Botany Bay Harbour, in New South Wales: with a View of the Heads. Absalom WEST, after John EYRE, Publisher.

Botany Bay Harbour, in New South Wales: with a View of the Heads.

Sydney: Absalom West, 30 November 1812.

Engraving; paper size approx. 310 mm. x 450 mm.; printed lower right below image in black ink, 'Engraved by W. Presston [sic]'; printed lower left below image in black ink, 'Drawn by J. Eyre'; printed lower centre below image in black ink, 'Published Novr 30th 1812 by A. West Sydney'; printed, lower centre below image in black ink, 'BOTANY BAY HARBOUR, In New South Wales with a View of the HEADS./ taken from cooks Point/ Dedicated to his Excellency Lachlan Macquarie, Esq. Governor of New South Wales. &c. &c. &c.'; printed upper left above image in black ink, 'No.1'; mounted.

The first separately published landscape engraving to be drawn and engraved in Australia

This beautiful and very rare early Sydney view is the first separately published engraving to have been both drawn and engraved entirely in the colony. It is number one in the remarkable series of Sydney Views published by Absalom West from 1812 and was created after an original drawing by the colonial artist John Eyre and dedicated to Lachlan Macquarie.

This beautiful and very rare early Sydney view is the first separately published engraving to have been both drawn and engraved entirely in the colony. It is number one in the remarkable series of Sydney Views published by Absalom West from 1812 and was created after an original drawing by the colonial artist John Eyre and dedicated to Lachlan Macquarie.

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 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.

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). The fact that West was successful is an indication that very few of the English-published prints made it to Australia. Furthermore, no English project of the era had anywhere near the audacious scale of the work by Absalom West and this view of Botany Bay, number 1 in West's series, dated 30 November 1812 no doubt set the standard.

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.

This exceptionally rare engraving is an idyllic image and shows the site of James Cook's first landing on the Endeavour. It was also the area that the British government planned to use for the first penal colony. Later the site of the settlement was changed to Sydney Cove but for a very long time the words "transportation to Botany Bay" were a metonym for transportation to any of the Australian penal settlements.

Botany Bay Harbour, in New South Wales with a View of Heads is without doubt one of the most important of the West engravings because it is clearly meant to set the tone for the entire project. While Botany Bay in 1812 was almost completely undeveloped, meaning that the scene has a real historical veracity, there is an inescapable sense that the view is almost meant to hark back to the earliest settlement and to the "Botany Bay" of popular imagination. West has a single ship standing out through the Heads and this visually underlines the remoteness of the colonial project. The foreground is dominated by two groups of Aboriginal figures with, just offshore, two small canoes. There is one notably curious aspect of the family group on the left of the scene, comprising a man, a woman with a small child on her shoulders and holding some fish and an older child standing just behind them.

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.

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Condition Report: A very good impression laid down on Japanese tissue.

Price (AUD): $55,000.00

US$41,318.46   Other currencies

Ref: #4504661

Condition Report