Exhibition highlights rarely-seen drawings

A SAMPLE of what’s said to be the largest collection of Australian natural history drawings outside of Britain will be on show in Newcastle this week.

Those who go to the free exhibition and talk on Thursday will be among the few people who have seen these rare watercolours.

Some were created by members of the First Fleet.

The Mitchell Librarian at the State Library, Richard Neville, said the works were part of a collection held by the 13th Earl of Derby, Edward Stanley, since 1842 and bought by the State Library of NSW in 2011.

‘‘We hope that people viewing these stunning works up-close will get a sense of the excitement the Europeans felt over 200 years ago when they sought to discover, record and understand Australia’s natural world,’’ Mr Neville said.

The earl’s treasures – a total of six volumes holding more than 700 works – was the largest collection of its kind held outside of Britain, Mr Neville said.

Who painted them is a mystery but they were collected by Aylmer Bourke Lambert. After he died, in 1842, the works were bought by the earl, a ‘‘fanatical’’ collector, Mr Neville said.

The collection remained in the earl’s library for more than 100 years at Knowsley Hall, near Liverpool, and viewed rarely.

Mr Neville said because the leather-bound volumes had not been opened frequently the colours of the birds, plants and fish were intense.

They are not only beautiful but significant to science.

The works were used to describe Australia’s spectacular wildlife in important books such as Dr John Latham’s 1801 General Synopsis of Birds.

Mr Neville will bring two volumes to Newcastle and they contain works that were recorded only recently.

‘‘There is no other record like them,’’ Mr Neville said.

The library bought the collection for $7million with help from the NSW government, life insurance company Dai-ichi-Life and its Australian subsidiary TAL. 

Mr Neville’s hour-long presentation on Thursday begins at 11am at the Newcastle Art Gallery.

People are advised to call the gallery to book a place.

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