The Good, The Bad & The Ugly

Colourful characters in Australia's colonial past

By National Portrait Gallery

National Portrait Gallery, Canberra

Ned Kelly Death Mask Ned Kelly Death Mask by Dr Maximilian L. KreitmayerNational Portrait Gallery

Ned Kelly

A killer – and a man of honour who loved his mother dearly

Edward ‘Ned’ Kelly (1855–80), bushranger, is Australia’s pre-eminent folk hero. Kelly and his seven siblings were raised by their mother, Ellen Kelly, (neé Quinn) after the death of their father, an Irish former convict.

The family was in constant conflict with the authorities. Ned Kelly, implicated in the criminal activities of the Quinn clan, was charged with several offences over the 1860s and 1870s and spent some years in prison.

A police crackdown led to the arrest of Mrs Kelly in April 1878. In October of that year, Sir Redmond Barry sentenced her to three years’ hard labour. Around the time of their mother’s sentencing, Ned and Dan Kelly went into hiding in the Wombat Ranges near Mansfield, Victoria. A police party comprising Sergeant Kennedy and Constables Lonigan, Scanlon and McIntyre was dispatched to capture them. On 25 October 1878 the officers camped at Stringybark Creek, where Ned marked them. The next day, when Kennedy and Scanlon went out to search the surrounding bush, the ‘Kelly gang’ – Ned, Dan, Joe Byrne and Steve Hart – ambushed Lonigan and McIntyre. Ned Kelly shot Lonigan dead as the officer drew his revolver. McIntyre surrendered, and when Kennedy and Scanlon returned, Ned called on them to do likewise. They refused; Ned Kelly killed Scanlon and mortally wounded Kennedy, later shooting him in the heart as an ‘act of mercy’.

McIntyre escaped to Mansfield and related the story to his colleagues. Within weeks, the Victorian government advertised huge rewards for the Kelly gang members, and these rewards increased in the months to come, as the gang’s exploits multiplied and Ned composed the ‘Jerilderie letter’ expatiating on his motives.

They avoided capture until they arrived in the town of Glenrowan in June 1880, intending to ambush a police train. In the town’s inn, Kelly, wearing a homemade suit of metal armour, was wounded in a ‘siege’ in which Dan Kelly, Byrne and Hart all died. Kelly survived, only to be hanged in Melbourne Gaol on 11 November 1880.

Ned Kelly Death Mask (1880)National Portrait Gallery

John Molony shares a more intimate and nuanced account of Ned Kelly and his family.

Portrait of Frank Gardiner (1864) by William and James Freeman - Freeman Bros. PhotographyNational Portrait Gallery

Frank Gardiner

A canny Scot who spent a lot less time in gaol than he might have

Frank Gardiner (1829 – c.1903), bushranger, was born Francis Christie in Scotland and came to Australia in 1834 when his free-settler parents took up land near Goulburn. Gardiner was 20 when he notched up his first criminal conviction – for horse stealing – in Geelong in October 1850.

Sentenced to five years in Pentridge Gaol, he escaped less than six months later and returned to New South Wales. Convicted again of horse theft in March 1854, Gardiner was given seven years’ hard labour on Cockatoo Island, but had earned a ticket-of-leave by late 1859. Released on condition that he stay in the Carcoar district, Gardiner broke parole and went to the Lambing Flat goldfields where he ran a butchery. He left in early 1861 to escape charges of cattle-duffing and teamed up with a former Cockatoo Island colleague, John Piesley, and took to highway robbery.

Gardiner then went to the Weddin Mountains where he was joined by John Gilbert, Ben Hall and others, forming the gang that in June 1862 netted £14,000 ‘in Gold Dust and Money’ in the hold-up of a gold escort coach near Eugowra. The audacity of the robbery meant instant infamy for Gardiner, who fled to Queensland with his mistress. As ‘Mr and Mrs Christie’ they ran a shop north of Rockhampton until, in February 1864, the police caught up with Gardiner and extradited him to Sydney for trial. Gardiner was acquitted on a charge of attempted murder, but pleaded guilty to two counts of robbery under arms and was sentenced to thirty-two years’ hard labour.

His third stint in gaol was also cut short: in 1874, after considerable public petitioning, Governor Hercules Robinson determined that Gardiner had been harshly sentenced and released him, subject to his exile. Gardiner left Australia in 1875, ending up in San Francisco where he ran a saloon. He died in Colorado around 1903.

Lola Montez (c.1845) by Joseph K. StielerNational Portrait Gallery

Lola Montez

A woman who knew what she wanted – or at least, what she didn't

Lola Montez (1818–61) was the most famous of the international performers who toured Australia during the boom years of the 1850s.

Born Maria Dolores Eliza Rosanna Gilbert in Ireland, Montez spent her early years in British military outposts in India and was in her teens when, in order to avoid being married off to a ‘gouty old rascal’ of her mother’s choosing, she eloped with a British soldier.

The marriage ended five years later and Montez was publicly named as an adulteress. She then fled to Spain where, having decided to earn a living on the stage, she received some form of tuition in dance and adopted the Spanish-sounding name. She made her London debut at Her Majesty’s Theatre in June 1843, but soon fled again, performing in Berlin, Warsaw and Paris and attracting praise and scandal in equal measure. By 1846 she was in Munich, where she added King Ludwig I of Bavaria to an already impressive inventory of lovers. The relationship with Ludwig ended in 1848, when he was forced to abdicate amidst growing unrest at Lola’s political influence.

After five scandal-packed years in California, she came to Australia in 1855 and performed in Sydney and Melbourne. Metropolitan audiences were scandalised by Lola’s routines, particularly her ‘Spider Dance’, in which she enacted having a spider caught in ‘an extremely short gauze skirt’. Despite being denounced as immoral and ‘utterly subversive’, Montez went on to play to packed houses in Adelaide and was loved by the less discerning audiences in Ballarat, Bendigo and Castlemaine.

Montez left Australia in 1856. When her stage career stalled the following year, she toured America and Britain delivering a series of lectures on beauty and morality. She died in New York from syphilis-related symptoms in January 1861.

Richard Fitzgerald (circa 1838) by Edmund EdgarNational Portrait Gallery

Richard Fitzgerald

A convict who was "honest, upright, good" and – eventually – very wealthy

Richard Fitzgerald (1772–1840), convict and settler, was transported to New South Wales in 1791. His knowledge of agriculture made him useful to the colony’s administrators and a year after his arrival he was appointed superintendent of convicts at the government farm at Toongabbie.

Fitzgerald soon earned his freedom and by 1802 was working as inspector and director of all of the farms belonging to government. He had also become a landowner and farmer in his own right, with substantial holdings in the Cabramatta district.

Fitzgerald sided with John Macarthur and other major players in the overthrow of governor William Bligh in January 1808, in reward for which he was appointed constable of the Hawkesbury district by Bligh’s usurper, George Johnston. Despite this, Fitzgerald also came to enjoy the favour of the colony’s next governor, Lachlan Macquarie, who considered him a ‘most honest upright good man’. Fitzgerald served in a number of different roles during Macquarie’s term and became a close friend and trusted advisor to the governor and his wife, Elizabeth, who referred to him as ‘our dear Fitz’.

Fitzgerald left government service following Macquarie’s return home, thereafter focussing on the management of his properties. One of the first shareholders in the Bank of New South Wales, Fitzgerald is said to have been partly responsible for introducing Freemasonry to New South Wales and was a generous donor to the church and other charities.

Self portrait (circa 1849) by Charles RodiusNational Portrait Gallery

Charles Rodius

A convicted thief who was highly-valued as a portrait artist 

Charles Rodius (1802–60) was one of a number of artists whose Australian careers commenced in convictism. Born in Germany, Rodius had spent several years in Paris where he studied and worked as a teacher of ‘music, painting, drawing and languages in families of the first distinction’. He then went to England where, in early 1829, he was convicted of stealing a lady’s handbag and sentenced to transportation to New South Wales for seven years.

On arrival in Sydney, Rodius was immediately employed as an architectural draughtsman and drawing teacher by the Department of Public Works. He also gave drawing lessons to children of prominent residents of Sydney. Such social connections, combined with his urbanity and talent, had the effect of tempering his anomalous convict status and Rodius secured the patronage of many of the settlement’s citizens. Some of these patrons supported Rodius in his application for exemption from government service and when this was granted in 1832 he began to earn an independent living as an artist.

While he also created landscapes or ‘views’, portraiture formed the most substantial part of Rodius’s output and his work in the genre resulted in a vivid record of the character of colonial Sydney. His sitters came from within the ranks of the law, politics and business as well as from the trade, landowning and ex-convict sectors of society. Many of his portraits – typically executed in pencil, charcoal and pastel, or ‘French crayon’ – were also issued as lithographs, such as his 1846 likeness of explorer Ludwig Leichhardt; and his portraits of Aboriginal people from the Sydney, Broken Bay and Shoalhaven districts, created in the 1830s and 1840s.

Rodius received his certificate of freedom in 1841 by which time he was a successful artist. After two short-lived marriages – the first, in 1834, to a seamstress named Maria Bryant; and the second to Harriet Taylor, who died in 1838 – Rodius made his third in 1841 to Harriet Allen, the daughter of another ex-convict artist, Josiah Allen.

Long rumoured to exist but concealed from the notice of art historians in the private collection of a descendant, this self portrait is held by family lore to have been made by Rodius to kill time while Harriet gave birth to their daughter, Theresa, in an adjoining room. In 1856, Rodius suffered a stroke that left him partly paralysed and unable to continue working as an artist. He died in April 1860, aged 58.

Sir George Grey (circa. 1845) by Theresa WalkerNational Portrait Gallery

George Grey

A life of intractability, resentment, hostility and blame

Sir George Grey (1812–98) was a soldier, explorer and colonial administrator. The son of an English army officer, he trained at the Royal Military College, Sandhurst, before serving in Ireland for six years.

In 1836, he approached the Colonial Office with a proposal for an expedition to locate a site for settlement on the north-west coast of Australia. Consequently, he conducted two expeditions during 1838 and 1839 but both were failures, beset by floods, hostilities with Aboriginal people and shortages of food and water.

In August 1839, he was appointed resident magistrate at King George Sound and in November married Eliza Spencer (c. 1819–98), the daughter of the incumbent.

During his time in Albany, Grey studied local Aboriginal culture, writing a book that was later republished as a report setting out his beliefs on how best to ‘civilise’ Aboriginal people.

Recalled to England, Grey produced an account of his Western Australian expeditions before being appointed Governor of South Australia in October 1840.

Eliza gave birth to a son en route to Adelaide, but when the baby died in June 1841, Grey blamed his wife.

His tenure in South Australia was noted for his introduction of drastic and much-resented spending cuts, though over five years he nearly balanced the colony’s budget. His intractability marred his subsequent two terms as Governor of New Zealand – from 1848 to 1853 and again between 1861 and 1868 – and his term as Governor of the Cape Colony (between 1854 and 1861).

Eliza was never reconciled to life in Adelaide or New Zealand, where contemporaries described her as ‘a perfect devil’, ill-natured, untrustworthy, and given to tantrums. After a nervous breakdown in 1858 she returned to England. During a voyage to South Africa in 1860, Eliza, unhappy in her marriage, confided in a male fellow passenger after which indiscretion Grey insisted on a separation from her.

She returned to England and the couple remained separated for the next thirty-seven years. A reconciliation in 1896 was unsuccessful and they both died, after separating again, in late 1898.

Mr Mortimer Lewis (c.1828) by UnknownNational Portrait Gallery

Mortimer Lewis

An illustrious architect who fell from grace

Mortimer Lewis (1796–1879), surveyor and architect, and his wife Elizabeth (née Clements, d. 1879) arrived in Sydney in March 1830 with their first four children.

London-born, Lewis had worked as a surveyor and draftsman for almost fifteen years before being appointed to a position in the office of the Surveyor-General of New South Wales, Thomas Mitchell. Lewis assisted Mitchell in surveying areas of the Great Dividing Range and, at Mitchell’s instigation, was appointed New South Wales Government Architect in 1835.

During his fifteen year tenure in this role, Lewis oversaw the implementation of an ambitious program of public works, designing churches, schools, police stations, courthouses and prisons, as well as residences. Examples of his buildings include the courthouses and gaols at Darlinghurst and Berrima; the Customs House at Circular Quay; the Tarban Creek Lunatic Asylum (now known as Gladesville Hospital); the King’s School, Parramatta; and Richmond Villa, constructed beside the Domain as Lewis’s private residence in 1849, but relocated to Millers Point in the 1970s. Lewis also supervised the construction of Sydney’s Government House, designed in London by Edward Blore and completed in 1845.

Lewis resigned as Government Architect in 1849 pending an official enquiry that was to find that he had misappropriated materials intended for the first Australian Museum.

Henry Lawson (1915) by William JohnsonNational Portrait Gallery

Henry Lawson

A much-loved writer beset by demons

Henry Lawson (1867–1922), one of Australia’s defining authors, is best known for his short stories and ballads depicting the hardship of bush life.

Lawson spent his childhood on a poor selection in the Mudgee district in New South Wales. He received little formal education, but he was encouraged to read widely by his mother, women’s rights activist and writer Louisa Lawson.

A regular contributor to the Bulletin in the 1890s, he supported its nationalist, egalitarian and pro-union stance. In that decade, too, he wrote scores of stories and vignettes, the best of them – such as ‘The Drover’s Wife’ and ‘The Bush Undertaker’ – haunting, profoundly sad and wryly funny all at once.

Despite catastrophic bouts of depression and alcoholism that turned him into a shambling, suicidal wraith, Lawson continued to write until his death in Sydney at the age of 55, when he was honoured with a State funeral.

Credits: Story

This exhibit is loosely based on an article in Portrait magazine. It was compiled by Gillian Raymond and edited by Catherine Styles, both of whom manage the Gallery's web presence.

Credits: All media
The story featured may in some cases have been created by an independent third party and may not always represent the views of the institutions, listed below, who have supplied the content.
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