State Library of Victoria > La Trobe Journal

No 88 December 2011

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Editorial

This Issue of the La Trobe Journal is a part-theme one, commemorating several major events that occurred in Victoria 150 years ago. These 1861 theme articles are complemented by several relating to nineteenth-century items in the Pictures Collection in the State Library of Victoria, plus one on a bohemian artists club and another on Victoria's first Governor, Charles Joseph La Trobe.
Melbourne in 1861 was a confident city, made so by the gold discoveries and subsequent rushes of the eighteen-fifties. Its population in 1851 was 29,000, by 1861 it had more than quadrupled to 129,000. Despite being only a quarter of a century old, the city had a University, a free public library, impressive public buildings on its wide streets and felt superior to its older and previously dominating big brother, Sydney.
1861 saw the opening of the Museum of Art (the forerunner of the National Gallery of Victoria) in the Melbourne Public Library, the publication of the Library's first catalogue, the running of the first Melbourne Cup, and the visit of the first International Cricket Team. Coupled with these symbols of progress was the tragic ending to the Victorian Exploring Expedition: the news of the deaths of Burke and Wills reached Melbourne in November.
The issue opens with an article by Andrew Lemon on the running of the first Melbourne Cup. It also provides an evocative introduction to the Melbourne of 1861. Peter Dowling follows, writing about the illustrated newspapers that, after several years of trial and failure, finally established themselves over 1861-1862. His article is complemented by a five-page section containing ten images of Melbourne in the early 1860s and an index to illustrations of Melbourne for the period 1860-1862 extracted from a forthcoming detailed index of these wonderful recorders of nineteen-century Australia.
Alison Inglis, Fiona Moore and Pamela Tuckett's co-authored article describes in detail the establishment and opening of the Melbourne Museum of Art. This is followed by Michael Watson's reconstructed catalogue of the Victorian Art Exhibition of 1864 held in the new Museum of Art.
The deaths of Burke and Wills are represented by the reproduction of two commemorative pictures, with accompanying text, that are now on permanent display in the Cowen Gallery in the State Library. Following this is a short piece on the first catalogue of the Melbourne Public Library. Maggie Black writes about her greatgrandfather, Niel Black, and his struggles to hold his extensive landholdings against the aims and actualities of the various 1860s selection acts.
The previous editor of the La Trobe Journal, John Barnes, in his research report on Charles Joseph La Trobe, provides new light on La Trobe's time in Neuchâtel in Switzerland. Former Pictures Librarian at the State Library, Christine Bell, provides in 'Death in the Picture Collection' an account of the sad and self-inflicted deaths of two
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artists and two photographers represented in the collection. Her article is complemented by three from current members of the Pictures Collection staff. Gerard Hayes writes on George Rowe's 1858 panorama of Melbourne from the Observatory in Flagstaff Gardens. Madeleine Say provides an account of the lives of minor politician John Burtt and his minor painter son, also called John Burtt, who painted around 1892 an historical panorama depicting John Batman's 'purchase' from the local Aborigines in 1835 of all the land that now makes up Melbourne and its immediate surrounds. And Olga Tsara uncovers the story behind an album of nineteenth-century photographs of Peru held by the Library and how it came to be in the Pictures Collection.
Suzanne McWha provides a detailed analysis of the studio wedding photograph portrait of Miss Marion Henty, a descendent of the Henty family, the first permanent white settlers in Victoria while in his article on the Buonarotti Club, Stephen Mead presents a strong argument for the influence of this 1880s Melbourne bohemian club on the Heidelberg School of Australian painters.
So overall, this issue is very much a celebration of Melbourne in the nineteenth century, a place described by Henry Kingsley in his 1859 novel, The Recollections of Geoffrey Hamlyn, as:
a great city, which in its amazing rapidity of growth, utterly surpasses all human experience . . . I have seen what but a small moity of the world, has seen, and what, save in this generation, has never been seen before, and will, I think never be seen again. I have seen Melbourne.
John Arnold