Emmanuel Benezit's dictionary will not be surprised to discover that Gilbert is listed, although only in the briefest note, as a sculptor of the ‘English school’, whose statue of Barry is kept by the ‘Melbourne Museum’.3 He was not mentioned in the excellent exhibition in 1976 on Australian art in the 1870s,4 but does appear twice in G. Sturgeon's The Development of Australian Sculpture, but the indexer could not be bothered including him. Even such excellent reference works as K. Scarlett's Australian Sculptors know only that he began the Barry statue.5 The La Trobe Library's biographical index can add nothing.
To suggest that nothing is known or can be known about the sculptor who received the commission for the statue of a man as important as Barry is plainly wrong and slothful. It is furthermore ungrateful to consign to oblivion a man who spent most of his life embodying others for posthumous record and fame. It is time to pay our tribute to James Gilbert.
The obvious starting-point is his death: clearly before the unveiling of the statue of Barry in August 1887. One only has to turn to the well-indexed death notices of the 1880s to come across him, sculptor of Caulfield, who died on 4 September, 1885.
He was born in Dublin in 1830, the son of Jeremiah Gilbert, a wine-merchant and his wife Annie Hendrick. When he emigrated at the age of 23, he could describe himself as a sculptor, so he was already trained. He is not known as an exhibitor at the Hibernian Academy of Arts in Dublin or the Royal Academy of Arts in London,6 and he certainly was not a student at the Royal Academy.7
What is certain is that Gilbert set sail from London on the Laconia on 7 January 1854. The ship was only 570 tons, under Captain Bodeker, and carried 120 passengers. Gilbert's nationality is shown as English. The Laconia disembarked passengers at only Adelaide and Melbourne, where it arrived in June.8
‘Gilbert was not the only artist to come to Victoria not for art but for gold.’
It does not take much imagination to guess what a young man arriving in Melbourne at this time would do, even if he were a trained artist. The earliest electoral rolls date from 1856–57, and there are no fewer than three James Gilberts, all listed as voters with miner's rights, that is, they had paid for a miner's licence. One was in Creswick division, the other two were at Mt Franklin. No details of age or real profession are given, but one of them is almost certainly the sculptor.
In this case, Gilbert was not the only artist to come to Victoria not for art but for gold. Other well-known cases are numerous. Thomas Woolner, five years older than Gilbert, was one of the pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood and his departure inspired Madox Brown's painting, The last of England. He arrived in October 1852, together with another sculptor, Bernard Smith, and the painter Edward La Trobe Bateman. All three promptly went to the Ovens. Woolner was best known in Australia for his medallions, but returned to England in 1854 and went on to a very distinguished career. Another sculptor was James Scurry, presumably Irish, who arrived in December 1852, aged 27, and already trained. He was to go on to form a very successful partnership with John Mackennal. Two years younger than Gilbert, Mackennal also apparently arrived in 1852, and became, as we shall see, one of the leading artists in the colony.9 Most famous of all was Charles Summers, five years older than Gilbert, who arrived in January 1854, again as a well-established artist.10 Lack of work induced him for a short time to dig at Tarnagulla, but by 1856 he was working on Parliament House. The German sculptor Emil Todt was both long resident and well known by 1854, producing religious art for major Catholic churches.11 Mention should also be made of some of the most famous painters who arrived at this time; for example, Eugene von Guerard in December 1852 and Nicholas Chevalier in December 1854.
One might consult Sands and McDougall's directories for the state of sculpture in Melbourne and trace of Gilbert, but hardly with any confidence in its detail. In the separate trade entries in 1858, under sculptors, appears only Henry Apperley of Stephen Street; 1859, Richard Bool, Swanston Street; then 1860–62 only Charles Summers of 81 Collins Street East; 1863–66, no-one at
all! 1867–69, Summers and Gilbert — but Summers returned to England in 1867; 1870, Gilbert alone. From 1871 the entries become unusable, because they group sculptors under ‘monumental masons’
The most exciting project in Melbourne for sculptors in the 1850s was undoubtedly Parliament House. After much vacillation, plans by Knight and Kerr had been adopted. Work on the Legislative Assembly began on 20 December 1855, and on the Council on 13 March 1856, and the two chambers were almost complete for the opening in November of that year. It is the magnificent Council Chamber where much scope was given to sculptors. The capitals of the Corinthian columns were modelled by John Mackennal, the figures in the ceiling spandrels by James Scurry (the two of them were partners in a firm for such architectural work), and the work was directed by Charles Summers. The allegorical panels in the attics on the front were, for the sake of this note, done later by John's son Bertram Mackennal. Gilbert apparently had nothing to do with this grand design.12 He may, as we have seen, have still been on the gold fields.
Other great public buildings which followed had apparently little scope for sculptural elements: the Treasury Building (1858–62) and the Mint (1869–72). The Courts of Law (1874–84), however, naturally had to have allegorical figures: that of Justice herself, famous for being without a blind-fold, was by Emanuel Semper.
The work of such sculptors was even thought worthy of an exhibition. The first such display in Melbourne was held in December 1857 under the auspices of the Victorian Society of Fine Arts, founded at the end of 1856. The first President was Judge Frederick Wilkinson, and Charles Summers was a committee member.13 The exhibitors included Summers, with his spandrels for the Bank of NSW, Henry Apperley with a ‘clever carving’, Summers' student Margaret Thomas, who showed a medallion portrait (apparently that of Sir Redmond Barry), and W. L. Jones with busts and medallions. There is no sign of Gilbert — at least to judge from the works singled out for comment in the newspaper accounts or the Society's minute-book.14
Mention should also be made of the beginnings of the sculpture collection by the Public Library in 1862, when the Trustees set aside £1,000. Copies of the Elgin Marbles, 70 statues and 63 busts were obtained. When the casts arrived, they were rather damaged, and it was Summers who was called in to repair them. The show attracted 62,000 visitors.15

Burke and Wills

The first competition for a public statue in Melbourne was for that of two of the ill-fated Victorian Exploring Expedition. There is a recent splendid study of the making of the myth surrounding this epic disaster, but Gilbert's name is nowhere mentioned. This is extraordinary, because in the competition for the successful model, Gilbert was placed second.16
On 18 November 1862, the Government Gazette announced a competition for a commemorative statue. Designs were
invited in clay or plaster, to consist of ‘a Group of Statuary on a Pedestal’. The model was to be at least one-sixth of the finished size, able to be carried out for £4,000, and most remarkable to be delivered before 3 pm. on 1 December, that is, in precisely two weeks' time.17
Gilbert's model has not, it seems, survived, but there are two brief descriptions of it which allow a clear enough idea to be formed of it.
The second design in order of merit represented Victoria, as a winged female, crowning two well executed figures of Burke and Wills, but the treatment was scarcely aesthetical enough, and the design was better adapted for a gigantic French clock than for the purpose for which the money was voted by Parliament.
opined the Herald's critic.18
A few days later more detail was offered. It was declared that the competition had hardly been necessary! There was ‘but one gentleman sufficiently qualified to execute the work’. There had been some in favour of sending the commission ‘home’, that is, to England, and in this connection the writer spoke of a ‘despotic sway’ in artistic taste in Melbourne at the time. The other competitors were dismissed as having only ‘mechanical dexterity unaccompanied by any inventive skill’, except the puerile or the ridiculous! Another three designs were slated as ‘packingcase school of art' or as showing relatives of Chadband, one of Dickens’ ecclesiastical characters.
The only design other than that of Mr Summers which possessed any indications of merit, was one which partook somewhat of the allegorical. But it repeated worn out designs, and though possibly it might have been useful to a fashioner of mantelpiece ornaments, it was the reverse of suitable for monumental purposes.19
Gilbert's model was exhibited, in fact, at the Fine Arts Exhibition in January, held at Summers' studio each year 1861–64. The art critic of the Ilustrated Melbourne Post offered further portentous judgement. The committee could hardly have chosen otherwise, he declared, than in awarding the prize to Summers. The second place was awarded to ‘the work of a Mr Gilbert’.
It has several points of not inconsiderable excellence. The two seated figures are — regarded separately — far from inexpressive and there is not an entire absence of grace [!] in the central allegorical figure. It is less, however, in particular details that the faults of the design consist, than in its general plan. The arrangement is geometrically rigid, and therefore ungraceful. Two figures seated back to back upon steps of a corresponding level are of necessity, formal and unsuggestive. Their extremely practical attitudes do not accord with the becoming consciousness of being about to be crowned with the wreaths just about to be placed upon their brows by Fame and Glory, or by whatever other designation that respectable female figure between them happens to be known … As a monument to be viewed on all sides, it is entirely inappropriate, in as much as whatever points of excellence it may possess, they can only be apprehended by looking at it directly in front. There is, however, that kind of merit about the design which entitles one to
hope other things of the sculptor. Mr Gilbert will do something better than this when next he attempts to fashion a national monument.20
Apart from the outrageously patronising tone taken, if we were bold enough to put any store by the critic's competence, the reference to ‘a Mr Gilbert’ might indicate that he was not yet well known as a practising sculptor in the very early 1860s. From the various descriptions, it is also possible to have a clear idea of his design for the monument, pyramidal in shape, with Burke and Wills facing outwards, and an allegorical central figure hovering over them.
There were two further events connected with this most famous competition at which it is highly likely that Gilbert was present. Not the least demonstration of Summers' virtuosity was the casting at his studios in Collins Street of the giant bronze. To this the public, in some numbers, was invited. On 16 September 1864, the double statue was cast in two pieces. The Argus says that about 30 people were present; the Age ‘a large number of ladies and gentlemen’. Then, not satisfied with that, on 1 February 1865 Summers again cast the monument, this time in one piece, in the presence, says the Argus, of about 130 people, or if one believes the Age, rather 300, ‘the greater proportion of them being ladies’.21
It is thus patently clear that Summers was the leading sculptor in Melbourne in the 1860s. He had admittedly been a brilliant student in London, winning the Royal Academy's medal in two fields, life modelling and an historical subject. As well as his work in the new Parliament buildings in 1856, in the same year he was one of the founders of the Victorian Society for Fine Arts, and in 1863 a member of the ‘Commission of enquiry into the promotion of the Fine Arts’, along with Barry, Gavin Duffy, William Wadell and others. Margaret Thomas described his studio in Collins Street as ‘the rendez-vous of whoever in those early colonial days practised or loved art in any way’.22 His character was genial and modest, so if Gilbert enjoyed a similar ease, they must have known each other well. Summers is said to have taken an interest, for example, in the convict sculptor Stanford, responsible for the fine bluestone fountain in Gordon Place.23 It was then a major event in the history of Melbourne sculpture when Summers returned to Europe in 1867. He was to die in Paris some 11 years later but is buried in Rome where he had his studio.
Just three years after his departure a most important organisation for all Melbourne artists was established, the Victorian Academy of Art, later to become the Victorian Artists' Society. The first Presidents were O. R. Campbell (1871) and Chester Earles (1872–84). After an uncertain beginning, when the first exhibition did not cover its costs, the Academy was granted land and by judicious use of art unions was able to build its own headquarters. Sculpture was one of the arts included in the Academy, but that field was dominated by John Mackennal and his partner James Scurry, both foundation members and on the committee throughout the 1870s. There seems to be no sign of Gilbert in the minute books, and he does not appear as an
exhibitor at any of the Academy's annual showings.24
John Simpson Mackennal (1832–1901), father of the better-known Bertram, certainly laid claim to be Summers' successor. He had been employed, as we have seen, in the Legislative Council chamber, sculpted the figures above the entrance to the Windsor Hotel in the 1880s, the figure of Law on the Supreme Court in Lonsdale Street (1892), and the animal lunette above the entrance to the Victoria Market in Elizabeth Street, among many others.

The great exhibitions.

The second half of the 19th century in Melbourne was marked by endless exhibitions, in keeping with the Victorian sense of progress and the ostentatious demonstration of its products. They were at all levels, up to Intercolonial and International. This was a golden opportunity for an artist to advertise his skills, yet Gilbert rarely appears. Victorian sculpture was, in fact, rarely shown.
The Victorian Exhibition of 1861 was held to celebrate the first quarter century of the colony! Class 7 was devoted to ‘artistic and ornamental products’. These included ‘colonial made stays and corsets’, a machine for making the legs of Wellington boots, and ‘1 bottle containing lotion, for curing rheumatism’. The only sculpture in sight was by the much castigated entrant in the Burke and Wills competition, Sydney Cameroux.25
The Intercolonial Exhibition of Australasia was held in Melbourne in 1866–67. This was the usual amazing display of 19th-century culture and progress, and a chance to advertise Australia to the world. A fat volume was published containing a catalogue of all the exhibits and statistics on all states. In the list of fine arts on show in the Rotunda, Charles Summers was, of course, prominent, with three of his busts. Easy to overlook is a ‘figure in marble’, unfortunately untitled, by the artist ‘Gilbert’, and exhibited by the stone masons Huxley and Parker.26
Then came the Victorian Intercolonial Exhibition of 1875. The commentary on art announced that
The representative of the Plastic Arts is Mr Mckennal … Sculpture is not well represented. However, in the Exhibition will be found a marble figure of ‘prayer’, the figure from which the statue and pedestal are cast being sculpted and manufactured in the colony.
Many sculptors exhibited here, including Francois Follet, T. Nutt, Antonio Perugia, and William Phillips. And listed among the exhibits is a marble figure of prayer, ‘entirely sculpted in the colony by James Gilbert’. It was again exhibited by Huxley, Parker and Company.27 Gilbert obviously worked for this company.
The last and greatest exhibition held during Gilbert's life was the Melbourne International Exhibition of 1880 for which the wonderful building was constructed. In the Victorian sculpture section, there were only seven exhibitors: E. Altmann, W. Candy, Alexander Mathieson, William Phillips, Albert Summers, G. Teale, and G. Twentyman.28 In fact, only Phillips
exhibited two marble statues; the others showed medals, seals and the like.
With so little of Gilbert's work being exhibited or now able to be ide.jpgied, it is remarkable what is recorded. In the Argus of 22 January 1868 appears the following note:
A piece of sculpture which is deserving of more than passing notice as an evidence of the high degree of merit attained in this branch of art in Melbourne, may be seen on the premises of Messrs Huxley, Parker and Co., monumental masons and sculptors, at the corner of Russell and Little Collins Streets. It is the Scotch coat-of-arms carved in marble, and intended to be placed over the grave of the late Mr A. H. D. Stewart, an old Tasmanian colonist. The work, which is an elaborate and delicate piece of carving, is very bea.jpgully executed, and reflects the highest credit on Mr Jas. Gilbert, the sculptor entrusted with the execution of the design.29
On 2 February 1875 in Malvern, Gilbert married Susannah Aylwin. He was a bachelor, she a spinster and tailoress, born in Southwark, London, daughter of a ‘clerk of the bench, and living in Little Park St., S. Yarra. There was a considerable age difference, so much so that he reduced his by several years, claiming to be only 42; her age may have been raised: she is given as 28. To judge from her second marriage ce.jpgicate she was closer to 25. The two were married by an Independent minister, William Moss, and the two witnesses were Catherine Isobel Rae and Mary Farrally. The Gilberts were to have two children, Lily Elizabeth and George Augustine.
In the same year, Gilbert sculpted the bust of a deceased parliamentarian, John Sherwin. He was the son of Sergeant William Sherwin, of the New South Wales Corps, who came to Sydney in 1792. John Sherwin (1811–68) was the fifth of their 10 children. The family became very large landowners in a number of states. John came to Victoria, to Merriang near Beveridge, and was member for East Burke in the Legislative Assembly 1864–65, and for Southern Province in the Legislative Council 1866–68. He died from the complications of diabetes. Seven years after his death, Gilbert made his bust, presumably from photographs (ill. 8). The original marble cannot be traced, but a plaster copy is still owned by his descendants.30
One of the earliest banks established in Melbourne was the Colonial, incorporated in 1856. It was located at the north-eastern corner of Elizabeth and Little Collins Streets. Three generations of one family, the Clarkes, were its chairmen. It survived the crash of 1893 with £3 million liabilities, and in 1918 was amalgamated with the National Bank of Australasia. The building was demolished in 1932. This was the design of architects Smith and Johnson. The main doorway was sculpted by Gilbert in 1880, and consisted of a wide arch flanked by ‘Atlantes’, figures in the style of Atlas, the classical supporter of the world, it is the greatest good fortune that the fine entrance was preserved in some store until in 1972, 40 years after the building's demolition, it was presented to the University of Melbourne, and re-erected as the pedestrian door-

Ill. 8: The bust of John Sherwin.

Ill. 9: The doorway to the Colonial Bank, re-erected in the University of Melbourne.

way to the innovative underground carpark, the entrance on the side towards the University Library (ill. 9). Incongruous as its change of function may seem, one of Gilbert's grandest creations has thus been preserved.31
Gilbert received another commission in the same year, for a private monument. In 1878, the Rev. John Legge, minister of the Brighton Congregational Church died at the tragically early age of 41. He had been at Brighton for 11 years, and his parishioners remembered him as ‘a thoughtful and attractive preacher, an earnest student of the word and works of God, a loving friend, and a self-sacrificing Christian’ — so they inscribed on his memorial bust. The result is a striking portrait, dominated by a wild Victorian beard, but also revealing a calm and intelligent face, with slightly upturned eyes as befitted the calling of the subject (ill. 10). This was presumably based on photographs and was not the only such posthumous portrait Gilbert did. On the occasion of the renovation of the church in 1991, the bust was presented to the State Library.

The Barry Statue

There were many attempts by his admirers to set up a likeness of Redmond Barry, especially for his role in the foundation of the Public Library. As early as 1859 it was proposed to set up his statue in the Hall. The major movers were H. A. Billing and Captain Shirt. A budget of £500 was proposed and by December £250 had been collected. The little book of minutes of the committee ends with a deputation going to see Barry about it.
Then in May 1878 the minutes of the Library Committee and the Library Trustees show the Barry Testimonial Committee already requesting a site for a statue in front of the Library, but there is then nothing until the Trustees were invited to view the statue in January 1886.
It was in fact in 1883 that matters at last got under way. The competition was announced, with models to be submitted by 3 pm on Thursday 15 March. The outcome was rather singular. The subscribers met on 28 March at the Town Hall, presided over by the Chief Justice, Sir William Stawell. There were entries by Gilbert, James Scurry of Lonsdale Street, Francis Barnard of Hawthorn, and Isaac Watson of Prahran. Barnard was first to rule himself out: he estimated his statue to cost £2,000, and since only £1,100 had been subscribed, the gap was too great. As Barnard later protested, he was eliminated on financial, not artistic grounds. The other three calculated their models to cost £1,500. Two subscribers immediately moved that Gilbert's model be accepted, because it gave a ‘truer representation of the late judge than any of the others submitted. A supporter of Scurry then proposed that his should also be accepted, and the decision be left to an expert. Yet a third subscriber stated that none was acceptable, and that a sculptor in Rome should be approached. This piece of snobbery produced exactly the opposite of what was apparently its intention: it was agreed that that would be far too costly, and Stawell at that point threw his weight behind ‘a true likeness of their late friend’ rather than a less faithful portrait which might be a more valuable work of art. Thereupon Gilbert was chosen as the preferred sculptor.32
The contract was not settled by the committee until June. The statue was to
cost £1,500, be 10 feet high, of best bronze, ‘of full thickness of metal and finish of workmanship’, on a pedestal 8 feet high.
‘Two subscribers immediately moved that Gilbert's model be accepted, because it gave a “truer representation of the late judge than any of the others submitted.”’
The raising of the money dragged on: the Argus was still soliciting and recording donations in December, and it was not until early in 1886 that the model could be pronounced ready, through the efforts of Percival Ball, to be sent to London to be cast by Mansefield. The Argus so far forgot its history as to claim that this was the first statue cast in one piece procured for Victoria, completely forgetting Summers' triumphant casting of Burke and Wills in one piece right in Collins Street. Barry's statue was erected on 2 August 1887.33
A charming tribute was paid to Gilbert at its inauguration on 23 August: Gilbert had
with very great devotion, genius and solicitude, carried on the work of modelling the statue ‘in the clay’ and produced the figure, pose and likeness of the late judge as it now appears before you to the entire satisfaction of the Committee, when an unfortunate cold caught by the sculptor settled on his lungs, and he was removed by death from his interesting work, to the great regret of the Committee, leaving his unfinished work as an enduring monument to his genius and love of art.34
In this connection, Isaac Selby related a well-known story. O. R. Snowball, secretary to the Barry Fund, took five years to raise the money and it took seven years from the start of the fund until the statue was in place. Snowball
saw that Gilbert was in doubtful health, and he suggested that they insure his life. This was done, and through that act only they were able to complete the memorial. He was in the habit of going twice a week to see Gilbert to ascertain how the work was proceeding. One day he came in and found that Gilbert had lost his mind. He was playing with an image and turned in a half lucid condition to Snowball and said, “I have been here all night. I often come and stay here all night.’ Snowball got him away to the hospital and he soon afterwards died.35
Such are the romantic or harmful stories which some people like to tell. The cause of death was much more longstanding, and one matter of detail undermines the whole structure: Gilbert died at his home in Caulfield.
Another of Gilbert's last commissions was the bust of the Anglican Dean of Melbourne, the Reverend Hussy Burgh Macartney (1799–1894). Born like the sculptor in Dublin, he studied at Trinity College, and was ordained in 1823. After serving in various churches in Ireland, he migrated to Melbourne in 1848. He was appointed Dean in 1852 and was incumbent of the original cathedral, St James, until 1860. He is characterised as a typical churchman of the time, with strong opinions and not averse to letting them be known, especially in print. He was ‘a thorough Irish Protestant'.36
The stimulus to the carving of his bust was the sixtieth anniversary of his ordination. A meeting at the Diocesan
Registry Office on 15 September 1884 was attended by some 30 notables, including Sir William Stawell and Dr Leeper. A clay model of the proposed bust was already on show, and was acknowledged to be ‘an admirable representation’ of the Dean. Once again Stawell was in the chair. It was explained that Gilbert was so confident that the money could be raised — for the model was indeed by him — that he was ready to continue with the work, which would cost at least £150. Spirited debate took place on the location of the finished bust: the Public Library, Trinity College, St James Church, or the Dean's family. It was proposed to satisfy all by the production of plaster copies, costing £3–4. The target for the subscriptions was set at £250. Again O. R. Snowball was elected treasurer of the fund.37 (It is striking how often the same notables played the same role in so many of these commemorative matters!)
Given the stage already reached by September 1883, it is regrettable that the bust was not finished by Gilbert before his death, to add another example to his oeuvre. The marble is now held by the State Library, and a plaster copy sits on the counter of the office in St Paul's Cathedral. They bear the signature of Percival Ball. Gilbert's estate was paid £50 for his ‘interest’, but that was only one third of an early minimum estimate of the cost.
Gilbert's will reveals yet another very important commission won by him, for the Mutual Assurance Society of Victoria. This society was established in 1870 and by 1879 there were 4,000 members and an annual income of £30,000. It had its offices at what was originally 75 Collins Street West, later renumbered 406 Collins Street, just past the corner of Queen Street going towards William Street. The illustration of the proposed new building in 1879 shows it to be three-storeyed, in the Italian style, built of finest bluestone and Hoffman's ‘patent bricks’, with detached columns of Harcourt granite. The architect was A. Purchas. The building is surmounted by a pediment, and over the centre of that were placed two draped female figures, the same as on the society's seal.38 It is certain that these were the two Gilbert sculpted. His will says simply that he was paid £150, the ‘amount due for figures’, in contrast to the ‘interest’ in the Barry Statue and Macartney bust, so they were apparently finished. This may have been not the total paid but simply a last instalment.

Gilbert's death and will.

Various sources claim, as we have seen, that Gilbert died from a sudden cold. His death ce.jpgicate, to the contrary, gives the cause of death as kidney disease (albuminuria and uremia). It is interesting to note that the details about him otherwise were given not by his widow, but by a friend in Caulfield, Kate Meaney.
His last will is dated September 1885. It gives no hint of any desires about his sculptural work, simply leaving his whole property to his wife and children. When probate was granted, his property was valued at a mere £300, made up of his interest in the Barry statue (£100), the effects of his studio, sold to Percival Ball for £10, furniture valued

Ill. 10: The bust of Rev. John Legge (courtesy of La Trobe Library).

at £20, interest in the bust of Dean Macartney (£50), and the figures for the Mutual Assurance Society (£150). Gilbert's liabilities make sad reading: an overdraft at the bank (£31), his funeral (£15), medical expenses (£6/10/-), rent (£1/10/-) and bills to the butcher (9/-), baker (5/-) and milkman (9/-). Such were the domestic debts of one of the city's leading artists, leaving behind two young children, aged about ten and seven.
Contemporary newspapers carried no obituary. The Age, not the Argus, carried next day (5 September) the death notice — perhaps an indication of political preferences, or the reading habits of his friends. The funeral left his house in Prentice Street, off Kooyong Rd, Caulfield on Sunday 6 September.
Gilbert remains elusive to the last. He lies in St Kilda cemetery, in the Catholic section. The funeral service was conducted, however, by none other than Dean Macartney. His tomb, which contains also the remains of his son, is of plain grey concrete, but it has lasted better than many a more elaborate and costly monument — unless it was remade in 1956. It bears no headstone, none of the usual details of names and dates. It is almost anonymous. There is only one name on the front edge: ‘Gilbert’.
Six days after his death, a meeting attracted some notice. What the Melbourne Leader called ‘an unfortunate hitch’ over the Barry statue, namely the sculptor's death, occasioned a meeting of the executive committee at the Town Hall on 10 September, to see if another artist could be found to complete the work.39
In 1890, Susannah, Gilbert's widow, married by Baptist forms at St Kilda George Sandiford, an American born in Baltimore. He was a bachelor, a ship's cook and steward; her profession is given as ‘lady’. Their ages were said to be 30 and 39 respectively.
Gilbert's son, George Augustine, died in 1956. He was an engineer and unmarried, and was buried in the same grave at St Kilda as his father. The fate of his sister, Lily Elizabeth, I cannot trace.
And what of the man who was Gilbert's artistic heir? Percival Ball (1844–1900) was born in England, where he trained at the Royal Academy Schools and was a frequent exhibitor at the Academy before coming to Australia in 1884, just the year before Gilbert's death. It is said that he could not obtain commissions and worked as a boundary rider, and that it was Gilbert's sudden death which gave him his chance. As well as finishing the Barry statue and the bust of Dean Macartney, he made busts of Cosmo Newberry and Bishop Moorehouse, the statue of Francis Ormond in La Trobe Street, and the panel of Phryne before Praxiteles for the Art Gallery of NSW.
A little curiosity has therefore revealed that James Gilbert (1830–85) has a claim to be the leading sculptor in Melbourne, following the return of Charles Summers to Europe. He gained commissions for leading banks and insurance company buildings, but was even more notably a favourite artist when eminent figures in society were to be immortalised in stone or bronze, whether they were churchmen, parliamentarians or judges. His standing with the Protestant Establishment is symbolised
by the Macartney bust and the Barry statue, both finished by another, but certainly realised in accordance with Gilbert's models.
By R. T. Ridley


The first note must be to record my thanks to the various people whom I have long harassed over this project, and who have so kindly shared their deep and wide knowledge of the arts in early Melbourne with me: Christine Downer, Michael Watson, and especially Gerard Hayes, who so generously gave me the material he had so painstakingly gleaned from newspapers, especially on the Barry statue and Macartney bust.


The Book of the Public Library, 1906, p. 57.


E. Benezit, Dictionnaire des Peintres, Sculpteurs, Dessinateurs et Graveurs, 4, p.721.


See the catalogue by Daniel Thomas of the same title, with biographies of many early artists at the end.


K. Scarlett, Australian Sculptors, 1980, p. 215.


Full lists in The Royal Hibernian Academy of Arts: Index of Exhibitors and their Works (3 vols), 1985, and A. Graves, The Royal Academy of Arts: a Complete Dictionary of Contributors and their Works (4 vols), 3rd ed., 1901.


A letter to the Royal Hibernian Academy has not been answered. The Royal Academy kindly checked student records 1825–89: no sign of Gilbert.


It is to be noted that the dates given here on the following artists' date of arrival in Australia are exact, being based on passenger lists, and therefore to be preferred to the approximations found in most works of reference.


John Mackennal cannot be found in any passenger list known to me. The date of 1852 is based on the statement on his death ce.jpgicate that in 1901 he had been in Victoria 49 years. N. Hutchison, Bertram Mackennal, 1973, p. 1, says that he arrived in 1854. He certainly married here in 1858.


An opportunity may be taken here to set the record straight on a number of matters regarding this important figure. Margaret Thomas, A Hero of the Workshop, 1879, more a hagiography than a memoir, says that Summers sailed for Australia in 1852. This date is followed by the Australian Dictionary of Biography (6.220), whereas as I. Selby, Old Pioneers, 1924, p. 251 and two works on sculpture, G. Sturgeon, The Development of Australian Sculpture, 1978, p. 27 and K. Scarlett (n. 5) p. 621 give the date of his arrival as 1853. All are wrong. The Hope left London in October 1853 and arrived in Melbourne on 16 January 1854. On board were Charles Summers, his wife Augustina, presumably two of his siblings (Albert aged 16 and Elizabeth aged 28) and his father George, aged 54! Margaret Thomas implies that Charles came alone, and only fleetingly later alludes to a wife; the first part of her memoir is dominated by horrendous stories of the father's drunkenness and ruin of his family. Who would have imagined that Charles brought him to Australia! His mother had died, according to Thomas, in 1850. She also claims that Summers was first president of the Victorian Academy of Fine Arts — founded three years after he returned to Europe.
It should also be noted that Summers' birthday is now firmly established as 27 July 1825, (see Scarlett).


Todt defeats me. There is no trace of him (under varying possible spellings of his name) in the La Trobe Pioneers' Index, nor in any passenger lists, including Foreign Ports 1852–1859. The reference to him as long here by 1854 is the Argus (28 August).


See George Tibbits' chapter in Australian Council of National Trusts, Historic Public Buildings of Australia, 1971, pp. 152–63. The Government Gazette notes only the contracts for the foundations in 1855 and then the fittings in 1865; similarly the Argus, especially the detailed article 19 November 1856. The only artist named is Summers, for a figure of Liberty (24 September).


The minute book is led by the VSL, and ends in January, 1858.


Argus, 4, 5, 18 and 21 December, 1857.


A. Sutherland, Victoria and its Metropolis, 1888, 1.502f.


T. Bonyhady, Burke and Wills, from Melbourne to Myth, 1991. See especially G. Hayes, ‘Melbourne's first monument: Burke and Wills’, La Trobe Library Journal, 11, 1988, pp. 45–52 at p. 46.


Government Gazette, 1862, pt. 2, 2145.


Herald, 8 December, 1862.


Herald, 12 December, 1862.


Illustrated Melbourne Post, 3 January, 1863. It is some irony that the sculptor who submitted two entries which were roundly condemned in the press, Sydney Cameroux, was defended by an anonymous correspondent to the Argus (11 December, 1862) who also told of his career. If only someone had done the same for the second place getter!


Argus and Age, both 17 September, 1864, and 22 April, 1865.


Margaret Thomas, A Hero of the Workshop, 1879, p. 27.


I. Selby, Old Pioneers, 1924, p. 252.


The minutebooks of the Academy are held by the VSL, as well as catalogues for the exhibitions of 1870, 1873, 1876–80, 1882.


Victorian Exhibition 1861, Catalogue, 209.


International Exhibition, Official Record, 1866, 115. This is garbled in Sturgeon, The Development of Australian Sculpture, 1978, p. 38 into ‘Also represented were James Scurry with a bust, a medallion and a figure, and Stambucco with a figure of the Virgin, a bust of Pope Pius IX, bust of Daniel O'Connell and J. Gilbert.


Victorian Intercolonial Exhibition 1875, Official Catalogue, 209, 211.


Melbourne International Exhibition 1880, Official Catalogue of Exhibits, 1.303.


This is an example of Gerard Hayes' excellent detective work with the newspaper files.


I especially thank Margaret and William Sherwin, of Malvern, for giving me access to this bust.


There are several illustrations: in the Illustrated Australian News, 19 January, 1880, and the Leader, 1 January, 1901, but they either manage to obscure the doorway perfectly with extraneous detail from the street, or show the whole lower story in deep shade.


Argus, 29 March, 1883.


Argus, 3 August, 1887.


Reported in both the Argus and the Age, 24 August, 1887.


I. Selby, Old Pioneers, 1924, p. 252.


Australian Dictionary of Biography, 5, pp. 125–26.


Argus, 17 September. 1883.


Australasian Sketcher, 27 September, 1879.


Argus, 11 September, 1885, Leader, 12 September, 1885.