GARD, Rosalind (1881-1964)
Melbourne Gothic : the “Bendigonia” sketchbooks of Rosalind Gard, 1901-1902.
Melbourne Gothic : the “Bendigonia” sketchbooks of Rosalind Gard, 1901-1902.
An extraordinary group of drawings by a young Melbourne woman, Rosalind Gard, dating to around the time of Federation. Rosalind lived in the Gothic-style mansion Bendigonia, on Queen’s Road, which had been built in 1883 for her father, John Edward Gard (1840-1920), a wealthy mining investor who had made his fortune in Bendigo. She was the youngest, by some years, of 11 children, and grew up in Bendigonia with a small menagerie of dogs and birds. Previously unpublished, her drawings include whimsical caricatures, anthropomorphic animals, devils and demons, and fantastic creatures. Reminiscent of the work of Edward Lear, the atmospheres in the drawings range from cheerful to dark, a number of them being truly disturbing images tinged with violence and repressed sexuality. These were private drawings, and the sketchbooks were probably Rosalind’s secret: the vicious nature of some of the lampoons of family and friends would suggest the drawings were never intended to be shown to others.
Sketchbook 1. Oblong folio (260 x 360 mm), original cloth boards (stained and marked), upper board calligraphically inscribed by the owner in violet ink ‘Rosalind Gard’; front pastedown inscribed in pencil ‘Rosalind Gard – Her Book / Aurora, Syd. 7/11/01’ and beneath it her permanent address ‘Bendigonia, Queen’s Road, Melbourne’; rear pastedown with label of the Sydney stationers W.C. Penfold & Co; containing  full-page watercolour and ink drawings and  half-page ink drawing; several drawings with the artist’s captions, some initialled or signed, one dated September 1902; occasional light foxing.
Sketchbook 2. Oblong folio (260 x 360 mm), original cloth boards (matching Sketchbook 1), upper board decorated in red and aqua inks by the owner, with calligraphic inscription ‘Rosalind Gard / Rubbish’; front pastedown with botanical ornament and ‘Rosalind Gard / Bendigonia’ in pencil; containing  full-page watercolour and ink drawings; scattered foxing.
One might expect that there would be few if any traces of the life of a Melbourne teenager of the 1890s in published records. Fortunately for us, though, during her adolescent years Rosalind Gard was an enthusiastic correspondent and competition entrant with the Australian Town and Country Journal, a Sydney publication. A considerable amount can be gleaned about her private life and personality from her numerous letters and pieces of creative writing published in that periodical between June 1895, when she had just turned 14, and June 1899, soon after her eighteenth birthday. Here are three of Rosalind’s published letters in their entirety:
From Australian Town and Country Journal, Sydney, Saturday 8 June 1895: ‘Bendigonla, Leopold-street, Melbourne. Dear Dame Durden, I have read so many nice interesting letters in the “Town and Country,” and if you think that this is good, I should very much like to see it in print. I have many pets. They are Roy, Nick, and Jack, my three dogs. Dick is a very tame wedge-tailed eagle. I have also many pigeons, canaries, and different kinds of small birds. I have six brothers and four sisters; but all, excepting one brother, are much older than myself. My brothers have just returned from Gippsland, and as they took a camera with them, they have brought home some beautiful photographs of scenery. I wish Captain Cook [ATCJ staff writer] could see them. He would be delighted. One of them is a photograph of an immense tree, called the messmate tree. It is situated on the summit of Mount Drummer. With love, I remain, your loving friend, Rosalind Gard (aged 14)’.
From Australian Town and Country Journal, Sydney, Saturday 22 February 1896: ‘Bendigonia. St. Kilda-road. Melbourne (Vic.). Dear Dame Durden, I am writing to tell you about my holiday trip. I went to Gippsland and Ballarat, but I will only be able to tell you about my Gippsland trip in this letter. We started in the train on Monday morning at 6 o’clock, and arrived at Sale about 3 in the afternoon. Then we went on board a small steamboat that waited in the Channel. The steamer went down the river for a long time, and it was so lovely to see all the strange birds take flight as we approached them. After passing through Lake Wellington, Lake King, and lastly Lake Victoria (all these lakes are joined by small channels), we landed at the Lake’s Entrance about 9 o’clock that night, and we drove to a hotel. The next day we took the coach to Lake Tyers; some of the scenery we passed was sublime, and filled one with awe. At Tyers we used to spend nearly all the day on the lake, listening to the bell birds’ beautiful notes, and rowing lazily about. One day we explored a jungle, and I found some of the most lovely creepers and ferns that can be imagined; but we could not stay long, because the mosquitoes were something terrible. We went fifteen miles down the winding lake in a steam launch. In some places the scenery was lovely; thickly wooded hills rose almost straight from the lake, and they were reflected in the clear water. My brother shot a black snake. It was four feet long, and as it had an extra pretty skin we brought the skin home. If you can pardon me for writing such a long letter, I would like so much to see it in print. If I may, I will tell you about my other trip and new pets next time I write. With love, I am always yours. Rosalind Gard (aged 14). P.S.-I enclose a four-leaved clover for you, for luck.-R.G.’.
From Australian Town and Country Journal, Sydney, Saturday 10 June 1899: ‘Bendigonia, Queen’s-road, Melbourne. Dear Princess Spinaway, Just a little note to let you know that I received the prize safely. Thank you so much for sending me such a lovely book. It is a very nice addition to my collection. I am so glad I won that competition, as it was the last I could compete for, having now reached the dreaded age of 18; but I hope Dame Durden keeps a warm corner in her heart for “old girls,” and still cares to hear from them if they have anything of interest to tell her about. Now, dear Princess Spinaway, I must say goodbye. From your sincere friend, Rosalind Gard. P.S. Has the Jester ever made the acquaintance of the cow-a-piller, or bull ant, who sends his portrait (which I copied from an original drawing of my brother’s)? (Dame Durden: The “bull ant” drawing is very clever. I am seeing if it can be reproduced for the “Corner” to smile at. If you had dráwn it on Bristol board in Indian ink, there would have been no difficulty.)
Rosalind’s first husband, H.G. Nicholas, died in World War One. His name (as owner, rather than creator) is written on the back of one of the loose drawings in one of Rosalind’s sketchbooks, which indicates that Rosalind kept her sketchbooks even after marriage and that she did share her drawings with her husband, possibly even allowing him to loan one of them to someone at some point. She married her second husband, Keith Melville Balfour, son of the late Dr. G. W. Balfour, of Edinburgh, in London in 1927. The sketchbooks were sourced in the U.K..
Extract from the Victorian Heritage Database Report on Bendigonia:
‘One of the few remaining examples of the substantial private residences that once lined St Kilda and Queen’s Roads, Bendigonia was erected in 1883 for John Edward Gard, one of the more prominent members of the Bendigo mining community. The design of the multi-gabled house, attributed to Wilson & Beswicke, is a relatively late and very unusual example of the bargeboarded Rural Gothic style, exhibiting something of the muscularity of the Modern Gothic. Symmetrical about each of its main elevations, it is distinguished by the three bays on the Queen’s Road facade, the splayed corners of which project increasingly as they rise through the full height of the building. A detached service wing and former stable block at the rear of the house survive in an altered but recognizable form.’
From 1914 until 1970 the mansion served as a private hospital. Initially named The Bendigonian, then St Luke’s, from 1915 it became known as Vimy House. In 1949 Vimy House was purchased by the Melbourne & Metropolitan Tramway Board, who used the building as a hospital for its employees until it was sold in 1970. Bendigonia is today subdivided into private apartment residences.
Note: The original photograph of Bendigonia reproduced here was taken in 1896, and is held in the collection of the State Library of Victoria.