Where is this portrait of Eaglehawk’s Victoria Cross recipient William John Symons?

In 1919, Isobel Symons drew a detailed pastel portrait of her husband: a 30-year-old Victoria Cross recipient and Gallipoli veteran who hailed from Eaglehawk, William John Symons.

The couple were newly married and had not long returned to Australia after meeting in England, where the soldier had been recuperating after being gassed on the Western Front.

Sometime later, Mrs Symons painted another portrait, this time in oils; in this one, her husband is a little older and sports a moustache.

The first portrait is now held by the Bendigo Art Gallery, but the location of the second is a mystery to Lieutenant Colonel and Mrs Symons’ granddaughter, Sarah Kellam.

Now, she hopes to find out where it is.

“It is important for me to find this painting as there are so few images of him that are known and it would be great to have a 'new' one,” Mrs Kellam said.

“I know it will be of a true likeness as my grandmother was a very accomplished portrait painter.

“I can't bear to think of it being lost for good.”

Mrs Kellam became aware of the second painting while visiting Eaglehawk from England earlier this year to coincide with Anzac Day.

In 1982, the painting was gifted to the Borough of Eaglehawk by Castlemaine resident Irene Featherby, a relative.

An August 1982 letter to Mrs Featherby’s mother revealed the portrait was to be displayed in the historic WC Vahland-designed home ‘Caradon’ in Victoria Street, which was to become the Borough’s offices.

The letter, penned by Eaglehawk’s town clerk Tony Smark, noted that Lieutenant Colonel Symons was “an extremely important figure in the Borough’s history, and the memory of his exploits and achievements deserves to be preserved”.

Mrs Kellam said her grandmother trained at art school and had a particular strength in portraiture.

“I also feel that to paint her new husband in such detail and likeness showed a deep affection for her husband from the other side of the world as they started their married life together,” she said.

The Bendigo Advertiser’s investigations have, to date, been unable to shed light on the painting’s current whereabouts.

If you have any information on the painting, please contact Mrs Kellam at sarahkellam@btinternet.com.

Who was William John Symons?

Lieutenant Colonel Symons was born in Eaglehawk in 1889, and enlisted in the Australian Imperial Force in 1914 after working as a commercial traveller and serving in the militia.

He landed with the 7th Battalion at Gallipoli on April 25, 1915, but it was his heroism in the trenches almost four months later that would earn him the highest honour for bravery.

In the early hours of August 9 that year, the Turks attacked Jacobs Trench at Lone Pine.

Lieutenant Colonel Symons was ordered to retake the trench, a dangerous undertaking he knew would likely result in his death.

The enemy continued to attack and, under fire from three sides, Lieutenant Colonel Symons built a timber barricade, which the Turks set ablaze.

But despite this, he managed to extinguish the fire and forced the enemy to stop their attack, earning him the Victoria Cross.

Lieutenant Colonel Symons also fought on the Western Front, including the Battle of Messines and the Battle of the Somme.

After being gassed on the Western Front, he was sent to recuperate at Hayling Island in Hampshire, where he met his future wife Isobel Hockley, a local woman.

The couple had three daughters: two born in Australia and the third in England, where they returned to live.

Lieutenant Colonel Symons served with the home guard during World War II, and it was during this time he was promoted to the rank of lieutenant colonel.

He died in 1948.