painter, was born on 5 August 1807 in Bath, Somersetshire, daughter of John West, an artist of Bath, and Anne née Calder. Her father worked as a painter and lithographer in Bath from about 1800 to 1830, specialising in miniature portraiture and scenes of the West Country and Wales. His landscapes have been described as 'relying on a few simplified outlines, sharply silhouetted forms, and a strong contrast between Indian ink shadows and areas of pale primrose or blue’, a description equally applicable to some of Eliza’s early drawings, although a great contrast to her later strong and colourful 'opaque’ works.
'J. West senior’ of North Parade, Bath exhibited a 3 feet 7 inch x 4 feet 8 inch (109 × 142 cm) painting of Berry Pomeroy Castle and Valley at London’s British Institution in 1824, using 'senior’ to distinguish himself from his son James Baugham West, a miniature painter and lithographer (later a surveyor at Cape Town, SA) who exhibited a miniature portrait of the Hon. Mrs Norton at the Royal Academy in 1856 from a London address. Another brother, Henry, was a well-known music teacher, conductor and composer at Bath. So it was hardly surprising that Eliza also became a painter, though she was not listed professionally as a 'Professor of Drawing’ in the Bath business directory until after she married John Noel Thurston in St James’s Church of England, Bath on 2 February 1830. Surviving pencil drawings from this period (p.c.) include one of a black and a white swan inscribed verso, 'Eliza Thurston. Teacher of Drawing. Bath’.
Eliza’s husband, an auctioneer at Bath, was the only child of Horatio Thurston of Kington House, Thornbury, Gloucestershire, and of Elizabeth, daughter of Rear-Admiral Holmes, but had clearly come down in the world since the Thurstons’ financial state was precarious. The Thornbury property had disappeared and John worked as a commercial traveller after their marriage. Any money Eliza earned from her paintings and drawing lessons was clearly welcome. The growing family, finally comprising three boys and three girls, moved between lodgings in Kensington New Town (now South Kensington) and Southampton. In 1845-46 they were living at Newington Green, Surrey; their sixth child, Emily Mary Ann , was born there.
However disadvantageous the circumstances, Eliza continued to paint. After John died of tuberculosis in May 1846 at St Helier, Jersey, leaving his widow and six children almost totally dependent upon a small legacy from Mrs Thurston’s grandfather, she decided that the future looked more promising in the colonies. The two eldest sons, John Bates and Horatio Thurston , reached Sydney in the Ann Holzberg on 4 September 1853 then John (a sailor on board) returned and collected the youngest son, Henry, who had stayed on to complete his schooling. Eliza Thurston and her three daughters arrived on 23 December 1853; John and Henry returned in 1855. On 16 January 1854, Mrs Thurston advertised as a 'Professor of Drawing and Painting in every style, Miniature Painter &c.’, stating that 'specimens and terms’ were available from the Bible Depository in Pitt Street and at Piddington’s, the stationers. She added that she would also accept orders addressed to her at the Glebe Post Office. In 1855 she was running a ladies’ seminary and teaching drawing at 59 Bourke Street, Woolloomooloo, but it was not a success; Eliza Thurston, widow, of 1 Horbury Terrace, Macquarie Street, was declared bankrupt on 13 December 1855. Her debtors included the booksellers Waugh & Cox who had supplied her with painting and sketching material valued at just over £13. She had another girls’ school at 62 Harrington Street in 1857 then disappears from Sydney directories.
In 1857 a Sydney artist catalogued as 'Miss’ E. Thurston exhibited with the Victorian Fine Arts Society in Melbourne, showing two paintings for sale at £20 each: Pont-ne-Valson, Glamorganshire and Snow Scene in the Highlands . There is no doubt that this was Eliza Thurston, the marital status simply a misprint; her large, rather gloomy painting of the Welsh bridge is still in family possession (and her daughter Eliza West Thurston was too young to have painted it). As well as similar landscape subjects, Mrs Thurston painted at least one historical work, The Retreat from Moscow . It too focused on the setting rather than the figures, depicting a soldier from Napoleon’s army lying exhausted in a wide expanse of snow with another bending over him.
Snow scenes were something of a speciality. Her Snow Piece, near Combe Teign Head, Devonshire , shown with the Society of British Artists at Suffolk Street in 1845 and awarded the society’s silver medal, apparently came to New South Wales with her since by 1869 it was owned by Mr Billyard. Thurston continued to paint such scenes in New South Wales, although she soon added colonial subjects to her repertoire. Most of her work is undated, although an inscription on the back of her watercolour The Town & Harbour of Sydney – N.S.W. Taken from the North Shore (ANZ Bank, Melbourne) includes the date 1857. Its viewpoint is similar to that in Conrad Martens 's well-known lithographic View of Sydney N.S.W. 1854 , but Thurston’s treatment is broader and more painterly; there is considerable variation in detail and it is by no means a simple copy. An undated oval Distant View of Sydney (w/c, DG) and other harbour views (p.c.) also survive, some in the coral and sea-shell frames she made for them.
In 1860 John Bates Thurston leased a farm, Rosedale, on the Georges River and set up house with his mother and his two unmarried sisters, Eliza and Emily. Less than two years later the river flooded and the family was ruined and forced to abandon the property. Mrs Thurston, Emily and Eliza lived with Horatio at Mudgee in 1865-67 and possibly earlier. Among the works singled out by the jurors as 'deserving of especial notice’ at the 1866 Melbourne Intercolonial Exhibition were two watercolour views of the Blue Mountains by Mrs Thurston, described as 'a lady 84 years old’. Although then aged about sixty (and there were no senior Elizas in the family), she was undoubtedly the 'amateur artist of Hartley’ who was showing four 'opaque’ watercolours of New South Wales scenery. Sent on to the 1867 Paris Universal Exhibition (with no special pleading for her age), her paintings were awarded a silver medal.
In 1869 Thurston was said to be living at Miller’s Point, Sydney (presumably at 31 Crown Road with her eldest child, Anne Maria, who had married a wealthy cast-iron manufacturer, Simon Zöllner, in 1855). She showed several watercolours at the New South Wales Agricultural Society’s inaugural exhibition that year, including Mountain Scene on Bathurst Road , one of several gouaches she painted of Capertee Valley from Crown Ridge on the Sydney-Bathurst road, a dramatic mountain view on the way to Horatio’s home at Mudgee. Three are in private collections and a version dated 1868 is in the Mitchell Library. An 1867 gouache of a man and woman huddled in the snow is also in a family collection together with a preliminary drawing for it – evidence of her habit of painting new versions of earlier subjects.
Eliza Thurston died at the Zöllner’s home – now at 38 Macleay Street, Potts Point – on 3 February 1873 and was buried in the Balmain Church of England Cemetery. After Horatio’s death his widow purchased several of her mother-in-law’s paintings from a member of the Cox family at Mudgee to hand on to her children. Most remain in family possession.
Eliza’s husband, an auctioneer and commercial traveller, was from a landed family that had come down in the world. The Thurstons’ financial position seems to have always been precarious and the growing family, finally consisting of three boys and three girls, moved between lodgings in Kensington New Town (now South Kensington) and Southampton. Any money Eliza earned from her paintings and from giving drawing lessons was clearly welcome. After John died of tuberculosis in May 1846 at St Helier, Jersey, Eliza decided that the future looked more promising in the colonies. She reached Sydney with her three daughters on 23 December 1853, to join and be joined by her sons.
Just over three weeks after she arrived, on 16 January 1854, Mrs Thurston advertised as a 'Professor of Drawing and Painting in every style, Miniature Painter &c.’, stating that 'specimens and terms’ were available from the Bible Depository in Pitt Street and at Piddington’s, the stationers. She added that she would also accept orders addressed to her at the Glebe Post Office. In 1855 she was running a ladies’ seminary and teaching drawing at 59 Bourke Street, Woolloomooloo, but this was not a success; Eliza Thurston, widow, of 1 Horbury Terrace, Macquarie Street, was declared bankrupt on 13 December. She had another girls’ school at 62 Harrington Street in 1857 then disappeared from Sydney directories. However, she showed two paintings for sale at £20 each with the Victorian Fine Arts Society in Melbourne that year: Pont-ne-Valson, Glamorganshire (still held by the family) and Snow Scene in the Highlands .
In 1860 John Bates Thurston leased a farm, Rosedale, on the Georges River and set up house with his mother and his two unmarried sisters, Eliza and Emily. Less than two years later the river flooded, the family was ruined and forced to abandon the property. Afterwards Mrs Thurston, Emily and Eliza lived at Mudgee with her son Horatio.
Note: primary biographer of DAA entry; co-biographer of Heritage entry Kerr, Joan
Note: editor of DAA entry, co-biographer of Heritage entry; plus additions