Thirty-year-old John William Lewin arrived in Sydney, Australia, as a free man, and became the first professional artist to establish himself in the colony of New South Wales. He was an excellent illustrator who specialized in depicting Australia’s strange flora and fauna. As I studied his paintings and watercolors in the State Library of New South Wales, I learned that he was also Australia’s first printmaker. Thanks to the opportunity to see his renderings of emus, banksias, parrots, and koalas, I became aware of Australia’s John James Audubon for the first time.
The only emigrant on board the Minerva who was not a convict, Lewin traveled to the new colony alone, and the story of his journey fascinated me. John and his wife Maria boarded the Buffalo in England and settled in for the 8 month voyage. But Lewin realized that he had left something important behind in London and went to retrieve it. Before he could return, a promising wind sprang up and the ship set sail with Maria on board. She arrive in New South Wales 12 months before he did. That must have been some reunion.
The Lewins remained in Australia until John’s death 19 years later. Early on, he did pencil sketches and watercolors of koalas that were prized in England because live koalas could not be transported. Since this marsupial lives on only one type of eucalyptus leaf, they could not be fed for the long voyage and died in any early attempt.
Eleven years before Lewin arrived in Australia, Lieutenant William Bligh, Commanding Officer of the Bounty, drifted away from his ship with 18 loyal crew members who opposed the mutiny that stripped Bligh of his authority. I knew they ended up on Pitcairn Island, but I didn’t know until I visited the Museum of Sydney that Bligh arrived in Australia in 1806 to become the 4th Governor of New South Wales. By 1810 he was in trouble again. Because he was by nature confrontational and his administration troubled, he was removed from office and placed under house arrest in what became known as the Rum Rebellion. Four years later he was promoted to Vice Admiral of the Blue. Go figure.
Bligh probably knew Bungaree, who is pictured above. Bungaree, an Aboriginal, is often referred to as the most celebrated man in early Sydney. His portrait was painted at least 17 times. A skilled interpreter and negotiator, Bungaree was known for wearing discarded British uniforms and a breastplate that given to him. An excellent mimic, he could imitate every governor he had contact with. He died in 1830 of, I assume, natural causes. I learned about him in the National Library in Canberra.
For some unplanned reason, Ruth and I learned more about Australian art and history on this recent trip than we had before. If you’d like to know more about its colorful characters and artists, send comments.