Rhu artist had several talents

The Arts
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Charles Blatherwick's painting entitled 'The Coast Road' — perhaps the old Helensburgh pier from the east, with the Rosneath Peninsula beyond.

A LEADING Scottish artist of his time spent the final thirty years of his life enjoying living on the shores of the Gareloch.

Charles-Blatherwick-wDr Charles Blatherwick, whose daughter Lily also was a well-known painter and printmaker, spent three decades at Dunaivon, Rhu, prior to his sudden death from a burst blood vessel in the brain at Fish House, Kirkcudbright, on September 17 1895.

His job was as an alkali inspector, but he had a colourful life which included writing novels, composing popular songs, and acting as the first honorary president of the Clydesdale Harriers Athletic Club.

Born in 1836 the son of Nottinghamshire surgeon Thomas Blatherwick and his wife Mary Ann, he studied for his MD in Dublin, and practised medicine for some time in Highgate, London. After that, he described his occupation as ‘gentleman’.

His career was as one of Her Majesty’s Inspectors of Alkali and Chemical Works, and he rose to the position of Chief Inspector for Scotland and Northern Ireland, from which he retired eighteen months before his death.

He was based in Glasgow, and his job was to regulate noxious emissions from the early heavy chemical industry to control atmospheric pollution.

He cultivated his artistic and literary talents, and helped to make the Helensburgh district a centre of art.

Best known as an artist, he established a reputation as a water-colour painter, working on landscapes all over Scotland.

An obituary in the Helensburgh and Gareloch Times stated: “It was chiefly nature in its softer moods that he delighted to produce, but he could also reproduce its more sublime aspects with admirable fidelity.”

He was a regular contributor to the Exhibition of the Fine Art Institute, and nearly every West of Scotland art exhibition would feature at least one of his paintings. He exhibited three times at the Royal Academy.

One of the founders of the Royal Scottish Society of Painters in Watercolour, he filled at various times all the principal offices, including president. Members at that time were said to have enjoyed sumptuous dinners.

He was a leading member of Glasgow Art Club and served two terms as president from 1891-93. “His lectures to the members are still remembered for their keen artistic insight and quaint humour,” the obituary stated.

He was also president of the Glasgow Pen & Ink Club, and was one of the founders of the Scottish Artists Benevolent Association, serving as honorary treasurer from its foundation until his death.

Dr Blatherwick had very great literary skills, and wrote a three-volume novel entitled ‘The Personal Reflections of Peter Stonnor’, which originally appeared in the columns of a literary magazine.

He wrote one of the most readable and well-illustrated guides to the countryside through which the West Highland Railway ran, and contributed numerous articles — chiefly on the Scottish Highlands and Islands — to various magazines.

He also produced a beautifully illustrated in-miniature diary of a journey he made from Liverpool to Pau in South West France in 1880.

He gave lectures on his favourite subjects to the Church of Scotland Literary Society, and his final appearance on a public platform was as chairman at a lecture given by Fra Newbery, director of the Glasgow School of Art, on the folk songs of the West of England.

One of his descendants said somewhat unkindly: “He wrote popular songs of the time, which would now be regarded as sentimental old rubbish.”

The Blatherwick family spent the summer months of 1871 at Kilmahonaig, Crinan, having journeyed from Rhu by steamer. 

The descendant wrote: “They kept a large illustrated diary of their stay, the Kilmahonaig Journal, listing their visitors, what they saw or shot for the pot, and anything of interest, together with pages of poetry or doggerel.”

Dr Blatherwick’s service to Clydesdale Harriers began in 1885 as the club wanted a prominent person to take an active interest in the club.

The Blatherwick family were known country-wide, not only county-wide, and with several Harriers members in the area it was decided to approach Dr Blatherwick and discuss a role for him in the club.

He had no obvious connection to any sport and was apparently appointed solely because of his social position. He soon became the club’s honorary president — the highest honour that the club could bestow.

The position was a non-executive one, but it was far more integral to the management of the club than that of patron, and he took the role seriously.

It was clear that he was not a remote figure and his office was also notable for the length of tenure. Most honorary presidents served only for one or two years, but he held the position for ten years until his death.

He was in office through the early ‘glory years’ of the club when membership spread all over Scotland, and the club had almost 1,000 members on the roll.

Later Harriers patrons included Prime Minister Andrew Bonar Law from Helensburgh, and Sir Iain Colquhoun of Luss.

Dr Blatherwick did not take an active part in Helensburgh public life, but was of a genial and kindly disposition and was regarded with affection and esteem by those who knew him.

With his first wife Sophia Josephine, nee Hartrick, he had a large family, including daughter Lily who was born in Richmond, Surrey, in 1859 and grew up at Rhu.

After his first wife’s death Dr Blatherwick married physician’s daughter Sophia Cole from Oxfordshire, with whom he had one son, Frederick Francis, on April 3 1883. He was 55 when they wed, she was 40 and lived nearby at Torwood, Rhu.

Lily Blatherwick by AS HartrickLily went on to marry her step-brother, Archibald Standish Hartrick OBE, an eminent artist who exhibited 29 times at the Royal Academy, was a friend of the French post-impressionist artist Paul Gauguin, and the author of several art references books. He painted this portrait of her (right).

The couple lived at Tresham in the Cotswolds for ten years, redecorating the village church while pursuing their artistic careers, before moving to London.

Lily’s painting ‘Wintry Weather’ was included in the 1905 book ‘Women Painters of the World’, and she exhibited at the Royal Academy 25 times. She worked in oils and stained glass, and as a lithographer of floral subjects.

She died in London in 1934, but was buried in the church graveyard at Tresham — unlike her father, who was buried at Rhu Churchyard.