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Colonial art in Australia            Settlement in the Illawarra

Colonial Art in the Illawarra, NSW

Andrea Hope

Please note that most artworks on this page are those painted by the artist in relation to the Illawarra 

Quick Overview

➢Most artists born overseas & often paintings reflected their own familiar        landscape colours

➢Many artists were either trained as draftsmen, were convicts, or amateurs

➢Drawings and watercolours (with a limited palette) were most popular          because of cost and portability

➢Mainly focused on the picturesque - landscapes and early settlement

➢Either a ‘Realist’ or ‘Romantic’ style - not contentious

➢Professional travelling artists began to visit Australia in the early 1800s,          and were often interested in making prints (lithographs and etchings) to        increase the possibility of sales - interest in creating editions of works


The Mechanics School of Art was opened in 1833 to promote culture and the National School of Art gave its first lecture there in 1843

➢The 1st exhibition of colonial art held at the Chamber of Commerce in 1872

➢The Academy of Art was founded in the 1870s - it was later to become AGNSW

The Art Society of NSW was formed in 1880

Settlement in the Illawarra

Settlement in the Illawarra

Although the Illawarra area had been discovered by the early explorers by ship, settlement in the Illawarra didn't begin until the early 1800s - the initial colonial expansion in NSW was to the poorer, but more accessible,  lands  close to the small settlement at Sydney Cove.

Wheat crops were grown around Sydney Town, and then at Ryde and Parramatta.

Subsequently the richer lands of the Hawkesbury and Nepean, and the rich pasture lands about Camden were discovered - leading to settlement along the edge of the Blue Mountains on the west, opening up the districts of Windsor, Richmond and Penrith; and in a south-westerly direction, opening up the districts of Liverpool, Campbelltown, Camden, etc.

Cattle were also introduced into these areas, but with their increasing numbers, and periods of drought,  feed became scarce, so locating fresh land for pasture was critical.

As a result, from about 1810, to at least 1858, many cattle were brought to Illawarra from the north by boat for grazing on the grassed lands surrounding Lake Illawarra, extending along the Coast from Red Point (Port Kembla) southerly to the Minnamurra River, and in a westerly direction along the Valley of the Macquarie Rivulet.

JH Carse, Bulli Pass, Wollongong.jpg

JH Carse, Bulli Pass, Wollongong, 

The Sydney Gazette of 18 March 1815, reported that:
“A considerable extent of fine grazing ground is described by late travellers to be about the Five Islands, to which, however, it would be thoroughly impracticable to convey cattle by land.”

Boat harbour, Gerringong.PNG

Gerringong Harbour

Conrad Martens, Boat Harbour Wollongong

Conrad Martens, Boat Harbour Wollongong, 1835

Landowner Charles Throsby of Bong Bong arrived in the district from the west, cutting a track from Appin and Bulli, with the assistance of two local Aborigines and his employee, Joseph Wild. He established the first cattle station at Wollongong in 1815.

In the same year, Wollongong harbour was first used for the shipping of cedar.

Cedar cutting had also become an important industry in the young Colony, and it was inevitable that the cedar cutters would find a way to reach the Illawarra to access of this valuable soft wood.

photo of cedar trees.PNG

In his book,  A History of Illawarra and Manaro, published in 1872,  Judge McFarland reported:

"Cedar was carried from the inner shores of Lake Illawarra, in small craft, during convenient periods to Sydney in 1810 - and bullock teams used to haul cedar logs and planks to the edges of the Lake”.


Mr David Smith, of Kiama, who first came to the Illawarra in 1821, was one of the early cedar cutters. He wrote


"there was scarcely a creek or stream, valley, ravine or gorge between Bulli and Broughton Creek, that was not dotted with cedar trees, many being of great size and beauty".


In particular, the country about Kiama seems to have been specially prolific in cedar timber, for Mr Smith mentioned that the site now occupied by the town of Kiama "had some noble cedars upon it".

So, pioneers of these two important industries were seeking access to the Illawarra at about  the same time - the cedar cutters for its wealth of Red Cedar and the cattlemen for its pasturage.  It is mainly through their combined efforts that the difficulties in reaching Illawarra across the northern mountain were ultimately overcome. 

Development was fairly rapid from the 1830s as convict labour was used to build roads and more settlers moved into the region, and crops such as wheat and corn were introduced.

Abraham Lincolne, Waugh-hope, Jamberoo,

Wollongong and Port Kembla were considered to be the ‘hub’ of the Illawarra and in June, 1829, a Gazette notice announced that the Five Islands, Kiama, Gerringong, Shoalhaven, Coolangatta, and Ulladulla were proclaimed post towns. 

Abraham Lincolne, 'Waugh-hope', Jamberoo, Illawarra, 1840-45

However, by the 1840’s most of the available cedar had been removed and with the large areas of land cleared by timber getting, unsuitable for any large-scale production of agricultural products the area began to give way to a growing dairy industry.

Coal was first discovered in the Illawarra in May 1797.  A group of shipwrecked sailors found coal and made a fire near Austinmer. They were making their way to Port Jackson on foot along the east coast after their ship had been driven ashore in the Bass Strait. They were  soon rescued by a fishing boat near Wattamolla. 


Governor Hunter sent Dr. George Bass to the area in August of that year in the company of one of the survivors to confirm the discovery. Bass reported sighting coal seams at Coalcliff and Austinmer. 

coal mines.PNG
Louisa Atkinson, Coal Mine Mt Kiera c184

Louisa Atkinson, Coal Mine Mt Kiera c1849 - 72

Wollongong Harbour 1887

Wollongong Harbour, 1887

However, more than 50 years passed before the first coal mine in the Illawarra opened at Mount Keira in 1849 - then more collieries opened to mine coal seams which outcropped along the escarpment.

From this period, around the 1850s, the Illawarra began to become industrialised, with the introduction of coal mines, coke ovens, smelting works and jetties. The population continued to grow steadily.

Earliest Colonial Art

Earliest Colonial art in the Illawarra

The first art Colonial painted in the Illawarra, which is still in existence, appeared around 1817.

The earliest European artist known to have worked in Illawarra was surveyor-explorer George W. Evans, who travelled overland from Jervis Bay to Appin, via Wollongong, in 1813. Unfortunately none of the works he noted in his journal as having made during this expedition survive.

Although this article focuses on art produced by colonial artists working in the Illawarra, historian Michael Organ has made an interesting discovery - that it is likely that the first European discovery of the Koala was made at ‘Hat Hill’ (Mount Kembla) in the Illawarra district  between June-September 1803. 


Specimens were taken to Sydney during August that year and were immediately drawn by botanical draughtsman Ferdinand Bauer (1760-1826), a member of the HMS Investigator survey and scientific expedition under Captain Matthew Flinders.


The drawings, descriptions and portions of the deceased animals were sent to England shortly after, between 1803 and 1805. A number of watercolours by Bauer dated c1811 are housed at  the Natural History Museum in London, but they may include original 1803 drawings.


It was not until Bauer's watercolours were included in a 1997 Australian exhibition that it was noticed that the accompanying catalogue noted in passing that they were of a specimen "Shot at 'Hat Hill', New South Wales, June-September 1803".

John Lewin (1770-1819) is another Australian naturalist and artist who is likely to have seen the Koala specimens and made his own drawings at that time.

Lewin was Australia's first free-settler professional artist. He arrived in Sydney in 1800 and remained in Australia until his death.

Source: Michael Organ, The Scientific Discovery of the Koala: Hat Hill (Mount Kembla), New South Wales 1803, 9 March 2006

 Colonial Subject Matter

Subject Matter

Most Colonial art, particularly during the first half of the century, focused on the picturesque nature of the region. Landscapes, beach and river scenes, flora and fauna, settlements, homesteads,  and paintings of local inhabitants were common.


There are very few paintings of hardships, or disputes, for example pictorial records of convicts or aggression towards aboriginals are difficult to find. However, according to Michael Organ from the University of Wollongong, "it has been estimated that in 1820 there were some 3000 Aborigines in Illawarra, including the Shoalhaven. This number had dwindled to 98 at Wollongong by 1846"1. The causes for the significant decease includes disease (introduced by the Europeans), land grants to colonialists from 1816, and direct Government aggression which led to massacres and  aboriginals being driven out of the area 2. There is not a significant pictorial record of these events, with most paintings of aboriginals showing them in native settings. 

1. Michael Organ, Illawarra Aborigines - An Introductory History, 1977

2Butlin, N.G. Our Original Aggression - Aboriginal Populations of Southeastern Australia 1788-1850. Allen & Unwin, Sydney, 1983

 Colonial painting techniques

Painting Techniques

In the early part of the century, artists most frequently used small sketchbooks and produced drawings and watercolours as these were the easiest, and cheapest art supplies to procure.

The earliest watercolours used were generally limited to two greens, two browns, crimson, blue and black, similar to those used by naval chartmakers and topographers.  


Many the artists of the time used these few colours, combined with pencil and ink, to great effect.

Paintings by surveyor, Robert Hoddle, demonstrating early water colours.

Scientific inventions which revolutionised the way in which artists were able to transport  paint to use away for the studio largely occurred from the mid 1800s, although Reeves invented a 'paintbox' for watercolours in 1766 - but at considerable cost.

Oil paints were expensive, and therefore not used extensively until the second half of the century, when paint tubes had been invented.

Reeves watercolour 1700s.PNG
paint tube.PNG

 Colonial artists in the Illawarra

Colonial Artists

Edward Charles Close

Whilst it's impossible to determine definitively who the first European artist was to paint in the Illawarra, one of the first artists was Edward Charles Close (1790- 1866). 


His work was initially attributed to a relative Sophia Campbell (Close was the husband of Sophia Campbell’s niece). This was based of family tradition, until about 2009, when other sketchbooks by Close came to light. 1.

Close came to Australia as a Military Officer in 1817, and his wartime diary reflects an observant and curious young man with an interest in architecture. He is mostly likely to have received training in drawing and observation as an army officer, as was common practice. 


Close brought with him several sketchbooks from London and he appears to have completed most of the sketches and watercolours within them between 1817 and 1840.  These sketchbooks include views of Sydney and other areas within New South Wales, including the Illawarra, when he was he was leading parties to the cattle pastures in the area looking for escaped convicts. 


Working both front and back, he turned the sketchbooks around to suit his needs, annotating in pencil with abbreviations. Some of the works are preliminary sketches for works in other sketchbooks. 

Stylistically, there is a strong emphasis on perspective in many of his works - with carefully composed foregrounds that lead the viewer into, and around, the picture. 

His limited colour palette is that similar to early cartographers of browns, blues, greens, white and ink, which he uses very effectively to create mood. 

Close resigned his Commission by 1821 and was later appointed Engineer and Inspector of Public Works in Newcastle.

1. State Library of NSW

Augustus Earle

Augustus Earle (1793-1838) was a travel artist who arrived in NSW in 1825 and briefly visited the Illawarra in 1827.  He was born in London to American parents, and before travelling to Australia he spent two years in the Mediterranean, then America and also Brazil.  


He was probably the first professionally trained freelance artist to tour the world – as he wasn’t painting on commission, he had the freedom to choose what and how he painted.

On his way to India in 1824, he was marooned 1. in Tristan du Cunha, an isolated island in the South Atlantic. After being rescued by a ship headed for Van Dieman's Land (Tasmania), where he spent some time, he arrived in Sydney. 

By late 1826 he had opened an art supply store and gallery on George Street, completed a portrait commissions of the governor  and other colonists,  staged a well-received exhibition of his work; and travelled west to the Blue Mountains, Bathurst and the Wellington Valley, and north to Port Macquarie, Port Stephens and the Hunter.

By this time he was greeted in the press as ‘the favourite artist of Australia’.

He made a number representations of Aboriginal people, resulting in a useful but occasionally contradictory pictorial record. 


Earle had also come into possession of the lithographic press which had been brought to the colony at Governor Brisbane’s instigation, using it to produce a series of views of Sydney, along with a lithograph of his painting of Bungaree 2, a native of New South Wales.

In April 1827 Earle undertook a sketching trip in the Illawarra district, travelling down the Bulli Mountain, along the coast past Wollongong to Kiama. . Homeward-bound, he broke his leg, and was laid up at Macquarie Grove, the home of the Hassall family, near present-day Camden.  

Earle apply for a land grant which was denied due to his lack of capital.

He also travelled to New Zealand in 1827 where  he had 'hopes of finding something new for my pencil in their peculiar and picturesque style of life'3. Here he produced a number of oil painting portraits, along with watercolours, lithographs and pencil sketches before returning to  Sydney.


He left Australia almost six months late,  in October 1828, continuing both his paintings, and his voyages until the 1830s. Despite now being in a poor state of health, in October 1831 he embarked as the ‘artist supernumerary with victuals' aboard HMS Beagle, which was to make a survey of the South American coast. Illness forced him to leave the ship at Montevideo in August 1832 and make his way back to London. 

1. video clip by Betty Churcher from the Hidden Treasurers collection

2. Article from National Portrait Gallery magazine

3. From A narrative of a nine months' residence in New Zealand in 1827 : together with a journal of a residence in Tristan D'Acunha, an island situated between South America and the Cape of Good Hope, by Augustus Earle

Conrad Martens

London born Conrad Martens (1801-1878) followed Earle as the next most prolific and recognised artist to paint in the region. He is perhaps most well known for his watercolours, although he also painted a large number of oils and made many sketches.

Martens was born near the Tower of London, the son of a German Merchant. He had been painting in England for a least a decade before leaving in 1833, and his training was in the great tradition of landscape artist Claude Lorrain


By co-incidence, Martens replaced Augustus Earle as resident artist on the ship Beagle (Earle was forced to leave due to ill health in the early 1830s).  It was here he met naturalist Charles Darwin, who described him as "an excellent landscape drawer ... a pleasant person ... full up to the neck with enthusiasm". 1.

He left Beagle after its voyage down the coast of South America and travelled to New Zealand on the Black Warrior, and then on to Sydney in 1835. At this time the settlement of Sydney Town was almost 50 years old and was becoming established. 

Martens took up residence and advertised that he would "be happy to give instructions in the different branches of Landscape Painting, Sketching, etc. Terms (might) be known as specimens seen at the artist's residence, Cumberland Street, near the Fort". 2.

He painted a number of homesteads on Commission from the 'landed gentry', and these commissions continued throughout his career.

Martens visited the Illawarra just three months after arriving in the colony, and his early works were reflective of tropical South American scenes. 

Conrad Martens, Illawarra Lake, 1835

Conrad Martens, Illawarra Lake, 1835

Depression hit the colony in the 1840s and like many others Martens struggled to make a living until the discovery of gold in the 1850s created a boom. 


Martens visited the Illawarra again several times from the 1840s onwards.  

Whilst the majority of his paintings are landscapes, there are also sketches of native flora such as figtrees, cabbage palms, ferns and flowers. Figures and portraits as primary subjects didn’t interest him, although he did include figures in his landscapes.


On the recommendation of his friend, landowner Alexander Berry (after whom the town of Berry is named), he was appointed to the position of Assistant Parliamentary Librarian. 

At his death in Sydney in 1878, Martens was 'the acknowledged father of colonial art in Australia'. 3.

1, 2 Douglas Dundas, The Art of Conrad Martens, MacMillan, South Melbourne, 1979, p 16

3. State Library of NSW 

Robert Marsh Westmacott

Robert Marsh Westacott, The Bourke Falls

From the images below you can consider whether Westmacott original drawings are as  accomplished as the lithographic prints by W Spreat in England. 18 tinted lithographic views were issued in three parts and sold to subscribers for 5 shillings, as well as being bound in a volume, circa 1848. His earlier volume of six plates was from Sketches in New South Wales, put on lithographic stone by W, Gauci and printed by C Hullmandel. 


The first lithographic printer arrived with the first fleet in 1788 and in 1830, engraver W Moffit opened a business in King Street. (However, it wasn’t until 1871 that newspapers began printing illustrations.)

Key  sources:

Joan Kerr, The Dictionary of Australian Artists, Painters, Sketchers, Photographers and Engravers to 1870, Oxford University Press, 1992

Michael Organ, Captain Robert Marsh Westmacott 1801-1870, Life and Times, 2010

Captain Robert Marsh Westmacott (1801-1870) was an amateur artist and draftsman who lived in NSW between 1831-47. His officer training would have included training in draughtmanship, surveying and topographical drawing. These skills also extended into the making of pictorial records of the flora, fauna, and the local population.

He is best known for his Sketches of Australia, a volume of 18 tinted lithographic views, including from the Illwarra. 

The views were published in in England, issued in three parts and sold to subscribers, as well as being bound an issues as a single volume. 

Westmacott arrived in Sydney in 1831 and from 1832 to 1837 was aide-de-camp to Governor Bourke,  after which time he retired from the army (when Bourke returned to London). He bought land at North Bulli where he primarily bred horses. He was appointed as justice of the peace,  elected trustee of the Illawarra Steam Packet Company, and acted as the first Secretary of the Illawarra District Agricultural Society. (Westmacott is said to have discovered and surveyed a new road which was later renamed Bulli Pass.)

In 1851, following a series of personal and financial issues, he returned to England.

John Skinner Prout

John Skinner Prout (1805-1876) emigrated from England in 1840, where he'd established himself as a professional artist also  and teaching drawing and exhibiting watercolours by the age of 21. He was elected as a member of the new Society of Painters in Water Colour.


He became a member of the Sydney Mechanics School of Arts and in 1841 gave a number of lectures on painting. country, sketching in the Blue Mountains, Newcastle, Port Stephens and Illawarra regions.


Prout brought a lithographic press with him when he came to Australia from England and began making prints upon his arrival in Sydney - he was prolific in producing prints and engravings based on his watercolours.


(The Sydney Mechanics’ School of Arts was founded on in  1833 (later to become the School of Arts) and it quickly became the centre of colonial Sydney’s intellectual, cultural, social and political life.)

John Skinner Prout, Gully at Woolongong, Lithograph
John Skinner Prout, Broulee, N.S.W, 1843

John Skinner Prout, Broulee, N.S.W, 1843

In 1842-44 he produced a four part set of lithographed views, Sydney Illustrated. Other series included Tasmania Illustrated (1844-46) and Views of Melbourne and Geelong (1847). 


Prout visited the Illawarra for only a short period from late 1883 to early 1884.


He delighted in the effects of mist and mountain, and free renderings of sea and shore. He was a strong champion of the right of the artist to interpret freely rather than merely to imitate the scene before him.  He favoured rapid sketches  and watercolours, rather than highly finished paintings, which resulted in a number of small atmospheric works.


Prout was a leader in the early art movement and aside from giving lectures, helped to organise the first Australian exhibition of paintings in 1845 (in  Hobart).   He also delivered a number of subscription lectures on painting, and was a stimulating influence on amateur artists through the sketching clubs he formed. It was in Hobart that he gained recognition as one of the most progressive artists working in the colony.


He also exhibited at private galleries which were beginning to appear.

In 1848 Prout and his family returned to England and he lived in London for the rest of his life. In 1850 he produced a diorama, Voyage to Australia, and he updated it in 1851 to include the gold discoveries. 

Georgiana Lowe

Lowe was successful as a commercial landscape gardener and was  especially attracted by the exotic flora of the district. (Together with Hugh Beatie, she grew the first successfully cultivated waratahs in Sydney1.)

With her husband's eyesight failing, they rented a cottage in Wollongong in 1843 and from there she made a number of excursions into the region.   Her sketches depicted local flora, the landscapes of the Illwarra region, settlers' huts, a stockade,  and a view of Wollongong. 

Georgiana Lowe, Illawarra, 1842-50.

1Joan Kerr, The Dictionary of Australian Artists, Painters, Sketchers, Photographers and Engravers to 1870, Oxford University Press, 1992

Georgiana Lowe (1813-1884) was a sketcher and landscape gardener who arrived in Australia in 1842. 


Descriptions of Sydney in her letters to her family in England reveal her interest in the detail and variety of the native foliage and flowers, the siting of buildings within the landscape, the growth of the city and the beautiful views of Sydney Harbour. 

Lowe relished the picturesque mountainous landscapes near Wollongong and in Kangaroo Valley.

Although the Lowes moved to Nelson Bay (now Bronte Beach) in 1845, Georgiana continued to travel to Illawarra intermittently until leaving they left the Colony early in 1850. 

Her views of Illawarra are executed in pencil, sepia wash, and watercolour. The shades of greens and blues she used in her watercolours were quite distinctive and give us the impression that they could be contemporary works.

Unfortunately there are no known surviving paintings in public collections other than those in the Mitchell library in NSW. It holds one album (sketchbook) of 125 drawings comprising 96 watercolour and 29 pencil drawings, including those below.

George French Angas

George French Angas, Ilawarra scenery, A tear for Israel,  lithograph, sheet music cover, c1855

George French Angas, Encampment of Native Women, Near Cape Jervis, 1847, lithographs

George French Angas, Cabbage Palms, Dapto, 1844-45

George French Angas (1822-1886) was essentially a naturalist, and also a gifted draftsman, painter, lithographer and engraver. In his Australian landscapes he took care to depict native vegetation accurately.

His first book was written before he was 21 and many were published before he was 28. In later life he devoted himself more to natural history than to art.  Many of his texts contributed to Scientific journals. In 1847 three of his most important works were published in London: South Australia Illustrated, The New Zealanders Illustrated, and Savage Life and Scenes in Australia and New Zealand.  South Australia Illustrated contains 60 lithographed plates, hand-coloured, almost all after water-colour drawings by Angas.

In this book, as in the other two large folios after his drawings, some of the lithography was done by Angas himself. The subjects depicted are Aboriginals, landscapes, insects, butterflies, flowers and native weapons and dwellings.


He visited the Illawarra area between 1845 and 1954, taking the opportunity to paint rainforests, scenery and local aborigines.


He emphasised that his works were 'drawn on the spot' but in fact his practice was to draw rapid pencil sketches on the field, adding colour notes, and filling out the landscape when he came to 'finish' the picture in his studio. 


In 1853 he was appointed secretary to the Australian Museum in Sydney - a position which he held until 1860, before returning to England in 1853.