In recent years the Joe White Bequest has enabled the acquisition of significant early works on paper for the collection. These include Joseph Lycett’s illustrated Views in Australia or New South Wales and Van Diemen’s Land, 1824; the second edition of François Peron’s Voyage de Découvertes aux Terres Australes … (Voyage of Discovery to the Southern Land …), 1824, with its exquisitely detailed engravings of scenes, animals and inhabitants of Van Diemen’s Land and New South Wales as recorded during the 1801–03 French exploration of Australia; and two sensitive and beautifully drawn lithographic portraits of Indigenous people from the Shoalhaven region by the convict artist Charles Rodius in 1834.
The most recent purchase made with the Joe White Bequest is a copy of Captain James Wallis’s An Historical Account of the Colony of New South Wales and its Dependant Settlements. Published in London in 1821, this book contains etchings by Walter Preston after designs provided by Wallis and – although he is unacknowledged – with the involvement of Joseph Lycett. From 1816 to 1818 Wallis was commandant of the penal settlement at Newcastle where re-offenders such as Preston and Lycett had been sent. Wallis’s inspiration for such a project was almost certainly a series of views published by emancipist entrepreneur Absalom West in Sydney in 1813–14, who used locally available convict artists, including Preston, Lycett, Philip Slaeger and Richard Browne, to produce the first set of views printed in Australia. Wallis’s scenes of Newcastle are visual evidence of his achievements during his time in office, such as the construction of Christ’s Church, built high on the hill overlooking the settlement of Newcastle. Wallis gave early impressions of the prints to Lady Macquarie and he was effusively praised by Governor Macquarie upon his departure from the colony in early 1819.
The twelve plates in the book – six double-page, six single-page – depict Sydney, Newcastle and surrounds; two scenes showing black swans and kangaroos against local backdrops, and an impressive night-time scene of a corroboree. The animal and corroboree scenes are not signed and correspond so strongly to other paintings by Lycett that they are now accepted as being by him. Each plate is accompanied by a description; thus we know that the Indigenous man standing second from the left observing the ceremony was the Awabakal leader Burigon, who Wallis regarded highly and who organised a corroboree to be performed for the governor when he visited Newcastle in 1818. The NGV also owns a watercolour portrait of Burigon by Richard Browne, who was incarcerated in Newcastle from 1811 to 1817. This night scene was so popular that it was also sold as a single-sheet print in England. A separate impression of this print was recently donated by Robert Stevens; his gift inspired the acquisition of this book. While the book was printed in London, these plates were prepared in Newcastle by convict artists and thus – apart from stencils long used for rock art – are some of the earliest examples of the graphic arts in Australia.
The Wallis album and other early Australian works of art were displayed in This Wondrous Land: Colonial Art on Paper in 2011.
Alisa Bunbury, Curator, Prints and Drawings, National Gallery of Victoria (in 2011).