State Library of Victoria > La Trobe Journal

No 46 Spring 1991

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John Adamson, Melbourne from the south side of the Yarra Yarra, 1839. Engraving. (La Trobe Picture Collection LT271)

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For Friends at Home: Some Early Views of Melbourne

Melbourne had not long been settled before printed views of the town were available for sale. Intended specifically for sending ‘Home’ these were obviously the only means by which most of the new arrivals could convey to their absent friends and families any visual impression of the local scene.
From the 1840s onwards for some thirty years, until superseded by photography and the picture postcard, they appeared in increasing numbers and in a variety of forms — as separate prints, as letterhead illustrations, as illustrated news-sheets with a blank page for correspondence, and as supplements to newspapers. The majority were probably those reproduced by lithography which was comparatively inexpensive and quick, though there were many engravings. Some of the finest were the steel engravings published in London from local drawings and sent back to Melbourne for sale, some of the crudest were the wood engravings of the first illustrated newspapers. One of these, The Illustrated Melbourne Post in August 1862, advertised its own reproductions when describing the bustling scene during the closing hours of the monthly English mail at the Post Office where
… the street newsvendors who literally infest the approaches to the Post Office… are crying their particular wares… The Illusterated Post, ten splendid engravings and summ'ry for Ingland, all for 6d… The Illusterated Newsletter with room to write to your sweetheart and friends all for 6d.… and a boy who'll complete the address for you like copperplate…1 [sic]
During the 1860s, the views sent ‘Home’ could have shown the handsome street scenes included in Charles Troedel's Melbourne Album series, first issued in pairs priced at 7/6d.2 Only twenty years earlier the scene had been very different.
Generally acknowledged as the first genuinely topographical print of Melbourne, giving a detailed delineation of the scene, is John Adamson's Melbourne from the south of the Yarra Yarra, 1839, engraved in Sydney in 1840 by Raphael Clint, but Adamson was also responsible for the vignette of a similar view of the town grandiloquently and inaccurately captioned City of Melbourne, Capital of Australia Felix, founded June 1837,3 which headed a broadsheet issued in Glasgow in 1839 to promote emigration to Port Phillip.4 No more is heard of the amateur artist John Adamson, an early settler in Port Phillip, since he died at sea on the way to India in 1841. He was therefore not alive to read the comments of ‘Garryowen’ on his well known Melbourne from the south of the Yarra Yarra in The Chronicles of Early Melbourne. While conceding its ‘general accuracy’, ‘Garryowen’ declared that in some points
… the perspective is defective for it makes Batman's Hill too small… Flagstaff Hill higher and larger than it ever was… and Fawkner's Hotel with its quaint pyramidal roof bearing some resemblance to a half-open umbrella with the whale-bone slightly out of order… 5
Such distortions could probably be attributed to Adamson's poor draftsmanship but in many subsequent views by other artists, inaccuracies and embellishments are found. They are therefore not always reliable as historical evidence of the local scene. Sometimes the artist was so anxious that his view would not be too quickly out of date that he included buildings copied from the architect's preliminary drawings or even from so-called ‘approved’ designs which never eventuated. Quite frequently too, the artist seems deliberately to have tried to build up a more pleasing scene or at least one less strange and intimidating to English eyes. Advertisements for some of the illustrated letterheads published by J. J. Blundell in the 1850s while claiming that the scenes would save much ‘verbal description’ even likened some of their views to towns in England.6
Adamson's view had been prepared only four years after the founding of Melbourne when the population was under 6,000, and the scene had greatly developed even by the end of 1843 when W. F. E. Liardet completed his View of Melbourne, Port Phillip. Early in 1844 he advertised for subscribers to his print which was about to be sent to England for engraving. Much stress was laid upon its accuracy and fidelity but it can be seen immediately that St James's Church has been given a tall spire which was in fact never to be built, though it was designed by the architect Robert Russell. Much of the foreground appears to be a park rather than the undrained wasteland it mostly was. Aborigines demonstrate boomerangs and spears before a party advancing on horseback, identified in the necessary explanatory key to the view, as C. J. La Trobe, accompanied by the
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Police Magistrate and the Mayor. The print is believed to have been ‘improved’ by the English engravers,7 as indeed occurred with some later views engraved in England. It is a pleasant if idealistic scene.
Melbourne had greatly developed again when, after the early gold rushes, it was of a sufficient size and fame to attract the attention of the English artist Nathaniel Whittock. He described himself as ‘Teacher of drawing and perspective and lithographist to the University of Oxford’. He specialised in bird's eye views of cities and although he is not known to have visited Melbourne, he produced in 1855 a print. The City of Melbourne, Australia, drawn by N. Whittock from official surveys and from sketches taken in 1854 by G. Teale Esq., Melbourne. Apart from the sketches provided by Teale, this astonishing view was probably made possible by the detail provided in the map of Melbourne just issued by the Surveyor General's Department, which showed not only the streets but the position of all the public buildings, wharves and other landmarks.8
Whittock's view extends from the Benevolent Asylum far on the horizon in North Melbourne to Bishop's Court in East Melbourne and appears to have been taken from a very steep Emerald Hill south of the Yarra. We are shown some sixty to seventy ships at anchor in the Yarra and the various wharves built to accommodate them — Queen's, Coles’, Raleigh's, Spencer's and the Government Dock — all well below The Falls which blocked the Yarra for navigation above Queen Street. We are even shown the pumps for the water carts at the corner of Elizabeth Street and Flinders Street, and the new Williamstown-Melbourne telegraph line (the first in Australia) along William Street. Also captured in a view for the first time was the new Hobson's Bay Railway Co.'s locomotive on its way across the river flats — the line opened only late in 1854. Predominant are the various public buildings — the Exhibition Building in William Street, the Customs House with later developments included, the Town Hall, the Post Office and the various churches, St Francis's on the wrong side of Elizabeth Street, St Paul's by Prince's Bridge with a spire which it was never to receive. As the work of one who never visited Melbourne it is quite remarkable.
More accurate was the 1856 print of Melbourne lithographed locally by Henry Burn, the professional English artist who had done numerous such views of English towns in the 1840s. His Panoramic view of the City of Melbourne taken from the south bank of the Yarra was the largest of all these distant views of Melbourne from the south. It was four feet in width and, because of its size, printed in two sections for easier handling and priced at £1, with an extra 10/- if joined together on cloth. It ranges from Batman's Hill on the left to the rarely depicted water works on the far right, in the foreground the Toll Gate on Sandridge Road. With the bullock teams and unattractive river flats in the foreground, it could probably have justified the claim that it would
convey to people in England a more valuable idea of the aspect of Melbourne than a whole volume of verbal description.9
Also in two sections was George Rowe's panoramic lithograph two years later, in 1858, City of Melbourne from the Observatory, taken for the first time from the Flagstaff Hill on which was the Observatory newly established by Neumayer, and showing quite a different aspect of Melbourne. So anxious was this artist not to be out of date by the time his print was available to the public that he included buildings not yet erected at all. The Melbourne journal My Note Book reviewed Rowe's original artwork:
In comprehensiveness of design, completeness of detail, elegance of drawing, judicious artistic treatment and general lifelike character, I am confident that this view of Melbourne will not be surpassed… However, the drawing is not an absolutely correct delineation of the city as it appears at the present moment in as much as the sketches of the prominent buildings now in course of erection have been filled in with the most absolute truthfulness from the elevation plans placed at Mr Rowe's services for the purpose by the various architects… but in every other particular an accuracy so strict has been observed that the daguerreotype itself could not excel it…10
Only from the preliminary plans could Rowe have included in his view the completed Public Library, the Wesleyan Church in Lonsdale Street, and Parliament House, for he showed the Public Library as it was not to be until at least five years later (and part of the north-west wing was still incomplete one hundred years later), the plans for Wesley Church were only just being drawn up, while Parliament House never received the great tower with which he adorns it — indeed four years later, in 1862, one newspaper complained that only one-eighth of the original building had been complete.11 But while much is suspect as a true record of the scene in 1858, there are valuable glimpses of other buildings not depicted elsewhere at that period. There is a unique glimpse of the John Knox Church in Swanston Street, nearly opposite the Public Library, built by John Laing in 1847 and demolished in 1863.12
In addition to numerous early general views of Melbourne, many prints were produced of individual
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George Rowe, Melbourne 1858. Lithograph. (La Trobe Picture Collection H605)

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streets and buildings and since these give a closer glimpse of the scene they often capture something of the atmosphere of the period which the distant views cannot.
S. T. Gill produced many such Melbourne scenes with fidelity and spontaneous charm. His large view of Collins Street looking west from Russell Street, was described in the Argus in June 1853 as
A pleasant and interesting present to send to friends at a distance, who can form a better estimate of the realities of the gold colony by one dash of the pencil of the artist than by all the tedious efforts of us poor grovellers of the pen.
At least sixteen of his smaller lithographed Melbourne views appeared in Sketches in Victoria, May 1855, published in parts by J. J. Blundell. They included The Criterion Hotel in Collins Street West, the famous hostelry much frequented by Gill himself who had a studio above Blundell's nearby premises, carefully shown in his view. All of them were also issued as letter paper illustrations, at 6d. a sheet or 7/6d. a quire, and sometimes carried an extra caption elaborating the original title of the print by way of explanation for the ‘Home’ viewer. Gill's lithographed views of the gold fields were also much advertised as interesting for ‘Friends at Home’. The earliest, The Diggers and Diggings of Victoria as they were in 1852 were issued in parts of five prints each for 2/6d. a part, ‘posted free’ for 3/-. Most of these were also printed on letter paper.13
A more sophisticated volume of Gill's views, and more expensive, was the well known Victoria Illustrated, forty-six views engraved in England by J. Tingle and A. Willsmore for the Melbourne publishers, Sands and Kenny. Elaborately bound in blue or red, it was on sale in Melbourne for Christmas 1856, in spite of the advance date of 1857 on some of the prints, and the publishers informed the public that anyone who might be contemplating buying the book to send to ‘Friends in England’ could rest assured that none had already been sold there. Its sale was to be confined to the colonies. The reviewer in My Note Book detected many signs of the views having been engraved
at a distance from the country of their first production as drawings… the foliage is neither gum tree nor elm nor oak but trees of doubtful botanical character… the skies too English and… a police constable wears on his head neither the chimney pot covering which is the Home headpiece of the force nor the lighter cap which has been adopted here… it would seem as if the engraver had been embarrassed at finding a policeman with a cap on and thinking it might be inadvertency of the artist he had, as in the case of the trees, adopted a middle course…14
Victoria Illustrated was however, a handsome volume and apparently sold well at £1.11.6d. bound in cloth or £2.10.0 in Turkey morocco.
From the early 1860s onwards, the Illustrated Melbourne Post, the Illustrated Australian News for Home Readers and the Australasian Sketcher with Pen and Pencil all planned their issues for the ‘Home Mail’. They included special supplements and fullpage and even double-page wood engraved views such as Christmas in Australia, Brighton Beach on Christmas Day, or The New Post Office, Melbourne 1866, which could be removed for framing. Accompanying text usually gave boastful descriptions of the scene. Accompanying a full-page view of Bourke Street in 1878, for example, it was claimed that the Monster Clothing Company, shown near Buckley & Nunn,
possessed resources which few shops of its kind even in London can boast… Bourke Street is the Melbourne Oxford Street by day and Picadilly by night.15
So significant was the sale of illustrated papers for the monthly ‘Home Mail’ that with the introduction of the fortnightly service in 1880, the Australasian Sketcher announced that it was changing over to fortnightly production as did the Illustrated Australian News.
Although even in the late 1850s and early 1860s, the first albums of original photographs had been appearing in Melbourne and a few individual photographs of local views could be purchased in 1855 for the comparatively high price of 10/6d. and 15/- each, it was not until the late 1890s that new printing processes made it possible to reproduce photographic illustrations in conjunction with newsprint, so there was still a demand for the local illustrator from whose drawings wood-blocks were engraved for reproduction in the illustrated newspapers, and the papers continued to send their artists to the scene of the news.16 But the work of the topographical artists was being taken over by photography and the market for their prints was obviously diminishing.
How ironic it seems, and yet how inevitable, that these early views so inexpensively proroduced in large numbers to send away in the mail and inform ‘Friends at Home’ about the local scene, should now be so rare, and so very expensive to acquire, in their place of origin.
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Newsletter of Australasia, No. 4 October 1856. Engraving. (La Trobe Picture Collection LTAF183)

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S. T. Gill, The Criterion Hotel in Collins Street West. Lithograph. (La Trobe Picture Collection ITA387)

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Newsletter of Australasia, No. 59 July 1861. Engraving. (La Trobe Picture Collection LTAF183)

1

Illustrated Melbourne Post, 23 August 1862, in describing at length their accompanying illustration ‘English Mail Day — Melbourne’ by Nicholas Chevalier. The monthly ‘Home’ mail, weighing eight tons, was said to include 50,000 newspapers and 40,000 letters.

2

Each subscriber to the series was entitled to a small advertisement on the coloured wrappers in which the prints were sold.

3

Melbourne was not proclaimed a City until 1847 and the settlement was founded in 1835.

4

Clyde Company Papers, (ed.) P. L. Brown, O.U.P., 1953, Vol. 2, 1836–40, pp. 452–453. While the exact dates of issue of both prints have not been determined, it is recorded here that the first to be reviewed in Melbourne was the vignette issued in Glasgow, noticed by the Post Phillip Gazette, 29 April 1840, while the larger view Melbourne from the south of the Yarra Yarra was not noticed in that paper until 5 September 1840, which suggests that the Glasgow view may in fact be the earliest published print of Melbourne. It is unknown to the Mitchell Library, Glasgow. A copy is in the Mitchell Library, Sydney.

5

Edmund Finn (‘Garryowen’), The Chronicles of Early Melbourne 1835–1852, Vol. 1, pp. 37–38.

6

The township of Ballarat was likened to ‘an old fashioned English town’ and Market Square, Castlemaine to ‘a suburb of Cheltenham’. Advertisement (quoting the Herald) in Victorian Nautical and Commercial Almanac for 1855.

7

Liardet's watercolours of early Melbourne, (ed.), Weston Bate, M.U.P., 1972, pp. 4–5 and endpapers.

8

Melbourne and its Suburbs, compiled by James Kearney draughtsman; engraved by James D. Brown; Capt. Andrew Clarke, R.E., Surveyor General, 1855, (4 sheets).

9

Argus, 19 May 1856.

10

My Note Book, 23 May 1858, p. 592.

11

This section of Rowe's view reproduced in La Trobe Library Journal, No. 12, October 1972.

12

J. M. Freeland, Melbourne Churches 1836–1851: an architectural record, M.U.P., 1963, p. 109.

13

On a goldfields letterhead illustration called ‘Fossicking’, it was noted also ‘generally practised by boys, women and children, who do not dig’; ‘Grog tent 6 miles from Bush Inn — Diggers breakfast’ — to this was added ‘At these places unwary diggers get plundered of their gold’.

14

My Note Book, 3 January 1857, p. 5 and advertisement p. 26.

15

‘Bourke Street, Melbourne, from the Post Office’ in Illustrated Australian News, 10 June 1878.

16

To Glenrowan at the time of Ned Kelly's capture in 1880, went George and Julian Ashton and the cartoonist Tom Carrington who was the special artist of the Australasian Sketcher.