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'The crimson thread of kinship' Henry Parkes
, c. 1898

by Nelson Illingworth

painted terracotta (including base: 45.6 cm x 23.5 cm depth 14.5 cm)

The Hon. Sir Henry Parkes GCMG (1815-1896) was five times premier of New South Wales between 1872 and 1891, and a consistent advocate for union of the colonies (Federation). An ivory-turner by trade, Parkes was a man of meagre education but immense energy, and his stints as premier were only one aspect of a multifarious life encompassing three marriages; many children; five volumes of verse; several prose works; numerous pamphlets; hundreds of letters; and a series of reversals of fortune, including several bankruptcies. By 1881, twenty- five years after winning the seat of Sydney City on the first New South Wales Legislative Assembly, he was recognised abroad as ‘the most commanding figure in Australian politics’. In all, he was an MLA for twelve different seats between 1856 and 1895. Near the end of his political career, in October 1889, he made the speech at Tenterfield, New South Wales, that earned him the title of Father of Federation, calling for a federal convention to work out ‘a great National government for all Australia’. The Federal Convention came to pass in Melbourne in February 1890. There, Parkes responded to a toast to ‘A United Australia’ by asserting that ‘the crimson thread of kinship runs through us all … We know the value of … British origin. We know that we represent a race … for the purpose of settling new colonies, which never had its equal on the face of the earth.’ In his seventies, he was twice remarried (to much younger women); he fathered a child; and he completed his book Fifty Years in the Making of Australian History. Alfred Deakin expressed the complexity of Parkes’s identity when he wrote that ‘there was in him the man he dressed himself to appear’.

Nelson Illingworth trained in sculpture in England and worked as a modeller at the Royal Doulton potteries for nine years before moving to Australia. In the 1890s he set up the Denbrae Fine Art Pottery at Forest Lodge to make a range of flowerpots, fernpots and statuettes. A member of the Dawn and Dusk Club, which also included Henry Lawson and Victor Daley, he made ‘jorums, jugs, goblets and flagons of clay, china and porcelain for the use and delight’ of the members of the Club. Amongst his many portrait heads, busts and statuettes are a bust and a life-or-death mask of Lawson, a fine bust of Cardinal Moran and a life-sized statue of Parkes.

Collection: National Portrait Gallery, Canberra
Purchased with funds provided by the Liangis family 2012
Accession number: 2012.2