Level 3 Mortlock Wing State Library of South Australia North Terrace Adelaide SA 5000

George French Angas

George French Angas (1822-1886) was the eldest son of one of South Australia’s principal founders, George Fife Angas. The Angas family built their wealth as coachbuilders in Newcastle-on-Tyne, where George French was born in 1822. A prominent Dissenter against imposed State religion, Angas senior found common cause with fellow Dissenters in planning for a new colony in Australia, distinguished by freedom of religion and expression. By South Australia’s foundation in 1836, George French’s artistic talent had become evident. His first drawing expedition was to the Isle of Wight in 1840, followed by a tour of Malta and Sicily in 1841. Two years later he set out on his remarkable journeys through South Australia, New South Wales and New Zealand, culminating in his 1846 exhibition of more than 250 watercolours at London’s Egyptian Hall and the publication of South Australia Illustrated (1847) and The New Zealanders Illustrated (1847), each containing 60 chromolithographs of his watercolours. In 1847 Angas set out on another ambitious tour, to South Africa, gathering natural history specimens and watercolours which were published in his Kaffirs Illustrated (1849).

In 1848 Angas was appointed as the British Museum’s naturalist to the Turko-Persian Border Survey, but fell ill with fever in Constantinople (Istanbul) and was invalided back to London. In 1849, aged twenty- seven, he married Alicia Moran, elder sister of Stephen Moran, his assistant in South Africa. With his wife and their first child, Annie, Angas sailed for Adelaide in 1850, joining other members of his family now firmly based in the Barossa Valley. Unable to find satisfactory employment as a drawing master, Angas travelled to the newly discovered goldfields at Ophir near Bathurst, and published the first engravings in 1851. In 1853 he was appointed as Secretary of the Australian Museum in Sydney, devoting himself to natural history and particularly to his first love, that of collecting and describing shells.

A series of important publications followed, and Angas would become known as the ‘father of Australian conchology’, transforming the museum’s collections and building one of the largest collections of Southern Hemisphere shells. In 1860, when his term at the Australian Museum came to an end, Angas and young family relocated to Angaston, where he became the Chair of the district council, under his father’s watchful eye. That relationship was always difficult, and by 1863 his father had decided that George French and his family should return to England. Aged just forty, Angas had achieved an extraordinary amount; in London as a member of the Zoological and Linnaean Societies, Angas settled into a new role as a gentleman naturalist. The exertions of his youth had taken a serious toll on his health though, and in 1886, aged just sixty-four, he succumbed to a tubercular condition, leaving his wife and four daughters.

Notes prepared by Philip Jones