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The Last of England

Date: c 1865
Overall: 255 x 210 mm
Medium: Paper. Ink
Credit Line: ANMM Collection
Object Name: Engraving
Object No: 00000956
Place Manufactured:London

User Terms

    This engraving depicts a middle class couple departing England for Australia, with the white cliffs of Dover in the background. Sheltered by an umbrella, a husband holds his wife's gloved hand while peeping out from beneath her shawl, the mother grasps a tiny hand. The original painting by F Madox Brown was inspired by the departure of his friend, sculptor Thomas Woolner in 1852.
    SignificanceThis engraving is one of the most evocative and well known images of British immigrants departing their beloved homeland for Australia.
    HistoryTo emigrate or remain at home was a major decision faced by many families in the 19th century. In the United Kingdom and Ireland alone, these reasons included land clearance (Scotland and Ireland), famine (Ireland), unemployment (England), the desire to get rich or the quest for political or religious freedom (Cornwall, the Midlands, Scotland and Ireland).

    In this work, Ford Madox Brown portrays a middle class couple, which suggests that the emigration was for reasons other than financial hardship. The gold rush had stimulated movement of lower classes to Australia in search of their fortune, which in turn led to a surge in other professions, such as artisans, making the move to capitalise on the need for skilled professionals. These travellers and emigrants brought with them their home customs and traditions, leaving a lasting impact on Australian society, technology, economy and lifestyle.

    The original oil on panel painting was completed by Brown in 1855. His friend Thomas Woolner had sailed for Australia in 1852. This departure led Brown to depict a typical parting from home and safety for the long journey to the other side of the world. He used himself, his wife Emma and their two children Catherine (the small blonde girl to the left) and Oliver (the child's hand clasped by his mother) as models for the scene. The original painting is held by the Birmingham City Art Gallery in England.

    Brown's diary details his thoughts about this painting:
    'To insure the peculiar look of light all round, which objects have on a dull day at sea, it was painted for the most part in the open air on dull days, and when the flesh was being painted on cold days. I have tried to render this scene as it would appear. The [minute] detail which would be visible under such conditions of broad day-light, I have thought it necessary to imitate, as bringing the pathos of the subject more home to the beholder … In the background, an honest family of the green-grocer kind, father (mother lost), eldest daughter, and younger children, makes the best of things with tobacco-pipe and apples, etc., etc. Still further back a reprobate shakes his fist with curses at the land of his birth, as though that were answerable for his want of success; his old mother reproves him for his foul-mouthed profanity, while a boon companion, with flushed countenance, and got up in nautical togs for the voyage, signified drunken approbation.'

    'The picture is in the strictest sense historical. It treats of the great emigration movement, which attained its culminating point in 1852. The educated are bound to their country by quite other ties than the illiterate man, whose chief consideration is food and physical comfort. I have, therefore, in order to present the parting scene in the fullest tragic development, singled out a couple from the middle classes, high enough, through education and refinement, to appreciate all
    they are giving up, and yet depressed enough in means, to have to put up with the discomforts and humiliations incident to a vessel "all one class".'
    Additional Titles

    Web title: The Last of England

    Primary title: The last of England

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