Treasures Curator Talk Life & Death
Dorothy English Paty's Newcastle sketchbooks
Talks / Lecture
Treasures Curator Nat Williams sheds light on the brief life of Dorothy English Paty. Creating two exceptional sketchbooks filled with watercolours of plants, Dorothy’s work is now held in the Library’s Rex Nan Kivell collection.
The Treasures Curator is supported by Catalyst-Australian Arts and Culture Fund.
A Treasures Gallery Access Program, supported by National Library Patrons.
Speakers: Cathy Pilgrim (C), Nat Williams (N), Audience: (A)
Location: National Library of Australia
*Typist’s notes: inaudibles caused by distance from mic
C: Good evening, ladies and gentlemen. It’s lovely to see so many of you here with us at the National Library this evening, thank you for coming out and braving the cold. I just saw on the weather that there’s a big cold front coming on the weekend, minus 5, frosts which is something to look forward to, I'm sure.
As we begin tonight I would like to acknowledge the traditional custodians of this land, I thank their elders past and present for caring for this land we are now privileged to call our home.
We are grateful tonight for our supporters and for making this evening’s event possible. In particular we’d like to acknowledge the Australian Government for supporting the Treasures Curator through Catalyst, the Australian Arts and Culture Fund. We also thank our wonderful National Library patrons who are supporters of the Treasures Access program.
But tonight we’re here to hear from Treasures Curator, Nat Williams who’s uncovering the story of one of Australia’s unknown botanical artists, Dorothy English Paty. When Nat recommended that Dorothy’s small sketchbooks be displayed in the Treasures Gallery last year I doubt he had any idea of the journey they would take him on. Before Christmas a Periscope Online Presentation of Nat talking about the sketchbooks in the Treasures Gallery attracted some 2,000 viewers. Since then, inspired by that response and along with his own curiosity about Dorothy, Nat has been working to uncover her story. So please join me in welcoming Nat tonight.
N: Right. I especially want to acknowledge tonight the support of Sue Bond from the Devon Family History Society and you’ll see why, and also my colleague and friend, Associate Professor David Hansen from the ANU, Dr Raymond Kelly from the Wollotuka Institute at the University of Newcastle and also Lyn Keili who’s the Special Collections Librarian at the Auchmuty Library at Newcastle University who’s been fantastic. And I’d also like to acknowledge Tanya Hoolihan, a remarkably talented natural history artist and PhD candidate at the University of Newcastle and also Dr Anne Llewellyn, her supervisor whose eyes and comments recently nourished this research. I also acknowledge my trusty IT wrangler, Nicholas, who’s sitting in the audience and also my partner, Erica, who’s put up with me over the last few weeks fussing over this talk.
Okay I first thought to title this lecture about Dorothy Paty, An Exemplary Wife and Mother and a Kind Friend, Dorothy English Paty’s Newcastle Sketchbooks. These words describing Dorothy were inscribed on her gravestone in 1836. They were presumably penned for her by her distraught husband, John, and they seem to sum up her nicely enough although rather incompletely. What they should have added was and a Fine Artist. I titled this talk much more prosaically, Life and Death, which if nothing else encapsulates the trajectory of the lecture this evening. I picked these intriguing sketchbooks to research, write and talk about because they are exceptional, a saying the Rex Nan Kivell Collection as I have been one way or another over the past few years, I decided to look at his sketchbooks which he collected in his 60-year odyssey of acquisition. Nan Kivell amassed a vast collection which entered the Library’s collection from the late 1940s up until his death in 1977. I’ve established that he appears to have collected on average about two items a day for 60 years. Quite an achievement for an illegitimate lad who fled his humble origins in Christchurch for the first world war in 1916.
The collector was born in 1898 as Reginald Nankivell, one word, and died as Sir Rex De Charembac Nan Kivell, two words, in London, having amassed a fortune as a very successful dealer of modern art and owner of the famous Redfern Gallery which still trades today. Nan Kivell was a fascinating character, a chameleon to some extent, an inventor of stories about himself and his collecting exploits and desperately wanted a knighthood to give him the provenance which he lacked. I haven’t got time to do him justice tonight but if you’re interested head to the Library’s webpages and you can listen to talks and blog posts and do various things that I’ve talked about, him and his various obsessions including portraits.
At this point we do not know when the – Nan Kivell acquired the Paty sketchbooks and I hope that before long through the ongoing provenance project which I initiated with our wonderful volunteers, some of whom are here tonight, that an invoice may be found in one of his voluminous boxes of papers which will give us a lead. But to return to the subject of the art of the botanical illustration, items of this kind were something that the collector repeatedly swept up in his endless acquiring. Perhaps his greatest acquisition was Captain John Hunter’s first fleet sketchbook of one hundred remarkable paintings of plants and birds and people. It was the collector’s pride and joy and it forms a permanent cornerstone in the Treasures Gallery display.
Nan Kivell recognised the enterprising and important role of colonial woman as well as men in documenting their surprising new surroundings. Somehow he even managed to purchase not one but two boxes of pressed New Zealand sea weeds, one allegedly collected by his great-great-grandmother. He admired the ro - the abilities of the amateur female artists he collected and believed they were important for how they documented the new world they found around them. Nan Kivell also acquired for example these lovely orchids painted by Margaret Cochrane-Smith. She was born in 1825 in Liverpool and Margaret emigrated to the new colony of South Australia with her family in 1853. She first lived near the botanic gardens and then moved to Norton Summit in the hills where she painted these gouaches of these lovely orchid species.
The collector also managed to acquire a series of delightful watercolours by Fanny Anne Charsley. These were made for her 1867 book, The Wildflowers Around Melbourne. Fanny was born in Buckinghamshire, one of five girls, all were talented watercolourists. She migrated to Melbourne in 1857. Clearly botanically savvy she collected plants for the acclaimed botanist, Ferdinand von Mueller who went on to name a species of Asteraceae for her. In the beautifully bound and presented album Nan Kivell acquired we can compare her watercolours to the black and white lithographs derived from them in the printed book. There are also works by lesser known artists such as this collection of 80 paintings by Thomas Burnett, Robert Edwin Burnett and Anne Wonby. The brilliant detective work identifying this Nan Kivell collection was completed by Petherick reader and prolific author, Penny Olsen and you can read that really interesting story in the online Library magazine. There are also many botanical illustrations by unknown hands. The Nan Kivell collection is so dense and rich with treasures and stories of all kinds that it could occupy numerous scholars for lifetimes.
So amongst the numerous sketchbooks were these two sketchbooks shown here. The covers are rather prosaic to look at and give no lead as to where they were made or purchased. Within however we can poignantly calibrate the last three years and 10 months of Dorothy Paty’s brief life. I will elaborate later on how one can contrast her industrious watercolour production documenting the beautiful plants of Newcastle and surrounds with key moments in her life. But first I want to set the scene around how Dorothy’s work fits into the larger narrative of colonial art production and the continuum of exploration and documentation of Australia.
The receding wake of Captain Cook’s Endeavour may seem an unlikely place to start my exploration of a young British woman’s artwork, her delightful watercolours finished around the exigencies and domestic regime of a colonial life in Newcastle but it was this process of investigation and scientific documentation by the crew of the Endeavour, by Banks, Solander, Cook and the other enlightened voyagers, which led to the thirst for knowledge about Australia, a thirst which only increased after the first fleet sailed into Port Jackson 18 years later. The people then at our Antipodes were engaged by the remarkable natural history specimens that were being described in publications and then rendered in two-dimensional form in sketchbooks and in subsequently printed publications.
It was an industry fuelling collectors’ passions and their desire to complete their bookshelves with elegantly-bound volumes which accurately and sometimes whimsically collected together our diverse and surprising natural productions. It’s worth noting as an aside that this wasn’t just dead and stuffed or flattened examples which were being seen in London. Live kangaroos had been exhibited in London from the 1790s on and often achieved huge audiences. What the bemused kangaroos thought about it all is not recorded. And not to be outdone the French under the mariner, Baudin, took emus back to Malmaison for Empress Josephine and plied them with wine on board the ship to alleviate their seasickness. Animal rights wasn’t a concept they were familiar with back then.
The natural history sketches that were produced here in our early years were made by anonymous and known limners, they were both professional and amateur artists though the difference in quality between the two was not always that vast. They were often convicts, mostly forgers and sometimes lay scientists or curious sailors waiting to – wanting to take home souvenirs of their remarkable odyssey to the end of the world. Perhaps they were officials or functionaries of the colonial empire which grew here day by day and needed recording for aesthetic, strategic and scientific reasons.
In the pre-camera era it was generally words or watercolours that illustrated the moment. These were then carried homewards to official or domestic archives where they congregated and found their way into print or sometimes not. Sometimes they lay in domesticated collections until perspicacious collectors like Rex Nan Kivell came along a century or more later and snapped them up in sales or in junk shops, often acquired cheaply as they were not greatly in vogue and in Nan Kivell’s case then lovingly handbound.
What I’ve done here with the assistance of my son is to put all Dorothy’s works in order so you can see her production over four years. What is singular in the early colonial period is that the people doing the visual recording, creating these databases of imagery that we now hold in our collections, whether they were convicts, emancipated or free settlers, they were all generally men. Women, many of whom were trained in the genteel arts, including watercolour and drawing, were however fast to follow suit. And this is what makes Dorothy Pay’s watercolours important. They are very early, very good and very rare. There are only two extant sketchbooks that we know of and they consist of 65 species painted over 50 years within two books painted over 46 months. It is tantalising to think that there might be some more out there somewhere. It is conceivable, likely even that Dorothy may have sent paintings home to her family who would have been to receive images of her new circumstances. That said, when you hear more about her life you’ll be surprised that she had time to accomplish what she did but in between painting, domestic routines, calling on neighbours and friends or being at home for them to visit.
In the 1840s the English writer and illustrator, Louisa Ann Meredith, said the first questions asked for a new lady arrival in Sydney were do you play? Do you draw? And is the Queen pretty? The last one’s a moot point, I suppose. There was clearly an expectation that one could demonstrate these accomplishments to properly fit into colonial society. Dorothy chose to paint and worked hard at it. This was something that her husband, John, took pride in and supported her by bringing her specimens and introducing her to enlightened people that he met through his key role as Deputy Assistant Commissary General for Newcastle and I’ll refer to that as DACG from now on.
Women natural history painters often proved to have a remarkably well-developed eye and the patience and dexterity required for the intricate details of our unique flora and fauna. Much of the material illustrating the intriguingly varied flora of Australia which we hold in our national collections has been created by women but because of the prevailing treatment of women as second-class citizens in the colonial era and beyond, their work has not necessarily been seen as important as it undoubtedly was in sensitively recording the changing seasons of this increasingly familiar landscape. As part of the efforts of feminist art historians such as the redoubtable Dr Jane Kerr and more recently Dr Caroline Jordan numerous articles and books have now been written about these intrepid, creative and hardworking women. Two can be seen here. Jordan does not mention Dorothy Paty's work in her 2005 book.
Joan Kerr does however and comments on the rivalry between amateur women artists. She also wrote in Putting the Colonial Lady Painter in her Place, an essay for the 1988 catalogue for the Hearth and Home exhibition that a denigratory distinction was made by male reviewers and critics between professional and amateur artists in New South Wales’ first public fine arts exhibition in 1847. Women were automatically assumed to be amateurs. This was not to last, though. Women created in different media in their domestic spaces not just painting, they did needlework, for example. Being multiskilled was a necessity and a virtue allowing them to decorate and create a familiar and welcoming environment in which to live when outside might present an array of challenges. All of course under the watchful and approving eye of their husbands. In the juggling of pregnancies, illness, domestic routine and problems around the daily demands of life in a remote area making art may well have been a way not only of showing off their skills but also of staying sane. Many colonial female artists, Martha Berkley, Theresa Walker, Mary Allport and others have had volumes prepared about them or been dealt with seriously in publications.
Dorothy Paty was included in Leonie Norton’s popular 2009 library publication, Women of Flowers however the subject of tonight’s lecture is I believe not as widely known as she should be for her remarkable watercolours. More recently histories of Australian art have not mentioned her and the last time these sketchbooks were exhibited together was actually in Sylvia Carr’s Beyond the Picket Fence Colonial Women’s Art Exhibition held here in 1995 so rather a long time ago.
I am very pleased that I’ve been able to find out a lot more about Dorothy’s world over the past months. This is the result of some fairly painstaking digging and some serendipitous finds and has also been partially achieved through conversation with friends and the scholars I’ve met. One of the great benefits of a funded position such as mine is that it allows a researcher the time to thoroughly investigate a story and to put an object into its proper context. The Library has had the Paty sketchbooks for over 50 years, that is, for half of its life as an institution and yet still has only known a small part of the story surrounding them. Both Joan Kerr’s synopsis of Dorothy Paty’s life and work in her remarkable Dictionary of Australian Artists and Leonie Norton’s more recent research have perpetuated some misunderstandings about her. Tonight as a result of the time I have had to look into the story properly I can set the record straight.
Right, marriage and Bideford. In an era when marriages were made not in heaven and not crafted through romantic gestures but rather through search for compatibility of temperament, social status and wealth what might Dorothy’s marriage to John Paty, 14 years her senior, tell us? Dorothy was born on the 14th of May 1805 in Bideford, the historic port town on the estuary of the River Torridge in North Devon and was baptised on this day in that year. She came from a prosperous family and was born Dorothy English Burnard. Her parents, Elizabeth and Thomas, had five children and Dorothy was the first of four girls. Thomas Burnard was twice Mayor of Bideford and the family lived at Orchard Hill. They had become wealthy through opening up a trade in timber and then through shipbuilding and they owned a fleet of ships plying the route between Bideford and Prince Edward Island in Canada.
Thomas Burnard died in 1823, aged 55, and was mourned in the local press as a merchant and banker, a gentleman of the strictest probity, very charitable to the poor and a great employer, being owner or shareholder of nearly 60 sail vessels employed in the foreign and coast trade. The town is thrown into general mourning at the melancholy event. So, well off, in other words. Six years later Dorothy married John Paty at St Mary’s Church on the 19th of March 1829. During her lifetime Dorothy’s family had considerable means and her marriage at the age of 24 to John, aged 38, was not unusual in a time when it was expected that a husband would bring both status and capital to the union and love was not necessarily such a factor.
Jane Austen’s wry observations on the intricacies of courting and matchmaking in the Regency period give plentiful illustration of young women marrying or contemplating marrying older, wealthier men. Little however is known of John Paty's background at this point. He came from Burghclere, Hampshire and does not appear to have had wealth though his role as DACG in New South Wales gave him a credible career and the means to support his family even though it would never be a grand lifestyle. I might skip this bit - somebody ask me about Bide Black at the end if they want to.
What was the DACG? Well as DACG John Paty was expected to supervise and report regularly on the allocation and recording of military and civil stores from the Commissariat in his control which was supplied from Sydney. John reported to James Laidley, Deputy Commissioner General in Sydney until his unexpected death in 1835. John’s role was a very important one, to keep the small community of Newcastle fed, clothed and operating and to keep the supplies coming in a timely fashion. And it’s interesting just to note that this lumberyard tender which is referred to here was actually built on a major Aboriginal campsite where stone artefacts dating back thousands of years have since been recovered recently in archaeological digs.
1832, John’s first year in Newcastle was a difficult one for the Commissariat’s finances which required propping up – no fault of his. Clearly the role of DACG would have been a key position in the small community and not without its stresses. He took on a promotion – sorry, he must have succeeded, though, for after Dorothy’s death he took on a promotion to the lonely position of Assistant Commissary General in Quebec.
Dorothy’s artistic training. Well her financial freedom probably meant that she was as well educated as it was possible to be in Bideford at that time. Her ornamental education would have included music and dancing, sewing and embroidery, some domestic knowledge and of course sketching and painting. It’s not known who tutored Dorothy in her watercolour skills but it seems unlikely that she arrived in Australia without prior training. It is possible that she had lessons in Sydney while awaiting John’s transfer to Newcastle however I think it is more likely that her innate abilities were tutored in Bideford.
To watercolour painting. Young upper-class or middleclass women were encouraged as part of their education to paint in watercolours which were relatively cheap, transportable and readily available however training was not inexpensive, it seems and as an example the Macleay sisters, the daughters of Alexander Macleay, Colonial Secretary were tutored by a drawing master in London in 1817 before arriving in Sydney. They paid 15 shillings for just two hours’ tuition which was quite a lot of money. As well as being trained by an artist young women would also practise using books such as Easy Introduction to Drawing Flowers according to nature, 1788, or this one in our digital collection. Sorry, this one in our digital collection.
As you can see here women would copy the various stages of the growth of flowers as illustrated, often in three transitions. First an outline in pencil then a more detailed view filling in the lines and finally a coloured finished image. This formulaic and systematised way of learning meant that the less capable or confident flower painter would produce flowers and compositions that could look very similar and static. This was, as we shall soon see, not something that constrained Dorothy. Her most ambitious, bold and innovative compositions are not even confined to one page.
As can be seen here what also makes her watercolours unusual and valuable is that she signs, dates and locates them and gives provenance for the specimens for almost all of her images, thereby imbuing them with an additional botanical and historical importance. This is unusual and very helpful to the researcher in all sorts of ways. She has adopted a serious though untrained scientific approach and even introduces cutaway interior views in a couple of works to show seeds and plant structure. Dorothy’s dating of her drawings identifies the flowering times for the numerous species recorded and they are chiefly from the heathlands around Newcastle. She captured species such as Correa, Eriostemon, West Ginger, Acacia, [Thisinotis] 23:29, Dampiera, Bossia, Herbertia and Macrozamia. But there are also rainforest examples such as the native apple, the native Rosewood tree and the giant fig tree. Carefully she notes where specimens have come from, Shepherd’s Hill, Maitland, Pirates Point and the Glebe, perhaps wishing she could travel to collect her own cuttings.
Dorothy has ensured where possible that they are botanically named, if not always correctly. It should be noted that these names often changed as botanical knowledge progressed and I’ll come back to the naming of the watercolours later on. Who knows? As climate change continues to affect the lifecycle of species, whether watercolours like these may take on a different significance and part of a historical record in better calibrating such effects over centuries in this country.
Arriving in Australia. It was previously believed that the Patys had arrived in Sydney in 1831 and then took up life in Newcastle in 1832. I found through a Trove – wonderful Trove – search that in fact they actually came via Hobart in 1829. This piece printed in the Hobart Town Courier, the Patys, shows this and also the Patys signed a published letter which is also seen here attesting to the probity of Captain Hopton whose actions had been called into question. I like the way – if you can see it – that for Mrs Paty and myself, J Paty DACG so he puts her first. They sailed onto Sydney and it’s not clear how they occupied themselves over the following year however Dorothy successfully gave birth on the 23rd of January 1831 to George Perry [Hayward] 25:42 Paty. It appears he was her first child and was a survivor. Dorothy was not to be so lucky into the future.
To give birth in the colonial period was not only painful and possibly terrifying but also dramatically increased a woman’s risk of death. The lack of knowledge of hygiene and unsanitary birthing conditions meant that death after childbirth was the commonest cause of mortality for women. The ghastly name, puerperal fever, litters the records of our colonial past. This – sorry, part of my research has involved reading the heartbreaking listings of births and burials held in Christ Church Cathedral archives. It was not only dangerous to give birth, it was also dangerous just to exist as a child. In Newcastle in the seven years around the Paty’s residence I found that on average 16% of the burials each year were for children. In 1834, a very distressing year for the Patys, over 30% of the burials were local children. Their graves used to bear evidence of their short lives, counted out and chiselled onto stone in hours, days and weeks.
So back to the world surrounding Dorothy when she was busily painting. This is Sydney versus Newcastle. Believe it or not Sydney was a metropolis in comparison to Newcastle when the Patys arrived there in 1832. Although it may not look like it in this 1834 image by a little known woman painter, Amelia Ruston. However it was sophisticated and if you had the means, cultivated in its own way. Women could attend balls at Government House, attend concerts and go to the theatre although they had to sew their own outfits unless they were very wealthy. The arrival of ships from around the globe was treated with huge excitement and not just for the mail and parcels from home which they contained, people, non-convicts, many from outposts of empire visited from the exotic east, southeast Asia, east India, South Africa, some stayed on. The tone of genteel Sydney society in the late 1820s was described by the talented artist, Fanny Macleay – Fanny was close friends with Eliza Darling who was the wife of the Governor. Eliza was another amateur watercolourist although not quite so talented as can be seen here, and giving birth to 10 children rather cut into her painting time.
Fanny caustically wrote to her brother, William Macleay, about Sydney. Everyone’s tongue is against your neighbour here. She also said that Sydney, despite its growth and growing sophistication, was a vile, nasty hole. In short it is detestable. But if Sydney was provincial and gossipy to a socially mobile young woman like Fanny imagine how Newcastle must have been for Dorothy and for the colonial microcosm in which she lived. Colonial society was not only divided along the convict, non-convict line, it also fractured but still functioned around class, sectarian, commercial interests, religious affiliation, intellectual pursuits, military agency and race. In some respects it may have been better to be in a smaller though parochial output like Newcastle with its various limitations.
A little on the history of Newcastle. Whilst the Hunter River was named to commemorate John Hunter whose marvellous sketchbook Nan Kivell cherished, it was known to the Awabakal as Muloobinba or place of the edible sea foam. It had a rich Aboriginal life as seen here in Lycett’s Corrobboree before settlers helped themselves to Awabakal land and you can see in the distance with the light on it, the signal house in Newcastle. In 1804 Newcastle, or rather New Castle as Dorothy writes it, was instituted into a penal colony for incorrigibles by Governor King and up until the 1830s was also known as Kingstown. Cedar gathering and the settlement spawned a township at Wallace Plains now known as Maitland. By the early 1820s land grants had been made in the area and one was to Lieutenant Edward Charles Close at Morpeth whose marvellously detailed sketchbook of Newcastle and the surroundings we have in the collection who was an important figure in that region.
So arriving in Newcastle with a babe in arms must have been something of a shock for Dorothy at the age of 27 but how did they get there? Boat was really the only option. Maitland was still only reached by a bridle path until 1827 from Newcastle and it was far easier to make one’s way by river. Early on the route to Sydney was a circuitous and rugged bridle path and road construction was still going on in 1837 when the Patys left however the arrival of the steamer, Sofia Jane, in 1831 and the subsequent inauguration of the regular coastal passage between Sydney and the Hunter was a breakthrough. The Patys would have taken the voyage on The Sofia Jane as seen here.
In 1839 Lady Jane Franklin made the same passage on a steamer to Newcastle. We have a diary in the collection here. She described the experience as follows. Went down to the ladies’ cabin to look at births and found it crowded with ladies, servants and children. A bed was reserved for us but the sight and closeness, not a window being open was sufficient and we determined to sleep on deck. Later she’s driven below decks by rain where the smell of bilge water now added to the former evils.
Later on she’s introduced to Mr Threlkeld, the missionary to the Aborigines. She describes him, as well as I could see by the light he is a dingy, elderly plain man who at first had 160 blacks, now only 30 come to him and those not domiciled and only one living with him constantly. She asks for his Aboriginal grammar book, noting that she couldn’t get it in the bookshops. Sadly he missed an opportunity there, he didn’t have any copies on him. She then goes on to describe the Reverend Mr Wilton, the clergyman, as a plain, queer-looking little man who possesses a collection of the natural curiosities of the place. Don’t think you’d warm to her in a hurry. Dorothy had encountered both of these men a few years earlier. They were prominent figures in her new home. The Reverend Wilton, a keen scientist, assisted her in her painting endeavours and Lancelot Threlkeld introduced her to his Aboriginal companion, Biraban. We will meet them again soon.
Arriving in Newcastle Dorothy must have seen it looking something like this. Lycett’s 1818 view looking to the north shows the scale of the settlement and its isolation. There were still many convicts working in chains on projects which would have been overseen by her husband. Awabakal middens, the legacy of thousands of years of Aboriginal life, provided lime for the colony’s development. So Dorothy now found herself in a coalmining, cedar-exporting agricultural centre in which the total population was less than a thousand people. Central Sydney was over 11,000 people. Dorothy and her family had embarked on a tumultuous time in her life. These ups and downs can be calibrated to an extent by her watercolours. One can imagine Dorothy filling in her day painting the plants sometimes brought home to her by her husband.
Remarkably in our Nan Kivell collection we also hold this image. On the reverse is the ink inscription which you can see there, Mr Paty’s Station, New South Wales, Newcastle. What does it depict and is it by Dorothy? The building looks the right sort of station for a senior official to occupy at the time. It also bears the annotation, kitchen and laundry referring to the outbuilding behind the main house. Both were domestic preoccupations that a wife who painted might record especially if the drawing was to be sent home.
These signs have led some to believe it may be by Dorothy but I think it’s rather too clumsy given the fine way in which she usually works and the inscriptions are definitely not in her distinctive hand, an unusual hand. Irrespective of authorship, though, it would appear however to be the Paty's home in Newcastle in which they lived from 1832. What I can’t fathom is what this strange, ghostlike presence is on the bottom. Any ideas, tell me later.
I tried to locate the house on this and other early Lycett oil from Newcastle Gallery and I thought it may be the house depicted on the left on the upper – the red house there. I recently visited Newcastle and the rich archive in the Auchmuty Library and looked at the following wonderfully detailed contemporary map dated 1830 and I'm sorry this hasn’t reproduced very well, it’s an exquisite map. The house I imagined was the Paty’s was in fact the surgeon’s, an older building. Here in this focused view of Newcastle we can see the tightly bound world inhabited by the family. I don’t know if you can read it [walks away from the microphone]. The Commissariat there and there’s also an unnamed building next door which may be connected to it. So we can see it was constructed, it would seem, in 1830 at least.
Here in this focused view of Newcastle we can see the tightly bound world inhabited by the family. John Paty’s station, their place of worship, Christ Church on the hill, the hospital and the burial ground all within easy walking distance. It gives a good sense of the scale and also for the emptiness of Newcastle at the time. These Newcastle images were also created by a skilled illustrator, Edward Close, who I mentioned earlier, painted a decade before the Patys arrived but in them you pretty much see Newcastle as Dorothy would have while taking a daily constitutional, the picket fences, the domestic detail in the watercolours and the family provenance story led art historians for a long time to believe that these images were the work of Sophia Campbell, Edward Close’s wife’s aunt. My colleague, David Hansen, who’s in the audience tonight disproved this some years ago. Close’s military precision rendered airy and extraordinarily detailed images of Newcastle capturing how people were living at the time.
Having seen how the Patys were situated in Newcastle I now want to take you through some of the most compelling of the images in Dorothy’s sketchbooks and relate them to what is happening in her life. You can look at all these images through our catalogue or through Trove. First however I want to set up a contrast between these images which gives you a sense of how innovative Dorothy was in creating her most adventurous works. The watercolour on the left is by Maria Josepha-Mann and was painted in Adelaide about five years after Dorothy’s rare Cycad, the macrozamia, endemic to the Newcastle region or the Hunter region.
The contrast between them couldn’t be stronger, a pretty sentimental symbolically-laden English posy alongside a modern-looking dynamically constructed and heavily patterned composition which could have been painted yesterday and by somebody with more than a little skill and imagination. The macrozamia was completed in April 1835 after Dorothy had been through one of life’s greatest traumas. It’s worth also making another brief stylistic comparison, this time between the very prolific Ellis Rowan who created this 1916 New Guinea image of the Pandanus, some 80 years after Dorothy’s macrozamia and I think you know it’s interesting just to see her in - sort of in that light too.
Dorothy started her first volume of watercolours with this striking painting of a Blandfordia nobilis. Here I have contrasted Dorothy’s first signed and dated work from December 1832 on the left with her last work from August 1836, the remarkable rat’s tail orchid on the right. The contrast is dramatic, a formally posed head of elegantly arranged flowers neatly constrained on the sheet versus a lithe image sprawling across two large pages. The latter specimen is incredibly elegantly drawn and balanced with it running out of the frame at the top. This framing device was something Dorothy seemed to specialise in and about a third of her compositions feature the similar cropping. It is clear she is not painting flowers simply because they are beautiful, they are part of a world of wonder and enquiry for her and a form of solace. Looking at this animated image it seems hard to believe that in nine weeks Dorothy will be dead but what more could she have achieved?
Back to the inscriptions accompanying the Blandfordia. These indicate that as well as receiving plant specimens from her husband - Paty got them just beyond the Newcastle Bridge, she writes – she is also noting that the stalks are – oh sorry, the stalks are two feet, three feet and four feet long, a useful hint in identifying a plant. John also brings her this native rock lily. Paty brought it from the Glebe, she formally observes. Paty also finds time to bring her this lovely specimen, Scarlet Creeper, Canadia rubicunda. Paty got this three miles on the Maitland Road. I find it touching that Paty finds time to pick and bring home specimens knowing how much pleasure they will bring Dorothy. How they must have enjoyed looking at her books together.
Later, even little George gets involved. Time passes and Dorothy continues her botanical investigations when she can. In May 1833 a daughter, Elizabeth Dorothy Mary Paty, was born. She must have brought great joy to Dorothy and John and to baby George, now a toddler. Significantly during the first eight months of Dorothy’s life – sorry, significantly during the first eight months of Elizabeth’s life Dorothy somehow manages to paint 12 watercolours around her busy daily routine with two small children. From the pretty – as you can see here – from the pretty formality of the Correa speciosa on the left to the rambling climber, Canadia [monofilla] 40:41, in early August and perhaps to her masterpiece, the native Crinum, native lily or Crinum in November which confidently bursts off the extended page, Dorothy elegantly illustrates the novel species she encounters.
On 30th of August she paints this specimen from another friend, Miss Robb, from nearby Shepherd’s Hill. Dorothy then manages to produce four paintings in the space of only three weeks and all in the height of summer. She was driven it seems to record at every opportunity and no doubt when flowers were presented to her it was no time to waste especially in the heat.
Tragically Elizabeth dies on the 8th of January 1834 at eight months, eight days and is buried on the 11th. As I mentioned earlier 1834 was a bad year for juvenile deaths in Newcastle. Elizabeth was the first recorded of seven such burials logged at Christ Church that year. She was only eight months, eight days old. I haven’t found out how she died.
In the two months following the loss of Elizabeth Dorothy paints nothing. Then in March she paints an unnamed plant, now identified by our wonderful volunteer, Barry Hadlow, as the Darling pea or Swainsona galegifolia. Dorothy inscribes alongside it, from Mrs Anley Maitland. This is an important moment in the creation of these sketchbooks. She has received this cutting from another friend or acquaintance. Previously art historians have believed it to be Mrs Auley, also referred to by Dorothy in the sketchbooks as Mrs A. They misread Dorothy’s spidery hand. I’ve now established beyond doubt that Mrs Auley was in fact Harriet Anley. Born Harriet [Alay] 42:35 in Guernsey in about 1800 she was the wife of Philip Nicholl Anley, Captain of the 17th Regiment of Foot known as the Bengal Tigers. Philip served as a JP and popular resident magistrate in Maitland between 1831 and 1834. He had relatives nearby and Harriet was related to the Darlings and the prominent Dumaresq families who were also local.
Over the next nine months Dorothy busily paints 29 species, sometimes creating three watercolours a week, quite a feat of endurance and of grief. Interestingly she now starts for the first time to occasionally squeeze two images or sometimes three onto a page.
In July 1834 Dorothy paints a Bignonia australis and notes Maitland beside it. It would seem given her accuracy in recording the circumstances of her paintings that she visited Harriet Anley and her family, perhaps to escape reminders of Elizabeth’s loss. The Anleys had several children at this stage, 13 ultimately. No doubt Harriet tried to console Dorothy and I’ve now worked out at least partially how. In September alone Dorothy records seven species and even seems to paint two on one day. All are, she notes, from Mrs Anley and one from Mrs Anley’s book. Originally I thought Mrs Anley had lent Dorothy an album of her floral watercolours to help ease the grief and that Dorothy had carefully reproduced them in Newcastle.
Finding Mrs Anley’s book was a critical piece of his jigsaw puzzle. I met with botanical artist, Tanya Hoolihan, in Newcastle on my research-ship and over coffee she handed me a list printed from a catalogue record. It was for Harriet Anley’s sketchbook hidden in the State Library of New South Wales collection. I'm not sure how she found it, it was through Google, not through the catalogue ‘cause I’d searched on it plenty of times. It had been acquired from dealers, Hordern House, in 2004 and a later phone call to them revealed that they’d purchased it from an American dealer. The book was not digitised.
A week later I drove to Sydney and called up Harriet’s sketchbook. It was beautiful but much smaller than I’d expected as you can see her. And here's the three books together. As soon as I opened it I realised that another assumption I’d made was wrong, I’d believed the Latin plant names inscribed under most of Dorothy’s works in a different hand were written by the Reverend Charles Wilton, the local Anglican priest who Joan Kerr had noted was a keen botanist. Wilton was something of a polymath and wrote articles on everything from geology and the so-called burning mountain to sea snakes, Aboriginal culture and [incronites] 45:27. Having looked at many pages of Wilton’s handwriting as seen here it was clear that the Latin names in Dorothy’s sketchbooks were clearly Harriet Anley’s neat hand.
I now realise looking at the different [scales] 45:46 of the images as seen here and the inscriptions meant that it was probable that Dorothy and Harriet had painted the same specimen side by side in Maitland and the inscriptions from Mrs A referred to shared specimens and not to Dorothy borrowing her book. It also made sense that while grieving that Dorothy might travel to Maitland to stay for a while with a friend of the same age who was a fellow watercolourist. To find Harriet or Dorothy’s diaries if they exist, which I’m attempting to do, would of course answer many of the unknowns, some of which must remain as suppositions for now.
In Sydney I also visited the excellent Harriet and Helena Scott Exhibition at the Australian Museum. The sisters were both very talented natural history illustrators, painting just to the north of Newcastle on Ash Island a decade after Dorothy. The last image in their exhibition was this one by Helena. It included additional visual material to add interest and to record historical notes.
I found the house depicting intriguing. Reading the label I realised the rustic dwelling was most likely the Anley’s house in Maitland. Helena noted in her diary, this cottage exhibits the general character of the early buildings of New South Wales. So here it seemed was the humble place in which the two artists probably painted together some years earlier. Mrs A has it not?
On the 4th of October having returned to Newcastle Dorothy creates a new work, an unnamed species which she proudly and competitively inscribes Mrs A has it not? Given that Harriet’s book contains 70 species Dorothy has reason to skite. It reads as a very personal comment but friendly, I think. Dorothy proudly records these words twice more, signalling that she is not only painting keenly but also finding surprising species to record. She’s now four months’ pregnant.
Then on November the 13th Dorothy paints a truly significant work depicting what she labels as the [Accras] 48:01 australis. This is the former name of the Planchonella australis, also known as the Black Apple. This large tree bears a moderate-size sweet fruit traditionally eaten by indigenous people. Here the scientific name is written in Dorothy’s hand, not Harriet’s and this and the date coincides with Harriet leaving Australia. Here Dorothy also embarks on a more scientific rendering of the fruit, using a cutaway technique to show its distinctive seeds and veiny flesh.
On the other apple – hopefully you can see it – on the other apple she carefully records the distinctive scars marking its surface as you can see here on this middle image. The image-making was clearly ruled by verisimilitude, not aesthetics, a key scientific precept. What is most curious about the page are the inscriptions on the opposite side. I’d been intrigued by them since I first looked at the book. There appeared to be an indigenous word written as a linguist would with a diacritical mark over the U. It is the only Aboriginal name recorded in Dorothy’s books. There are none in Harriet’s. The word [umbung] 49:12 which is followed by il in brackets and then native apple.
When my colleague, David Hansen, and I examined the books recently I realised looking under a magnifier the middle name was clearly Magill. This was significant as we realised quickly that Magill or Biraban as drawn by Richard Brown, the Newcastle convict artist, is held in an image here in our collection. He was of course the remarkable associate of the linguist and missionary, Lancelot Threlkeld, who we got a nasty appraisal of before, and he greatly assisted him with his books and is depicted in his 1850 volume as seen here.
Biraban also assisted Threlkeld with various court cases and local knowledge and his wife, Patty, was also quite a prominent figure. Biraban was known to frequent Newcastle from the Aboriginal reserve at Lake Macquarie so it would appear that Dorothy met Biraban and Threlkeld perhaps through the Reverend Wilton and I suspect that it was Biraban who maybe supplied the [umbung] or black apple specimen for her to document.
Biraban’s English was perfect hence his great use to Threlkeld in developing his lexicons. Threlkeld wrote of him in this publication. It was very evident that Magill was accustomed to teach his native language for when he was asked the name of anything he pronounced the word very distinctly, syllable by syllable so that it was impossible to mistake it. This makes me think that Dorothy probably transcribed the sound of the black apple in Awabakal or Worimi dialect fairly correctly as [umbung]. And I’m waiting for a linguist up in Newcastle to get back to me about that.
Now pregnant again and painting without letup until December 1834 Dorothy takes a break in January 1835 before her second son is born. In total she documents 36 species and two unfinished watercolours in 1834, assisted through the friendship and support of Harriet Anley and Paty. They name their new boy, John Thomas Paty. He’s born in March 1835. Now that she has three children 1835’s a leaner year for painting but still Dorothy manages to paint 16 species and three of her strongest images as you can see here which are pretty wonderful.
In 1835 Dorothy paints a Bossia in bloom. Beside it she notes touchingly, at George’s request. George was now almost five and no doubt fascinated by his mother’s painting although quite possibly also annoyed by the hours that it took up. He was probably kept amused however by Charlotte [Camp] 51:58, the assigned convict they had living with them since Sydney. It is John Thomas who will eventually own and no doubt prize his mother’s sketchbooks.
During 1836 Dorothy only paints three more specimens leading up to the birth of her third son on the 28th of September. A rare Orchis as you can see on the left, in January, and the funereal native Arum in February. Six months pass before she finds time to paint again and it’s the truly remarkable epiphytic rat’s tail orchid. This is perhaps Dorothy’s most poised work. Balanced and live, the image conveys both the plant’s delicacy and its expansive form. The specimen is delivered to her from the Maitland Road by her friend, the Reverend Charles Wilton. Instead of a botanical name here is the image – oh sorry – instead of the botanical name here the image is simply inscribed by Dorothy parasitical plant. Sadly this is to be her final painting. The watercolour is painted on the verge of spring, the 11th of August 1836. Six weeks later the Paty's son is born. After only 19 days Dorothy dies from complications. She’s only 31. Francis is christened by family friend, Charles Wilton, a few days later at Christ Church. His name, Francis Le Aus. Francis Australia Paty. Dorothy is buried in a tomb with Elizabeth in Christ Church grounds. Tragically it appears Francis like baby Elizabeth also did not survive infancy.
Dorothy’s grieving husband, John, takes his two sons home on the [Canea] 53:44 in May the following year. He now has two boys to bring up on his own. He carries the sketchbooks back to her birthplace in Bideford and they eventually pass down to his namesake. John Thomas Paty's bookplate identifies his care for these treasures. Poignantly it carries the motto, que sera, sera. It seems John Paty left the boys in Bideford with his two half sisters who – when he’s appointed ACG in Quebec. They live on the quay in Bideford. John does not remarry and 10 years later aged 53, dies in Quebec. I cannot find out whether he ever travelled home to see John Thomas and George.
John Thomas becomes a solicitor but sadly appears to have died aged only 29, unmarried. George was feted to have lived longer and become quite prosperous. He is generous like his Burnard grandfather before him and very kindly remembered. He completed an MA at Oxford and becomes a gentleman farmer and fund holder. He never marries and dies aged 62 in 1893. The sketchbooks presumably made their way onto the market after this time.
Well to conclude. Recently my colleagues in the Preservation Department here assessed the sketchbooks for exhibition in the NGB’s major colonial art exhibition next year. I suggested them to the curators for inclusion. Their observations from the preservation assessment throw some light on Dorothy’s working methods. The books were suggested to micro-fade testing to check the pigments were used and to assess how light-stable they are. We found out that the ink she used for her inscriptions was iron gall so no real surprises there. The purple she used featured a blend of cochineal, a carmine dye created from scale, insects. It was also used in her pink paint. The brown tones are from ground earth colours, that is, burnt umber and sienna. In summary Dorothy used high-quality paints in sketchbooks and may have mixed her own pigments.
Preservation also observed that the yellowing of the paper on which she had painted her images indicated that the pages had been frequently viewed since their creation. This viewing slightly changes the tone of the background paper and of the pigments. This and the well-thumbed pages and the wear on the books’ bindings suggest regular use and that they were often viewed. I would say loved. The wear on the leather of the case holding the books since Nan Kivell had them suggests that he looked at them regularly too. Perhaps subliminally this was one factor in me choosing to focus on these lovely books.
I can imagine Dorothy, John and Harriet Anley looking through them together in Newcastle then John Thomas and George Paty turning the pages as they grew up in Bideford living with their aunts and thinking of their loved mother and absent father. John Thomas looks after them and enjoys the pages up until his early death. The books are then given to George and he peruses them thoughtfully for 30 years remembering his colonial past up until his death. The books then make their way, means unknown, to Rex Nan Kivell who cherishes them and binds them handsomely, enjoying them until they make their way back to Australia and through the hands of art historians, botanists and to me.
I’ve discovered that Dorothy, Elizabeth and Francis’ grave has been destroyed by the Newcastle City Council but they will live on through the beauty of Dorothy’s watercolours and their illuminous legacy. Thank you.
C: Well thank you very much, Nat, for discovering and sharing Dorothy’s story with us. It was also an opportunity for you to have your visit to Newcastle as well, first time.
N: I thoroughly enjoyed it.
F: We do have time for a few questions from you tonight so if you have a question for Nat please raise your hand. We’ve got a microphone because we are recording tonight so if you can use the microphone. Thank you.
A: It’s a fairly obvious one. Bide Black.
N: Okay. What’s interesting is that the environment Dorothy came from, Bideford, and the environment she went to, Newcastle, are quite similar in the respect that they both have coal, they’re both quite coal-laden, sort of big seams of coal running through there but what’s different is that in Bideford there – alongside the anthracite there is a very dense, thick black sort of anthracite, I suppose, which is a pigment and for 200 years it was mined for uses on ship – on boats, it was used on world war 2 tanks, it was used by mascara by Max Factor so it was mined for 200 years until 1968 and on that slide – I don’t know if you – probably didn’t see very quickly but there are quite interesting – oh that’s no good. Anyway there are street names which refer to the fact that it has a mining legacy and people still remember it there and there’s a contemporary art project going on about it at the moment.
But what’s interesting I thought, and we couldn’t identify when I talked to my colleague, Rachel, in Preservation, was did she use Bide Black or Bideford Black, which was well-known, as a pigment in her watercolours? It’d be nice to be able to kind of work out if that was the case, you’d have to put it under a scanning electron microscope or something or some other sort of form of – I’m sure there’s something we could subject it to so I’m going to England, I’ll go and get some Bide Black and I’ll bring it back and we can see if we can compare it but I thought it was an interesting story that you know for 200 years they’d had that history. Anyone else? Yeah. Sorry.
A: In a somewhat related question can you shed any light on the availability of painting and drawing materials in the colony? I’ve never really given it much thought but there’s a lot of activity. Is it just coming in regularly or were there suppliers?
N: That’s a very good question and I think by Dorothy’s arrival date which is 1832 you could probably get pretty much what you wanted. There were quite a lot of artists – had been working for some time so watercolours wouldn’t have been a problem but it sounds you know from what we’ve – unfortunately when you do the micro-fade testing which means you shoot a beam of light, very micro, tiny dot and then you measure the various reactions that come off it but you test pigment, the pink and orange and yellow so some pigments fade faster than others so we can only afford to you know do several pigments, we can’t test them all so it’s an interesting sort of science. But clearly she was using good quality materials and I think she may have you know obviously brought them with her knowing that she was going to Newcastle and there weren’t too many art shops in Newcastle in 1832. But you could get on the you know get on the steamer and – after 1831 and go down reasonably quickly to Sydney to pick up supplies or go up the river. Yeah. At the back. Oh sorry.
A: Not a very important one, did she ever paint in the field or did she always paint at home, the specimens that people got for her?
N: I think she was a – she was thoroughly domesticated in the sense – and I don’t mean that you know stupidly – I think she had a life that kept her fairly well to the home and so I think you know she’s got Miss Robb, she’s got Paty, she’s got Mrs Anley, Harriet and people bringing her things. The only time that I’ve worked out – just by process of elimination as you heard that she was working somewhere else, obviously seems to have been in Newcastle when she goes up and spends time with the Anleys.
A: Thank you.
N: Up the back, yeah.
A: Hi, we’ve just travelled down from Maitland to listen to your talk and I did some study on the Hunter River, I did my PhD on the Hunter River and the natural history illustrators of the Hunter River –
N: Oh great.
A: - but I was wondering if you knew if Dorothy had any diaries or anything other than the sketchbooks that exist to explain what she did and when she did it?
N: Sue Bond I’m hoping – who’s my connection by the internet at the Devon Family History Association has put out feelers. We found one member – I didn’t go into it ‘cause it’s too complicated but both sets of parents of Dorothy’s had been previously married strangely enough so there are actually a few other children so there’s quite a web of people coming down from that. But I’m hoping as I progressively pick away at it that I might turn up a diary somewhere or a piece of correspondence. It’s hard to believe you know she wouldn’t have kept some form of diary other than the obvious visual diary that she was keeping.
And also Harriet Anley, I mean Harriet Anley – it’s an interesting story because the Anleys were quite an interesting family and – but you read such polarised things that I’ve discovered about him, one was you know that he quite liked having people hanged at breakfast time because he could eat his breakfast and see them hanged which seems to be macabre and fairly unlikely. And the other thing was that people adored him and they gave him a wonderful send-off when he left and wrote this great thing. I’ve got a slide of it that I didn’t show of his you know his farewell testimonial and those sorts of things so you know somewhere in between lies the truth, I suppose but you know what’s interesting is these people come and go so quickly, they’re only out here for four years you know and then they’re back in England and who knows what takes off with their lives after they get back.
But I hope through this process, through you all and others out there that maybe we could find some more information ‘cause it’d be lovely you know she’d probably tell me all – what I’ve just told you is a load of rubbish but it would be nice to kind of hear her in her own words. I mean you get a sense of her personality from her inscriptions in the books, that you know Mrs Anley, Mrs A has it not? I think she would have been – what I really wanted to find and naively hoped to find was a miniature of her you know that she comes from a wealthy family you know really quite a wealthy family. They’re not sort of establishment but they’re self-made wealth but they’re wealthy until a little bit after the father dies and then the mother takes over the business and then it goes pear-shaped but anyway that’s another story but I would have thought there’s bound to be a miniature of her somewhere and I’d love to be able to track it down and see what she looked like, not to mention John Paty and possibly the – you know at least George lived into the photographic era, not poor John Thomas.
The thing that struck me, and it sounds sentimental perhaps to say this but I didn’t show it, I haven’t got time but there’s a map that documents every grave in Christ Church cemetery and I don’t know if you’ve ever been there but it’s a wonderfully hilly bit of Newcastle. There’s hundreds of graves there and what they’ve done is they’ve taken about 12 and they’ve put them rather artificially into one corner up near the west – the eastern end of the cathedral and then they took all the others and smashed them up and – yeah.
A: <inaudible> 5:59.
N: That’s true, that cemetery wasn’t started until 1887 or 3, something like that. One of the strange meetings I had was in the crepuscular night-time light of the Christ Church Cathedral, wandering around and meeting the fellow that was locking it up, it turned out to be the Dean of Newcastle and he gave me a guided tour of the Church. And we discussed her case in some detail and he certainly didn’t reveal that people had been moved and perhaps they were but there is a reserve outside of Newcastle which is now a nature reserve where you can go and pat a kangaroo and look at a koala and those sorts of things, I can’t think what it’s called off the top of my head.
A: <inaudible> 6:57.
N: Blackbutt, Blackbutt Reserve. Apparently quite a lot of the grave stones were removed there many years ago but then they were sort of broken up and overgrown and so you can’t find them anymore so that photograph that you saw was actually from 1966 just before they destroyed them all.
A: <inaudible> 7:14.
N: So it’s like the Nazis, they did a very thorough job of documenting everything you know they put them all in their place and they drew a map and said we know that Dorothy was number three which was right down on the perimeter at the early end of the graveyard, Charles Wilton’s buried there. I didn’t tell you the story but his wife and all his children die as well, he then marries another and you know so you just sort of get this feeling that colonial Australia is literally littered with all these people, young and older and Newcastle was no exception.
A: <inaudible> 7:47.
A: <inaudible> 7:46.
N: According – not – according to the archivists at the Auchmuty and to the Dean of Newcastle and to people I’ve spoken to, no, most people - even the City Council looked rather shamefaced when I went in to meet them and talk to them about it, they said oh no, they were kind of broken up and they were used for fill and various things.
C: Thank you, Nat. I know that there’s going to be many other questions that you have for Nat but please join us outside for refreshments. Nat will be there and be happy to chat with you and answer any further questions that you have. On your chairs this evening was a little gift card for you. These are images from the Dorothy Paty sketchbooks so we hope you enjoy taking that home with you. I also encourage you all to visit the Treasures Gallery downstairs which is open from 10am. In April we did install a number of new displays including on the 1967 referendum and the campaign for indigenous rights on early 20th century Australian women novelists and on Louis de Freycinet’s 1817 voyage with a focus on his wife, Rose, who stowed away. So if you haven’t been to the Treasures Gallery since April there’s many new stories for you to discover and enjoy so I hope you can stay and join us for refreshments, thank you for being here tonight and we look forward to seeing you again here soon as your National Library. Thank you, goodnight.
End of recording