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  • Title
    Macquarie Collector's Chest, ca. 1818
  • Call number
    XR 69
    MLMSS 8628
  • Level of description
  • Date

    ca. 1818
  • Type of material
  • Reference code
  • Issue Copy
    Digitised : XR 69
  • Physical Description
    Objects - 1 wooden chest made from red cedar and rose mahogany or Australian rosewood, with original Regency-style legs. - 56 x 71.3 x 46.5 cm. (closed)
    0.02 metres of textual material (1 folder)

    This is one of two early 19th century Australian Collector's Chests; the other was presented to the Library by Sir William Dixson (DG R4).

    The Macquarie chest (sometimes known as the Strathallan Chest) has a provenance which can be traced back to Newcastle, New South Wales and to Governor Lachlan Macquarie (Governor of New South Wales between 1810 and 1822).

    The Chest, like its companion, was constructed in Newcastle ca.1818 under the supervision of the settlement's commandant Captain James Wallis. Wallis appears to have presented it to Governor Macquarie, who returned with it to England in 1822. After Macquarie's death 1824, the Chest appears to have passed to his son, also called Lachlan.
    Governor Macquarie had appointed his friend James Drummond (d. 1851), who became 8th Viscount Strathallan in 1824, executor of his estates and guardian of his only son, Lachlan (b. 1814). The latter became a close friend of Drummond's eldest son, William, who inherited the title of 9th Viscount Strathallan on his father's death.

    Lachlan junior's debts and dissolute lifestyle led him to borrow heavily from William Drummond. Shortly before his death in May 1845, he altered his will leaving most of his land and possessions, including those inherited from his parents, to William. Thus the Macquarie estates and all their contents passed to the Drummond family, where they remained in the family home, Strathallan Castle.

    The Library organised a set of photographs recording the chest at Strathallan Castle in 1986, which are the only visual record of it in this location (Pic.Acc.6182). Thus, there is, very strong circumstantial evidence linking the Strathallan chest to the Macquarie family.
  • Scope and Content
    Macquarie Collector's Chest, ca. 1818
    XR 69
    The contents of the Macquarie chest, apart from the lower outside front drawer, appear to be more or less untouched and are arranged in their original order.

    In the top compartment are four glass topped boxes edged with gilded and cedar banding containing carefully arranged collections of New South Wales specimens of butterflies, beetles, insects and spiders presented in breathtaking decorative arrangements. Beneath the removable painted panels in the concealed side drawers are seaweed specimens and in the two trays of the centre compartment are forty stuffed birds of Australian species, including a tawny frogmouth, satin bowerbird, regent bowerbird, kingfishers, parrots and herons. One of the two smaller drawers in the front of the cabinet contains two glass topped boxes with smaller ornithological specimens such as wrens, robins, finches and pardalotes. Most of the birds retain their original handwritten tags numbered to refer to a list of contents which is no longer extant.

    The adjoining drawer contains two boxes of shells, one of larger species, the other smaller. These retain their original gilded dividers forming geometric star-like patterns.
    The last and most striking features of the chests are the painted panels which appear once the top lids are opened. All are painted in oils directly onto the wood, on both sides of the top compartment lid, and on the thin cedar veneer insert panels.

    There are 13 paintings in each chest. The panels measure 23.8 x 33.2 cm (inside inner lid) and 25.5 x 31.3 cm (inside top lid). The paintings can be divided into three groups according to their subjects: the first group consists of seven images of pairs of birds and one image of a pair of kangaroos; the second is the single image of an array of fish on the top lid; the third are four views after William Westall's engraved illustrations from Matthew Flinders published account (1814) of the voyage of HMS Investigator around the Australian coast (1801-3).

    The first group, depicts birds of the following species: crested spoonbills, pelicans, parrot and crested pigeon, black swans, duck, egrets, and grey cranes. All the species represented were (and are) found in the Lower Hunter River - Port Stephens region and further north.

    All the backgrounds of the first group are identifiable as locations in or around Newcastle, the Lower Hunter River and Lake Macquarie (then known as Reid's Mistake). Three of the panels include buildings of the Newcastle settlement, which can be dated quite exactly to about August 1818, when Governor Macquarie visited Newcastle to inspect the settlement.

    Christ Church and its tower are clearly evident in the spoonbill-egret panels as is the Signal Station and the gaol. The ducks and cranes have a background showing what is probably Mount Sugarloaf, which appears in the aquatint entitled 'The Sugar Loaf Newcastle' in Joseph Lycett's 'Views in Australia, or New South Wales, & Van Diemens Land delineated...' (London, 1824). Two views in this first group relate even more directly to published versions, which appeared as engravings in James Wallis's 'An Historical Account: Plate 8: Kangaroos, view from Seven Mile Hill near Newcastle; and Plate 7: Black Swans, view on Reids Mistake River, New South Wales'.

    Other works attributed to Lycett which may be considered in relation to the collector's chests paintings are the engravings of the town of Newcastle in both 'An Historical Account and in Views in Australia'; the large oil on canvas 'Inner view of Newcastle', c. 1818, once in the possession of James Wallis and now in the Newcastle Regional Art Gallery; 'Newcastle looking towards Prospect Hill', oil on timber panel, c. 1816-18, also in the Newcastle Gallery; and the oil on cedar panel, 'A Night Corroborree at Newcastle' in the Dixson Galleries collection. This work has the Church, Signal Station and Nobbys Island in the background, and relates to the engraving, plate 6 in 'An Historical Account'.

    The second group, the panels depicting fish which open to form the covers under the top lids of both chests are tantalisingly reminiscent of the large oil painting of fish of New South Wales by John William Lewin now in the Art Gallery of South Australia. There are no other known examples apart from these of such early colonial genre paintings. However the backgrounds to the fish panels once again point to Lycett in their similarities to images such as the aquatint 'View on the Wingecarribee' in his 'Views in Australia'. The species of fish were identified in 1986 by staff of the Australian Museum and all are found in New South Wales waters.

    The third group, the four views on panels in the two concealed side drawers found in both chests, do not relate to the topographical and natural history sequences of the other painted panels. They are after engravings from drawings by William Westall, which were published in Matthew Flinders 'A voyage to Terra Australis in the years 1801, 1802, and 1803, in His Majestys Ship the Investigator...' (London, 1814) and as a separate volume, 'Views of Australian Scenery', painted by W. Westall, engraved by Byrne (London, 1814). The four views represented in the chests are: 'Part of King George III Sound; View of the North side of Kangaroo Island; View of Malay Bay from Pobassos Island; View of Mount Bowen'.

    MLMSS 8628
    Correspondence, research articles and documentation accompanying the chest, 1989-1992

    Views of Australian scenery / painted by W. Westall, engraved by [J.] Byrne. London] : G. & W. Nicol, 1814. [9] leaves of plates : ill. ; 24.5 x 31.5 cm
  • Access Conditions

    Access via appointment - XR 69
  • General note

    In terms of the artist responsible for the panels in both chests - their style is sufficiently similar to indicate the same hand, or possibly hands - there is a strong Lycett/Wallis connection.

    The relationship between Lycett and Wallis, and both men with Macquarie, is well documented. Joseph Lycett (c.1775-1828) was convicted of forgery in 1811. He was described as a portrait and miniature painter from Staffordshire. He embarked for Sydney on the convict ship General Hewitt.
    On arrival in Sydney in February 1814, Lycett was granted a ticket-of-leave. However he was convicted of forging bank notes in May 1815 and sent to Newcastle to work in the coal mines. After Wallis took command of the Newcastle settlement, Lycett enjoyed less onerous duties, and according to evidence of the Bigge Report in 1820, assisted with the designs for the new Christ Church building (which appears in some of the collectors chest paintings).

    There has been discussion about the artist responsible for the original drawings for the engravings in Wallis's 'An Historical Account of the colony of New South Wales', published in London soon after Wallis' return from New South Wales and which have such a close relationship to the painted panels in the two chests. Wallis' name is given as the artist on the engravings, but a number resemble Lycett's style and technique.

    Both Wallis and Lycett received official recognition from Macquarie, according to their stations. Lycett left Sydney for return to England in September 1822 with a free pardon granted by Macquarie in November 1821.

    Reference: 'Rare and Curious - The Dixson Galleries and Strathallan Collector's Chests' / by Elizabeth Imashev, in the Australian Antique Collector, 41st edition, January - June 1991. See also PXn 673 Mitchell Library
    Reference: The Strathallan Cabinet catalogue / prepared by Anne McCormick for Ruth Simon. Sydney : Hordern House, 1991.
    Digital order no:Album ID : 823397
  • Creator/Author/Artist
  • Subject
  • Topic
  • Place
  • Exhibited in

    Exotica. The Macquarie Collector's Chest in the Picture Gallery - State Library of New South Wales (7 December, 2005 - 26 February, 2006)
    ONE hundred : celebrating the Mitchell Library centenary - State Library of New South Wales (March, 2010 - June, 2010)
    The Governor: Lachlan Macquarie, 1810 to 1821 - State Library of New South Wales (July, 2010 - October, 2010)
    Impact: a changing land - State Library of New South Wales
    Treasures of Newcastle from the Macquarie Era - Newcastle Region Art Gallery (February, 2013 - May, 2013)
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