William Buelow Gould (1803-1853)
As a young man Gould took painting lessons from William Mulready, a keen follower of 17th Century Dutch art. Living in London, he developed a life of drinking, gambling and petty crime. After marrying, he worked at the potteries, probably as a painter of scenes and plants. Soon in trouble with the law, he deserted his wife and fled to Northampton.
In 1827 he was charged with stealing clothes and transported to Van Diemen’s Land.
In Hobart he was put to work in the potteries, and in 1829 he was convicted of forgery and sentenced to the Macquarie Harbour penal settlement. During the sea voyage a mutiny was planned by the prisoners; Gould attempted to thwart the uprising. Governor Arthur rewarded him by assigning him to the Colonial Surgeon and amateur botanist, Dr James Scott, of Boa Vista, Hobart, where he made watercolour drawings of plant specimens collected by Scott.
While with Scott, he was sentenced to Macquarie Harbour for repeated drunkenness and absconding. In 1832, he was assigned as house servant to Dr William de Little.
The Macquarie Harbour Drawings
Sarah Island on Macquarie Harbour was reserved for second offenders. It was feared for the harsh and cruel punishment handed out to prisoners. Dr de Little was a keen observer who encouraged Gould to paint from nature. Gould drew and painted the trees, plants, flowers and seed pods in watercolour on hand-made sketchpads. He would have been encouraged to draw dissected seed pods and individual plant specimens for artistic and scientific purposes.
The building of Kew Gardens outside London in the 18th century led to the search for new species and the building of botanical collections for the description and order of the natural world. Tasmania provided a unique supply of specimens; Gould became an important recorder in this expansive world of collectors, recorders and publishers.
These historic paintings have the original names of the plants inscribed by James Backhouse (1794-1869), a naturalist and Quaker missionary. He developed an interest in Australian plants while working as a nurseryman in England. This, with his concern for prison reform and his unease with transportation and the convict system, led him to visit the Australian colonies. The dates and locations are believed to have been inscribed by Dr de Little.
The entire collection comprises 143 works and was purchased in England by the Launceston City Council in 1958.
We wish to acknowledge the assistance of Mich Visoiu, Ecologist of the Biodiversity Conservation Branch DPIPWE for the re-classification of the plants.
William Buelow Gould: The Macquarie Harbour Botanical Drawings exhibition is on show at the Art Gallery until 17 May 2015. Admission is free.
Yvonne Adkins, Curator 19th Century Australian Art