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Centre table

Centre table

c. 1830

James Shaw (Tasmania, active 1855–9: attributed)

wood (Huon pine, Australian red cedar, Tasmanian myrtle, Huon pine veneer, unidentified non-native conifer); metal (brass and steel fittings); ceramic (porcelain castors)

74 h x 122 w x 58 d cm

Museum of Old and New Art (MONA) State Collection of the Tasmanian Museum and Art Gallery, collected by Mr George Burrows 2006.



This table is one of a pair. It was purchased by George Burrows from Paul Farmer Antiques (Hobart) in the 1970s. Farmer had acquired it from Ms Oldham, a Hobart book merchant who had owned the pair. No further provenance is known.


The form of this elaborate and finely crafted table is typical of early to mid-nineteenth century Victorian eclecticism. Details such as the turned pendants at the corners of the tabletop and the use of trestle supports lightly reference the English Renaissance or Elizabethan period of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. Designs for such tables were published in Britain as early as the 1820s and through to at least the 1850s (George Smith, 1826; T. King, 1835; and Smee and Sons, 1850). Variations of these designs were popular in mid-nineteenth century Britain and Australia.

Based on an inscription under one of the drawers, this table is attributed to James Shaw, a picture framer and cabinet-maker who arrived in Hobart in 1844. It is also dated on the basis of the same inscription, which refers to an exhibition held in Old Government House in 1850. This exhibition’s purpose was the selection of items to be sent to Britain to represent the industry and resources of the colony at the Great Exhibition of the Works of Industry of All Nations held in 1851. The Tasmanian display was the largest by any of the Australian colonies. This table is known to have been one of a pair and as there is no reference to it in the Great Exhibition catalogue, it can be assumed that the tables did not form part of the Tasmanian display.

The production of this table would have involved the orchestration of a number of skilled craftsmen, including a cabinet-maker, wood-turners and a veneer cutter and layer. The proper exercise of these skills would also have required a supply of good quality, well-dried timber. This table, designed to correspond with the fashionable tastes of the home country, would have been an excellent advertisement for both the colony’s level of technical sophistication and the qualities of its endemic timber resources.


A Huon pine centre table with parquetry top and two drawers supported by two lyre-shaped trestle supports, resting on rectangular platform bases joined by a decoratively turned stretcher. Platforms rest on short, turned feet and swivel castors. The tabletop has a moulded edge and mitred frame to a large panel of elaborate parquetry and marquetry. The panel consists of two sets of three broad bands of highly figured Huon pine veneer that run diagonally in opposing directions and are aligned to the corners of the table. These are bordered with narrow strips of casuarina which, in turn, frame lozenge-shaped interstices between the diagonal bands. These highly figured myrtle veneer sections are enriched with floral sprays of inlayed Huon pine. The lozenge motif is repeated in the ‘overlaps’ between the principal Huon pine diagonals that are occupied by lozenges of myrtle. Under the tabletop there are vertical blocks at each corner terminating in turned pendant finials. Between these the frieze is undecorated and has two hidden drawers to one side. The tabletop rests on two solid Huon pine lyre-shaped trestle supports with open centres containing a turned finial near their bases. The trestles rest on veneered plinths with radiused ends, beneath which there are short, decoratively turned feet with brass and ceramic swivel castors. The plinths are connected decoratively turned stretcher that is expressed on the outer sides by a flat, turned finial.

Statement of Significance

The Tasmanian Museum and Art Gallery seeks to build a comprehensive representation of decorative arts from the colonial period. This includes items made from 1803 to 1901. This table is an example of fashionable high design, made to display the qualities of the endemic Tasmanian timber species used in its decoration as well as the various skills of the maker(s) such as wood-turning, marquetry and cabinet making. The style is typical of late Georgian and early Victorian design in its use of eclectic historical forms. Possibly made especially for the Great Exhibition held in London in 1851, this table indicates the high level of skill available in the colony, access to recent fashionable designs through publications and a desire to promote the colony and its resources in Britain.


Inscription in ink on underside of drawer: ‘Made by a man named Shaw / and exhibited at old Govt House / _______ _______ _______ _______ at an exhibition’.

Later inscription in pencil on underside of drawer: ‘Govt House grounds extended from Public Buildings / Franklin Square to c/o [corner] of Argyle & / Macquarie St. Elizabeth St ended / at Macquarie St.’.

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This page was last modified on : 26 August, 2010