Australian Dictionary of Biography

  • Tip: searches only the name field
  • Tip: Use double quotes to search for a phrase

Angas, George French (1822–1886)

by E. J. R. Morgan

This article was published in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 1, (MUP), 1966

George Angas, by Charles Baugniet

George Angas, by Charles Baugniet

National Library of Australia, nla.pic-an7343166

George French Angas (1822-1886), naturalist and painter, was born on 25 April 1822 at Newcastle upon Tyne, England, fourth child and eldest son of George Fife Angas and his wife Rosetta, née French. He was educated in Essex and at Tavistock Grammar School; he early showed an interest in natural history and art, but his father put him into an office in London. After about a year there he studied for a time under Waterhouse Hawkins, a natural history artist. Angas toured the Mediterranean from August to November 1841 and published A Ramble in Malta and Sicily in the Autumn of 1841 (London, 1842), which he illustrated with lithographs drawn by him on the stone.  

He sailed for Australia in 1843 in the Augustus, reached Adelaide in January 1844, and remained in South Australia until July when he left for New Zealand. He returned to South Australia in January 1845 and remained for six months. During these visits to South Australia Angas went with William Giles to the area in the vicinity of the mouth of the River Murray, and with Governor (Sir) George Grey to the south-east of the province, Kangaroo Island and Port Lincoln. These journeys Angas recorded in water-colour drawings which were shown in Adelaide in June 1845 in the Legislative Council chamber.

In July 1845 Angas reached Sydney where he held an exhibition of paintings; a purpose of this exhibition, and of one in April 1847 after his return to London, was to solicit subscriptions for his two folio volumes published in 1847. After a tour of New South Wales he sailed for England in September 1845 and reached Gravesend in February 1846. The voyage was by Cape Horn, and when the ship was delayed at Rio de Janeiro, Angas made a number of drawings; that he intended these to form part of a book to be called 'The Scenery of Rio Janeiro' is clear from a number of water-colour drawings which survive, but the book was never issued. In 1847 three of his most important works were published in London: South Australia Illustrated and The New Zealanders Illustrated, both large folios which appeared in parts; and Savage Life and Scenes in Australia and New Zealand, in two volumes. South Australia Illustrated contains 60 lithographed plates, hand-coloured, all after water-colour drawings by Angas except two or perhaps three which are after Samuel Thomas Gill. In this book, as in the other two large folios after his drawings, some of the lithography was done by Angas himself. The subjects depicted are scenery, Aboriginals, insects, butterflies, flowers and native weapons and dwellings; the text is by Angas. Savage Life and Scenes in Australia and New Zealand is illustrated with uncoloured lithographs after Angas's drawings and contains Angas's account of the travels of which the two folios were the fruit.

He next travelled in South Africa, and in 1849 published in London the third of his large folios of hand-coloured lithographs, The Kafirs Illustrated; the text, including a short biographical introduction, is again by Angas himself. In the same year Description of the Barossa Range also appeared in London, the text being by 'Agricola', who was probably John Howard Angas, his younger brother; this is illustrated with six hand-coloured lithographed plates drawn 'from nature and on stone' by George French Angas. He was appointed naturalist to the Turko-Persian Boundary Commission, but he caught a fever in Turkey and was invalided back to England. In 1849 he married Alicia Mary Moran, who in 1850 accompanied him to Australia. There were four daughters of the marriage. He went from South Australia to the gold diggings near Bathurst and in 1851 published Six Views of the Gold Field of Ophir (Sydney) and Views of the Gold Regions of Australia (London) lithographs drawn by Angas on the stone. In 1853 Angas was appointed secretary to the Australian Museum in Sydney, a position which he held until 1860. Whilst there he supervised the work of classifying and arranging the first public collection of Australian specimens, especially shells. He returned to South Australia in March 1860, and was chairman of the district council of Angaston in 1860-62. He left with his family for England in February 1863. He lived in London until his death there on 4 October 1886, except that ill health compelled him to spend winters abroad. He was a member of the Zoological Society and of the Linnean Society, and contributed many papers to the Proceedings of the Zoological Society between 1863 and 1886; most of these deal with Australian shells.

Angas was essentially a naturalist who at the same time was a gifted draftsman, and his interest in ethnology, conchology and many forms of natural history is apparent in much of his work. In his Australian landscapes he took care to depict native vegetation accurately. His first book was written before he was 21 and many were published before he was 28. In later life he devoted himself more to natural history than to art. Wood engravings after Angas's drawings illustrate the journals of John McDouall Stuart, published in 1864, and the travels of (Sir) John Forrest, published in 1875. His last published Australian landscapes appear in a supplement to Colonies and India, 7 July 1877, concerning the River Murray, written by Angas and illustrated by small sketches including many views of the river. Angas also published Australia, a Popular Account (London, 1865) and Polynesia, a Popular Description (London, 1866). His Wreck of the 'Admella' and Other Poems (London, 1874) has little merit. Pomara, a Tale of Real Life perhaps appeared about 1848 but no copy has been traced. Of his many papers contributed to scientific journals, an indexed chronological list of those on conchology appears in the Australian Zoologist, February 1959.

Many of the water-colour drawings from which the lithographs in South Australia Illustrated were made are in the National Gallery of South Australia and in the South Australian Museum. The Rio de Janeiro water-colour drawings are in the library of the Royal Geographical Society of Australasia (South Australian branch). A lithograph of a self-portrait is the frontispiece to Kafirs Illustrated.

Select Bibliography

  • B. D. Ryder, The Sons of Aeneas (priv print, no date)
  • B. Smith, European Vision and the South Pacific (Oxford, 1960)
  • Little Journal (London), vol 1, no 3, 1884
  • W. H. Langham, ‘George French Angas (1822-1886): An Imperial Artist’, Bulletin of the National Gallery of South Australia, vol 3, no 2, Dec 1941, pp 2-4.

Citation details

E. J. R. Morgan, 'Angas, George French (1822–1886)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/angas-george-french-1708/text1857, published in hardcopy 1966, accessed online 20 September 2014.

This article was first published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 1, (MUP), 1966

© Copyright Australian Dictionary of Biography, 2006-2014