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Australian Dictionary of Biography

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Dowling, Robert Hawker (1827–1886)

by Isabella J. Mead

This article was published in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 4, (MUP), 1972

Robert Hawker Dowling (1827-1886), artist, was born in England, the youngest son of Rev. Henry Dowling and his wife Elizabeth, née Darke. At 7 he went to Van Diemen's Land with his parents in the Janet. As a youth he was deeply impressed by the tragedy of the Tasmanian Aboriginals. He was educated at Launceston and became a saddler. He showed an early ability for drawing and took lessons from Thomas Bock and Frederick Strange. In August 1850, encouraged by his father, he changed his trade sign 'saddler' to 'portrait painter'. In 1851 he advertised in Wood's Almanack as a 'portrait and miniature painter, Charles Street, Launceston. Miniatures on ivory from one guinea upwards'. The press also reported on several portraits from his easel. In 1857, 'full of energy, pluck, resolution', he sailed in the Pharamond for England and entered Leigh's Academy, London. His 'Breakfasting out', a steel engraving of a London coffee stall scene, was exhibited at the Royal Academy in 1859 and his 'Tasmania Aborigines, Scene in the Bay of Fires' in 1860. Primarily a portrait, genre and history painter, he exhibited sixteen works at the Royal Academy in 1859-82; many were then lent to the Australian colonies, including 'A Sheikh and his Son entering Cairo on their return from a Pilgrimage to Mecca', later acquired by the National Gallery of Victoria. As 'an Australian artist of great promise', he was admitted to many art societies and had favourable press notices; Earl Spencer became his patron. In 1860 Dowling presented the city of Launceston with his 'Group of Natives of Tasmania', one of four historical group-portraits of Victorian and Tasmanian Aboriginals based on Bock's work. In reply Launceston subscribed 250 guineas for portraits of the Queen and Prince Consort which Dowling chose to paint from two Winterhalter portraits of 1859. His copies arrived at Launceston in February 1863.

In 1885 Dowling returned to Australia. In Launceston he painted a portrait of the late Sir Richard Dry and in Melbourne a portrait of Governor Sir Henry Loch. He returned to England in the Tigrisia in April 1886 and died in London on 8 July. On 14 August 1849 he had married Arabella Dean; they had one daughter, Marion Beckford. Examples of his work are held by the National Gallery, university and Law Courts in Melbourne, by the Warrnambool Art Gallery and by the Queen Victoria Museum and Art Gallery, Launceston. A self-portrait is in Launceston.

Select Bibliography

  • H. Button, Flotsam and Jetsam (Launceston, 1909)
  • 'no 364. "Early Effort: Art in Australia"', Art-Journal (London), 1860, p 169
  • Art-Journal (London), 1860, pp 351, 379
  • Examiner (Launceston), 5, 19 Mar 1851, 25 Aug, 20, 23 Oct 1860, 19 Feb 1863, 16 Feb, 20 1864, 15, 17 July 1886
  • Atlas (London), 25 Aug 1860
  • Cornwall Chronicle (Launceston), 20 Oct 1860, 29 June 1877
  • Daily Telegraph (Launceston), 23 Feb, 26 Mar 1885, Tasmanian (Launceston), 24 Apr 1886.

Citation details

Isabella J. Mead, 'Dowling, Robert Hawker (1827–1886)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 1972, accessed online 24 October 2020.

This article was first published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 4, (MUP), 1972

View the front pages for Volume 4

© Copyright Australian Dictionary of Biography, 2006-2020

Life Summary [details]




8 July 1886
London, Middlesex, England

Cultural Heritage