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13 February 2017

Charles Frederick Gibson, The Royal Artillery Encampment at Kingston, around 1832, pencil and watercolour on paper. Purchase, Chancellor Richardson Memorial Fund, Susan M. Bazely, John Grenville, Brian S. Osborne and Joan M. Schwartz, 2016. Photo: © Christie’s Images

With the generous support of local donors and the Chancellor Richardson Memorial Fund, the Agnes Etherington Art Centre recently acquired, from a London UK auction, six important early views of Kingston by Major Charles Frederick Gibson (1808–1868). Gibson began his military career in 1825 with a commission as Ensign in the 66th Berkshire Regiment of Foot. In 1827, he sailed to North America and, for the next six years, was variously stationed in Upper and Lower Canada (today Ontario and Quebec). After serving in Ireland, Gibraltar and Malta, he returned to Canada in 1841 with his new bride, Barbara Fraser, to assume employment as Assistant Military Secretary in Halifax, where he was promoted to Captain. In 1845, Gibson departed for England, thus ending his stint in British North America.

Gibson produced numerous drawings and paintings while based in the UK, Mediterranean and Canada, including Kingston between 1831 and 1833. His artistic activity, however, is lesser known than that of military colleagues, such as James Pattison Cockburn (1779–1847) and Edward Charles Frome (1802–1890), both of whom were also roaming the streets of the garrison town at the same time. Until the recent auction, the bulk of Gibson’s production had been kept by descendants in Britain. Carefully rendered in pencil, ink and watercolour, his scenes offer a fresh perspective on Kingston’s changing townscape and military presence.

The Royal Artillery Encampment at Kingston, for example, presents a scene unique to existing artistic works from the period, with military tents dotting the east side of Point Henry overlooking Deadman Bay. This was possibly the camp created out of epidemic necessity in 1832. In Events of a Military Life, Walter Henry, surgeon to the forces, recounted that cholera had reached Kingston on 17 June. In order to isolate the disease, “a camp was formed on the hill near Fort Henry, and the barrack gates were shut.” Married military men and their families, in particular, were moved to healthier grounds.