The Lady Franklin Gallery is a classically inspired building in Lenah Valley which was built in 1842 as an art and historical museum. It was the creation of Lady Jane Franklin, the wife of the Governor Sir John Franklin who, when they arrived in Hobart in 1837, was shocked at the lack of cultural institutions in the area and the indifference of the early colonists.
While Sir John concerned himself with educational matters within the colony, Lady Franklin addressed the issue of community cultural needs. This exceptionally resourceful and talented woman envisaged the erection of a classically inspired building to be an art and historical museum and for it to act as a focal point for the cultural requirements and inspirations of an enlightened community she hoped would eventuate in the new colony.
With fond memories of the museums and galleries of her European tours, she wrote to her sister in England asking her to “procure a pretty little design for me” and described her plans to furnish the building with sculptures, books and pictures. It is not known whether any such design was ever obtained from England and colonial records do not attribute the design to any particular person. There is speculation that Colonial Architect, W. Polden Kay or even the renowned architect, James Blackburn may have influenced the design but most believe that the Lady herself determined the final design, described by some as “like a tiny Greek Temple, like a miniature Parthenon”.
Lady Jane purchased 10 acres in the area known as Kangaroo Valley as a dedicated site for the building that she named “Lower Ancanthe”. She then purchased a further 400 acres, the proceeds from the sale or rental of, would help to finance & maintain this art & historical museum. When the Franklins left in 1843, all the land, buildings and contents were transferred upon trust to the Bishop of Tasmania on the proviso “that as soon as there shall be in the colony, any college or university to which the Bishop could transfer the property, that the transfer would be undertaken”. In 1846, Christ College, which Sir John had been keen to see established, was formed and the Bishop duly approved the transfer of the property to the church institution.
Over the following years, the church sold off plots of the land and by 1920, had sold so much of the land that the building stood derelict on a weed infested plot of miserable size. It was quoted some time later that “it stood neglected, its contents gone and it was said to be the first proposed art gallery used as a cow shed and apple store”
Public criticism of the neglect caused an act of parliament to be passed that transferred the building and remainder of the land to the citizens of Hobart. This was not actually executed until 1936 and the apathy persisted with no one willing to re-open the building for its original intended purpose. The building was used as a storehouse for city records etc.
In 1948, the Art Society of Tasmania approached the Hobart Council with a proposal to open the gallery, giving the society ongoing possession of the building with the duty of improving and maintaining the interior, if the council would maintain the grounds and the State Government would provide a small annual grant of assistance. This arrangement prevails to this day with the Art Society being the gallery operator for the past 55 years. The society conducts art classes, workshops, exhibitions and has built up an impressive art library. The gallery is open to the public each weekend.
The historic building is now referred to as “The Lady Franklin Gallery” as the original contents of the museum are no longer housed there. The exterior is in immaculate condition, with the interior sympathetically restored (the flooring comprise the original floorboards) with only a few modern embellishments. In its wonderful setting, the “Tiny Temple of Ancanthe” of Lady Jane Franklin’s imagination lives on!
Information Source: Information Sheet from Lady Franklin Gallery