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Australian Dictionary of Biography

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Allcot, John Charles (1888–1973)

by Daina Fletcher

This article was published in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 13, (MUP), 1993

John Charles Allcot, by Mabel McCredie, 1944

John Charles Allcot, by Mabel McCredie, 1944

National Library of Australia, nla.pic-an22510593 [detail]

John Charles Allcot (1888-1973), artist, was born on 14 November 1888 at Liverpool, Lancashire, England, son of George Allcot, mariner, and his wife Mary Elizabeth, née Phillips. Educated at Arnot Street Board School, at the age of 14 John was apprenticed to Tillotson & Son Ltd, lithographers, and attended classes at the Liverpool Institute and School of Art. In 1906 he worked in the Mersey tugboats and next year sailed as a deck-boy in the barque, Invermark. He loved painting and would scrounge ship's paint, sailcloth and handkerchiefs with which to depict the sea, ships and life on board.  

Arriving in Sydney in the Miltiades in 1909, Allcot signed on with the old clipper, Antiope. He worked in coastal, island and intercolonial vessels out of Sydney before giving up the sea in 1912. At the Pitt Street Congregational Church on 13 September 1915 he married Elsie Alma Johnson, but they later became estranged. Supporting himself by painting theatre sets, he obtained commissions for ship paintings from Sydney photographers and toured the countryside, completing landscapes which he exhibited regularly with the Royal Art Society of New South Wales from 1920. About this time he formed an enduring friendship with Phyllis Zanker.

He gained widespread recognition in the 1920s with a series of oil paintings (on the founding of the Australian colonies) which were later acquired by the Australasian Pioneers' Club. Other commissions followed. Allcot also worked as an illustrator and wrote articles about the sea for the Sydney Mail. In the 1940s he painted the seas for ship-models built by the sculptor Robert Klippel. Allcot's painting of the Cutty Sark was presented to the Duke of Edinburgh in 1954.

Allcot was dark and diminutive, less than five feet (153 cm) tall. His studio became a meeting-place for those interested in ships, paintings and models. Regular visitors included maritime artists Oswald Brett and Ian Hansen who watched him work and listened to his colourful stories of seafaring. Allcot exhibited landscapes and still lifes at Beard, Watson & Co. Ltd (1962); his paintings of ships were shown at Underwood Galleries (1965) and those of twelve windjammers at the San Francisco Maritime Museum, United States of America (1969). In Sydney he held a successful exhibition (1970) at Proud's Art Gallery to celebrate the bicentenary of James Cook's landing in Australia; Allcot's last showing took place at the Copperfield Gallery (1973).

Painting to tried and tested conventions, with impeccable attention to detail, Allcot used water-colour and gouache, and oils. His work was prolific and romantic. At a time of great change in the shipping industry, he specialized in nostalgic views of sailing ships and steamers, and found an appreciative market of ship-owners, captains, crews and their families. While best known for his ships, he continued to enjoy painting landscapes. A fellow (1956) of the local Royal Art Society, Allcot was a member of the League of Ancient Mariners and of the Shiplovers' Society. He was elected an honorary life member (1962) of the Australasian Pioneers' Club and appointed O.B.E. in 1970. Survived by his wife, son and daughter, he died on 13 July 1973 at North Sydney and was cremated with Anglican rites. His work is represented in private and public collections in Australia and abroad.

Select Bibliography

  • John Allcot, Marine Artist (Syd, 1978)
  • P. D. Lark and R. McKenzie, A History of the Australasian Pioneers' Club, Sydney, 1910-1988 (Brisb, 1988)
  • People (Sydney), 3 Oct 1956
  • Pix, 29 Mar 1969
  • Sea History, Summer 1984
  • Australian Sea Heritage, no 28, Autumn 1991
  • Sydney Morning Herald, 2 Mar 1970
  • Allcot papers (privately held)
  • Collection of Royal Art Society of New South Wales exhibition catalogues, 1920-67 (Royal Art Society of New South Wales, Sydney)
  • private information.

Citation details

Daina Fletcher, 'Allcot, John Charles (1888–1973)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 1993, accessed online 25 November 2020.

This article was first published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 13, (MUP), 1993

View the front pages for Volume 13

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