Don’t miss the opportunity to view a collection of recently unearthed artworks by one of Fremantle’s most fascinating and unheralded maritime figures, 19th Century Harbour Master, Captain George A.D. Forsyth.
Opening 6:30pm Friday 7 June at Fremantle Arts Centre, Pilot Painter unveils 14 rarely-seen paintings and drawings created between 1870 and 1893, offering a glimpse of Fremantle Port and Rottnest as they were in the late-1800s. The exhibition includes a newly rediscovered oil painting of a melancholic Arthur Head vista, dated before the construction of C.Y. O’Connor’s new harbour in 1892.
George Forsyth was born in London in 1842. Raised in a working class family, little is known about his early art making but it’s believed he was taught to draw by his godfather George Cruikshank, a popular London illustrator at the time.
City of Fremantle Art Collection Curator Andre Lipscombe is excited to share Pilot Painter with the public.
“George Forsyth was a man of ambition and distinction but his life was also marked by tragedy,” Lipscombe said. “He survived shipwrecks, the death of children, a stabbing and public humiliation, and all the while he was sketching and recording his surroundings.”
Uneducated, Forsyth began working on seagoing vessels at age 14 and arrived in Fremantle in 1863 as a 21 year old, at a time when Fremantle’s population was largely made of up male convicts. Forsyth became a Water Police Constable in 1869, capturing and returning escaped convicts to the colony. During this time Forsyth married the daughter of a convict, Marion Henderson. The pair had four children, two of whom died from illness within eight years.
In 1868 Forsyth left the Water Police after his throat was slit in a vicious altercation with an escaped convict. He went on to become the assistant Port Pilot and a qualified pilot and it was in this role that Forsyth started to document colonial landmarks across Fremantle and Rottnest.
Forsyth was Fremantle Harbour Master for 12 years and briefly WA’s inaugural State Harbour Master until 1885, when he was fired for falling asleep on the job, although it’s believed his career was victim in part to the politics and policies of Governor Broome’s administration of the time.
The exhibition has garnered great support from Forsyth’s family. His great grandson Ian Forsyth said, “George’s artwork has for 125 years been scattered amongst several collections and has not before been displayed as a body of work. We hope this modest but historically significant exhibition will add to the slender visual record of Fremantle’s history in the days before the prevalence of photography.”
Pilot Painter will feature works from the WA Museum, National Trust of WA and private collections. These works will be shown alongside a selection of original 19th century photography of Fremantle Port from the City of Fremantle’s Civic Collection. Pilot Painter is open daily until Sun 21 July.
Pilot Painter will be accompanied by a new book about the life of George Forsyth. A Hazardous Life by Ian and Ron Forsyth, published by the Maritime Heritage Association WA Inc.
Opens 6:30pm Friday 7 June | Exhibition runs Saturday 8 June – Sunday 21 July | Free Entry
08 9432 9565