Ffarington recorded the natural world of Western Australia and its indigenous inhabitants while serving with the 51st Regiment in Western Australia bewteen 1843-47. His sketches and watercolours include competent scenes of the coast, but of far more importance are his drawing and watercolours of the daily activites of the local Aboriginal people.
Sketcher and army officer, was born on 23 December 1823, third son of William Ffarington and Frances Ann, née Green. He was a grand nephew of the Royal Academician and diarist Joseph Farington. Richard Ffarington arrived in Sydney with the 51st Regiment of Foot (South-West Yorkshire) in 1841, on board the Somersetshire. His first twelve-page sketchbook, From Australia 1841, contains eight pencil drawings mainly recording incidents on the voyage out, such as Convict Being Flogged at Sea, Convicts Boxing on board the Somersetshire and Rum and Man Coming on board at the Cape of Good Hope. Three works in the later Drawings sent home from Bangalore folio also relate to the initial voyage.
Soon after purchasing his lieutenancy, Richard Ffarington and his wife Ellen Julia, née Rowes (1823-70), sailed with the 51st Regiment on board the Champion to Western Australia via Launceston, arriving in July 1843. The regiment maintained various stations in south-west Australia – at King George Sound, Kojonup, Bunbury, Williams, Leschenault, Pinjarra and Rottnest Island – and during the three and three-quarter years he was stationed there Ffarington was overseer on a number of these. He used the opportunity to record the natural world of Western Australia and its indigenous inhabitants, compiling an album of fourteen watercolours and eight pencil drawings during his stay (some of the watercolours were worked up later from the pencil sketches). The cover of the folio is inscribed Drawings Sent Home from Bangalore by R.A. Ffarington 51st Regmt in 1850; it was purchased by the Art Gallery of Western Australia from Sotheby’s London, 8 November 1984.
Ffarington’s sketches and watercolours include very competent scenes of sailing ships off the Western Australian coast and views of Bunbury and King George Sound. His most interesting works, however, are those which show the local Aboriginal people going about their daily life, in pairs or small groups. As well as showing a couple returning from a hunt with a dead kangaroo slung around the man’s shoulders, men fishing and climbing trees, groups at camp and so on, he successfully depicted a corroboree clearly set at night in a convincing landscape (unlike other versions of this popular subject) and both mysterious and animated in mood. This is the only known visual record of a corroboree in Western Australia. It accords well with the written descriptions from the time of such events. There is also a splendid watercolour showing a group of Aborigines fishing near the wreck of a European coastal trader, the William Wise, which foundered in 1847. Despite casks of spirits and other salvage of value to Europeans, the wreck is merely an advantageous point for traditional fishing activities, the Aborigines being depicted as entirely unaffected by this dominant European presence. Ffarington’s sympathetic depiction of this continuity of custom and tradition is quite unique for its time.
On 13 March 1847 Ffarington left Western Australia on board the Java for Calcutta, the military headquarters of the 51st Regiment. There are no records of him returning to WA. He remained in India until early 1855 rising to the rank of Captain before he returned to England. Soon afterwards, on 1 April 1855, he died at Salford Barracks, Lancashire. He was buried on the Isle of Wight. Sketches of Fremantle in Western Australia: Rottnest Island, the Proposed New Convict Establishment in the Distance and King George’s Sound (with a characteristic group of Aborigines in the foreground) were published in the Illustrated London News on 14 February 1857, from 'the Sketch-book of a recent explorer (Captain Ffarington)’.