William Gush - Portrait Painter by Mrs Dee Helmore
Setting the Scene
We have a portrait of a Reverend Minister hanging on our landing – he looks benignly down on us as we climb the stairs. This distinguished kindly gentleman is not related to us in any way; our relative is William Gush, the artist who painted him.
William, the eldest child of Aaron and Elizabeth Gush, was born on 23 April 1813  at the family home, 28 Tabernacle Walk near the City of London. His parents were married at St Luke’s Church in Old Street, Finsbury on 26 July 1812  and it was in this parish that Aaron carried out his trade as a Boot and Shoe maker.
Aaron was the youngest son of Thomas and Mary Gush of Seaton in Devon  and had travelled to London in 1810, aged 18, with his brother Richard . One would imagine with England on a war footing during the early years of the 19 th century and taking into consideration the fact that their two older brothers, James  and Thomas , had died in the service of the Royal Navy (one as a pressed man), that Aaron and Richard had decided to seek a new life in London, rather than continuing to live by the sea and risk possible impressment in the future. On reaching London the brothers found lodgings with a devout Wesleyan family  and settled into a new way of life. During the following two years they both met their future wives and were subsequently married within months of each other. Aaron’s wife Elizabeth (née Jelley) gave her place of birth as Guildford in Surrey .
As with all newly weds the arrival of their first child must have brought great joy to Aaron and Elizabeth and baby William was baptised at St Luke’s Church, Finsbury on the 23 May 1813 . What a momentous time to be born with Napoleon’s retreat from Moscow and the destruction of his grand army taking place just months before. Eventually heartening news reached England that the Duke of Wellington, in command of the British Army, had defeated the French at Vittoria, in northern Spain, indicating that at long last the threat of French domination under Napoleon might to be receding. The weather during William’s first winter was very harsh, the Thames was frozen over and a great fog descended on London in December and lingered through most of January 1814.
A year later in 1815 James was born, a brother for William and in 1817 Frederick Aaron was the latest addition to the family. By the time William was ten years old he had acquired a further two brothers and a sister , though four of the infants had tragically short lives. James, Elizabeth, a second James and John were all interred in the burial ground at Wesley’s Chapel in City Road, London  indicating that Aaron and Elizabeth were practising Methodists at this time.
Richard, Aaron’s brother, was certainly strongly influenced by the family who hosted the brothers on their arrival in London and converted to Methodism himself. In 1819 he, with his wife Mary and their two children, sailed to South Africa as part of a group of 344 people from London (all Wesleyan families), under the leadership of Hezekiah Sephton, to start a new life in the Albany district of South Africa, finally settling in the village of Salem. Many years later in 1835, Richard became well known after saving his village from the terrors of the local Xhosa warriors, who had been harassing the community and stealing their cattle for some months. He foiled their final attack by riding out unarmed to meet the Xhosa chief and negotiated a peaceful settlement with him. Salem was never attacked again . Richard was a devoutly religious man and is referred to subsequently as being a Quaker.
Aaron, Elizabeth and William, who was now six, must have missed Richard and family very much to begin with, but their own lives were busy. In 1820 Aaron listed his business addresses as 28 Tabernacle Walk and 1 Lothbury . James Dodwell was an employee at the Lothbury premises and whilst working at the back of the shop one day in January 1820, apprehended a thief attempting to steal a pair of boots. William Ainow, aged 20, was brought before the Court at the Old Bailey found guilty and whipped before being discharged .
Though Aaron was very busy with his shoe making business and Elizabeth had more than her hands full caring for the growing family, they must have noticed that William showed a talent for drawing and sketching. They did their best to encourage him and in 1824 at the young age of 11, he became a copyist at the National Gallery. His permit number was 725 and he was recommended by Mr William Seguier, who was Keeper of the National Gallery at the time . (For portrait of William Seguier see link at end to National Portrait Gallery website.) A copyist was someone who sketched or painted copies of works of art - the practice became very popular with students and artists in the nineteenth century with application to become a copyist being made to the Keeper. William Seguier, appointed in 1824 as the first Keeper of the National Gallery, was himself a painter and picture restorer and a figure of importance in the art world. Initially the National Gallery was housed in the former home of Sir Julius Angerstein, in Pall Mall, London. Here the two valuable art collections of Sir George Beaumont and Sir Julius Angerstein, which had been bought for the nation, were placed on public view in 1824. It was not until 1838 that the now familiar home of the National Gallery was opened in Trafalgar Square. The building was designed by William Wilkins, using the columns of the old Carlton House, former palace of the Prince Regent later George IV, for the portico.
During the many hours William spent at the National Gallery, there was every chance that he would have met the portrait painter John Jackson whose portrait of William Seguier, the first Keeper, is still held by the Gallery. (See link to National Portrait Gallery website at end) John Jackson (1788-1831) was originally destined to become a tailor but under the patronage of Lord Mulgrave and Sir George Beaumont he moved from his home in Yorkshire to London, where he established a successful career as a portrait painter. His subjects included the Duke of Wellington, the explorer Sir John Franklin and many eminent Wesleyan ministers.
In August 1826 William’s sister Elizabeth Matilda was born  and a year later on 23rd March 1827 his public spirited father Aaron apprehended a pick pocket named Richard Tye in Leadenhall Street, near to his work place. Despite the 22 year old thief pleading intoxication he was found guilty at the Old Bailey and transported for life . Alfred George was William’s next sibling to be born in 1829, followed by Emma Catherine in 1831 . Although he was spending less and less time at home now he remained very close to his brothers and sisters and they must always have looked upon him as their talented big brother.
As William’s technique improved he decided to enter an example of his work to be judged by the Society for the Encouragement of Arts, Manufactures and Commerce under its Premium Award Scheme. The Premiums were advertised in publications that at one time included The Gentleman’s Magazine and The Daily Advertiser and were offered in six different categories: Agriculture, Chemistry, Colonies and Trade, Manufacture, Polite Arts and Mechanics. The Society was founded in 1754 and initially members met in various coffee houses and buildings in the Strand area of London. In 1774 the Society was able to take possession of its first permanent headquarters at 8 John Street where it has remained to this day and was granted permission to adopt the prefix ‘Royal’ by Edward VII in 1908.
William entered his work under the Polite Arts section, which was a broad category and included prizes for the fine arts as well as for materials such as superior pottery glazes. He was awarded The Silver Palette in the 1831-32 session and the following entry appeared in the Society’s annual publication entitled Transactions: Mr W Gush, Lothbury, for an outline drawing of anatomical figure. It appears that William was away from home at the time when the entries were handed in as he had written asking for permission to make his specimen any time after the 19th May as it would be very inconvenient to him to come to London before that time. Permission was granted.
Examples of the obverse (left) and reverse (right) of Medals awarded by The Society for the Encouragement of Arts, Manufactures and Commerce. Photograph provided by the Royal Society of Arts
following year it is probable that he entered the Premium competition
advertised as follows:
Only twenty years old and a career successfully launched
It must be every aspiring artists dream to submit a painting to the Royal Academy and have it accepted to be hung at the Annual Exhibition. The Royal Academy was formed in 1769 with Joshua Reynolds its first President. The Institution aimed to support contemporary artists and raise awareness of the arts amongst the general public. It appears that there were always more paintings submitted than were accepted to be hung. Many years later in 1868 just prior to the Academy’s move to larger premises the President is reported as saying that 2683 pictures were sent in for the present exhibition of which only 896, could with the closest packing, be placed. No space could be found for 180 pictures that had been ‘accepted’ that is approved for hanging, as works of unquestionable excellence by the council of selection……. 
Entry Number 44 – possibly Frederick Aaron Gush.
proved to be a high point in William’s career as a portrait
painter - his first painting was accepted to be hung in the Royal
Academy Exhibition staged at the National Gallery. The subject of
this portrait was Sir John Harrison Yallop, late mayor of Norwich.
Added to this excitement was the fact that his entry under the
Premium Award Scheme for original works for the 1833-34 session of
the Society for the Encouragement of Arts, Manufacturing and Commerce
was judged in November 1833 and he was awarded the Gold Isis Medal.
The following entry can be seen in the Society’s Minutes of
A portrait of G W H Potter Esq, one of the Secondaries of London, was William’s entry for the Royal Academy’s Exhibition in May 1834. This was entered from the address in Old Jewry, but now William had attained the age of twenty-one and decided it was time to find a more fashionable address to use for his studio. His choice was 33 Jermyn Street, near St James’ Church, Piccadilly. Later in the year he prepared his final specimen for the Society of Arts 1834-35 session to be judged under the Polite Arts category for an original work. A Committee Minute written on 20 April 1835 just days after William’s twenty second birthday noted that he had been awarded the Gold Isis Medal. The painting, entry number 44, is still in existence and held in the archives of the Society. There is a possibility that the subject of the painting was his brother, Frederick Aaron, as it bears a strong resemblance to a later portrait painted by William of his brother Frederick.
William would have been invited to attend the prize givng held in the Great Room at the Society’s premises in John Street (now John Adam Street), situated between The Strand and the River Thames. The building was designed by Robert and James Adam and the Great Room, located on the first floor, is reached by a wide imposing staircase. The walls were decorated by James Barry RA with a series of pictures entitled The Progress of Human Knowledge and Culture and it was here in the Great Room that a grand ceremony was held during which the medals were presented to the winners; a very proud moment for all the recipients.
Connections with the Methodist movement
Rev. Richard Treffry
Rev. John Rigg
Photographs provided by the
But now it is time to return for a moment to John Jackson RA, the celebrated portrait painter (whose self portrait painted around 1823 is still in existence at the National Portrait Gallery in London). As already mentioned, he was commissioned to paint the portraits of many Methodist ministers and engravings taken from these portraits were published as the frontispieces of the monthly Methodist Magazine. In 1831 John Jackson died, it was rumoured as the result of catching a chill whilst attending the funeral of Lord Mulgrave, his patron. A small stock of his paintings remained to be used, but then the Methodist organisation had to find a successor to John Jackson and the timing could not have been better for William Gush. He was commissioned to paint a portrait of the Rev Richard Treffry and the engraving by J Thomson of this painting appeared in the Methodist Magazine in May 1834. The painting obviously reached the required standard and so began William’s connection with the Methodist movement, which was to last for over thirty years. During this time he was the principle contributor of the frontispiece illustration of the magazine and to this end he painted over 270 portraits. Our kindly gentleman mentioned in the first paragraph is the Reverend John Rigg and the engraving of his portrait appeared in the April 1841 edition of the Methodist Magazine.
William entered two portraits in the May 1835 Exhibition of the Royal Academy and this had now set the pattern of exhibiting for the next four decades with only a year or two being missed.
Living on the other side of London, William would have made the trip to see his parents in August of the same year and to make the acquaintance of a new sister, Aaron and Elizabeth’s last child, a daughter named Helen Georgiana .
Turning the clock back once again, this time to 1813, and just a month before William Gush was born, the baptism took place of the second daughter of William and Elizabeth Rollings, neighbours of Aaron and Elizabeth Gush. The little girl was christened Elizabeth Philipps Rollings  and she would, in the years to come, play a large part in William’s life. The second name of ‘Philipps’ was in recognition of William Rolling’s aunt Jane, who had married Thomas Philipps. The Philipps did not have any children and their great nephews and niece benefited under Thomas Philipp’s will. He owned property in the City, had a road named after him and was a well respected business man. The executors of his will, which was proved in 1830, were Thomas Francis Rance of City Road, a surgeon and Thomas Marriott of Windsor Terrace, City Road, gentleman late of the Stock Exchange. Jane’s sister, Ann, remained single and requested in her will that she be buried in the same grave as her beloved sister Jane.
St John the Baptist Church, Hoxton
Once again Thomas Rance and Thomas Marriott were the executors of the will and Ann Rollings made a bequest to her great niece Elizabeth Philipps Rollings. The executors were related by marriage and Thomas Marriott was very involved with the Wesleyan movement as indicated by his will written in 1848 and proved 1851 in which he made a primary bequest of £10,000 to the Wesleyan Missionary Society. The executors of Thomas Marriott’s will were Rev’d Dr Jabez Bunting and the Rev’d Dr Robert Adler both Wesleyan ministers of some standing. In 1835 Rev Bunting was appointed president of the first Wesleyan Theological College at Hoxton in London.
So William’s artistic connections were further linked with the Wesleyan Methodist movement when on 6 October 1835 he married Elizabeth Philipps Rollings, the young lady he had known most of his life, whose relatives had distinct Methodist leanings. The wedding ceremony took place at St John the Baptist Church, Hoxton  and among the guests who signed as witnesses were Thomas Francis Rance, Anne Griffith Rance and Charlotte Marriott Rance and supporting William, his father Aaron Gush.
The young couple set up home in Argyll Street, St Marylebone and during the next year William did not exhibit a portrait in the Royal Academy exhibition. Maybe he was too busy painting portraits of various Methodist ministers or maybe his entry was not accepted on this occasion. However, the highlight of the year must have been the arrival of Vincent Henry Dowling Gush, William and Elizabeth’s eldest son, born on 7 August 1836 and baptised six weeks later on the 18 September at All Souls Church, Langham Place, Marylebone .
A new era was about to begin with the accession of Victoria as Queen in June 1837 following the death of William IV, her uncle. Once again William had portraits accepted to be hung in the Royal Academy exhibition and one of these was possibly the most distinguished person he had yet painted – the Duke of Beaufort, in the uniform of the Gloucester Yeomanry Cavalry. Ending the year on a family note William and Elizabeth were blessed with a baby daughter born on 23 December. She was called Elizabeth Rosalie, but was always known as Rosalie in the family. Her baptism was also at All Souls Church and took place on 28 January 1838 . Just a few weeks later on the 9 April 1838, the new National Gallery building was opened in Trafalgar Square and the very grand occasion of Queen Victoria’s Coronation took place on 28 June 1838.
A sad happening for the Gush family though, amongst all this celebration, was the passing of William’s father Aaron, aged only 46, in May 1838, a victim of tuberculosis . Alfred George and his three sisters were still living at home, the youngest being Helen Georgiana, who was not yet three. Frederick Aaron was living independently and may well have been training as a portrait painter, as he followed in his brother’s footsteps in due course.
The time had come for William and Elizabeth to separate family life from William’s career and with this in mind the family moved from the west end of London to Fulham and William took a studio at 86 Newman Street, off Oxford Street. Three further sons were born to the couple – William Frederick on 9 September 1839, Herbert James on 22 January 1841 with Frederick Thomas completing the family with his arrival on 19 September 1842 . Their parents chose to return to St John the Baptist Church in Hoxton for the baptisms of their sons rather than attend a local church in Fulham although the family was living in Bridge Street Fulham in the early 1840’s.
The Royal Academy Exhibition (from the Illustrated London News
William’s career continued to prosper and he was kept very busy with commissions for portraits helping him to provide amply for his wife and five children. In 1844 and 1845 William contributed all the portraits of ministers, which were to be included in the Methodist Magazine and even found time to make a trip to Rome. By 1847 his hard work and industry were being rewarded and he felt it was the right time to move his studio from Newman Street. His busy working schedule and comfortable income meant that he would have been unaffected by the general political unrest of the time which culminated in the huge demonstration by the Chartist Movement on Kennington Common in April 1848 demanding parliamentary reform. A very severe winter and terrible outbreak of cholera added to the misery of the working classes.
Happily for William he was now able to afford a studio at the very prestigious address No 17 Stratford Place, an exclusive cul-de-sac situated off Oxford Street. Stratford Place was built in 1775 and originally had gates separating it from Oxford Street. The gates have long since gone but a single gate pier remains. In 1851 such well known personages as Edward Lear, artistic landscape painter, Louis Desanges, historic and portrait painter, and H W Pickersgill, history and portrait painter, were resident at various addresses in Stratford Place . As William began to work from his new address his brother Frederick Aaron set up his studio at 83 Newman Street and also began to have paintings accepted for the annual Royal Academy exhibition. Daphne Foskett quotes in her Dictionary of British Miniature Painters ‘I have seen a miniature of a man, signed on the reverse ‘Fred Gush’, 1852 It is well painted and the colour is pleasing. But Frederick exhibited only intermittently at the Royal Academy for five years with his final portrait being accepted after a break of fourteen years in 1866. It was entitled Willie – was this a portrait of his older brother? More will be written on Frederick in due course.
A photograph of the portrait of Mrs Fry and Son can be found in William Gush’s folder in the Heinz Archive at the National Portrait Gallery. The subjects of this work could well be members of the well known Fry family of Bristol. William had working connections with the Bristol area and as the portrait is said to be dated around 1847, the most likely candidates are Mrs Frances Fry with her son John Doyle Fry . A few years later William returned to West Country at the request of the Elton family of Clevedon Court in Somerset to paint the portraits of Sir Arthur Hallam Elton 7th Baronet (c1853).
Rhoda May and Elizabeth Sophie Baird
Frederick Aaron Gush younger brother of William
Photographs courtesy of the National Trust, Clevedon Court, Somerset
Laura Beatrice Elton (ca 1851) and Rhoda May and Eliza Sophie – daughters of Dame Rhoda by her first marriage. A painting of Dame Rhoda and Agnes Mary Elton may also be his work though this is not verified at present. All of these portraits may be seen at Clevedon Court, a property administered by the National Trust and two of them form part of a collection allocated to the National Trust having been accepted by the nation in lieu of tax liabilities.
Other portraits painted in the 1840’s and early 1850’s include one of Frederick Aaron, his brother and Frederick’s future parents-in-law Abraham and Susannah Riddiford. Frederick also used his in-laws as subjects for his work and it is interesting to compare the two brothers’ differing techniques and interpretation of the couple. Some of the eminent subjects commissioning William were Lieutenant Colonel Townsend of the 14th Royal Light Dragoons, whose portrait was exhibited in 1840 at the Royal Academy Exhibition, the Right Reverend James Henry Monk Lord Bishop of Gloucester and Bristol, painted for the Bishop’s College in Clifton exhibited in 1842 and the Earl of Bantry exhibited in 1844.
The Great Exhibition and the wider influences
The beginning of the new decade in Victorian England was marked by an ambitious scheme to hold a Great Exhibition in London. It was the brainchild of Henry Cole and had the full and enthusiastic backing of Prince Albert. Tenders were invited for the design of the building, which would house the first ever International Trade Fair. Joseph Paxton’s design was chosen and became known as the Crystal Palace, a magnificent glass and iron building to be erected on the southern edge of Hyde Park, the approach to which would later be known as Exhibition Way. Paxton’s inspiration came from his design of the Lily House built in the grounds of Chatsworth House, home of the Duke of Devonshire. Countries from all over the world were invited to exhibit and on the morning of 1st May 1851 the Great Exhibition was opened by Queen Victoria.
The Crystal Palace built for the Great Exhibition in 1851
Over 500,000 people filled Hyde Park and 30,000 people were beneath the great glass roof to witness the opening ceremony. Season tickets at three guineas for gentlemen and two guineas for ladies enabled holders to attend the Exhibition on the opening day; in due course entrance fees were reduced to one shilling a day during the week and five shillings on Saturdays. Almost certainly William and Elizabeth with their children would have been amongst the six million visitors who passed through the turnstiles during the five and a half months that the Exhibition was open.
Increasingly his wider family were proud of his achievements, but even so William must have been flattered when his wife’s great nephew was christened ‘William Gush Rollings’ . By 1851 a further move had taken the family from the centre of Fulham to the leafy countryside of Acton Vale to a new home called Bay Tree House . Their second and third sons William and Herbert were now boarders at the Independent Primary School in Trull, near Taunton, Somerset .
At the age of twenty-one, in 1852, Emma Catherine, William’s sister, married Robert Mills, a silk manufacturer, at West Hackney Church and William together with his brother Frederick and sister Helen signed the marriage register as witnesses to this happy event . A year later William’s exhibit at the Royal Academy exhibition was a portrait entitled Mrs Mills.
The Great Exhibition included a section on the new art form of photography and this created a great deal of interest. Many began to see the potential for this new medium in the world of portraiture and a Photographic Society was established in London in 1853. The Society held annual exhibitions and in 1854 James Contencin exhibited two photographs, one entitled a Portrait of a Lady painted by William Gush and the other a Copy of a painting by William Gush . In the Gush family it was Frederick Aaron who was inspired to learn more about photography and eventually it became his main source of income.
It was hoped that the Great Exhibition would improve trade and international relations and further the cause of peace. Sadly, although the event had been a huge success and made a profit, trade did not seem to benefit greatly. International relations were not improved and thoughts of prolonged peace were shattered when just three years later Britain became embroiled in the Crimean War, known contemporaneously as the Russian War, part of the Eastern Campaign. Russian occupation of Moldavia and Wallachia triggered the declaration of war on Russia by Turkey. The French and British wishing to see Russia’s power curbed supported Turkey. The subsequent limited victory by the Allies ended Russian expansion south into the Balkans for many years and west into Scandinavia for good. A Council of War was held in Paris in early in 1856 leading to The Treaty of Paris of 30 March 1856, which ensured that Russia accepted the neutrality of the Black Sea amongst other concessions. One of those attending the Council of War was Major General Sir Harry D Jones KCB, who had commanded the Royal Engineers in the Eastern Campaign. In 1857 William Gush exhibited his portrait of the Major General at the Royal Academy.
Lieutenant General Sir William
William was commissioned to paint the portrait of another key figure from the Crimean War a few years later. Lieutenant General Sir William Fenwick Williams of Kars, Bart., KCB is remembered for his gallant defence of the town of Kars during the conflict. He with other British officers inspired the poorly equipped Turkish soldiers to repel Russian attacks on the besieged town for three months, being forced to finally surrender through starvation, disease and shortage of ammunition. However they surrendered on their own terms with the officers being allowed to retain their swords. Many honours were subsequently bestowed upon Sir William and it was particularly fitting that in 1865-7, he was appointed Lieutenant-Governor of Nova Scotia, where he had been born at the turn of the 19th century. The portrait was painted for the Parliament House, Halifax, Nova Scotia and hangs to this day in Province House, Halifax .
Visit to Nova Scotia
It was shortly after the end of the Crimean War that William visited Nova Scotia for the first time. The Board of Trustees of Mount Allison University at Sackville near Halifax invited him to paint a full size portrait of Charles Frederick Allison, the founder of the University. Whilst in Sackville William also painted portraits of Charles Allison’s wife and daughter and Reverend Humphrey Pickard DD, 1st President of the University and Methodist minister. A further portrait of Reverend John Beecham, the first president of the Wesleyan Conference of Eastern British America was completed by William on his return to England and his payment arranged by the organisers of the Conference was £200. The following is an extract from notes on William Gush held by the Mount Allison University:
The life size portrait has caused many Allisonians to ponder upon the character of it’s subject. Professor W M Tweedie at the founders day evening, 3 November 1933, quoted notes made by David Allison – “Gush’s portrait of Charles Allison was painted whilst I was a student at the academy, and I saw its subject almost every day during term time. It is perhaps a little lacking as regards countenance or expression, but most strikingly reproduces features and figure and especially his characteristic attitude”.
Detail from the portrait of Charles Allison,
Reverend Humphrey Pickard,
Photographs provided by the Owens Art Gallery, New Brunswick
Mary, daughter of Charles Allison
Something is also learnt about William during his stay in Sackville in a letter written by Charles Allison’s niece in 1925: When Mr Gush was in Sackville painting the portraits of the Allisons he could not smoke in the house, as my uncle CFA was a most virulent enemy of tobacco, so he always sat out in the summer house or the garden and liked it so he had his painting kit placed out there. I have some other quaint little items in connection with his stay here but not for publication”. What a pity that these other gems are now lost in the mists of time!
William sailed to Halifax on board the steamer Niagara leaving Liverpool on 14 August 1858 and returned to Liverpool on the Europa on the 20 December 1858 . Notes held at Mount Allison University indicate that William Gush may have made a subsequent visit to Nova Scotia in the summer of 1859.
His commitments back in England still kept him very busy, the main one of these being the provision of portraits of ministers for the Methodist Magazine for most of the issues during the 1850’s. He also painted other portraits, for example the National Portrait Gallery in London has one original painting from this era, depicting John Curwen, a writer on music.( *See link at end to National Portrait Gallery website portrait of John Curwen NPG 1066). In an interesting extract from The Oxford Journals – Notes and Queries 1909 No.301 John Spencer Curwen states: ‘William Gush painted my father’s portrait about 1857 for ‘The Evangelical Magazine’; the portrait is now in the National Portrait Gallery at Charing Cross. As a boy I accompanied my father to the studio, and remember the painter perfectly’.
Fortunes and misfortunes of the growing family
William and Elizabeth’s five children were growing up. Vincent had no desire to become an artist like his father and after a comfortable childhood he had plenty of time to decide what he was going to do with his life. There was no pressure on him to find work and earn money to help pay the family bills. But at the same time he probably felt constrained by the very respectable circumstances surrounding his upbringing. By the mid 1850’s the Gold Rush in Australia was well under way and Vincent a single young man of nineteen with a spark of adventure decided to join one of the ships making the long journey to Australia. He (or his family) paid for his passage and he sailed aboard the appropriately named Goldfinder arriving in Melbourne, Australia in June 1856 . He gave his occupation as ‘private tutor’ though clearly he intended to make his fortune looking for gold. To this end he made his way to Yackandandah in the state of Victoria, where the entire area surrounding this small community was covered with gold panning sites and the living was rough.
No records survive of Vincent’s first few years in Yackandandah. He was or had become a young man of intemperate habit and it seems that though prospecting for gold may have been his original intention, he obviously had not made a success of this and had become a ‘news receiver’. By 1861 his quarrelsome character was well known around the area and his life came to an unfortunate end during August of that year. His body was discovered in a water hole several weeks after he had died and Henry B Lane, the Coroner, stated at the Inquest held of 11 September 1861: The body was raised from the water hole in which it lay, in the presence of the Jury and there were no circumstances that would induce the belief that the cause of death was other than accidental. The three witnesses called were the miner who had discovered Vincent’s body, the senior constable of Police at Yackandandah and John McGee an acquaintance, who was possibly the last person to see Vincent alive and was able to identify the clothes and boots as those worn by the deceased. McGee stated that Vincent had visited his home late in the evening in an intoxicated state and had asked leave to stay the night. During the next day it was clear that he wished to sort out a problem with one, James Lombard, and when he left the McGee’s home his mood was black. It is easy to speculate that maybe James Lombard came off best at the subsequent meeting, though this is something that will never be known and Vincent’s death, registered on 12 September 1861 , was attributed to accidental drowning . Letters of administration were not granted to William Gush until 1865 with Vincent’s effects being valued at under £20 . A sad ending indeed for William and Elizabeth’s eldest son, whose dream of a new and exciting life on the other side of the world had come to a sad and sudden conclusion.
It would appear that Rosalie was the only one of the children who showed any inclination to follow in father’s footsteps. In 1857 she worked from a studio in 15 Stratford Place and her speciality was miniature portraiture. She exhibited at the Royal Academy exhibition annually from that year to 1867 and again from 1870 to 1879 mainly choosing family members as her subjects for these portraits. At this time Rosalie was single and lived at home with her parents.
Second son, William Frederick, was studying to become a solicitor and was articled clerk to Laundy Walters, solicitor, of 36 Basinghall Street, London. His deponent was Stephen Walters from 2 November 1856  for the following five years and he had qualified as a London Attorney and Solicitor by Michaelmas 1861. His first entry in the Law List was in 1864, the entry reading: Walters & Gush, 36 Basinghall Street. It appears that William junior was proving to be a far steadier and more reliable character than his elder brother, Vincent.
H S H Prince of Teck,
The emerging technique of Photography
Around the time Rosalie’s first miniature portrait was entered at the Royal Academy, the family were living at 40 Camden Square, London  and William’s brother, Frederick Aaron, launched his new career as a professional photographer. His first business address in 1860 was in Regent Street, London  - a ‘must have’ address for anyone setting up a photographic studio at this time. Frederick exhibited two frames each containing nine portraits, at the London Photographic Society Exhibition in 1860. A year later he entered into partnership with another photographer, W H Ferguson, and there are several examples of the small photographs, known as carte-de-visites, produced by this partnership including one of the Prince of Teck. The Gush & Ferguson partnership exhibited at the London Photographic Exhibition for the next three years.
Sir John Inglis, a military gentleman whose career is remembered for his heroic defence of the residency at Lucknow during the Indian Mutiny in 1858, commissioned William to paint his portrait in the early 1860’s shortly before he died. Another death of greater significance at this time was that of Prince Albert, in December 1861, which shocked nation and left Queen Victoria inconsolable. She subsequently withdrew from public life for many years.
Four weddings and a funeral
So a very sad time for the Royal Family, but for the Gush family it was time for four weddings and a funeral. William was the corner stone of the family and could be relied upon to attend family weddings and sign the register as a witness. The first of these weddings was between his youngest sister Helen Georgiana and William Belcher whose rank on the marriage entry is listed as gentleman. The marriage took place at West Hackney Parish Church  in 1862 and William Gush was the first witness to sign, his daughter Rosalie also signed the register at her aunt’s wedding, though only three years separated the ages of aunt and niece.
Examples of the work of
The funeral in July 1866 was for William’s mother Elizabeth, who was seventy-three years old when she died . After Aaron’s death in 1837, she had carried on with the family boot and shoe business for a few years, but by the 1851 she is listed as a proprietor of houses . Aaron had invested some of his profits from his business in property. One imagines also that once William’s career had taken off he was able obviate the necessity for his mother to spend her days making shoes. Elizabeth’s estate was held in trust for the benefit of her three daughters, two of whom Emma and Helen were married by 1866. The third daughter, Elizabeth Matilda, who had remained single, was to receive her household furniture and effects .
William’s sister Helen sadly lost her husband William Belcher after only two years of marriage. In 1867 her second marriage was to William Benbow, an iron founder, and the ceremony took place at Islington Parish Church . William (now attending his fourth family wedding in five years) and his youngest brother, Alfred George, were witnesses at the wedding. Alfred was sixteen years younger than William and he had chosen a completely different career to either of his brothers. He ran a very successful business as a pawnbroker .
Photography versus Portrait Painting
Frederick Aaron Gush,
During the 1860’s, brother Frederick’s photographic career blossomed, but the advent of photography spelt the beginning of the end of portrait painting, which had up until then been the only way of preserving a person’s likeness. In 1860 William had provided the portraits for all twelve issues of the Methodist Magazine, just three years later the number was halved and the very last engraving of a portrait by William (of the Reverend Thomas T N Hull) appeared in February 1864. Photography now superseded portrait painting as a means of illustration, though the well-to-do would still wish to have their portraits painted to adorn the walls of their grand houses.
In 1864 William’s portrait of Sir John Inglis (now deceased) was included in the Royal Academy’s Exhibition after which the painting was transported to Halifax, Nova Scotia from where William’s commission had originated. His last portrait to be exhibited at the Academy was in 1865 and depicted Mrs Philip Vanderbyl; his subsequent entries in 1867 and between 1872-4 had less specific titles such as At Lessons and Blackberries. The Royal Academy moved from sharing the National Gallery’s premises in Trafalgar Square to the rebuilt Burlington House in 1869 and William’s final painting entitled The New Song (1874) brought to an end over forty years of exhibiting. In this year the review in the Illustrated London News mentioned that …..Yearly the pressure on the Academy for a place on its walls increases; as many as 5400 works are said to have been passed this time before the council though only 1624 items are in the catalogue.
At this point it is interesting to include a further extract from notes made many years ago and held at the Mount Allison University in Nova Scotia: Portrait artists like Gush may be of small consequence in the history of art yet they have done much to give personality to the history of the institutions and families of their patrons. It was to social history more than art, that Gush made his contribution. With the decline in popularity of portrait painting, in the tradition of Gush, we have lost an important tool for understanding our predecessors.
A move to the country
By 1865 William, Elizabeth and their daughter Rosalie had moved away from the hustle and bustle of London to the tranquillity of the Surrey countryside . Their new home was called The Grange and was situated a little to the north of the village of Malden. It was a large property standing in substantial grounds and with a separate stable block. The three of them were well cared for having two domestic servants, a cook and coachman. From humble beginnings the son of the shoemaker born in Tabernacle Walk in the heart of London had certainly done well for himself. Several peaceful years passed before Frederick Aaron, the brother he had been so close to, died. Frederick’s photographic business had prospered and in 1867 after his partnership with W H Ferguson had been dissolved, he ran the business under the title Gush & Co. His clientele included such eminent personages as George Cruickshank, the illustrator and caricaturist. A copy of this photograph is still in existence and the inscription on the reverse states: Under the Patronage of H S H Prince Teck. Frederick was obviously attracting some high class sitters, but his career was to come to an abrupt end on the last day of 1869, when he died of tuberculosis from which he had suffered for six months . Eliza, his wife and their eldest daughter, Harriet carried on the photographic business certainly into the 1870’s, being listed as artist/photographers in the 1871 census .
Exact details are not known and one can only guess at the reason for Frederick Thomas, William and Elizabeth’s youngest son, and his wife Mary going their separate ways after only a few years of marriage. It appears Frederick wished to do more with his life than be a tobacco merchant in London and when he heard that teachers were required in schools being opened in New Zealand he saw this as a great new opportunity for himself, but it appears that Mary was not keen to emigrate and so decided to stay in London with their little daughter Maud. Frederick sailed to New Zealand and settled in Hawkes Bay, North Island and became a teacher . He appears to have lived a happy life in his new country and married again in 1895 (Mary, his first wife, had died in 1891 ). He had a further ten children and many his descendants can still be found in New Zealand.
The next upheaval to shatter the peace at The Grange in Malden concerned the break-up of marriage and divorce of William and Elizabeth’s second son William Frederick and his wife Eliza Ann. After their marriage in 1864 the successful London solicitor and his wife were blessed with five sons and two daughters, the youngest Edward Basil born in 1873. But then in early 1874 Eliza met Lèon Probst, the son of close friends and neighbours in Ormonde Terrace, Regents Park where the Gush family lived. Lèon became a frequent visitor to the Gush household and before long Eliza was involved in a whirlwind romance. In the autumn of 1874 the two families travelled to Paris and whilst there Eliza confessed to William that she and Lèon were having an affair. Divorce amongst all but the upper class was almost unheard of in 1874, but William was in the right profession and started divorce proceedings immediately . The divorce was made absolute in the following year, a notice appearing in The Times on 19 April 1875, just one week after the arrival of Henriette, Léon and Eliza’s daughter.
Immediately after his divorce William Frederick was living at a house called Firgrove in Malden  close to his parent’s home. Then, after a relatively short time, the now single and unmarried William Frederick wed for a second time. The ceremony took place at St James Parish Church, Westminster on 9 December 1875 . Eliza Seal Bookham was his chosen bride and after the marriage the couple lived at 53 Sussex Gardens, Westminster. Needless to say his father again acted as witness to the wedding.
Charles Blake, a neighbour of the Gush family, lived close by at Motspur Park Farm. He was a retired solicitor and he became friendly with the family, especially with Rosalie. Rosalie now a spinster in her forties must have imagined that she would always remain single. As to William and Elizabeth thoughts on the association of their daughter with a gentleman many years her senior is not known though the impression is that the thoughts were not favourable. However life carried on peacefully enough with occasional trips to Hastings and St Leonards on Sea, where William’s brother Alfred George lived with Adah his wife and family. Alfred still had his business address in London, but had opened another branch in Hastings now styling himself pawnbroker and jeweller.
The beginning of the end
After forty six years of marriage William’s wife Elizabeth died on 10 March 1881 . Although she had been in poor health for several months, it must still have been a great shock to William and he would have been comforted to have Rosalie close at hand. Elizabeth was buried in the churchyard of St John the Baptist Church, Malden . A few weeks after the funeral William and Rosalie travelled to Hastings. It seemed the family was greatly affected by Elizabeth’s passing for even Frederick Thomas in New Zealand was moved to place an announcement of his mother’s death in the Hawkes Bay Herald, his local newspaper.
St John the Baptist Church, Malden
With changing circumstances, William made a new will in February 1883. Since making his previous one he had sold the premises at 15 Stratford Place, London originally bequeathed to his daughter Rosalie and instead the proceeds of this sale were to be given to her as a gift. Rosalie was to be the main beneficiary whilst she remained single, but if she married the estate would be divided equally amongst the four surviving children – (Elizabeth) Rosalie, William Frederick, Herbert James and Frederick Thomas. As mentioned earlier Frederick’s quarter was divided into three equal parts, one third to his wife Mary, one third to their daughter Maud and one third to be his own share. It was noted that if Herbert James predeceased William his share would be equally divided between the other children. (After more than fifteen years of research no further details of Herbert James’ life have been found subsequent to the entry in the 1851 census. One possibility is that he may have lived abroad following the example of two of his brothers). Alfred George and William Frederick were appointed as executors and trustees of the will and the witnesses to William’s signature were Edwin Child (his doctor) and Charles Blake, family (and Rosalie’s) friend.
But events now began to overtake William’s ordered life, just four months after witnessing his father’s signature William Frederick died , at his brother-in-law’s house in Kent, from tuberculosis as his grandfather and uncle had before him – he was only forty-three years of age.
Maybe it was then that William suffered a stoke or some equally debilitating illness sometime in late 1883 or early 1884 paralysing him and rendering him a person of unsound mind so that he is not sufficient for the government of himself his manors messuages lands tenements goods and chattels. Signed affidavits were filed on 4 April 1884 by Rosalie his daughter, Edwin Child his doctor, Alfred George Gush his brother, Francis Robert Middleton Phillips solicitor and late son’s (William Frederick) business partner and Thomas William Nunn for a petition to have William certified as a ‘Lunatic’ – it would be considered rather a harsh term in today’s parlance. William had to be examined by Henry John Lowndes Graham one of the Queen’s Commissioners and William Norris Nicholson, Masters of Lunacy and sadly they concluded that the petition should be granted .
Now aged forty-seven Rosalie finally consented to marry her long term friend and neighbour Charles Blake in spite of the fact that Charles was twenty-one years her senior and in fact only three years younger than her own father. The couple travelled to Alfred George’s home at St Leonards on Sea and at the attractively named Hollington Church in
His sad life lingered on for another four years, then on 28 February 1888 at the age of seventy-four William Gush died . Four days later he was buried with his wife in the graveyard at St John the Baptist Church, Malden on 3 March 1888 . The cause of death General paralysis Several years. Effusion on Brain 18 hours was certified by Edwin Child MRCS.
Alfred George Gush, his younger brother, had died just a year earlier  and so when William’s will was read letters of administration were granted to Rosalie Blake, his daughter, as both executors had predeceased him.
personal estate £4701.11.5d
The graves of William and Elizabeth (left)
The inscription on William and Elizabeth’s headstone
William’s grandsons studied Law and all commenced taking their
Law examinations 
– three of them Frank, George Elgood and Geoffrey Bertram all
qualified as solicitors ,
but it seems none of the grandchildren had inherited his artistic
flair. Rosalie Blake made her will in 1906 appointing George Elgood
Gush her sole executor. George Elgood was by this time living in
Hartley Wintney in Hampshire and he was tasked by his aunt to
distribute all the family portraits to members of the family
(including himself) at his discretion. Specifically Rosalie
bequeathed him William’s painting of Madonna de la Seglia.
At some point George Elgood passed this to his local parish church,
St Johns, in Hartley Wintney. It is thought that this painting hung
over the mantelpiece in the clergy vestry certainly until 1988, when
it was removed to a storeroom in the church, but has not been seen
The Dictionary of Victorian Painters describes the style of painting used by William as being in the keepsake tradition and that His female types are very similar to those of Charles Baxter. Kingsmead’s A Dictionary of Artists 1760-1893 lists him as exhibiting 53 pictures at the Royal Academy, 4 at the British Institution and 2 at the Suffolk Street Galleries. But over one hundred years later William’s legacy lives on in a diverse range of venues, from a store in the Parish Church at Hartley Wintney to the National Portrait Gallery in London, and from The Mount Allison University in Canada to the top of our stairs!
Research into William Gush’s life has been all consuming giving me the opportunity to visit many different places and meet and correspond with a variety of interesting and knowledgeable people. Much research remains to be done and though mention has been found of 354 portraits painted by him, I am sure there are many more still to be traced. The sad fact is that none of his descendants that we contacted initially knew anything about his life and career, so I have endeavoured to redress the balance by telling his story now. When I began my research, the only piece of information on the Gush branch of the our tree passed to me by the family, was the birth date of William’s great granddaughter – Alice Cicely Gush – my husband’s paternal grandmother and even that was wrong by one year! But for all the pages you have just read about his life, one part of the jigsaw is still missing and this is what I would dearly love to find. Surely somewhere out there is a photograph or self portrait of this talented man?
National Portrait Gallery links:
1 Parish Register St Luke’s Church, Finsbury, London, p36 entry 288, 1813.
2 Ibid, p174 entry 914, 1812.
3 Parish Register St Gregory’s Church, Seaton, Devon, 1792.
4 The Life of Richard Gush “The York Friends” Tract Association, 1860.
5 The National Archives ADM36/15709, p11, 29 November 1803.
6 The National Archives ADM52/3732, 14 June 1807.
7 The Life of Richard Gush “The York Friends” Tract Association, 1860.
8 1851 Census, HO107/1504, Folio 340, p32, 1861 Census, RG9/155, Folio 159, p34.
9 Parish Register St Luke’s Church, Finsbury, p36 entry 288, 1813.
10 Ibid James p249 entry 1988, 1815, Frederick Aaron p79 entry 630, 1817, Elizabeth p234 entry 1870,
1818, James (2nd) p94 entry 750, 1820.
11 Burial Records Wesley’s Chapel, City Road, London, James entry 3046 1819, Elizabeth entry 3177
1820, James (2nd) entry 3266 1821, John entry 3408 1823.
12 The Story of the British Settlers of 1820 in South Africa by H E Hockly
13 Robson’s Directory 1819.
14 Old Bailey Proceedings Ref: t18200217-31.
15 National Gallery Archives, London.
16 Parish Register St Luke’s Church, Finsbury, p56 entry 441, 1826.
17 Old Bailey Proceedings t18270405-15.
18 Parish Register St Luke’s Church, Finsbury, p278 entry 2222, 1829, p117 entry 931, 1831.
19 Archives at The Royal Society for the Encouragement of Arts, Manufactures & Commerce.
20 London Post Office Directory 1832.
21 Old Bailey Proceedings t18330103-76.
22 Illustrated London News, 9 May 1868, p461.
23 Parish Register St Luke’s Church, Finsbury, p129 entry 1030, 1835.
24 Parish Register St Leonard’s Church Shoreditch, p44 entry 352, 1813.
25 Parish Register St John the Baptist Church, Hoxton, p257 entry 769, 1835.
26 Parish Register All Souls Church, Langham Place, Marylebone, p30 entry 402 1836.
27 Ibid, p5 entry 35 1838.
28 Death registered 8 May 1838.
29 Birth certificates for William registered 2 October 1839, Herbert registered 15 February 1841, Frederick
registered 29 September 1842
30 1851 Census, HO107/1488, Folios 10/11, pp 13/14.
31 Archivist, Bristol Record Office.
32 Thomas Rollings’ son (Shoreditch II 436 Mar 1848).
33 1851 census HO107/1699, Folio 579, p82 and London Post Office Directory 1851 (Court section).
34 1851 census HO107/1922, Folio 86, p19.
35 Parish Register West Hackney Church, p18 entry 36, 1852.
36 Records from Victorian Exhibition Catalogues.
37 Rod MacArthur QC, House of Assembly, Nova Scotia.
38 Arcadian Recorder, Halifax, 14 August 1858; Novascotian 20 December 1858.
39 Unassisted Shipping Index, Public Record Office, Victoria, Australia.
40 Register of Deaths, State of Victoria, 1861 entry 104, Schedule B.
41 Proceedings of Inquest held on V H D Gush, PRO, Victoria, Australia 11 September 1861.
42 Calendar of Grants and Letters of Administration made in the Principal Registry, 1865.
43 The National Archives, KB170/9.
44 Post Office London Directory 1856.
45 Ibid, 1860.
46 Parish Register West Hackney Church, p61 entry 121, 1862.
47 Marriage certificate dated 3 May 1864.
48 The National Archives, LC3/69.
49 The National Archives, LC9/404.
50 Marriage certificate dated 18 July 1865.
51 Death registered 20 July 1866.
52 1851 census HO107/1504, Folio 340, p32.
53 Will proved 13 September 1866.
54 Parish Register St Mary’s Church, Islington, p161 entry 321, 1867.
55 1861 census RG9/181, Folio 42, p45.
56 Post Office London Suburban Directory, South, 1865.
57 Death registered 5 January 1870.
58 1871 census RG10/1328, Folio 16, p23.
59 Electoral Roll Hawkes Bay, New Zealand 1881, No 385.
60 The Times 2 December 1891, p1 col A.
61 The National Archives J77/151/3482.
62 Post Office London Directory 1876.
63 Marriage certificate dated 9 December 1875.
64 Death registered 10 March 1881.
65 Parish Register St John the Baptist Church, Malden, p47 entry 371, 1881.
66 Death registered 22 June 1883.
67 The National Archives C211/49
68 The Times 3 May 1884, p1 col A.
69 Marriage certificate dated 30 April 1884.
70 Death registered 29 February 1888.
71 Parish Register St John the Baptist Church, Malden, p52 entry 415, 1888
72 Death registered 19 March 1887.
73 Incorporated Law Society examination results.
74 Frank – The Times 23 December 1893, p12 col C, George Elgood – 1901 census RG13/656 Folio 39,
p31, Geoffrey Bertram – Marriage certificate dated 22 October 1902.
75 Letter from Reverend John Earp, incumbent at St Johns Church, Hartley Wintney from 1962-1988.
With grateful thanks to those who have assisted me in my research:
The Archivist, National Gallery, London.
The Archivist, Royal Society of Arts Manufacture & Commerce.
Peter Forsaith, Methodist Heritage Co-Ordinator (Archives & Art), Wesley and Methodist Study Centre, Oxford Brookes University, Oxford.
Jane Tisdale, Fine Arts Conservator, Owens Art Gallery, Mount Allison University,
Sackville, New Brunswick, Canada.
Illustrations reproduced by kind permission of:
The Chronicles of London Andrew Saint & Gilliam Darley.
The Annals of London John Richardson.
The Story of the British Settlers of 1820 in South Africa by Harold Hockly.
The Life and Times of Victoria by Dorothy Marshall.
London in the Nineteenth Century by Thomas Shepherd.
London Street Views 1838-40 by John Tallis.
The London Encyclopaedia edited by Ben Weinreb and Christopher Hibbert.
Crystal Palace Patrick Beaver.
The Great Exhibition A facsimile of the Illustrated Catalogue of London’s 1851
Crystal Palace Exposition.
Annals of the Elton Family by Margaret Elton.
The Siege of Kars 1855 Despatches London: The Stationery Office.
London – Portrait of a City compiled by Roger Hudson.
Shepherd’s London J F C Phillips.
The Royal Academy Exhibitors to 1904 edited by Algernon Graves.