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Anthony Alder, taxidermist, natural history painter, publican and prospector, was born on 27 December 1838 at Stroud, Gloucestershire, the eighth child of ten born to taxidermist Anthony Alder and his wife, naturalist Elizabeth Arundell. Alder was trained in the family’s taxidermy and casting business “Alder and Company” which operated in Islington. He arrived in Brisbane aboard the Saldhana in early 1862, and probably worked as a taxidermist under the firm “Arundell and Alder” before travelling to Somerset at Cape York Peninsula in 1864, where he spent some time collecting specimens. Alder returned to Brisbane in 1865, and after learning of his father’s death in late 1864, journeyed back to England via Melbourne. He brought several Australian specimens with him and recommenced work in the family business. An autographed copy of John Gould’s Handbook to the birds of Australia (1865), addressed personally to Alder, suggests that the pair may have been acquaintances (Byrne & Lambkin 2010).
Alder returned to Brisbane aboard the Harmodius in 1875 with his sister Emmeline, following the death of his mother on 21 March 1874. On 18 September 1877 he married Annie Elizabeth Harris. The couple bore seven children, though two died of Diphtheria at an early age. Alder operated his taxidermy business from premises located on George Street, Brisbane, where he not only produced taxidermy mounts, but also fashioned apparel, including collarets and muffs, and other decorative items, including rugs and mounted heads of livestock. On at least one occasion, Alder collaborated with prominent Brisbane silversmith Charles Allen Brown, to produce a pair of inkstands fashioned from horses hooves, mounted in silver (Byrne & Lambkin 2010; Brisbane Courier, 5 July 1878). Alder’s mounts frequently incorporated dramatic narrative elements, and were often given anthropocentric titles.
Alder’s work as a taxidermist was highly sought after and well regarded, both locally and internationally. As well as fulfilling private orders, Alder supplied the Queensland Museum, the British Museum and Oxford University. Furthermore, he was commissioned by several Queensland Government offices to supply examples of his work for public display. Alder’s taxidermy was exhibited at the 1871 Workmen’s International Exhibition in London, the Sydney International Exhibition of 1879, the Queensland National Association Exhibition in July 1880, the Melbourne International Exhibition of 1880-1881, the Colonial and Indian Exhibition of 1886 in London, the 1897 Queensland International Exhibition, the 1899 Greater Britain Exhibition, the 1901 Glasgow International Exhibition, the 1908 Franco-British Exhibition in London, and the 1915 Panama-Pacific Exhibition in San Francisco. During the course of these exhibitions Alder received several awards and commendations for his meritorious work.
Interestingly, Alder’s work as a taxidermist was not limited to Australian fauna. In 1897 he was commissioned by Government geologist Robert Logan Jack to produce replica cakes of gold from originals mined in Gympie and Charters Towers. Alder also produced a selection of cast fruit for exhibition, which contemporary sources claimed were so finely executed that they could be mistaken for the real thing (Brisbane Courier, 13 July 1898, p.6; 24 October 1900, p.5).
Between 1886 and 1892 Alder was the proprietor of the Caloundra Hotel on Queensland’s Sunshine Coast. During this time, he observed much of the local wildlife and occasionally contributed his observations to the Brisbane Courier. In Brisbane, Alder discovered gold on Mount Coot-tha, together with an associate named Mr Oliver. The pair sought capital to work the reef, though it appears no further development was achieved.
In 1907 Alder was appointed taxidermist to the Queensland Museum, a position he had keenly sought since his arrival in Brisbane in 1875. Prior to his appointment, Alder publicly criticised the museum’s exhibits, and challenged the museum to adopt a more dramatic and narrative style of display. His appointment to the Queensland Museum resulted in the development of new displays, which were well received by the public. Alder’s displays were noted for their melodrama, and in many cases he was responsible for several aspects of the exhibits, including preparing the subjects, dressing the diorama, and painting the background (Byrne & Lambkin 2010).
Alder’s painting is reflective of his training as a naturalist and taxidermist. The demands of his profession necessitated a keen eye for colour, detail, and accuracy, which are reflected in many of Alder’s painted works. Typically, Alder’s natural history subjects are painted on generic landscape backgrounds. Works are almost exclusively executed in oils, bearing the signature “A. Alder” generally in the lower left of the composition. The pose and positioning of his subjects are characteristic of his taxidermy and photographic evidence proves that Alder based some of his painted representations upon specimens that he had previously mounted. Alder fashioned all elements of his work in-house, including cases for his taxidermy and frames for his paintings.
His first public exhibition of painted work in Brisbane occurred at the 1876 Queensland Intercolonial Exhibition, where he submitted a large oil painting entitled Rural Echoes. Alder showed two landscapes in oils at the 1880 Queensland National Association Exhibition and a quantity of works at “Messrs Greenfield and Barraclough’s amateur art exhibition” in December 1892, in which he won second prize. In 1895 he won the “Original oil colour painting” prize at the National Agricultural and Industrial Association of Queensland Exhibition for his painting Lincoln sheep, homeward Laddie, and in 1897 he exhibited two works at the Queensland International Exhibition. Alder’s large oil painting Not Game was acquired in 1895 by the Queensland Government for the fledgling Queensland National Art Gallery. This work is now held in the collection of the Queensland Museum. Interestingly, Alder did not exhibit work in the Queensland Art Society exhibitions, nor with the New Society of Artists.
Alder also exhibited his work from his shop on George Street, Brisbane; Kaye & Son, Piano Warehouse, Queen Street; Beale & Company, Piano Warehouse, Queen Street; and Arundell’s Book Warehouse, Brunswick Street, Fortitude Valley. He established a long-term relationship with the weekly newspaper the Queenslander, supplying grisaille watercolours for a series on Queensland birds which accompanied notes written by J.W. Fawcett. Alder’s works were also reproduced in colour on postcards, and one work, now in the State Library of Queensland, featured in a colour supplement of the Queenslander in 1906.
Alder died on 20 April 1915 after sustaining injuries from a fall during his work at the Queensland Museum. He was buried at Toowong Cemetery. His works are held in private collections, the State Library of Queensland, the Queensland Museum, the Royal Historical Society of Queensland, and the National Library of Australia.
Source of info:
McKay, Judith (April 1998), ''A good show': Colonial Queensland at international exhibitions', Memoirs of the Queensland Museum Cultural Heritage Series, vol. 1, part 2, Brisbane, . 'Queenslander 1894-1900', Alder produced a series of grisaille watercolours for inclusion in the weekly newspaper the Queenslander, detailing individual specimens of birds. Notes were assembled and published on birds by JW Fawcett. Byrne, Dianne F.; Lambkin, Kevin J. (2010), ''Anthony Alder (1838-1915), Queensland taxidermist and bird painter', Archives of Natural History 37 pp. 58-73', Edinburgh University Press, Edinburgh, Scotland, Primary source of information. Comprehensive list of references and further sources contained within. 'Brisbane Courier', Brisbane Courier, Brisbane, QLD, Articles detailing Alder include 1862-01-28 p2; 1871-04-25 p2; 1876-02-03 p2; 1876-06-26 p3; 1877-09-27 p4; 1877-12-04 p1; 1878-07-05 p2; 1878-08-27 p3; 1879-07-31 p5; 1879-08-23 p1; 1892-01-13 p6; 1892-09-17 p5; 1892-12-29 p6; 1893-01-14 p4; 1894-12-4 p4; 1895-02-09 p6; 1895-04-06 p4; 1895-05-09 p1; 1895-05-09 p5; 1895-08-13 p3; 1895-08-15 p7; 1895-12-17 p4; 1896-01-30 p8; 1897-01-25 p7; 1898-07-13 p6; 1898-08-05 p4; 1900-10-24 p5; 1915-04-21 p6; 1915-04-23 p9. 'Published sources', Archives of Natural History 37 pp58-73; Edinburgh University Press, Edinburgh, Scotland. http://www.euppublishing.com/doi/abs/10.3366/E026095410900165X.