Tuesday, January 22, 2013

William Davidson's Sundial


This superbly carved sandstone sundial column was a present from the first Superintendent of the Gardens William Davidson to his wife Elizabeth.  Davidson commissioned the column from the important early Tasmanian convict stonemason Daniel Herbert.  On one side it depicts William Davidson with his spade, another side William and Elizabeth are linked arm in arm, another side is daughter Elizabeth Rachel Davidson and the final side is son William Edward Davidson.  The sundial dates back to about 1833 as Elizabeth Rachel was born 2 August 1830 and William Edward was born 10 October 1832.  Their third child Richard was born 26 July 1834.

It is carved with the symbols of horticulture ie fruit and flowers together with figures representing a family group. It is only one of three intact pieces of convict sculpture remaining in Tasmania and for historical reasons, as well as sentimental association has been identified as a most valuable piece of art by the stone masons of the colony.

William Davidson with his spade
Elizabeth and William Davidson with daughter Elizabeth on right

Son William Edward Davidson

The sundial has been passed down through the female line for 5 generations.

William Davidson married Elizabeth Naisbett 1 September 1829 - daughter Elizabeth Rachel Davidson born 2 August 1830.
Elizabeth Rachel Davidson married Richard Propsting 23 January 1849 - daughter Anna Maria Elizabeth Propsting born 4 October 1849.
Anna Maria Elizabeth Propsting married Samuel Hurst Burrows 5 September 1871 - daughter Mabel Georgina Burrows born 12 April 1880.
Mabel Georgina Burrows married Reginald Thomas Brownell April 1902 - daughter Kathleen Annie Preston Brownell born 26 June 1910.
Kathleen never married so passed the sundial onto her niece Brigid Anne Brownell Gardiner born 17 March 1944.
Brigid Anne Brownell Gardiner married Richard Henry Holland Davis and generously donated the sundial to the Royal Tasmanian Botanical Gardens in 1999.

Daniel Herbert - convict and stonemason.
Daniel was baptised 17 February 1802 in Somerset, England. 
Daniel was charged with four counts of highway robbery and with putting "in bodily fear and danger".  Herbert had already served part of a seven year sentence for stealing in a dwelling house.  He and his co-accused pleaded guilty, and were sentenced to death on 7 April 1827.  Reprieved on condition of transportation for life.  Herbert was transported aboard the "Asia" arriving in Hobart Town in December 1827.

As a stonemason, he was placed in the Engineer's Department and for the next seven years was employed on government projects in Hobart, including the new female factory at Cascade.  In the late 1820s and early 1830s Herbert made a number of appearances before the magistrates' bench, charged with being absent from the works and drinking.  By 1835 he was employed as overseer of stonemasons on the construction of the new customs house, a service for which he was paid one shilling a day.  When Josiah Spode, principal superintendent of convicts was asked to recommend two stonemasons to be transferred to Ross to oversee the completion of a replacement bridge across the Macquarie River, Herbert was one chosen.

Despite being promised a conditional pardon for successfully completing the task, Herbert asked to be allowed to remain three weeks longer in Hobart to marry Mary Witherington.  They married at Ross on 1 July 1835.  The bridge was completed in July 1836.  It contained 186 keystones or voussoirs carved by Herbert, or completed under his supervision in fifty six weeks between May 1835 - July 1836.  Various interpretations of their curious motifs have been put forward, including claims that the many carved heads were portraits of Herbert and his wife, Jorgen Jorgenson, Lieutenant Governor Sir George Arthur and other colonial officials and local personalities.

Because Herbert's work was of such high quality Herbert was granted a free pardon in February 1842 and continued to live in Ross where he worked as an ornamental stonemason.  He was credited with carving a number of motifs for other buildings in Tasmania, including St.Lukes Presbyterian Church, Bothwell.

Daniel Herbert died oBronchitis on 28 February 1868 at Campbell Town, survived by his wife and three children.  Reputedly he designed and carved his own tomb in the old burial ground at Ross.

In 2005 the Ross bridge was still in use.

Ross Bridge with Uniting Church (left)

Gargoyles on Ross Bridge

Daniel Herbert also carved the mantel piece in William Davidson's home at Elboden Street, South Hobart. Built about 1833.

Ornate carved sandstone mantel piece in William Davidson's home - Carved by convict stonemason Daniel Herbert about 1833.

If you have any correction or comments please contact the author, Joy Olney via email.            
If there are any Davidson descendants out there I would appreciate you contacting me via email: joyolney@gmail.com

You might like to view my other blogs at - https://sites.google.com/site/joysblogs123/

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