Wombat, wombach, whom-batt wonder: early scientific ‘trafficking’ of marsupalia to Europe

Library catalogue permalink: http://cat.lib.unimelb.edu.au/record=b6230685The unique fauna of Australia intrigued, bemused and excited the imagination of their European ‘discovers’ from the moment of the first animal sightings in the late 18th century.  One of these puzzling oddities was the wombat, which was described as a type of bear or a badger by northern naturalists grappling to classify the strange animal within existing scientific taxonomies, and said to taste of ‘tough mutton’ by sailors eager to sample fresh meat after many months at sea.

The nocturnal and retiring habits of the wombat appear to have protected it from the notice of the expeditionary voyages of James Cook, and the exploration parties associated with the first settlers.   Indeed it was almost a decade after settlement before the first wombat was sighted (February 1797), shortly ahead of the platypus (November 1797), koala (January 1798) and Tasmanian tiger (1805), though all were preceded by the discovery of the echidna (1792).  The earliest description of a kangaroo (or more precisely a wallaby) was made in Francois Pelsaert‘s 1629 account of the shipwrecked Batavia, though this report seems to have been unknown to Cook, who remarks on a kind of jumping ‘grey hound’ in his Endeavour journal of 24 June 1770.

As a group these strange pouched and egg-laying creatures presented a distinct challenge to European classifiers, as articulated by James Edward Smith (1759-1828), founder of the Linnean Society:

When [one] first enters on the investigation of so remote a country as New Holland, he finds himself as it were in a new world.  He can scarcely meet with any fixed points from whence to draw his analogies.

The first transported wombat

If you should ever find yourself in Newcastle upon Tyne, visit if you can the Great Northern Museum of natural history and archaeology, and utter a friendly ‘wombat-cough’ to a well-connected and well-travelled 218 year old stuffed Tasmanian wombat, the first specimen to be transported from Australia to Europe.

wombat-great-northern-museumAfter several wombat sightings in 1797, a live female specimen was captured on Cape Barren Island (Bass Strait) in March 1798 by a party of British naval officers (including a young Matthew Flinders).  The creature was taken by ship to Sydney and presented to amateur naturalist and Governor of New South Wales, John Hunter, where the ill-fated marsupial died after six weeks in captivity.  Hunter wrote of the unfortunate animal:

it was exceedingly weak when it arrived, as it had, during its confinement on board, refused every kind of sustenance, except a small quantity of boiled rice, which was forced down its throat.

Not wanting to let the opportunity for scientific research lapse, Hunter had the corpse preserved in alcohol and shipped to his friend Sir Joseph Banks (President of the Royal Society) in London for more detailed taxonomic examination.  In 1799 the soused specimen was barrelled onwards to the Literary and Philosophical Society in Newcastle (of which Hunter was a corresponding member), but not before the cask broke open, almost suffocating its carrier in ‘pungent and foul-smelling spirits’.  There Thomas Bewick prepared an engraving of the wombat (based on an original drawing by Hunter) which was printed in the fourth edition of his A general history of quadrupeds (1800), becoming the first published illustration of the animal.wombat-bewick-4th-edition

The ‘traffic’ in wombat specimens

From the early 1800s an increasing number of preserved wombats were shipped to Europe for dissemination amongst scientific circles.  Several other wombat pioneers found themselves unwitting live specimens, who were met with wonder and curiosity on disembarkation.  These included a wombat collected by the Scottish botanist Robert Brown (1773-1858) which he passed over to his friend, British surgeon and anatomist Everard Home (1756-1832), under whose watchful guardianship it lived cheerfully for two years:

It was not wanting in intelligence, and appeared attached to those to whom it was accustomed, and who were kind to it.  When it saw them, it would put up its fore paws on the knee, and when taken up would sleep in the lap. [1808]

The British were not the only nation with a thirst for scientific discovery, and the rival Pacific expeditions of the French also resulted in the capture and repatriation of marsupial specimens.  Three live wombats collected on the voyages of the Geographe and the Naturaliste commanded by Nicholas Baudin survived to arrive in France in 1803, at least one of which may have become the pet of Empress Josephine at Château de Malmaison.

Library catalogue permalink: http://cat.lib.unimelb.edu.au/record=b6230685

A recent acquisition: Etienne Geoffroy Saint-Hilaire’s natural history studies, 1834-1835

The Baillieu Library is fortunate to have recently acquired a copy of the 1834-1835 published studies of the distinguished French naturalist Etienne Geoffroy Saint-Hilaire (1772-1844). The volume includes two detailed papers on the platypus and echidna, and a skilfully rendered fold-out illustration of pair of wombats placed in a naturalistic setting.  As director of the Natural History Museum in Paris, Geoffroy was also administrator of the former Royal Menagerie, which had been relocated to the Jardin des Plantes after the French Revolution.  Here he could observe at first hand exotic animals which had been collected from a variety of sources, many of them previously held in private hands.  One of the more grisly directives following the 1789 revolution was that all exotic pets had to be turned over live to the former royal collection, or otherwise killed and given to the Jardin des Plantes for scientific studies, such as Geoffroy’s.  It seems that our two ‘French’ wombats were amongst the lucky survivors.

Susan Thomas, Rare Books Curator

Library catalogue permalink: http://cat.lib.unimelb.edu.au/record=b6230685      L0020768 Etienne Geoffroy Saint-Hilaire. Lithograph by J. Boilly, 182 Credit: Wellcome Library, London. Wellcome Images images@wellcome.ac.uk http://wellcomeimages.org Etienne Geoffroy Saint-Hilaire. Lithograph by J. Boilly, 1821. 1821 By: Julien Léopold BoillyPublished: - Copyrighted work available under Creative Commons Attribution only licence CC BY 4.0 http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/4.0/

Bibliography and further reading:

Australian Broadcasting Commission. ‘The wombat boy’, Australian Story Program Archives, 25 March 2002 http://www.abc.net.au/austory/archives/2002/05_AustoryArchives2002Idx_Monday25March2002.htm

Cowley, Des & Brian Hubber.  ‘Distinct creation: early European images of Australian animals’, The LaTrobe journal, no.66, Spring 2000, pp. 3-32.

‘The first wombat to leave Australia’  http://pickle.nine.com.au/2016/09/15/11/33/first-wombat-to-leave-australia

Flinders, Matthew.  A voyage to Terra Australis undertaken for the purpose of completing the discovery of that vast country, and prosecuted in the years 1801, 1802 and 1803… Volume 1. London: Printed by W. Bulmer and Co., and published by G. and W. Nicol, 1814.

Geoffroy Saint-Hilaire, Etienne.  Etudes progressives d’un naturaliste pendant les années 1834 et 1835 : faisant suite a ses publications dans les 42 volumes des mémoires et annales du Museum d’Historie Naturelle.  Paris: Chez Roret, 1835.

Pigott, L.J. & Jessop, L. ‘The governor’s wombat: early history of an Australian marsupial’, Archives of Natural History, v. 34, 2007, pp. 207-218.

‘The tale of a wombat: a journey from Australia to Newcastle upon Tyne’, The Guardian, 30 December 2013 https://www.theguardian.com/science/animal-magic/2013/dec/30/wombat-australia-to-newcastle-upon-tyne

Woodford, James.  The secret life of wombats.  Melbourne: Text Publishing, 2001.

Library catalogue permalink: http://cat.lib.unimelb.edu.au/record=b6230685

 

 

 

 


Metal crafts, printmaking and the acquisition of a nielli print

Looking at a work of art on paper, it can be difficult to imagine the close relationship between a print, and metal craft. Yet printmaking owes much of its legacy to metal arts and this affiliation was more apparent in early western prints as many of the masters learned their art from the metal smiths, such as Albrecht Dürer who was the son of a goldsmith and was familiar with that art. In the 15th century and early 16th century many experiments and innovations in printmaking took place in the design of metal (from which printed impressions are taken). Some of these early techniques were short-lived and are now unfamiliar to 21st century audiences.

One such technique thought to have developed in Italy is nielli printing which was practiced up to the 16th century. This is technique utilises an engraved decorative design on silver in which lines are filled with ‘niello,’ a black chemical substance, which contrasts with the silver. Before niello is applied to the metalwork, the lines are filled with ink and an impression taken, and this is a neilli print. Rare examples of niello objects and their impressions are held in the British Museum. The Baillieu Library Print Collection has acquired its first example of a neilli print and like most of these impressions it is tiny work measuring only 4.2 centimetres diameter.

Nielli print

The portrait depicts Gian Galeazzo Visconti (1351-1402) who became the first Duke of Milan. While the artist of this nielli print is uncertain, the portrait was adapted from an effigy that adorned the monastery Certosa di Pavia. Another version of this effigy was engraved by Agostino Carracci for the book Cremona fedelissima città, et nobilissima colonia de Romani published in 1585.

Another substantial example of metal craft held in the Baillieu Library is the Wilson Hall presentation set organised by the Walsh Brothers. The set comprising trowel, mallet, mortar board and their box was given to Sir Samuel Wilson on 2 October 1879 by Sir Redmond Barry, on behalf of the Council of The University for use during the ceremonial laying of the memorial stone for Wilson Hall. If the ornate silver trowel from this set were to be inked, it is easier to imagine its decorative design appearing in reverse on a sheet of paper, just as nielli prints were made directly from metal objects.

Wilson Hall presentation set

Other examples from the Print Collection displaying the relationship between metal work and prints include designs for medallions and ornamental decorations.

Neptune

 

Further reading

Arthur M. Hind, Early Italian engraving: a critical catalogue with complete reproduction of all the prints described, London: Pub. for M. Knoedler, New York, by B. Quaritch, 1938-1948


Australian-made piano rolls – a generous donation to Rare Music

While piano (or pianola) rolls might seem the ultimate in technological obsolescence, rare music was delighted to accept a generous donation of 126 piano rolls (just part of a larger collection) last year.

duoart_pgpublicity-copy-2

Piano rolls were first available for purchase in the mid-1890s and are, surprisingly, still being produced today, though only one company remains (QRS). For those unfamiliar with them, a piano roll consists of a roll of paper, 285 mm wide, wound onto a spool, with tiny holes (perforations) punched out that encode musical information such as the notes to be played and when the “soft” and sustaining pedals are to be depressed.

Early pianolas (or player pianos) were powered by a pair of foot treadles with a “tracker bar” (visible on the photograph of Percy Grainger above) reading the roll and “playing” the piano. There was also scope for the “player pianist” to control aspects of the sounds that were made; volume and speed, for example. With technological advances, manufacturers developed high-end, high fidelity “reproducing” pianos which offered something very different: fidelity to the interpretation of the best-known virtuoso pianists of the day. The Grainger Museum’s Duo-Art piano, belonging to Percy Grainger, is one of this type. Grainger sometimes modified piano roll recordings of his performances for effect (rather than to just correct a mistake), adding additional holes to a roll, for example, and producing piano music that would otherwise be unplayable by just 10 fingers.

duoart_advertisement-copy

While Grainger, as an international pianist, recorded piano rolls overseas, the collection donated to Rare Music is all Australian-made and the music is mostly popular. Provenance-wise the rolls can be traced back to 1947 when they were located in an outbuilding on a Euroa property at the time it changed hands; just possibly, given the number of rolls, the collection functioned as a lending library of some type.

broadway-roll

The Australian rolls in our new acquisition were produced by the Anglo-American Player Roll Co. (Melbourne) and Mastertouch Piano Roll Co. (Sydney). The former business, producing Broadway Word Rolls, was essentially, a “one man show”, established around 1921 by Len Luscombe (1893-1957), who was both the sole recording artist and business owner. 1) His taste and interest was in popular dance music and our collection is dominated by fox trots plus a handful of waltzes and one-steps. Luscombe used a number of aliases to give the impression of a larger enterprise. “Word rolls”, by the way, have the lyrics written on the paper, parallel to the lines of perforations, and reveal themselves gradually as the roll turns–ready for singing along—very much as do the lyrics during karaoke.

jack-ohagan-karaoke

Sydney’s Mastertouch Company was a little different, involving a larger number of recording artists, including in-house “pianola pianists”. 2) The firm was established by George Horton in 1919 and closed as recently as 2005. 3) Lettie Keyes from Nathalia (near Shepparton) and Katoomba sisters Laurel and Edith Pardey (later Edith Murn) dominate the performer list. Keyes (active for Mastertouch from 1923-29, and from 1961) was both an accomplished pianist and a highly skilled arranger of music and editor of rolls. Keyes’s speciality was opera arrangements and our collection includes her selections from Rigoletto, Faust and Martha, which exploit that potential for a liberally “edited” piano roll to deliver a complex, almost orchestral texture.

martha-lettie-keyes

Four-handed arrangements were the specialty of the Pardey sisters, full-time employees of Mastertouch, specialising, like Luscombe, in popular music. The sisters recorded some Australian compositions, such as “After the Dawn: Waltz” by Jack O’Hagan (of Along the Road to Gundagai fame). The collection also includes a “Gippsland March”. Our collection also includes some “classical” repertoire, recorded by, for example, Russian pianist Paul Vinogradoff. Well-known pianists would simply visit and record, leaving staffers to edit for them.

gippsland-march-mastertouch-crop-2

Piano rolls, like recordings made with other early technologies, are currently of interest to musicologists as a rich source of information on performance practice of a variety of types of music. Testament to that interest is the Player Piano Project at Stanford University; it was Stanford which acquired Australian Denis Condon’s massive collection of 7540 piano rolls (including only very few Australian rolls) and ten instruments in 2014. There are some fascinating videos associated with the project, including one of the Stanford Orchestra playing the first movement of Grieg’s Piano Concerto in A minor last year with Percy Grainger as soloist per-piano roll. Or to see a pianola in action close up, and to hear the distinctive popular “pianola sound”, sample Gershwin playing the opening of “I’m forever blowing bubbles”.

Returning to the challenge of technological obsolescence, time has already overtaken an earlier plan to digitise the piano rolls by playing them on a pianola and recording them digitally in “real time”. Stanford is developing and will fabricate, a dedicated scanner for piano rolls that will allow them to derive audio from digital images; playback will be via an MP3 player or perhaps another type of player that is “e-roll” capable. Internet searches have revealed other recent advances in this area, so a “watching brief”, keeping a close eye on the Stanford project, is probably the best option for Rare Music. We shall have to be patient!

Jennifer Hill, Rare Music curator

1) See Glenn Amer, “Len Luscombe: Australia’s premier piano roll pianist and arranger” and the article on Luscombe by Barclay Wright in the Australian Dictionary of Biography.

2) See Glenn Amer, “Artists of the Mastertouch Piano Roll Co. 1919-2006”.

3) The Anglo-American Player Roll Company’s stock and equipment was bought out by Horton after Luscombe’s death and the Powerhouse Museum, Sydney, acquired the Mastertouch Piano Roll Company collection on its closure.


Cricket on the fore-edge: finding hidden paintings within the page-ends of books

cricket-scene

Next time you open a book from the late 18th or 19th century, take time to gently fan the pages.  If you are lucky you may be surprised to find a hidden fore-edge painting lying unexpectedly within.

Fore-edge painting

The fore-edge of a book is the long open side opposite the spine where the page edges are exposed to view, and the side from which you enter to turn the pages of the text.  The painting of decorative pictures on the fore-edge of books gained momentum in the 1750s, when it became a signature device of the Halifax, Yorkshire bookbinding firm Edwards. These watercolour illustrations were applied to the book edge whilst the fanned surface was held in a brace.  Once dry, the book was allowed to relax to its normal position with the fore-edge painting cleverly retreating inside, out of immediate view.  The closed fore-edge was often painted over in gold pigment, to cover the residual traces of watercolour that were sometimes faintly observable.

mrs-heymans-sideThe technique of using the fore-edge to record information on books can be traced as far back as the 900s.  In modern book shelving systems, the fore-edge faces towards the back of the shelf, but in the medieval period, books were commonly shelved on their side and/or in chests, with the fore-edge facing outwards and open to view.  As the heavy leather bindings were difficult to write on, the fore-edges were inscribed with the title of the book or with a rudimentary shelf mark to aid identification, in much the same way that call numbers are attached to the spines of library books today.

Felicia Hemans and her poem, Casabianca

At first glance this elegant volume of poems by Felicia Hemans (1793-1835) is no different to many of similar age and provenance in the Rare Books Collection.  But if you slowly splay the page edges and look again, a hidden image of a cricket field appears which did not seem to be there when the book was lying flat in its closed position.  The effect is curiously captivating and you find yourself fanning the pages again to make sure, and miraculously the picture reappears!

mrs-heymans

Felicia Hemans was a prolific English poet, who spent much of her life in Wales, and whose early work gained the attention of Shelley, with whom she briefly corresponded.  Her poem, Casabianca, is well known, especially for its oft repeated first line:

The boy stood on the burning deck,

Whence all but he had fled;

The flame that lit the battle’s wreck,

Shone round him o’er the dead…

The poem, which continues for another nine stanzas, tells of the heroism of a 13-year old boy, Giocante Casabianca, son of the Admiral of the Orient at the Battle of the Nile (1798).  After the ship had caught fire and all guns had been abandoned, he remained at his post, and subsequently died in the tremendous explosion when the flames reached the gunpowder store.

Parodies of  ‘The boy who stood on the burning deck’

On a more humorous note, the poem has also been much parodied since it was first published in 1826, including the following by English comedian Eric Morcombe (1926-1984):

The boy stood on the burning deck,

His lips were all a-quiver;

He gave a cough, his leg fell off,

And floated down the river.

And to accompany our cricketing scene, a contribution attributed to that great wit Anonymous:

The boy stood on the burning deck,

Playing a game of cricket;

The ball rolled up his trouser leg,

And hit his middle wicket.

Susan Thomas, Rare Books Curator

Bibliography & further reading:

Hemans, Felicia.  The poetical works of Mrs Hemans.  London : Frederick Warne, [1880?]

Weber, Carl. Fore-edge painting : a historical survey of a curious art in book decoration.

Irvington-on-Hudson, N.Y. : Harvey House, c1966.

mrs-heymans-cover


Revolutionary printing: money!

In 2016 we celebrate 50 years of decimal currency and innovations in paper money such as the next generation five dollar note. In Australia before the unifying advent of Federation which occurred in 1901, currency was a more chaotic affair. Banknotes represent a nation’s economic stability and during times of war and upheaval, these crises are likewise reflected in the currency. To show both students of printmaking and financial studies, the rich links between printing and economic history, the Baillieu Library Print Collection has acquired three engraved banknotes.

French Revolution banknotes

A variety of currency which arose and fell with the French Revolution was the assignat which were only printed between 1789 and 1795. Rather than having a value assigned to silver or gold, this engraved note was instead assigned to a value of land and was interest bearing. The Domaines Nationaux (1789-93) was an organisation established from the sale of the church lands, land which became the financial basis for assignats. Controlled by the National Assembly it was responsible for printing assignats and for their circulation in France. Louis XVI is featured on the note, and would remain there until his deposition when his portrait was replaced by the cap of liberty. The acquired note also features the signature of Camberlain, a representative for La Caisse de l’Extraordinaire, a department formed to issue assignats and combat their forgery.

Assignat

Forgery

A British government sanctioned scheme saw economic warfare unleashed when British artists and other individuals flooded the French economy with forged assignats. These forged notes were intended to further ruin the financial stability of the French nation.[1] By 1795 an assignat was virtually worthless and they were withdrawn from use.

The British authorities showed no leniency towards its own citizens who forged the nation’s currency, however. To be found in possession of a forged banknote was a crime punishable by hanging. Forgery was not always an act of war; it was most often the crime of destitute men, women and children. In 1819 the artist George Cruikshank (1792-1878) was so disturbed by the sight of the hanged forgers wreathing the walls of Newgate prison, that he designed what is commonly referred to as the hanging note . [2] This note was influential in drawing attention to the overly harsh punishment which brought about reform and the lesser punishment for forgery offences: deportation to the penal colony of Australia.

Australian Pre-Federation banknotes

Many of the convicts sent to Australia were forgers, such as Joseph Lycett (born c. 1794). Lycett produced important colonial works of art including the book Views in Australia (1825) which is a highlight of the Rare Books collection.[3] However, he was also forging colonial banknotes: ‘unfortunately for the world as well as himself [Lycett] had obtained sufficient knowledge of the graphic art to aid him in the practice of deception, in which he has outdone most of his predecessors’.[4] Due to a shortage of British coins, a system of promissory notes, (which functioned somewhat like a cheque) was being used in the colony.  Given that the history of banknote production and that of forgery occur concurrently, printing had to evolve, and so banknotes feature very sophisticated artistry and printing techniques.

Unlike present day Australian banknotes which are a uniform set carefully overseen by the Reserve Bank of Australia, before Federation any bank could issue paper currency and all of the states colonies were printing their own notes. Not surprisingly this cornucopia of paper money was an inefficient system.

Lycett, like many other forgers, was using a copper plate to produce clever imitations. As the uncirculated Bank of Australasia five pound note states in the inscription by the lower margin, it was produced with a patent hardened steel plate by Perkins, Bacon & Co. Jacob Perkins (1766-1849) pioneered new printing innovations including one he called ‘siderography’ which is to engrave on steel. This method enabled thousands of identical complex designs to be printed from a superior metal plate and was extremely difficult to copy. Engraving on steel would be one of the products born of the Industrial Revolution.[5]

Five pounds

A great leap in the complexity and visual appeal is evident in the Bank of Victoria one pound colour trial specimen, which depicts that colony’s namesake: Queen Victoria. Several artists and equipment would have been utilised to produce this sophisticated banknote. Unlike the previous two notes, this specimen is printed on both sides, an innovation which thwarted many forgers. The verso shows a guilloche, or an intricate repeated design which is produced by a lathe. A tool called a stump engraver would have been used to print the word ‘one pound’ repeatedly. These features, together with the use of multiple colour plates form an almost impenetrable security system.

Colour trial specimen

Verso colour trail specimen

By the 1890s in Australia, approximately 64 banks were trading before a crisis in 1893 which saw many of them close. By 1910 British pounds were no longer the nation’s currency and promissory notes were not legal tender.

Kerrianne Stone (Curator, Prints)

References

[1] Peter Bower, ‘Economic warfare: banknote forgery as a deliberate weapon’ in The banker’s art: studies in paper money edited by Virginia Hewitt. London: British Museum, 1995, pp.46-64

[2] The story of paper money by Yash Beresiner and Colin Narbeth, Wren publishing Melbourne, 1973, pp 23-26

[3] Joseph Lycett, Views in Australia, or, New South Wales & Van Diemen’s Land delineated: in fifty views with descriptive letter press, London: J. Souter, 1824-[1825]

[4] From the Sydney Gazette 1815 quoted in Printed images in colonial Australia 1801-1901 by Roger Butler, Canberra : National Gallery of Australia, c2007, p. 51

[5] See Gary W. Granzow, Line engraved security printing: the methods of Perkins Bacon ,1790-1935; banknotes and postage stamps, London: Royal Philatelic Society London, 2012


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