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Prayer stool

Prayer stool

c. 1870
Unknown embroiderer (Tasmania); T Whitesides and Son (Hobart), furniture makers
Wood (Huon pine, Tasmanian blackwood); textile (silk sateen, silk thread, silk velvet, silk braid and gimp, cotton wadding, linen)
Collected by Mr George Burrows. Museum of Old and New Art State Collection of the Tasmanian Museum and Art Gallery, presented 2006
27 h x 117 w x 37 d cm



The prayer stool was collected by George Burrows in Tasmania and presented to the Tasmanian Museum and Art Gallery by the Museum of Old and New Art (MONA) in 2006.


This prayer stool is a domestic version of the church kneeler, made for two. Its canted and upholstered top was designed to make family devotionals more comfortable. The embroidered seat, partially damaged through use, adds a personal touch to what is otherwise a highly finished and professional piece of furniture. The stool itself was made by T Whitesides and Sons of Hobart, Tasmania; the identity of the embroiderer is unknown.

The original Whitesides business was established by James Whitesides (c.1803–90) who arrived in the colony along with the furniture makers William Hamilton and John McLoughlin in 1832. In around 1857 Whitesides was joined in the trade by his son, Thomas Whitesides (1835–1919) referred to in the ink stamp on the underside of this stool.

The stool is unique in design and unusual for Tasmanian colonial furniture in style. The Rococo Revival style, incorporating heavily shaped components and carving, requires considerable skill in execution and signals a short-lived change in taste in the mid-nineteenth century towards more ornate historicist styles and away from the restraint characteristic of late Georgian and Regency furniture. Whitesides are recorded as having made several pieces of furniture in the Rococo Revival style, including the highly ornate Speaker’s Chair made in 1856 for the Tasmanian Legislative Assembly.

The stool would have been used in the more private rooms of the house such as next to the bed, before a private altar or by the fireplace. The embroidery is not commercial and was most probably made by one of the women of the household. While the use of native flora in Tasmanian embroidery can be dated back to the early 1840s, by the middle of the nineteenth century it was becoming increasingly popular as the colonists began to identify with the unique characteristics of their homeland and its flora and fauna.


A long rectangular stool with a slightly canted top on a carved Huon pine and Tasmanian blackwood base with four cabriole legs. The seat is upholstered and embroidered with Tasmanian plants.

The legs and stretchers are carved and shaped to a continuous, symmetrical contour in Huon pine; the contour is accentuated with an applied blackwood beading along the lower edge. The cabriole legs are short with carved foliate decoration at the junction with the seat frame; they have a contrasting blackwood cabochon motif mounted at the knee. The long rails have a carved blackwood foliate motif in the centre with similar, smaller motifs to either side. The shorter rails have matching, smaller motifs at the centre. There is a fine, straight blackwood moulding along the upper edge of the base, above which the stool is upholstered.

The seat is upholstered with a panel of brown/red silk sateen embroidered with a central spray of Tasmanian native plants. This panel is framed with a band of gold braid and a broad border of gold silk velvet. The velvet is trimmed along the lower edge with a band of patterned gimp. The underside is lined with undyed linen. The native flowers represented in the embroidery are: mountain blue berry (Billardiera longiflora); clematis (Clematis gentianoides); Tasmanian waratah (Telopea truncata); Tasmanian native laurel (Anopterus glandulosus); Christmas bells (Blandfordia punicea); wedding bush (Ricinocarpos pinifolius); running postman (Kennedia prostrata); and maidenhair fern (Adiantum aethiopicum).

Statement of Significance

The Tasmanian Museum and Art Gallery seeks to build a comprehensive representation of Tasmanian colonial decorative arts. This includes items made in Tasmania from 1803 through until 1930. This prayer stool is an unusual example of Tasmanian colonial furniture; there are no other known examples of its type. The use of a Rococo Revival style—indicated by the shaping of the legs and stretchers of the stool, and the carved and applied decoration—is also rare in Tasmanian colonial furniture. The styling is indicative of a change in taste in the mid-nineteenth century away from the restrained forms of the Regency and Late Georgian styles towards more ornate and decorative forms.

Of equal significance is the embroidered seat. The seat appears to be contemporaneous with the stool, making it an early example of embroidery incorporating native flowers. The flowers are rendered with considerable accuracy as a decorative spray across the surface of the seat.


Three incomplete elliptical ink makers’ stamps on underside of the linen lining: ‘[T] WHITESIDES & SON / [Furnishing] / WAREROOMS / [48 and 50 LIVERPOOL ST] / HOBART TOWN’.


Fahy, K 1998, Australian Furniture: Pictorial History and Dictionary 1788–1938, Casuarina Press, Sydney, p. 133–4.

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This page was last modified on : 26 August, 2010