Narrative of the Expedition of the Australian Squadron to the south-east coast of New Guinea, October to December, 1884. With illustrations
ERSKINE, Commodore James E.
Price: 64,500.00 AUD
Sydney: Thomas Richards, Government Printer, 1885. Large square folio, with a folding map, three coloured lithograph plates, 33 original silver albumen photographs (283 x 212 mm) mounted on card with printed captions and borders, and two superb panoramas, one of them double-page (240 x 553 mm) and the other on four sheets (242 x 1053 mm); original dark blue grained morocco binding, bevelled edges, spine banded and sides with multiple borders in gilt, front cover lettered in gilt, all edges gilded. This rare and sumptuous album, published in very small numbers and illustrated with actual photographs, has been called the first example of Australian photo-journalism: 'the most magnificent example of an Australian work in this genre, the high point in relation to which all other examples can be considered' (Holden). The photographs all date from the 1884 expedition, when Commodore Erskine proclaimed a British protectorate over the south coast of New Guinea. Although unattributed at the time, all images were made by the New South Wales Government Printing Office and were chiefly the work of Augustine Dyer (1873-1923). Principally intended as a visual record, the album shows the importance of the Hood Lagoon area of Papua New Guinea in British and Australian ambitions, with six depictions of the region (effectively a sixth of the finished work). This is a piece of photo-reportage unmatched by any other work of this time and place. Through the positioning of images of the official ceremonies alongside topographical views of the surrounding areas, the photographs themselves become a true part of the narrative: perhaps the first photographic images of the meeting between Imperial forces and Hood Bay chiefs. One of the remarkable photographs depicts a scene on board HMS Nelson as Erskine addressed some of the assembled tribal elders ('Commodore addressing Chiefs on board HMS Nelson, Hood Bay'), one seen grasping an ebony staff. Erskine had handed out a number of the staffs to local chiefs as "an emblem of authority in the form of an ebony stick with a florin let in at the top, the Queen's Head being uppermost, and encircled by a band of silver" (Lyne, New Guinea, pp. 13, 114-118). It is most impressive as an ethnographic album, one of the first such produced in the South Pacific. A special copy was delivered to Her Majesty the Queen as "a keen supporter of photography." The superb series of ethnographic and exploration photographs commemorating the 1884 expedition were printed and the albums assembled in Sydney, in a small edition for presentation. Sir James Erskine R.N. (1838-1911) in 1885 was Private Secretary to Lord Northbrook, the first Lord of the Admiralty, and became Commodore of the Australian Station in January 1882. Erskine leased "Carthona" the grand Gothic-revival house built on Darling Point in 1841 for the explorer Sir Thomas Mitchell. In the 1880s it was owned by the solicitor Arthur Mansfield Allen, but he was offering it to be let fully furnished in June 1884, and Erskine is known to have been resident there soon after. The motivation for the Australian Squadron's to New Guinea expedition (under Erskine's command) was imperialistic: "The Imperial Government... decided to take steps to establish a Protectorate over that part of the southern shores of new Guinea to the east of the territory claimed by the Netherlands, with the double object of preventing any foreign occupation of the country, and of protecting the inhabitants from aggression...". This declaration of the expedition's objective belies the tone of much of Erskine's Narrative, which reads more like a travelogue than an official account. "Picturesque" is the most often used descriptive term, along with such passages as "the striking variety and beauty of the colour in the adjacent water were enchanting, and struck the beholder with wonder and admiration." Similarly, Erskine's own speech, considered for many years as a "Declaration of Rights" for New Guinea, contrasts strongly with the text of the Proclamation itself. The latter is couched in formal, imperial language, whereas the former looks ahead in more open terms to the real benefits that the tribesmen might expect, and is very specific regarding the protection offered by Her Majesty Queen Victoria: "look upon white persons whom the Queen permits to reside amongst you as your friends...". He made the south coast of Guinea a British Protectorate. The photographs are: 1) "Port Moresby, from the Mission Station." Four-sheet panorama. 2) "H.M.S. 'Nelson' at Port Moresby, S.W." 3) "General View of Settlement at Port Moresby, N.N.E." 4) "Commodore shaking hands with Native Chief 'OBE Vagi', on board H.M.S. 'Nelson', at Port Moresby." 5) "Native Village, Port Moresby, W." 6) "Ethel Island, and landing-place at Native Village, Port Moresby, S.W." 7) "Native Houses, Port Moresby." 8) "Native Village, Port Moresby, S." 9) "Native Village, Port Moresby, N.W." 10) "Hoisting Flag at Port Moresby, N.W." 11) "Yule Island, from Delena, Hall Sound, N.W." 12) "Landing-place at Delena, Hall Sound, N." 13) "Hoisting flag at Delena, Hall Sound." 14) "Koloka, the Queen of the Lolo Tribe at Delena." 15) "Landing at Motumotu." 16) "Landing at Motumotu." 17) "Firing the Feu de joie, Motumotu." 18) "New Guinea Chief, Motumotu." 19) "Native Village, Kerepunu, Hood Lagoon, S.W." 20) "Commodore reading Proclamation at Kerepunu, Hood Lagoon, W." 21) "H.M.S. 'Espiegle' saluting Flag, Hood Lagoon." 22) "Scene near Kerepunu, Hood Lagoon, N.E." 23) "A Chief's House, Kerepunu, Hood Lagoon, S.W." 24) "Commodore addressing Chiefs on board H.M.S. 'Nelson', Hood Bay." 25) "Argyll Bay, W.N.W." Two-sheet panorama. 26) "Commodore reading Proclamation at Argyll Bay, N.W." 27) "H.M.S. 'Nelson' saluting Flag at Mission Station, Suau, Stacey Island, South Cape." 28) "View from Stacey Island, N." 29) "Native Village, Suau, S.W." 30) "Native House at Suau." 31) "View from Dinner Island, China Strait - H.M. Ships 'Nelson' and 'Espiegle' at anchor, N.W." 32) "View from Dinner Island, S.W." 33) "Natives on board H.M.S. 'Nelson' at Dinner Island." 34) "View from Anchorage, N. side of Teste Island, W. by N." 35) "West end of Teste Island, from Anchorage, S.W." Provenance: A Paré, "Elgin", Durban Rd., Wynberg [South Africa] (pencil inscription on front flyleaf). Slight rubbing to binding but in handsome & original condition; interior lightly foxed in places; map with repaired tear; some scattered foxing and damage to fore-margins; images all bright and crisp.