Sawing backwards

Friday 18 October 2013
One of the best things about the recent refurbishment of the Brisbane City Hall is the new accommodation for the Museum of Brisbane. The museum is up on the roof of the building, hidden neatly behind the parapet, with views of the central dome.

framed painting

Brisbane 1830, by Cedric Flower, oil on masonite panel, City of Brisbane Collection, gift of the City Hall Historical & Arts Committee, 1965.

There is a new exhibition about the Brisbane River, which in­cludes this painting by Cedric Flower. The painting was the head­line work in a commercial exhibition in 1965​—​Select views and scenes of Brisbane life: 1830-​1900 by Cedric Flower​—​shown at the Johnstone Gallery. The picture catches the character of the haphazard little settlement in a land­scape dominated by the river. The exhibition cat­a­logue notes that it was painted after a draw­ing by an unknown artist in the possession of the Mitchell Library.

pencil sketch

Untitled pencil sketch of Moreton Bay penal settlement, 1831, attributed to H B Bowerman [State Library of NSW].

That unknown artist is believed to be Henry Boucher Bower­man (1789–1840), a civil servant who worked in the Commissariat at Moreton Bay in the early 1830s and who had studied to­po­graph­ic sketching at the British Mil­i­tary Acad­e­my at Woolwich. A few of his Brisbane Town draw­ings have found their way into public collections in Brisbane, Sydney and Canberra.

detail of painting

Part of Cedric Flower’s Brisbane 1830.

Flower’s painting (450 × 900 mm) is larger than the Bowerman drawing (150 × 300 mm) and has added colour and various small details. Flower has added a group of Aboriginal people to his pic­ture​—​these people, a column of smoke floating up from the brick kiln, and a white person with a fishing rod, all enliven the picture.

pencil drawing

A detail from the Bowerman drawing​—​a digitised copy photo of the original in the Mitchell Library. (I have cropped and toned the greyscale image). [State Library of Queensland]

One detail of special interest to me is the sawpit near the river bank below the windmill. Flower has nicely copied the hipped roof over the pit, the three sawyers, the logs awaiting sawing, and the sawn boards stacked for seasoning.

detail of painting

A detail of the sawpit from Cedric Flower’s Brisbane 1830.

But Cedric Flower has drawn all three sawyers standing on the wrong side of their saws. I guess if he had ever tried pit sawing, he wouldn’t have sentenced these convicts to such cruel and un­usual treatment.

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