Edward Charles Close Sketchbook on Sothebys

A sketchbook of Edward Charles Close, founding father of the township of Morpeth, is up for auction on Sothebys. According to the Sothebys website it consists of 30 folios (three cut out), containing 26 watercolours, two monochrome wash drawings and six pencil sketches or rough notations, together with a separate ink drawing by another hand and two handwritten sheets, of Whatman wove paper (watermarked with the date 1816), bound in morocco. The Sketchbook is expecting to fetch between $400,000 – $600,000 AUD.

Signal Hill and Nobbys from the Close Sketchbook
Signal Hill and Nobbys from the Close Sketchbook

The Sketchbook is believed to have been executed between 1816 to 1840. The illustration above of Signal Hill (now the site of Fort Scratchley) and Nobbys shows no evidence of the construction of the Macquarie Pier.  There is also a scene of Morpeth contained within the book.

It would be fantastic if such a work could be purchased by a consortium of Newcastle and Hunter Regional organisations and businesses. To be realistic we have to hope that the Mitchell Library will purchase it so that the greater public will have access to this treasure.

Here is more detail from the Sotheby‘s site:


Private collection, United Kingdom; by descent through the family of the artist.

James Broadbent and Joy Hughes (eds.), The age of Macquarie, Melbourne: Melbourne University Press / Historic Houses Trust of New South Wales, 1992, pp. 113, 148-149 (illus. pp. 33, 90, 150)

Cedric Flower, Clothes in Australia: a pictorial history 1788-1980s, Kenthurst: Kangaroo Press, 1984, cover (illus.), p. 49 (illus.)

Caroline Jordan, Picturesque pursuits: colonial women artists and the amateur tradition, Melbourne: Melbourne University Press, 2005, pp. 53-60, 85 (illus. p. 56, plates XII, XIV)

Joan Kerr & Hugh Falkus, From Sydney Cove to Duntroon: a family album of early life in Australia, London: Victor Gollancz Ltd, 1982 pp. 12, 24-49 (illus. pp. 8-9, 27, 28-29, 32, 34-35, 36-37, 39, 40, 41, 45, 47, 48)

Joan Kerr (ed.) The dictionary of Australian artists: painters, sketchers, photographers and engravers to 1870, Melbourne: Oxford University Press, 1992, pp. 132-133 (illus. p. 132)

Joan Kerr (ed.), Heritage: the national women’s art book, Sydney: G+B Arts International, 1995, pp. 34 (illus.), 324-325.

Edward Close (attrib. Sophia Campbell), Sketchbook circa 1817-1840, 22.8 x 28.9 cm (each sheet), National Library of Australia, Canberra (PIC R7249-7276 LOC 8631)

Edward Close, Album circa 1805-1840, 23 x 33 cm (or less, each drawing), Mitchell Library, State Library of New South Wales (PXE 868)

Edward Close, Panorama of Newcastle 1821, watercolour, 41.5 x 364 cm, Mitchell Library, State Library of New South Wales (PXD 576)

(The following descriptions are in order of appearance. Except where specifically described otherwise, all works are watercolours, and are drawn on single sheets. A fully-detailed, folio-by-folio listing can be found on the Sotheby’s website.)

– (inside front cover) Rough sketch map of the southern side of Sydney Harbour. Inscribed: Bondi Bay (lower right) and with the letter C on the west side of Double Bay. Bears supplier’s label inscribed: R. ACKERMANN’S / REPOSITORY OF ARTS / 101, Strand, London. (top left). Pencil

– Panoramic view of Rio de Janeiro from the sea, with the Sugarloaf and Corcovado mountains and the Point São João, a boat with officers in the foreground. Double-page spread

– Panoramic view of Madeira from the sea, with a fishing vessel in the foreground and a sailing ship in the distance. Inscribed Madeira taken on board the Mattilda [sic]. – (upper right). Double-page spread

– Two coastal profiles of the Curtis Group (Curtis Is., Cone Islet and Sugarloaf Rock), Bass Strait. Inscribed Ba∫se’s Straits (upper centre); Appearance of Sir Roger Curtis’ Isle & peaks as pa∫sed at 10 am by Mitilda [sic]. (upper centre); Sir Roger Curtis’ Group bearing N.N.E. (lower centre)

– Two coastal profiles: Porto Santo Island, Atlantic Ocean, and the Kent Group (Deal, Erith and Dover Islands), Bass Strait. Inscribed Porto Santo bearing S ½ W. to S.E. (upper left); Kent’s Group & Judgement rock Ba∫se’s Straits. E.N.E. (centre left)

– Two coastal profiles of Île St Paul, Atlantic Ocean. Inscribed St Pauls (upper left); NE by E. (upper left); E. by N. (upper right); St Pauls (centre left); Bearing N.W. (centre)

– Paddle steamer, river’s edge and buildings – preliminary sketch for detail of finished watercolour ‘Morpeth, from above the new Steam Co.’s wharf’, in National Library of Australia sketchbook, Pencil

– Catalan Bay, Gibraltar, with houses and fishermen in the foreground. Inscribed Cataline [sic] Bay / Gibraltar (upper right)

– The Katra Mosque, Murshidabad, Bengal (after an engraving in William Hodges’s Select views in India, 1788, vol. 2 plate 17). Inscribed View of the Cuttera, built by / Jaffier Cawn at Muxadabad. / East. Indies. (upper right)

– Panorama of Hyde Park Barracks and Sydney Hospital, from the Domain – sketch for finished watercolour in related sketchbook, National Library of Australia. Pencil. Double page spread

Sydney in all its glory. Inscribed with title (upper right). Double-page spread

– Storm above Red Point and the Five Islands, Illawarra, with Aborigines in the foreground. Inscribed Five Islands (upper right)

– Lake landscape with settler’s hut and Aborigines. Inscribed Tom Thumb’s Lagoon (upper right)

– Lake and mountain landscape with Aborigines in a canoe in the foreground. Inscribed Tom Thumbs Lagoon (upper right)

– Coastal landscape with settler’s hut, Illawarra. Inscribed Five Islands (upper right)

– Settler’s huts and fenced enclosure, with a family of Aborigines, Illawarra. Inscribed Illawarrha [sic] (upper right). Ink and brown wash

– View of Newcastle. Ink and brown wash

– Studies of a hat and two figures – preliminary sketches for ‘The costume of the Australasians’. Pencil

The costume of the Australasians. Inscribed with title (lower left)

– Sketch: huts, cart, tree, figure. Pencil

Sydney Church and Regimental Mile from the Main Guard. Inscribed with title (lower left)

– Morpeth, from above the new Steam Co.’s wharf – sketch for finished watercolour in National Library sketchbook. Pencil

– Panoramic view of Barrack Square, Sydney. Inscribed old Barrack Square (upper right). Unfinished – closely related to (though not a direct study for) finished watercolour in National Library sketchbook. Pencil, ink and coloured wash

– Two portrait studies: John Jacques, Keeper of the Sydney Gaol; and Michael Massey Robinson, Chief Clerk to the Colonial Secretary. Inscribed Jaques (upper left, vertical); Michl [sic] Robinson (upper right); bears inscription The Poet Laureat [sic] (upper right)

– Courtroom scene, Sydney: the ‘Philo Free’ civil libel trial, 1 December 1817. Inscribed G. Allen (upper right, vertical); G. Crosley (upper right, vertical)

– Forest landscape with kangaroo and waratah

– Forest landscape with man chopping wood

– Stream running through ravine

– Landscape with crops, fence, stream and distant mountains

– Landscape with cleared paddocks and homestead under mountains

– (separate sheet) Artist unknown (probably Francis Allman, 1780-1860), My house as Police Magistrate, Goulburn, 1834. Inscribed with title (upper right); inscribed View from the / Church Yard (lower centre)

– (separate sheets) Notes by a daughter of Sophia Campbell (Sophia Ives or Sarah) containing a list of witnesses and a transcription of the beginning of William Bligh’s opening speech, from the court-martial of Major George Johnston, 7th May 1811

This sketchbook is one of the most beautiful, charming and significant artefacts of early Australian colonial culture to come onto the art market in recent years. Its early date and direct, family provenance are unquestionable, and its component watercolours constitute a notable part of the rich visual culture of the Macquarie era (1809-1821).

The sketchbook and its companion volume in the National Library of Australia1 have long been attributed (on the basis of family tradition) to Sophia Campbell (1777-1833), née Palmer, sister of Commissary John Palmer (1760-1833) and later wife of the colonial merchant and pioneer pastoralist Robert Campbell (1769-1846). It is here confidently re-ascribed to Edward Close (1790-1866), soldier, engineer, magistrate, Legislative Councillor, Morpeth settler and ‘Father of the Hunter’.

In this period there are relatively few readily identifiable and clearly documented artists working in New South Wales: the convict forger Joseph Lycett; the professional natural history painter John Lewin; the explorer and surveyor G.W. Evans and the military officers Edward Close, James Taylor and James Wallis. However, the often obscure origins of early works on paper, their common topographical subject matter and Picturesque style and the dearth of unequivocal signatures and other inscriptions means that the edges between these artists’ respective oeuvres are somewhat blurred.

Moreover, in early settler Australia the contemporary habit of copying other artists’ work was exacerbated by the need for multiple, accurate copies of singular, remarkable colonial scenes and subjects in order to satisfy the demands of patrons, printers and the public both within the colony and at home in England. Transcription was a common colonial practice: Lewin is known to have copied from the Van Diemen’s Land surveyor George Prideaux Harris; Taylor copied Evans; while Lycett copied Wallis, Evans and (possibly) Taylor. Indeed, the longstanding confusion between the works of Wallis and those of Lycett was only resolved in 2006, with the exhibition and publication Joseph Lycett: convict artist, while as recently as 2005 Close’s panorama of Newcastle was still being attributed to Sophia Campbell.2

Finally, as Caroline Jordan has observed, in the small, even intimate world of antipodean polite culture, the loan of cultural materials was part of an informal but important non-financial economy of gift and exchange, and 19th century sketchbooks and scrapbooks often contain work by multiple hands, executed over a lengthy period.3

In the case of the present work, the provenance (although clear and uninterrupted) does not assist with attribution, as there are very close familial links between the two main candidates for authorship: not only did Edward Close marry Sophia Campbell’s niece (Sophia Susannah Palmer), but in turn his daughter (Marrianne Collinson Close) married one of Sophia’s younger sons, George. The dynastic connection between the two families is further evidenced in the fact that Close gave two of his boys the middle names Palmer and Campbell.

There are, however, a number of good reasons for identifying the book as by Close. First, it should be noted that it is a ready-made sketchbook from the London art materials and fancy goods supplier Rudolf Ackermann, incorporating paper watermarked 1816. Sophia left New South Wales with her husband in 1810, and returned to the colony five years later, arriving in Sydney in March 1815, before the sketchbook was made. Then there are the eight watercolours at the start of the book which describe the voyage to Australia. These island views and coastal profiles match precisely the recorded route of the barque ‘Matilda’, the vessel which brought Close’s regiment (the 48th North Hamptonshire Regiment of Foot) to the colony in 1817; two are inscribed as having been taken from on board the ‘Matilda’.

The seemingly random insertions of views of India and Gibraltar also resonate with Close’s life story. Son of an East India Company trader, he was himself born in Rangamati, Bengal, and he served in the Peninsular War in 1808-1814, being stationed at Gibraltar from September 1808 to May 1809. In New South Wales, following colonial service as engineer at Newcastle, Close resigned his commission and was granted land on the Hunter River. A corner of his river front property ‘Illaulang’ became the township of Morpeth, and Close funded the construction of St James’s Church of England, which was dedicated on 31 December 1840. The town and its church feature in a pencil sketch in the present work and a watercolour in the National Library sketchbook. Sophia Campbell died in 1833, well before the church was built.

Finally, the apparent stylistic inconsistencies, even anomalies between the various component drawings in the twin sketchbooks can be explained by reference to Close’s amateur status. As a military officer he would have had some training in topographical rendering, and the coastal and landscape watercolours are the most detailed, polished and spatially convincing of the drawings in the book. Lacking academic training, he is naturally rather less comfortable with anatomy, which explains the naïvete of his figure compositions. A similar wide variety of subject, theme and finish is also to be found in a third collection, a scrapbook in the Mitchell Library which bears the dedication (in a hand very close, if not identical, to that found in sketchbook inscriptions): ‘The Paintings and sketches of / Edward Charles Close Esqre H.M. 48th Reg.t / His gift to his only daughter Marrianne Collinson Close / Morpeth February 17th 1844.’4

This reattribution represents a substantial shift in the canon of early colonial art. The twin sketchbooks were first published by Joan Kerr in 1975, and Sophia Campbell entered and settled in the art-historical literature as a spirited pioneer and exemplar of that important category of colonial artist, the amateur female sketcher. After more than 30 years, Prof. Kerr’s attribution can be shown to be more optimistic than precise. Not without some regret, the lady vanishes. However, as works by Edward Close, both the present work and the National Library sketchbook can now be matched to his signed Newcastle panorama and Mitchell Library scrapbook, and thus reveal him fully as a complex and intriguing artistic and social personality, and one of the most accomplished of the Lycett-Taylor-Wallis circle of early colonial artists.5

In any event, the remarkable contents and vigorous style of the sketchbook (and its National Library companion) proclaim the artist’s undoubted importance in the history of Australian art. They are eyewitness records of remarkable acuity and wit, and the sketchbook provides a unique and invaluable record of colonial life in the age of Governor Macquarie.

To begin with, it traces the common immigrant’s journey to Australia by way of the ‘Great Circle’. In the initial sequence of watercolours, Close describes his passage from Ireland to Madeira and St Paul’s, across the Atlantic to Rio de Janeiro, then south and east past Porto Santo and through Bass Strait before the final arrival at what an inscription calls (perhaps in some relief after the long voyage) ‘Sydney in all its glory.’

The sketchbook then shows us the layout, architecture and ongoing development of the infant colonial capital in several detailed townscape views: of the convict barracks and the Rum Hospital, the original St Phillip’s Church, and the old Barrack Square. It also documents several tours to more remote settlements: there are a number of views of the newly-occupied Illawarra coast south of Sydney, including Five Islands and Tom Thumb’s Lagoon; and there is one drawing from the north, a study of Close’s military-engineering assignment, the convict station at Newcastle. (Close’s 1821 Newcastle panorama is recognised as a masterpiece of its kind, while an extended group of Novocastrian subjects is the key feature of the National Library sketchbook.)

Finally and spectacularly, the present sketchbook contains two of the most important, well-known and widely-discussed of early 19th century colonial watercolours. The first is that inscribed ‘The Costume of the Australasians.’ In addition to its considerable value as a primary source for the history of clothing in Australia, this drawing is particularly distinctive in its social inclusiveness and its tone of amiable satire. Images of convicts are extremely rare in early colonial art, and this picture of the prisoners’ apparent easy co-existence with free settlers and with their military gaolers is truly remarkable. Here we see a total of ten figures, from the Governor’s aide-de-camp Lt John Watts to an officer, soldier and bandsman of the 73rd Regiment (McLeod’s Highlanders); from wealthy colonial ‘nabobs’ to convicts on government service, all happily going about their business in a bustling, crowded Sydney street.

The other is a courtroom scene, which Joan Kerr perceptively identified as the ‘Philo Free’ trial held in Sydney in 1817, the first libel case heard in the colony.6 In this matter, Rev. Samuel Marsden accused Colonial Secretary John Campbell (no relation to Sophia) of libelling him through a letter published in the Sydney Gazette which suggested that under the aegis of the Missionary Society, the ‘Christian Mahomet’ had operated as a gun-runner and moonshiner in the Pacific islands. This unique visual document of early colonial politics and jurisprudence includes gentle caricatures of several notable figures, amongst them a portly, grumpy Marsden at the right, the defendant Campbell on the left and possibly Judge-Advocate John Wylde behind him, as well as the lawyers Frederick Garling, William Moore, George Allen and George Crossley.

The Edward Close sketchbook is a precious, informative and delightful relic of colonial culture, and has remained in the hands of the artist’s direct descendants for almost 200 years. Sotheby’s is delighted to be able to present this unique object for public sale and ongoing research and discussion.

We are most grateful to Louise Arnmatt, Mary Eagle, Elizabeth Ellis, John McPhee, Heather Mansell, Richard Neville and Michael Rosenthal for their assistance in cataloguing this work.

1. Both sketchbooks are of the same dimensions, and several subjects (the panorama of Hyde Park convict barracks and the Sydney hospital, the Sydney military barracks and the Morpeth river front) are very closely repeated across both books.

2. John McPhee, Joseph Lycett: convict artist, Sydney: Historic Houses Trust of New South Wales, 2006. The Newcastle panorama was originally ascribed to Campbell in the exhibition The work of art: Australian women writers and artists (Mitchell Library, State Library of New South Wales, August 1995-February 1996), and this attribution is maintained in Caroline Jordan, Picturesque pursuits: colonial women artists and the amateur tradition, Melbourne: Melbourne University Press, 2005, pp. 57-59.

3. ibid., passim.

4. This collection includes several subjects clearly comparable to those in the present work, notably a number of views in Spain, several Illawarra landscapes and even a caricature of the New South Wales Corps surgeon and settler Dr John Harris, which parallels the figures and faces in the present sketchbook’s costume and courtroom subjects.

5. It is hoped that the new attribution will be firmly and finally confirmed and explored through continuing documentary research and through the close comparison of pictorial and handwriting manners, both within the sketchbook and by reference to other contemporary watercolours and drawings.

6. In From Sydney Cove to Duntroon…, Prof. Kerr presents a suggested account of the circumstances of the picture’s making, and successfully identifies a number of its various actors (pp. 44-48). However, while she states that the work depicts the criminal libel trial held 21-23 October 1817, it is here proposed that the drawing was made on the occasion of the later (1 December) civil action. On the adjacent page are two small portraits: of John Jacques, Keeper of the Sydney Gaol, and of the Chief Clerk to the Colonial Secretary (and the colony’s ‘poet laureate’) Michael Massey Robinson. Robinson was not in fact involved in the earlier criminal case, but did appear as a witness in the civil trial.

Newcastle Herald 22 April 2009 p.5
Newcastle Herald 22 April 2009 p.5
Newcastle Herald 23 April 2009 p.5
Newcastle Herald 23 April 2009 p.5

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