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Thomas Watling


1762 - c.1814

Artist, illustrator and forger. Born in Dumfries, the son of a soldier, Watling's parents died while he was young and he was raised by a maiden aunt. He developed a talent for painting and was soon running his own art school. He moved briefly to Glasgow to work as a coach and carriage painter, but augmented his wage by forging banknotes and was arrested in Dumfries a few months later. He was tried and transported to Botany Bay in Australia. There his artistic skills were made use of by Surgeon-General John White, who was a keen naturalist. In 1797, Watling was pardoned by Governor John Hunter (1737 - 1821) and set off for home, via Calcutta (India) where he worked as a painter of miniatures (1801-03). Having returned to Scotland he fell back into old habits and was tried for forgery in Edinburgh in 1806, although the case was not proven and he moved to London, living in poverty. It is not known where or when he died.

While there are some of his works in galleries in Australia, the majority are to be found amongst the Watling Collection of the British Museum, which were most likely produced between 1788 and 1794 and brought to London by John White. These include landscapes, studies of Aboriginal people and a large number of natural history subjects. His 'Letters from an exile at Botany Bay to his Aunt in Dumfries' where published in Penrith in 1794.


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