Saturday, 19 November 2011

Sir Redmond Barry's bookcase.

For those of you who read the post about George Thwaite's Tool Chest, you may remember I mentioned that Thwaites made an large amount of furniture for Sir Redmond Barry. I made note of a few positions that Barry held from his time in Melbourne from the 13th November, 1839 until his death on the 23rd of November 1880. ( Only twelve days after he sentenced Ned Kelly to death, stating - "...and may God have mercy on your soul" and after Kelly replied - " I will go a little further than that and say I will see you there when I go." Make your own conclusions about that one! )

Anyway, untimely and cursed death or not, it is hard not to be a little in awe of the man's achievements during his life in Melbourne. I would repeat them here but there's a limit to my patience and typing ability! So better than that please read all about him here -
it really is very interesting. I would hazard a guess that given both men were prominent in their respective fields and early settlers in Melbourne, that Barry met Thwaites at a social gathering at some point or possibly after Barry had exhibited Thwaite's work in England at the Great Exhibition of 1862.

So whilst I was away I received an email from Mike Green to say that he had read a post on Woodwork Forums from the Great Great Great Grandson of George Thwaites, Phil, about one of George's hand planes. I contacted Phil, via email and we agreed to meet when I returned. Not long after I got home I received another email from Mike to say that Phil had contacted him as well and a trip had been planned to visit Melbourne University and view the Huon Pine bookcase George Thwaites had made for Sir Redmond Barry all those years ago.

So the day arrived and after meeting Phil and his wife Rhonda and another of Mike's friends, Relton from the Furniture History Society, we all made our way into the Uni to view the case....well actually we made the trip 3 times- there was a meeting taking place in that room and they just didn't want to leave!

So here it is. In fact it was actually pretty breathtaking when I first saw it. Partly, because it is housed in the most non-descript, dull and lifeless building on the entire campus, down an equally long and boring corridor in a nameless room, round a blind corner. So you are almost asleep when you walk around the corner and then ..... Bang! there it is, larger than life, amazing proportions and the most spectacular Huon veneer you have ever laid eyes upon.

Here is Barry's crest, the centre piece of the book case. The pictures do not do the scroll/ribbbon carving justice.

Here is a corbel on the top of left corner and another glimpse of the outstanding figured veneer used by Thwaites. It really was something to see.

Whilst we were there the head of the faculty, where the bookcase is held, came into the room to see just why we were all standing around looking at a bookcase. I cant remember if it was Mike or someone else, but when he was told that he had possibly one of Australia's most valuable and iconic pieces of furniture sitting in his building, gathering dust and essentially not being cared for he was more than a little surprised. When he was then told that it's estimated value would be in the 7 figure mark.... he looked a little pale!
It was great to meet Phil and his wife Rhonda and catch up with Relton and Mike again and very good of Mike to organise the whole thing. But most of all it was terrific to see and touch such an Australian  treasure and one made by George Thwaite's own hands.

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