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c. 1830

James Sherwin (1788–1854)

ceramic (stoneware, glazes)

20.5 h x 14 w x 14 d cm

Purchased (Easterbrook Bequest), 1997



This jar was purchased in 1997 from Geoff Ford, collector and historian of early Australian ceramics, with funds from the Easterbrook Bequest. It may have been found in Victoria.


This jar is typical of both the utilitarian wares produced by the colonial potter James Sherwin in Hobart as well as similar contemporary wares made in Britain. Its beauty arises through its unpretentious practical nature and the confidence and quality of its making.

James Sherwin was born in the renowned English pottery district of Staffordshire in 1788 and moved to St Petersburg in the early 1820s. In 1824, floods killed Sherwin’s wife Emma and son Daniel, also destroying his Russian pottery business. In 1831 Sherwin chose to join his brother John in Tasmania, who had migrated in 1823.

Upon arrival, Sherwin petitioned Lieutenant-Governor George Arthur for assistance to set up a local ‘Manufactory of coarse or brown earthenware’. He was granted land near Hobart at what was then known as Potter’s Hill, Kangaroo Bottom, and is now on Pottery Road in the suburb of Lenah Valley. Sherwin’s expectations of a high demand for his wares proved justified and his business thrived. In April 1831 the Hobart Town Courier reported favourably that:

‘Mr. Sherwin having been regularly bred to the business in Staffordshire, seems to have succeeded better in this undertaking than any of his predecessors either here or in Sydney. Some of the jars and other vessels lately imported from the later place, though apparently neat and well made were nevertheless in some degree pervious and allowed the liquid in them to escape. That most particular part, glazing, however, is well executed in the present instance and the vessels are good and sound.’

Sherwin continued to improve his wares. In 1831 and again in 1846 he asked for permission to extract clay from the Queen’s Domain. Sherwin blended this with his Lenah Valley clay to improve its quality; it was also used to make slip (fine liquid clay used for casting and to provide a finishing layer for coarser clays). Sherwin’s business continued to grow and he supplied jars and bottles to businesses in Tasmania and on the Australian mainland. Upon James Sherwin’s death in 1854, the pottery passed to his son Henry and closed soon after.


A glazed, straight-sided, cylindrical stoneware jar with a high shoulder tapering rapidly to a narrow neck and substantial flared opening with a thick, rounded rim. The base is flat with a fine continuous chamfer at its edge. There are three incised lines at the junction of the body and shoulder; the depth of which is inconsistent. The interior, underside and lower part to the body are yellow-glazed while the shoulder and opening have a layer of brown glaze over the yellow. The exterior is smooth and throwing marks are clearly visible in the interior.

Statement of Significance

The Tasmanian Museum and Art Gallery seeks to build a comprehensive representation of decorative arts made in Tasmania throughout the colonial period. James Sherwin came from the well-known pottery district of Staffordshire, England and brought an extensive knowledge of ceramic production to Tasmania. Sherwin’s jar, typical of the high quality utilitarian wares produced in Britain, demonstrates the almost unaltered transfer of technology and forms from Europe to Australia.


Impressed mark on the outside at the base in a rectangular panel: ‘J.SHERWIN’.

This website was made possible through the generous support of the Gordon Darling Foundation, which provided funds for research, equipment and website design.

© 2009 Tasmanian Museum and Art Gallery
This page was last modified on : 26 August, 2010