[JONES, Henry Gilbert, 1804-1888, attributed]
Sketch of Port Phillip Aborigines, circa 1843.
Graphite on paper, 105 x 120 mm; unsigned; late nineteenth or early twentieth century pencilled inscription verso: ‘Original drawing by Henry Gilbert Jones, 1842-1845. South Eastern Aboriginals’; in a recent mount and frame.
This sketch, attributed to Henry Gilbert Jones, almost certainly depicts people from the Aboriginal population of the Narre Narre Warren area, southeast of Melbourne. The National Gallery of Australia holds in its collection three sketches by Henry Gilbert Jones that depict the same subjects as those in the present sketch (mother, infant and young woman); the present sketch was presumably made by Jones at the same time as the other three.
The Indigenous people whose traditional lands include the Narre Narre Warren area are the Bunurong (Boon wurrung) of the Kulin nation. They were known to the early colonists as the Western Port Tribe. The dress of the figures in the sketch is consistent with their identification as inhabitants of the Narre Narre Warren area. The figures have been rendered in a highly naturalistic manner, with close attention to their accoutrements. The woman on the right, who carries her infant on her back, is wearing a necklace that appears to be composed of segments of common reed (Phragmites australis), a body ornament which is typical of the southeastern region. The thin headbands worn by both women in the sketch are frequently seen in mid-nineteenth century depictions and early photographs of Aboriginal women of southeastern Australia. Both women are also depicted wearing animal skin (most likely kangaroo) cloaks.
Henry Gilbert Jones was a sketcher, engraver and pharmacist, who arrived in the fledgling colony of Port Phillip in 1840 from England via the United States. In March 1842 Jones was made the Deputy Protector of Natives (medical dispenser to the Aboriginal population) at Narre Narre Warren Station. He occupied this position until September 1843. It is probable that the drawing offered here dates from this period, during which Jones’ occupation kept him in close contact with the local Aboriginal population.
During his time at Narre Narre Warren, Jones was an amateur artist. He attained professional status in 1846, when some of his etchings of Melbourne views were printed as decorative notepaper headings by John Green. Jones was listed as an artist in Collins Street, Melbourne, in the Port Phillip Almanac for 1847, and as an artist and engraver at 107 Elizabeth Street in 1859.
This sketch’s naturalistic and sensitive style bespeaks the artist’s familiarity with his subject matter, reflecting Jones’ close contact with Aboriginal people on a daily basis. The sketch is an important addition to the extant pictorial record of the Indigenous peoples of the Port Phillip region (at that time still part of the colony of New South Wales) within the first decade of European settlement.
Provenance: The Decorative Arts Collection of James Fairfax, AC., Leonard Joel, Sydney, 1 September 2017, lot 438.