John Skinner Prout in Newcastle and the Hunter

Near Newcastle on the Hunter, New South Wales by John Skinner Prout (circa 1841)

The engraving above entitled “Near Newcastle on the Hunter, New South Wales” is from an original work by John Skinner Prout (1805-1876) and engraved by S. Bradshaw. It was reproduced facing page 126 in Volume 2 of Australia by Edwin Carton Booth, F R. C. I. Illustrated with Drawings by Skinner Prout, N. Chevalier, &c. &c. London: Virtue and Company Limited, (1873-1876).

It is an engraving from an original painting by held in an Album of drawings and watercolour sketches in the Mitchell Library State Library of New South Wales Call Number PXD 75. The Album is entitled [Sketches in New South Wales, Victoria, Tasmania and Norfolk Island, ca. 1841-1847] by John Skinner Prout. Direct Link: http://acms.sl.nsw.gov.au/item/itemDetailPaged.aspx?itemID=456951

Thanks to Ann Hardy who located and photographed this painting in the State Library of New South Wales.

Item 6. Near Newcastle on the Hunter River by John Skinner Prout.
Photographed by Ann Hardy. Courtesy of the State Library of New South Wales

Item 6. Near Newcastle on the Hunter River by John Skinner Prout. (Courtesy of the State Library of New South Wales)
From the Album is entitled [Sketches in New South Wales, Victoria, Tasmania and Norfolk Island, ca. 1841-1847] Call Number PXD 75.
View Album information and selected scans here: http://acms.sl.nsw.gov.au/item/itemDetailPaged.aspx?itemID=456951

At a recent meeting of the Government Domain committee, Ann Hardy noted that the hand coloured engraving of this same scene held in the Newcastle Art Gallery and photographed by Bruce Turnbull for the researchers at the University of Newcastle’s Coal River Working Party (see the image here http://www.flickr.com/photos/uon/4070494440/ ) could not be dated to 1874, as the windmill could be seen. The windmill was originally built in 1820, decommissioned by 1847 and replaced with the Obelisk in 1850 that stands on the site to this day.

Therefore the original scene must originate from before 1850. We have digitised the section from the original book including the text and the plates. They can be accessed on our Flickr site here: http://www.flickr.com/photos/uon/sets/72157630614192448/

Through our Coal River Facebook Page Professor Nancy Cushing added that:

John Skinner Prout came to New South Wales with his family in 1840 and left again in 1848. His “Near Newcastle on the Hunter, N.S.W.” was made during that time and later published in volume seven of Australia Illustrated by Edwin Booth (London, 1873 – 76). It would seem that the date of publication by Booth has been taken as the date of creation. See Garry Darby, “Skinner Prout in Australia, 1840 – 1848″, Art and Australia 25, 1 (Spring 1987). An interesting comparison is with Conrad Martens, “From Burwood Near Newcastle”, which is dated 1841.

Thanks to the Design Art and Australia entry on John Skinner Prout (http://www.daao.org.au/bio/john-skinner-prout/) we were able to narrow this period down to the years 1840-1844, which was the period he was resident in Sydney New South Wales.

 

We have also found reference to him among the letters of Ludwig Leichhardt. Writing from Newcastle Leichhardt recommended John Skinner Prout (as “Mr Proud” or “Mr. Proudt”) as an art teacher for John Murphy, a plasterer living in Castlereagh Street Sydney. His letter is dated 11 October 184(2). He writes another in December 1842 checking up on how the lessons are going. Leichhardt was based in Newcastle from September 1842 – c.April 1843, so it is possible that they may have met during September 1842 or earlier.

 

Comparing the image above with the pencil drawing by Conrad Martens held in the Mitchell Library and dated the 11th May 1841, we can see that the scenes are almost identical except for the Aboriginal people inserted into the work. Martens records the location as being “Shepherds Hill From Burwood near Newcastle”.

Item 87 From Burwood near Newcastle, 11th May 1841, Shepherds Hill
from Sketches in Australia, 1835-1865 by Conrad Martens (1801-1878)
View Album: http://acms.sl.nsw.gov.au/item/itemDetailPaged.aspx?itemID=457268#

The next engraving in the book is that of Harpers Hill, compare it with that of Conrad Marten’s dated 7th May 1841:

“Harpers Hill, Hunter River” by John Skinner Prout

Item 46. Harpurs [i.e. Harpers] Hill, 7th May 1841
from Sketches in Australia, 1835-1865 by Conrad Martens (1801-1878)
View Album: http://acms.sl.nsw.gov.au/item/itemDetailPaged.aspx?itemID=457268#

“Port Stephens” by John Skinner Prout

 Item 69 Tahlee, Port Stephens 21st April 1841 from Sketches in Australia, 1835-1865 by Conrad Martens (1801-1878)
View Album: http://acms.sl.nsw.gov.au/item/itemDetailPaged.aspx?itemID=457268#

As we can see the images were drawn from the same locations. Prout adds details such as sheep, kangaroos, but the locations are essentially the same. So we can be confident that the Newcastle, Harpers Hill and Port Stephens scenes were those taken on the spot in the 1840s, and later engraved for publication in the 1870s. Whether both Prout and Martens were companions on these excursions is also open to further discussion.

Gionni Di Gravio
University of Newcastle (Australia)

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