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Sheppard, Benjamin (Ben) (1876–1910)

by R. H. Ewins

This article was published in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 11, (MUP), 1988

Benjamin (Ben) Sheppard (1876-1910), sculptor, was born on 3 December 1876 in London, son of John Alfred Sheppard, turner, and his French wife Jane, née Lock. Showing early talent, he won a prize for drawing at 12 and in 1891 was admitted to the Cope-Nicols Painting School, South Kensington; he was penniless, walked several miles to and from school, and ate irregularly. In 1893-96 he attended the Royal Academy of Arts' schools on a bursary. He won the Academy medal and on graduation made a 'poor man's' grand tour of Europe—by bicycle—as far as Rome before joining his sister Mary and her schoolmaster husband A. W. L. Southern at Bismarck (Collinsvale), Tasmania. Two years later he moved to Hobart. Unfortunately, bushfires on New Year's Day 1900 destroyed the Bismarck schoolhouse, and with it Sheppard's paintings, papers and academy studies.

It was inevitable in Hobart's small community, self-consciously striving for a cultural life, that the presence of a talented London-trained artist would be noticed. In 1898 he was commissioned to paint a small mural (still extant) in St Mary's College and another, larger one in St Joseph's Church (since obliterated). His appointment in 1900 as art master at the Hobart Technical School was not surprising. An energetic and inspiring teacher, he had among his pupils Mildred Lovett and Florence Rodway. On 11 December 1901 at St Paul's Church, Glenorchy, Sheppard married Elsie Rose Morrisby, a talented pianist and member of a socially noteworthy family. Sheppard himself was a violinist, and the marriage was commended in the press as a 'marriage of the arts'.

Despite heavy teaching commitments, Sheppard worked prolifically. Portraits included Sir Phillip Fysh (presented by the artist to the Tasmanian Museum and Art Gallery) and Premier Sir Neil Elliott Lewis, as well as sixty portrait-supplements for the Launceston Weekly Courier. A much-admired large painting, 'The Return of Colonel Cameron and the first Tasmanian Contingent sent to the Anglo-Boer War' (present whereabouts unknown), took eighteen months to complete.

Sheppard taught himself 'modelling' for teaching purposes. In 1903 his plaster statue of King Edward VII was placed outside the Treasury Buildings. It disintegrated, but in August he won a commission for a memorial to Tasmanian soldiers in the South African War. On 1 February 1905 this memorial, which he executed in London, was unveiled with great fanfare on the Hobart Domain, where it still stands. Undoubtedly Sheppard's masterpiece, a sensitive piece of work in a normally uninspired genre, it received generous acclaim in Britain and Australia. A replica was erected at Halifax, Yorkshire.

In 1905, joined in London by his family, Sheppard enjoyed recognition, with portrait commissions, work exhibited in the Academy, and election to the Society of British Sculptors. But in mid-1906 he contracted tuberculosis. After a year in sanatoriums, he went to South Africa where by 1909, working and exhibiting again, he achieved considerable acclaim. Then his health failed rapidly, and on 18 March 1910 he died at Cape Town, widely mourned and eulogized. His wife and son survived him.

Select Bibliography

  • K. W. Scarlett, Australian Sculptors (Melb, 1980)
  • Mercury (Hobart), 22 Mar 1910
  • Cape Argus, 23 Mar 1910
  • newspaper and periodical clippings (privately held).

Citation details

R. H. Ewins, 'Sheppard, Benjamin (Ben) (1876–1910)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/sheppard-benjamin-ben-8414/text14779, published in hardcopy 1988, accessed online 26 October 2014.

This article was first published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 11, (MUP), 1988

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