Eugene von GUÉRARD<br/>
<em>Mount Kosciusko, seen from the Victorian border (Mount Hope Ranges)</em> 1866 <!-- (recto) --><br />

oil on canvas<br />
108.2 x 153.3 cm<br />
National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne<br />
Purchased, 1870<br />
p.302.13-1<br />


The painting

Mount Kosciusko, seen from the Victorian border (Mount Hope Ranges), 1866, is based on drawings made by Eugene von Guérard in 1862 during a scientific expedition to Mount Kosciuszko led by the German scientist Professor Georg Balthasar von Neumayer.

While this view is serene, journals written during the expedition reveal that the party endured incredible hardships. The dark, eerie, primeval bush and the elevated, light-drenched Mount Kosciuszko form two contrasting regions within the composition of the painting. These two areas are visually linked by tall majestic gum trees and a flock of cockatoos. High above, in the distance, hawks glide on alpine currents. The skeletal remains of the towering tree trunks frame a section of the centre foreground where we see Von Neumayer riding his white horse towards his dog, Hector. Several other horses graze quietly in the bush while Von Neumayer’s travelling companions set up camp for the night. The figures are small details in a scene of sweeping natural grandeur.

While von Guérard’s interest in scientific enquiry is evident in the accurately observed details in the landscape, the dramatic contrasts of scale and light reflect Romantic allusions to the divine and poetic in nature.

The journey

In the spring of 1862 von Guérard was invited to take part in what became one of the most exciting and challenging expeditions of his career. He joined a team led by von Neumayer who aimed to conduct a magnetic survey of north-east Victoria and Mount Kosciuszko, involving approximately 1400 kilometres of travel. Magnetic surveys measure variations in the earth’s magnetic field caused by different rock types, and they provide important information about the geological history and structure of the earth.

The party for this expedition included Edward Brinkmann, who had been von Neumayer’s assistant on other trips. The explorers departed from Melbourne on 16 October 1862 and after fourteen days arrived in Albury where John Twynham, brother of the local district surveyor, volunteered to become their guide.

On reaching Wodonga the party began the gruelling trek to Mount Kosciuszko. On 16 November they had their first glimpse of the highest point of the Australian continent and, as von Neumayer recorded in his journal of the period, ‘the sight was truly grand’.

Von Guérard was clearly excited by the opportunity to explore and record a new landscape, but the daily experiences of the explorers were fraught with danger and hardship, testing their physical endurance to the limit. Von Neumayer’s journal details the challenges and delays caused by snakes, moth plagues, changeable weather, torrential rain, falling trees, heat exhaustion, damaged tents, bushrangers, bolting horses, crossing dangerous water courses, steep gradients, losing members of the group, lightening, hailstones, sudden temperature drops, fierce winds, mine shafts and illness.

The party was guided in its final ascent of the mountain by Mr Weston, who they had met during the journey. After scrambling across snowfields and massive boulders in very windy conditions, they finally reached the summit at 11am on 19 November, where they toasted von Guérard’s health in celebration of his fifty-first birthday.

As the group continued exploring, sketching and taking measurements, von Guérard observed an approaching storm. Within minutes the top of the mountain became engulfed in dense cloud and they found themselves battling torrential rain in a roaring gale.

The explorers tried to escape the storm by scurrying down the slope but Brinkmann backtracked, remembering that some maps had been left near the summit. Despite von Neumayer’s desperate calls urging him to return only Hector the dog re-appeared and Brinkmann was feared lost.

During the frightening descent Mr Weston became separated from the party, and Twynham suffered serious exposure, leaving him stiff with cold and unable to move. Von Neumayer and von Guérard bravely dragged him to safety through the mist in freezing conditions.

When they finally arrived at the base camp they were appalled to find it had been destroyed by the ferocity of the storm and the frightened horses were entangled in ropes. Nothing was left standing and tents and equipment were soaked. It took several hours in the damp conditions to kindle a fire, which guided Mr Weston who finally returned at 11pm, welcomed by Hector’s excited barking.

Von Neumayer did everything he could to find Brinkmann, returning to the summit, leaving markers, looking for traces and reporting his disappearance to the police. He even offered a reward of twenty pounds to any guide who would agree to accompany him on a search for his assistant, but to no avail.

The saddened party continued home, but on 6 December when they were sitting down to dinner at the Adam’s Flat diggings in Belvoir, now known as Wodonga, a bedraggled and severely undernourished Brinkmann appeared, having descended Mount Kosciuszko via a completely different route. He had been lost for eighteen days. Throughout his arduous journey he had carried Von Neumayer’s precious glass barometers which were returned undamaged.

The group continued their survey and arrived back in Melbourne, via Sandhurst (Bendigo) and Castlemaine, at 4pm on 22 December.

Professor Georg Balthasar von Neumayer

Professor Georg Balthasar von Neumayer (1826–1909) was a German scientist and explorer. He devoted his life to scientific investigations involving magnetism, hydrography, oceanography and meteorology.

After visiting Australia between 1852 and 1854, he became convinced that the country offered enormous scope for his scientific research. He returned to Germany to gain support for his work, which was backed by the influential German scientist and explorer, Alexander Humboldt.  Maximilian II, the king of Bavaria, was a keen supporter of Humboldt and he provided two thousand pounds for the specialised and expensive measuring devices that Von Neumayer needed for his work.

Von Neumayer’s greatest achievement was his magnetic survey of Victoria between 1858 and 1864, which covered nearly 18,000 kilometres and took over six years to complete on foot and by packhorse. A report of his survey, published in 1869, includes vivid descriptions of his journeys, observations and the pioneers he encountered.

Von Neumayer was also responsible for founding the Flagstaff Observatory for Geophysics, Magnetism and Nautical Science in the Signal Station at Flagstaff Hill, Melbourne, between 1857 and 1858. Funds for the observatory were provided by the Victorian government and the influential German community in Melbourne. In 1862 the observatory was moved to its current site in the Royal Botanic Gardens.

One of the highly valued scientists who worked at the Flagstaff Observatory was William John Wills, second-in-command to Robert O’Hara Burke during their ill-fated expedition in 1860 from Melbourne to the Gulf of Carpentaria (approximately 3250 kilometres). Von Neumayer joined their expedition between Swan Hill and Bilbarka to conduct magnetic observations before returning to the settled areas of Victoria.

When both Burke and Wills lost their lives on the journey home, von Neumayer was deeply upset at the death of his former colleague.

Scientific equipment

During the expedition to Mount Kosciuszko, Von Neumayer observed local geology, botany, geography and water quality. He used sophisticated technical equipment to measure temperature, air pressure, magnetism, time, altitude, distance and boiling points.

The 1850s theodolite pictured on this page is similar to the instrument used during the expedition to measure angles which can establish precise locations.

Sketch of Professor von Neumayer’s wagon tent

This sketch shows the tent wagon used by Von Neumayer to house and protect his scientific instruments during his magnetic survey of Victoria. His initial spring cart with one horse proved unsuitable so Von Neumayer eventually settled on this light American wagon that transported the instruments safely and lightened the load for the horses. He could also pack necessary camping equipment and cooking utensils as well as provisions, including grain, for the horses.

The tent wagon was impractical for mountain trekking however and, during the expedition to Mount Kosciuszko, it was left at the Wodonga police station. Von Neumayer and his assistant Brinkmann are depicted carrying out scientific measurements

A sketchbook view

On his various tours in Europe and Australia, Von Guérard recorded locations in small sketchbooks, often including observations concerning colour and light.  Sometimes he drew larger and more detailed sketches on location.  Once back in his studio, the sketches could become the basis for paintings, commissioned drawings or prints. This drawing was made on location in 1862 and was used four years later to make the painting Mount Kosciusko, seen from the Victorian border (Mount Hope Ranges), 1866. The work was finished in about eight weeks, a very short period for such a complex oil painting.

Related works

Von Guérard created a number of artworks inspired by his journey to Mount Kosciuszko. The first,North-east view from the northern top of Mt Kosciusko, was painted in 1863. He then reproduced it as a lithograph in 1866.  Mount Kosciusko seen from the Victorian border (Mount Hope Ranges) was painted in 1866.

North-east view from the northern top of Mt Kosciusko is a combination of two sketches. It captures events on the summit on 11 November 1862. Von Neumayer and Brinkmann are carrying out scientific observations as the rest of the party clamber over the massive granite rocks in the lower left corner.  The small size of the figures in the landscape emphasises the grandeur and power of nature. Von Guérard records the menacing storm brewing in the top left corner. This storm put the expedition in grave danger and led to Brinkmann becoming separated from his companions. Like other paintings by Von Guérard, this work reflects both what the artist saw and what he felt in the landscape.