Sedan chair, [used by Emily Josephine Albers (nee Fox) in England], owned by Frank Penfold Hyland, Sydney, New South Wales, Australia, in 1929
A sedan chair is a portable enclosed chair for a single passenger. It was generally carried by two "chairmen" holding poles attached to either side of the chair. Sedan chairs were fashionable in England and Europe during the 17th, 18th and early 19th centuries and were an important part of the social life of the times. They were very useful for negotiating crowded, unsafe, narrow, winding and often filthy streets and were particularly used by "invalids, ladies and party goers". Sedan chairs had the advantage of being able to be carried up and down stairs and could deliver the passenger from inside their own home to inside their destination without having to step outside.
It is believed that this sedan chair was brought to Australia during the early decades of the 20th century to be used as a domestic telephone box. It became fashionable in both Sydney and Melbourne for society women to acquire sedan chairs from overseas and use them in their homes. The sedan chair provided privacy, a comfortable seat during the telephone call and good acoustics as well as being seen as an interesting antique curio for the home.
This sedan chair was owned by Frank Penfold Hyland of Penfold wines and displayed at exhibitions of antiques in Sydney in both 1929 and 1949.
Curator, Transport, Toys & Farm Machinery
Saunders, Beatrice "The Age of Candlelight: The English Social Scene in the 17th Century", Centaur Press, London, 1959, p.39.
Heard Here and There' in "The Argus" (Melbourne), 25 June, 1936, p.4.
'Governor at Exhibition' in "The Sydney Morning Herald", 20 October 1949, p.1.
It is not known where this sedan chair was made however the lock indicates it was made in Paris, France.
The sedan chair was a popular form of conveyance for the wealthy on the crowded streets of Europe's larger cities between the 1600s and 1800s. In London each mansion had at least one. Wealthy people owned their own chairs which were carved, gilded and lined with silk or velvet. These were carried by two liveried servants often with a footman going ahead and shouting to clear the way. Some large elaborate chairs required four men.
Many sedan chairs were available for hire. Chairmen were licensed and displayed a number in a similar fashion to modern day taxi drivers. In London, they were seen as a practicable form of city transport and were introduced in 1624 as a solution to the congestion caused by the increasing numbers of horses and carriages on narrow city streets. Later sedan chairs themselves were blamed for causing congestion with chairmen accused of treating the pavements as their own and pushing all others aside. As a result in 1710, the number of sedan chairs allowed for hire was restricted to 200, although the limit was raised to 300 the following year.
Public chairs were more uncomfortable and simple than private chairs. The public chairmen were usually thickset nefarious characters while the private carriers were brightly dressed and assumed a position of superiority to their public counterparts. Rivalry between public and private carriers was often fierce.
As roads improved and travel in carriages became more comfortable, sedan chairs went out of use. One of the last sedan chairs in use in England is thought to have been used at Bury St Edmunds.
During the first decades of the twentieth century sedan chairs were sent to both Australia and the United States of America for reuse in fashionable and well-to-do homes as telephone boxes. Not only were they functional but they were novel and ornamental. One Melbourne sedan chair sourced from England ended up in the home of Mr and Mrs Basil Murphy of "Lordello", Toorak Road, Toorak.
According to the Museum files, this sedan chair was said to have been owned by the daughter of Charles James Fox (1799-1874), the notorious London surgeon. Fox married Anne Mary Guian in 1828 and their last child was a daughter, Emily Josephine Fox. Emily was born in 1840, married Francois Reinier Jacob Albers in 1867, and died at the age of 91 in 1932 at Nijmegen, Netherlands.
It was said that this sedan chair was then brought to Australia by a Lady Clark. She may have been the wife of Sir Reginald Marcus Clark (1883-1953), Lady Frances Hanks Clark. Sir Reginald was a noted collector of English and Australian art, coins and antique china.
A more definite reference to this sedan chair in Sydney occurred in 1929 when it featured in a collection of furnishings , china, glass and textiles on display at The Burdekin House Exhibition, Macquarie Street, Sydney, from October until December 1929, in aid of the Royal Prince Alfred Hospital. The chair was then owned by Frank Astor Penfold Hyland (1873-1948) who collected pieces of art and antiques while travelling for Penfolds' wines. Both Frank and his wife, Gladys, were regular customers of the Sydney antique dealer, (Robert) Stanley Lipscombe (1918-1980), who, in 1945 offered to sell this sedan chair to the Museum.
The Museum purchased the chair and during October and November 1949 it was one of several items loaned by the Museum to the Adult Deaf and Dumb Society of N.S.W. It was displayed at an exhibition of international art treasures put on at the Society's rooms in Elizabeth House, Elizabeth Street, Sydney. The exhibition was opened by the Governor, Lieutenant-General John Northcott, and "The Sydney Morning Herald" of 20 October 1949 featured a photograph of the Governor sitting in the sedan chair at the exhibition.
A set of poles and brackets were made for the sedan chair in 1986 from drawings supplied by the Carriage Museum, Maidstone, Kent. From 1988 the sedan chair has been on display in the Transport exhibition of the Powerhouse Museum.