Edwin Stocqueler is scarcely represented within Australian collections. This has relegated him to aFn obscurity characteristic of the less reputed artists who emerged in Australia during the 1850s.
Stocqueler’s surviving paintings serve as a visual record of the colonial period. Although few of this works remain, newspaper reports indicate a broader interest encompassing natural history and the environment. His detailed paintings, particularly of the narrative surrounding the early discovery of gold, provide specific details of daily life on the diggings. In a sense, Stocqueler may be described as the archetypal mid nineteenth century traveller who recorded his journeys in watercolour, oil or pencil.
Edwin Stocqueler was born in Bombay in 1829 and later educated at Eton and Trinity College, Cambridge. Hi father, Joachim Hayward Stocqueler, had a chequered career as an officer, journalist and playwright. Following the separation of his parents, Edwin Stocqueler and his mother, Jane Stocqueler was lured to the Victorian gold fields, a common destination for many of their contemporaries. From all accounts it would appear that Edwin Stocqueler was present on the Bendigo gold fields during the mid 1850s.
The oil painting titled Australian gold diggings c1855 is a colourful depiction of gold miners panning, cradling and digging for gold. In this work, Stocqueler provides a detailed narrative within a shallow valley. The viewer is placed amidst a backdrop of canvas tents and the vigorous activity of the miners. Artists of this period including S.T. Gill and George Lacy portrayed with humour various aspects of life on the diggings. Edwin Stocqueler, however, adopted a realistic approach unconsciously conveying the environmental impact of alluvial gold mining.
Similarly, the oil painting Castlemaine From Ten Foot Hill c1858 favours the landscape above the human narrative. Mullock heaps, lopped trees, an absences of vegetation and a disorientated goat furnish the scarred landscape beyond the mildly civilised town of Castlemaine. A solitary figure engaged in the working of a mine demonstrates the inconsequentiality of the individual in the broader theme of landscape.
Digging for Gold,
1880 (from sketches made in Australia 1854)
Oil on canvas
95.0 x 26.0cm
Hordern House Rare Books, Manuscripts, Paintings and Prints.
Digging for gold was executed in 1880, supposedly from sketches made during the 1850s. In this painting the artist’s interest in pictorial accuracy has been supplanted by a literal interpretation. Stocqueler revisits the gold fields with analytical intent, and the significance of landscape and environment further overshadows that of the individual. This panoramic depiction of the gold fields enables the viewer to witness the profound changes mining brought to the environment.
In contrast to these works, the watercolour entitled Pall Mall, 1856 merely records the buildings, townsfolk and landscape. The gaunt profile of an ironbark tree mirrors the emergence of prosperity and gentility amidst the dusty debris of the main street. The view is neither panoramic nor topographical. This watercolour emerged in 1891 and was gifted to Bendigo Art Gallery, becoming one of the first examples of a work on paper to enter the collection. Its passage to Australia from London reveals a story with notably Dickensian flavour. Whilst in London, Stocqueler "who had seen better days" met Mr Charles Walsh Pugh, an associate of his who had taken part in the anti-licence agitation on the gold fields. Stocqueler offered the painting to Mr Pugh, who accepted the "relic of old Bendigo" and subsequently presented it to the town clerk of Bendigo, Mr W.D. C Denovan, on his return to Australia.
These paintings represent a fragment of the artist’s work. "Stocqueler’s Diorama" for example was launched in 1857 and exhibited in the local Mechanics Institute in Bendigo. According to reports the painting took four years to complete, was one mile in length and comprised seventy individual pictures. "It begins with Melbourne and Bendigo four years ago – takes in M’Ivor, the Goulburn, the Upper Murray, the Ovens and back again to Sandhurst". Residents of the newly established town on Bendigo creek flocked to the exhibition, which later travelled to Melbourne. It is from these reports that we are given a description of a major work, which has since vanished without a trace.
The location of the diorama might perhaps hold the key to uncover a thorough visual record of place and would present the historian with a clearer indication of this artist’s intent. Until such time Edwin Stocqueler will remain an elusive character, categorised with those artists who faded into obscurity, overshadowed by the more prolific artists of the day. Edwin Stocqueler died in London in 1895.
By Karen Quinlan.
From Gold and Civilisation, National Museum of Australia 2001. Published by Art Exhibitions Australia Ltd and the National Museum of Australia.