AA 8  George French Angas  Guide to Records
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AA 8  George French Angas

Dates  25 April 1822 - 4 October 1886

Undeniably, George French Angas produced artwork that captured culture, people and landscape for posterity through an eye of a naturalist, recording detail meticulously. Although the assumption could be made, that the watercolours were painted in situ, John Tregenza's observation on the artist's 'drawn on the spot' technique is more likely:

'Preliminary sketches preserved by his descendants and acquired a few years ago by the Australian national Library from Senor Jose Calvo, the Chilean husband of a great-grand daughter, show that Angas normally made rapid pencil sketches in the field, adding colour notes and other directions, and that he kept visual notebooks in which he would record such details as a German wagon, or a shepherd watching a flock of sheep, or a woman working a butter churn, and would then draw on such details to fill out a landscape as required when he came to 'finish' a picture in studio' (Tregenza, 1980, p13)

This theory is also supported by the sketchbooks accessioned in the Alexander Turnbull Library in New Zealand.

Angas's interest in pursuing a life dedicated to art and natural history was not always financially viable, often supplementing his income with work that paid regularly. The lifestyle choice was also enabled by his father, George Fife Angas's (1789-1879) [1] business interests in shipping and banking as well as his interests in the Colony of South Australia and New Zealand.

Angas was born on 25 April 1822 in Holland Park, Moreland Square, Newcastle on Tyne, to George Fife Angas (1789-1879) and Rosetta French (1812-1867). The birth of the fourth out of seven children [2] and eldest son was registered by Richard Pengilly, a licensed Protestant Dissenting Minister.

By the age of three Angas developed an interest in natural history, drawing what he saw on the windows and shutters of his boyhood home in Ilford, England. When the family moved south to Dawlish in Devonshire, Angas began a fascination with shells that he collected on Warren Beach that continued until his death. He later published his discoveries in journals . Angas published his discoveries in journals: a comprehensive list has been published by Tom Iredale, titled 'George French Angas: The Father of Australian Conchology' in The Australian Zoologist, Vol. 12, Part 4, 1959.

Angas was educated in Essex and then at Tavistock Grammar. During his four years at Tavistock Grammar Angas travelled through England and Scotland with his father. At the end of his schooling, Angas, as the eldest son, was expected to work in one of the family businesses but it only lasted for one year. Angas writes:

'I was but one amongst the two millions of might London - a mere cipher: inhabiting but one speck on the wide, free globe. I felt that I was not born to sacrifice every high thought and feeling at the shrine of Mammon: I longed for the natural world; and with a glad and thrilling heart, I shook off, as it were, from my feet the dust of the city, and went forth alone to the uttermost ends of the earth.' [The Kaffirs Illustrated, London, 1849, Introduction]

Sailing alone in one of the family schooners, Angas embarked for Malta and then in a boat for Sicily in the autumn of 1841. Angas travelled overland, sketching along the way, publishing his results in 1842, 'A Ramble in Malta and Sicily in the autumn of 1841 Illustrated with sketches taken on the spot and drawn on stone by the author'. The publication was dedicated to Queen Adelaide.

Upon Angas's return and with an interest in art, he took lessons under the tutelage of Benjamin Waterhouse Hawkins 1807-1894), a sculptor, natural history artist, skeleton reconstructionist and lecturer who later was one of the lithographers for Angas's Illustrated publications along with his second wife Frances Louisa Hawkins (nee Keenan, 1839-1868).

At this time George Fife Angas' health and fortune began to decline. He turned to his land and banking interests in the newly established colony of South Australia. In 1843, Angas's brother John Howard Angas along with his sister, Mrs Evans and family set sail and settled in the Barossa. John Howard Angas's business acumen enabled the families interests to prosper. This coupled with Angas's sense combining art with adventure may have prompted him to shift his interest as well.

In 1844 Angas sets sail in the barque Augustus with John and William Calvert (1828-1913) [3] for South Australia, landing at Cape Verde Islands on the way, enabling a short exploring expedition. Angas sets foot on South Australia soil on 1 January 1844. Within days he joined a party heading for the Murray, Lakes Alexandrina and Albert and the Coorong with Messrs Giles and Randall whose aim was 'to select fresh sheep and cattle runs for the South Australian Company, and my own to examine the aspect and productions of that district'. (Savage Life and Scenes, p 41).

Angas writes restrospectively in 'Savage Life and Scenes':

During my wanderings on the outskirts of civilisation, and amongst savage tribes who had never beheld a white man, I invariably noted down in the instant whatever facts and impressions seen worth recording. 'Nulla dies sine linea'' [no day without a line], was my motto; and, however much exhausted by fatigue, I never lay down to rest without having entered in my journal such observations as could not be registered by the pencil alone. My aim has been to describe faithfully impressions of savage life and scenes in countries only now emerging from a primitive state if barbarism; but which the energy and enterprise of British colonists, and the benign influence if Christianity combined, will eventually render the peaceful abodes of civilised and prosperous communities. But
it is principally as a faithful describer of what struck the mind of an artist seeking to delineate the characteristic features of the countries and people, that I rest my claims to public attention. (pp vii-viii)

Not long after his return, Angas sets forth again exploring Rivoli Bay, Kangaroo Island and Port Lincoln with His Excellency Governor Grey onboard the Government cutter commanded by Captain Lipson. The party returns after two weeks and back in Adelaide, Angas writes of his yearnings for New Zealand:

'One evening in the month of July, whilst sitting in my verandah at Adelaide, I took it into my head to visit New Zealand: a friend had shown me some beautifully ornamented weapons he had brought from thence, and that night I went to bed and dreamed of native pahs [fortified villages] and stately tattooed chiefs. In the morning I was packing up my trunk to go on board a schooner belonging to the South Australian company, which was to sail with a supply of flour for the European settlements in New Zealand.' (Savage Life and Scenes, p224)

For six months Angas visited Wellington, Porirua and the Marlborough Sounds and then sailed to Auckland. He then traversed the Waikato district, Mokau coast, Upper Wanganui and Taupo by canoe and on foot covering 800 miles. During this time he sketched and described the landscape, local inhabitants, buildings, canoes, clothing,
weapons, artifacts, carvings, customs, art, and implements. For an account of Angas's New Zealand voyage see Series Description 6 and 7.

Angas arrives back in Sydney on 30 Dec 1844 and heads for Adelaide on 1 January 1845, visiting Flinders Island on the way. He arrives in St Vincent's Gulf on the 22 January 1845. In June, Angas exhibited his watercolours in the new legislative chamber on North Terrace, Adelaide, by the permission and patronage of Governor Grey from the 18th to the 20th from 10am to 4pm, admission 1 shilling. Catalogues were available for 6d each.

Angas leaves for Sydney in July onboard the Vanguard visiting Portland on the way and reaching Sydney on 21 July 1845. During this time Angas sketches and describes Sydney and the local Aboriginal inhabitants. During July, Angas exhibits his works once again, in the Royal Hotel in Sydney. Before leaving Sydney for England, Angas spent some time making a survey of rock engravings, with Mr Miles and Queen Gooseberry as his guides.

On 10 September 1845, Angas and Pomare set sail on the Royal tar for England. After a short stop on Rio De Janeiro on the way, they land in Dover on 22 February 1846 and arrive in Gravesend on the 23rd. In England, Angas possible exhibits his work first on 17 March 1846, the 5th soiree of the British and Foreign Institution. Two days later the exhibition of 300 works open in the Egyptian hall in Piccadilly. The exhibition was open for three months but didn't pay. The publications went ahead. The folio volumes of South Australia and New Zealand Illustrated was issued in 10 separate parts at one guinea per part, commencing in 1846. The purpose of the publications was, according to Angas: 'to reverse the usual method of description aided by meager illustration, into that of vivid illustrations, explained by brief description.' ('South Australia Illustrated', preface)

Kaye Mead, who arranged and described the watercolours at the South Australian Museum in 1980, and Norman Tindale (1900-1992) [4] before her, is careful to note the differences and censorship employed by the lithographers to the exhibited originals. These have been noted in the Series Descriptions. Another note of interest is the lack of acknowledgement of Samuel Thomas Gill (1818-1880) and Charles Rodius (1802-1860), whose watercolours were published alongside those painted by Angas.

Angas left in late 1846 for South Africa where he sketched and later published the watercolours as lithographs in 'Kaffir Illustrated' in 1849 but did not make any money from the sales. He ventured around Cape Town and surrounds, British Kaffraria, Durban, Natal and Zululand. In Zululand, Angas became ill and was helped by American missionaries.

In 1848, Angas exhibited his works in London, courtesy of Hogarth, his London publisher. At this time he accepted the appointment of Naturalist to the Commission by Lord Palmerston but did not eventutate due to ill health.

On 27 December 1849 Angas marries an Irish girl in Dublin. The Parish Registry records:

'George French Angas, Artist of the Parish of St. Pancras London, and Alisha Moran of Kingstown in this Parish Spinster, were married in the parish Church according to the Rites & Ceremonies of the United Church of England and Ireland by Licence, on the 27th day of December 1849 By me - John H.G. Williams, Curate Asst. of Monkstown. (copy obtained by Tregenza from Mr Henry Angas)

Soon after, Angas and his wife immigrate to Adelaide and open a studio in King William Street, Adelaide from 11am to 3pm. It is intersting to note that Calvert and Waddy's establishment, the 'Artists' Repository was on King William Sreet as well. Angas taught drawing twice per week on Tuesdays and Fridays and charged 2 guineas per quarter.

George and Alisha Angas had four children who were baptized as Catholics:

  • Anna Alicia Margaret Angas, born 26 September 1850, Adelaide SA, married Peter Bruce, 30 October 1875 at St Francis of Assisi Catholic Church, Kensington, England, died 1831?
  • Ada Eleanor Kathlene Angas, born 1854, Sydney NSW, married John Bruce, 28 November 1874, Chapel in Collingrove, SA
  • Georgian Florence Angas, born 1856, NSW, married Alexander Brown, 1883, Kensington, London, died June 1886, Yorkshire England
  • Adelina Beatrice Angas, born. 14 June 1860, Collingrove, SA, married Frederick Blowes, 1893, Paddington, London

On 15 January 1851, George Fife Angas arrives in SA, George French, John Howard and Rosetta are there to meet him. In the sqame year, Angas heads over to the gold rush in New South Wales, the Ophir diggings. He produced a series of plates titled 'Six Views of the Gold Field of Ophir, At Summerhill and Lewis' Ponds Creeks; Drawn from
Nature and on Stone, by George French Angas'. They were published in Sydney by Woolcott and Clarke of George Street and sold individually. Later, five Ophir views had been lithographed by Hullmandel and Walton's new process and published by Hogarth under the title 'Views of the Gold Regions of Australia, drawn on the spot by G. F. Angus.'

Angas continues to sketch: both his father's and his sister, Sarah Evans house; the Victorian goldfields; and two watercolours entitled 'wooloomooloo bay' and 'Double Bay, Port Jackson' both completed in December 1852 are amongst the last major artworks by Angas.

On 1 October 1853 at the rate of 300 pounds per annum and with apartments for his family, Angas commences at the Australian Museum as secretary and accountant. For six years, Angas kept the museum's accounts, attended to official correspondence, catalogued shells, drew specimens in the collection, and carried on research. He makes a donation of 21 ethnographic items and about 298 shells.

In 1858 Angas was left in charge of the Museum. The following year Sir William Denison, trustee and governor-general of New South Wales decided that Angas was not adequately qualified to direct the Museum permanently. Denison persuaded the Government to increase funds to recruit a new Curator from England who would become a
defacto Director, earn a salary above Angas's and dislodge Angas from some of his rooms. Angas resigned on the eve of the new Curators arrival to take effect 1 March 1860.

With a wife and three daughters to support and a 4th child due, Angas's parents and brother came to his assistance. Angas was able to live at Collingrove, his brother John Howard Angas's house, whilst he was in England. George Fife Angas, engineered his son's election as Chairman of the Angaston District Council which he filled for the next two years.

In the 1860s, Angas writes and illustrates books for the Anglican Society for Promoting Christian Knowledge to supplement his income. When writing to Frederick George Waterhouse (1815-1898), the first Curator of the South Australian Museum, Angas notes:
'I am busy writing a book on Australia for the Society for the promotion of Christian knowledge - they pay well, and I am to draw the plates on wood as I did those of Stuart's book.' (SAM correspondence, 19 August 1864)

In 1863 Angas decides to return to England with his family. He writes to Waterhouse:

'I am pulled to pieces also - knocked up, and nearly dead with worry, anxiety and nervous excitement. We start tomorrow morning and hope to be in Adelaide by the last train from Gawler on Monday evening. Do meet us at the station- if not meet me on Tuesday evening at Footes Victoria at 6 p.m. If you can't - we must meet on Wednesday mg. at 10 a.m. at Institute as we have to be on board the Verulain on Wednesday afternoon, and must sail on next morning at daylight right away

But alas! neither you nor I nor any chap with any other sense than Mammon worship can be appreciated in this part of the world'. (AA 298, SAM correspondence, 1 February 1863)

Soon after the family arrives, Angas writes of his voyage to Waterhouse:

'I am over head tears in bustle getting a little settled. We were 123 days on the voyage - very tedious- but no mishap of any sort – in fact the only event that broke the “even tenor of our way - was the visit to St. Helena where we staid for 3 days.' (AA 298, SAM correspondence, 17 June 1863)

Back in England, Angas illustrates books and publishes papers for the Proceedings of the Zoological Society of London. From 1870 to 1886 Angas donated 1500 shells to the British Museum, mainly from Australia, which included types of 240 species described by him. He presented 300 entomological specimens collected in Australia, New Zealand, Turkey, South Africa and the Island of Dominica (which he visited at the age of 62) from 1847 to 1886. Angas became an honoured fellow of the Linnean, Royal Geographic and Zoological societies.

In Angas's later years, health becomes a preoccupation. Angas writes about the decimating effects of smallpox to Waterhouse as well as ill health in the family:

'I am sorry to say that Mrs. A. is still a great invalid – she suffers very much from liver complaint and congestion of stomach. The girls are all well except Tina, the youngest, the poor little dear is laid up with chicken pox and fever.' (AA 298 correspondence, 10 July 1871)

Angas also writes about his own health as well of his father's:

'I was so very ill all last winter with chronic rheumatism and acute neuralgia that I neglected much of my correspondence, and was, in fact, quite incapable of attending anything.

Lately I have been much better, but dread the approaching winter. I suppose you heard that my Father had had a slight paralytic stroke and was seriously ill, but by the last accounts he was better. We are anxiously looking
out for the next mail for further tidings.' (AA 298 correspondence, 20 October 1875)

Much has been speculated about Angas's relationship with his father, particularly as George Fife died leaving an
estate of 800,000 pounds in 1879 of which Angas received only a life annuity of 1000 pounds. But from Angas's correspondence, we can surmise Angas had a genuine concern for his father's health.

Angas becomes quite despondent after his daughter Georgiana's death after giving birth to her second child. Four months later on 4 October 1886 Angas dies at the age of 64 leaving his wife and 3 daughters an estate of 293 pounds plus pictures and books.

Over Angas's lifetime, many of the watercolours were either sold or distributed to family members. In 1902, James Angas Johnston, the son of Angas's sister Rosetta, bequeathed his watercolours to the Board of Governors of the Public Library, Art Gallery and Museum. Initially the entire collection was in the custody of the Art Gallery. In 1912, the watercolours of ethnographic interest were transferred to the Museum. The South Australian Museum is
the custodian for watercolours of South Australia (Series 2), Victoria (Series 4), New South Wales (Series 4 and 5) New Zealand (Series 6 and 7), New Caledonia (Series 8) and South Africa (Series 9). Included in the collection is the ST Gill watercolour (Series 4) and lithographs of South Australia, entomology and Lepidoptera (Series 3).

According to Hale there were at least three other collections at the time of James Angas Johnston's bequest: Mrs Evans of Evandale; Dr George Lindsay Johnson of London; Proprietors of the York Gate Library London who transferred their watercolours to the South Australian Branch of the Royal Geographic Society of Australasia (Currently the Royal Geographic Society of South Australia). Today, Angas watercolours can also be found at the National Library of Australia; lithographs at the State Library of South Australia and original sketchbooks and lithographs at the Alexander Turnbull Library in New Zealand.


  • A Ramble in Malta and Sicily in the Autumn of 1841', 1842, London
  • 'A Catalogue of paintings by George French Angas, illustrative of the natives and scenery of New Zealand and South Australia: also sketches in Brazil, Cape Verde Islands, New South Wales, &c. &c'. London, 1846
  • 'South Australia Illustrated', Large folio issued in 10 parts 1846-1847, London
  • 'The New Zealanders Illustrated', Large folio issued in 10 parts 1847, London
  • 'Savage Life and Scenes in Australia and New Zealand : being an artist's impressions of countries at the antipodes' 2 volumes, 1847
  • 'The Kaffirs Illustrated', Large folio, 1849, London
  • 'Six Views of the Gold field of Ophir at Summerhill and Lewis Ponds Creeks', 1851, Sydney
  • 'Views of the Gold Regions of Australia', 1851, London
  • 'Australia, a Popular Account of its physical features, inhabitants and productions, with the history of its colonization', 1865, London, Society for Promoting Christian Knowledge
  • 'Polynesia: a popular description of the physical features, inhabitants, natural history and productions of the islands of the Pacific. With an account of their discovery, and of the progress of civilization and christianity amongst them', 1866, London, Society for Promoting Christian Knowledge
  • 'Wreck of the Admella and Other Poems', London, 1874
  • Refer to: Iredale, Tom, 'George French Angas: The Father of Australian Conchology' in The Australian Zoologist, Vol. 12, Part 4, 1959, for a comprehensive list of published articles.

Publications that Angas illustrated:

  • Selwyn, George Augustus, 'Annals of the Diocese of New Zealand', London, 1847, Society for Promoting ChristianKnowledge
  • Agricola (said to be John Howard Angas), 'Description of the Barossa Range', 1849
  • Bennett, G 'Gatherings of a Naturalist in Australasia', London, 1860
  • Hardman, W (ed) 'Explorations in Australia. The Journals of John McDouall Stuart during the years 1858, 1859,
    1860, 1861, & 1862, when he fixed the centre of the continent and successfully crossed it from sea to sea', London, 1865
  • Wood, JG, 'The natural history of man: being an account of the manners and customs of the uncivilized races of men', London, 1870
  • Forrest, John, 'Explorations in Australia', London, 1875
  • White, J 'Ancient History of the Maori', Wellington, 1897
  • 'Portraits of the New Zealand Maori' with a modern text by GC Petersen and SM Mead, Wellington, 1972


  1. George fife Angas established his own shipping business in 1824, the G.F Angas & Co. after running the family coach building factory and the shipping and mercantile business from Newcastle with branches in the West Indies and Spanish America. In 1833 he was one of the founders of the Provincial National bank in London, the Union Bank of Australia 1836 and the South Australian Banking Co. in 1840. George Fife Angas, a devout Baptist, campaigned for the emancipation of slaves in the West Indies and as a member of the South Australian Company he lobbied to ensure a convict free colony with no established religion. In the Colony of South Australia, he contributed financially to the migration of German Lutherans and sent out missionaries to Aboriginal communities.
    He contributed to many charities, member of the Legislative Council and had interests in New Zealand.
  2. Children of George Fife Angas and Rosetta French:
    • Rosetta French Angas: b. 25 April 1813 d. 23 August 1898 m. Esquire James Johnson 15 April 1843 m. Rev. John Hannay 18 April 1856
    • Sarah Lindsay Angas: b.13 November 1816 d. 6 June 1898 m. Esquire Henry Evans September 1837
    • Emma Angas: b. 16 May 1818 d. 7 February 1885 m. William Johnson 1843
    • George French Angas: b. 25 April 1822 d. 4 October 1886 m. Alicia Mary Moran 27 December 1849
    • John Howard Angas: b. 5 October 1823 d. 17 May 1904 m. Susanne Collins 10 May 1855
    • Mary Ann Angas: b. 15 October 1826 d. 16 June 1831
    • William Henry Angas b. 28 August 1832 d. 29 July 1879 m. Mary Steward 1859
  3. William Samuel Calvert established an Artist's Repository on King William Street in July 1850. He formed a partnership with the printer Alfred Waddy in 1851 before moving to Melbourne 24 January 1852.
  4. See letter to Dr Peter Crowcroft, the Director of the South Australian Museum from the Managing Director, Publishing of A.H. & A.W. Reed Publishers dated 9 December 1966

References  »