Artists in society: a Melbourne circle, 1850s–1880s


A recent acquisition of watercolours and drawings by Georgiana McCrae (1804–90), Louisa Anne Meredith (1812–95) and Edward La Trobe Bateman (18157–97) has greatly enriched the National Gallery of Victoria’s collection of works from the colonial period. Taken as a whole, this group of drawings presents a fascinating and invaluable document of social history, spanning the middle and later decades of the nineteenth century in Victoria and Tasmania. Mrs James Evans, who generously presented these works, is a direct descendant of the Howitt family, some of whom settled in Melbourne as early as 1839. Lifelong friendships linked the Howitt family and the three artists whose works have come down to Mrs Evans from her grandmother, Mrs S. P. Thompson (née Edith Anderson), a daughter of Robert Anderson of Barragunda, Cape Schanck, and his wife Edith Mary, only daughter of Dr Godfrey Howitt. 

The Howitts belonged to those circles in pre-gold-rush Melbourne where learning and intellectual achievements were prized. Their presence guaranteed the continuation of European culture in the colony within the private sphere before its enshrinement in public institutions.1The Melbourne Public Library was established in 1852, the University of Melbourne opened in 1855, the Public Museum, Gallery and Schools of Art were initiated in 1863; the first governing bodies were made up of educated members of the community such as Dr Howitt who served on the University of Melbourne Council from 1855 to 1871. See also Ann Galbally, ‘The lost museum: Redmond Barry and Melbourne’s “museé des copies”’, Australian Journal of Art, vol. VII, 1988, pp. 29–49. Godfrey Howitt (1800–73),2 Mary Howitt Walker, ‘Howitt, William, Richard and Godfrey’, in Australian Dictionary of Biography, 11 vols, Melbourne University Press, Melbourne, 1966–88 (hereinafter referred to as ADB), vol. 4, pp. 435–6. See also Alexander Henderson (ed.), Early Pioneer Families of Victoria and Riverina: A Genealogical and Biographical Record, McCarron, Bird & Co., Melbourne, 1936, pp. 383–90. his wife, children, his brother Richard (1799–1870) and brothers-in-law Robert and John Bakewell, were the first members of the family to arrive in pre-gold-rush Melbourne. Coming from a family distinguished in the arts and sciences, and himself renowned as a botanist and entomologist, Dr Howitt’s eminence in the tiny Port Phillip settlement was assured. The elegant Howitt residence with its large cultivated garden at the corner of Collins and Spring Streets (fig. 1), and later the country house at Cape Schanck, were places where prominent people gathered. ‘In acknowledgement of his devotion to botany’ Baron Ferdinand von Mueller, the eminent government botanist and for many years director of the Melbourne Botanic Gardens, named a native blue-flowered mallow Howittia after Dr Godfrey.3Deirdre Morris, ‘Mueller, Baron Sir Ferdinand Jakob Heinrich von’, in ADB, vol. 5, pp. 306–8; Walker, ADB, vol. 4, p. 435. Howitt’s brother, the celebrated writer William Howitt (1792–1879), author of Land, Labour and Gold4William Howitt, Land, Labour and Gold; or Two Years in Victoria with Visits to Sydney and Van Diemen’s Land, Lowden Publishing Co., Kilmore, Vic., 1972 (1855). and friend of the Pre-Raphaelites, came out to the Victorian goldfields for two years from 1852 to 1854. William Howitt’s son Alfred William (1830–1908),5W. Ε. H. Stanner, in ‘Howitt, Alfred William’, in ADB, vol. 4, pp. 432–5. who in Australia was to become a distinguished natural scientist, pioneer anthropologist and explorer, was accompanied on an expedition in 1856 to the Baw Baw Plateau by the artists Nicholas Chevalier, Eugen von Guerard and Edward La Trobe Bateman, all of whom were family friends. Not surprisingly, the highly cultivated Lieutenant Governor Charles La Trobe (1801–75);6Botanist, geologist, entomologist, musical amateur and a respectable amateur sketcher in his own right; see Jill Eastwood, ‘La Trobe, Charles Joseph’, in ADB, vol. 2, pp. 89–93. cousin of Edward La Trobe Batemen and close friend of Georgiana McCrae, was also a friend of the Howitts.

Recent scholarship7Mary Howitt Walker, Come Wind, Come Weather: A Biography of Alfred Howitt, Melbourne University Press, Melbourne, 1978; Paul de Serville, Port Phillip Gentlemen and Good Society in Melbourne Before the Gold Rushes, Oxford University Press, Melbourne, 1980; Christine Downer & Jennifer Phipps, Victorian Vision: 1834 Onwards, National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne, 1985; Alison Inglis, ‘Art at second hand: Prints after European pictures in Victoria before 1870’, Australian Journal of Art, vol. VII, 1988, pp. 51–63. has done much to modify the ‘cultural desert’ theory of William Moore who intended to follow his pioneer work The Story of Australian Art of 1934 with a publication entitled The Beginnings of Culture in Melbourne.8A detailed study of the life and work of Edward La Trobe Bateman was to feature in this projected publication, cited in a letter dated 3 August 1933 from the author to Maisie Howitt, in possession of Mrs James Evans. To William Howitt, arriving in treeless, dusty Melbourne, his brother Godfrey’s house and garden seemed a tranquil and fragrant oasis. So too was his Cape Schanck house Barragunda, designed and completed by Edward La Trobe Bateman9Daniel Thomas, ‘Bateman, Edward La Trobe’, in ADB, vol. 3, pp. 117–18; see also C. Clemente’s entry in Joan Kerr (ed.), Dictionary of Australian Artists: Working Paper 1: Painters, Photographers and Engravers (1770–1870 A–H), Power Institute of Fine Arts, University of Sydney, Sydney, 1984, pp. 54–6. before his departure from the colony in 1869. It became a favourite country retreat for the Howitt family and their friends, including Georgiana McCrae and Louisa Anne Meredith who were regular visitors. 

Bateman’s connection with the Howitt family dated back to his engagement with Anna Mary, daughter of William and Mary Howitt, whom he had left when he departed for the Victorian goldfields in 1852. After his arrival in Melbourne from the gold-diggings, and making Dr Howitt’s house his headquarters, he soon won many friends. Bateman was able to turn his hand to a variety of activities, all involving aspects of decoration and design. Mrs Thompson, who as Edith Anderson met him much later in life, described a gentle, whimsical and lovable if moody man whose whole outlook was shaped by aesthetic concerns. Moved to forceful utterance when his artistic prejudices were affronted, he was nevertheless a most loyal and affectionate friend.10‘E.Τ.Α.’ (Mrs S. P. Thompson), ‘Edward La Trobe Bateman: An interesting old time personality’, Age, 13 February 1932, p. 7. My attention was kindly drawn to this article by Ms Alison Inglis. 

Alfred Howitt recalled attending a number of fashionable parties with his friend Bateman. The popular Barker family of a neighbouring Cape Schanck property, Barrabang, gave a ball in 1855 which Howitt described as: ‘including many of the “best people”’.11Quoted by Walker, Come Wind, Come Weather, p. 84. Although Bateman’s engagement to Howitt’s sister had been broken in the meantime, he and Alfred Howitt remained good friends. His indulgent attitude towards Bateman, now working at St Ninian’s, the house of Captain Ward Cole and his wife Thomas Anne (sister-in-law of Bateman’s friend Georgiana McCrae), is reflected in a letter of 1854: ‘He is now at Brighton at King Cole’s turning His Majesty’s garden upside down and back again – shifting trees, raising gullies, building a bower and levelling hills. He is just the same to me as he always has been’.12ibid., p. 74. 

From this time on, landscape and garden architecture appears to have become Bateman’s principal means of support while living in the colony. His first experience in this field remains obscure and his chief training in England seems to have been in the area of book illumination under the direction of Owen Jones (1804–74), the distinguished British architect, interior decorator and book designer. Bateman’s ability as a decorator was also recognised since it was probably again under Jones’s supervision that he arranged and decorated the Fine Arts Court at the Great Exhibition of 1851. In the colony his contacts, and particularly his relationship with Lieutenant-Governor La Trobe, who had actively promoted the establishment of the Melbourne Botanic Gardens, must have been helpful. In 1856 he was commissioned by the Melbourne Town Council to produce designs for the Carlton and Fitzroy Gardens and later to devise plans for Fawkner, Princes and Yarra parks.13Andrew Sayers, Drawing in Australia: Drawings, Watercolours, Pastels and Collages from the 1770s to the 1980s, Oxford University Press, Melbourne, 1989, p. 78, illus.; Rex Swanston, Melbourne’s Historic Public Gardens: A Management and Conservation Guide, City of Melbourne, Melbourne, 1984, pp. 22–3, pp. 12–15, pl. A3. He also seems to have been assigned the grounds of Government House when the architectural firm Reed and Barnes, for whom he worked, won the first competition for its design in 1864.14David Saunders, ‘Reed, Joseph’, in ADB, vol. 6, pp. 13–14. 

In 1856 Louisa Anne Meredith, the Tasmanian artist and naturalist, having been shown around the grounds of the University of Melbourne by the professor of natural sciences, Frederick McCoy,15Professor Frederick McCoy (1817–99), appointed to the chair of natural sciences in 1854. See Galbally, Australian Journal of Art, p. 30, n. 5. paid tribute to her friend: ‘The task of laying out and planting the domain surrounding the College [University of Melbourne] has also been entrusted to Mr G. [sic] La Trobe Bateman of whose exquisite taste and ability the Melbournites would do wisely to avail themselves, if they wish to see the ugliness of their immense city transformed to beauty’.16Louisa Anne Meredith, Over the Straits: A Visit to Victoria, Chapman & Hall, London, 1861, p. 93. Most of these public projects were never realised, or were later superseded. Bateman was above all a decorator and he was predictably far more successful in the smaller-scale area of domestic architecture and landscape design where the effects of his fastidious taste and fine touch could be seen to advantage. For private patrons besides the Ward Coles, Bateman worked on the gardens at Ripponlea in Elsternwick, Devonshire House in Hawthorn and Wooriwyrite at Kolor in the Western District.17Peter Watts, Historic Gardens of Victoria: A Reconnaissance, Oxford University Press, Melbourne, 1983, p. 41, illus. It was in 1867, while working on John Moffat’s Chatsworth House, also in the Western District, that he met with an accident which permanently incapacitated his right hand and arm. The garden at Barragunda, as well as the house, were designed by Bateman, and the same romantic neo-medieval style is characteristic of Heronswood, the summer house and garden designed for his friend Professor Hearn at Dromana. This was substantially completed by 1869 when Bateman finally left for the United Kingdom.18Information on a number of Bateman’s private commissions kindly given by Dr Miles Lewis and Ms Anne Neale of the Department of Architecture, University of Melbourne; mention of the gardens at Barragunda and Heronswood is found in a letter from Bateman to Edith Anderson dated 26 August 1867, in possession of Mrs James Evans. 

 

As one would expect, Bateman took a great interest in the native flora of the new country which his taste for elaborate detail, coupled with the extraordinary finish of his drawings, enabled him to portray with almost scientific precision. The exquisite watercolour study of passion flowers (fig. 2), where the artist’s skill is exercised as much in the placing of flowers and stems on the page as in such minutiae as shadows cast by leaf on stalk, is a rare example of his watercolour technique and reveals his Pre-Raphaelite affinities. The distinguished botanist W. H. Harvey19Sophie C. Ducker, ‘Harvey, William Henry’, in ADB, vol. 4, pp. 357–8. who saw Bateman’s work displayed at the Melbourne Exhibition of 1854, commented: 

The show is not very good, but wonderful for so young a country. I was more interested in some of the very spirited sketches of Australian home scenes and also of wildflowers drawn by a La Trobe Bateman and about being [sic] published here – If I find a price within my reach I may subscribe as they are highly creditable to the state of colonial art – they will be tinted lithographs. –There is a truthful rendering of the aspect of the plants in the detail of the views, which makes them particularly interesting.20Quoted in Sophie C. Ducker (ed.), The Contented Botanist: Letters of W. H. Harvey about Australia and the Pacific, Melbourne University Press, Melbourne, 1988, p. 159. 

It was Mrs Godfrey Howitt who lent Bateman’s ‘Sketches of Australian Scenery and Native Flowers, Specimens of a Forthcoming Work Entitled “The Bush Homes of Australia” by E. L. Bateman’ to this exhibition.21Mrs Christine Downer kindly drew my attention to entry no. 297 in The Official Catalogue of the Melbourne Exhibition, 1854, in connexion with the Paris Exhibition, 1855, P. Sinnett & Co., Melbourne, p. 30. It is very likely that two series of highly finished pencil drawings by him, one of Lieutenant-Governor La Trobe’s cottage at Jolimont (State Library of Victoria Collection) and the other of Plenty Station (fig. 3), (National Gallery of Victoria), owned by Mrs Howitt’s brother, were among the exhibited works destined for this forthcoming publication. 

Two sheets among Mrs Evans’s donation to the National Gallery of Victoria are connected with these series. The View of the larger nursery, Jolimont is a study for one of the Jolimont drawings executed in 1853, the year before the lieutenant-governor’s departure from Melbourne. The second sheet is a study for plate XII, Distant view of hut with creek in foreground of the Plenty Station series.22Bridget Whitelaw, Australian Landscape Drawings 1830–1880 in the National Gallery of Victoria, Trustees of the National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne, 1976, cat. no. 23, pl. 21. Louisa Anne Meredith described Bateman’s drawings of the property, which she saw in 1856, in Over the Straits: A Visit to Victoria.23Meredith, Over the Straits, p. 183; also visited by William Howitt and described by him in Land, Labour and Gold, p. 31. 

It is not difficult to imagine these views translated into lithographic plates for the proposed book. As we have seen, this was the very area of Bateman’s early training and experience. It was certainly no coincidence then that he was asked to provide designs for the initials and tailpieces for the first Catalogue of the Melbourne Public Library issued in 1861 (fig. 4). These were engraved on wood and they reappeared in the Supplement Catalogue for 1865. In the preface to these catalogues the following lines appear: ‘In the decorated initials and finals Mr Edward LaTrobe Bateman has introduced a selection from the flora of the country – the first of the kind published. These display a graceful arrangement combined with the delicacy of the lineation and excellence of execution which commend them alike to the botanist and the lover of art’.24Catalogue of the Melbourne Public Library, Clarson, Shallard & Co., Melbourne, 1861, p. x. 

The friendship between Bateman and Louisa Anne Meredith dated from her Melbourne visit of 1856. Her granddaughter, Louisa Anne Norvill (née Meredith), in a letter to William Moore, wrote: ‘You asked me if I can tell you anything about Mr. Bateman … I think that L. A. Meredith met him when she stayed with Dr. Howitt about 1856; and later he stayed with her at Twamley: I think it was there, he designed the cover of the first Bush Friends and did the ornamental lettering’ (fig. 5).25Notes on La Trobe Bateman and the Howitts collected by William Moore, La Trobe Collection, State Library of Victoria (henceforth abbreviated to La T, SLV), MS 12248. The two friends were reunited when the indefatigable Mrs Meredith, aged seventy-nine, travelled to England to see her latest folio book of 1891, Bush Friends in Tasmania: Last Series through press. This was the second volume in a two-part series, the first being Some of My Bush Friends in Tasmania of 1860, mentioned by Mrs Norvill. These lavish publications contained large colour plates of Tasmanian wildflowers, accompanied by written descriptions and poems. In the preface to the 1891 volume Mrs Meredith wrote: ‘To another valued friend, Mr Edward Latrobe Bateman, my poem titles owe their quaint lettering and the cover of my book its graceful artistic design’.26The acknowledgement continued: ‘To him the former volume was similarly indebted but by his own imperative desire the obligation has hitherto remained unavowed’. Mrs Meredith could hardly have had a more expert designer for her volumes, since Bateman had been employed in London in 1850 and 1851 on the chromo-lithograph illustrations for two very similar illuminated gift books. This type of book belonged to a rather sentimental ‘language of flowers’ genre which enjoyed great popularity in England at the time.27Wilfrid Blunt, The Art of Botanical Illustration, Collins, London, 1950, repr. 1951, p. 220. However the accurate description of plants and flowers both in the text and the plates in Louisa Anne Meredith’s work deserves considerable respect. The watercolour study for Gum flowers and ‘love’ donated by Mrs Evans corresponds in almost every detail to the foreground of plate V of that title in Some of My Bush Friends in Tasmania (fig. 6). When it appeared in 1860 it was the first colonial book to contain colour plates.28Louisa Anne Meredith, Some of My Bush Friends in Tasmania: Native Flower Series and Insects Drawn from Life, Illustrated in Verse and Briefly Described, Day & Son, London, 1860, pp. 54–5. 

Although she won a number of medals for her paintings in England, Australia and India, Louisa Anne Meredith clearly considered that the illustrations were secondary to the literary content of her books, as she wrote: ‘I am perfectly aware that in their accuracy rests their sole merit’.29Louisa Anne Meredith, My Home in Tasmania During a Residence of Nine Years, 2 vols, John Murray, London, 1852, preface, p. ix. On this subject at least she appears to have deferred to Bateman’s opinion; according to her granddaughter, ‘Louisa Anne Meredith would in her flower drawings put a leaf with a hole in it or one an insect had eaten; and Bateman said that it was not right, as you should only paint or draw perfect things’.30Notes on La Trobe Bateman and the Howitts, La T, SLV, MS 12248. In contrast with Bateman’s fastidious and even obsessive style, Mrs Meredith’s flower studies are vigorous and assertive, like the artist herself. What they sometimes lack in elegant arrangement and painstaking execution, they gain in vitality and accuracy through the sharp observation of an intelligent, enquiring mind. 

Bateman’s criticism may well have been directed at the very watercolour recently presented to the National Gallery of Victoria by Mrs Evans (fig. 7). Her grandmother, Mrs Thompson, reported as having in her possession ‘One or two pages or cards of flowers in colour done by Mrs Meredith which I think have been used as plates in some of her books’.31ibid. The second page, or card, of flowers referred to is almost certainly the delicate spray of flowers also from Mrs Evans which is related to, but not identical with, plate VII, Group of marsh flowers in Mrs Meredith’s 1860 volume (fig. 8). Thus far no description of her working method has come to light. However the two watercolour studies may represent intermediate stages in the development of the plates which were perhaps offered as gifts to the Howitts when the artist stayed with them in Victoria. 

As late as 1888 Bateman wrote to Mrs McCrae: ‘Poor Mrs Meredith … She and you ought to go to Cape Schanck. It would do you both infinite good’.32McCrae Family Papers, La T, SLV, PA 640. The two friends enjoyed visiting Barragunda and both made watercolour and pencil studies of the house and garden. In an album entitled Landscapes by Louisa Anne Meredith there is a series of views of the homestead dated June 1881 (fig. 9).33Tasmanian Museum and Art Gallery, 1721, pp. 163–9. Apart from its intrinsic interest, this album is a record of the people and houses Louisa Anne Meredith knew, and supplements her account in Over the Straits. The album includes views of Burwood of 1856, owned by Sir James Palmer, medical practitioner and politician, and Brighton Lodge, owned by the lawyer and politician Thomas Turner à Beckett.34Alan Gross, ‘Palmer, Sir James Frederick’, in ADB, vol. 5, pp. 392–3; Betty Malone, ‘à Beckett, Thomas Turner’, in ADB, vol. 3, pp. 9–10. 

Although most of her adult life was spent in the isolated countryside, Louisa Anne Meredith had important connections in Tasmania and on the Australian mainland as well as in Europe and the United States. This was principally due to her growing reputation as a naturalist, artist and writer. She studied the plants, insects, seaweeds and fish of Tasmania’s eastern coast and, in addition to the two folio volumes of wildflowers, she published a third work on the local flora and fauna called Tasmanian Friends and Foes, Feathered, Furred and Finned.35Louisa Anne Meredith, Tasmanian Friends and Foes, Feathered, Furred and Finned: A Family Chronicle of Country Life, Natural History, and Veritable Adventure, Marcus Ward & Co., London, 1880. Well-read, cultivated and highly intelligent, her frank comments on her colonial experiences in books such as Notes and Sketches of New South Wales (1844),36Mrs Charles Meredith, Notes and Sketches of New South Wales, During a Residence in that Colony from 1839 to 1844, John Murray, London, 1844 (part of Murray’s House and Colonial Library). My Home in Tasmania during a Residence of Nine Years (1850) and Over the Straits (1861), stirred up considerable local resentment and created great interest in England. These books of descriptive prose based on her personal observations show her to be a shrewd, independent-minded and far-sighted commentator on colonial life. 

Louisa Anne Meredith was a woman of prodigious energy and organising ability. Due to her husband’s inability to run country properties successfully the family’s financial position was extremely precarious. Taking stock of her much-loved husband’s many amiable qualities, this redoubtable woman organised him into a political career where with her support he rose as high as colonial treasurer and minister of lands and works.37Sally O’Neill, ‘Meredith, Charles, and Louisa Ann’, in ADB, vol. 5, pp. 239–40. See also Sir Bernard Burke, A Genealogical and Heraldic History of the Colonial Gentry, 2 vols, repr. Heraldry Today, London, 1970, vol. 2, pp. 786–8. In a letter of September 1878 she had declared to her old friend Sir Henry Parkes: ‘I believe that no other woman resident in the Colony has done so much in art, science and literature for her adopted country, and I think forty years of active work deserve their reward’.38Quoted by V. R. Ellis, Louisa Anne Meredith: A Tigress in Exile, Blubber Head Press, Hobart, 1979, p. 190. 

Like Louisa Anne Meredith, Georgiana McCrae was one of the notable colonial artists of the mid-nineteenth century.39Norman Cowper, ‘McCrae, Georgiana Huntly’, in ADB, vol. 2, pp. 160–1. The friendship between these two remarkable women – who would have made their mark even on European society – must have been all the more precious to them both in the isolated colony. Georgiana McCrae arrived in the colony during its earliest infancy in 1841, and her links with the Howitt family were ties both of friendship and of a professional nature. According to her eldest son, the writer and artist George Gordon McCrae (1833–1927),40Norman Cowper, ‘McCrae, George Gordon’, in ADB, vol. 5, pp. 136–7. the family ‘had … three generations of Howitts for Doctors being passed on regularly from one to the other – and loved them all’.41Letter dated 29 July 1915, p. 2, in possession of Mrs James Evans. From entries between 1843 and 1845 in Georgiana’s Journal it is clear that there was frequent interchange between the two households, and later Doctor Godfrey’s son William Godfrey Howitt married Mrs McCrae’s niece Sarah Agnes McCrae.42Georgiana McCrae, Georgiana’s Journal, Melbourne 1841–1865, ed. Hugh McCrae, William Brooks, Sydney, repr. 1983, pp. 139, 173, 174, 208, 214. A miniature portrait by Georgiana McCrae of Dr Howitt’s youngest son Charlie Howitt (1846–1903) is still in the possession of descendants.43Kindly shown to me by Mrs James Evans. 

Edward La Trobe Bateman’s copious correspondence with Georgiana McCrae dates from 1869, the year of his return to the United Kingdom, until her death in 1890.44Edward La Trobe Batemans Letters, 1869–96, La T, SLV, MS 12248. His letters contain many references to Mrs McCrae’s visits to Barragunda, and her affection for the house and its setting is manifest in a large number of watercolours and pencil drawings she produced. These include 14 views of Barragunda, donated to the National Gallery of Victoria, and ranging in date from 1869 (fig. 10) to 1885 when she was eighty-one years old.45Proof of their authenticity is their stylistic affinity with a group of watercolours and drawings including views of Barragunda, especially the album of twenty-three sketches labelled ‘Mostly of Barragunda’ in McCrae Family Papers, La T, SLV, PA 640. 

Georgiana McCrae was born in 1804, the natural daughter of the fifth Duke of Gordon. She was unusually well educated – at a school run by noble French emigrés in London – and exceptionally accomplished in music and languages, French being like a mother tongue. She was, as well, a born diarist and letter writer, a fact attested to by her vast correspondence, unpublished poems and fascinating, though incomplete, journal. As if these gifts were not sufficient she seems to have been blessed with an acerbic wit, notable good looks (fig. 11) and remarkable charm. Undoubtedly her greatest talents, artistically, lay in portraiture. In painting she was trained by some of the best masters of the time: John Varley, John Glover, M. D. Serres, and in miniature painting by Charles Hayter. She studied at the Royal Academy and in 1820 and 1821 she was awarded medals in the name of Georgiana Huntly for a miniature and a group of portraits in watercolour by the Society for Promoting Arts, Manufactures and Commerce.46The medals are now a part of McCrae Family Papers, La T, SLV, PA 640. At Gordon Castle, where she lived as a daughter of the house once her London education was complete, she began to practise portrait painting on a professional basis and she pursued this activity, as she wrote, for ‘“fame” and money’47McCrae, Georgiana’s Journal, pp. 203–5. when she moved to Edinburgh in 1829. 

This promising career was virtually ended by her marriage in 1830 to Andrew Murison McCrae, a writer to the signet and kinsman of the Gordons when, as she later noted: ‘[I] left my easel and changed my name’.48Cowper, in ADB, vol. 2, p. 160. Mrs McCrae, with the first four of her later eight children, came to Port Phillip to join her husband who had set up a law practice. His affairs did not prosper in Melbourne and, in an attempt to redress their often destitute financial position, the family took up a run near Arthur’s Seat, Dromana, which they occupied between 1845 and 1851. Ironically, a sure and even lucrative source of income was debarred to them, as an entry of 8 February 1845 in Mrs McCrae’s Journal states: ‘There is a living to be had here through my art of miniature painting, for which I have several orders in hand; but dare not oppose the family wishes that “money must not be made in that way”!’.49McCrae, Georgiana’s Journal, p. 205. 

Fortunately Georgiana McCrae did continue to paint members of her family and her large circle of friends. One of these was Edith Mary Howitt who died at Barragunda at the age of fifty in 1884. Mrs McCrae executed the highly finished pencil portrait of her friend (fig. 12) as well as a miniature portrait of her in watercolour made at the same time.50The watercolour is known only from a photocopy in possession of Mrs James Evans; the whereabouts of the original are unknown. In a letter from Barragunda, written to her niece on Edith Anderson’s death, Mrs McCrae mourned ‘The loss of a dear and constant friend who has ever been as a near relation to me in all my troubles’.51Georgiana McCrae to her Niece, 14 September 1884, Marjorie Morgan Papers, La T, SLV, MS 10614. The stone monument erected to Edith Anderson’s memory at Cape Schanck is the subject of two watercolours by the artist. 

Mrs Evans’s donation includes too a splendid watercolour portrait of Louisa Anne Meredith by Georgiana McCrae, comparable with the finest she executed in Australia (fig. 13). The delicate, almost pointillist modelling technique and the warm tonal range closely resemble her portrait of Octavius Browne, head of a well-known counting-house and brother of ‘Phiz’, the famous illustrator of Dickens’s works, who sat for her in 1841 (fig. 14).52McCrae, Georgiana’s Journal, 30 October 1841, p. 71; see Downer & Phipps, Victorian Vision, p. 14, n. 10, cat. no. 143, illus. p. 15. The portrait of Mrs Meredith shows her as youthful in appearance, if mature in years and experience. Although she first visited Victoria when she was forty-four years of age, the style of her hair, worn in a chignon which only came into fashion at the end of the decade, suggests that the portrait dates from her second visit of 1860.53See Marion Fletcher, Costume in Australia 1788–1900, Oxford University Press, Melbourne, 1984, p. 120, pl. 90. This date also fits the appearance of Edith Mary Howitt who, six years before her marriage, would have been about twenty-four years old.54The same paper and identical size and oval format of the two portraits indicates that they may well have been executed within close proximity of each other. 

Georgiana McCrae’s background and education were by any measure unusual and within the circumscribed Port Phillip society of the time unique. By virtue of her circumstances and connections she was a leader of society, a position publicly acknowledged when her close friends, ‘Lieutenant-Governor – then Superintendent LaTrobe – and his wife invited her to stand in for “Madame”’ who was ill on the significant occasion of the opening of the Princes Bridge on 16 November 1850.55McCrae, Georgiana’s Journal, pp. 236–8. Like her friend Louisa Anne Meredith, Georgiana McCrae had great personal strength; her grace and resilience supported her through many times of severe trial. Sadly her dream of returning to her beloved Scotland was never realised, although even that vision did not hold much promise for the future. There is a tone of resignation in the words she wrote from Arthurs Seat as early as 1846: ‘What our own or our children’s future prospects, here – or at Home – are likely to be remains in nubibus’.56ibid., p. 259, extract from a letter dated 19 July 1846. 

The artists examined in this article did not match the achievements of contemporaries and friends such as Eugen von Guerard and Nicholas Chevalier but their contribution is nevertheless of great value in being typical of their time and background. Both Georgiana McCrae and Louisa Anne Meredith were able to express themselves in portraiture, landscape sketching and the study of nature – all considered suitable occupations for ‘ladies of accomplishment’. Equally, Edward La Trobe Bateman’s artistic pursuits were shaped in direct response to the demands of the society of his day, and it is of interest that he succeeded in making a living, if not a fortune, from a luxury occupation in a recently established colony. This circle of friends and artists thus provides a unique insight and testifies to the breadth and vigour of the cultural life of early Melbourne. 

Caroline Clemente, Curator of Prints & Drawings, National Gallery of Victoria (in 1989).

Acknowledgements 

A number of friends and colleagues have kindly assisted with information and suggestions during the preparation of this article and I wish to thank them: Ms Sonia Dean, Mrs Christine Downer, Dr Sophie Ducker, Ms Marion Fletcher, Dr Ann Galbally, Ms Alison Inglis, Dr Christa Johannes, Mr Terry Lane, Dr Miles Lewis, Mr Tony Marshall, Ms Anne Neale, Mr Paul de Serville, Ms Bridget Whitelaw, Ms Irena Zdanowicz. 

 

Notes 

1          The Melbourne Public Library was established in 1852, the University of Melbourne opened in 1855, the Public Museum, Gallery and Schools of Art were initiated in 1863; the first governing bodies were made up of educated members of the community such as Dr Howitt who served on the University of Melbourne Council from 1855 to 1871. See also Ann Galbally, ‘The lost museum: Redmond Barry and Melbourne’s “museé des copies”’, Australian Journal of Art, vol. VII, 1988, pp. 29–49. 

2          Mary Howitt Walker, ‘Howitt, William, Richard and Godfrey’, in Australian Dictionary of Biography, 11 vols, Melbourne University Press, Melbourne, 1966–88 (hereinafter referred to as ADB), vol. 4, pp. 435–6. See also Alexander Henderson (ed.), Early Pioneer Families of Victoria and Riverina: A Genealogical and Biographical Record, McCarron, Bird & Co., Melbourne, 1936, pp. 383–90. 

3          Deirdre Morris, ‘Mueller, Baron Sir Ferdinand Jakob Heinrich von’, in ADB, vol. 5, pp. 306–8; Walker, ADB, vol. 4, p. 435. 

4          William Howitt, Land, Labour and Gold; or Two Years in Victoria with Visits to Sydney and Van Diemen’s Land, Lowden Publishing Co., Kilmore, Vic., 1972 (1855). 

5          W. Ε. H. Stanner, in ‘Howitt, Alfred William’, in ADB, vol. 4, pp. 432–5. 

6          Botanist, geologist, entomologist, musical amateur and a respectable amateur sketcher in his own right; see Jill Eastwood, ‘La Trobe, Charles Joseph’, in ADB, vol. 2, pp. 89–93. 

7          Mary Howitt Walker, Come Wind, Come Weather: A Biography of Alfred Howitt, Melbourne University Press, Melbourne, 1978; Paul de Serville, Port Phillip Gentlemen and Good Society in Melbourne Before the Gold Rushes, Oxford University Press, Melbourne, 1980; Christine Downer & Jennifer Phipps, Victorian Vision: 1834 Onwards, National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne, 1985; Alison Inglis, ‘Art at second hand: Prints after European pictures in Victoria before 1870’, Australian Journal of Art, vol. VII, 1988, pp. 51–63. 

8          A detailed study of the life and work of Edward La Trobe Bateman was to feature in this projected publication, cited in a letter dated 3 August 1933 from the author to Maisie Howitt, in possession of Mrs James Evans. 

9          Daniel Thomas, ‘Bateman, Edward La Trobe’, in ADB, vol. 3, pp. 117–18; see also C. Clemente’s entry in Joan Kerr (ed.), Dictionary of Australian Artists: Working Paper 1: Painters, Photographers and Engravers (1770–1870 A–H), Power Institute of Fine Arts, University of Sydney, Sydney, 1984, pp. 54–6. 

10           ‘E.Τ.Α.’ (Mrs S. P. Thompson), ‘Edward La Trobe Bateman: An interesting old time personality’, Age, 13 February 1932, p. 7. My attention was kindly drawn to this article by Ms Alison Inglis. 

11        Quoted by Walker, Come Wind, Come Weather, p. 84. 

12         ibid., p. 74. 

13        Andrew Sayers, Drawing in Australia: Drawings, Watercolours, Pastels and Collages from the 1770s to the 1980s, Oxford University Press, Melbourne, 1989, p. 78, illus.; Rex Swanston, Melbourne’s Historic Public Gardens: A Management and Conservation Guide, City of Melbourne, Melbourne, 1984, pp. 22–3, pp. 12–15, pl. A3. 

14        David Saunders, ‘Reed, Joseph’, in ADB, vol. 6, pp. 13–14. 

15        Professor Frederick McCoy (1817–99), appointed to the chair of natural sciences in 1854. See Galbally, Australian Journal of Art, p. 30, n. 5. 

16        Louisa Anne Meredith, Over the Straits: A Visit to Victoria, Chapman & Hall, London, 1861, p. 93. 

17        Peter Watts, Historic Gardens of Victoria: A Reconnaissance, Oxford University Press, Melbourne, 1983, p. 41, illus. 

18        Information on a number of Bateman’s private commissions kindly given by Dr Miles Lewis and Ms Anne Neale of the Department of Architecture, University of Melbourne; mention of the gardens at Barragunda and Heronswood is found in a letter from Bateman to Edith Anderson dated 26 August 1867, in possession of Mrs James Evans. 

19        Sophie C. Ducker, ‘Harvey, William Henry’, in ADB, vol. 4, pp. 357–8. 

20        Quoted in Sophie C. Ducker (ed.), The Contented Botanist: Letters of W. H. Harvey about Australia and the Pacific, Melbourne University Press, Melbourne, 1988, p. 159. 

21        Mrs Christine Downer kindly drew my attention to entry no. 297 in The Official Catalogue of the Melbourne Exhibition, 1854, in connexion with the Paris Exhibition, 1855, P. Sinnett & Co., Melbourne, p. 30. 

22        Bridget Whitelaw, Australian Landscape Drawings 1830–1880 in the National Gallery of Victoria, Trustees of the National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne, 1976, cat. no. 23, pl. 21.

23        Meredith, Over the Straits, p. 183; also visited by William Howitt and described by him in Land, Labour and Gold, p. 31. 

24        Catalogue of the Melbourne Public Library, Clarson, Shallard & Co., Melbourne, 1861, p. x. 

25        Notes on La Trobe Bateman and the Howitts collected by William Moore, La Trobe Collection, State Library of Victoria (henceforth abbreviated to La T, SLV), MS 12248. 

26        The acknowledgement continued: ‘To him the former volume was similarly indebted but by his own imperative desire the obligation has hitherto remained unavowed’. 

27        Wilfrid Blunt, The Art of Botanical Illustration, Collins, London, 1950, repr. 1951, p. 220. 

28        Louisa Anne Meredith, Some of My Bush Friends in Tasmania: Native Flower Series and Insects Drawn from Life, Illustrated in Verse and Briefly Described, Day & Son, London, 1860, pp. 54–5. 

29        Louisa Anne Meredith, My Home in Tasmania During a Residence of Nine Years, 2 vols, John Murray, London, 1852, preface, p. ix. 

30        Notes on La Trobe Bateman and the Howitts, La T, SLV, MS 12248. 

31        ibid. 

32        McCrae Family Papers, La T, SLV, PA 640. 

33        Tasmanian Museum and Art Gallery, 1721, pp. 163–9. 

34        Alan Gross, ‘Palmer, Sir James Frederick’, in ADB, vol. 5, pp. 392–3; Betty Malone, ‘à Beckett, Thomas Turner’, in ADB, vol. 3, pp. 9–10. 

35        Louisa Anne Meredith, Tasmanian Friends and Foes, Feathered, Furred and Finned: A Family Chronicle of Country Life, Natural History, and Veritable Adventure, Marcus Ward & Co., London, 1880. 

36        Mrs Charles Meredith, Notes and Sketches of New South Wales, During a Residence in that Colony from 1839 to 1844, John Murray, London, 1844 (part of Murray’s House and Colonial Library). 

37        Sally O’Neill, ‘Meredith, Charles, and Louisa Ann’, in ADB, vol. 5, pp. 239–40. See also Sir Bernard Burke, A Genealogical and Heraldic History of the Colonial Gentry, 2 vols, repr. Heraldry Today, London, 1970, vol. 2, pp. 786–8.

38        Quoted by V. R. Ellis, Louisa Anne Meredith: A Tigress in Exile, Blubber Head Press, Hobart, 1979, p. 190. 

39        Norman Cowper, ‘McCrae, Georgiana Huntly’, in ADB, vol. 2, pp. 160–1. 

40        Norman Cowper, ‘McCrae, George Gordon’, in ADB, vol. 5, pp. 136–7. 

41        Letter dated 29 July 1915, p. 2, in possession of Mrs James Evans. 

42        Georgiana McCrae, Georgiana’s Journal, Melbourne 1841–1865, ed. Hugh McCrae, William Brooks, Sydney, repr. 1983, pp. 139, 173, 174, 208, 214. 

43        Kindly shown to me by Mrs James Evans. 

44        Edward La Trobe Batemans Letters, 1869–96, La T, SLV, MS 12248. 

45        Proof of their authenticity is their stylistic affinity with a group of watercolours and drawings including views of Barragunda, especially the album of twenty-three sketches labelled ‘Mostly of Barragunda’ in McCrae Family Papers, La T, SLV, PA 640. 

46        The medals are now a part of McCrae Family Papers, La T, SLV, PA 640. 

47        McCrae, Georgiana’s Journal, pp. 203–5. 

48        Cowper, in ADB, vol. 2, p. 160. 

49        McCrae, Georgiana’s Journal, p. 205. 

50        The watercolour is known only from a photocopy in possession of Mrs James Evans; the whereabouts of the original are unknown. 

51        Georgiana McCrae to her Niece, 14 September 1884, Marjorie Morgan Papers, La T, SLV, MS 10614. 

52        McCrae, Georgiana’s Journal, 30 October 1841, p. 71; see Downer & Phipps, Victorian Vision, p. 14, n. 10, cat. no. 143, illus. p. 15. 

53        See Marion Fletcher, Costume in Australia 1788–1900, Oxford University Press, Melbourne, 1984, p. 120, pl. 90. 

54        The same paper and identical size and oval format of the two portraits indicates that they may well have been executed within close proximity of each other. 

55        McCrae, Georgiana’s Journal, pp. 236–8. 

56        ibid., p. 259, extract from a letter dated 19 July 1846.