Thomas Griffiths Wainewright was born in Richmond, Surrey, in England on October 4, 1794. His mother died at birth and his father passed away while Wainewright was still a child. His grandfather Ralph Griffiths, publisher of the London Review, brought him up, and on his death left him £5000. In 1803 he was taken under the care of his uncle, George Edward Griffiths, who insisted on his undertaking a classical education at the Greenwich Academy. Wainewright long held a fascination for the prints of Claude and Poussin in his grandfather’s collection and demonstrated an early passion for painting and drawing. In 1812, at the age of 17 he began a brief apprenticeship with John Linnell the Romantic landscape and portrait painter. Then, for just under a year, he was apprenticed to Thomas Phillips a leading portrait painter of the day.
Curiously, Wainewright then joined the Bedfordshire 16th Foot Regiment, having purchased a commission for £400, which 13 months later he relinquished by sale.
Next Wainewright threw himself into journalism and published art criticisms and essays in the London Magazine and Blackwoods, often using the intriguing pseudonyms Janus Weathercock, Egomet Bonmot and Cornelius Van Vinkbooms. He had his greatest artistic success in the years from 1821 to 1825; he exhibited at the Royal Academy and was an associate of artists like Fuseli, William Blake, John Flaxman and Thomas Stothard. However, Wainewright had squandered his inheritance, and was now in debt. In 1822 and 1824 he forged signatures to obtain money placed in trust for his wife. He evaded the law by disappearing to France for six years, but was caught on his return to England in 1837 and his future was changed irretrievably. He was convicted for forgery, incarcerated in Newgate Prison and transported for life to Van Diemen’s Land. There is much speculation that Wainewright was also a poisoner and had orchestrated the death of his sister-in-law, uncle and mother-in-law, since he stood to gain financially by all three deaths. This has never been proven.
Wainewright arrived in Hobart on board the Susan in November. Rumours of his expertise as a poisoner travelled with Wainewright, as did his reputation as a seducer of women. His personality too, was considered by some to be less than amiable.1
In truth, however, Wainewright’s reputation as a model prisoner enabled him to escape the chain gang and work as an orderly in Hobart’s Colonial Hospital. By 1840, such relative freedom enabled him to undertake portrait commissions of respected members of the small Hobart community, including the Surveyor General Robert Power; William Crooke, the House Surgeon; and Jane and Lucy Cutmear, daughters of James Cutmear, the Convict Barracks gatekeeper.2 Jane Scott would be a later subject.
Some 10 years earlier, on 26th August 1833, the Scott family arrived in Hobart on the Cabotia. Hopton Scott (1782–1860) his wife Jane (1788–1860) and their children Eleanor (1809–1846), Sandford (1818–1891), Hopton (1823–1897), Jane (1826–1909) and Eliza (1832–1866) had taken the long and arduous journey from Ireland to find opportunity in the young colony. Hopton Scott set up trade as a hatter and settled with his family in Elizabeth Street; from here they sought to establish themselves in the upper middle class of colonial life.
In 1837, Eleanor Scott married James Fitzgerald, commander of the yard-gang at the Convict Barracks when Wainewright arrived in Hobart. Fitzgerald was later promoted to Superintendent of the Colonial Hospital and Eleanor was appointed Matron. Friendships between Wainewright and the Fitzgeralds were renewed and Wainewright would eventually paint their portraits, in gratitude for their kindness to him. In 1844, Fitzgerald supported Wainewright’s petition for a ticket of leave, writing: ‘I have always noticed the steadfast and respectful manner in which he has behaved himself’. This was eventually granted in 1845. Wainewright now had complete freedom to take on portrait commissions and hung an ‘Artist’ sign on the door of his lodgings in Campbell Street, charging four shillings a day for his commissions. Although restricted by his means to watercolour, pencil and paper, he painted over 50 portraits during his time in Hobart. As well as the Fitzgeralds, he painted Eleanor’s brother Hopton Scott and their sister Jane.
As the detail of Jane Scott’s life is gradually revealed, we can assume that she was 18 or 19 years old when Wainewright painted her portrait. In Wainewright the poisoner, Andrew Motion recreates the artist’s reaction to another sitter: ‘Yet I have not done the bidding of my Commissioner entirely. I have not been able to give beauty where none exists, only sentiment… but recollect, I am the master of sentimentalities and your face will therefore outlive you’.3 Jane Scott’s face does live on. It may not be beautiful, but it is by no means sentimentalised; there is too much truth in her portrait for that. It is a fine half-length pencil and watercolour wash portrait, created in Wainewright’s distinctive style. The face and hair are sensitively detailed but the torso is only lightly suggested. Any more attention to clothing would detract from the viewer’s appreciation of the subject.
From this portrait it is difficult to find any basis for the slanderous article in the Melbourne Spectator of 1866: ‘If commissioned to execute the portrait of a lady, he would always endeavour to give an erotic direction to the conversation; so that whatever admiration was felt for his genius was neutralised by the fear and antipathy excited by his lewdness’.4 Yet, such a reputation might explain why Eliza, Jane’s youngest sister, feared to sit for Wainewright.
Wainewright’s style of painting had changed remarkably, as had his subject matter. In England it had reflected the mannerism of Fuseli, but in Hobart it became much more circumscribed. Initially this may have been because he was supervised during commissions, but perhaps it was because he no longer had to play the showman or conform to the fashion of his clique. Wainewright is nevertheless considered to be the most flatteringly and accomplished of all the colonial portrait artists.5 Recommended for a Conditional Pardon in November 1846, he tragically suffered a stroke soon after and died of apoplexy in relative obscurity in Hobart on 17 August 1847.
The next we know of Jane Scott is her marriage in 1863 to Francis Abbott Jnr (1834–1903), Superintendent of the Royal Society Gardens. For Jane, then aged 37, it was a marriage undertaken rather late in life, but one that would assure her standing in Hobart society. The Abbotts lived comfortably in the Superintendent’s house in the Gardens, had no children but were joined by Jane’s nephew Charles J Hall around 1874. His diary of that year refers to ‘Aunt Jane’s’ regular visits to family, friends and the theatre and gives the impression of an argumentative and strong-willed woman.
A succinct notice of Jane’s death on 25 July 1909, appeared in the Hobart Mercury newspaper, indicating only that the funeral was private. Both Jane and Francis are buried in Hobart’s Cornelian Bay Cemetery. Jane’s portrait was passed to her nephew and has come to the Gallery from her great-great nephews.
1 Motion p.247
2 This enchanting portrait is in the National Gallery of Australia collection.
3 Andrew Motion Wainewright the poisoner. London: Faber, 2000. p.255
4 Quoted in Motion, p.282
5 Ron Radford and Jane Hylton Australian colonial art 1800-1900. Adelaide: Art Gallery Board of South Australia, 1995, p.62
Text © National Gallery of Australia, Canberra