Patrick Hamilton: Itinerant writer and painter

Asked to leave theological college in the late 1940s after a sudden extinction of his faith, Patrick Hamilton soon came to make a habit of losing his job. He was sacked first by BP, then by the publishers Longmans, and finally, at the pinnacle of his salaried career, in 1969, he achieved dismissal by Robert Maxwell. But he discovered creativity and, aged 46, found his path in life, as a writer and painter.

He was the youngest of five children of parents whose unshakeable social and religious preconceptions shrank their horizons: Patrick's father was a lay preacher and farmer who specialised in diseases of chickens, his mother the daughter of a Leicestershire parson. With distant landed roots in Protestant Ireland on his father's side, and the Trevelyan dynasty on his mother's, a future in the church for Patrick had been anticipated.

Briefly at Wellington, he progressed to Pangbourne Naval College, from where, in 1940, he joined a minesweeper in the Shetlands, and transferred first to HMS Dido and then to HMS Lively on the Malta convoys as a midshipman. On Lively he took part in the second Battle of Sirte, and in another engagement was sunk twice in one day, 11 May 1942. On the upturned hull of Lively, the captain asked him: "How do you like life in the navy, m'boy?" Picked up by HMS Kipling, he woke aboard HMS Jervis, after Kipling was sunk.

Directly after the war Hamilton married a second cousin, and went up to the theological college Westcott House and Caius College, Cambridge. Being compelled by university rules to live in college apart from his young wife and, by 1948, two sons, Simon and James, Patrick Hamilton found himself making for London and trawling the streets around Leicester Square. The marriage ended, and with it his embryonic career as a priest.

After a succession of dull jobs in journalism in London, Hamilton drifted into preparatory school teaching. He married a second time, had a third son, Christopher, and to his great surprise talked his way to a £1,000-a-year salary in the Markets Department of BP. This took him to Ghana and Nigeria in the early 1960s, but while he made a success with the tribal chiefs who assisted BP in finding sites for petrol stations, he had no idea about profit margins. When some nuns came down from a bush hospital to pay for fuel oil with small change, he was caught telling them to put the money away and take the stuff.

BP exiled him to Aden to manage public relations at the oil refinery, "a job known to all except me as the end of the line. A year later I was let go." Marketing manager at Longmans followed, another world he knew nothing of, and in due course Hamilton was asked to leave after being busted for possessing cannabis (fine £75).

He was taken on by Robert Maxwell as overseas sales manager, but in due course Maxwell sacked him when he failed to remember the Pergamon Press sales figures for South-east Asia. He then worked briefly as a labourer, helping to build a cooling tower at Didcot power station.

The Maxwell sacking proved to be Hamilton's launch-pad. He had been attracted for years to painting and writing, despite having had no formal training in either. He had written poetry and plays in Lagos, and his play David and Bathsheba was broadcast on Radio Nigeria. Now he developed his talent for painting by travelling round Oxfordshire knocking on the doors of good-looking country houses and eliciting commissions to paint them.

His second marriage had long collapsed, but a third followed, which brought with it the birth of his fourth son, Ben. This marriage too foundered, in a bout of communal living and a hippie phase complete with rock stars and chicks. Soon Hamilton found himself alone in Valetta with £50 in his pocket.

There he discovered the writer Ernle Bradford with whose help Hamilton's book Drawings of Malta was published (1971). When his six-month residency permit ran out he moved to Taormina in Sicily, and through a chance encounter on Mount Etna with a young American woman whose name he never knew, he was encouraged to go to Florence. For the next 18 years, Florence was to be his home.

Hamilton's attic studio, used before the war by Pietro Annigoni, looked out over Piazza di Santa Croce. His door was always open to passing artists and friends. This was most expressly a "room with a view", and it was only appropriate that Hamilton should appear briefly as an extra in the 1985 Merchant Ivory film of E.M. Forster's novel.

There, with the loving support of Claire Burnand, he brought up his youngest son. He drew Florence and its people, and taught classes in drawing from the life model. One airport novel set in 1970s Florence begins with a tall English artist opening his studio door and saying "Come in my dear. Take off your clothes." Hamilton's teaching principle was to encourage a feeling and expression of love between artist and subject. "Look at that shoulder," he said. "It is looking back at you. Love it." Many young art and language students, among them the painters Mario Dubsky and Nick Archer, came through the studio, and it was there that Hamilton met his fourth wife, Caroline.

With Florence as his base, Hamilton travelled to Greece, the Middle East, India, Jamaica, Venezuela, California and elsewhere. He generally travelled light, but came home laden with paintings and drawings, and enough money from sales to keep going for a few more months. He banked, as he put it, with the "Celestial Bank"; and made his own luck. The hundreds of life and landscape drawings and watercolours, many exhibited in London at the Brian Koetser and King Street galleries, attest to an energetic career passionately spent seeking out new experiences.

Hamilton was an imposing figure. At 6ft 5in tall, with a full beard, thick, generous hair and a warm welcoming hug, he made friends easily, and enemies with very great difficulty, if at all. Thoughtful and reflective, he sought spirituality after a life of frugality of excess. In the words of the painter Dubuffet he found a description of his own life as it had been lived, and as he would wish to continue it: "Unless you say goodbye to the things you love and unless you travel to completely unknown destinations you can merely expect a slow wearing-away of yourself and an eventual extinction."

These words may have provided self-justification for a natural wanderer, they also gave him the assurance he needed to leave Florence in 1987 and drive the foundation of the Florence Trust in St Saviour's Church, Highbury in London. Patrick with Caroline's support secured the building, raised the money and orchestrated the groundswell to create in the handsome but redundant brick church a group of studios for artists who like himself seek new destinations.

Even in his old age, Hamilton's wanderlust never left him. In the 1990s he went back to Lagos, and, on a merchant ship, to the Baltic ports. In 2006, aged 82, he travelled to China for a month to make a series of watercolours for a patron and friend. He continued to write, leaving 200 pages of autobiography, a long diary of his travels as a painter in Greece and Italy, and an unpublished manual for artists who, like Patrick Hamilton, would let their eyes "watch with astonishment what the tip of the brush is doing".

James Hamilton

Patrick Norman Hamilton, painter, writer and teacher: born Edenbridge, Kent 28 October 1923; married first 1945 Diana Dixon (two sons; marriage dissolved), secondly 1952 Jean Kirk (née Lavender; one son; marriage dissolved), thirdly Helen Allom (née Ford; one son; marriage dissolved), fourthly 1988 Caroline Garnham (née Kirwan-Taylor); died Salisbury 8 January 2008.

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage
Arts and Entertainment
From Mean Girls to Mamet: Lindsay Lohan
Nathaniel Clyne (No 2) drives home his side's second goal past Arsenal’s David Ospina at the Emirates
footballArsenal 1 Southampton 2: Arsène Wenger pays the price for picking reserve side in Capital One Cup
Mike Tyson has led an appalling and sad life, but are we not a country that gives second chances?
peopleFormer boxer 'watched over' crash victim until ambulance arrived
Arts and Entertainment
Geena Davis, founder and chair of the Geena Davis Institute on Gender in Media
travelGallery And yes, it is indoors
Life and Style
Arts and Entertainment
The Tiger Who Came To Tea
booksJudith Kerr on what inspired her latest animal intruder - 'The Crocodile Under the Bed'
Arts and Entertainment
British actor Idris Elba is also a DJ and rapper who played Ibiza last summer
Alan Bennett criticised the lack of fairness in British society encapsulated by the private school system
peopleBut he does like Stewart Lee
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Account Executive/Sales Consultant – Permanent – Hertfordshire - £16-£20k

£16500 - £20000 Per Annum: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd: We are currently r...

KS2 PPA Teacher needed (Mat Cover)- Worthing!

£100 - £125 per day: Randstad Education Crawley: KS2 PPA Teacher currently nee...

IT Systems Manager

£40000 - £45000 per annum + pension, healthcare,25 days: Ashdown Group: An est...

IT Application Support Engineer - Immediate Start

£28000 per annum: Ashdown Group: IT Software Application Support Analyst - Imm...

Day In a Page

Syria air strikes: ‘Peace President’ Obama had to take stronger action against Isis after beheadings

Robert Fisk on Syria air strikes

‘Peace President’ Obama had to take stronger action against Isis after beheadings
Will Lindsay Lohan's West End debut be a turnaround moment for her career?

Lindsay Lohan's West End debut

Will this be a turnaround moment for her career?
'The Crocodile Under the Bed': Judith Kerr's follow-up to 'The Tiger Who Came to Tea'

The follow-up to 'The Tiger Who Came to Tea'

Judith Kerr on what inspired her latest animal intruder - 'The Crocodile Under the Bed' - which has taken 46 years to get into print
BBC Television Centre: A nostalgic wander through the sets, studios and ghosts of programmes past

BBC Television Centre

A nostalgic wander through the sets, studios and ghosts of programmes past
Lonesome George: Custody battle in Galapagos over tortoise remains

My George!

Custody battle in Galapagos over tortoise remains
10 best rucksacks for backpackers

Pack up your troubles: 10 best rucksacks for backpackers

Off on an intrepid trip? Experts from student trip specialists Real Gap and Quest Overseas recommend luggage for travellers on the move
Secret politics of the weekly shop

The politics of the weekly shop

New app reveals political leanings of food companies
Beam me up, Scottie!

Beam me up, Scottie!

Celebrity Trekkies from Alex Salmond to Barack Obama
Beware Wet Paint: The ICA's latest ambitious exhibition

Beware Wet Paint

The ICA's latest ambitious exhibition
Pink Floyd have produced some of rock's greatest ever album covers

Pink Floyd have produced some of rock's greatest ever album covers

Can 'The Endless River' carry on the tradition?
Sanctuary for the suicidal

Sanctuary for the suicidal

One mother's story of how London charity Maytree helped her son with his depression
A roller-coaster tale from the 'voice of a generation'

Not That Kind of Girl:

A roller-coaster tale from 'voice of a generation' Lena Dunham
London is not bedlam or a cradle of vice. In fact it, as much as anywhere, deserves independence

London is not bedlam or a cradle of vice

In fact it, as much as anywhere, deserves independence
Vivienne Westwood 'didn’t want' relationship with Malcolm McLaren

Vivienne Westwood 'didn’t want' relationship with McLaren

Designer 'felt pressured' into going out with Sex Pistols manager
Jourdan Dunn: Model mother

Model mother

Jordan Dunn became one of the best-paid models in the world