sketcher, sailor and convict, son of a London merchant, entered the Royal Navy as a midshipman. There he would have received some training in drawing. He served in American waters until discharged in April 1783. He then worked successively as a clerk, a collector of excise on hops, a lottery tallyman and as personal assistant to Lord Montstuart and Sir James Erskine. In financial difficulties through attempting to maintain himself 'genteelly’ in this last position, Fowkes pawned his books and clothing and stole a great-coat and boots valued at £1 and 18s respectively.
Despite his own eloquent defence, he was sentenced to transportation for seven years on 13 December 1786, arriving at Sydney in the Alexander with the First Fleet. There he was employed as a clerk. Sent to Norfolk Island in the Supply in November 1789, Fowkes was returned to Sydney in 1791 to answer charges of attempting 'to ferment a conspiracy among the convicts’ and of making accusations against Major Ross of cruelty, oppression and 'every Crime that is possible for man to be guilty off [sic]’.
On 21 October 1792 Fowkes married Susannah Bray at Parramatta; they had at least one child. He was granted land at Mulgrave Place on the Hawkesbury River on expiry of his sentence in 1797. Two years later he received another land grant at Toongabbie and his wife was allocated 30 acres at Mulgrave Place. The couple appear to have prospered despite Fowkes’s being charged over the years with several minor offences and, in June 1800, being tried and acquitted on a charge of corruption. In October 1800 he departed the colony (apparently alone) for the Cape of Good Hope as supernumerary in the Buffalo . He was listed as a settler at the Cape in 1804.
Gillen states that Fowkes left maps and sketches of the settlements at Sydney and Norfolk Island, and a map of Sydney Cove, embellished with drawings of trees, hills, ships at anchor and the governor’s house and initialled 'F.F.’ has long been attributed to him. This was published in London by R. Cribb on 24 July 1789 as Sketch and Description of the Settlement at Sydney Cove Port Jackson in the County of Cumberland Taken by a Transported Convict on the 16th of April, 1788 Which Was Not Quite 3 Months after Commodore Phillips’s Landing There . This naive map – its features drawn on a scale reflecting their importance to convict eyes (food supplies and the total power of the governor) rather than accepted perspectival conventions – and a somewhat more sophisticated bird’s-eye plan of Port Jackson (British Museum, Natural History, attrib.) are Fowkes’s only known art works.
Since he clearly drew, and he has the appropriate naval, clerical and convict background, Fowkes is certainly a candidate for identification as the 'Port Jackson Painter’ . His convict status is adequate explanation for the fact that the Port Jackson Painter’s numerous watercolours and sketches are unsigned, whereas other nominees, notably the favourite, Henry Brewer , have the naval draughtsmanship considered essential for eligibility but lack this desirable qualification. In addition, Fowkes’s Norfolk Island experience matches the period in which the Port Jackson Painter was working there. Nevertheless, until more evidence is found, Fowkes as an artist will be remembered by his Sydney ma