watercolourist, illustrator, etcher and drawing teacher, was born in Great Marlow, Buckinghamshire, England, fifth child of Henry Terry and Isabella, née Clark. Terry’s middle name is difficult to settle. In later life his son thought it was Clark, from his mother’s family, and Charles was also used, but Terry seems to have preferred the exotic Casemero or Cassinis. Educated in Switzerland, F.C. Terry came to New South Wales in about 1852 with his older brother Alexander and joined the gold-diggers in the Hunter Valley.
After Alexander returned to England, Frederic stayed on in Maitland for a time. He also visited Sydney where he attempted through the assistance of Marshall Claxton 'to get on as an artist’. Alexander wrote in his diary, 'He had dined a few days before at Claxton’s house and there he had given Fred all hope of success. However the poor fellow didn’t relish at all the idea of being left alone so far from home and told me that as soon as he could he would make his way again for old England’. Alexander also mentioned that Frederic was 'finishing a portrait he had to do in Sydney’ before returning to Maitland, indicating that he had already obtained at least one commission. His earliest known extant work, however, is a watercolour view of Point Piper dated 10 April 1852, by which time he seems to have been resident in Sydney. He was certainly living there by August 1853, when he exhibited View of Sydney Harbour, Taken from Ball’s Head at the Victorian Fine Arts Society’s exhibition in Melbourne.
Terry painted local watercolour views, such as King Street, Sydney Looking West, 1853 , and made occasional sketching tours to Newcastle. In 1854 he entered a design in a competition for the medal to be awarded at the Australian Museum Exhibition held in advance of the 1855 Paris Universal Exhibition and won second prize of 5 guineas (after C.W. Andrews), and a bonus of a further 5 guineas 'for the exquisite finish of his design … a view of Sydney Heads, with a ship entering under a press of canvas, a flock of sheep, a gold digger at work &c. In the centre Australia is seated, while in the background the sun rises out of the ocean’. One of the medals as produced, with Terry’s design on the verso, is in the Mitchell Library.
Terry’s watercolour View of Botany Bay received little critical attention when shown at the Australian Museum Exhibition despite having been especially commissioned. Showing the bay, La Perouse’s column and the tomb of the naturalist Le Receveur, it prominently featured a tree-stump which bore an epitaph to the Frenchman. Both watercolour and uprooted stump were presented to the French government after being exhibited in Sydney and Paris. (The watercolour, now titled Tombeau du Père Receveur Botany Bay , is held at the Musée de la Marine, Paris; the tree-stump, returned to New South Wales in 1988 as a French bicentennial gift, is at the La Perouse Museum, Sydney.) Sir William Macarthur took the Terry watercolour, samples of the exhibition medal and works by Angas, Martens, Ironside and the sculptor Charles Abraham to Paris in 1855, the first time painting and sculpture by Australian artists had been included in a major overseas exhibition.
In 1854 the Sydney publisher John Sands commissioned a series of sketches from Terry, principally views of Sydney and the harbour. Thirty-eight were engraved on steel in London and issued at Sydney in 1855 as Landscape Scenery, Illustrating Sydney, Paramatta [sic], Richmond, Maitland, Windsor and Port Jackson, New South Wales (also known as The Australian Keepsake. 1855 , the title lettered on the front cover). Reviewing the album, the Sydney Morning Herald called it a work of genius by Terry, whose name, due to lack of editorial control over the English engravers, had unfortunately been printed throughout as Fleury.
Terry did a considerable amount of work for illustrated newspapers, journals and books during the 1850s, especially the Illustrated Sydney News . His view of the 1854 Australian Museum Exhibition showing in great detail the interior of the Museum Exhibition Hall with the exhibits in place was drawn after a daguerreotype (now lost) by James Gow, lithographed by John Degotardi and published as a separate print. As Mahood discovered, 'Fred Terry the wit’ was also a paid contributor to Melbourne Punch .
In 1857 Terry exhibited a watercolour in the Fine Art Exhibition at the Sydney Mechanics School of Arts titled Pic-nic Party, Middle Harbour . By 1858 he seems to have won the support of several established artists, including O.R. Campbell, who called Terry’s work 'clear and characteristic in drawing and beautifully composed’ and thought it would be greatly prized in England. Throughout the 1860s he maintained his reputation as one of Sydney’s foremost artists and illustrators. As well as contributing to a lesser keepsake volume, The Parramatta River Illustrated , Terry sought other ways of making money, including designing the covers for popular sheet-music and taking evening classes in drawing at his residence, 4 Upper Fort Street. In February 1861 he exhibited several works at the Sydney Mechanics School of Arts, including Forest Scenery , described as in his 'best style’.
In 1863 the Sydney Morning Herald reviewed a large watercolour by Terry of a picnic at Captain Cook’s landing place (unlocated). 'The drawing is bold’, it stated, 'and the prominent features are strikingly and naturally portrayed … The sky, the foliage, and the gentle ripple on the bay will forcibly recall to those who were present the beauty of the day’. Several months later, four paintings by Terry were for sale in a raffle organised by J.R. Clarke. All were of country and coastal scenes in the Illawarra and Nepean districts, suggesting a previous sketching tour. With the assistance of John Allan he painted some 'small but brilliant’ transparencies for the celebration in June 1863 of the marriage of the Prince of Wales, illuminated on the premises of Allen & Wigley and J.R. Clarke in George Street. That year Terry moved his studio and residence to Alma Street, Newtown, and advertised that he would also conduct both day and evening drawing classes at the School of Arts, Balmain. In August 1864 he issued a series of eight copperplate etchings illustrating various views of Sydney Harbour, described as being so 'sketchy’ that they had the appearance of pen-and-ink work. Terry announced his desire to continue the series if he met with the 'requisite encouragement’ but no further views are known.
A lengthy review in the Sydney Morning Herald in 1866 stated that Terry’s watercolour of Port Jackson in an approaching storm reflected credit on all colonial art and artists. Calling the work striking and artistic rather than pretty and stating it was for the 'educated eye’, the reviewer went on to describe the painting in extremely romantic terms (an imitation, one suspects, of the influential John Ruskin): 'One can almost hear the soughing of the melancholy wind, that is not strong enough to rouse the sullen sea, sweltering fitfully about the feet of the beetling cliffs. The dun clouds hang like a pall over the scene, wrapping the foreground in dim shadows; while the vast expanse of ocean stretching away to the north-east lies hushed in funereal stillness before the coming storm’.
The Bush Track was exhibited at the Paris Universal Exhibition in 1867, the year Terry was appointed drawing master at the Sydney Mechanics School of Arts. The following March the committee decided that Terry had resigned 'in consequence of his non-attendance’ and took steps to find another teacher. By then he must have been ill as well as impoverished. On 10 August 1869 he died of 'effusion on the brain’ at his residence in Alma Street, Newtown, owing £65 to his landlord. Married on 14 July 1858, his wife Margaret had died three years earlier. Their son Henry, aged ten, survived them.
Terry’s obituary in the Illustrated Sydney News praised the contribution he had made to that paper and, somewhat ironically, boasted that his 'latest, and perhaps best efforts [in watercolour] were the Weatherboard Falls, now in the possession of H.R.H. Prince Alfred’. Despite Terry having dominated the exhibition scene (such as it was) throughout the 1850s and 1860s, together with Conrad Martens, the social standing and financial position of even the most hard-working and apparently successful Sydney artist at this time is exemplified by the fact that his large collection of paintings (including Sydney Heads by Moonlight ) and all his household goods were valued at only £45 for probate. His obituary noted that the paintings were to be disposed of by art union.