H. Newman & Sons, Melbourne The Buller Presentation Flask

In 2017 the National Gallery of Victoria was gifted a magnificent and historically important gold flask by Melbourne collector and scholar Ms Jennifer Shaw. The flask has recently been incorporated in the permanent collection displays at the Ian Potter Centre: NGV Australia where, in addition to recognising an important historical event, it forms an exceptional example of the skills of early twentieth-century Melbourne goldsmiths and jewellers.

At the turn of the nineteenth-century General Sir Redvers Buller VC was a celebrated military hero. In 1900, 1,050 residents of Victoria each contributed to the commissioning of a solid gold flask to present to him – inscribed ‘To General Sir Redvers Buller V.C., from his Victorian admirers’. What prompted this extraordinary act of public subscription was that Buller had led a strategic and successful Anglo Boer War military campaign: the Relief of Ladysmith, which took place in the KwaZulu Natal province of South Africa. Leading troops through a 118-day siege that forced the Boer forces to retreat, Buller reclaimed the town on 28 February 1900.

The Buller Presentation Flask, c. 1900, was designed and made by Melbourne jewellers Henry Newman & Sons and features an applied repoussé panel in gold, by silver and goldsmith James Holt. The relief effect of repoussé is achieved by hammering into the metal surface while it is supported on a bed of pitch. In addition to the repoussé panel the flask is further enhanced with enamel decoration. The upper portion of the flask presents motifs of Britain and Australia: the British lion and Union Jack, and below is an enamelled pre-Federation Australian coat of arms. The lower portion, which can be removed and used as a drinking vessel, is adorned with a raised medallion bearing the inscription to Buller and is encircled by British bayonets, bugles and swords. Constructed from 326 grams of 18- and 22-carat gold it was a lavish tribute to a publically recognised military General.

David Hurlston, Senior Curator, Australian Art (in 2017)