read about the deranged murderer W.C. Minor who from prison made a
significant contribution to the OED (A
Word in Your Pink Shell-like, Issue 14, July 1999). Now meet a
suspected (though unproven) strychnine poisoner who in his day was a
well-regarded painter and art critic — the Englishman Thomas Griffiths
exhibited regularly at the Royal Academy and contributed to several
literary periodicals. As his career developed, he was introduced to
literary celebrities like Dickens, Wordsworth, Lamb, Hazlitt, De Quincey
long, however, before his glamorous and expensive lifestyle led him into
financial difficulties, and he was driven to turn his artistic talents
to the counterfeiting of signatures. Indeed, it was forgery and not the
alleged murder of three relatives that convicted him. In 1837 he was
sentenced to transportation for life to Van Dieman’s Land (Tasmania).
he was made to toil at road-building on a chain-gang, but eventually he
was permitted to work as a hospital orderly and because of his talent
even to take up painting again.
of a stroke, still a convict, in the hospital in Hobart Town.
for art historians, from time to time Wainewright had been authorised to
paint elegant portraits of well-to-do Vandemonian citizens. These are
generally thought to be his most accomplished work as an artist, though
some critics have found fault with them for their uniformity.
Davies, eminent Canadian man of letters (1913-1995), in his essay
Painting, Fiction and Faking, offers this comment:
in Australia, to have a portrait of an ancestor painted by Wainwright
confers a wholly understandable distinction. But if he had not been a
gentleman-crook one wonders if it would be so.