The National Library of Australia is pleased to announce it was the successful bidder for an album containing two original pictures from the ill-fated Burke and Wills Expedition of 1860–1861.
The album, which sold at this evening's Bonhams & Goodman auction in Melbourne for a hammer price of $240,000, will shed new light on a great Australian story.
The two drawings in the album both dated 1861, are by William Hodgkinson, a literary editor with The Age, who joined the Burke and Wills expedition at Swan Hill in 1860.
The works depict early European exploration and the conflict between explorers and Aborigines. The pictures were presented by Hodgkinson to Miss Eliza Younghusband, daughter of a prominent South Australian pastoralist, and kept by her in an exquisite album of mementos.
Hodgkinson was a member of the expedition supply party, led by an experienced bushman, William Wright. While Burke and a smaller party headed to Cooper's Creek, Wright made slow progress from Menindee to Kooliattoo Creek. Here he temporarily left the expedition members Beckler and Becker. Hodgkinson travelled on with the stronger members of Wright's party to the Bulla River.
Hodgkinson's dramatic watercolour Bulla depicts a tense moment of conflict. It shows the armed expeditioners, their rifles smoking, in an improvised stockade facing a large group of advancing Aborigines armed with clubs and spears. Unlike other colonial pictures of armed encounters between Europeans and Aborigines, it shows both sides as equally resolute.
The other pencil sketch, Koorliattoo, shows the desolate landscape and the camp where the weaker members of the expedition were left.
Hodgkinson survived the expedition and found his way to Adelaide where he presented the drawings to Miss Younghusband. The album also contains a love poem by Hodgkinson, drawings, watercolours, poems, prose, cuttings and keepsakes which are a window into mid-19th century life in Adelaide.
The album remained in the Younghusband family until 1995 when it was sold to a private collector for $10,000. At the time it was not recognised for its connection to the Burke and Wills expedition.
The National Library already has a number of Burke and Wills items including the diaries of William John Wills 23 April – 28 June 1861(at http://www.nla.gov.au/epubs/wills/ ) and John O'Hara Burke 16 December 1860 – 20 January 1861. The Library's pictures collection contains works depicting aspects of the expedition by William Strutt and Nicholas Chevalier, as well as works by Hodgkinson from a later expedition.