View of Cape Townshend taken from Mount Westall, March 1802

(Working entry covering the Westall Australian group, January 2018, for which only some online images are currently available.)

This is one of the ten paintings of Matthew Flinders' Australian voyage (1801-03) that the Admiralty had from Westall, as the landscape artist accompanying it (ZBA7914, 7935-7936, 7938-7944): they are usually said to have been commissioned from 1809 and completed over the next three years. This one was exhibited at the Royal Academy in 1810 under the title 'Distant view of the Islands of Cape Townsend, from a mountain near Cape Manifold, on the east coast of New Holland, long 150°, lat. 22°, discovered by Capt. M. Flinders etc., March 1802'. (Flinders in fact named the mountain for Westall after saying he would do so for whoever reached the top first, which the latter did.) Cape Townshend is the more usual spelling, the location being on the coast of Queensland. Westall had also previously exhibited another close-by Queensland location in 1805 - apparently speculatively - 'View of the Bay of Pines, New South Wales, long. 150 30', lat. 22 20', discovered by Captain M. Flinders in His Majesty's ship Investigator, Feb., 1802'. He also showed a drawing of this subject at the British Institution in 1807 with a framed size of 34 x 43 inches. His subsequent Australian subjects at the Academy were ZBA7941 and ZBA7944 in 1812, and the last exhibited there was in 1826: 'Cape Wilberforce, looking into the Gulf of Carpentaria from the Indian Ocean, Australia, discovered by the late Captain Flinders in H.M. ship Investigator. The rocks are a formation of sandstone with quartz cement of a compact structure.' This geologically dramatic composition was also shown at the British Institution the following year and is now in the National Gallery of Australia.

The slight mystery of the 'Admiralty set', is that there are ten, rather than the nine usually said to have been commissioned based on Westall's discussion with Sir Joseph Banks on appropriate subjects. Only eight of these were subsequently engraved for Flinders' 'A voyage to Terra Australis' (2 vols, 1814) and all Westall's nine plates in that were also separately issued in 1814 as his 'Views of Australian Scenery'. The present painting and ZBA7939 were not engraved, while the original view of Port Jackson which made the ninth print appears not to have been the Admiralty's. If the Admiralty indeed commissioned only nine oils, it may initially have purchased one that Westall painted speculatively - probably this one as the earliest of the group - before asking for more. Significantly perhaps, the 1810 RA catalogue entry does not expressly say it was painted for the Admiralty: those for the other two shown in 1812 do, in grandiloquent terms. Alternatively, the Admiralty may have obtained either this one or ZBA7939 later, in some way no longer clear. All ten paintings were transferred to the National Maritime Museum in 2017, on dispersal of the Ministry of Defence Art Collection to alternative care.

The nine Westall plates in the 1814 voyage account, and in the separate 'Views of Australian Scenery' are, in the account's order: (vol. 1) King George's Sound [from ZBA7943], Port Lincoln [ZBA7940], Kangaroo Island [ZBA7938], Port Jackson from South Head; (vol. 2) Port Bowen [ZBA7941], Murray Islands [ZBA7942], the Pellew Group (Gulf of Carpentaria) [ZBA7944], Malay Road [ZBA7936], and Wreck Reef Bank [ZBA7935]. While the Port Jackson view has no corresponding oil in the Admiralty set, a near-matching watercolour is recorded in the Australian Art Sales Index: 'Distant View of the Town of Sydney, from Between Port Jackson and Botany Bay' (34.5 x 36.5 cm), with a label on the reverse so inscribed and with 'L. P. to H. P. 1809, London, given to Mrs Danby by Lieut. H. Porter of the Royal Marines (1812)'. [PvdM 1/18]

Object Details

ID: ZBA7914
Collection: Fine art
Type: Painting
Display location: Display - QH
Creator: Westall, William
Date made: circa 1809
People: Royal Academy of Arts, London; HM Admiralty Ministry of Defence Art Collection
Credit: National Maritime Museum, Greenwich, London
Measurements: Painting: 1016 mm x 1270 mm; Frame 1400 mm x 1582 mm x 163 mm; Overall weight: 40.4 kg

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