John Fairfax table a Melbourne auction bonanza

Author: Richard Brewster | Posted: 26th October, 2019

The solid cedar boardroom table that media mogul John Fairfax commissioned renowned early colonial Australian furniture maker Joseph Sly in 1855 to make for the Sydney Morning Herald offices is to be auctioned in Melbourne.

A unique piece of Fairfax Media history and possibly the only one made by the furniture maker still in existence, the table (lot 151) will be part of the Fine Arts Auctions sale from 11am Sunday November 3 at the Morning Star Estate homestead 1 Sunnyside Road, Mt Eliza.

The 3.6-metre long table was a Fairfax boardroom fixture for 35 years until donated in 1890 to the Uniting Church in Pitt Street, Sydney. The current vendor – from Cranbourne’s Ballockmyle mansion – is only its third owner in 165 years.

Joseph Sly (1802-1887) was born in London and in 1834 migrated to Sydney where he established a furniture business in Pitt Street. Retiring in 1861, he provided furniture to several prominent colonial families including James and William Macarthur at Camden Park in New South Wales and principal colonial surgeon and inspector of colonial hospitals Dr James Bowman at Lyndhurst in the Sydney suburb of Glebe.

Morning Star Estate was acquired more than 20 years ago by former broadacre farmer Judy Barrett who renovated the homestead and turned it into a boutique 20-room hotel with conference facilities and a restaurant.

In the past two years the 1867 grand Victorian mansion built by Londoner Francis Gillett has attracted its own share of publicity with its sale in June 2017 to the Chinese Zhongou Capital Corporation for $36.2 million – a lucrative deal that unfortunately collapsed before final settlement. Since then, other parties have shown interest in buying the property with a sale now pending.

Auctioneer Phil Caldwell said there were several other important colonial furniture pieces from Ballockmyle mansion in the auction including a rare Huon pine and cedar chest (lot 472) and an 1825 chest (lot 540) – one of Australia’s earliest furniture creations.

“The former is listed in Graham Cornall’s “Memories” survey of Lord Robert Alistair McAlpine’s collection and the latter in the book Australian Colonial Furniture by Toby and Juliana Hooper,” he said.

Englishman Baron McAlpine of West Green (1942-2014) was a renowned Conservative Party fundraiser before in 1979 settling in remote Broome, Western Australia – which he turned into a major tourist destination – and where the 1910 property he purchased and restored still bears his name.

French salon and library pieces and rare early Chinese creations are among additional furniture items.

The auction has many other fabulous attractions including a solid 18-carat gold statuette, 5.6-carat sapphire and diamond ring and an 18-carat gold opal necklace.

Among the art on offer are major works by Australian artists Norman Lindsay, William Dobell, Hugh Sawrey, Pro Hart, Darcy Doyle, Sir Sidney Nolan, Charles Blackman, Tim Storrier and John Glover.

A large selection of clocks and watches should appeal to serious collectors including skeleton, mantel, boulle bracket and grandfather timepieces.

Porcelain is another feature with a range of Royal Worcester, Sevres and Royal Doulton from which to choose, along with an original Demetre Chiparus (1886-1947) bronze figure.

Asian antiquities in the form of Chinese jade, early Chinese porcelain, Chinese, Japanese and Tibetan bronzes and a Chinese Han Dynasty terracotta horse are further attractions.

Garden items for auction include large cast iron urns, gates and three and four seat settees.


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