The Hamilton Inn sofa was purchased at auction in Hobart by the Federal Group for the Tasmanian Museum and Art Gallery in November 2005. The earliest known owner of the sofa is Albert Sonners (1860–1935), the great grandfather of the vendor at that auction. Albert passed the sofa on to his son, Walter William Sonners (b.1893) who then passed it to his wife Ethel Hannah, ‘Dolly’ Sonners (nee Bone) (b.1903). Dolly Sonners gave the sofa to her daughter-in-law Doreen Miley (nee Sonners). Doreen eventually passed the sofa to her daughter Essie Miley, in around 2000. The Sonners family lived in the original Hamilton Inn from 1912 until the 1990s.
There are records of a William Sonners (1817–1900), father of Albert Sonners (b.1860), dying in Hamilton. The earliest mention found for William Sonners in Hamilton is for 1880. It is possible that the sofa was acquired or inherited by William Sonners.
The Hamilton Inn sofa is a sophisticated and ambitious piece of furniture that, in Britain, would have been at the height of fashion in the first decade of the nineteenth century. The decoration is restrained and geometric, consisting of shaped and relieved panels, reeding and tablets of decorative veneers. The apparent simplicity emphasises the sofa’s elegant, curved and sweeping profile.
The design falls broadly into the neoclassical style that influenced British furniture design from the mid-eighteenth century. This style initially drew on the architecture of ancient Rome for decoration and motifs. More specifically, the restrained and lighter design of the sofa is typical of the Greek Revival style of the very early nineteenth century. This style was inspired by more recently published and earlier ancient Greek architecture and pottery. In the nineteenth century, furniture designers in Britain drew ideas from pattern books that had been published in increasing numbers since the mid-eighteenth century. Thomas Hope’s (1769–1831) Household Furniture and Interior Decoration, published in 1807, was the first to promote the Greek Revival style and the drawings emphasise form and silhouette over texture and decoration. This publication may have indirectly influenced the design of the Hamilton Inn sofa.
Its early date, sophisticated design and high standard of workmanship make the Hamilton Inn sofa unique amongst known examples of early Tasmanian colonial furniture. Little is known of its provenance beyond the late nineteenth century, when it entered the Sonners family of Hamilton, Tasmania. The sofa passed from the earliest known owner, Albert Sonners (1860–1935) through the family to the vendor who sold it at auction in 2005. The maker, his or her client and the circumstances of production—including the date of manufacture—remain the subject of research.
As the colony of Van Diemen’s Land would have taken some time to establish after European colonisation began in 1804, it seems likely that the sofa would have been made in the 1820s. Although it is not known where the sofa was made or who the original owner was, there is a possibility that it came from the Hamilton area. During the 1820s a number of the colony’s wealthiest individuals were granted land in the area and built large houses of the kind implied by the scale of the Hamilton Inn sofa. Alternatively the sofa may have been made for a house in one of the larger towns such as Hobart or Launceston.
Double-ended sofa with scrolled arms and out-swept or ‘sabre’ legs. Decoration follows a restrained geometric pattern, consisting of reeding and relief panels, scrolls and tablets, typical of the early nineteenth century Greek Revival style in Britain. Structural components made in Tasmanian hardwoods are disguised by either the upholstery or by cedar panels applied to the front of the seat and arms. These panels are decorated with carved geometric motifs and secured with steel screws; they also serve to disguise the attaching points for the upholstery.
The sofa is upholstered in black horsehair on the back and arms. The palliasse or cushion is a separate component stuffed with horsehair and upholstered in black horsehair on the top and heavy woven fabric on the underside. The back of the sofa has a central tablet motif decorated with veneers and supported on either side by reeded circular motifs. The legs terminate in fitted brass animal claw feet with integral swivel castors.
The Tasmanian Museum and Art Gallery seeks to build a comprehensive representation of decorative arts made in Tasmania throughout the colonial period. The early date attributed to the Hamilton Inn sofa, combined with the sophistication of the design and quality of the workmanship casts a new light on the development of material culture in the early years of European colonisation. The design, scale and ambition of the sofa records the rapid transmission of British fashions to the colony as well as the early presence of highly skilled furniture makers.
Several black ink stamps on linen lining of back upholstery comprised of two concentric circles with text running between them: ‘TECKLENBVRG 1600’. The central circle is halved vertically and has three heart motifs to the left side and an anchor motif to the right. There is crown motif above this.
Black ink stamp on linen lining of back upholstery: an octagon with a motif resembling a thistle.