Australian Dictionary of Biography

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John Lamb Lyon (1835–1916)

by Martha Rutledge

This article was published:

John Lamb Lyon (1835?-1916), stained-glass painter and art decorator, was born in Glasgow, Scotland, son of James Lyon, clerk, and his wife Janet Lang, née Thorburn. On leaving school he was apprenticed to Kearney & Co., glass painters, where he learned to mix and grind his own colours. He worked in London for six years with Ward & Hughes, stained-glass painters to Queen Victoria. In Glasgow on 24 June 1857 he married Jane Clark who died childless. He married Elizabeth Gillespie Pearson in Glasgow on 3 December 1860 before sailing for Melbourne; they arrived on 20 March 1861. His father, a storekeeper at Maldon, had migrated some years earlier. John worked for Ferguson & Urie and by 1866 had become a partner. In 1870-71 he visited Britain.

Moving to Sydney in 1873, he set up in business as Lyon, Cottier & Co. with his old friend and fellow apprentice Daniel Cottier (d.1891), now a peripatetic leading London decorator with a branch in Fifth Avenue, New York. Prominent architects were invited to inspect the Pitt Street premises, decorated in the latest London style. In addition to painting and firing domestic, religious and heraldic stained-glass, Lyon imported 'paperhangings', Venetian gasoliers, Indian rugs and carpets, and 'art furniture'. He was soon commissioned by James Barnet to decorate the new General Post Office, Government House and rooms in Parliament House.

Working for such prominent architects as Barnet, Horbury Hunt, W. W. Wardell, (Sir) John Sulman and W. L. Vernon, Lyon carried out many commissions for commercial buildings and decorated clubs and private houses. Among the most notable were Cranbrook for James White and Woollahra House for (Sir) William Cooper, and in Collins Street, Melbourne, the English, Scottish and Australian Chartered Bank with Sir George Verdon's residence above. By 1879 Lyon had moved to 179 Liverpool Street and retained the site for his office and glassworks when he moved to Balmain in 1884. Overseas in 1886, he found Cottier's in New York 'sumptuous' and saw the red and gold satin, patchwork bedcovers being made for the Vanderbilts. He also visited Britain and Europe. Late that year he was joined in Sydney by Andrew Wells. For ten years the firm traded as Lyon, Wells, Cottier & Co. and in the late 1880s had an office in Melbourne run by Wells. Other talented artists and experienced foremen were sent out by Cottier.

Over the years Lyon received many awards for his distinctive stained-glass. At the Victorian Intercolonial Exhibition in 1875 his window portraying Captain Cook was bordered with native fauna and flora motifs. He made stained-glass windows for St Saviour's Cathedral, Goulburn, and All Saints Cathedral, Bathurst, and for numerous churches throughout New South Wales and in Tasmania, Victoria and Queensland. He won gold medals for windows at the New Zealand International Exhibition at Christchurch in 1906 and the 1908 Franco-British Exhibition in London when he was again in Britain. Assisted by two of his sons from about 1900, he opened a large glassworks at Rushcutters Bay in 1910.

Lyon had exhibited with the Art Society of New South Wales from 1880 and served on its committee in the early 1880s. He mainly painted portraits, often of his family, but he presented his portrait of John Young, building contractor, to the City Bowling Club of which they were fellow members.

Lyon died at his Balmain home on 14 June 1916 and was buried with Presbyterian forms in Waverley cemetery. His wife, three sons and three daughters survived him. Through Cottier's standing as a leading decorator and close connexions with the English Aesthetic movement, Lyon could satisfy his clients' desire to follow the latest decorative fashions. Although he was involved in the management of his firm until 1912, 'a long and active life brought no diminution in either [his] enthusiasm or skill as a practical, artistic craftsman'.

His bust by Achille Simonetti is held by a descendant.

Select Bibliography

  • S. Forge, Victorian Splendour (Melb, 1981)
  • I. Evans, The Australian Home (Syd, 1983)
  • M. Stapleton (ed), Historic Interiors (Syd, 1983)
  • J. Zimmer, Stained Glass in Australia (Melb, 1984)
  • Australasian Painter and Decorator, Aug 1909, 1 July 1916
  • Leichhardt Historical Society, July 1973
  • Historical Houses Journal, Mar 1982
  • private information.

Citation details

Martha Rutledge, 'Lyon, John Lamb (1835–1916)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 1986, accessed online 18 July 2024.

This article was published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 10, (Melbourne University Press), 1986

View the front pages for Volume 10

© Copyright Australian Dictionary of Biography, 2006-2024

Life Summary [details]


Glasgow, Lanarkshire, Scotland


14 June, 1916 (aged ~ 81)
Balmain, Sydney, New South Wales, Australia

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