Beautifully illustrated letter to his friend and colleague William Egley, written on board HMS Fly on the point of departure for the Australian survey. Harden Sidney MELVILLE.
Beautifully illustrated letter to his friend and colleague William Egley, written on board HMS Fly on the point of departure for the Australian survey.
Beautifully illustrated letter to his friend and colleague William Egley, written on board HMS Fly on the point of departure for the Australian survey.

Illustrated letter to his friend William Egley written aboard HMS Fly…
Beautifully illustrated letter to his friend and colleague William Egley, written on board HMS Fly on the point of departure for the Australian survey.

Falmouth: 8 April 1842.

Four page letter on a single sheet folded to 230x190 mm, manuscript and drawings in ink, 1 1/2 pp. of letter text surrounded by pen-and-ink sketches, third page with a couple of small sketches, the fourth page an address panel with neatly torn wax seal and 1842 postal stamp.

"I am sketching away as I go, so I am afraid I shall not have room to say much…"

A beautiful letter written and drawn by the voyage artist Harden S. Melville at Falmouth, waiting for HMS Fly to weigh anchor for its voyage of discovery. Melville (1824-1894) joined the Fly in 1842, having been privately approached by the captain, Francis Price Blackwood, who invited him to become the ship's voyage artist. Melville spent the ensuing four years in Australia and New Guinea, making a particular study of the Great Barrier Reef and the Torres Strait. After his return to England he contributed the original drawings that were included in the only published account of the voyage, Joseph Beete Jukes's Narrative (1847), went on to effectively self-publish a particularly important and striking suite of additional lithographs from the voyage as Sketches in Australia (1849) and later published a charming memoir of his time on board, the Adventures of a Griffin (1867).

A beautiful letter written and drawn by the voyage artist Harden S. Melville at Falmouth, waiting for HMS Fly to weigh anchor for its voyage of discovery. Melville (1824-1894) joined the Fly in 1842, having been privately approached by the captain, Francis Price Blackwood, who invited him to become the ship's voyage artist. Melville spent the ensuing four years in Australia and New Guinea, making a particular study of the Great Barrier Reef and the Torres Strait. After his return to England he contributed the original drawings that were included in the only published account of the voyage, Joseph Beete Jukes's Narrative (1847), went on to effectively self-publish a particularly important and striking suite of additional lithographs from the voyage as Sketches in Australia (1849) and later published a charming memoir of his time on board, the Adventures of a Griffin (1867).

The two vessels sketched at the head of the letter would be the Fly and Bramble as they prepared to sail; Melville also includes two fine sketches of his new companions, including an evocative depiction of some of his mess-mates (lower half of the second page) and another of a shooting expedition ashore (third page). His comic touch is nicely displayed by the dateline of the letter, which features a sketch of a housefly rather than the name of the ship. One of the finest artists ever to sail in Australian waters, at the time of writing the present letter Melville had not quite turned 18, but the ease with which he sketches and brings to life his first impressions of life on board belies his age, and is a reminder that his fellow voyager, the scientist Jukes, thought him a caricaturist to rival Dickens's illustrator George Cruikshank (Jukes, Narrative, vol. I, p. 187).

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The letter is addressed to William Egley (1798-1870), the accomplished and largely self-taught miniaturist, a regular exhibitor at the Royal Academy. The connection is significant because Egley, like Melville himself, had his roots in book engraving and illustration, having served an apprenticeship at the famous children's book publisher William Darton (ODNB). The letter also mentions Egley's only son, William Maw Egley (1826-1916), who also worked as an artist and was an almost exact contemporary of Melville's: that the two young men were well known to each other is proven by the only other known letter from the Melville/Egley correspondence, sent from Plymouth a few days earlier, now in the National Art Library of the Victoria & Albert Museum.

Despite mention of the work he is doing and a brief mention of the "naturalist" (John Macgillivray) on board and his thoughts on Colonel Smith's remarks (presumably the scientist and military officer, Lt.-Col. Charles Hamilton Smith; precisely the sort of work that one would be studying before leaving for remote shores), Melville's whimsical missive is more a portfolio of sketches than a letter, and all the more important as a result. His significance to Australian art cannot be gainsaid, and yet very little of his original correspondence, notebooks or sketches survives, further underlining the importance of the present letter. A full transcript is available on request.

TRANSCRIPT

Dear Mr. Egley,

I enclose you a copy of Remarks by Colonel H. Smith & I hope you will excuse my writing it so large as I have not an opportunity of copying it again at present. I therefore don't delay it, perhaps it is more distinct as it is. I thought you would like them they may be usefull to William [by context, William Maw Egley], our naturalist on board [Macgillivray] considers them very good remarks.

You see I am sketching away as I go so I am afraid I shall not have room to say much. I shall be most happy to hear from you when abroad, letters will find me directed to Sidney [sic] as they are our head quarters. We expect a very enterprising trip & have a great deal of work to do. I often fancy my mess-mates & other officers abroad exploring they are quite prepared for it, pistols & guns & all kinds of sporting apparatus's and I think I shall have a multitude of subjects for my pencil. I must now shut up my menagerie [ie. finish the letter], wishing you good health & believe me Dear Mr. Egley, yours obliged & affectionately, HS Melville.

W. Egley Esqre.

40 London [sic] Street

Fitzroy Square

London

Price (AUD): $12,750.00  other currencies Ref: #4505099