It’s quite rare to have a group of portraits relating to one family that we can date to a very close period of time and that the family in particular are so well known within colonial history. This cluster of four paintings shows members of the Blaxland family. John and his brother Gregory Blaxland were English farmers who decided that they would like to head to the colonies. And they were actually sponsored by Sir Joseph Banks, so they were free settlers who arrived here with money and were granted land.
They arrived in April 1807. By this time John had been married previously. His wife had died but he had remarried. At the top right, closest to the archway, we find the matriarch of the Blaxland clan, Harriott Marquett Blaxland. She was actually the daughter of a merchant from Calcutta. The Blaxlands had a total of four sons and six daughters and the family already had four children by the time they arrived in New South Wales. They lived in comfort in the Newington Estate which was near where the Olympic site is now. They lived a very elegant lifestyle. Harriott, having come from India, was very intent on maintaining that sense of where she came from, so Indian dishes were actually served in the house, they had Indian servants and in this painting she’s actually wearing a turban. It’s a very fashionable turban, which was part of what women were wearing of the day, but it also speaks to her connections. She’s also wearing the de Marquett pearls, which were part of her dowry.
It’s a very imposing portrait. It’s large. It would have been very expensive. And that was the intent of the Blaxlands. They wanted to have a gallery of family portraits that they could put in their home which made them aristocratic. John Blaxland was regarded as a type of English country gentleman, and at Newington that was what they were trying to re-create, but with a taste of India.
Three of the portraits are painted by Maurice Felton, THE most fashionable portrait painter of the day. He was the most prolific and the most successful, he was highly regarded, so he was exactly the right artist for the Blaxlands, and they knew that. It was about having the right artists paint their portraits and make a statement.
If we look over to the left, we see the beautiful portrait of Anna Blaxland. By this time, 1840, she was 36 years old. She was actually the fourth child of John and Harriott Blaxland, born in England and arrived in Australia as a three-year-old. She married young. She was only 16 when she married Thomas Walker and she moved to Tasmania. So, she’s 36 years old in this painting. She’s already had 10 children. She’s recently come up to Sydney with her husband to visit her family and on arrival in Sydney we imagine that they may have gone to the exhibition of Maurice Felton’s work, which was in Sydney in January 1840, which may have prompted the family to have this series of portraits made.
Directly beneath this portrait of Anna Blaxland, Mrs Thomas Walker, we find a portrait of her elder brother, John de Marquett Blaxland, the second son of John and Harriott Blaxland. Now I mentioned earlier that John and Gregory Blaxland had both come to Australia together in 1807 and Gregory Blaxland had been one of the party of three that had crossed the Blue Mountains. They were then in search of pasture land for sheep. But by the 1840s, the Blaxlands’ cattle numbers were growing, and John Jnr was looking to find pasture land for them. So he went exploring up into the Hunter region and there’s an area known as Blaxland Arm that’s actually named for John.
So you can see he’s a good-looking, eligible young bachelor, fashionably dressed, very well groomed. But this portrait doesn’t have the same quality of finish as that of his mother and his sister and the reason for this, we think, is that maybe this is just a preliminary sketch by Maurice Felton, because in May 1840, John died very suddenly at Newington. We don’t quite know how, but his death is actually reflected in those other portraits that we see of his mother and his sister. It’s probably why they’re wearing black, definitely the pearls that his mother has chosen – pearls were a suitable jewellery to be worn during mourning. And also his sister Anna – she wears a pair of long jet pendant earrings and pinned to her corsage is a brooch. This is a mourning brooch, black, enamelled, gilt-edged mourning brooch, and if you look closely, it has brown plaited hair which is probably the hair of John. They would clip locks from John’s head after his death and they would’ve had an array of mourning jewellery made for other family members to wear and remember him by.
The other portrait in this cluster you can see just to the right of the portrait of John is that of his younger sister, Jane. Now Jane was one of the beauteous bevy of Blaxland girls and she was known to have been very interested in botanical specimens. All of the Blaxland girls were considered to be very intelligent, very attractive and highly marriageable. But not all of them did marry and Jane was one that didn’t marry and possibly because she was of delicate health. But she was very intelligent and it was decided in this late 1830s, 1840s period that she should make a trip to England – perhaps she might recover her health. And she was actually just about to return home to Australia when she did die in 1843. Now this lovely portrait we think was painted in England and sent back to Australia to her family. And it is quite poignant that she is surrounded by this beautiful perpetual wreath of flowers.
We don’t know who the artist is but we know that the painting came to the library with all of the portraits which were actually bequeathed to the library in the 1930s by Anna Blaxland’s 11th daughter, Alice Octavia Walker.