The new exhibition at Bendigo Art Gallery, Gothic Beauty: Victorian notions of love, loss and spirituality traces the Victorian gothic into contemporary art, and brings together the work of a variety of artists who explore these ideas.
Of course, the business of death – that is, the protocols for managing human death, as well as its associated rituals and practices – has been a part of civic life in Bendigo since the city’s earliest days. While the practicalities of this ubiquitous profession are often unseen, death was a visible part of everyday life in the Victorian era. The Gothic Beauty exhibition includes a spectacular late 19th century horse-drawn hearse, on loan courtesy of Mulqueen Family Funeral Directors in Bendigo. While the maker of this particular hearse is unknown, models such as this were commonly used as funeral carriages in central Victoria in the late nineteenth century until as late as the 1930s, when motorised hearses were introduced.
Undertakers of the colonial era often came from a carpentry background, and utilised their skills in making coffins. In 1860, when Peter Fizelle arrived in Sandhurst (as Bendigo was known until 1891), he established a cab proprietorship, hiring his horses and carriages out to townsfolk in the thriving gold rush town. Some of the town’s undertaking businesses were amongst his regular customers. Fizelle, whose horse-drawn conveyances had become integral to the provision of funeral services in Sandhurst, transitioned into the funeral business in 1886. The partnership between Fizelle and Mulqueen, Bendigo’s oldest undertaking business, extends back to 1901.
The exhibition Vale: mourning, remembrance & Spiritualism in Bendigo will be presented at Bendigo Art Gallery’s satellite exhibition space, Post Office Gallery, from 13 December 2018 to 31 March 2019. As always, we would love to hear from you if you have items in your family’s collection relating to the history of Bendigo.