A discussion about Augustus Earle and some of his portraits


Of the many artists who worked in Australia after its discovery by Cook in 1770, Augustus Earle is one of the most versatile and interesting of the early ones. Because of his relatively large oeuvre which, together with paintings and drawings, includes writings, he has been relatively well documented in recent years. Bernard Smith made quite a feature of him in his monumental European Vision and the South Pacific, 1768–1850,1 Oxford, 1960. and wrote an article on him for the Australian Dictionary of Biography.2 Vol. I, 1788–1850, A-H, Melbourne, 1966. Ε. H. McCormick provided a lengthy introduction to his new edition3 Oxford, 1966. of the artist’s Narrative of a Nine Months’ Residence in New Zealand, in 1827; together with a journal of a Residence in Tristan d’Acunha, an island situated between South America and the Cape of Good Hope, which was originally published in London in 1832. Harold Spencer’s important article on ‘The Brisbane Portraits’ in the Journal of the Royal Australian Historical Society,4 J.R.A.H.S., Papers & Proceedings, vol. 52, pt 1, March 1966. evidenced American interest in the artist; while Anthony Murray-Oliver produced a volume devoted to Augustus Earle in New Zealand.5 Christchurch, 1968. A few years ago I received a letter from a geographer-researcher just off to Tristan da Cunha to compare Earle’s early sketches of the island with its present state. Miss Jocelyn Hackforth-Jones compiled a catalogue (forthcoming) of Augustus Earle’s sketches in the Rex Nan Kivell collection of the National Library of Australia. These sketches were handed through the family of Earle’s half-brother, Admiral Smyth, until sold in 1926 at Sotheby’s to Mr Walker Spencer. Rex Nan Kivell purchased them later. In 1967 I submitted to the Australian National University a Master of Arts preliminary essay entitled ‘A Study of the Portraits Painted by Augustus Earle During his Sojourn in New South Wales’ (unpublished), and also devoted some attention to him in my subsequent M.A. thesis (A.N.U., 1970) entitled ‘Artists and their Sitters: A Colonial Portrait (A Guide to the Portrait Painters of New South Wales and Van Dieman’s Land 1820–1850)’. The portraits under discussion are reproduced in my Artists in Early Australia and Their Portraits (Sydney, 1979), and several are in the Australian Gallery Directors Council, Australian Colonial Portraits travelling exhibition catalogue (Hobart, 1979). 

For the purpose of discussing Earle’s New South Wales portraits it may be pertinent at this point to preface the discussion with a brief chronology of Earle’s movements in Australia, as can be pieced together from contemporary records. 

Augustus Earle boarded the Duke of Gloucester6 Australian Dictionary of Biography, vol. 1, 1788–1850 A-H, entry under Earle. at Rio de Janeiro7 H. Spencer, ‘The Brisbane Portraits’, reprinted from J.R.A.H.S, vol. 52, pt 1, March 1966, p. 3. on 17 February 1824, never doubting that the letter of introduction in his pocket to the Governor-General of India would soon open the way for him to wealthy patronage there. He could not know that more than four and a half years would pass before he would set foot on Indian soil. If he could have foreseen a stay of eight months on Tristan da Cunha, he would not have found his arrival there such a happy event.8 A. Earle, A Narrative of a Nine Months’ Residence . . ., London, 1832, p. 290. As the captain made arrangements to take on board a few tons of potatoes to sell at the Cape,9 Earle’s letter in Hobart Town Gazette, 18 February 1825. Earle went ashore, armed with his gun, boat-cloak and sketchbook, and accompanied by his dog, Jemmy.10 Earle, op. cit, p. 291.

   

The circumstances in which the imprudent Earle went ashore at Tristan da Cunha, and remained on shore overnight are explained in his Narrative mentioned above. The difficulty encountered by ships calling there explained the infrequency of visits and Earle’s later attempt to solicit business for the potato vendors. When the artist rose in the morning the Duke of Gloucester had got under weigh at signs of an impending gale. As the wind shifted to the northward of Falmouth Bay the surf on the beach ‘baffled all attempts to get off to her’. 

He was not able to leave that tiny imprisoning island until the Admiral Cockburn, bound for Hobart Town, rescued him and took him thence, where he arrived on a Tuesday in January11 H.T.G., 21 January 1825. Earle arrived on 18 January. of the following year, 1825, quite by accident. 

Earle’s name appeared in the list of passengers in the Hobart Town Gazette12 Ibid. Contrary to the statement of E.H. McCormick in his new edition of Earle’s Narrative . . ., Oxford, 1966, p. 6, Shand was not among the passengers arriving at Hobart. He boarded the ship after Earle disembarked. for Friday of the same week; a week later, he and the other passengers thanked Captain Cooling ‘for his attentive and gentlemanly conduct’13 H.T.G., 28 January 1825. towards them during their long voyage. Three weeks after that the Hobart Town Gazette14 H.T.G., 18 February 1825. published Earle’s lengthy account of his Robinson Crusoe-like adventures since leaving Rio. 

In May15 H.T.G., 6 May 1825. The ship sailed that day, a Friday. Earle sailed for Sydney, this time a nine-day journey16 Sydney Gazette, 19 May 1825, notices the arrival of Earle per Cyprus which arrived from Hobart on Saturday, 14 May. in the brig Cyprus.17 This ship was in later years captured by convicts; see G.E. Boxall’s History of Australian Bushrangers, Sydney, 1935, p. 96 et seq. By the end of October his reputation as an artist was established there, to the extent that he was engaged to decorate the dining-room in which the colonists were to farewell Sir Thomas Brisbane on 7 November.18 S.G., 31 October 1825. Then it was announced that Earle would execute a portrait of the departing Governor ‘as a monument of the progress of the Fine Arts under the present Administration’.19 S.G., 14 November 1825. The Civil Officers of the colony commissioned this picture, and Earle had several interviews at Parramatta20 A. Earle, Views in New South Wales and Van Dieman’s Land, London, 1830. See his dedication to Brisbane. with Brisbane before he left the colony on 1 December 1825.21 G. Howe, Australian Almanack for 1828, Sydney, 1829, p. 155. Earle eventually received fifty pounds for the picture.22 Monitor, 16 June 1826. The writer thought that Earle should receive ‘at least a hundred guineas’.

The Australian announced in February 182623 Australian, 16 February 1826. that the Sydney Grand Jury wanted Mackaness to sit for Earle. The Monitor24 Monitor, 16 June 1826. ran a short article in June expressing appreciation of Earle’s collection, and made the first reference to the portrait of Brisbane being finished. During July an advertisement appeared repeatedly calling for subscriptions to pay for the portrait which was to be seen at the artist’s gallery in George Street.25 S.G., 8, 12, 15 July 1826. During August a Mr Earl was sworn on the Grand Jury, and contributed to the dispensary.26 S.G., 9 August 1826. Earle’s name was spelt in the press quite often without the final ‘e’, but this may refer to the other Earle in the colony at this time. In August, too, Earle first proposed starting a school of painting,27 Monitor, 18 August 1826, and 1 September 1826, p. 127. and was busy ‘knocking off circulars’ from a lithographic press he had acquired.28 S.G., 23 August 1826. He was printing an ‘admirable’ likeness of Bungaree which was selling at fifty shillings a copy.29 S.G., 23 August 1826. In September Earle advertised artists’ materials for sale at his gallery,30 Monitor, 8 September 1826. and was advised to include ‘the magnificent scenery in the vicinity of the King’s Table Land, the Campbell Cataract, and The Regent’s Glen’31 S.G., 27 September 1826. in the views he intended to publish. In October there was an article about the portrait of Brisbane,32 S.G., 21 October 1826. and another33 S.G., 25 October 1826. mentioning that the book that Earle had published, viz. Views in Australia,34 See J. A. Ferguson, Bibliography of Australia, Sydney, 1941, vol. I, p. 394. was completed, and expressed the hope that the effort would be liberally patronised. 

The Reverend John McGarvie visited Earle’s exhibition on Friday, 27 October.35 Diary of the Reverend J. McGarvie, Mitchell Library, A1332, p. 235. By this time Earle had sketched in the Newcastle area and the South Head Lighthouse in Sydney. There were pictures he had done in Tristan da Cunha, and earlier in England; a picture of Newtown, near Hobart; various pictures of natives, some Australian, one Tongan, one New Zealand. By this time, too, Earle had completed the following portraits which were to be seen in the exhibition: two unknown gentlemen, a small one of Brisbane (the preliminary oil for the larger one which was presumably by this time in Government House), Bungaree, General Darling, Mrs Blaxland, Mr Lawson, Mr Underwood, Mrs Underwood and child, Mr Dunlop, Mr Mackaness, Dr Townson and Quartermaster Coulson. 

Throughout November 1826, tickets for an amateur concert to be held shortly were purchasable from Earle.36 S.G., 8, 11, 15, 18, 22, 29 November 1826. In mid-December his prints of ‘Sydney from Pinchgut Island, and Macquarie Tower, or the light-house’ were ready for the public.37 Monitor, 16 December 1826. After Christmas, Earle had a small collection of books for sale.38 S.G., 27 December 1826. By early February 1827 Earle was busy doing panoramic views of Sydney from Palmer’s Hill.39 S.G., 9 February 1827. Towards the end of April he was on a sketching trip in the Illawarra district. Homeward-bound, he broke his leg, and was laid up at Macquarie Grove,40 Letter from Earle to Mrs Ward, Mitchell Library, Ae23. Also S.G., 18 May 1827. the home of the Hassall family, near present-day Camden.41 G. W. D. Allen, Early Georgian, Sydney, 1958, p. 56. By this time he was greeted in the press as ‘the favourite artist of Australia’.42 S.G., 18 May 1827. 

Sir William Dixson says that during October Earle painted a comprehensive view of Sydney for a nobleman in England.43 W. Dixson, ‘Notes on Australian Artists’, J.R.A.H.S., vol. 5, pp. 290–91. On 20 October,44 S.G., 22 October 1827. in the company of his friend Mr Shand, Earle sailed for New Zealand, where he spent six months sketching. While there, a fire destroyed most of his belongings45 Monitor, 10 May 1828. when some of the natives rioted during an attack by a foreign tribe.46 Earle, Narrative, pp. 87–97. The brig, Governor Macquarie, brought Earle and his friend back to Sydney on Monday, 5 May 1828.47 S.G., 7 May 1828. That month Earle was one of the donors to the Female School at Parramatta.48 S.G., 12, 14 May 1828. For two months after his return he seems to have kept in quite close contact with the New Zealand natives who had accompanied him on the ship to Sydney.49 Earle, Narrative, pp. 274–83. 

Earle left Australia on the Rainbow50 Ibid., Introduction. on Sunday, 12 October 1828,51 S.G., 10 October 1828. taking with him a thick folio of his sketches of the last three years. Our chronology so far ignores some important letters from Earle which do much to show his character (he was described by Charles Darwin as ‘eccentric’) to their readers. 

His first significant letter was the one published in the Hobart Town Gazette, 18 February 1825, shortly after his arrival. He had already addressed the Editor (28 January), on behalf of the passengers who had disembarked from the Admiral Cockburn, thanking Captain Cooling for his kindness to the passengers during the voyage. (The letter is not signed but appears to be by Earle.) His February letter gave a lengthy account of his adventures and rescue from Tristan da Cunha, although his pretext for writing it was to publicise the potato-growers’ efforts there. He subsequently used the same material in his published Narrative

On New Year’s Day 1827 he wrote to the Colonial Secretary petitioning for a land grant – just too late to be given one, as government policy now permitted land grants only to people with capital. He wished ‘to make a permanent residence’, and continued 

though I had not the most distant idea of it when I first landed I have now a strong anxiety of settle [here], and of course to enjoy one of the privaleges [sic] which I see my Countrymen do, that is a Grant of Land!52 Col. Sec. Letters Received Relating to Land, N.S.W. Archives, 2/7850 (Eades – J. Edwards), no. 27/12, dated 1 January 1827. Although Earle obviously enjoyed the bush (see, for example, his ‘Bivouac of Travellers in a Cabbage Tree Forest’ in the National Library) it seems most unlikely that even if he had received the land grant that he would have settled on it. All his means of earning a living derived from town or city pursuits. He makes an interesting parallel on this point with James Armstrong Wilson, a portraitist of the 1840s who settled on the Macleay River near Kempsey with his family, but who had intermittent trips to Sydney to replenish his purse by following his profession of taking portraits.

It is really quite astonishing that Earle’s third letter has not been made more of by his academic researchers. It reveals his humour and ability to turn mishap to advantage. It also helps to situate the artist socially – and this could be done quite fully by reading between the lines, not only of this letter, but also by considering Earle in the context of his activities, such as scene painter and ticket seller for the amateur concert he was involved in.53 See Christiana Brooks’s Diary, 1825–30, National Library, MS 1559/3, typescript, p. 23, and the contemporary newspapers. His relationship with his sitters, of course (and ‘standers’ – see his portraits of Governor Sir Thomas Brisbane, of Captain John Piper, and of Bungaree), is evidenced to some extent by the ‘eye-play’, as the Americans term it, in the portraits themselves. Although Sir Thomas Brisbane was cool and aloof towards everyone, Earle attempted, even after his New South Wales sojourn, to kindle some interest in himself on the part of the astronomer-governor by dedicating his Views in New South Wales and Van Dieman’s Land to Brisbane. 

The addressee of the letter, Mrs Ward, appears in G. W. D. Allen’s Early Georgian.54 G. W. D. Allen, Early Georgian, Sydney, 1958, pp. 37–38: ‘During the evening of 21st December, 1819, at which time George [Allen] was lodging with Jenkins at Cockle Bay, the Blake Jake, built by Jenkins for Captain Ritchie, left Cockle Bay for sea . . . With Ritchie on this voyage was Mr. R. L. Murray [late Superintendent of Police – commonly called Capt. Murray]. The expedition was kept secret because the ship was on discovery. ‘This evening’, George wrote, ‘. . . a singular and laughable incident occurred. The schooner Black Jake – owing to the wind dying – was obliged to return – We had just finished Tea and I was about retiring to my room for the evening, when in came Mrs Ward and stated that Capt. Murray had desired her to wait here for him. She waited till about 10 o’clock, when she repeatedly requested me to go and get a boat for her, as she had something very particular to say to Capt. Murray before he went I went, and after going over the rocky place for about half a mile I procured a boat, but both myself and the two men I had with me were forced to wade 20 yards through the water up to our kness [sic] to the Boat, as it was too shallow for the Boat to come in. I then saw her on board the Schooner, but instead of Capt. M. being ready to come ashore, we found him in bed. Here she staid for nearly an hour, crying and making a fool of herself, so that all the crew on board were making a jest of her. When she returned, I was requested to see her home, and after being wet up to my knees and walking from Cockle Bay to nearly the top of Pitt Street, I parted with my fair companion and once more returned home, but not quite as comfortable as before she came. The next morning, we were again visited by Mrs. Ward and the person by the name of Hannah Harris – they were soon joined by their respective gentlemen, Capt. Murray and Capt. Ritchie. They all stayed to breakfast and the scene was truly delightful George continued: ‘I never enjoyed anything better in my life than to see the fair ones sometimes weeping and sometimes laughing …’. Earle’s letter was prompted by his desire to describe his most recent adventures to someone (perhaps she was his landlady), and to bewail missing seeing his old friend, Captain Cooling, while his ship was in port. He writes:55 Mitchell Library, Ae23. Square brackets indicate indistinct original. 

Dear Madam I’m in duty bound ‘my troubles to reherse’ 

And as I’ve lots of time on hand – I’ll give them you in verse 

My friendship for your family – induces me to do it 

Tho’ troubling you with doggrel rhymes is sure no way to show it. 

I’ll tell you of our journey too – and what befel us there 

And how I got my broken shin – how I did growl and swear. 

Twice three, and one our party was, right merry blades and true. 

We leap’d over sprightly [Cowisess] backs ‘twas a pleasant sight to view 

 

Two serving Men brought up the rear – with saddle bags well stowed 

And blankets, boatcloaks, fire locks – made up a precious load 

Thro’ Liverpool and Campbelltown – a western course we keep 

But then our heads, we southward turn – and steer towards the deep 

Now Bumberry curren’s pleasant vales – and Appin’s plains are past 

And Illawarra Mountain steep – we’ve got safe o’er at last 

We traversed Mountain Bog and Bush – and Bivouaked at night 

Determined hunger and fatigue – we’d turn into delight 

It was a curious sight to see – us laying round our fire 

Our [teaster] Heaven’s Canopy – our down bed on the brier. 

Thus roughing it and laying out – chill’d by the frosty breeze 

‘Twas nothing to the stockmens hut – where you’re devoured by fleas. 

The road now lay along the beach – the surf roll’d at our feet 

The glossy sands from ebbing tides – by sounding hoofs were beat 

The whole five Islands now in view – far in the distance stretch’d 

The scene was charming warm and clear – I took my book and sketch’d 

And now thro Bush and Brake again, we bend our devious way 

Thro verdant plains and lowing herds – we rode near all one day. 

Such tangled thickets now we pass’d, such mighty trees we saw, 

Such giants of Australian growth, now fill’d my mind with awe, 

They seemed to say in future times, we’ll guard our native shore 

Such Navies shall grow out of us, as ne’er were seen before. 

We now had reach’d lovely spot, by Farmer call’d his Farm 

And hop’d to get our bellies fill’d, with a drop to keep us warm 

But Ο what horror we all felt – when wide we gaz’d arround [sic

To find a barren wilderness of Gum trees most profound 

Instead of finding here withall, to pass a pleasant day. 

We trapesed up and down the Rocks, and hungry went away, 

But keen our wits we bent on him, who’d led us such a dance 

I guess he wish’d he’d been at home, or we’d all been in France. 

 

For now we’d rid our journey through, we’d time to look about 

And then not used to riding much, began to sing out 

And when attempting to dismount, such Oh’s and Ah’s they made    

We thought their limbs were injured much, and I felt sore afraid 

Yet we know that voyages long, are made with far more ease 

By all your copper bottom’d ships, for they defy the seas, 

I’d recommend to tars on shore, when horses they will ride 

To take a hint from what’s above, then they will stem the tide. 

But now my jokes I must curtail, my own mishap to tell 

‘Twas on the last days journey, the accident befel 

Me riding on quite soberly, the day was closing fast 

And shadows by the setting sun, athwart the road were cast 

While the red glare shone in my eyes, which made my footing frail 

A log of wood lay on the road, my [ . . . ] did assail 

So violent the shock I felt, crash crash there goes the bone 

Ο here’s a pretty mess I’m in, I wish I was at home. 

Condolence now came thick and fast, as on the ground I lay 

And all express’d a wish to serve, if I’d point out the way 

They hoist me on my horse again, one led him by the head 

And twenty miles I rode that night, before I got to bed 

At Mr. Hassall’s I sojourne, on a bed of thorns I lay 

I grunt and groan thro’ all the night the same this all the day 

But all my rage and oaths I find to fire’s adding fuel 

So I’ll take the Nurse’s old adage-patience and Water Gruel. 

 

May 19th 1827 

I must tell you how all these beautiful poetic efusions came to light. The first few days of my confinement I amused myself by giving you a description of our journey and the accident which confined me in this house. The messenger not going to Town as I expected the letter remained by me, and being written in an almost unintelligible hand, owing to the awkward position I wrote it in, I concluded to write it over again, and feeling a rhyming propensity come over me, I een gave it full swing, and thus you have it. 

 

I have not any Idea how long this leg of mine may confine me here, I have been now ten days, and this is the first I am [out] of bed; the [anguish] is [unavailing] tho’ I am getting a little more power of the limb. I need not express to you my distress at not seeing Cooling before he sail’d, if my life had been depending on it I could not have reached Sydney. Make my respects to your bloming [sic] Daughters, and all enquiring friends, and believe me 

 

Yours sincere friend 

Augustus Earle 

 

Saturday (Morning), Macquarie grove, Cowpastures 

 

As ever, the artist’s letter was chatty, and as one studies his portraits and the records for clues about his character he emerges as a portraitist in the native American tradition, an itinerant who entertained his sitters with anecdotes largely about his own adventures56 Reddall Papers, Mitchell Library, A423, p. 396. In an undated letter to the Reverend Thomas Reddall, Dr Robert Townson stated that it was his intention to send his niece, Berenice, his ‘Picture or likeness by Earle’, saying that Earle was ‘to come here’ (which presumably referred to his home, Varro Ville, near the present-day town of Minto), to do it. ‘I am told’, he continued, ‘he has not done yours well – can he touch it up whilst he is here’. The Reverend John McGarvie sighted it at Earle’s gallery in George Street on 26 October 1826.57 Diary of the Rev. John McGarvie, Mitchell Library, A1332, p. 235.
The portrait is in the Mitchell Library, Sydney, transferred as it was in 1961 from the Australian Museum, to which Lady Dowling presented it in 1873. 

Like the portraits of Townson’s near-neighbours, Captain Richard Brooks and his wife Christiana (which have recently been acquired by the National Gallery of Victoria), and like the portraits of John Piper and of his wife, Mary Ann, and their children (also in the Mitchell Library), Townson’s reveals that liveliness of expression which marks the interest he took in the individual responsible for his portrayal. 

One of the many documents which has helped the present writer to the deduction that Earle amused his sitters with talk about himself is a letter written by Captain Brooks’s daughter, Christiana Jane, to her husband’s (Captain Thomas Valentine Blomfield) relatives in England. On 5 January 1828 she wrote to her husband’s niece:58 Memoirs of the Blomfield Family, privately published, Armidale, 1926, copy formerly in the possession of the late Mrs Μ. E. Blomfield of Cooma, N.S.W.            

About twelve months ago your uncle paid a visit to Sydney to make many purchases that we were then in want of, and also to stay at my father’s a week or two. My father and mother had just had their portraits taken by a person who had been wrecked [sic] on the island of Tristan de Acunta [sic], not very far from St. Paul’s Island, and had been picked up by some ship on her way to this colony. He was glad of the opportunity of earning a subsistence by his profession, not have a friend here at the time, and exerted himself to the best of his abilities with his first paintings, many of which were excellent likenesses, and my father’s and mother’s amongst the best. Your uncle was much pleased with them that he determined to have ours taken, as he knew you would be pleased to see what we were like. He therefore sat for his and brought it down with him: I cannot say the picture pleased me much. There is a likeness, but there is a want of the good-humoured and cheerful expression of countenance that he has: Then I went to stay with my father’s. I also sat for my likeness, and we hoped to have a nice packet with the two pictures to have sent to you, but when mine was sent down it was not the least like me, and a most wretched daub. Your uncle was so much disappointed and provoked that he has returned it as not being worth sending to his friends. 

Christiana Jane’s husband, Captain Blomfield, delayed sending his portrait to his people in England, hoping he might still get one of his wife to accompany it. Eventually, on 2 April 1830, he wrote: 

I send you a board with what was taken for my likeness on it. I think it is something like me; some people say no, but such as it is I send it. I had one taken for my wife, but it is no more like her than it is like the man in the moon. I was very much disappointed and angry when it was sent home. 

He refers to it from time to time again in his letters, and it is still in the family’s possession today. 

Captain Richard Brooks was born in Devon, the son of a clergyman, and a tender age entered the Royal Navy, leaving it to make his fortune as captain of his own ship, and as a merchant. He first came to Australia in 1802, bringing convicts in the Atlas.59 See C. Bateson, The Convict Ships, Glasgow, 1959, pp. 163–68. He warranted an article in the Australian Dictionary of Biography, volume 1, and appeared in an earlier publication entitled Australian Men of Mark (E. Digby (ed.), Sydney, 1889). 

 

His daughter, Jane Cox, gives very lively descriptions of her father’s and her own earlier life in her manuscript notes, dated Goulburn, 13 August 1873.60 Photocopies are held with the Diary of Christiana Brooks, 1825–30, in the National Library. Brooks, who was gored to death by a bull on his own property, was outlived by his wife, Christiana, who appears in the companion portrait. Her diary reveals her to have been an English lady settler who enjoyed the newspapers and kept busy with her family. Apart from suffering from the Sydney summer heat, and finding it ‘disgraceful to [find in] a town such as Sydney to meet the Natives of both sexes intirely [sic] naked which is frequently the case’, she settled very comfortably into a life which in England would have been out of reach. Given the fact that her diary covers the period during which Earle painted the portraits of her, her husband, her daughter and her son-in-law, it is characteristic that they find no mention. She does not discuss personal things in the Diary, but probably the portraits were painted either at Denham Court (Earle did at least one portrait nearby – that of Dr Townson, with whom Mrs Brooks was acquainted, noting in her Diary the ‘vacuum occasioned by his loss’ and calling him an ‘eccentric though respectable Colonist’), or they may have been painted in town – hers, at least, probably during the three-day stay which ended with her return to Denham Court on 6 January 1827. (Denham Court still stands on the old road to Campbelltown.) 

Mrs Brooks was quite intimately acquainted with Captain John Piper and family, especially as he had returned to Australia after testifying in the Bligh affair, on the ship by which her husband brought his family out. (This is mentioned in Jane Cox’s notes, along with mention of Piper’s ‘great urbanity of manners’, and a description of the interior of Henrietta Villa, which had been begun about 1819. One of the domed rooms provides the background to the portrait of Mrs Piper and family. 

The portraits of the Pipers were undoubtedly amongst the early ones the artist painted, and which Christiana Jane Blomfield refers to at a date before the reversal of fortune which resulted in the sale of Henrietta Villa, its effects, and the removal of the family to Bathurst. Poor Captain Piper even tried to drown himself on 5 April 1827 but, as Mrs Brooks puts it, ‘by timely assistance, however, this worthy man was saved from a watery grave’. She stayed with the family at Point Piper (‘P- -P- -’, as she puts it), although a little discomfited by the ‘knowledge of their [her friends’] distress’, and, like most of Sydney it seems, attended the sale of the possessions of the most wealthy man in Sydney. The Pipers stayed with the Brooks en route to Bathurst. 

As the portrait of Sir Thomas Brisbane was paid for by public subscription, the amount of £50 which the artist received for that portrait may have been rather more than he charged for each of the Piper portraits, which are a little smaller.61 Stated to be by ‘Mr Earl’, the portrait of Captain Piper was shown in 1847 at the Exhibition for the Promotion of the Fine Arts held in Sydney. It and its companion were for a long time attributed to Richard Read. Bernard Smith re-attributed them in his book, Australian Painting 1788–1960, Melbourne, 1962, Interestingly enough, both the Richard Reads usually signed their work (not done in oils), while Earle’s portraits are all unsigned.

Earle’s affairs frequently received notice in the press, especially in the Sydney Monitor, amongst whose staff one is tempted to think he had a friend. There is a notice about a court case, where Earle’s price of £15 for a likeness ‘a yard square on canvas’ had been lowered to £10 in order that the case be hastened through the court. Even so, Earle had already gone to New Zealand. The case was over the degree of likeness, and a number of persons were ready to swear that it was a very fair likeness. The newspaper report said: 

How can Mr Loane [the subject] expect an Artist to paint a yard square on canvas in a superior manner for less than £10? The picture itself is worth the money. If the likeness were expected to be as good as Sir Thomas Lawrence’s, the charge by that artist is 200 guineas.62 Monitor, 12 November 1827. 

Earle also painted a portrait of Major Frederick Goulburn, Colonial Secretary 1820–26. It hangs in Parliament House, Sydney. When Goulburn departed, Mrs Brooks wrote in her Diary:63 9 February 1826.   

On Tuesday last sailed for England our late Colonial Secretary, the only man I will venture to say who ever left these shores with the same spirit of impartiality, the same inflexibility, and upright principles, which he brought into it, and altho in the eyes of those who expected Major G- to become their Fool, to see with their eyes, and to be guided by their narrow principles, his inflexibility became a crime, and his integrity of conduct a great error of judgment, yet the liberal minded and impartial will daily become more and more convinced of his superiority. 

Mrs Brooks was also, no doubt, acquainted with Bungaree, whose portrait was seen in Earle’s gallery when the Reverend John McGarvie visited it in October 1826.

One of Earle’s most successful portraits is the one of Bungaree in the Rex Nan Kivell collection of the National Library. It was on view at the artist’s gallery when McGarvie visited there, and later, under the pseudonym of ‘A.Β. of Marramatta’, McGarvie wrote on the ‘State of the Fine Arts’, he recalled the portrait:64 S.G., 30 July 1829, ‘Bungaree, King of the Blacks’, anonymous article in Charles Dickens, All the Year Round, 21 May 1859. 

Bungaree, chief of the Broken Bay tribe of blacks, in his usual dress, a blue surcoat, cocket [sic] hat, and brass plate on his breast . . .  a most striking likeness . . . the arms appearing to be fixed to the body with glue, and a four inch spike. 

 

Bungaree is standing at the harbour’s edge adorned in castoff gubernatorial dress, and with cockade hat and breast plate. Many years after this time, the ‘Old King’, as he was known, confided to a white contemporary that General Macquarie had been the greatest of the governors who had held sway in New South Wales, the reason being that he had been Bungaree’s greatest creditor, giving him (although Bungaree always used the verb ‘to lend’): 

more cocked-hats, more coats, more shirts, more loaves of bread, and more glasses of grog, than any other ruler in Australia; and further . . .  it was General Macquarie who ‘lent’ him the brass plate which he wore for so many, many years.65 Ibid. There is an article on Bungaree in the Australian Dictionary of Biography, vol. 1, 1788–1850, A-H. 

Earle, ‘the raconteur’, would, one feels, have been drawn to Bungaree, whose abilities as a mimic especially, but not only, of the governors have attracted comment in a large number of contemporary accounts of the colony. The portrait is full of the liveliness of expression and sympathy for the subject that one would expect in a first-hand portrait, particularly by such an artist as the conversational Augustus. Not only is this liveliness lacking in the prints the artist published later, but he has changed the ‘backdrop’. Sydney Harbour, Bungaree’s home before the colonising white man stepped ashore (an event witnessed, indeed, by the ‘Old King’), gives way to the gutter of George Street, where the now-degraded Bungaree is surrounded by grog bottles shared with one of his ‘Queens’. In the short space of time between Earle’s arrival and departure, the indigenous Sydney-sider had been relegated there, assuming the role of ‘clown’ to the vanquishing whites. The success of his oft-repeated performance, while assuring his place (and livelihood), in Sydney Town, also resulted in his portrayal by a number of artists, from the explorer, Jules Lejeune, whose portrait sketch spells the aborigine’s name ‘Buggery’,66 Reproduced in G. Dutton, White on Black, the Australian Aborigine Portrayed in Art, Melbourne, 1974, plate 23. to the convict artist Rodius. 

It would be interesting to know how many prints of Bungaree Earle sold at fifty shillings each, a not inconsiderable sum in those days. Rodius’s lithographic prints of aborigines cost two shillings and sixpence. 

The only copies of his print of Bungaree extant are those in his Views, which were published in England and dedicated to Sir Thomas Brisbane.   

The portrait of Mrs Harriot Blaxland, wife of John Blaxland, shows how little she adjusted to life in New South Wales, and perhaps makes Christiana Brooks’s point about the weather, which in summer was always euphemistically called ‘warm’. ‘I am happy to hear it, as a general opinion’, wrote Christiana in June 1825, ‘that last summer was the warmest ever known, for I really believe another such would almost kill me.’ 

A portrait of Mrs Blaxland appeared in Earle’s gallery when visited by McGarvie, who, in his later article, expressed some doubt as to whether it was by the artist. He described it:67 S.G., 28/30 July 1829. 

A fine half length, in large size, . . . the picture has been to the East Indies and back, and suffered considerably from the heat of an inter-tropical climate. The painter has done all justice to the fine original. The drapery has been tarnished, but had been well executed. We are not certain whether this picture was painted by Mr. Earle, but it formed a prominent object in his gallery. 

Careful examination of the flesh tones in the painting of Mrs Blaxland in the Mitchell Gallery, and of details such as the hands, persuade me that it is Earle’s work. It seems rather unlikely that Earle would have shown in his gallery work by other artists. I believe, too, that Earle was the artist of a portrait in the Mitchell Library of Mrs Blaxland’s son, John.68 Pic. Stor. 423. 

The ‘large size’ statement is rather misleading. Certainly the portrait is smaller than the Government House portrait of Brisbane and the large portraits of the Pipers (these two were not shown at Earle’s gallery as far as one can ascertain). Mrs Blaxland’s is, however, larger than the one of Mackaness (whose face is proportionately smaller, notwithstanding the canvas having been cut down) and the one of Bungaree. There was also a small one of Brisbane. The portrait of Mrs Blaxland is about the same size as that of Dr Townson, which was also on show. The other portraits listed in McGarvie’s Diary have not been located. 

The portrait of the Sheriff, John Mackaness, in the Mitchell Library, is probably the one whose execution was prompted by the circumstances given in The Australian, 16 February 1826: 

The Sydney Grand Jury, on the termination of their duties on Thursday last, resolved to entertain the Sheriff at dinner on the following day. An invitation was sent and accepted, and the party met at the Sydney Hotel, where an excellent dinner was provided by the landlord. The Chairman and Clerk of the Peace were also invited on the occasion. A very convivial evening was spent. The Grand Jury, as a further proof of their esteem for the Sheriff, and of his impartial and constitutional conduct on all public occasions, resolved the request that he would allow his portrait to be painted by Mr. Earle, and to be placed in some public room or hall. 

McGarvie saw the portrait on his visit to Earle’s gallery, and later said,69 Ibid. S.G., 28/30 July 1829. ‘This picture was much admired as a most astonishing likeness of the original.’ 

A little over thirty years before, the obituary of Augustus Earle’s father, James Earle, noticed that artist’s ‘uncommon facility in hitting off the likeness’,70 A. W, Rutledge, ‘Artists in the Life of Charleston through Colony, State from Restoration’ Transactions of the American Philosophical Society, vol. 39, pt 2, Philadelphia, 1949, p. 124. and, like his father, our subject possessed ‘a suavity of disposition, benevolence and good humour’. His portraits, painted at a period of Australia’s history when the factions of exclusive and emancipist were just beginning to emerge, hearken to the possibilities of an egalitarianism in portraiture, such as Tom Roberts was able to effect in his work. An artist of American extraction, he had worked with Americans both in England and in the United States; Earle’s itinerant existence had given him the means of social intercourse which was unselfconsciously egalitarian, while the posing of his formal portraits (especially those of Brisbane and the Pipers) put his work within the tradition of the Royal Academy; the ‘eye-play’ of all the frontal portraits reveals the ease with which he moved in the society in which he found himself.

Eve Buscombe, Research Assistant, Dictionary Project, Power Institute of Fine Arts, University of Sydney (in 1978).

Catalogue of portraits by Augustus Earle in South Wales. (There are also portraits in his publications and amongst the Rex Nan Kivell collection of sketches at the National Library of Australia, Canberra.) Question mark indicates author’s attribution. 

1          Bungaree (c. 1782–1830), oil on canvas, 68.6 x 50.8 cm, Rex Nan Kivell collection. 

2          Sir Thomas Brisbane (1773–1830), oil on canvas, 221 approx. x 144.8 cm, Government House, Sydney. 

3          Head of a Gentleman (Sir Walter Brisbane), watercolour, 14.6 x 13.6 cm, Rex Nan Kivell collection, NK 12/164.

4          Captain John Piper (1773–1851), oil on canvas, 196.3 x 131.3 cm, Mitchell Library, 6. Donated by Mrs Bertha Dale (née Cox) and Mr R. H. Cox, 1921. 

5          Captain John Piper, oil on canvas, 44.4 x 30.8 cm, privately owned (family). 

6          Mrs Piper (née Mary Ann Shears) and family, oil on canvas, 196.3 x 131.3 cm, Mitchell Library (pair with no. 4). 

7?        Mrs Piper, oil on canvas, 45.8 x 31.0 cm, privately owned (family). 

8          Dr Robert Townson (1763–1827), oil on canvas, 81.2 x 64.8 cm, Mitchell Library, Sydney, Pic. Stor. 241. Presented to Australian Museum by Lady Dowling in 1863; transferred to Mitchell Library, 1961. 

9          Captain Richard Brooks (1765?–1833), oil on canvas, 73.6 x 61.2 cm, National Gallery of Victoria. Previously in the possession of the family (1970). 

10        Mrs Christiana Eliza Brooks (née Passmore) (1776–1835), oil on canvas, 73.6 x 61.2 cm, National Gallery of Victoria. Previously in the possession of the family (1970). 

11         Captain Thomas Valentine Blomfield (1797–1857), oil on canvas, 30.7 x 24.9 cm, privately owned (family). 

12?         Frederick Goulburn (1788–1837), oil on canvas, 81.3 x 63.5 cm, Parliament House, Sydney. Presented by Henry Gratten Douglas, 16 October 1865. 

13?        Mrs Harriet Blaxland (Mrs John) (née de Marquett) (1775?–1852), oil on canvas, 89.8 x 63.5 cm, Mitchell Library, Pic. Stor. 329, provenance unknown. 

14?        John de Marquett Blaxland, oil on canvas, 53.9 x 43.8 cm, Mitchell Library, Pic. Stor. 423. 

15?       Sheriff John Mackaness (1770?–1838 ADB), oil on canvas, 45.2 x 29.9 cm, Mitchell Library, 710. Presented by W. H. Hall, son of Edward Smith Hall, 1914. 

 

Unlocated portraits. These appeared in Earle’s gallery when visited by the Reverend John McGarvie: 

16        Sir Thomas Brisbane, later belonged to Mrs James Robertson. 

17        Sir Ralph Darling. 

18        William Lawson. 

19        Mr (James) Underwood. 

20        Mrs Underwood and Child. 

21        Mr (James) Dunlop. 

22        (Quartermaster) Coulson. 

23        Self-portrait by Earle. 

24        The court case referred to in the text was about the degree of likeness to the original in the portrait of Mr Loane (or Loune). 

25        There is a portrait of a James Laidley, reproduced in F. Μ. Bladen, Historical Notes on the Public Library of New South Wales, Sydney, 1911, p. 12; Home, 1 November 1932; and which could be by Earle. 

26        The writer once saw a small oil portrait ‘of a French explorer’ in a private collection in Tasmania, which may also be by Earle’s hand. 

27        Christiana Jane Blomfield (née Brooks). Her portrait may have been destroyed when returned to the artist as being an insufficient likeness. 

 

Notes

1          Oxford, 1960. 

2          Vol. I, 1788–1850, A-H, Melbourne, 1966. 

3          Oxford, 1966. 

4          J.R.A.H.S., Papers & Proceedings, vol. 52, pt 1, March 1966. 

5          Christchurch, 1968. 

6          Australian Dictionary of Biography, vol. 1, 1788–1850 A-H, entry under Earle

7          H. Spencer, ‘The Brisbane Portraits’, reprinted from J.R.A.H.S, vol. 52, pt 1, March 1966, p. 3. 

8          A. Earle, A Narrative of a Nine Months’ Residence . . ., London, 1832, p. 290. 

9          Earle’s letter in Hobart Town Gazette, 18 February 1825. 

10        Earle, op. cit, p. 291. 

11        H.T.G., 21 January 1825. Earle arrived on 18 January. 

12        Ibid. Contrary to the statement of E.H. McCormick in his new edition of Earle’s Narrative . . ., Oxford, 1966, p. 6, Shand was not among the passengers arriving at Hobart. He boarded the ship after Earle disembarked. 

13        H.T.G., 28 January 1825. 

14        H.T.G., 18 February 1825. 

15        H.T.G., 6 May 1825. The ship sailed that day, a Friday. 

16        Sydney Gazette, 19 May 1825, notices the arrival of Earle per Cyprus which arrived from Hobart on Saturday, 14 May. 

17       This ship was in later years captured by convicts; see G.E. Boxall’s History of Australian Bushrangers, Sydney, 1935, p. 96 et seq

18        S.G., 31 October 1825. 

19        S.G., 14 November 1825.

20        A. Earle, Views in New South Wales and Van Dieman’s Land, London, 1830. See his dedication to Brisbane. 

21        G. Howe, Australian Almanack for 1828, Sydney, 1829, p. 155. 

22        Monitor, 16 June 1826. The writer thought that Earle should receive ‘at least a hundred guineas’. 

23        Australian, 16 February 1826. 

24        Monitor, 16 June 1826. 

25        S.G., 8, 12, 15 July 1826. 

26        S.G., 9 August 1826. Earle’s name was spelt in the press quite often without the final ‘e’, but this may refer to the other Earle in the colony at this time. 

27        Monitor, 18 August 1826, and 1 September 1826, p. 127. 

28        S.G., 23 August 1826. 

29        S.G., 23 August 1826. 

30        Monitor, 8 September 1826. 

31        S.G., 27 September 1826. 

32        S.G., 21 October 1826. 

33        S.G., 25 October 1826. 

34        See J. A. Ferguson, Bibliography of Australia, Sydney, 1941, vol. I, p. 394. 

35        Diary of the Reverend J. McGarvie, Mitchell Library, A1332, p. 235. 

36        S.G., 8, 11, 15, 18, 22, 29 November 1826. 

37        Monitor, 16 December 1826. 

38        S.G., 27 December 1826. 

39        S.G., 9 February 1827. 

40        Letter from Earle to Mrs Ward, Mitchell Library, Ae23. Also S.G., 18 May 1827. 

41        G. W. D. Allen, Early Georgian, Sydney, 1958, p. 56. 

42        S.G., 18 May 1827. 

43        W. Dixson, ‘Notes on Australian Artists’, J.R.A.H.S., vol. 5, pp. 290–91. 

44        S.G., 22 October 1827. 

45        Monitor, 10 May 1828. 

46        Earle, Narrative, pp. 87–97. 

47        S.G., 7 May 1828. 

48        S.G., 12, 14 May 1828. 

49        Earle, Narrative, pp. 274–83. 

50        Ibid., Introduction. 

51        S.G., 10 October 1828.   

52        Col. Sec. Letters Received Relating to Land, N.S.W. Archives, 2/7850 (Eades – J. Edwards), no. 27/12, dated 1 January 1827. Although Earle obviously enjoyed the bush (see, for example, his ‘Bivouac of Travellers in a Cabbage Tree Forest’ in the National Library) it seems most unlikely that even if he had received the land grant that he would have settled on it. All his means of earning a living derived from town or city pursuits. He makes an interesting parallel on this point with James Armstrong Wilson, a portraitist of the 1840s who settled on the Macleay River near Kempsey with his family, but who had intermittent trips to Sydney to replenish his purse by following his profession of taking portraits. 

53        See Christiana Brooks’s Diary, 1825–30, National Library, MS 1559/3, typescript, p. 23, and the contemporary newspapers. 

54        G. W. D. Allen, Early Georgian, Sydney, 1958, pp. 37–38: ‘During the evening of 21st December, 1819, at which time George [Allen] was lodging with Jenkins at Cockle Bay, the Blake Jake, built by Jenkins for Captain Ritchie, left Cockle Bay for sea . . . With Ritchie on this voyage was Mr. R. L. Murray [late Superintendent of Police – commonly called Capt. Murray]. The expedition was kept secret because the ship was on discovery. ‘This evening’, George wrote, ‘. . . a singular and laughable incident occurred. The schooner Black Jake – owing to the wind dying – was obliged to return – We had just finished Tea and I was about retiring to my room for the evening, when in came Mrs Ward and stated that Capt. Murray had desired her to wait here for him. She waited till about 10 o’clock, when she repeatedly requested me to go and get a boat for her, as she had something very particular to say to Capt. Murray before he went I went, and after going over the rocky place for about half a mile I procured a boat, but both myself and the two men I had with me were forced to wade 20 yards through the water up to our kness [sic] to the Boat, as it was too shallow for the Boat to come in. I then saw her on board the Schooner, but instead of Capt. M. being ready to come ashore, we found him in bed. Here she staid for nearly an hour, crying and making a fool of herself, so that all the crew on board were making a jest of her. When she returned, I was requested to see her home, and after being wet up to my knees and walking from Cockle Bay to nearly the top of Pitt Street, I parted with my fair companion and once more returned home, but not quite as comfortable as before she came. The next morning, we were again visited by Mrs. Ward and the person by the name of Hannah Harris – they were soon joined by their respective gentlemen, Capt. Murray and Capt. Ritchie. They all stayed to breakfast and the scene was truly delightful George continued: ‘I never enjoyed anything better in my life than to see the fair ones sometimes weeping and sometimes laughing …’. 

55        Mitchell Library, Ae23. Square brackets indicate indistinct original. 

56        Reddall Papers, Mitchell Library, A423, p. 396. 

57        Diary of the Rev. John McGarvie, Mitchell Library, A1332, p. 235. 

58        Memoirs of the Blomfield Family, privately published, Armidale, 1926, copy formerly in the possession of the late Mrs Μ. E. Blomfield of Cooma, N.S.W. 

59        See C. Bateson, The Convict Ships, Glasgow, 1959, pp. 163–68. 

60        Photocopies are held with the Diary of Christiana Brooks, 1825–30, in the National Library. 

61       Stated to be by ‘Mr Earl’, the portrait of Captain Piper was shown in 1847 at the Exhibition for the Promotion of the Fine Arts held in Sydney. It and its companion were for a long time attributed to Richard Read. Bernard Smith re-attributed them in his book, Australian Painting 1788–1960, Melbourne, 1962, Interestingly enough, both the Richard Reads usually signed their work (not done in oils), while Earle’s portraits are all unsigned. 

62        Monitor, 12 November 1827. 

63        9 February 1826. 

64        S.G., 30 July 1829, ‘Bungaree, King of the Blacks’, anonymous article in Charles Dickens, All the Year Round, 21 May 1859. 

65        Ibid. There is an article on Bungaree in the Australian Dictionary of Biography, vol. 1, 1788–1850, A-H. 

66        Reproduced in G. Dutton, White on Black, the Australian Aborigine Portrayed in Art, Melbourne, 1974, plate 23. 

67        S.G., 28/30 July 1829. 

68        Pic. Stor. 423. 

69        Ibid. S.G., 28/30 July 1829, 

70        A. W, Rutledge, ‘Artists in the Life of Charleston through Colony, State from Restoration’ Transactions of the American Philosophical Society, vol. 39, pt 2, Philadelphia, 1949, p. 124.