RAHS Day Lecture – That Luminous Moment: The ‘wild and enthusiastic’ ways of artist, mystic and republican Adelaide Ironside (1831-1867)

Adelaide Ironside, ‘Red Lady with Laurel Wreath’, 1856. Red crayon drawing on paper, 45.5cm x 38.6cm, Private Collection, Restored by the Museum of Australia, Canberra.

Adelaide Ironside was born in Sydney to a native-born mother and a Scottish auctioneer. When her parents’ marriage ended in 1834, she and her mother went to live at Redman’s Court, just a stone’s throw from Circular Quay and across from the town’s goal where her grandfather was Principal Gaoler. Although Adelaide’s remaining art and archive is porous, there is much to suggest she was first taught to paint by her grandmother, who was transported for forgery during the Napoleonic Wars. The Redmans must have been an ambitious family for both Adelaide and her mother were fluent in French and Italian and accomplished musicians and artists. They were also close associates of Dr John Dunmore Lang, the so-called ‘chaplain of pandemonium’, who encouraged Adelaide’s republicanism and her dream of using her art to ‘elevate her sex’ and ‘hoist the colours of her dear old country’ abroad. Adelaide was also animated by the mystical insights she gained as a medium and when she became the first Australian-born artist to train overseas, her ability to scry crystal balls gave her access to Italy’s flourishing expatriate communities and eminent Victorians such as John Ruskin and his arch nemesis, Sir Charles Eastlake, then President of the Royal Academy. Adelaide was also a controversial figure who some condemned for being ‘wild, irrational and impulsive’ while others so admired her ‘pure and noble spirit’ that they deemed her ‘the very impersonation of genius’.

In this presentation, I discuss how writing about Adelaide has led to fresh discoveries about women’s participation in colonial politics and the influence of new spiritualism during this period. I also reflect upon some of the approaches I have developed to write about a woman whose archive I have found both bewitching and bewildering.

About the speaker: Dr Kiera Lindsey is an award-winning historian and Senior Research Fellow conducting an Australian Research Council Discovery Early Career Research Award on speculative biography and historical craft. She has published book chapters and journal articles on biography, nineteenth-century history, women and marriage. Her first speculative biography, The Convict’s Daughter was published with Allen & Unwin in 2018. Her second is concerned with colonial artist and republican, Adelaide Ironside, and will be published with Allen & Unwin. Kiera has been an on-camera historian and a regular guest on ABC Radio National. She is currently an executive councillor with the History Council of New South Wales.


  • When: Wednesday 5 May 2021, 1pm – 2pm
  • How: Live-streamed Event
  • Cost: Free