In 1959, as part of the Rex Nan Kivell collection, the National Library of Australia received a remarkable volume of First Fleet paintings. Inscribed Birds & Flowers of New South Wales, Drawn on the Spot in 1788, ’89 & ’90, it comprises 100 watercolours of birds, flowers, fish, animals, and a small number of Indigenous portraits, and was owned by Captain John Hunter, one of the key naval officers of the First Fleet, who painted most of the watercolours. A substantial publication about the sketchbook, edited by John Calaby, was produced by the National Library of Australia in 1989, but critical new information came to light in 2005 when the Library acquired the Ducie Collection, comprising fifty-six watercolours attributed to George Raper, midshipman on board HMS Sirius. Previously unknown to art historians, Raper’s paintings proved to be the source for many of the images in Hunter’s sketchbook. Linda Groom, then-curator of pictures at the Library, had the enviable task of researching and publishing on Raper’s work (First Fleet Artist: George Raper’s Birds & Plants of Australia, 2009). A Steady Hand may be regarded as the inevitable sequel.
A charming colonial anomaly
A Steady Hand: Governor Hunter & His First Fleet Sketchbook
by Linda Groom
National Library of Australia, $49.95 hb, 235 pp, 9780642277077
If you are a single issue subscriber you will need to upgrade your subscription to view back issues.If you are already subscribed, click here to log in.
Alisa Bunbury is Curator of Prints and Drawings at the National Gallery of Victoria. She was co-curator of This Wondrous Land: Colonial Art on Paper (2011), which looked at early Australian prints, drawings, watercolours, illustrated books, and miniatures in the NGV’s collection, and edited the accompanying publication.
Leave a comment
Please note that all comments must be approved by ABR and comply with our Terms & Conditions.
NB: If you are an ABR Online subscriber or contributor, you will need to login to ABR Online in order to post a comment. If you have forgotten your login details, or if you receive an error message when trying to submit your comment, please email your comment (and the name of the article to which it relates) to firstname.lastname@example.org. We will review your comment and, subject to approval, we will post it under your name.