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Francis Tuckfield
, c. 1854

by an unknown artist

oil on canvas (frame: 63.3 x 52.6 cm, support: 53.5 x 43.8 cm)

Francis Tuckfield (1808–1865), missionary, worked as a miner and a fisherman before deciding to become a preacher. Selected by the Wesleyan Mission of London as a missionary to the Aboriginal people of the Port Phillip district, he arrived in Australia in March 1838 with his wife, Sarah (née Gilbart c. 1808–1854), staying briefly in Hobart before proceeding to Melbourne. He undertook a number of journeys around the Geelong and Colac districts – some with the ‘wild white man’ William Buckley as his interpreter – to find a place for the establishment of a mission, ultimately settling on a site on the Barwon River near Birregurra where he established the Buntingdale Mission in 1839. Tuckfield declared his aim ‘to induce the natives to abandon their erratic habits … in order that we may teach them the arts of civilised life.’ Sarah supported Francis through her work as the mission’s nurse and teacher, while also raising the six children she bore between 1838 and 1846. Despite Tuckfield’s zeal, the mission struggled to either convert the local Aboriginal people or convince them to stay at the station. His efforts at ‘civilising’ large numbers were also hampered by the worsening impact of tribal strife and of European settlement and disease on the Aboriginal population. The station closed in 1848. Sarah had two more children while they lived in Geelong between 1848 and 1850. For the next three years they were in Sydney, where Francis ministered at the York Street Chapel. In the early days of the next phase of her husband’s career, in Maitland, Sarah died. Her death notice referred to a protracted and painful affliction, which she bore with exemplary patience. From 1856 to 1860, Tuckfield worked in West Hobart and New Norfolk, married again and fathered a further four children with his second wife, Mary Stevens. Following a substantial leave of absence due to ill health, in 1864 he was appointed minister of the Methodist church in Portland, Victoria. He died there in October 1865, having contracted pneumonia while officiating at a funeral.

Family tradition holds that these portraits were painted in England prior to the couple’s departure for Australia in 1837. However, a stamp on the reverse of both works shows that the canvases were supplied by a firm operating between 1851 and 1854, suggesting that these portraits are later, local copies of the original 1837 paintings, possibly made around the time of Sarah Tuckfield’s death.

Gift of the Freer Tuckfield family 2010
Donated through the Australian Government's Cultural Gifts Program
Accession number: 2010.138