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Professional watchmaker, jeweller, metalsmith, retailer and landowner. Augustus John Kosvitz brought to Brisbane a wealth of information and contacts in the Australian decorative scene, and his business was responsible for bringing innovative examples of Australian decoration and metalwork to Brisbane, as well as fashioning important commissions within the colony. Kosvitz’s work was influenced by the work of Julius Hogarth, noted in his application of Australian emblematic references in his works.

Son of saddler Friedrich Kosvitz and Elizabeth Schmidt, Augustus John Kosvitz was born in 1831 in Prussia. Kosvitz trained as a watchmaker in Europe, advertising that he had worked for Edward Dent in London. He arrived in Australia aboard the William Oswald on 11 April 1855. He quickly worked to establish himself within the decorative scene in Australia and by 1858 listed himself as a “Watchmaker by trade and partner to the firm of Hogarth, Erichsen & Co.” In December 1858 Kosvitz applied for a certificate of naturalisation, which was granted to him. In 1859 Kosvitz moved to Brisbane and established a retail jewellery store of his own opposite Kingsford’s drapers in Queen Street, before moving in 1860 to the fashionable newly built shops erected by Patrick Mayne, which featured large plate glass windows and acetylene gas lighting.

Kosvitz’s business flourished as development within Brisbane increased after separation from New South Wales. He secured a number of commissions in the early years of his establishment, including several medals and jewels for various Masonic lodges in the Brisbane region. In 1863 Kosvitz was commissioned to fashion the silver mounting for the Drum Major’s staff for the Queensland volunteer regiment band. The staff was made of colonial light wood by Andrew Petrie and Kosvitz’s decoration included a coat of arms incorporating a kangaroo and emu. Kosvitz moved premises in September 1863 to a building in Queen Street opposite the first Parliament Building in Queensland. This shop was fitted by James Furnival. It was around this time that Kosvitz created his most elaborate commissions; including a 22 carat gold mounted whip and spurs presented to W.H. Yaldwyn from the North Australian Jockey Club in 1864. This commission once again made use of native wildlife, with a kangaroo and crest forming a part of the whip mounting, and possums decorating the rowels of the spurs. The same year Kosvitz produced the spade with which Lady Diamantina Bowen turned the sod where the first railway in Queensland was to be laid; a silver mount for a presentation cricket bat awarded after the Intercolonial Cricket Match at Green Hills in Brisbane, and a medal for the Horticultural Society of Queensland’s exhibition. In December 1864 Kosvitz’s shop was ravaged by the fire which swept Queen Street. He moved with his salvaged stock to a temporary location opposite the Australian Joint Stock Bank in Queen Street, north of his ruined premises.

When Kosvitz returned to his former premises on Queen Street in 1865 he continued to produce a selection of presentation articles, as well as supply the Queensland public with various jewels, ornaments, clocks, watches and decorative items from the other Australian colonies and abroad. He was later to move to a position opposite the Supreme Court building in Queen Street. A law suit in 1865 by Kosvitz against his insurer during the period of the fire, the Queen Insurance Company, revealed the diversity of stock and manufacturers that Kosvitz sold at his premises. Notable Australian jewellers including Adolphus Blau; Berens Levi and Seligman; and Henry Schilsky all supplied wares to the store, many on consignment. A legal case in 1865 links Kosvitz to scientific instrument manufacturer Angelo Tornaghi. Like many other businesses in Brisbane at the time, the firm also sold theatre and event tickets, and other decorative furnishings on consignment. He is known to have kept staff, in 1862 he advertised a position for an apprentice, and had a employee at the time of his insolvency in 1873. In 1872 Thomas Faulkner successfully sued Kosvitz for work done. On 20 October 1868 Kosvitz married 21-year-old Elizabeth Mary Josephine Doyle, daughter of London innkeeper James Doyle. The couple bore one son, Augustus James, on 3 December 1869, and the following year travelled to the Sydney International Exhibition, where Kosvitz inspected and purchased items to retail in Brisbane. In April 1873 Kosvitz provided two exhibits at the Metropolitan Intercolonial Exhibition in Sydney, one with a selection of gold and mineral specimens, and another of a silver mounted emu egg, which received a commendation.

Kosvitz was declared insolvent in 1873, listing the cause for this as “losses in business caused by family troubles and illness.” Preceding this had been a very public dispute between Kosvitz and his wife which resulted in the sale of the couple’s home furnishings in 1871; and increased financial strain on the business due to Kosvitz’s illness resulting from excessive drinking. In 1874 the contents of Kosvitz’s shop were disposed via auction, and that same year his wife sued him for not providing for her and their child. After the insolvency Kosvitz continued his work as a jeweller, although minimal reports were made of his business. He is listed at several addresses on Elizabeth Street, Brisbane, and Cairns Street, Kangaroo Point, for the remainder of his career. Kosvitz was admitted into the Brisbane Hospital on 3 July 1894 and died on the 12 July that year; his causes of death are listed as Mediastinal tumor and Bronchitis. He was 63 years of age. He was buried at South Brisbane Cemetery on 17 July 1894.

The work and retail operations of Augustus Kosvitz allowed the expansion of a newly manifested Australian mode of decoration into the north Australian region. His influence from Julius Hogarth resulted in pieces which cited the natural history of Australia, and his stock reflected some of the innovative workmanship that was being produced by notable local manufacturers.

Timothy Roberts Note:
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