The missing portrait of a local hero

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 missing painting’s current whereabouts.

Anyone with information on the painting is asked to contact Mrs Kellam at sarahkellam@btinternet.com.

William John Symons was presented the Victoria Cross, the highest honour for bravery, for his actions in defending a trench at Lone Pine in August 1915.

Despite knowing his chances of survival were unlikely, he followed orders to retake the trench from Turkish troops and ultimately compelled them to stop their attacks.

He went on to fight on the Western Front, and during World War II was promoted to the rank of Lieutenant Colonel while in the Home Guard.