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Made to Order: George Thwaites and sons, colonial cabinet makers

George Thwaites was a remarkable man whom like many of his time, survived much in his homeland of England to eventually travel to the new and fledgling country of Australia and make good.

He was fortunate that he arrived at a time when the young country was coming into a period of great wealth, with the discovery of gold and copper; Money was plentiful and those with more than enough to spend began to build what are now considered as stately homes.

In these homes they needed furniture that would be considered as befitting a gentleman of that status, also allowing all those to see that wealth first hand, in the decorative style of the day.

George Thwaites came from a long line of craftsmen, hailing from Yorkshire; ‘sober of habit, upright and proper in his dealings’, experienced in the London cabinet trade, arriving with his young family in Port Phillip in 1842, and as luck or providence would have it, settling in the right place at the right time.

Setting up his business as a cabinet maker of fine, bespoke furniture, his first commission was from Sir John and Lady Jane Franklin, who were returning to England from their time in Tasmania. From there he and his family went on to make pieces for the Victorian Government, many of which are still housed in Government House, the Law Courts, as well as many of the stately homes of the day.  To own a piece of George Thwaites furniture was almost a mark of societal status!

Many of the men who came to the gold rush of Victoria failed to find gold, falling on very hard times, but many also found work in the workshops of Geo: Thwaites and Sons, learning skills which would not only help to create many of Australia’s timber furniture masterpieces, but also went on to establish the trade of a cabinetmaking in Australia.

It was not uncommon for his pieces to make mention in the newspapers of the day, such was his  skill appreciated; he not only created many masterpieces in the timber of the colonies, but also in timber imported from Britain and her colonies, timber such as rosewood, mahogany and walnut.

In creating such a wonderful book about the craftsmen, predominately the Thwaites family, Robert La Nauze has also compiled a history of Australia through craftsmanship which was more inclined to be created by an artisan, than a mere cabinetmaker, a man skilled in his trade, but with a flair and panache that is still highly respected some 170 years on.

Each of the chapters features one of the tools used by George Thwaites as he carried out his craft, with every chapter decorated with wonderful images of the some of the many pieces created by him, a family member or one of his craftsmen, with the provenance of the piece detailed.

Such is the quality of this comprehensive work anyone with an interest in bespoke furniture, the history of a young, fledging Australia beginning to make a mark in the world of architecture, or simply luxurious, sensual timber of the highest quality, will definitely appreciate this comprehensive work.

Author Robert La Nauze
Publisher New South Publications
ISBN 9781742235516
Distributor New South Books
Released August 2017