Australian Dictionary of Biography

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Joseph Fowles (?–1878)

by Jocelyn Gray

This article was published:

Joseph Fowles (d.1878), artist, arrived in Sydney from London in August 1838, accompanied by his wife, as cabin passenger in the Fortune. He was noticed in the Sydney Morning Herald on 26 July 1847 for his contributions to the first exhibition of the Society for the Promotion of Fine Arts in Australia. Of the seven paintings by his hand five were of ships and shipping, and it was as a marine painter that Fowles first made his reputation in Sydney. Marine paintings also made up the main part of his contribution to the exhibition of 1848.

In July 1848 Fowles published the first part of his series Sydney in 1848; his forty illustrations of the 'elegant' streets and buildings were made with painstaking accuracy 'to remove the erroneous and discreditable notions current in England concerning this city'. By 1858 Fowles had won a new reputation when Bell's Life in Sydney and Sporting Chronicle designated him 'Our Colonial Herring' as a result of a series of portraits of 'celebrated Australian cracks', racehorses and ridinghorses. The first notice of Fowles's work in this field appeared in the Illustrated Sydney News, 13 January 1855, the subjects being two much admired portraits of favourite mounts which the governor had commissioned from him. Three paintings of horses were contributed by Fowles to the Art Exhibition of 1857, together with views of English and Australian ships and shipping. As well as marine and equine subjects he painted landscapes of Sydney and its environs, and recollections of English scenes.

By 1855 Fowles was training and examining young art teachers in drawing for the National Board of Education. In 1867 when it was succeeded by the Council of Education he continued as teacher and examiner under the new organization, his application for re-employment claiming that he had devised a 'system of teaching elementary drawing adapted for large classes', and a series of eight graded 'Elementary Free-Hand Drawing Books' which he had composed during the 1850s, and which were sold in Sydney at 1s. a copy. On the cover of these booklets he was styled 'Artist by Appointment to His Royal Highness the Duke of Edinburgh, Drawing Master to the Training School and Public Schools of New South Wales, the Sydney Grammar School, The King's School, the Lyndhurst College, the New School … Glebe Point Collegiate, etc'. In an obituary notice he was described as 'Father of drawing in the city'.

Fowles died, after a third paralytic stroke, on 25 June 1878, and left a widow and two married sons, the eldest of whom was also an artist, and who inherited his father's practice.

Select Bibliography

  • W. Dixson, ‘Notes on Australian Artists’, Journal and Proceedings (Royal Australian Historical Society), vol 9, part 3, 1923, pp 161-68
  • National Board of Education records (State Records New South Wales).

Citation details

Jocelyn Gray, 'Fowles, Joseph (?–1878)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 1966, accessed online 24 June 2024.

This article was published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 1, (Melbourne University Press), 1966

View the front pages for Volume 1

© Copyright Australian Dictionary of Biography, 2006-2024

Joseph Fowles, n.d.

Joseph Fowles, n.d.

State Library of New South Wales, 190480

Life Summary [details]


25 June, 1878
Sydney, New South Wales, Australia

Cause of Death


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