Whilst searching through the archives of the State Library of New South Wales, I came across a rather exciting find. It was a monochromatic watercolour painting of Christmas Island as viewed from the sea.
I was excited because the painting was dated 2nd September 1830!
Click on the image below for an enlargement.
Christmas Island near Java – 2 Septr. 1830 bearg [i.e. bearing] S.W. for S. dist 8 miles
Could this be the first painting of Christmas Island? If it isn’t, it must certainly be at least one of the first. There was even a watermark on the paper of the paper maker: “J. Whatman, Turkey Mill, 1830”. Whilst there have been other earlier depictions of Christmas Island they have been in a printed lithographic/engraving style.
Interestingly, on the following day after this painting, the 3rd September 1830 the same artist painted Prince’s Island in the Sundra Strait and the following day after that a painting of Crockotoa Island (an old spelling of Krakatoa).
The Christmas Island painting was part of a collection (52 items in all) of views predominantly of Sydney, Liverpool, and the Sunda Straits, and portraits. It was presented to the State Library of New South Wales by Mrs. E. Fuller in memory of her husband, Capt. A.W.F. Fuller in 1963.
Within the collection is a handwritten note regarding provenance that applies to drawings no. 1 to 30 and this includes the Christmas Island painting at No. 14.
“This little collection of
most valuable Australian,
& water-col. & pencil drawings,
were taken by me from a
scrap book album made by
the Revd. Archdeacon Scott of
Whitfield Rectory, 7 m. N.N.E.
from Alston & 10 m. S.W. from Hexham,
Northumberland, between c. 1833
15 Octr. 1949”
Who was the Revd. Archdeacon Scott?
“Thomas Hobbes Scott, Church of England clergyman, was appointed secretary to his relation by marriage, John Thomas Bigge, during the official investigation into the administration of the colonies of New South Wales and Van Diemen’s Land, 1819-1821.”
Reference: Australian Dictionary of Biography. Vol.1, 1788-1850. Carlton, Vic.: Melbourne University Press, 1967
I was contacted by Emeritus Professor Alan Atkinson and he very kindly provided me with the following information about the Revd. Archdeacon Scott. The William was the name of the ship that the artist of the painting travelled on. Could it have been Scott himself?
I have just seen your website headed “Christmas Island Archives” – referring to Archdeacon Scott, A.W.F. Fuller etc.
Scott (not then a clergyman) was in NSW as secretary to the British commissioner of inquiry, J.T. Bigge 1819-21. When he went back in 1821 he took with him a ten-volume journal, besides, as he said, “a large bundle of encubrations & contributions, documents &c”, which seems to have included a lot of pictures of colonial buildings.
He then returned to the colony in 1825 as first archdeacon of NSW. He left for the second time in October 1829 and on the way home was stranded for a time in WA. He set off again by the William, which I gather went by Batavia, so the other pictures you mention make sense.
Scott wrote to England from the Cape of Good Hope on 15 November 1830, saying that their ship had left Java on 21 September. I don’t suppose they had landed on Christmas Island on the way to Java. I wonder who the artist was, and whether it was Scott himself. I can’t find out much about that voyage except that the William had come from Sydney, with only one passenger thence (unidentifiable).
P.S. What I don’t understand is, how come the paper has the dated watermark of a London maker, 1830. He could not have bought the paper in Sydney or Swan River. The paper must have been bought when he got back to England. So, either the painting was done on board, on older paper, and then stuck to the 1830 sheet, or else the painting itself was done in England, on the 1830 paper, from a sketch made on board.