State Library Victoria > La Trobe Journal

No 39 Autumn 1987


Frank Goldstraw, Artist: An Unsigned Portrait

The critics’ reception of Frank Goldstraw's portrait of Sir Redmond Barry reflected his assured reputation within Melbourne's cultural world — the world centred upon the conservative Victorian Academy of Arts. Goldstraw exhibited regularly with the Academy from 1875, took an active part in its affairs and in 1881, at the age of thirty, became an elected member of its Council.
Despite contemporary acclaim, no Victorian gallery holds a work by Goldstraw. His portrait of Barry, which may have kept alive his name as an artist, was destroyed by fire in 1978. The reproduction here is from a photograph of the original held by the La Trobe Library.
Born at Heaton Mersey, Lancashire, in 1851, Frank was the youngest child of Mary Ann Matley and her husband. Charles Goldstraw, a labourer. The family arrived in Melbourne on the Morning Light in November 1857. From at least as early as 1861 they lived in Elgin Street, Carlton, which enabled Frank to attend the prize establishment in the state education system, the Model and Training School.1
From November 1854 drawing was included in the Model and Training School curriculum. Based upon the course provided by the Department of Practical Art of the Board of Trade, England, lessons reflected a practical rather than a creative bias. Thomas Botterrill and, later, Edward Moss Shew were drawing masters throughout Gold-straw's time at the school. The practical bias of lessons was modified to some degree by the influence of Thomas H. Smith, headmaster from 1860 to 1863, who directed that selected senior pupils be taken to view paintings and statuary at the Public Library, and by the presence of Nicholas Chevalier on the Board of Examiners in Drawing from 1863.2
Goldstraw became a pupil teacher at the school, teaching until 1869 when he was awarded the first Central Schools Scholarship of 50 pounds which enabled him to pursue a degree at Melbourne University. He graduated as a B.A. in 1871 and completed an M.A. (with first class honours) in 1873; in these degrees he concentrated on the classics and science, his M.A. honours examinations in chemistry, mineralogy and botany, comparative anatomy and biology, and geology and palaeontology being taken in the School of Natural Science.3
I first came across Goldstraw some years ago when seeking to establish the identity of the literary pseudonym “Noel Hope”, author of Milliara: An Australian Romance (1893). On the title page of a copy of this novel held by the La Trobe Library, under the name “Noel Hope”, there is an inscription: “Mrs F. Goldstraw”. Post Office directories showed an “F. Goldstraw” as the headmaster of Wesley College and (to gloss over weeks of research) a report in the Wesley Chronicle confirmed Mrs Matilda Goldstraw as the author of Milliara. The outcome of my research into Matilda Gold-straw's career has been published elsewhere.4 No family papers have survived so, when Matilda ceased to be a public figure in her own right after her marriage to Frank, I traced her life through his career. In tracing Matilda I sought a novelist and found a teacher of note; in following Frank's career as a teacher I found a forgotten artist of modest achievement.
Goldstraw began teaching at Wesley College in 1872 where he proved a dedicated, enthusiastic and talented teacher; indeed, the “beau ideal of a public school master”5 In late 1878 he married the widow Matilda Dixie (nee Broadbent) who had established Alexandra College, Hamilton, and Queen's College, Ballarat. They lived at 652 High Street, Armadale, where their daughter, Amy, was born in 1882, the year Goldstraw was promoted to second master of Wesley.6 Goldstraw taught physiology and classics and, from 1876, was drawing master.7 He urged the boys to regard art not as “mere recreation"but as an “important agent in education” requiring and developing intelligent observation and patient practice. Dealing “more or less directly with nature”, art should be regarded as aligned with “many of the sciences, especially geography, geology, botany, and comparative anatomy”. He stressed the role of art in “conveying historic truths"from generation to generation and its potential role in mapping and recording a young, largely uncharted country such as Australia.8 His own work seems to have clung to historical traditions rather than to have taken up these new opportunities. Out of the classroom Goldstraw fostered and took part in musical and dramatic activities and used his artistic skills to enrich school life and encourage a sense of identity. The college coat of arms, its flag and scholarship honour boards were designed and made by him and he presented to the college portraits in oils of Doctors Waugh and Watkins, sometime Presidents of the college.9

Frank Goldstraw's portrait of Sir Redmond Barry, “In his habit as he lived”. Reproduced by courtesy of the Law Institute of Victoria.

Although Goldstraw's paintings were first hung by the Victorian Academy of Arts in 1875, his early works seem to have been unremarked by reviewers. During the late 1870s he attended life schools organised by the Academy, acted as auditor of its finances and spoke out against the requirement that members must submit a picture in each annual exhibition. Working at a career and gaining “no pecuniary benefit from the Exhibition”, he felt that exceptions should be made in cases such as his.10
In 1881 the Daily Telegraph hailed his “Lay Sermon” with enthusiasm (and a somewhat curious metaphor for a painter): “A new knight has entered the lists of genre. His armour gleams bright, his pace is sure, he sits his steed firmly and he deals well home with a venturesome lance.“11 Goldstraw's later paintings, “The Goddess of the Hearth” and “The Image of Her Mother”, received equally enthusiastic reviews. Judging by the descriptions in the reviews, these three paintings depicted children in the sentimental, domestic morality scenes beloved by the Victorians and other similar titles indicate that such was his genre. He was praised for his command of texture and feeling for colour, skilful brush work and attention to detail, but perspective and the proportion of the human form were at times a little awry. Even so, the Daily Telegraph reviewer considered that the Wesley boys should benefit greatly from his tuition.55
Of the other paintings exhibited, four were portraits and a further two, “A Naval Officer” and “An Undergraduate”, may also have been. Apart from the portraits of Doctors Waugh and Watkins mentioned above, the Wesley Chronicle records that Goldstraw also painted an unnamed young woman and General Gordon.13
Given Goldstraw's known output — some twentyfive paintings — I thought that tracing some of them should not be difficult. The Academy's records show that none of them had been bought and though “A Lay Sermon"had been awarded as an Art Union prize, attempts to trace the owner proved futile. Letters of enquiry to galleries proved equally fruitless, as did initial enquiries to Wesley College and the Gordon Institute, and attempts to trace Goldstraw's daughter. Eventually I located six paintings, all portraits, which I consider can be attributed to Goldstraw though none are signed by him and mystery attaches, appropriately, to that of General Gordon. Piqued by my request, Peter Wilkie, the Librarian at Wesley, soon located the portraits of Doctors Waugh and Watkins. That of Dr Waugh now hangs in the Waugh Room of the College, and that of Dr Watkins hangs in the reception area.
Sir Redmond Barry's portrait, painted almost four years after his death, depicts Barry, as the title proclaims, “In His Habit as He Lived”. A contemporary report described him as: “seated on horseback — on his familiar brown horse — dressed in his well-known garb, and in the act of lifting his quaint-looking hat in recognition of some passing acquaintance”. The background is occupied by the then Public Library with which Barry had been closely associated since its inception.14 The portrait had been languishing for many years in a storeroom at the Law Institute Library when in 1976 it was discovered by Renn Wortley of the Institute staff, restored by Dr Bela Valentin and Craig Thomas and hung in the Institute Library until destroyed by fire in 1978.15
The daily papers for 7 June 1890 recorded the ceremony at which Goldstraw presented his portrait of General Gordon to the Gordon Institute. They noted that Gordon was dressed in the full uniform of a major general of the British Army instead of his familiar Egyptian uniform. At the Gordon Homes for Boys and Girls, Highett, Victoria, there is a portrait matching the press descriptions but it is signed “Phillip Ashley”.16
Of the remaining portraits, one is of Goldstraw's sister, Sarah Watson. Painted in 1871, this small (8 by 10 cms) pencil and indian ink sketch provides a delightful contrast to his large oil portraits of great men. It is in the possession of Sarah's descendant, Miss Dorothy Watson, who has provided the following description:
The sketch shows Sarah in her thirty-second year and, from photographs in later years, it appears to be a good likeness. Sarah's head and shoulders are shown front on, slightly from her left, and the picture is an harmonious clear portrait of a strong face nicely balanced by dark hair silhouetted against a pale background. The lace collar of her blouse is delicately rendered.17
The final portrait is of Goldstraw's sister-in-law, Julia Dickinson (née Broadbent) and is in the possession of a descendant in New South Wales.18
In addition to his positions as second master and drawing master at Wesley College, in 1886 Goldstraw was appointed as Examiner in Drawing for the Education Department.19 This task he shared with George Frederick Folingsby who, in 1882, had become Director of the National Gallery of Victoria
and master in the School of Art. Folingsby was an outspoken critic of the local art societies and may well have agreed with the Age critic's opinion of the Academy's 1884 exhibition: it was, he said, “mortifying to observe that … the annual exhibitions of the Victorian Artists Academy have been for some years steadily declining in importance, and this year, apparently have reached their lowest point”.20
Comprised largely of amateur artists, the Academy had been founded in 1870. For some years it was paralleled by the Australian Artists’ Association (whose members regarded themselves as professional artists) until in 1888 the two societies amalgamated to form the Victorian Artists’ Society (VAS). Goldstraw was a member of the Academy Council from 1881 to 1887, and for many of those years served as a member of the selection and hanging committee. He believed that the Academy should encourage a love of art in the young and in 1882 supported a proposal that school groups should be admitted to exhibitions at minimal charge and that one teacher should be admitted free with every fifty students. After the amalgamation, Goldstraw was elected to the VAS Council for one year and exhibited only in 1888, 1889 and 1903. In 1889 his genre painting, “The Image of Her Mother”, hung beside local landscapes by Tom Roberts and Jane Sutherland.21
As none of Goldstraw's personal papers have survived and official records of societies are often frustratingly oblique, there is no way of establishing the nature of his relationship with the VAS. The easy (and perhaps correct) explanation is that Goldstraw's art, despite the enthusiastic review of “The Image of Her Mother”, was becoming passé. On the other hand, circumstances at Wesley College allowed little time for painting. By 1890 the school had been overtaken by the effects of the Depression which had already beggared many Victorians. Faced with escalating debts and falling enrolments, the headmaster, Arthur Way, resigned in October 1892. Although well aware of the school's financial plight, when the Executive Committee recommended that Goldstraw be appointed headmaster, he put forward a quixotic proposal. Previous headmasters were salaried employees: Goldstraw proposed that he should lease the school and operate it as a private enterprise, one which remained true to Wesley traditions and Methodist orthodoxy. He was granted a five-year lease from the beginning of 1893. Within eighteen months he realised the folly of his proposal but the Executive Committee would not release him until mid-1895.” 22“His failure was born of the inexorable effects of the Depression, not of incompetence; yet that failure has clouded the memory of a cultured, witty, successful man, during whose term as headmaster the quality of educational experiences within the school blossomed and was reflected in the academic success of the students.
On leaving Wesley the Goldstraws opened a new school, Toorak Grammar School, in a wing added to their home at 652 High Street, Armadale. By 1898 further additions were necessary to provide boarding accommodation and another schoolroom.23 Although Goldstraw continued to act as Examiner in Drawing for the Education Department, no mention was made of drawing in the school's advertisements or speech night reports: these stressed preparation for a useful life, healthy outdoor team games and the encouragement of a love of literature through the provision of a free library.24 The school proved at least a modest success, with the students moving on to take up places at Melbourne University or in the commercial world, until Goldstraw's health began to fail and his ability to work effectively was decreased by Bright's disease. He died on 2 January 1909.25
In July 1903 Goldstraw exhibited his final painting with the Victorian Artists’ Society. A portrait of an unnamed subject, it passed unnoticed by the critics.

Appendix: Works By Frank Goldstraw

1871 Portrait of Sarah Watson
1875 ‘A Naval Officer’ (VAA)
‘An Undergraduate’ (VAA)
‘Portrait of the Rev. R. Hill’ (VAA)
1876 Portrait (VAA)
1877 ‘A Smile’ (VAA)
‘John the Baptist’ (VAA)
‘Near Airey's Inlet’ (VAA)
1880 Woodcut of Charles Tschaggeny's ‘Under Fire’, reproduced in the Australasian Sketcher, Nov./Dec.
1881 ‘A Lay Sermon’ (VAA)
1882 ‘Goddess of the Hearth’ (VAA)
Portrait of an Unnamed Child
1883 ‘No Cake for a Month’ (VAA)
‘A Home Rule’ (VAA)
‘L'Allegra’ (VAA)
‘La Penserosa’ (VAA)
1884 ‘Cousins’ (VAA)
Portrait of an Unnamed Elderly Gentleman (VAA)
Portrait of Redmond Barry
Portrait of Dr J. S. Waugh
1887 ‘A Looking Glass Portrait’ (VAA)
‘Secrets’ (VAA)
1888 ‘Narcissa’ (VAA)
‘The North Wind’ (VAA)
1889 ‘The Image of Her Mother’ (VAS)
1890 Portrait of General Gordon
Portrait of Dr E. Watkin
1894 Woodcuts of Wesley College, Wesley College Chronicle, April, June 1894
1903 Portrait (VAS)
— Date unknown:
Portrait of Julia Dickinson
Bas relief profile of James Samuel Swindley
My thanks to Peter Wilkie, Librarian, Wesley College, for his enthusiasm and unfailing support.
Marion Amies


Marion Amies, “The career of a colonial schoolmistress”, in, Imelda Palmer (ed.), Melbourne Studies in Education 1984 (MUP 1984), p. 72.


J. Alex Allan, The Old Model School. Its History and Romance 1852–1904 (MUP, 1934), pp. 158–60.


Amies, “The career of a colonial schoolmistress”, pp. 72–3; University of Melbourne Archives, student record card.


Amies, “The career of a colonial schoolmistress”; Marion Amies, “The author of Noel Hope's Milliara: An Australian Romance”, in Bibliographical Society of Australia and New Zealand Bulletin, vol. 6, no. 2, pp. 65–7.


Dr Syme at farewell to Goldstraw, 2 October 1895, quoted in Wesley Chronicle (WC), December 1895; A. H. S. Lucas, His Own Story (Sydney, 1937), p. 128.


Amies, “The career of a colonial schoolmistress”, pp. 64–76.


Lucas, His Own Story, p. 134; WC, July 1889, pp. 738–41, 755–6; WC, December 1880, p. 215.


WC, 1882, p. 299.


e.g., WC, 1890, pp. 828–9, 1891, p. 888, 1892, pp. 916, 974, 1878, p. 36, 1882, pp. 320–1, 1891, p. 872, 1892, p. 933, 1890, p. 828.


Works exhibited by Goldstraw are included in the Appendix; MS 7593, VAS Papers, La Trobe Collection, including letter to the Academy, 26 December 1877.


Daily Telegraph (Melb.), 14 March 1881.


12 Daily Telegraph (Melb.), 22 March 1882, 6 May 1889, 14 March 1881; WC, July 1889, pp. 744–5.


WC, April 1882, p. 294, July 1890, p. 814.


WC, June 1884, p. 441; Lucas, His Own Story, p. 128; Peter Allen Ryan, Redmond Barry (Melbourne, 1972); ADB, vol. 3, pp. 108–11.


Law Institute Journal, October 1976, p. 405; personal communication from the Institute Librarian.


Age, 7 June 1890; Argus, 7 June 1890. My thanks to Mr Bob Flavell of the Gordon Homes for his generous assistance. Ashley appears in the Melbourne directories from 1888 to 1907 as an artist or litho artist.


Letter from Dorothy Watson, 24 February 1987.


Personal communication, Mrs Phyllis Hoskins.


Education Department of Victoria, transcript of service record; Allan, The Old Model School, p. 159.


Allan, The Old Model School, p. 159; ADB, vol. 4, pp. 193–4; Alan McCulloch, Encyclopaedia of Australian Art (Hawthorn, Vic., 1984), vol. 1, p. 370; Age, 8 March 1884.


MS 7593, La Trobe Collection: voting papers, minutes, 4 April 1882; VAS 1889 Exhibition Catalogue.


Wesley College, Executive Committee, minutes: 31 August 1892, 13 October 1892, 23 February 1893, 16 June 1893, 26 September 1893, 24 November 1893, 17 January 1894, 30 May 1895; Amies, “The career of a colonial schoolmistress”, pp. 75–6.


Amies, “The career of a colonial schoolmistress”, pp. 76–7.


James Smith (ed.), The Cyclopedia of Victoria (Melbourne, 1904), pp. 31–2; Prahran Telegraph, 19 December 1897.


Amies, “The career of a colonial schoolmistress”, pp. 75–6; death certificate, V1909/43.