A native camp in Cockle Bay, New South Wales, with a View of Parramatta River. Taken from Dawes's Point…. Absalom WEST, engraved after John EYRE, publisher.

A native camp in Cockle Bay, New South Wales, with a View of Parramatta River. Taken from Dawes's Point….
A native camp in Cockle Bay, New South Wales, with a View of Parramatta River. Taken from Dawes's Point…

Sydney: A. West, November 30 1812.

Engraving, paper size approx. 310mm. x 405mm; printed lower centre below image in black ink, 'A NATIVE CAMP near COCKLE BAY, New South Wales, with a View of PARRAMATTA RIVER./ Taken from Dawes's Point./ Dedicated to his Excellency Lachlan Macquarie Esq.r: Governor of New South Wales. &c.&c.&c./ Published Nov.r 30th 1812. by A. West Sydney'; printed lower left below image in black ink, 'Drawn by J.Eyre'; printed lower right below image in black ink, 'Engraved by P.Slaeger'; printed upper left above image in black ink, 'No. 8'; mounted.

One of the first views to be engraved and printed in Australia

This fine and exceedingly rare engraved view of Cockle Bay – present day Darling Harbour – is based on an original painting by one of the colony's first artists, John Eyre, and was published by Absalom West in Sydney as part of the most fascinating and enigmatic publishing project of the Macquarie period. Dedicated to Macquarie, West's impressive and creative work, the series of Views that he commissioned, was the first artistic publication in New South Wales and would have a long lasting influence on colonial art.

This fine and exceedingly rare engraved view of Cockle Bay – present day Darling Harbour – is based on an original painting by one of the colony's first artists, John Eyre, and was published by Absalom West in Sydney as part of the most fascinating and enigmatic publishing project of the Macquarie period. Dedicated to Macquarie, West's impressive and creative work, the series of Views that he commissioned, was the first artistic publication in New South Wales and would have a long lasting influence on colonial art.

West was a successful emancipist businessman and very well-connected, associating with everyone from William Bligh to John Lewin, and particularly friendly with the artists John Eyre and Richard Browne. He clearly had great vision as a promoter and organiser, able to imagine a vast project which relied equally on the artistic skills of some of his close friends and on the technical ability of the two newly-arrived convict artisans who prepared all of the engraved plates in his series of Views, Walter Preston and Philip Slaeger.

Although West's Views are much studied, and despite their acknowledged significance in terms of the development of artistic publishing in the colony, they remain something of a mystery. Indeed, on paper, it is difficult to think of a more unlikely project: West, who had only been given his ticket-of leave in 1810 after a 14-year stint as a convict brewer, suddenly announces, without notice or much fanfare, that he will be publishing a series of large-format views of New South Wales, to be sold at his pub at the end of the road to Dawes Point, the "Blue Lion Inn".

Whatever the genesis of the project, West revolutionized the visual history of the colony. In terms of separately issued landscape views, the main precursors to his work were the distant publications of William Standen Blake (1802) and Francis Jukes (1804). It is important to note that unlike West's remarkable achievements from the earliest days of a nascent publishing culture in New South Wales, the work of Jukes and Blake were engraved and published in the ultra-sophisticated environment of London.

The importance of the Absalom West engravings is the singular fact that these exceptionally rare views are the first to be produced in colonial Australia. In Sydney, West and his confrères had none of the advantages of working in London: to the contrary, one of the few contemporary notices of the project stressed that their press had been constructed by a workman "who had never before seen such a machine" (quoted in Roger Butler, Printed Images in Colonial Australia, p. 26). Furthermore, no English project of the era had anywhere near the audacious scale of A Native Camp near Cockle Bay, New South Wales, with a View of Parramatta River. This engraving was number 8 in West's series, dated 30 November 1812, and it is one of the important West views to be very much directed towards the Aboriginal inhabitants of the environs of Sydney.

The artist responsible for most of the original drawings from which West's views were engraved was John Eyre. Convicted of housebreaking, he had been sentenced to transportation for seven years, arriving in Sydney in 1801 on the Canada; by 1804 he had been granted a conditional pardon. In July of that year he placed an advertisement in the Sydney Gazette that he wished to buy a box of watercolours; in 1810 he was an established though struggling artist. His best-known work, apart from the engraved West views, is the series of illustrations that he sent to London which were engraved for The Present Picture of New South Wales by D.D. Mann (London, 1811). In August 1812 Eyre advertised again in the Gazette, this time announcing his intention of leaving the colony for Europe "at the Earliest opportunity"; no record of this accomplished artist exists after this time. The other important figure in Absalom West's ambitious project was the skilled engraver Walter Preston. Also a convict, Preston became an assigned servant to West.

The centrepiece of the Parramatta scene is the warrior in the foreground with spear and shield, and it would seem that the scene is depicting some sort of ritual combat. In the Bay there are two small Aboriginal canoes, and a small boat with two Europeans on board, while the background is dominated by the jagged outline of the Great Dividing Range. There are few signs of European occupation beyond a curious little hut on the beach in the background at the head of Cockle Bay, as well as a long paling fence and the roofs of two more substantial houses.

Any one of the rare engravings published by Absalom West has great importance for the iconography of the landscape art of early Sydney; this one of present day Darling Harbour, in good original condition with wide margins and the title caption intact, resonates with historical detail.

Provenance: Private collection of Mr Owen Esmond Friend, exhibited at the Royal Australian Historical Society, 1943 (no. 36); thence by descent.

Ferguson 570a; Butler, Printed, p.37.

Condition Report: In good original condition; laid down on Japanese tissue.

Price (AUD): $48,000.00

US$34,201.59   Other currencies

Ref: #4504652

Condition Report