The Private Collection of Trevor Kennedy AM in November will feature what is considered by many to be the finest private collection of Decorative Arts relating to Australia’s colonial and Federal history. A sizeable number of items, including the Australian history related tranche of another important private collector: Ruth Simon, have never before been seen at public auction.
One of the many highlights of Trevor Kennedy’s private collection is a finely carved blackwood chair that bears great historical and cultural significance as one of the ‘Chairs of State’ at the point of Australia’s Federation. The design for the chair relates back to the completion of the Victorian Legislative Council Chamber in 1855 following the creation of the Colony of Victoria upon its separation from New South Wales in 1851.
The iconic Parliament building Victoria built for itself reflected the wealth and optimism of the age following the discovery of gold, with the interiors epitomising the grandeur and dignity of the right of the new colony to self-rule. The Legislative Council Chamber itself, including furnishings, was designed by a student of Sir Charles Barry, Peter Kerr, who echoed the lavish trappings of Britain’s executive buildings.
The commission of the original Speaker’s chair was an example of Victoria’s desire for a suitably dignified symbol of the people the Chamber was established to represent. A key desire by the Commissioner of Public Works, Charles Pasley, was to build the Parliament and its associated furnishings from local materials and with the help of local craftsmen. The native blackwood here was carved by an immigrant cabinet-maker and upholsterer, Thomas Chuck, to an original design.
This Speaker’s Chair is made after Pasley’s design for another important historical event: the Federation of Australia into a single nation in 1901. This chair, made also in blackwood, was commissioned from Charles Johnson & Co of 186 Gertrude Street, Fitzroy. Research has also indicated that the carving was done by Robert Prenzel.
At the opening of the first Federal Parliament, the chair was used by HRH the Duchess of York (who later became Queen Mary) on a raised dais before 14,000 guests at the Royal Exhibition Building in Melbourne. This chair is one of just a few works of art associated with the ceremony, the most well-known being the immortalisation of this critically important Constitutional event by Tom Roberts in his ‘Big Picture’, on permanent display at Parliament House in Canberra. It was from these chairs, operating as ‘Chairs of State’ that HRH the Duke of Cornwall and York (Later King George V) authorised the new Federal Parliament on behalf of the Sovereign.
Following its use as one of the mechanisms of the State Opening, the chair was taken away by the first Speaker of the House of Representatives, Sir Frederick Holder. This followed a tradition from the English Parliament that the Speaker could claim the chair he used during his Speakership.
Matthew Jump / Leonard Joel Sydney