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Robert Ball Hughes, 1806-1868
Map Detail Ball Hughes House 1894
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 Sculptor Robert Ball Hughes came with his wife to America from London in 1828 or 1829. Noted for his statues of New York Governor Clinton, of Alexander Hamilton and Nathaniel Bowditch, Ball Hughes also created a large high-relief marble memorial to Bishop John H. Hobart for Trinity Church, New York.

In the 1830s the couple purchased a home on Adams Street in Dorchester opposite what would later become the Cedar Grove Cemetery. In 1851, they moved to a house at the corner of School and Washington Streets that had been owned by Captain Jeremiah Spalding, a ship-master in the East India trade. Here they entertained some of the world's leading celebrities including Charles Dickens, the author, and Jane Stuart, the artist.

The house on School Street still exists, but it has been modernized to the point that there seems be very little of the original. The Dorchester Historical Society has Ball Hughes' bust of Washington Irving.

Like other well-known sculptors, Ball Hughes was called upon to design coinage for the United States mint. He modified the design by Christian Gobrecht for the Seated Liberty quarter. As re-designed it depicted Liberty seated on a rock, surrounded by thiretten stars and holding the Union shield along with a pole topped by a Liberty cap. The quarter was put into use in 1838, replacing the Capped Bust motif. Ball Hughes also modified the Christian Gobrecht design for the 1859 Half Dime.

He sculpted a statue of Alexander Hamilton that was placed at the top of the Merchants' Exchange Building, New York, which was lost to a fire. He produced the seated bronze statue of Dr. Nathaniel Bowditch, the famous mathematician and nautical writer, located in Mount Auburn Cemetery.

He was the first to bring burnt wood picture or "poker" pictures to America (pyroengravings). He produced a poker picture of The Witches from Macbeth and another of the Blind Beggar of Gretna Green.

Samuel Gerry said "Ball Hughes was without controversy a genius, as is evidenced by his well-known group of the Widow Wadman and Uncle Toby, and the fine statue of Bowditch ... Many knew him in later years by poker drawings, which he did for small returns ... We have never had in Boston natural powers for art superior to his."


Dictionary of American Biography

Gerry, Samuel L. "The Old Masters of Boston." The New England Magazine, vol. 9, issue 6, Feb. 1891.

Orcutt, William Dana. Good Old Dorchester: A Narrative History of the Town, 1630-1893. Cambridge: The University Press, 1908.

Robert Ball Hughes: Towering Ability, Lost Opportunity
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Map Detail Ball Hughes House 1894Ball Hughes House1845 seated liberty half dime designedRobert Ball Hughes house
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Created: August 15, 2003   Modified: July 27, 2004