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Duterrau, Benjamin (1767–1851)

by A. Rand

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

Benjamin Duterrau (1767-1851), artist, was born in London to parents of French descent and was apprenticed in his youth to an engraver. Between 1817 and 1823 he exhibited six portraits at the Royal Academy and three genre pieces at the British Institution. Duterrau married a Miss Perigal whose family was in partnership with Duterrau's as makers of watches and clocks, New Bond Street, London. In the early 1830s Duterrau and his only daughter, Sarah Jane, arranged to emigrate to Van Diemen's Land as drawing master and as music teacher at Ellinthorp Hall, a school at Ross, conducted by Mrs George Clark. Before their departure, however, Henry Mundy, a teacher of both subjects, was engaged. Nevertheless the Duterraus embarked in the Laing, and arrived in August 1832. Sarah Duterrau became governess to the children of Lieutenant-Governor (Sir) George Arthur and, after marrying John Bogle of the firm of Kerr & Bogle, merchants, in February 1838 went with him to Scotland in 1839; she died at Torquay in 1885.

Duterrau set up his studio in Campbell Street, Hobart Town, and exhibited paintings he had brought from London and sought commissions for portraits. On 16 July 1833 he lectured at the Mechanics' Institution on the importance of the fine arts to the right development of the colony, a topic he often chose for similar talks in later years. At the end of 1833 he was working on a series of portraits of Aborigines brought to Hobart by George Augustus Robinson. According to the Hobart Town Courier, 29 November 1833, he was the first to portray Aborigines accurately, successfully revealing their temperaments as well as their external appearance. The success of these works brought commissions for portraits, but Duterrau was not considered as pleasing a painter as Thomas Bock who was working in Hobart at the same time, and he seems to have only just made an adequate living. By 1835 he had again returned to Aboriginal subjects, and in September advertised for sale outlines of a painting of G. A. Robinson conciliating Aborigines. He presented a life-size portrait of Wooreddy, leader of the Bruny Island tribe, to Robinson in April 1836, and in the next four months worked on bas-relief models of the heads of Robinson and twelve Aborigines. During 1835 and 1836 he produced etchings of Aborigines. Although he is best known for his Aboriginal paintings, his pictures of Hobart have value for their topographical detail. He died on 11 July 1851 and, although he claimed to belong to the Church of England, was buried in the Presbyterian cemetery in Hobart. On 27 August the collection of paintings, sketches and casts in his studio was auctioned.

Duterrau's portraits of G. A. Robinson are in the Tasmanian Museum and Art Gallery and private collections; his portraits of Aboriginals are in the Tasmanian Museum and Art Gallery, the Dixson Gallery and the National Library of Australia; his water-colours of Hobart Town are in the Narryna Folk Museum, Hobart.

Select Bibliography

  • A. Graves, The Royal Academy of Arts, vol 2 (Lond, 1905)
  • A. Graves, The British Institution 1806-67 (Lond, 1908)
  • 'Benjamin Duterrau, Etcher', in C. Craig, The Engravers of Van Diemen's Land (Hob, 1961), pp 52-57
  • Hobart Town Courier, 19 Oct, 21 Dec 1832: 19 July, 20 Dec 1833, 18 Sept 1835, 22 Apr, 5 Aug 1836
  • True Colonist (Hobart), 7 Mar 1835.

Citation details

A. Rand, 'Duterrau, Benjamin (1767–1851)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/duterrau-benjamin-2010/text2461, published first in hardcopy 1966, accessed online 22 January 2018.

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

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