Rare treasures on display from Museum’s largest acquisition

Trevor Kennedy Collection: Highlights exhibition features extraordinary historic objects

Over 500 Australian historical artefacts and decorative arts objects drawn from the internationally recognised Trevor Kennedy Collection are now on display at the National Museum of Australia in Canberra.

This is the first time Australiana objects from the Trevor Kennedy Collection have been available for public viewing.

To acknowledge the Museum’s largest and most significant acquisition, the Museum’s Forecourt bush garden has been named in recognition of Christina and Trevor Kennedy.

The exhibition showcases 573 objects from some 5,000 acquired by the Museum in 2020 through its largest acquisition, a combination of a purchase by the Museum of over $8 million and a donation by Mr Kennedy valued at about $7 million.

Paul Fletcher, Minister for Communications, Urban Infrastructure, Cities and the Arts, said: ‘The acquisition of the Trevor Kennedy Collection by the National Museum of Australia is important not only for the Museum itself, but for all Australians. It is a unique collection of Australian artefacts that add to the narrative of the nation.’

National Museum Director, Dr Mathew Trinca, said: ‘We are thrilled to see the highlights of this magnificent collection on public display and the exhibition is a credit to Mr Kennedy as an avid collector of Australiana.

‘It is wonderful that these objects will be made available for all Australians to see, explore and interpret our nation’s history. We will incorporate items from Mr Kennedy’s collection into our galleries as often as possible for our visitors to enjoy.’

Key objects on display include pre-1820 Australian-made furniture, artworks from the country’s most historically significant colonial artists, artefacts of Australian historical interest, an assortment of magnificent jewellery and a selection of 24 exquisitely presented emu eggs.

Exhibition curator, Dr Sophie Jensen, said it had taken years of negotiation to acquire the collection and she was delighted to be able to show so many of the highlights to the public for the first time.

‘We were really keen to put a selection of objects on public display as quickly as possible, given the excitement of having such a collection in public hands as part of the National Historical Collection,’ Dr Jensen said.

‘This exhibition contains sparkling jewels, objects of rare beauty, items of curiosity and wonder, and priceless artefacts of Australian historical interest. It aims to capture not only the diversity and significance of this acquisition, but also some of the magic and mayhem of the way in which Trevor Kennedy displayed his collection in his private museum,’ Dr Jensen said.

‘But this exhibition is just the beginning. We now begin a program of research and digitisation that will make the collection available and accessible to all Australians. I am excited to have the opportunity to bring the stories contained within the Kennedy Collection to light,’ Dr Jensen said.

Trevor Kennedy said: ‘It is a great satisfaction to me that this collection has found such a perfect home. The energy, enthusiasm and commitment that Mat Trinca, Sophie Jensen and their team have put into research, provenance and care has been hugely impressive.

‘Combined with the Museum’s already outstanding National Historical Collection, it must rate among the best, if not the best, in Australia.’

The Trevor Kennedy Collection: Highlights exhibition will be on display from 21 April until 10 October 2021 in the Museum’s Studio Gallery. Entry is free.

Objects included in exhibition:

Australian Federation

  • Scale model of the Lucinda, the Queensland Government steam yacht. It was on board the Lucinda in March 1891 that the Constitution of the proposed Commonwealth of Australia was debated and drafted. Another version of this model was supplied by the shipbuilders, William Denny and Brothers, to the Queensland Government. This is now the collection of the Queensland Museum.
  • Extensive album of printer’s proofs for invitations, press passes, and other printed ephemera produced to mark the celebrations and events associated with the opening of the first Parliament of the Commonwealth in 1901.

Furniture

  • A writing desk made by HW Broughton of Melbourne in 1851. The writing desk was exhibited at the Victorian Industrial Society’s exhibition, at which it received a silver medal. The desk incorporates 18 different colonial timbers.
  • Two magnificent occasional tables thought to have been made for naturalist John Gould (1804–1881) as a wedding present to Margaret Amhurst, 1856.
  • A grand longcase clock by James Oatley. Oatley was transported to Australia in 1815. Employed as the keeper of the town clock, he was pardoned in 1821 and established a business in George Street. The clock’s parts appear to have been made in the colony, about 1827.
  • A rare longcase clock by Robert Prenzel (1866–1941) – one of only two known Prenzel longcase clocks in existence and a remarkable example of his distinctive style, 1922.

Artworks

  • A miniature portrait of John White, Surgeon-General to the First Fleet and Colony of New South Wales, by the convict artist Thomas Watling, 1792.
  • Watercolour on paper portrait of Lieutenant-Colonel George Johnston by Richard Read Junior, 1825.

Jewellery

  • Diamond and sapphire brooch given by Charles Kingsford Smith to his wife in the 1930s.
  • A magnificent Priora Brothers brooch, gold-set with a plaque of boulder opal depicting a fishing scene. Made in Sydney about 1900.

Silver and mounted eggs

  • A silver dog collar by Alexander Dick. The collar was made for publican Michael Farrell and presented to his dog Tiger, for killing 20 rats in 2 minutes and 2 seconds, Sydney, 1834.
  • Silver centrepiece designed by Henry Steiner, displayed at the Melbourne International Exhibition, 1880.
  • Claret jug bearing the arms of Bathurst, Sydney, Newcastle and Albury – made by Hippolyte Delarue and exhibited at the Sydney International Exhibition in 1879.
  • ‘The Sydney Cup’ – a mounted emu egg made by William Kerr in 1885 and presented by the Sydney Bicycle Club to the Surrey Bicycle Club, England.
  • A selection of mounted emu eggs of various descriptions.

Ceramics

  • Waratah vase, 1939 by William Moorcraft, Staffordshire, England.
  • Extensive collection of Royal Worcester porcelain decorated with designs by well-known Australian botanical artist Ellis Rowan.

Items of historical interest

  • World bantamweight championship belt awarded to Lionel Rose after beating Masahiko ‘Fighting’ Harada in February 1968.
  • An inscribed ceremonial gold trowel used by Prime Minister Andrew Fisher at the ceremony laying one of the foundation stones of Canberra on 12 March 1913.
  • A group of gold cups, including the 1869 Sydney Cup by CL Quist, won by one of Australia’s greatest racehorses, The Barb.

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