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Rowe, George (1796–1864)

by Patricia Reynolds

This article was published in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 6, (MUP), 1976

George Rowe (1796-1864), artist and lithographer, was baptized on 8 July 1796 at St Sidwell's Parish Church, Exeter, Devon, England, son of George Rowe and his wife Elizabeth. Brought up in Exeter, as a young man he won much repute with topographical lithographs of resorts in Cornwall, Somerset, Devon and Sussex. He taught drawing in Exeter where in 1828 he married a pupil, Philippa Curtis, the daughter of a major in the British army. In 1834 he moved to Cheltenham and practised as an 'Artist and Drawing Master', aided by his wife and later his daughter. With George Norman, his partner in a printing and publishing business, he was also joint proprietor of the weekly Cheltenham Examiner, first issued in 1839. At an exhibition he reputedly created great interest with his demonstrations of the new 'tinted' style of lithography. He published Illustrations of Cheltenham and its Vicinity (c.1840), and Rowe's Illustrated Cheltenham Guide (1845, 1850), interesting for its lithographed vignettes.

In the early 1850s Rowe suffered a severe loss through the default of a partner and sought to recoup his fortunes on the Victorian goldfields. Leaving his family in England he arrived at the Bendigo diggings in 1853 and was joined in November by his eldest son George, and in 1854 by two younger sons Thomas and Sandford. He failed as a gold digger, and also as a storekeeper at Long Gully, Bendigo, but finally succeeded with his water-colours of the Bendigo and Castlemaine diggings. Fifty of his works were exhibited in an art union at Bendigo in 1857, and next year he lithographed a well-known panoramic View of the City of Melbourne, from the Observatory.

About 1858 he returned to England and settled in Exeter. In 1862 his eight water-colours shown in the Victorian section of the London International Exhibition won him a medal for 'faithful and beautiful delineation of the country, workings, and other relations of the gold-fields'. Several of these paintings are in the Dixson Library, Sydney, and he is represented in the National Library of Australia and in the Bendigo Art Gallery. His surviving works are of considerable historical interest, those of Bendigo being among the earliest visual records of the locality, while his letters to his wife and daughter, now held in the La Trobe Library, give absorbing details of his day-to-day life on the diggings. He died at Heavitree, Exeter, on 2 September 1864, survived by his wife, five sons and five daughters.

His eldest son George Curtis was born in Exeter on 24 July 1832 and began his theatrical career as George Fawcett at Bendigo in 1853. He was known as an 'excellent actor of eccentric characters' and a talented mimic. He went to England in the late 1860s, added Rowe to his professional name, and became well known there and in the United States as an actor and producer. He adapted many works for the stage, notably David Copperfield in 1862. He died in New York on 29 August 1889 and was buried in the actors' plot of the Evergreen cemetery.

Select Bibliography

  • Harry Emmet's Theatrical Holiday Book (Melb, 1885)
  • J. R. Abbey, Scenery of Great Britain and Ireland in Aquatint and Lithography, 1770-1860 (Lond, 1952)
  • G. Pycroft, ‘Art in Devonshire’, Devonshire Assn for the Advancement of Science, Literature, and Art, 14 (1882)
  • Bendigo Advertiser, 15 May 1857
  • Argus (Melbourne), 15 July 1857, 30 Apr, 12 July 1858
  • Examiner (Melbourne), 13 Sept 1862
  • Australasian, 30 Jan 1869, 7 Sept 1889
  • New York Times, 1 Sept 1889.

Citation details

Patricia Reynolds, 'Rowe, George (1796–1864)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/rowe-george-4515/text7387, published in hardcopy 1976, accessed online 1 August 2014.

This article was first published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 6, (MUP), 1976

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