In about 1884, Herbert M. Smyrk and Charles Rogers were partners in the Melbourne stained-glass firm, Smyrk & Rogers, which was one of the few competitors to the leading local firm, Ferguson & Urie (c.1854-1899). However, unlike Ferguson & Urie whose work is widespread and relatively well-documented, far fewer windows have been positively identified as emerging from the Smyrk & Rogers workshop despite the unusual practice of signing their work. Most firms did not ‘advertise’ in this way but ‘Smyrk & Rogers 166 Lt. Collins St. East, Melbourne’ occasionally appears along the lower edge of their windows.
Fig. 1: Smyrk & Rogers window, address unknown, East Melbourne
Charles Rogers appears to have been the principal owner, but his partners changed over the years. Smyrk & Rogers was listed in the Sands & McDougall Directory of 1884 as ‘stained glass artists’ and ‘glass stainers’, situated at 166 Little Collins Street East, Melbourne. The Cyclopedia of Victoria Vol. 1 (1902) alluded to Smyrk & Rogers without naming the firm: ‘About the year 1884 two men, who were practically acquainted, one with the artistic and the other with the mechanical side of glass painting, started on their own account [in Melbourne], and quickly found plenty of work to do.’[i]
By 1887 the firm had built quite a reputation and received the ‘top colonial award’ (second prize) in the Adelaide Exhibition of that year, a fact that was highlighted in advertisements for many years.[ii] Not averse to publicity and no doubt keen to be associated with the latest trends, the firm advertised in the catalogue of the “9 x 5” Impressions Exhibition that created great interest in Australian landscape artists, Tom Roberts, Frederick McCubbin, Arthur Streeton and others.
Fig 2: Smyrk & Rogers advertisement from the “9 x 5” Impressions Exhibition, Buxton’s Rooms, Melbourne 1889
Herbert Moesbury Smyrk (1861-1947), a colourful character who travelled throughout his life, was born at ‘Southall’, his family’s home in Guildford, Surrey.[iii] Against his father’s wishes and expectations for his son to pursue a career in England, Smyrk stowed away on a ship bound for America, landing in New York in the 1880s.[iv] Here he is believed to have begun designing for stained glass, a career that then took him to California. Then he spent a brief period in England[v] again before returning to Australia where he was ‘associated’ with Brooks, Robinson & Co. in 1884.[vi] It appears this too was a short-lived tenure as he was in partnership with Charles Rogers the same year.[vii]
An article on ‘Art Glass’ in the Australasian Builder & Contractors’ News, 28 April 1888, mentioned Smyrk & Rogers as ‘having studied the art of glass painting and designing in the best English and American shops…able to introduce a really good and taking style of modern glass painting’. The article listed a number of the firm’s windows-in-progress including the new Houses of Parliament, Adelaide; an Assention [sic] and six ornamental windows for suburban [Melbourne] churches; the Richmond Town Hall, as well as unnamed private residences. One residence of note was Amberley in East Melbourne (c1886) that featured a grand central entrance surround and the staircase windows by the firm.[viii]
Fig 3: Smyrk & Rogers, Staircase window and detail of signature, private residence, East Melbourne c.1886.
The figure designs for residential settings were derived from the Aesthetic Style and often featuring a central panel surrounded by several highly decorative borders. The image of the central panel could feature a reclining figure[ix] a dancing girl[x] or scenes from literature and the arts.[xi] There was considerable interest in Shakespeare around this period, and to install windows featuring scenes or characters from his plays was ‘fashionable, socially impressive, and evocative of old England and the romantic past’.[xii] The tercentenary of Shakespeare’s birth in 1864 was the likely impetus to the spate of stained glass designs based on Shakespearean texts and characters that emerged over the next twenty years.[xiii]
Fig 4: Smyrk & Rogers, details from stained glass in sidelight and transom, main entrance, private residence, East Melbourne c.1886.
Dissolution of Smyrk & Rogers
It seems that Herbert M. Smyrk and Charles Rogers parted company in 1888 and, according to their advertisements in the Australasian Builder & Contractors’ News, for a short period the firm became ‘H.M. Smyrk’.[xiv] However, Charles Rogers appears to have won the day and subsequent advertisements appeared under the banner ‘Charles Rogers & Co., formerly Smyrk & Rogers’.[xv]
Fig 5: Announcement of the dissolution of the Smyrk & Rogers partnership, Argus 21 September 1888, p. 5
Although the firm’s ecclesiastical works were not as widespread as other firms, such as Brooks, Robinson & Co. or William Montgomery, the firm’s commission for the north and south aisles of St. Mary’s Anglican Church, North Melbourne, carried out in 1887-8 during the ‘Boom’ period, stands out as ornamental design of a high order. A plaque in the nave of the church suggests that the firm was already ‘C.Rogers & Co.’ by the time the last of the windows was installed. Here, text ribbons were set into a typically Victorian geometric grisaille that bears some relationship to the firm’s contemporary domestic installations. The simple leadlights in the west wall were elegantly conceived as was a later series of soft pastel quarry windows of similar design installed at St. Paul’s Anglican Church, Inverleigh in 1890.
Fig 6: Charles Rogers & Co., One of a series of decorative grisaille windows installed in memory of John G. Marley (d. 5 September 1887) by his widow, Elizabeth.
References to Smyrk’s career after the dissolving of the partnership show him careening around the world, rarely remaining in one place for long. Peter & June Donovan in their seminal work on South Australian stained and painted glass noted that in 1897 E.M. Troy, one of South Australia’s leading nineteenth century firms, ‘engaged H.M. Smyrk … a decorative artist of high repute’.[xvi] He may have worked in a freelance capacity as a Ferguson & Urie window (1896) for a window in memory of Councillor Ievers at St. George’s Catholic Church, Carlton was designed by him.[xvii] And he appears to have spent time in Western Australia too, as a stained glass window, The Good Shepherd, executed by ‘W.M. Smyrk’(sic) was one of many exhibits selected by the W.A. Royal Commission for the 1900 Paris Exhibition.[xviii]
The respected British journal The Studio (1893-1918), arbiter of style and taste, regularly featured images of stained glass and leadlight for residential locations. The 1909 edition of The Studio Yearbook of Decorative Art departed from the previous format and included brief profiles of stained glass artists and firms. Among them was Herbert Smyrk, Ruskin House, Rochester Row, Westminster, London, ‘a designer of stained glass and interior decoration … associated with Morris & Co. of Westminster, who executes his designs in stained glass’.[xix] The designs reproduced in The Studio do not directly relate to the Smyrk & Rogers work in Melbourne or Adelaide, but times and styles had changed significantly since the 1880s and a more simplified form of the art had developed.
And, according to The Salon (1913), Smyrk had associations with the Brisbane firm, R.S. Exton & Co. where ‘…[the leadlight] department is now under the management of Mr. Herbert M. Smyrk, who for many years was one of the principal artists in the studio of Messrs. William Morris & Co., Ruskin House, London.’ He may then have moved to Sydney as the Sands & Kenny Directory for 1915-1916 lists among the ‘Artists’, H.M. Smyrk, 5 Moore St.’
The exotic South Pacific lured him for a time, then (after a short trip to Adelaide in about 1926-27), the Society Islands, before he returned to California to complete a commission for the new Immanuel Presbyterian Church in Los Angeles.[xx]
Fig 7: Photograph of Herbert Moesbury [Smyrk] in South Seas persona, Mail (Adelaide), 14 November 1925, p. 17
By 1935 Smyrk was once again in Sydney, employed as artist for Frank G. O’Brien at Waterloo.[xxi] Possibly he was working in a freelance capacity as at the same time he is reported as having completed two windows – Resurrection and Crucifixion – for St. Francis’ Church, Paddington and has two more under construction, Nativity and Christ in Heaven.[xxii]
Charles Rogers & Co. and Hughes, Rogers & Co.
Charles Rogers & Co. operated from cramped quarters at 89 Little Collins Street until 1890 when the firm moved to a substantial 4-storey brick building in Burns Lane, off Lonsdale Street.
During the Charles Rogers & Co. period a number of church commissions were fulfilled successfully but the figurative windows for All Saints’ Anglican Church, East St. Kilda, installed in 1889, were condemned by the Building & Engineering Journal as crudely designed and harshly coloured. Maybe the loss of Mr. Smyrk’s abilities was being felt.
In 1891 Charles Rogers went into partnership with the Clayton & Bell-trained artist, John Hughes who had been employed at Brooks Robinson & Co. for three years. The new firm became Hughes, Rogers & Co. of Burns Lane, Lonsdale Street.
Advertising in the usual way, the firm made much of its ‘Special Appointment to His Excellency the Governor’ and listed many of their ecclesiastical and domestic commissions (see list below). Hughes, Rogers & Co. continued advertising in the Building & Engineering Journal into the early 1890s. The journal also featured their work from time to time, including windows in St. Joseph’s Catholic Church, Collingwood (1891).[xxiii]
Fig 8: Hughes & Rogers, Nativity, St. Joseph’s Catholic Church, Collingwood 1891. John Hughes influence can be seen in the figure of Joseph that closely resembles similar facial expressions in Clayton & Bell windows at St. Paul’s Anglican Cathedral, Melbourne and at St. John’s Anglican Church, Heidelberg.
The Building & Engineering Journal October 22, 1892 announced that a three-light window depicting the Crucifixion for the Convent of the Good Shepherd, South Melbourne (now demolished) was on display at the studios. In the same article Mr. Hughes was described as having ‘…a perfect knowledge of his art, and can apply it in a most artistic manner’.
In 1893 Hughes asked the journal to dispel rumours that he intended to leave Melbourne. Despite this assurance, he and Rogers parted shortly afterwards, and Mr. Rogers continued in business under his own name once again. John Hughes returned to England and there is no further mention of him in Melbourne’s stained-glass circles.
The depression of the 1890s saw most Melbourne stained glass firms close and by late 1898 C. Rogers & Co., now located at 167 Lt. Flinders Street Melbourne, was one of only five firms listed under ‘stained glass artists’ in the Sands & MacDougall Directories. By 1900, Ferguson & Urie had closed and it was also the last listing for Charles Rogers & Co. although the firm is believed to have survived for another few years.
Commissions (incomplete) From advertisements in the Building & Engineering Journal 1889
St. John’s Church, Camberwell (destroyed by fire)
St. Mary’s Church, North Melbourne
Holy Trinity Church, Coburg
All Saints’ Church, St. Kilda (unidentified)
Carmelite Convent, South Melbourne
Domestic & Public:
The Governor’s Residence, Mt. Macedon
Foxall’s Ballarat Star Hotel, Swanston Street
Dalgety & Co. Bourke Street west
Sir E.T. Smith, Adelaide
RA Stock Esq., Balaclava
J Detmold Esq., Balaclava
JA Panton, Esq., PM, St. Kilda
WJ Elliott’s Hotel, Bourke Street
[i] Cyclopedia of Victoria 1903, p.603.
[ii] Australasian Building & Contractors’ News, Vol.1 No.22, 15 October 1887, p.364.
[iii] Details of Smyrk’s early life are generally taken from his own recollections, reported in
[iv] Report of an interview with Herbert Moesbury [Smyrk] while he was in Adelaide, News, 3 November 1925, p.8.
[v] Possibly he was at Newcastle during this stay in England. Personal communication via email with the author, Tony Benyon, 27 September 2012.
[vi] News, 3 November 1925, p. 8.
[vii] Sands & Macdougall Directory, 1884.
[viii] Sighted by the author. The lack of documentation on the firm may be explained by this concentration on non-church commissions.
[ix] Image sighted from an unknown Albert Park (Vic.) residence.
[x] Sighted by the author at Halcyon, St. Kilda and Malvern (Vic.)
[xi] A set of Shakespearian windows by Smyrk & Rogers sighted by the author at Glenroy, Glenroy (Vic.)
[xii] Beverley Sherry, Australia’s Historic Stained Glass, p.44.
[xiii] See Beverley Sherry’s articles at https://glaasincresearch.wordpress.com/…/shakespearean-characters-in-stained-glass/
[xiv] Australasian Builder & Contractors’ News, Vol III, No 70, 1 September 1888.
[xv] Australasian Builder & Contractors’ News, Vol III, No 74, 6 October 1888.
[xvi] Peter & June Donovan, 150 Years of Stained & Painted Glass, p.37.
[xvii] Advocate, 15 February 1896, p.16.
[xviii] West Australian, 8 February 1900, p. 2.
[xix] The Studio Yearbook of Decorative Art, 1909, p.70-71.
[xx] Advertiser, 24 December 1929, p. 14. The majority of the original 1929 windows for this church were by Dixon Art Glass Company, Los Angeles; it is likely that Smyrk was a freelance designer. See http://immanuelpres.org/en/architecture/
[xxi] Catholic Press, 25 April 1935, p. 14.
[xxii] Catholic Press, 25 April 1935, p. 25.
[xxiii] The windows were unfortunately destroyed by fire in 2007.