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FEATURE: Quest to find missing portraits leads historian on 9,500-mile trip to Suffolk




Four faces gaze down from the wall in the founders’ gallery of one of Australia’s oldest and most famous sports clubs ... but one key player is missing.

Melbourne Cricket Club, which now has the biggest cricket ground in the world, would dearly love to find a lost portrait of its fifth founder, George Brunswick Smyth.

Now a search by a Melbourne historian has led to the Suffolk village of Chelsworth, where he spent his childhood.

Meg Lee beside the founders wall at the Melbourne Cricket Club (MCC) (17040481)
Meg Lee beside the founders wall at the Melbourne Cricket Club (MCC) (17040481)

But the last known mention of two missing paintings is in 1900. After that, the trail goes cold.

Starting the cricket club was only one of the achievements of the enterprising and ambitious Captain Smyth, who died aged just 30. He is also recognised as a founding father of the city itself.

Historian Meg Lee has researched the life of the man who landed in Australia in the 1830s as a British Army officer and quickly became one of Melbourne’s most prominent citizens.

memorial in Chelsworth church to George Stracey Smyth, father of George Brunswick Smyth (17040479)
memorial in Chelsworth church to George Stracey Smyth, father of George Brunswick Smyth (17040479)

“How does a young man so far from home achieve so much in a short life? This was the question that spurred my curiosity about his background and life experiences,” said Meg.

She is now pinning hopes of finding the paintings – or any others of him that might exist – by appealing for leads in Suffolk, where they were sent after the death of his widow, Constantia.

But she did get a tantalising hint of what he might have looked like when she found a memorial to his father in All Saints’ Church, Chelsworth.

Will of George Brunswick Smyth's widow, showing bequest of portrait (s) to his niece, plus carrier's label showing delivery to Chelsworth (17040485)
Will of George Brunswick Smyth's widow, showing bequest of portrait (s) to his niece, plus carrier's label showing delivery to Chelsworth (17040485)

The paintings were left in Constantia’s will to Capt Smyth’s niece, Lady Rose Maryon Wilson – sent care of Rose’s brother, Colonel Fred Pocklington, of Chelsworth.

An 1870 survey of households in the village shows Fred living at the Old Manor.

The will also details bequests to him and his older brother, Col (George) Henry Pocklington, who owned Chelsworth Hall.

Will of George Brunswick Smyth's widow, showing bequest of portrait (s) to his niece (17040483)
Will of George Brunswick Smyth's widow, showing bequest of portrait (s) to his niece (17040483)

Meg is especially keen to trace any descendants of the Pocklingtons, who were landed gentry with estates in Suffolk, Yorkshire and Lancashire.

Capt Smyth’s sister, Amelia Georgina, married into the Pocklington family in 1827. Her daughter Rose married Sir Spencer Maryon Wilson in 1856.

Meg, whose own Scottish ancestors went to Australia less than 20 years after Capt Smyth, came to Chelsworth on a fact-finding mission earlier this year.

“My biggest discovery was to see in the church the memorial to Captain Smyth’s father. This was the first time an image of facial features of the family had been viewed,” she said.

“I have ongoing communication with a descendent of Lady Maryon Wilson, who was the intended recipient of the two paintings.

“Other silverware was bequeathed to members of the Pocklington family, descendants of which I have been unable to find ... yet.”

George Brunswick Smyth was born in – and presumably named after – New Brunswick, Canada, where his father, George Stracey Smyth, was Lieutenant Governor.

His mother died in 1817, when he was two years old. When his father died six years later, George and Amelia were sent to live with their uncle, the Rev John Gee Smyth, who was rector of All Saints’ Church, Chelsworth.

George joined the Army at 17. Around six years later, serving with the 80th Regiment of Foot on convict escort duty, he arrived in the fledgling settlement of Melbourne.

Soldiers from the regiment were recruited into a mounted police force in the Port Phillip district.

He enlisted in 1838, was made officer in charge a year later, and later became a magistrate.

Meg’s extensive research reveals his career expanded as he accepted or initiated various new roles.

Melbourne Cricket Club was one of many organisations he helped to set up. Today – also an umbrella organisation for 12 other sports – it is the largest sporting club in Australia.

It hosted the first tour by an English cricket team in 1862 and is still a regular venue for Ashes tests and other international matches.

Using his personal wealth and payment on retiring from the Army, Capt Smyth also began to buy land.

He owned and named the Brunswick Street area in Melbourne’s Fitzroy district ... maybe after himself, or perhaps because of the British royal family’s connection to the German Duchy of Brunswick.

There has also been a suggestion that the Melbourne suburb of Brunswick was named in his honour by a land speculator.

In November 1839, he married Constantia, daughter of the former governor of the arsenal in Mauritius, who had moved to Australia with her widowed mother.

He bought large tracts of land around Melbourne, including hundreds of acres which he named Chelsworth. The name lives on in a city park.

But he stretched himself to the limits and the depression of the early 1840s brought financial ruin.

He was forced to sell up, and returned with his wife to England, where he died from kidney disease in 1845. Constantia went back to Australia, where she died in 1899.

When Meg came to England earlier this year, she wanted to visit Chelsworth to immerse herself in the surroundings where Capt Smyth grew up as an orphan.

“Prior to leaving Australia, I reached out to the chairman of the Suffolk Family History Society and was kindly referred to Anne Grimshaw, who is a member of the Sudbury branch,” she said.

“Anne met me in this beautiful village and we explored it together, visiting the church and graveyard, and lunched at the Peacock Inn.

“The inn owners were generous in sharing their knowledge of the village referring me to the written history by F Pocklington. It was very memorable day.

“Melbourne has no graphic image of Captain George Brunswick Smyth. To find the portraits that were returned to England in 1900 would be a particularly valued find.”

Meg, who has a daughter and two grandchildren, began taking a serious interest in history research after retiring from a lifelong career in education.

  • Anyone who thinks they could help her trace the missing portraits can contact her by email at meglee44@bigpond.com.