A Steady Hand: Governor Hunter & His First Fleet Sketchbook
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.