27 July, 2016

Two von Guerards for the price of one!

Whilst it was easy enough to find the locations from which 19th century landscape painter Eugene von Guerard made his two famous Geelong paintings - View of Geelong and Mr Lewin's hut on the Barwon River, finding the location of some of the informal sketches he also made during his time in the region was a little trickier.
Whilst von Guerard spent many hours sketching the river from several vantage points along the Barwon Valley through what would become the suburbs of Highton and Newtown, he also took his sketchbooks to some more out-of -the-way locations. Places that I've seen too.
Most recently, I paddled up the river from Baum's Weir to the bridge at Merrawarp Rd - a section of the river I've paddled many times before. My main aim on this occasion was to take some photos of a couple of locations I was fairly sure von Guerard had visited a little over 160 years before me. Surprisingly for a July afternoon, we headed out in short sleeves on a sunny, windless afternoon, but with the river flowing somewhat higher than the usual summer levels, paddling upstream required a little more effort than normal.
Our first stop, was not far from the Geelong Ring Road where - as you head upstream - the river sweeps around three right-angled bends in succession, to form a large "U" shape beneath the Barrabool Hills. It is here that we think von Guerard's made two of his sketches. Neither, as far as I'm aware, was ever developed into a painting, however even in sketch form, they give a good impression of the height and dramatic appearance of the Barrabool Hills at this point.
Whilst I was certainly not the first person to take in this particular view, neither for that matter was von Guerard. In 1848, the landscape painter, squatter and later civil servant Charles Norton painted a very similar view to that of von Guerard's sketch. The watercolour, titled View from front door "Carlsbadt" on the Barwon, was one of a number of watercolours and sketches of the area completed by Norton between 1847 and 1849. For this short space of time, he occupied a squatting run on the Barwon which he named 'Carlsbadt' after the town in Germany in which his father was born. I can find no mention of 'Carlsbadt' on the maps or in newspapers from the era, but from context assume it must have been situated on the north bank of the Barwon, immediately to the west of the Fyansford township reserve, on land originally held by the Mercers on behalf of the Port Phillip Association.
View from front door "Carlsbadt" on the Barwon, 1848 by Charles Norton
Similar view to the above sketch, July, 2016, but taken from midstream
Soon after his arrival in the district, Norton married Susan Meade - governess to the children of then Superintendent La Trobe. In 1849, during their time at 'Carlsbadt', a daughter - Joanna Kate - was born to the couple. Her birth was registered at nearby Fyansford. This same year however, with the run proving unprofitable, (as as was the case with an earlier property held by Norton in the vicinity of Clunes) Norton advertised his stock (sheep) for sale as he intended leaving the district. By 1850 he and his family had moved to Melbourne where a further two sons were born. A longer biography of his career can be found at Design and Art Australia Online.
'Carldsbadt' near Geelong, sketched by Charles Norton, 1848. Image taken from
the State Library of Victoria
Some five or six years after Norton's departure from 'Carlsbadt', on the 13th March, 1855 von Guerard, with sketchbook in hand, took in the same view.  His vantage point however was not the same as Norton's from his front door, or mine from midstream. Instead,  he chose to perch on the steep slopes above the east bank of the river to make his sketch of the view before him. To find that spot, I needed to do the same. After two visits and some precarious climbing I felt I had come as close to von Guerard's vantage point as was possible.
Eugene von Guerard sketch looking south to the Barrabool Hills near
Fyansford, 13th March, 1855
A similar view to von Guerard's sketch as it appears today. 25th July, 2016,
possibly somewhat altered by the building of the Geelong Ring Road in 2009
The peaks were all there, the fence still followed the same line over 160 years later.  The only things which didn't quite match were the proportions of the double peak at the centre of the sketch; that and the presence of the Geelong Ring Road where von Guerard sketched two men on horseback, no doubt following a long gone track (although not one which shows on any map I've found). The profile at this point appears to have been eroded away somewhat, but as far as I can tell by comparing historical images on Google Earth, this was not the result of excavations for the Ring Road, so any erosion must be from an earlier date.
Next, as I traversed this section of the bank, I noticed that I could see not one, but two von Guerard "sketches". The second sketch (actually made earlier the same day), took in the hills a little further downstream from those shown above. Upon first seeing it, I had quickly recognised the location of this sketch, but had assumed it was made from a point near to the closest bend in the river to the hills. Looking across the Barwon from this more easterly perspective however, I realised that what I had thought was another hill, was actually the tip of the promontory around which the river flows and that this sketch must have been made from a very similar view point to the other with the two drawings effectively being a continuation of the one scene.
A second von Guerard sketch of the Barrabool Hills and Barwon River from a
similar perspective
A similar view to that sketched by von Guerard, 26th July, 2016
The angle and elevation of the above comparison photo is slightly different to that of the sketch as any lower perspective today is obscured by trees, however it was clearly from this part of the river that von Guerard made both his sketches. The relationship of the two drawings can be seen in the panoramic shot below.
The Barrabool Hills, 25th July, 2016. Click to enlarge
Finally, whilst there are several other sketches drawn by von Guerard on his various visits to Geelong, in my next (and probably final) post on these sketches I will look at an elusive little waterfall on the Moorabool River.


  1. Fascinating stuff Jo. Love your idea of looking through the 'artist's eye'. Marg

    1. Thanks Marg! Not originally my idea - I've been in contact with George Hook ( http://www.hulballarat.org.au/blog/index.php/tag/george-hook/ ) who is the real expert on the subject but I'm really enjoying this way of looking at the Barwon!
      Glad others are too!

  2. Hi Jo,
    Congratulations on your amazing blog. I'm part of a Landcare group researching and reconstruction a list of the vegetation of the Barrabool Hills. I particularly valued your discussion of artist Charles Norton and his depictions of the BH. Even these early records seem to show very little surviving vegetation. Have you come across any earlier descriptions of the BH that might give us some insights into what grew there and how the BH looked at the beginning of white settlement. Thanks Steve

    1. Hi Steve,
      Thanks! I'm glad the blog is of interest. I have heard of this use of 19th century artists and written descriptions as an aid to re-vegetating the landscape.
      A good starting point would be to look at the pictures section of trove.nla.gov.au to see what pictures are still around. The following link from that site:
      shows a sketch from 1847. It was made from the Barrabool Hills looking back towards Barwon Heads and looks to have been made from a very similar position to a sketch made by von Guerard in 1854. George Hook and I believe the EVG sketch was made from the home of John Highett at what is now Montpellier Park.
      The earlier sketch by George Alexander Gilbert looks to have been made from a similar angle, but from higher ground. Both sketches show significant numbers of trees between what is now Geelong and the Heads.
      This 1847 sketch by JS Prout looks towards Corio Bay from the Barrabool Hills (possibly a similar location to the other sketches, but that's a guess). There are perhaps less trees, but by 1847 there would already have been 10 years of clearing around Geelong.
      The following is another 1847 sketch by Gilbert made from the top of Fyansford Hill (the Deviation Hill) overlooking Fyansford. The house is the old "Swan Inn", the Barrabool Hills - with trees - are behind.
      The journals section of Trove may also have written accounts. I believe some written accounts of the Barrabool Hills do exist, but I don't have those references.
      I hope this helps and would love to hear how you get on.

    2. Oops! Forgot the links for the other sketches!
      Prout: http://trove.nla.gov.au/work/17754325?q=%22barrabool+hills%22&c=picture&versionId=20826839
      Gilbert: http://trove.nla.gov.au/work/179890605?q=%22barrabool+hills%22&c=picture&versionId=195811723