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

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.

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Published in November 2012 no. 346
Alisa Bunbury

Alisa Bunbury

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.

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