Monday, August 1, 2011

An artist between Cromwell and Q-ships: Henry Francis Worsley

1899 statue of Cromwell by Hamo Thornycroft outside the Palace of Westminster, London. Photo by Tagishsimon, licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported, from Wikipedia.

Slightly edited 25 January 2016.

Yesterday, I woke up to find an email from Jayne, of the Our Great Southern Land blog. In her local cemetery, she'd noted reference to an Englishman named Henry Francis Worsley who had emigrated first to New Zealand, apparently after the glitter of gold, then headed trans-Tasman to, as Jayne puts it, turn up his toes in 1876. Her sleuthing had thrown up the fact that his grandson, Frank Worsley, was part of the early 20th century Shackleton expeditions.

As I do, I went looking to see if there was a blog post out of Mr Henry Francis Worsley.

First, why on earth have I got an image of Oliver Cromwell's statue up the top? Well, If you can go by family history sites like Rootsweb, it appears that Henry Francis was a descendant of Cromwell, the chap who became Lord Protector in England, Ireland, Wales and Scotland when Charles I's head was lopped off in 1649. Cromwell's daughter Francis married Sir John Russell, their daughter Elizabeth married Sir Thomas Frankland, Mary Frankland married Sir Thomas Worsley of Hovingham, their son was also Thomas, his son was Rev. George Worsley, Rector of Stonegrave and Scawton, and one of his sons was Henry Francis Worsley (1806-1876). This means, if you also go by The Plantagenet Roll of the Blood Royal by Melville Henry Massue Ruvigny et Raineval (marquis de), (1907, part online at Google Books), then not only was Henry Francis Worsley great-great-great-great-grandson to Oliver Cromwell, there was a bit of the Plantagenet blue blood (via the Franklands, apparently) in his veins. Then again, Victorian genealogies have a lot in common with pinches of salt.

What is known via newspapers is the following.

Married, Sept. 1, at Ryde, Henry Francis Worsley, esq. of Hovingham, Yorkshire, to Catherine Agnes, youngest daughter of the late Benj. Blackden, esq. of Bedlow House, Bucks.
Hampshire Advertiser (Southampton, England) 17 September 1831

By 1858 Worsley had come to live in Christchurch. (Lyttleton Times 10 February 1858) Researchers state earlier dates for his arrival (see comments below), which may be correct, but the available newspapers searchable online show him here at least by then.

At that point, his artistic side took over. He exhibits a “gallery of pictures” at a “conversazione” at the Mechanics Institute, Christchurch, in August 1859. (Lyttleton Times 23 July 1859) Later reports alluded to him exhibiting fairly frequently on this side of the Ditch, but I've yet to find anything from the period between that exhibition at the Mechanic's Institute, and when he popped up in Melbourne in 1868.

H F WORSLEY, artist, No. 6 Cardigan-street, Carlton, has a variety of OIL PICTURES on view, that have been highly valued, and is prepared to take any commission.
Melbourne Argus 2 September 1868

Mr H J. Worsley, an artist of very considerable merit, who has practised his arts for some years past in New Zealand, has recently arrived in this city (Melbourne). His studio has, during the last few days, formed a centre of attraction for the lovers of the fine arts amongst us. Mr Worsley's productions have been very much admired by those who have had the pleasure of inspecting them, and the public journals speak very highly of them, both individually and collectively.
Otago Daily Times 7 September 1868

The art reviewer for the Argus in Melbourne however, while obviously trying very hard not to say that Worsley's body of work was rubbish, still came quite close.

The Argus of Aug. 26 has the following: — We had the pleasure yesterday of examining some works from the easel of Mr H. J. Worsley, an artist who has resided for some years in New Zealand, and who has come to Melbourne to practise his art. Mr Worsley is an enthusiast in painting, and his works bear testimony to an intelligent and severe study of the great masters. The works which he has now collected in his studio, and some of which were painted many years ago, indicate a cultivated and disciplined taste, considerable skill in manipulation, some degree of imagination, and perhaps also some of those lofty if unfulfilled aspirations which are necessary to the true artist. There are two large cartoon pictures— the one, the Angel appearing to the Shepherds on the night of the Nativity; the other, Edward the Black Prince receiving the submission of the King of France after the battle of Poitiers. These are subjects which require the very highest kind of artistic genius to deal with satisfactorily; and although Mr Worsley's paintings have many meritorious points, they are wanting in power and imagination. The best of the two is the Angel appearing to the Shepherds. The figures are well grouped; both the drawing and the colouring display many excellences, and some of the countenances are not without considerable character and expression. The other picture, however, appears commonplace and insipid. The composition of the picture is feeble, and a more harmless-looking and characterless assembly of warriors was never brought together on canvas. It is, however, in his smaller pictures, and especially, we think, in his copies, that Mr Worsley 's qualities as an artist may be most favourably observed. His copy of the smaller of Rubens' pictures, "The Descent from the Cross," now in the Munich Gallery, is a very finished work, and reflects in a high degree the merits of the great original. In some of Mr Worsley's own less ambitious works his powers appear to considerable advantage. For instance, the King and the Queen of the Fairies, in the "Midsummer Night's Dream," is a light and graceful production. The picture of David returning across the brook with the head of Goliath is a work of fair merit, but most people, we think, will be of opinion that the countenance of the young Hebrew is too effeminate. A visit to Mr Worsley's studio will well repay the trouble.
Christchurch Star 10 September 1868

Perhaps there were those among the Christchurch Star's readers who nodded with wry smiles, knowing full well the extent of Worsley's talent. Still, in the face of doubt (everyone else's), Worsley kept right on believing that he had something to offer. He seems to have gone back to New Zealand for a time, then returned to Melbourne by 1872, raring to go with a vast collection of his art work. The Argus was still somewhat less than impressed.
Mr. H. F. Worsley, an artist who has been resident in the Australian colonies for many years and who returned recently from New Zealand, has opened an exhibition of his own paintings at 135 Latrobe-street east. The collection comprises about 100 pictures. The subjects are chiefly Scriptural, classical, and historical, with a few landscapes. Some of the paintings are admittedly unfinished. A few, Mr. Worsley says, are of European reputation, but various opinions will, no doubt, be expressed as to their merit.
Melbourne Argus 15 May 1872

A Melbourne journal states that in a very unassuming little wooden building, near the top of Latrobe-street east on the left hand side going up, there has just been opened to the public a collection of painting under the designation of the Melbourne Exhibition of Divine Art. This title is somewhat pretentious, as well as incorrect, but the collection is not without merit. It numbers about fifty pictures, all from the easel of the exhibitor, a hard-working New Zealand artist, Mr. H. F. Worsley, who has come over to Melbourne with the intention of opening a school of art. There are two copies of Reubens— one of the Crucifixion, the other of the Taking Down of Christ from the Cross; several historical pieces, landscapes, studies after great artists, and portraits. Amongst the portraits is a very good one of Mr. Fawkner. The collection is worth a visit, but the dingy appearance and bad lighting of the place are against it.
Evening Post 1 June 1872

Undeterred, he entered examples in the Melbourne International Exhibition of 1872.

The fourth Melbourne exhibition of natural products and works of art will be formally opened by His Excellency the Governor at noon to-day …

What induced Mr. H. F. Worsley, of 123 Latrobe-street east, to send such a painting as "The Temptation of Christ on the Mountain " it is hard to discover. Apollyon looks exactly like Mr. O Smith as the Elf of the Eddystone.
Melbourne Argus 6 November 1872

Jayne says that, at the time, there seemed to be a major swing in taste away from traditional art. Some of the criticism was aimed at his lack of imagination. Worsley was, possibly, simply a good copyist, but so-so artist. Still, there he stayed, perhaps painting almost to his last breath. He may have had an "unassuming" and "dingy" building in which to display his work in 1872, but he apparently wasn't exactly living life in an artist's garret. Jayne found the following description of his home, up for auction after his death, called Hovingham Lodge (named, doubtless, after the seat of his forefathers back home.)

That very convenient and substantially built villa residence, known as Hovingham-lodge, situated Waverley-road, Gardiner, near tho Racecourse Hotel, with stabling, harness room, necessary outoffices, and eight acres land attached.
Melbourne Argus 9 September 1876

He died 24 July 1876, with an estate probated at £1000, and a  "very large and valuable collection of OIL-PAINTINGS, etc, among which will be found some really first class subjects" waiting to be auctioned by his executor, son Charles.

 Frank Arthur Worsley, from Wikipedia
At least one of Henry Francis Worsley's sons, Henry Theophilus Worsley (who was a labourer), stayed over here in New Zealand, and had a son in turn at Akaroa who earned quite a name for himself. Frank Arthur Worsley (1872-1843) turned out to be a mariner and naval officer (active war service during WWI with the Royal Navy on Q-ships, hunting German U-boats), polar explorer (he was captain of the Endurance on Shackleton's 1914-1916 Antarctic expedition) and writer.

Henry Francis may not have been a sensation in the art world, but his bloodline did provide our country with a hero.

Update: Writer of the Purple Sage (Yardy Yardy Yardy blog) has just sent this link to an image of a derivative work from an H F Worsley painting (which, knowing Worsley, was probably derivative at least in part.) At least it's something. Cheers!


  1. Hello,
    intersting biography of Worsley. There may be some discrepency regarding dates however. It seems he was Drawing Master at Kings's College London until 1855, and therefore could not have moved to Canterbury much before 1856, see here -

  2. Except ... that the citation used in the Wiki article on his grandson uses the shipping list of the "Cornwall" arriving in Lyttleton as a source.

    Christchurch Library says the same.

  3. Hello,
    have done some further research. Contacted Kings College London and received the reply below.
    (The Worsley mentioned in shipping list of the Cornwall is H.E. Worsley, not Henry Francis Worsley, the Christchurch listing seems to interperet this as being Henry Francis! Chinese whispers?!)

    'I have checked the King's College Calendars between 1850 and 1855 and have found Henry Worsley listed in from 1851-1854 as the Landscape Drawing and Perspective Professor and then from 1854-1855 as the Professor of Fine Arts at King's.
    I hope this answers your query and wish you luck in your research.

    Dáire Rooney,
    Archives Assistant'

  4. Okay -- so I'll edit out the part prior to 1858. Thanks!

  5. Yes Wikipedia has him arriving in NZ : "Henry Francis Worsley (1806–1876), had migrated from Rugby in England aboard the Cornwall to Lyttelton, where he arrived with his large family in December 1851.

    1. Re : Around 1858 Worsley came to live in Christchurch. (Lyttleton Times 10 February 1858)
      I have looked up this page on papers Past - can I ask what article exactly you are referring to that says H F Worsley cam to NZ abt 1858? I can't find mention of him.
      Everything else says he came in to NZ in 1851. Are their two Henry Francis Worsley's?? There is a Worsley on the Cornwall passenger list as H E BUT he came with his family and most of his children's names seem to match up with those on the Cornwall. So how can he be teaching Art in England in 1855 and emigrating to NZ in 1851? I am trying to figure out if both H F Worsley the Artist is in fact H F Worsley who emigrated to NZ in 1852 and was the ascendent of Capt Frank Worsley.

    2. I've just found the same reference I saw while doing this article back in 2011 -- in the newspaper and at the date that I cited. Try searching "Worsley" in that paper, at that exact date, and you'll see how I came to the conclusion of "around 1858".

    3. Perhaps -- I could just simply amend the post to "by 1858". I'm not saying he came precisely that year, but that the earliest documented reference to him here was in 1858.