State Library of Victoria > La Trobe Journal

No 75 Autumn 2005

73

Anne Neale
A Note on Edward La Trobe Bateman's
The Old Stockman's Hut

The La Trobe Australian Manuscripts Collection of the State Library of Victoria has in its possession a small watercolour painting by the English artist and designer, Edward La Trobe Bateman (1816–1897; in Victoria 1852–1869). Known variously as ‘Mr McLure's Hut’ and ‘The Arthur's Seat University’, the painting has a McCrae family provenance, and has been used to illustrate two publications about Georgiana McCrae: Hugh McCrae, ed., Georgiana's Journal, (Melbourne, 1934; Sydney, Angus and Robertson, 1966); and Brenda Niall, Georgiana (Melbourne, Miegunyah Press, 1994).
According to the inscription on an old mount, the painting in question was: ‘The Arthur's Seat University, painted by La Trobe Bateman (the poultry were added by Nicholas Chevalier)'. Also on the same mount, and probably written at the same time, are the words ‘property of Hugh McCrae'. It seems probable that the latter inscription, at least, was made by Georgiana's grandson Hugh in the early 1930s, as he was preparing Georgiana's Journal for publication.
The painting, identified on the mount as ‘The Arthur's Seat University’, and in Georgiana as ‘Mr McLure's Hut’, is commonly supposed to be the residence of Mr McLure, tutor to the McCrae children at Arthur's Seat, and/or the building in which the children took their lessons. The facetious tone of ‘The Arthur's Seat University’ sounds much more like Hugh McCrae's invention than anything said by George Gordon McCrae, or any of the other children of Georgiana and Andrew McCrae, who would have known the building at firsthand. However, descendants certainly believed that the building represented was used for this purpose, for when Hugh McCrae wrote to his sister c.1934 to borrow the painting in order to use it to illustrate Georgiana's Journal, he referred to it as the ‘Arthur's Seat Schoolhouse'.
As Caroline Clemente remarked in her catalogue notes to the art-works reproduced in Georgiana, dating this work is rather problematical, given that the McCraes left Arthur's Seat in 1851, a year before Bateman arrived in Victoria.1 The dating is further complicated by the note on the old mount that ‘the poultry were added by Nicholas Chevalier’ — for the artist Chevalier did not arrive in Victoria until 1855.
In fact, this painting is not of Mr McLure's Hut, nor of the Arthur's Seat ‘University'/Schoolhouse, despite the beliefs of various McCrae descendants. While it was painted by Bateman in Victoria in the 1850s, the poultry were only added by Chevalier forty years later in Britain, at Bateman's request, and the painting did not come into the possession of the McCrae family until 1896.
In April 1895, Bateman wrote to George Gordon McCrae:-
I am quite ashamed that I have not sent you long ago the drawings that I promised, but I hope to be able shortly. There is one little coloured sketch of a Bush Hut in Australia, which I did when I
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Edward La Trobe Bateman, artist. The Old Stockman's Hut (currently catalogued as ‘The Arthur's Seat University'). Watercolour, 13.2 × 18.7 cm. McCrae Papers, MS 12018, MCFB 32. La Trobe Australian Manuscripts Collection. The fowls were added to the painting by Nicholas Chevalier at the request of Bateman forty years later..

had my right hand which I mean you to have, but I sent it to Chevalier more than a year ago, to put in some white cocks and hens which he has never done yet, but I will stir him up as soon as he returns from Madeira, where they both have been since Christmas.2
Then in March 1896, Bateman wrote to George again:-
I posted ‘The Old Stockman's Hut’ to you a few mails ago and I insured it - it was but a few pence but they told me at the Post Office that it would be perfectly safe, as far as they could make it. I hope it may be, for it was drawn when my right hand was in its vigour above forty years ago.3
‘Above forty years ago’ would indicate a date of between 1852, when Bateman arrived in Australia, and 1855. While it is the sort of sweeping dating that might lack accuracy, Bateman was literally counting the years when he wrote this letter, for further on he refers to turning ‘eighty on the eighth of last January’ (that is, he was born 8 January 1816).
So how did the McCrae descendants come to believe that this painting showed the schoolhouse at Arthur's Seat, which, incidentally, was destroyed by fire many years before the family acquired the painting?4 The likeliest explanation is that George Gordon McCrae, in
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talking of the painting at some stage between 1896 and his death in 1927, remarked on its similarity to ‘the schoolhouse at Arthur's Seat’ [‘it looks like the school-house …'], and as no-one was in a position to dispute this, it became the received wisdom that it was ‘the schoolhouse at Arthur's Seat’ — hence Hugh McCrae's request to his sister.
Why, then, did it appear in Georgiana's Journal as ‘Mr McLure's Hut'? The likeliest explanation here is found by referring to another illustration appearing in the original edition. This is a drawing by Georgiana herself of a hut which she labelled ‘The School Hut’, and which Hugh McCrae's 1934 caption has as ‘The School Hut or “University of Arthur's Seat”’. Now although this has a passing similarity to the hut depicted in Bateman's painting, it is clearly not the same building. Georgiana's sketch shows a hut with a gabled roof formed of bark (indicated by the saplings laid horizontally across the sheets), and a framed chimney. The hut in Bateman's painting has a hipped roof of palings, and a stone chimney. This difference is readily appreciated in the later edition of Georgiana's Journal, where the two views are reproduced on the same page.
Confronted by two different buildings, both purporting to be ‘The School Hut’ but with only one labelled as such by Georgiana, Hugh and/or his editors had to employ lateral thinking. On the basis of family tradition, they were obviously loath to abandon the idea entirely, however inconvenient the evidence might be: if it was not the school hut, then it must be the school-master's hut - Mr McLure's hut. This designation has been accepted without question by later scholars, including most recently Brenda Niall and Caroline Clemente in Georgiana.
The watercolour in the La Trobe Collection, formerly known as ‘Mr McLure's Hut’ or ‘The Arthur's Seat University’, is here properly identified as The Old Stockman's Hut. There is no indication of any connection with the McCrae family, or their property, prior to 1895, and Bateman's reference to it in that year, in a letter to George Gordon McCrae, simply as ‘a Bush Hut in Australia’, is completely impersonal. However, Bateman's use of capitals does suggest the probable origins of the piece.
In 1856, the London Athenaeum's correspondent wrote of two illustrated publications Bateman was then in the course of preparing: ‘Flowers of Victoria’ and ‘Bush Homes of Australia'. The latter, the correspondent declared:
… will be interesting from extreme picturesqueness of the subjects. The ‘homes’ are built in the simplest fashion - generally of logs and planks rough-hewn, roofed with broad layers of stringy bark, and frequently clambered over by the native creepers, or the English honeysuckle, rose, &c, - for the English plants take kindly to the Australian soil, - and squatters in their solitary homes are fond of cherishing their English associations.5
The Old Stockman's Hut certainly conveys the sense of a simple, rough-hewn and solitary home in the Australian bush, but lacks any sense of picturesque domesticity, or English associations. In this, it contrasts with other works prepared by Bateman, possibly for publication in the ‘Bush Homes of Australia’, such as his painting of The Homestead, Cape
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Schanck, [National Gallery of Victoria]; his drawing of a Squatter's Residence on the Broken River, Victoria, [Dixson Gallery, State Library of NSW]; and possibly, despite its urban location, his view of Captain Cole's House, William Street, Melbourne, 1842, also in the La Trobe Collection.6 Copies of views prepared for other purposes, such as Bateman's drawings of Jolimont [La Trobe Collection, State Library of Victoria] and the Plenty Station [National Gallery of Victoria] may also have been intended for inclusion in the book.
In contrast to these picturesque and homely scenes, the view depicted in The Old Stockman's Hut was originally quite stark. Perhaps Bateman's consciousness of this led, forty years later, to his remarkable determination that his friend Chevalier should add the poultry, in order to render the requisite element of domesticity to the scene. However, it was presumably something more substantial than the original absence of poultry in The Old Stockman's Hut that precluded the publication of ‘Bush Homes of Australia'!

1

Brenda Niall & Caroline Clemente, Georgiana, Melbourne, Miegunyah Press, 1994, pp. 288–9.

2

MS 12018. McCrae Family Papers. Bateman to G G McCrae, 19 April 1895. La Trobe Australian Manuscripts Collection, State Library of Victoria. The reference to ‘when I had my right hand’ is in relation to the permanent paralysis of Bateman's right arm, occasioned by an accident in the Western District of Victoria in 1867.

3

MS 12248, Edward La Trobe Bateman Papers. Bateman to G G McCrae, 22 March 1896. La Trobe Australian Manuscripts Collection, State Library of Victoria.

4

Niall, Georgiana, p. 250.

5

The Athenaeum [London], No. 1524, 10 January 1857, p. 55.

6

The date included in the title is evidently the date of construction of the house, not of Bateman's drawing. In the Melbourne of 1842, William Street and ‘the bush’ were not so far removed!