Celebrating 30 Years: Issue 10

The Collectors

While Alfred Felton (profiled in Issue 5) is arguably the best-known benefactor of an arts organisation in Australia, there have been others who left their donations in the form of cultural items, rather than money, who have been equally significant. In this edition we profile two of them, and the institutions which were created as a result of their benefactions.

Howard Hinton; short-sighted man, long-sighted benefactor

Howard Hinton was born in England in 1867, and arrived in Sydney in 1892. As a young man he had visited the art galleries of Europe and developed a deep appreciation of the arts; for a time he attended art classes, but his wish to become an artist himself was frustrated because he was acutely short-sighted.

On his arrival in Sydney, Hinton took a position as a junior clerk. At this time he was living in the artists’ camps around what is now Paddington, and it was there that he met such artists as Tom Roberts and Arthur Streeton, then at an early stage of their own careers. He travelled widely as part of his job, and continued to collect art as his own career advanced – he became a director of his company, then the McArthur Shipping & Agency Company, in 1916. He made two attempts to enlist in the army during the First World War, but again his eyesight problems stood in the way of his desires.

Hinton made his first gift, a collection of sketches by English artist Phil May, to the National Art Gallery of NSW in 1914. By 1948 his gifts to the Gallery totalled 122 pictures, many of major importance. He was a trustee of the gallery from 1919 to 1948, and in 1932 he was presented with a gold medal for his services to art by the Sydney-based Society of Artists.

Hinton retired in 1928, and spent three years in England. While absent from Australia, he formed the idea of endowing an institution in a regional area with an art collection; he focused on the Teachers’ College in Armidale, NSW, believing that such an endowment would allow the students of the college to access important Australian art. The first donation to the Teachers’ College arrived in 1929, and over the next 19 years Hinton’s donations reached over 1000 works of art and 700 art books. He hoped to turn the collection into a thorough representation of the development of Australian art from 1880, and it came to include works by William Dobell, Hans Heysen, Margaret Preston, Thea Proctor, Tom Roberts, Arthur Streeton and the Lindsay family. Norman Lindsay described it as the only complete collection of Australian art in the country.

Despite his wealth and importance in the art world, Hinton did not accumulate many outward signs of personal wealth; he never married and lived alone in a small (10 foot by 12 foot) room in a boarding house in Cremorne until his death. He was a generous, and usually anonymous, donor to many charitable projects, and enjoyed surfing and writing poetry, as well as socialising with a close circle of friends, many of whom were artists whose company he delighted in. He died in 1948.

The Armidale Teachers’ College became part of the University of New England. In the 1970s, another benefactor – Sydney art identity Chandler Coventry – offered his collection of more than 300 works to the city of Armidale, provided a facility would be built to house both his and Hinton’s collection. The New England Regional Art Museum (NERAM) opened in 1983, with the Hinton and Chandler collections as the showpiece.

David Scott Mitchell; quiet collector

David Scott Mitchell was born in 1836 in Sydney, and was one of the University of Sydney’s first graduates, winning a mathematics scholarship as well as prizes in physics and chemistry. Brought up in a wealthy household where scholarship and reading were encouraged, he became a devoted bibliophile. Early in life, he preferred Elizabethan works and the Romantic poets, and built up a collection which included an early edition of Spenser’s Faerie Queene and many first editions of poets such as Byron, Keats and Shelley. From the mid-1880s he became interested in collecting Australiana, and this is what his collection eventually became known for. He had few rival collectors to contend with at this time, and was fortunate enough to have the means to fully indulge his passion. By 1900 his collection exceeded 10,000 volumes.

Mitchell’s collection was mainly built up through personal visits to bookshops and second-hand dealers around Sydney; he had a hansom cab permanently booked for his regular Monday visits to the dealers. He was willing to go to great lengths to acquire special items, at one time purchasing the entire collection of a rival book-buyer in order to obtain one of the items within. This item, the original of Joseph Banks’ Endeavour Journal, is one of the jewels of the current Mitchell collection.

Towards the end of the nineteenth century Mitchell was encouraged by the principal librarian of the Public (now State) Library of New South Wales, HCL Anderson. It may have been this connection which encouraged Mitchell to bequeath his entire collection to the Library, on conditions that it be housed separately and called the Mitchell Library, and also that it be made freely available. During the last years of his life, he negotiated with the New South Wales government on the construction of the building to house his collection, which was begun in 1906.

Little is known of Mitchell’s personal life; he is alleged to have suffered a broken heart after a failed romance, but more severe was the blow he received on the death of his father in 1869; the will was contested in a notorious case which Mitchell found a difficult experience. While he had taken part in Sydney’s social calendar in his youth, after his mother’s death in 1871 he became increasingly isolated; he never married and had no children. He lived austerely and alone in his house in Darlinghurst Road, eating two identical meals of grilled chops per day; he had few close friends, but willingly showed his collection to visiting scholars. Apart from the bequests to the library, his benefactions were apparently exclusively devoted to assisting scholars in need.

David Scott Mitchell died in July 1907, holding a copy of one of his rare Australian poetry books in his hand. He left his entire collection to the library, along with an endowment of 70,000 pounds to enable the acquisition of new works – a sum of almost $1 billion in today’s terms. The Mitchell Library was opened in 1910, with over 60,000 volumes. It was the first research collection dedicated to Australiana, and is still one of the largest Australian history collections in the world.


Howard Hinton, NERAM

  Hinton, Howard,  Australian Dictionary of Biography Online

  The book collector:  one man’s giant quest

  David Scott Mitchell:  RAHS Foundation Patron

  Mitchell, David Scott,  Australian Dictionary of Biography online


Lateline, 24 July 2007

Aug. 02, 2007

 Tags: stories, 30 year celebration

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