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John Connell
, c.1830

by Richard Read junior (attributed)

watercolour on paper laid on cardboard (oval: 25.4 cm x 20.2 cm)

John Connell (c. 1759–1849), free settler, merchant and landowner, came to New South Wales aboard the Earl Cornwallis, which arrived in Sydney in June 1801. Records show that also aboard the Earl Cornwallis was Connell’s wife, Catherine, a convict under sentence of fourteen years transportation. Shortly after arriving in the colony, Connell established an ironmongery and hardware store on Pitt Street. It is believed that Catherine was assigned to her husband as his housekeeper and soon afterwards was awarded a conditional pardon. Connell prospered as a merchant and also went into farming. In 1821, he acquired 1000 acres at Quibray Bay (present-day Kurnell); and in 1828 purchased the land and saltwater marshes that in 1815 had formed the first land grant in the area. By the late 1830s, Connell owned much of the Kurnell Peninsula, but it is thought that he left the management of the Kurnell estates to his son, John junior, who made a living from the harvesting and sale of its timber. Mentions of Connell in the Colonial Secretary’s records note the many substantial contracts he was awarded for the supply of meat to the Government stores, and suggest that his business interests included a pub in Windsor. He also served as a coroner and juror at inquests during the 1810s, and was engaged in various charitable and community pursuits. Connell’s daughter, Margaret, married soldier and part-time explorer Thomas Laycock junior (c. 1786–1823) in Sydney in 1817. They had two sons, John Connell Laycock (b. 1818) and Elias Pearson Laycock (b. 1821). Following Margaret’s death, aged 26, in 1824, John Connell became guardian to his grandsons, who inherited their grandfather’s properties on Connell’s death, aged 90, in August 1849.

Though the artist of the portrait of Connell is unknown, the work is not unlike examples of portraits painted by Richard Read junior (1796–1862), who typically worked in this scale and in watercolour. The resemblance to Read’s work was remarked by the late Andrew Sayers, who viewed the portrait during his time as a curator at the National Gallery of Australia. The portrait of Connell is similar to Read’s portraits of Lancelot Iredale (1830), an ex-convict who, like Connell, ran a successful ironmongery and hardware business in Sydney; and his c.1833 portrait of Reverend Samuel Marsden, both of which are in the collection of the State Library of New South Wales. The State Library of New South Wales collection also includes an 1826 portrait by Richard Read junior of John Connell’s Pitt Street neighbour, Hannah Laycock (1758–1831), whose son, Thomas, married Connell’s daughter, Margaret, in 1817. The portrait was given to the National Portrait Gallery by a descendant of the sitter.

Collection: National Portrait Gallery, Canberra
Gift of Eleanor Thorton 2013
Donated through the Australian Government's Cultural Gift Program
Accession number: 2013.34