Commerce and Grandeur

James and Mary Taylor’s Fancy Chairs from Morpeth

A grand house deserves fancy furniture. Perhaps that’s why James Martin Hillhouse Taylor (c1814-1875) purchased this elaborate dining chair and ‘grandmother’ chair in about 1849 – to furnish his new residence in Morpeth. As a shipping agent for the Hunter Valley Steam Navigation Company, with a profitable side business selling spirits and other goods, Taylor had the means to buy such luxuries.  

In 1847, Taylor married 18-year-old Mary Elizabeth King (1829-1890) and the following year he purchased land on Swan Street, Morpeth where he began constructing the house. Giving it the grandiose name ‘Marlborough House’, possibly after the London mansion and royal residence of that name, Taylor may have liked the regal air it provided. Red cedar was used for the joinery, which then grew in abundant forests around the Hunter River region.

And while J.G. White was by then manufacturing quality red cedar furniture in Morpeth, Taylor’s mahogany chairs suggest that he preferred to order his furniture from England. Upholstered in luxurious green silk and velvet, with elaborately carved frames, these chairs may have originally belonged to a larger dining and sitting room set, making Taylor’s well-staffed household, with its cook, maid, groom and gardener, also well-furnished.

The lady’s chair might have been intended for the young Mary, who spent countless in the house birthing and raising their numerous children during the 1850s-70s. The chair’s castor wheels would have allowed her, or perhaps a maid, to move it around, positioning it close to an open fire, or next to a window on a sunny day.