Snuffbox has sad links to Australia's convict past

Author: Richard Brewster | Posted: 17th June, 2015

A sterling silver table snuffbox, linked to an unfortunate tragedy, is bound to intrigue both history buffs and auction goers when Gowans Auctions holds its forthcoming special sale from 10am on Saturday June 20 at 37 Main Road, Moonah in Hobart, Tasmania.

Featuring one of the first specimens of silver gilt lining in the Tasmanian colony, the box was made by former convict turned silversmith and medallist in Hobart, Charles Jones, and presented by William Gore Elliston to John Mezger during a special dinner at Mezger’s Hotel in August 1848.

Hobart’s Britannia newspaper of August 24 of that year refers to the event in a special tribute, probably because Elliston was the former proprietor of rival newspaper the Courier.

The box carries an inscription to mark the occasion “From William Gore Elliston, to John Mezger, in grateful remembrance of a most disinterested act of kindness”.

Its association with tragedy relates to the maker Charles Jones, who took his own life many years later while living with his family in Sydney.

The suicide was reported in the Hobart Mercury of June 23, 1864.

The auction contains many other fascinating historical items including a collection of seals – of which the most important is a rare rendition from the Hobart Women’s Prison.

A rare share certificate for Van Diemens Land Company, dated 1826, is another item bound to interest auction goers, along with and 1849 ledger from the Hobart Town Post Office Van Diemens Land.

The certificate, for five shares in the company, was issued to Henry Digby of Harley Street in the county of Middlesex and signed by Van Diemens Land Company clerk George Salt Tucker.

Admiral Sir Henry Digby took a leading part in the 1805 Battle of Trafalgar in which Admiral Lord Horatio Nelson was mortally wounded.

Another interesting document is First Fleet chief surgeon John White’s 1790 journal of a voyage to New South Wales, complete with 65 plates. 

A particularly strong auction component is the art on offer including a colonial portrait sketch by Thomas Wainewright (1794-1847) and 10 Haughton Forrest Tasmanian paintings.

The portrait is a pencil and watercolour wash entitled Daughters of Dr Edward Bedford.

Haughton Forrest’s works include Coal River Tasmania, River & Boat Scene and River Derwent New Norfolk from the Regatta Ground.

The auction also features 19th century Australian furniture such as a colonial cedar longcase clock and cedar gothic style hall chair.

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