Epergne, model of the Broken Hill mine, silver/ glass/ wood, made by Henry Steiner, retailed by August Brunkhorst, Adelaide, South Australia, 1887-1888
Approximately a couple of dozen large (over half a meter in height) silver centrepieces were crafted in Australia in the second part of the 19th century. About half of these tour de forces of Australian silversmithing are known to have survived. Thought to have been lost until it resurfaced only a few years ago, this centrepiece is designed in the form of a fern tree towering over a massive base with a model of the Broken Hill Proprietary Company mine. The first smelting plant crusher, constructed in 1886, features in the centre and is flanked by two mining shafts: the Rasp shaft and engine house on the far left and McCulloch's shaft on the right.
The epergne was initially believed to have been made to celebrate the good fortune of Charles Rasp who discovered rich silver deposits in Broken Hill in 1883 thus enabling the establishment of BHP two years later (1). Recent research (2), has revealed that the Rasp commission was executed to a different design and that this particular work was a gift to SR Wilson on his retirement from the management of the BHP. It commemorates the beginning of silver mining and smelting at Broken Hill, an event that had an enormous significance in the economic and social history of New South Wales and Australia. Completed in 1887, this imposing example of Australian silversmithing was made from Broken Hill silver by Henry Steiner, one of Adelaide's leading silversmiths, in collaboration with August Brunkhorst who retailed it.
1.Hawkins, JB., 'Charles Rasp and the model of the Broken Hill Mine, Antipodes Antiquities and Fine Art , vo.1, no 1, 1997, pp 40-53.
2. Reason, R., Silver city: The Broken Hill presentations', in: 'Bounty. Nineteenth -century South Australian gold and silver, Art Gallery of South Australia, pp107-113, 2012.
Designed by Henry Steiner possibly in collaboration with August Brunkhorst in Adelaide. Made by Henry Steiner possibly in collaboration with August Brunkhorst, the work's retailer, in Adelaide.
Born and trained in Germany, Henry Steiner was a leading Australian silversmith and jeweller who worked in Adelaide between 1858 and 1889 (with a 3-year break in 1884-1887 when he returned to Germany). One of the most prolific colonial makers, he worked under the patronage of several governors and showed his foremost creations at intercolonial and international exhibitions both in Australia and overseas. In 1884 Steiner sold his business to August Brunkhorst, another German-born silversmith and the retailer of the Broken Hill Centrepiece.
This epergne was commissied by Charles Rasp who found silver in Broken Hill in 1883. It commemorates the beginning of large scale silver mining and smelting in Australia. The discovery of the rich silver silver deposits by Charles Rasp led to the establishment of BHP in 1885.