Early Colonial Furniture

in New South Wales and Van Diemen’s Land

Authors: Clifford Craig, Kevin Fahy and E Graeme Robertson


This book is rare and has long been out of print.

The first substantial study of the furniture made in Australia before the 1850s. It examines the influences which were important to the development of the furniture styles of the period and how English styles were transferred to Australia.

The authors of this book have now passed on but they have left behind a treasure trove of information about Australia’s colonial furniture and architecture. They led the way with a passion for preserving Australia’s historical past.


Clifford Craig (1896–1986) “was a founding member (1960) of the Tasmanian branch of the National Trust, and chairman in 1963. He helped to raise community awareness of the beauty and value of the State’s colonial buildings, and to prevent the destruction of many. When the Hobart City Council proposed to allow demolition of early houses in Davey Street to permit construction of a petrol station, he remarked: ‘no one will ever visit Hobart to see a petrol station’. He edited the trust’s newsletter from 1965 to 1986, apart from a break in the early 1970s. With his wife he had accumulated a collection of colonial furniture that came to be considered one of the best of its kind in Australia. Having amassed an extensive assortment of early Tasmaniana, comprising documents, books, maps and prints, he sold 2350 items at a three-day auction at Launceston in 1975. In 1979 he donated over 450 books on the history of medicine to the Launceston hospital. At 65 Craig began a new phase of his life as author of eight books including The Engravers of Van Diemen’s Land (1961), The First Hundred Years (1963)—a history of the Launceston hospital—and Early Colonial Furniture in New South Wales and Van Diemen’s Land (1972), co-authored with Kevin Fahey and Graeme Robertson. His last book was published shortly after his death. A member of the Royal Society of Tasmania and of the Tasmanian Historical Research Association, he also contributed papers to their proceedings.” Source: Morris, John, ‘Craig, Clifford (1896–1986)’, Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/craig-clifford-12362/text22211, accessed 6 December 2011, on-line.

Kevin Fahy AM BA (1932-2007) “was a major figure in the revival of interest in Australian historical decorative arts for nearly 50 years. He was widely respected in collecting circles, a wonderful source of information, a spellbinding raconteur, paterfamilias and a good friend to many. Kevin was a Life Fellow and Honarary Associate of the Powerhouse Museum, a Fellow of the Australian Institute of History and Arts, an Honorary Life Member of the National Trust of Australia (NSW), and an Honorary Life Member of th Australiana Society.” Source: Bertouch, Jim. “Kevin Fahy – An Interview by Jim Bertouch.” Australiana – Journal of the Australiana Society 32.2 (2010): 20. Print.

Edward Graeme Robertson (1903–1975) was interested in ‘architecture and furniture and allied things of beauty’, and concerned about the destruction of fine nineteenth-century buildings in the name of ‘progress’, Robertson helped to found the Victorian branch of the National Trust of Australia in 1956. He was a keen photographer who often rose at dawn to take his shots. The play of light on the detail of buildings captivated him and fired his passion for decorative cast iron. Robertson was appalled that councils throughout Victoria were ordering the destruction of cast-iron verandahs in the 1950s and 1960s. His first non-medical book, Victorian Heritage (Melbourne, 1960), captured in words and black-and-white photographs the beauty of the State’s ironwork. The book sold out. It helped to apply a brake to what he called ‘vandalism’ committed by those in authority.

Robertson’s subsequent books included Sydney Lace (1962),
Early Houses of Northern Tasmania (with Edith Craig, 1964),
Ornamental Cast Iron in Melbourne (1967),
Early Buildings of Southern Tasmania (1970),
Adelaide Lace (1973) and Carlton (1974).
His daughter Joan co-authored his last books, Parkville (1975) and Cast Iron Decoration: A World Survey (1977).

The Royal Australian Institute of Architects commented: ‘by direct and indirect means’, Dr Robertson revealed ornamental cast iron ‘to thousands of people, raised it to the status of an art form worthy of serious study and influenced the preservation of much of what survives’. In 1969 he became founding chairman of the National Trust’s committee for cast iron. Examples that he had gathered over many years formed the nucleus of the trust’s collection. It remains in storage, awaiting the fulfilment of his dream that it will be housed in a museum dedicated to cast iron.

In 1950 Robertson had been a founding member of the Society of Collectors, inaugurated by (Sir) Joseph Burke. His special areas of interest were Australiana, and antique English and early colonial furniture. One of his prize possessions was a magnificent desk purchased from Sir Keith Murdoch. With Clifford Craig and Kevin Fahy, he wrote Early Colonial Furniture in New South Wales and Van Diemen’s Land (1972).

Robertson travelled extensively. While visiting San Francisco, U.S.A., in 1961, he had learned that one of the world’s remaining wrought-iron ships, Rona, lay berthed at Melbourne. He persuaded the Victorian branch of the National Trust to buy the hulk and chaired (from 1968) the committee which oversaw its restoration under the barque’s former name, Polly Woodside. Source: “Clark, Mary Ryllis, ‘Robertson, Edward Graeme (1903–1975)’, Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/robertson-edward-graeme-11541/text20593, accessed 6 December 2011 on-line.

Publisher: Georgian House, Melbourne

ISBN 0855854863