Frozen voices from the past: Captain Horatio Austin’s Log of the HMS Resolute and the first traces of the lost Arctic expedition of Sir John Franklin

Generously supported by donations to the University of Melbourne’s Annual Appeal, access to hidden treasures in the Rare Books Collection is being enhanced using digital technologies…

Situation of HMS Resolute, Baffins Bay, June 1858

Monstrous icebergs, eerily tolling ships’ bells, fogs so dense that sky and sea solidify into a single ghostly whiteness, and uninhabited boats snap-frozen in time.  Such are the haunting images described in accounts of the early exploration expeditions in the Arctic.

Imagine three Icebergs, as big as St Pauls tilting at each other, and we in our poor vessels!’ wrote ship’s master George McDougall in October 1850.[i]

One of these stories – that of the lost 1845 expedition of Sir John Franklin to find the elusive Northwest Passage – has persisted in the public imagination for almost 170 years, casting its icy spectre over many books, poetry, songs, documentaries and feature films.   Infused with heightened elements – vast frigid oceans, a devoted wife who would not give up the search for her husband, and a solitary and remote landscape – the mystery gripped a Victorian reading public who avidly awaited newspaper articles and naval reports on the fate of the voyage.  The alien world of the Arctic provided a vivid background for successive instalments of the story, and depictions of the unfamiliar environment were brought to life using the new technologies of moving panoramas and magic lantern shows: Continue reading “Frozen voices from the past: Captain Horatio Austin’s Log of the HMS Resolute and the first traces of the lost Arctic expedition of Sir John Franklin”

Plotting a course for object-based learning with exhibitions

Object-based learning classes where students engage directly with cultural materials may take many varied formats either in a class room, a collection store or an exhibition space. When I prepare the works of art from the Print Collection for a class in the Leigh Scott Room in the Baillieu Library, I often experience the unexpected problem of chairs. This utilitarian item is usually the first physical object students encounter in the room before they engage with the rare prints. With such capable students at the university, I will indicate the stack of chairs with a ‘please help yourself.’ This immediately raises a problem for students who ask, ‘where do I put it; which orientation does it face; how is it to be arranged? These are also the kinds of questions I have also asked myself in relation to the preparation of the university’s cultural collections. To avoid this vexing class challenge I have also laid out the chairs prior, only to have the students stand up amongst the chairs reverentially, being careful not to touch them. If the same chair were to be placed in say, a café, the student’s relationship with it might be quite different to that of the chair-of-the-cultural-institution. There are many suppositions to be read into ‘the problem of chairs’ example, but powerful for me is the influence of the physical environment, our preconceptions and those  of our peers, on our interaction with cultural objects.


Fortunately in exhibitions, students are able to move around in the space and interact with objects; therefore they are less likely to sag to the ground and are able to forego the ubiquitous class chair. Object-based learning with exhibitions is a powerful experience, offering an environment of evocative objects which have been carefully arranged into a context, ready for diverse responses and interpretations.

Students from such disparate disciplines as Astronomy in World History, Australian Art, Global Literature and Postcolonialism have all engaged with the latest exhibition in the Noel Shaw Gallery, Plotting the island: dreams, discovery and disaster. Asking an object a question, even a simple one, such as, ‘which orientation does it face?’ is a very effective means of revealing the secrets of its materials, purpose and history and hence how it speaks to our society.

After a tour of the exhibition to briefly hear key themes, the students from Global Literature and Postcolonialism broke into groups, looked at and discussed objects in relation to two very broad questions. One group looked at objects in terms of their authenticity, and this all depended on how they interpreted the term ‘authentic.’ The other group examined the objects to consider a narrative from another perspective; a narrative that was ‘missing’ from what was presented. They came up with very considered and thought-provoking observations.

An object which very obviously challenges ideas of authenticity is the book, My secret log boke. This volume claims to be the lost journal of Christopher Columbus found in a chest on the coast of Pembrokeshire 400 years after his death. The students immediately noted that the appearance of the book was odd, and looked deeper to see that the materials had been manipulated. The paper and writing on the cover did not ring true, nor did the sea shells that were glued on. The students then began to question whether the tone and expression of the language used were authentic to the era and stature of Columbus.

Yet the students grappled with other aspects of authenticity, almost shocked that an authoritative document like a map could contain information that was not absolutely accurate, such as a landmass that did not exist or a coastline that was incorrectly drawn. Or similarly, that a contemporary artist had changed the meaning of a historic portrait of Joseph Banks with the addition of villainous Big Bad Banksia Men. The accuracy of the information presented became a key approach to validity, but they came to recognise that authenticity is relevant to particular times in history and modes of thinking and there were no absolutes in its application.

The group investigating alternate narratives were drawn to the navigational instruments. To them these Western artefacts did not acknowledge the skilled reading of stars and navigation history of Indigenous peoples. The chronometer for example, represents a breakthrough in the development of Western navigation in the way it enables the calculation of longitude.  The students said that the development of Indigenous knowledge was not shown and that the objects, by their physicality, did not recognise the long oral and ephemeral expert traditions of non-Westerners.

Another object these students gravitated to was the scene depicting the massacre of members of the La Pérouse expedition. Jean-Francois de Galaup La Pérouse quite literally went missing in 1788 after his departure from Australia. Previously, in 1787, after stopping for water on Tutuila, Samoa, a party from the expedition were attacked and killed by the islanders.  The students thought this image implied the explanation of La Pérouse’s fate; that he had likewise been violently attacked in the Solomon Islands, the location of his ship’s wreck.  One student noticed the women in this etching, placed on the margins. The women’s role or even their nationality was not apparent; their presence had been rendered ambiguously in the narratives.


The skill of looking is fundamental to object-based learning. With my background in visual arts, I had to learn how to read a historic map; while they utilise precisely the same materials and technology as a more familiar print, the ideas they communicate are radically different. Object-based learning is also a lesson in looking and of not allowing what you see to fall within a frame of expectations and preconceptions.


Kerrianne Stone (Curator, Prints)

“Something with a cow in it”: Dairying in Victoria’s Western District celebrated in a 1907 comic opera.

In 1914, when playwright Louis Esson exhorted his fellow playwrights to write “authentic” Australian plays, he used the throwaway line “something with a cow in it” to get his idea across.1) Theatrical historian Eric Irvin cleverly spotted that one man—a German émigré musician called Louis Bayer (1858–1907)—had already written a work for the stage with not one, but many cows in it: a comic opera called The Golden West: or A dairy farm in Arcadia that had been performed seven years earlier. In Irvin’s article on Bayer, he notes that, though published, no copy of the opera’s libretto has survived.2) Rare Music, however, has a copy: an unprepossessing pamphlet of 25 pages, missing the cover and with only some of the print advertising for Warrnambool businesses (example below).3) It makes very entertaining reading. No music from this opera has survived, while the music of three of Bayer’s four other operas survives only in a single item from each one.4)

Act I of The Golden West takes place in a milking shed – the stage set at curtain-up was said to have evoked an “audible gasp” of recognition from the opening night audience. Dairying at the time was a strong contributor to Victoria’s economy after the collapse of the land boom; the young men milking during the opening chorus express sentiments that contrast markedly with present-day discourse around dairying.

Backbone of the country we,
Thanks to cow-fat industree [sic].
Mighty, like a king just now
Is the man who milks the cow.

The libretto of the opera—sung lyrics and spoken dialogue—is broadly comic throughout. Some reviews suggest that the humour did not always hit its mark; the music, though, was uniformly praised.

Almost too absurd to précis, the plot revolves around a Lord Coddlebock (a young English gentleman) who outbids “Dad Morris” to purchase 900 acres in order to set up his own dairy farm. Morris, the father of seven sons and one daughter, wants the land to extend his own farm so that it could support his sons and their (prospective) wives as well as himself. Coddlebock has no idea about dairy farming—he has purchased a herd of steers instead of milkers—but aims to establish his own version of a “model dairy farm”, where cows live pampered lives (with “horns polished and silver tipped”) in palatial surroundings. Coddlebock hires Morris and his seven sons to work for him and (inevitably) falls in love with Morris’s daughter, Pattie. Coddlebock’s bizarrely opulent milking shed is the setting for the final act, during which he becomes engaged to Pattie and gives Morris the land he needs to see his sons settled. Coddlebock’s declaration, just before the final chorus, that he has invented a milking-machine that “will strip 100 cows in 40 minutes”, is an interesting contemporary reference. Milking machines were first introduced in the region around 1890 and by 1907 were in wide use; 100 cows in 40 minutes, though, seems far fetched.

Louis Bayer’s own life ended unexpectedly during the second run of The Golden West in October 1907.5) His death was said to have been brought about by the strain (and high financial pressure) of self-producing his comic opera twice in 6 months, employing a different cast of professional performers each time: well-known soprano Ray Jones (pictured) was Pattie in the April season. The opera toured the region, with just one night in each place and with box-office takings susceptible to bad weather.

While a happy ending is de rigueur in the world of comic opera, Louis Bayer and his family were denied one, at least partly as a consequence of his Dairy farm in Arcadia.

Jen Hill, Music Curator

Image of cow at top: Wood engraving from Illustrated Australian news (Melbourne), 1 September 1891, courtesy of State Library of Victoria.

  1. Eric Irvin, citing the Sydney Bulletin, 5 November 1914 in “Louis Bayer (1858-1907), composer to the man on the land” Southerly, Vol. 48, No. 3, Sept 1988: 284.
  2. Irvin, 294.
  3. The copy in Rare Music is signed by a third literary Louis: composer and writer Louis Lavater.
  4. Graeme Skinner’s wonderful Austral Harmony on-line resource records the works of Bayer that have survived. Rare Music has a Leura Waltz, named after Mt Leura in Camperdown.
  5. See Camperdown Chronicle, 31 October 1907: 3.

Saint Paul shipwrecked in the Noel Shaw Gallery

One of the more creative themes in the current exhibition in the Noel Shaw Gallery Plotting the island: dreams, discovery and disaster, relates to St Paul on Malta. When the exhibition was under development, I was interested to include objects which represented both the classical and biblical inspirations for the voyages of exploration which launched through the 15th to 18th centuries.

The Prophet Paul’s story features a shipwreck that occurred in the Mediterranean. Shipwrecks are one of the dramatic subjects in the exhibition, and St Paul is well-represented in the Print Collection, thus the availability of visual documents was one of the several reasons to include it. A snippet of information I read in passing, suggested that the earliest recorded shipwreck is found in the Old Testament. The validity of this idea and its correlating obscure wreck was superseded in the exhibition by the intriguing narrative in the New Testament account by Luke in the Book of Acts.

Approximately 2000 years ago, Paul was being transported as a prisoner to Rome aboard a grain freighter, when the ship was engulfed in a spectacular and violent storm which caused it to run aground and wreck on Malta.

The group of 276 sodden and wretched shipwreck survivors are poignantly depicted with almost individual detail in Jan Luyken’s etching, where they are being helped by islanders to build a fire. This image proved to be the main, and a very powerful visual experience of shipwreck for the exhibition, particularly in lieu of an image for the extraordinary Dutch shipwreck Batavia which is instead expressed through a contemporary handwritten music score from the Rare Music Collection. [1] The etching is seen through a Dutch lens as it was published in a Dutch Bible in 1729 (Historie des Nieuwen Testaments).

After emerging from the sea, Paul gathers firewood, which contains a poisonous viper that, when driven out by the heat, latches onto his hand.  Paul’s unaffectedness to the deadly bite was one of the miracles that led to his apostleship. The scene is dramatically depicted in St Paul (1790). This print is after the original painting by Benjamin West, commissioned by the directors of Greenwich Hospital and is now part of the National Maritime Museum in London.

The biblical describes four anchors that were cast into the sea during the storm. It is hard to imagine how objects designed to be thrown overboard could have survived through time, yet ancient anchors have been found by archaeologists. I am frequently inspired by the objects which may be unearthed from the University’s collections, and am somewhat awed to be able to include an anchor, similar in origin, age and usage to that described in the Bible, in Plotting the island.

Although it has been described as a ‘Maltese anchor’ the anchor is instead Roman in origin and was excavated from a Roman wreck at Xlendi, a bay found on the island Gozo, off Malta. [2.] The anchor provides insight into Roman-occupied Malta and its maritime activity. The anchor is made of lead and very heavy – as the exhibition team was to discover. It is too heavy for one person to lift and required extra help to transport it from the Ian Potter Museum of Art where it resides. [3.] All up, six people were involved to place it on its specially made support and into the showcase during the exhibition installation.

The island Gozo is also the legendary home of the sorceress Calypso (Circe) in Homer’s Odyssey, which is also touched upon in the exhibition. These landmasses may be located in Jacob Sandrart’s map, Nova totius Graeciae, Italiae, Natoliae, Hungariae nec non Danubii fluminis … (New map of the whole of Greece, Italy, Anatolia, Hungary and the Danube River …) (c.1660).

The trials of shipwreck are a fascinating aspect of the exhibition, but just as beguiling is being drawn into mysterious bays and inlets, like those found on Malta, to discover cultural treasures.

Kerrianne Stone (Curator, Prints)


[1.] Batavia [music] by Richard Mills; libretto, Peter Goldsworthy
[2.] Claudia Sagona, The archaeology of Malta: from the Neolithic through the Roman period, New York, NY Cambridge University Press, 2015, p. 283
[3.] The Huber Collection of Maltese Antiquities

Assembly, dismemberment, digital reassembly: the fascinating 600 year life story of a medieval book of hours

Fresh contributions to the understanding of objects in the Rare Books Collection are always welcome, especially ones which offer tantalizing new insights and interpretations.  Karen Winslow, a recent Masters graduate from Trinity College, Dublin, shares with us the fascinating story of four important bi-folios from a disassembled book of hours, which were acquired for the Baillieu Library’s Collection in 1974.  Originally manufactured in Paris in 1407-08 during the coldest winter of the 15th century (which saw the Seine freeze and the city’s three main bridges swept away), the manuscript was broken up for sale in the 20th century and its individual pages dispersed to public and private collections around the world.  In the 21st century technology is enabling the digital reassembly of the book, stimulating new discoveries and affording an enriched understanding of its ‘biography’ over time…

The Baillieu Library at the University of Melbourne holds four bi-folios that were part of a book of hours dated with confidence to 1408 and owned by Sir Alfred Chester Beatty (1875-1968), an American mining magnate. Prior to Beatty’s ownership, the book was in the collection of John Boykett Jarman (died 1864), a London goldsmith and jeweller. The book suffered considerable water damage while it was in the care of Jarman. Libby Melzer, Senior Paper Conservator at the Centre for Cultural Materials Conservation at the University of Melbourne, provided an excellent account of the damage and how it happened in her article ‘Flood, Fire and Water: Fragmentary Manuscripts in the Medieval Imagination Exhibition‘ published in 2008 to coincide with an exhibition at the State Library of Victoria. While the book of hours was in Beatty’s care, he elected to remove some of the miniatures that were in better condition. After Beatty’s death, Alan Thomas purchased the remains of the book and sold the leaves piecemeal. The Melbourne folios were purchased from Thomas in 1974.

Recently, efforts have been made to digitally reassemble the book. As of March 2017, images of fifty of the original 187 leaves, including twenty-five of the original twenty-eight miniatures, have been identified. Twenty-six leaves are housed in various institutions around the world, with the Baillieu Library holding the largest known collection. Reassembly has revealed interesting insights into three of the folios housed in the Baillieu Library:


Figures.  Folio 1 recto, the Annunciation miniature compared to folio 48 verso, the Presentation in the Temple miniature 

Folio 1 recto – the Annunciation miniature. The stylistic treatment of the border, the u-shaped staff and major initial in this folio are different from the other folios in the book, raising questions about whether a different artist contributed to folio 1 and perhaps this leaf was originally intended for another book of hours.  All of the leaves have a border of cusped red, blue and gold ivy leaves sprouting in all directions. In addition, most of the borders are also interspersed with spiked berries and shapes resembling little flying comets with squiggly lines. However, folio 1 also contains small blue and mauve petalled flowers and the vines of the ivy leaves seem drawn in a more controlled or flattened manner versus life-like. Leaves with miniatures are surrounded by thick u-shaped foliate staffs (also known as baguettes) framing both the miniature and the text. However, in the case of folio 1, the major decorated initial is anchored at the top and the bottom of the left staff and a gap in the staff exists where the initial resides. This gap in the staff does not occur in the other leaves.


Figures.  Folio 1 recto, major initial detail compared to folio 48 verso, major initial detail.

The mise-en-page of this leaf is more consistent with MS 265 at the Walters Art Museum in Baltimore. Perhaps both books were in production at the same time in the same workshop and folio 1 was bound into the wrong book. Interestingly, Walters MS 265 does not contain a miniature of the Annunciation.


Figures.  Folio 179 recto, the John on Patmos miniature compared to Walters MS 265,  fol. 105 recto, the John on Patmos miniature

Folio 179  recto – the John on Patmos miniature. John is shown on the Isle of Patmos where he was exiled by the Roman emperor Domitian. The eagle, John’s symbol, is trying to get his attention as he writes on a scroll resting on his knee. John is seated between two umbrella-shaped trees. The compositional convention of this miniature with the figure close to the edge of the frame and an attempt to portray a true landscape is very similar to the John on Patmos miniature included in Walters MS 265. Both miniatures employ a horizon that darkens to a deep blue in an upward direction and a pale green terrain that darkens as it approaches the horizon. In addition, the treatment of John’s bright pink drapery is the same in both miniatures with wave-like folds at the bottom hem. The similarities between the miniatures suggest the same workshop created both leaves. If the same workshop was working on Walters MS 265 and Beatty’s book of hours, this further supports the notion that the wrong Annunciation leaf was tipped into the Beatty book of hours.

Figure.  Folio 186 verso. 

Folio 186 Verso.  Beatty’s book of hours is dated in the colophon on folio 158 verso that is now housed in the Chester Beatty Library (Factum est anno mº ccccº viiiº quo ceciderunt pontes parisiis).  Recently, it was discovered the same date is hand-written on folio 186 versus (anno mº ccccº viiiº) of the Baillieu Library fragment. The leaf is covered in glue residue and may have served as a pastedown for the back cover.  This is an important discovery since no other leaves show signs of use such as thumbprints, added texts, glosses or notes.

Scholarship on this book of hours has waned since it was unstitched and the leaves were dispersed across the globe. However, digital reassembly allows scholarly research to continue and new discoveries involving the individual leaves housed in various institutions to be made.

Karen Winslow,  MPhil graduate 2016, Trinity College Dublin

References and further reading:

Primary sources

Baltimore, Walters Art Museum, Walters MS 265

Dublin, Chester Beatty Library, WMS 103

Melbourne, Baillieu Library, University of Melbourne, UniM Bail SpC/RB61AA/3

Oxford, Bodleian Library, MS Douce 144

Secondary sources

Backhouse, Janet. ‘A Victorian Connoisseur and His Manuscripts: The Tale of Mr. Jarman and Mr. Wing’, The British Museum Quarterly, 32 (3/4), (1968): 76-92.

Byrne, Donal. ‘Manuscript Ruling and Pictorial Design in the Work of the Limbourgs, the Bedford Master, and the Boucicaut Master’, The Art Bulletin, 66 (1), (1984): 118-36.

Farber, Allen S. ‘Considering a Marginal Master: The Work of an Early fifteenth-Century, Parisian Manuscript Decorator’, Gesta, 32 (1), (1993): 21-39.

Manion, Margaret M. and Vines, Vera F. Medieval and Renaissance Illuminated Manuscripts in Australian Collections, Foreword by K.V. Sinclair. (Melbourne ; London and New York: Thames and Hudson, 1984) 240.

Melzer, Libby. ‘Flood, Fire and War: Fragmentary Manuscripts in The Medieval Imagination Exhibition’, The LaTrobe Journal, No 81 Autumn, (2008): 70-81.

Middleton, John Henry. Illuminated Manuscripts in Classical and Mediaeval Times; Their Art and Their Technique (Cambridge,: University Press, 1892) 270.

Thomas, Alan G. Catalogue Twenty-Three, Alan G. Thomas, Bookseller, (London: Alan G. Thomas, Bookseller).

Winslow, Karen D.  The Life, Death and Rebirth of a Book of Hours once owned by Chester Beatty.  MPhil in Art History, Art + Ireland thesis, 2 volumes. Trinity College, Dublin (2016).

A young Chester Beatty

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