Colony artist's legacy lost in time

Colony artist Charles Rodius was buried in an unmarked pauper's grave.

Colony artist Charles Rodius was buried in an unmarked pauper's grave.

Buried in Liverpool’s Pioneers Memorial Park are thousands of men who ended their days at the Asylum for the Infirm and Destitute.

Almost all of them were buried in anonymous paupers’ graves. One of the most remarkable of these largely forgotten men is the convict artist Charles Rodius.

Rodius was born in Cologne, Germany in 1802 and trained as an artist in France where he worked as a teacher of "music, painting, drawing and languages” before travelling to England.

In 1829, he was charged at Westminster with stealing a perfume bottle, tickets, an opera glass and a handkerchief from a woman's purse. Rodius defended himself and said that the items were gifts from his female students. Nonetheless, he was convicted and sentenced to seven years’ transportation to the penal colony of New South Wales.

He arrived in December 1829 on the Sarah and was assigned to the Department of Public Works instructing civil and military officers in drawing.

As a draughtsman, he was also engaged by the colonial architect to produce plans of “every building throughout the Colony”. His service was considered so vital that his superiors were reluctant to uphold Rodius' application for a ticket-of-leave which would exempt him from compulsory government service.

A certificate of freedom was finally granted in July 1841, 12 years after arriving.

In 1831 he published the first of his outstanding portraits of Aboriginal 'Kings' and the first of his landscape paintings, a view of Port Jackson taken from Bunker's Hill. His lithograph of the Lansdowne Bridge in 1836 is one of his finest.

He married twice but both of his wives died, the second just 18.

During the late 1850s Rodius suffered a stroke which paralysed one side and on April 9, 1860 he died “of infirmity” at the Liverpool Asylum, aged only 58. While we have no headstone or plaque to commemorate the life of Charles Rodius, his works are held and displayed in the finest galleries in the world, from the British Museum to the National Portrait Gallery and Mitchell Library.

GLEN op den BROUW

President, Liverpool Historical Society

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