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Department of Premier and Cabinet

Frances Rowntree

Significant Tasmanian Women icon

(1892 - 1966)
Artist and Historical Researcher

Fearn RowntreePhotograph sourced from Tasmaniana Collection State Library of Tasmania

Frances Fearnley Rowntree, better known as Fearn, was one of nine children born to Francis and Anna Fearnley. Although not as well known as her sister, Amy, Fearn made a major contribution to Tasmanian historical research, in particular colonial and Georgian architecture through her art.

Fearn followed in her older sister Amy's footsteps and became a teacher, one of the few professions open to women in the early twentieth century. She was appointed Mistress of Method at the Elizabeth Street Practising School in 1921.

In 1924 she trialled the Dalton Plan, developed early in the twentieth century by Helen Parkhurst. The Dalton Plan is a progressive and quite radical approach to education which takes a much less regimented approach to teaching. However, the Dalton Plan had a short life in Tasmania as many teachers had difficulty working successfully with the plan. Fearn's report can be found in the Archives Office of Tasmania.

By 1945 Fearn had been appointed Education Officer for Infant Schools, a position she appears to have held until her retirement in 1951. However, Fearn's real accomplishment was art, particularly her sketches of historic buildings and architectural features.

Helen Frizell interviewed Fearn for an article on Battery Point in the Women's Day with Women (27/4/1964). The article describes the uniqueness of the architectural heritage of Battery Point, and highlights Fearn's contribution to that community "Capturing the past before it vanishes is the self-appointed task of artist Miss Fearn Rowntree who, in the past 13 years, has made thousands of pencil sketches of the area."

Fearn made the following comments in the article:

I'm a field worker, and only moved away from Battery Point because it had sad associations for me. My sister, Amy, was a historian. She dug into the archives and wrote books about the area. I illustrated them.

When asked what she particularly loved she replied:

Colonial cottages and Georgian houses with those graceful fanlights over the doors. Wood-panelled doors themselves, particularly the few which have 2 tiny glass panels high up. These allowed householders to see who stood outside in the days when bushrangers and convicts roamed Battery Point.

Whilst Fearn is best known for her published sketch books Battery Point Sketch Book and Hobart Town: Van Diemen's Land, she was also active in the wider arts community and was a talented artist.

Presented to Irma and Jan Buza, reproduced with permission from Wanda Buza.  Old Barn at Mangalore

Fearn Rowntree 1950

She exhibited in the annual Art Society of Tasmania exhibitions from 1924 to 1935. A study of the exhibition catalogues reveals that Fearn, who was exhibiting with well known professional artists, was not limited to architectural drawings. The following is a sample of her scope:

1924 Study of a Studio
1925 The Old Gums, St. David's Cemetery
She Oaks, Rosny
1926 A Tip Toe
1927 Steps at Secheron
A Blue Sea, Bicheno
Still Waters, East Coast
Sand Dunes
Swansea
1928 Study of a Doorway
Battery Point
Cliffs at Brown's River
The Bathers
1929 Bonnet Farm
Burnt Gums
Holidays on Kingston Beach
Outward Bound
Tasmanian Forest
1930 Forest Scene, Tahiti
The Dancers, Tahiti
Forest Road, Tahiti
At Moonea
In the South Seas
1931 Bathers
Corn Field
Picknickers
Brown's River Beach
Red Chapel Beach
1932 Acton, Brown's River Road
At the Shot Tower
Parliament Square
Study of a Fireplace

Fearn's entries for 1935 include a number of English scenes. These, along with the 1930 entries hint at expeditions she may have made overseas.

Fearn, along with her sisters Amy and Millicent, was also instrumental in the establishment of Narryna (Hampden Road, Battery Point) which opened in 1957 as a first class memorial folk museum. Peter Mercer writes in his history of Narryna:

In May 1955 the Government announced that a folk museum was to be established at Narryna to mark the sesquicentenary of Tasmania. The museum's mission would be to pay tribute to the courage and fortitude of Tasmania's pioneers.

The principal instigators were the three Rowntree sisters Amy, Fearn and Milli, who had lived in Battery Point all their lives, and prominent Hobart physician and historian Dr W.E.L.H. (later Sir William) Crowther. Amy, a retired school teacher, had already written a history of Battery Point that was published in 1951 and Fearn, an accomplished artist, had had a book of her sketches of early buildings published in 1953. Milli was the secretary of the Battery Point Progress Association. They arranged the lease of the house from the Government by a newly constituted Board of Trustees that included Dr Crowther as chairman, Amy Rowntree as honorary secretary, businessman Sir Geoffrey Walch, educator Dr Wilfred Teniswood, Alderman Mabel Miller, MHA, solicitor F.C. Wolfhagen, architect I.G. Anderson, and maritime historian Captain Harry O'May.

From 1935 Fearn, who never married, lived with her spinster sisters Amy and Millicent in Bramble Carr, the first home built in Clarke Avenue, Battery Point. She left after the death of her sister Amy, with whom she seems to have had a particularly close relationship.

In May 1962 Fearn held what appears to be the only individual exhibition of her artwork at the Lloyd Jones Art Gallery, Hobart. The exhibition was a memorial to her sister Amy, who had died earlier in the year.

Fearn died in June 1966. Her obituary can be found in the Mercury newspaper 17 June 1966, p.5

Fern Rowntree bibliography:

Battery Point Sketch Book, 1953?

The Early Settlement of Sandy Bay, 1959 [Illustrator]

Hobart Town: Van Diemen's Land [n.d.]

Collection of 39 pencil sketches for the book: The Early Settlement of Sandy Bay - held at the Allport Library

References:

"The last battle of Battery Point" by Helen Frizell in Women's Day with Women, April 27, 1964, pp. 8-9

Mercer, Peter, Narryna Heritage Museum: Built for a Merchant: the History of a Colonial Gentleman's Residence, Hobart: Narryna Heritage Museum, 2002.

Mercury newspaper, 22 May 1962, p.9
Mercury newspaper, 17 June 1966, p.5

Phillips, Derek, Making a More Adequate Provision: State Education in Tasmania, 1839-1985, Hobart: Tasmanian Government Printer, 1985.


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