1916: John Lamb Lyon, Stained Glass Artist, (1835-1916)

John Lamb Lyon (1835-1916) played an instrumental role in the early success of the Melbourne stained glass firm Ferguson & Urie.

Photos courtesy of John Lyon, Western Australia, 13th September 2012. Painting of Elizabeth aboard the ‘Great Britain’ 13th Feb 1872 courtesy of Phil & Lisa, England, 8th Jan 2015.

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Born in Scotland on the 14th February 1836, to James Lyon and Janet Thorburn, he was apprenticed to the Glasgow stained glass firm of David Kier and then John Cairney & Co and later worked with the London firm of Ward & Hughes for a period of six years.

On the 23rd June 1857 John married Jane Clarke who died childless the following year.

On the 3rd of December 1860 he married Elizabeth Gillespie Pearson and only six days later they departed Liverpool for Australia aboard the ‘Donald McKay’ on the 9th December 1860. On the 12th March 1861 the ship arrived in Port Phillip Heads, Melbourne, but due to an outbreak of smallpox aboard the ship all passengers and crew were detained at the Port Nepean Quarantine station for 14 days. Bad luck continued when a fresh outbreak occurred whilst in quarantine which forced the Governor (Sir Henry Barkly) to extend the quarantine period to another 14 days from the 18th March 1861. They were officially cleared from quarantine on the 5th April 1861.

John and Elizabeth headed to the goldfields town of Maldon in central Victoria where John’s parents, James and Janet, had earlier set up as storekeepers.

John Lamb Lyon’s first known Colonial work in stained glass in Australia was recorded in the Argus of 2nd September 1861:

 “Amongst the contributions which Tarrengower will forward to the forthcoming Exhibition will be a stained-glass window, in the Early English style, the work of Mr. John Lyon, of Maldon”. [1]

The Melbourne Exhibition list of awards published on the 7th December 1861 includes an “Honourable mention” for a “Design for Stained Glass”. In the same category at the exhibition, the firm of Ferguson & Urie also received an honourable mention for “Ornamental glazing” and this is undoubtedly where his association with Ferguson & Urie began.

 “In 1861, Mr. Lyon joined the firm of Ferguson and Urie, Melbourne. Their commencement was on a very primitive scale. They made their own colours and acid, and fired the glass in a colonial camp oven. They, however, soon got properly going, and produced good work under the firm name of Ferguson, Urie and Lyon.” [2]

His encounter with James Ferguson and James Urie at the late 1861 exhibition is obviously the catalyst for him joining the firm but some prior persuasion may also have come from the English artist David Relph Drape, who had initially been enticed to Australia by James Ferguson as early as 1858 and who was also living at Maldon at the same time as Lyon.

In March 1862 the first article appeared mentioning Lyon being engaged as an artist with Ferguson & Urie.[3] Lyon then worked as the firms senior stained glass artists alongside Drape who returned from Maldon to join the firm on the 8th of November 1863:

“…Messrs. Ferguson and Co, have engaged the services of a competent artist in this difficult and useful art. Mr Lyon, to whom we refer, has not long been in the colony, and has had a lengthened experience in his profession at home and judging from the specimens of his talent now to be seen at Messrs. Ferguson and Urie’s, we should suppose that those who require this description of decoration will find no difficulty in future in carrying out their designs…” [4]

At the Melbourne exhibition [5] in late October 1866, the firm was now mentioned as “Ferguson, Urie, and Lyon”, being the earliest indication he was now a partner in the firm. In February 1867 newspaper advertisements for the company began to include Lyon in the name.

Between 1870 and 1872 the Lyon family returned to the UK, departing aboard the “George Thompson” on Tuesday 15th Mar 1870 for London and returning to Australia aboard the “Great Britain” which departed Liverpool 17th December 1871 and arrived in Hobson’s Bay, Melbourne on 21st February 1872.

During the return voyage to Australia aboard the ‘Great Britain’ John completed a portrait of his wife Elizabeth dated 13th February 1872. This painting still exists 143 years later and was purchased by a family at Kingston Upon Hull, UK, circa 1985 and they are still the caretakers of this historical piece of art to this day.

During Lyon’s partnership with Ferguson & Urie he had an active part in the design and execution of many of Melbourne’s finest examples of Colonial stained glass work, some notable works include:

  • The chancel window for St Margaret’s Church, Eltham, Victoria, November 1861.
  • The ‘Shakespeare’ window for George Selth Coppin’s Theatre in Collins Street, Melbourne, July 1862.
  • The stained glass entrance doors and skylight for Samuel Wilson’s homestead at Longerenong, Horsham in 1862.
  • The west window of St Georges Church in Queenscliff, Victoria in 1864, and east window in 1866;
  • The stairwell of the Victorian Deaf & Dumb Institution, Melbourne, 1866;
  • The chancel windows for the Episcopalian Church in Casterton (displayed in the “Medieval Court” at the 1866 Melbourne Exhibition, which received much acclaim and an ward);
  • The windows for the mansion of Robert Quayle Kermode “Mona Vale”, Ross, Tasmania, 1867;
  • The stairwell of Victorian Asylum and School for the Blind, Melbourne 1868;
  • The chancel window of St John’s Church, Toorak, 1868;
  • The full cycle of windows for the West Melbourne Presbyterian Church in 1867 (re-erected at Box Hill in 1935-36);
  • The Chancel window of St Peter’s Church, Woolloomooloo, Sydney, 1867 (now the great hall of the Sydney Church of England Girls Grammar at Darlinghurst);
  • The stairwell and entrance windows for John Wilson’s Homestead, “Woodlands” near Ararat, Victoria, (displayed at the 1869 Art Treasures Exhibition in Melbourne).
  • St Paul’s Anglican Cathedral, Bendigo, 1869;
  • Christ Church, St Kilda, 1870;
  • Samples of stained glass “Highly Commended” and “Bronze Medal” [6] at the Sydney Intercolonial Exhibition [7] of 1870.

Many other examples of stained glass by Ferguson, Urie, and Lyon can be found all over Victoria, Tasmania, South Australia and rare examples in New South Wales, Queensland, and New Zealand.

In 1873, after just over ten years with Ferguson & Urie, Lyon left the partnership and on the 27th of August he sold [8] his house and contents at Dudley Street, North Melbourne in preparation for his move to Sydney. On the 29th of August a notice was published in the Victorian Government Gazette [9] advising of his official dissolution of the partnership with the firm. Lyon then took up partnership with an old friend, and former fellow apprentice, Daniel Cottier, to become “Lyon, Cottier & Co” in Pitt Street Sydney.

During Lyon’s time with Ferguson & Urie he received many accolades and awards for his work and this continued with him at the helm of Lyon, Cottier & Co during which time he traveled overseas on many occasions, visiting New York, Britain and Europe in his quest for the latest trends in the craft.

He continued an active role in Lyon & Cottier until circa 1914 and maintained an interest in his painting until his death.

John Lamb Lyon died at his Balmain home on the 14th of June 1916 and was buried at the Waverley cemetery [10]. He was survived by his wife, three sons and three daughters.

The Catholic Press, NSW, Thursday 26th November 1908, page 24.


“Mr. John Lamb Lyon, the head of the well known firm of Lyon, Cottier and Co., glass stainers and decorators of 179 Liverpool street, city, has just returned from a six months’ trip to Europe, and comes back full of new ideas, which will no doubt be seen later in many of our Catholic churches. Whilst in England he had the pleasure of hearing encomiums of his window in the Franco-British Exhibition, in which the King in his Coronation robes was the leading subject, and for which the firm received a gold medal. Their window in the New Zealand Exhibition secured a similar honour. This could hardly be surprising to Australians who have had the pleasure of viewing their fin artistic works in the Lismore Cathedral, and in so many of the churches of New South Wales. In Braidwood, Tenterfield, Murrumburrah, Newcastle, Waratah, and other towns, Catholic edifices are adorned by some of Lyon and Cottier’s handsome specimens of the stainer’s art, and in the houses of the Governor-General, the State Governor and the Admiral, the tasteful coats of arms stand as evidence of the artistic workmanship of this historic firm, which has been established for over 40 years, and has no fear of being outrivalled by the stainers and decorators of Europe. All the work is executed in Sydney and on the premises at Liverpool-street visitors will find much to delight the eye, whilst the connoisseur will find criticism silenced.”

Related posts:

02-09-1861: Tarrengower Victoria. John Lamb Lyon stained glass.

External links:

Australian Dictionary of Biography – John Lamb Lyon

The stained glass in Lyon’s Birchgrove home in Sydney c.1884


[1] The Argus, Melbourne, Monday 2nd September 1861, page 5.

[2] The Australasian Decorator and Painter, August 1st, 1909.

[3] The Mercury, Hobart, Wednesday 26th March 1862, page 3

[4] The Mercury, Hobart, Wednesday 26th March 1862, page 3.

[6] The Argus, Melbourne, Thursday 22 September 1870, page 6.

[8] The Argus, Melbourne, Wednesday 27th August 1873, page 2.

[9] Victorian Government Gazette, Friday 29th August 1873, No: 64, page 1553.

[10] Martha Rutledge, ‘Lyon, John Lamb (1835 – 1916), Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 10, Melbourne University Press, 1986, pp 182-183

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