'Mrs Adolphus Sceales with Black Jimmie on Merrang Station' 1855–56
Purchased from the Founding Donor Fund 1984
The artist Robert Dowling took drawing lessons from a number of Tasmanian artists, including Thomas Bock, and became the first important colonial artist trained in Australia. In 1854, he moved to Geelong, Victoria, intent on making a reputation as a portrait painter.
When Dowling painted this extraordinary mourning tableau, Jane Sceales (née Paton) was a 34-year-old widow with young children. Her husband, Adolphus, had died some two years earlier; the groom-held chestnut mount had been his, the dogs as well. In 1848, Jane had come out from Scotland to marry and raise a family in Australia. In 1852, Adolphus purchased 'Merrang', a huge 44,910-acre run on the Hopkins River in the Western District of Victoria. The painting's imagery evokes a shared life, sadly cut short.
In 1856, in the Kilnoorat Church, Jane remarried. Her second husband, Robert Hood, was another emigrant Scot and a widower with a family. He went on to purchase 'Merrang' from Sceales's trustees for £11,000 and so Jane, who lived until 1910, became the matriarch of a notable pastoral family. Their descendants still own the property.
'Merrang' meant brown snake to the Mopors, the displaced local Indigenous tribe. Jimmie, the young groom, was one of many Aboriginal people employed on 'Merrang' and neighbouring properties, as was Jane's long-serving housemaid Jeanie, who died there in 1899. The men worked as station hands and their horsemanship and skill with stock were particularly admired. The artist Eugene von Guérard celebrated this in Cutting out the cattle, Kangatong, painted for James Dawson, the anthropologist--pastoralist and Hood's friend, in 1855.
Jimmie looked after the stables and cared for 24 horses on 'Merrang'. I like to think he worked with them as welland perhaps, like his Mopor cousin Johnnie, head stock-keeper on Dawson's 'Kangatong', galloped freely across the lush green open woodland plains that no longer belonged to his people.
John Jones, 2002
Text © National Gallery of Australia, Canberra 2010
From: Anne Gray (ed), Australian art in the National Gallery of Australia, National Gallery of Australia, Canberra, 2002