Stylists for the nineteenth century
The Finsbury cabinet-makers Smee & Sons in colonial Australia
From its London manufactory in Finsbury to wharves in Australia, from the warehouse to the Australian auction room and from the showrooms and retailers to the country mansion, villa and town house, the prominent wholesale and retail cabinet-making firm, Smee & Sons, catered for a range of middle-class markets with its historicist and modern art styling. It is clear from the vast number of auction, sale and exhibition notices this article has mustered that Smee did far more than outfit a small number of houses in Australia, as historians have generally assumed. Extant examples of Smee furniture today are scarce, yet the furniture and patterns of this firm had an enormous impact throughout the Australian colonies during the nineteenth century.
This paper analyses a small group of pieces of gold jewellery in order to explore the digger challenge to the colonial culture of conservative deference in 1850s gold rush Victoria. In spending on lavish gold ornaments, lucky diggers asserted the value of their hard, manual labour to subvert the hegemonic respectability of the colonial elite. The brooches offer evidence of values that informed the digger population in its transformation from optimistic transnational transients into civilians who originated the modern form of the Australian middle class.