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Presentation trowel used in laying the foundation stone of Sydney Town Hall, 1883
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Object statement
Presentation trowel, silver, gold, ivory, used by Lizzie Henrietta Harris in laying the foundation stone of the Great Hall of Sydney Town Hall, Sydney, New South Wales, Australia, 1883, made by William Kerr, Sydney, New South Wales, Australia, c. 1883
This trowel was used in laying the foundation stone of the Great Hall of Sydney Town Hall on 13 November 1883.

It relates to the history of a prominent Sydney family. Lizzie Henrietta Harris, to whom the trowel was presented by aldermen of the city, was wife of John Harris, Mayor of Sydney. Their daughter Mary Ann was herself Mayoress of Sydney in 1888 and 1889, during the five terms in which her father was Mayor.

It was made in the workshop of William Kerr (1838-1896), a leading watchmaker, jeweller and silversmith in Sydney in late 19th century. Today, Kerr is mostly remembered for his distinctive silver trophies, three of them receiving an award at Australia's first International Exhibition which took place in Sydney in 1879. Kerr's work was commended for 'tasteful design' and 'careful workmanship'.

William Kerr was born in Northern Ireland and came to Australia on board of the 'New York Packet' with his family in 1841. Kerr obtained many important commissions for presentation pieces, like this trowel, often from the Sydney City Council. Recognising the importance of sporting life in Australia, Kerr also sponsored clubs which gave him a steady stream of orders. He used Australian motifs, mostly plants and animals, in his distinctive, finely worked pieces.

The striking design and execution as well as the original condition of the trowel, which is applied with Australian flowers crafted in gold, make it an outstanding item of Australian metalwork of the period. It is the only example of its kind known to have been made and survived.
The presentation trowel was made by William Kerr in Sydney in 1883. It is the only known surviving example with such inticate Australian floral decoration.
This presentation trowel was used by Lizzie Henrietta Harris in laying the foundation stone of the Great Hall of Sydney Town Hall, Sydney, New South Wales, Australia in 1883.

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A triangular presentation trowel in silver with undulated edge at the curved silver shank resting on a ball support. Blade inscribed in the centre within a fern engraved border: 'Presented / by the / ALDERMAN / of the / CITY OF SYDNEY / to the Mayoress / MRS JOHN HARRIS / on the occasion / of the laying the / FOUNDATION STONE / of the / GREAT HALL/ of the / TOWN HALL / Sydney / 13th Nov 1883'. The inscription begins near handle and progresses down the blade towards the tip and is framed by a large gold spray of Australian flowers including a banksia and native pear. A small eagle on a wreath is attached to the downward sweep of the shank and above the inscription. The floral spray emanates from the shank and is secured to the sides of silver blade with [gold] pins, some of which are missing. The turned, slightly waisted ivory handle is decorated in low relief with longitudinal acanthus leaves and berry-like decoration to the end, and applied with an openwork [gold] cipher including the initial 'H'.
Makers mark, underside of blade at edge, stamped, 'W. KERR' enclosed in rectangle.
Production date
97 mm
53 mm
283.5 g

 This text content licensed under CC BY-SA.
Acquisition credit line
Donated through the Australian Government Cultural Gifts Program by John Atkinson, 2006
This object belongs to:
Harris Family Collection
+ Sydney Town Hall
+ Metalworking
+ Australian flora and fauna in applied art
+ Banksias
+ Native pears
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{{cite web |url=https://ma.as/360279 |title=Presentation trowel used in laying the foundation stone of Sydney Town Hall |author=Powerhouse Museum |accessdate=22 February 2017 |publisher=Powerhouse Museum, Australia}}

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Object viewed times. Parent IRN: 2130. Master IRN: 2130 Img: 301902 Flv: H:2953px W:3972px SMO:0 RIGHTS:.