NotesThis is an important collection of Japanese sword guards that came to the Museum in 1966. The donation was facilitated by agents from the Perpetual Trustees Company Limited, acting on behalf of the donor, Christian Rowe Thornett (1879-1972).
Accumulated over many years most likely by the donor's parents, Sir Hugh and Lady Dixson, the diverse collection was originally bequeathed to the Victoria and Albert Museum in London. However, Christian was encouraged by the manager of her affairs to first offer the collection prior to dispersal at auction, to the Museum of Applied Arts and Sciences.
The curator of the Museum selected the tsuba and various other items for acquisition into the Museum's holdings of decorative objects. The proceeds from the auction of remaining objects was subsequently donated to charity. It was noted that the objects were not collected personally by Christian but were most likely the contents from the family home in Summer Hill, 'Abergeldie', a grand Edwardian mansion that was demolished in 1927, a year after Sir Hugh's death.
Christian was born into a high achieving wealthy, philanthropic Sydney family who shared a passion for collecting. Her grandfather, Hugh Dixson emigrated from Scotland in 1834 to establish a tobacco shop on George Street. After an uncertain start, the business flourished, mainly due to the American Civil War. His sons developed and expanded the business. The eldest son Hugh Dixson (1841-1926), renowned for his philanthropic activities in Sydney in the early years of the 20th century, was particularly successful. Knighted in 1921 in recognition of his humanitarian service in Australia, Sir Hugh Dixson was also a noted horticulturalist and collector of exotic and rare plants and a board member of several influential Sydney businesses. A further connection of the Dixson family to the Museum is an important collection of mineral specimens acquired from the Broken Hill area, known as the 'Sir Hugh Dixson collection'.
Christian's mother, Lady Emma Elizabeth Dixson nee Shaw (1844-1922), was a patron of numerous charitable organisations and bestowed the bulk of her estate to the Home for Incurables in Ryde. As a connoisseur and collector of rare China, the crowning attraction of her extensive collection was a tea-service previously owned by Marie Antoinette.
Knighted in 1939 for his philanthropic activities, Christian's brother, Sir William Dixson (1870-1952), bequeathed a significant collection of pictures, Australiana including manuscripts, books, coins and stamps to the State Library of NSW. The Dixson Gallery, part of the Mitchell Library, was opened in October 1929.
Christian travelled extensively from her early 20s and was also known for her generous support of charitable organisations. A short-lived marriage to Arthur John Rowe Thornett in 1902 was annulled in 1919. On her death in 1972, Christian's extensive collection comprising Chinese works of art, jade and embroideries, furs, jewels, silverware, Persian carpets, glassware, porcelains, furniture, period clothing jade and coins, was auctioned over 3 days with the proceeds donated to charity. Continuing the family tradition as public benefactors, the Christian Rowe Thornett Scholarship was established in 1975 for the teaching and development of agricultural science at Sydney University. Decorative objects acquired by Christian Rowe Thornett are also included in the collections of the Art Gallery of NSW and the Victoria and Albert Museum, London.
Digby, E (ed), 'Australian men of mark: Hugh Dixson', vol 1, Sydney, 1889
The Cyclopedia of NSW, 'Leading commercial men of Australia: Hugh Dixson', Sydney, 1907
Daily Telegraph, 'Our public women: Mrs Hugh Dixson', March 17, 1915
www.adb.online.edu.au, 'Sir Hugh Dixson (1841-1926)', cited 13/09/2007
Auction catalogue, (Estate of Christian Rowe Thornett), F R Strange Pty Ltd, Sydney, 1972