Charles Rodius, artist, was born in Cologne, Germany. Inscriptions in French on some of his drawings suggest that his background was French rather than German. He went to England and acquired an easy command of the English language. In 1829 he was convicted at Westminster on a charge of stealing a reticule and sentenced to transportation for seven years. He arrived in New South Wales in December 1829 in the Sarah.
On arrival Rodius was assigned to the Department of Public Works, where he was employed without salary in instructing civil and military officers in drawing. As a draughtsman he was also engaged by the colonial architect to produce plans of ‘every building throughout the Colony’ and to formulate plans of projected buildings. His service was considered invaluable, and his seniors were reluctant to uphold Rodius’s application for a ticket-of-leave which would exempt him from compulsory government service.
In addition to regular attendance at the department Rodius, as soon as he arrived in the colony, was engaged to teach drawing and perspective to the children of reputable gentlemen in Sydney. These included children of Chief Justice (Sir) Francis Forbes, of whom there is a small crayon-and-wash portrait by Rodius in the Dixson Collection, Sydney; W. Foster, chairman of the Courts of Quarter Sessions, and John Manning. All three testified on the artist’s behalf to his good conduct and regular attendance when, in November 1831, he applied to Governor (Sir) Ralph Darling for a ticket-of-leave. A ticket-of-exemption, with the requirement that he remain in the district of Sydney, was granted to Rodius in July 1832, a ticket-of-leave in February 1834, and a certificate of freedom in July 1841.
Rodius’s ticket-of-exemption records his calling, before conviction, as ‘artist and architect’, and he is believed to have made engravings of buildings in Paris for the French government. In a notice published in 1839 advertising that he was giving lessons in drawing and perspective, Rodius described himself as a ‘Pupil of the Royal Academy of France’.
In 1831 the first of his lithographed portraits of Aboriginal ‘Kings’ and their wives was published, and the series was completed in 1834. In addition he executed portraits in ‘French crayon’ and oils, and the first of his landscape paintings to be engraved, a coloured view of Port Jackson taken from Bunker’s Hill, was sold in 1834. Other lithographed works included a view of the Lansdowne Bridge, 1836, a second series of Aboriginals’ portraits, 1840, and illustrations of the Kennedy expedition of 1849. Rodius contributed a small number of works to the exhibitions of the Society for the Promotion of the Fine Arts in Australia in 1847, 1849 and 1857. To the last he sent a portrait of Ludwig Leichhardt.
From his professional activities as art teacher, portraitist and landscape painter, Rodius must have made a fair living, for in 1835 he paid £45 for a block of land in Campbell Street, Sydney, and was able to support a wife and child. The parish of St James records the birth of a son, Charles Prossper, to Charles Rodius, artist, and Maria Bryan, seamstress, on 27 August 1834. This wife presumably died, for he remarried. The death of his second wife, Harriet, took place on 14 December 1838. The notice of Harriet’s death gave her age as ‘in her 17th year’, but the tombstone which Rodius engraved for her, ‘sculptured by her afflicted husband as a last tribute his affection can give’ (removed from the Devonshire Street cemetery to La Perouse) gives her age as 18. In July 1841, soon after receiving his certificate of freedom, Rodius sailed for Port Phillip, but the length and purpose of his stay is not known.
During the late 1850s Rodius suffered a stroke which paralysed one side, and on 9 April 1860 he died ‘of infirmity’ at the Liverpool Hospital. The record of his death indicates that he was a Roman Catholic, and that at the time of his death nothing was known to the hospital authorities of his family in Australia or of his parents.
Rodius signed his name ‘Rodius’ and it was spelt thus on his certificates of exemption, leave, and freedom. The spelling ‘Rhodius’ was used in newspaper notices of his work, and in communications concerning the artist’s activities in the Department of Public Works.
Biography written by Jocelyn Gray. Published in the Australian Dictionary of Biography Volume 2 (MUP) 1967.