Australian Dictionary of Biography

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Annie Dorrington (1866–1926)

by Dorothy Erickson

This article was published:

Annie Dorrington (1866-1926), artist, was born on 19 March 1866 at Litchfield Ashe, Southampton, England, second of nine children of Richard Whistler, farmer, and his wife Sarah Mills, née Vines; Richard was a distant relation of the artist James McNeil Whistler. When Annie was aged 4 her father became a tenant farmer at Winkfield, Berkshire. The children led an idyllic childhood near the Thames, riding ponies, painting and skating. Annie was pretty and petite, later only about 5 ft 2 ins (160 cm) tall, with dark, curly hair. Her father died in 1887 and with her mother and siblings she migrated to Victoria in the Britannia in 1890. Also on the ship was Charles Dorrington, the bailiff who had come to manage the farm after her father's death.

Charles and Annie married in St Alban's Church of England, Armadale, Melbourne, on 18 April 1892. The couple moved to Western Australia in 1895. They lived at Fremantle in 1897, and moved to Perth next year. Until 1914 Charles was the manager of the Swan River Shipping Co. With no children, Annie's life focussed on her art. She had begun to paint wildflowers and by 1901 had completed fifty-four, which she offered to sell to Bernard Woodward, director of the Western Australian Museum and Art Gallery. Her friend Alice Moore had picked many of the flowers in Kings Park and was given paintings in return. Annie taught painting privately from her home in 1902-06.

Adept at capturing the unusual local wildflowers, Dorrington exhibited watercolours in the Western Australian pavilion at the Paris (1900) and Glasgow (1902) international exhibitions. She also showed at the St Louis International Exposition (1904) in Missouri, United States of America, and some fifty of her paintings were included in the Franco-British Exhibition, London (1908).

Under the name 'Ahasuerus'—a pet name for her husband—in 1901 Annie entered an international competition to design an Australian flag. When the prime minister (Sir) Edmund Barton announced the joint winners of the prize of £200, she was the first named of the five whose designs were similar, all featuring the Southern Cross. The other winners were I. W. Evans, L. J. Hawkins, E. J. Nuttall and William Stevens. The new flag was first raised on 3 September over the Exhibition Building in Melbourne.

Suffering bouts of depression, in 1908 Annie was admitted to the Claremont Mental Hospital for a few months treatment. In 1914 the couple moved to Serpentine where Charles farmed and grew fruit until 1922. He was also shire clerk of the Serpentine Jarrahdale Roads Board at Mundijong. In 1918 Annie had again been admitted to Claremont hospital. She died there of cancer on 21 April 1926 and was buried with Anglican rites in an unmarked grave in Karrakatta cemetery. Charles died in 1935 and next year 124 of Annie's works were given to the Art Gallery of Western Australia. Her paintings were displayed in a 1991 survey exhibition there and published in the resulting book. In 1999 the National Flag Association erected a memorial on her grave.

Select Bibliography

  • J. Gooding, Wildflowers in Art (Perth, 1991)
  • Review of Reviews for Australasia, 20 Sept 1901, p 241
  • Berkshire Family History Society, 25, no 4, June 2002
  • West Australian, 26 Oct 1998, p 10
  • Australian, 30 Dec 1998, p 7
  • private information.

Citation details

Dorothy Erickson, 'Dorrington, Annie (1866–1926)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 2005, accessed online 18 April 2024.

This article was published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Supplementary Volume, (Melbourne University Press), 2005

View the front pages for the Supplementary Volume

© Copyright Australian Dictionary of Biography, 2006-2024

Life Summary [details]

Alternative Names
  • Whistler, Annie
  • Ahasuerus

19 March, 1866
Southampton, Hampshire, England


21 April, 1926 (aged 60)
Claremont, Perth, Western Australia, Australia

Cultural Heritage

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