Life & Times | Art - Lithographs | Art - Sketchbooks |
Mauritius & South Africa 1825-8 | South America 1851/8 | New Zealand 1840

Captain Robert Marsh Westmacott 1801-1870

Life and Times


Robert Marsh Westmacott (1801-70) is a shadowy figure in the annals of Australian colonial history. Biographical details of him are scant, and only a small collection of his artwork and isolated references in dusty archives and old newpapers bear witness to his life's work and presence in the New South Wales during the 1830s and 1840s. There is no cache of manuscripts or letters available to the researcher, and frankly did nothing of significance to warrant inclusion in works such as the Australian Dictionary of Biography. Yet despite this, Westmacott is an interesting historical figure of special importance to the Illawarra regional of New South Wales and an amateur artist of some note. Amongst Australian art historians he is chiefly remembered for the production of two series of lithographs which date from 1838 and 1848 and present topographic and ethnographic views of New South Wales. In 1984 a prominent Sydney art dealer and bookseller wrote of Westmacott:

Little is known about him, and his Sketches in Australia, published in two separate series, represent his only artistic legacy. He appears to have been another of those military officers with a talent for sketching, which they turned to some profit by publishing examples of their work on returning to England. Westmacott's views are skillfully drawn and attractive. They represent virtually the last in the chronology of work by military or naval officers in the romantic landscape tradition of the early 19th century. (McCormick, 1984)

Westmacott's predecessors in this tradition include Lieutenant William Bradley (with the First Fleet), Philip Gidley King and Major Thomas Livingstone Mitchell, amongst others. With professional artists scare in the Colony prior to 1830, it was left to those with military training and numerous free or convict amateur artists to produce the major portion of the pictorial record during its foundation period and prior to the gold rushes of the 1850s. The arrival in the Colony of professional painters such as Augustus Earle (1825), Conrad Martens (1835) and John Skinner Prout (1839) meant that the important role undertaken by individuals such as Westmacott and Mitchell fell into abeyance, such that by the time Robert Westmacott left Sydney in August 1851 amateur and military topographical artists no longer bore primary responsibility for the production of views, portraits and maps and plans of New South Wales. The widespread introduction of photography was also just around the corner - 1858, though the first photos had been taken in the early 1840s. When the goldrushes overwhelmed the colonies of New South Wales and Victoria during 1851, the military control and convict chain grangs had been replaced by a largely free society.

Westmacott, as an amateur artist, was out of touch with the burgeoning art movements of England in the 1830s. His training in the arts was not via any Royal Academy - though his father, Sir Richard Westmacott, was perhaps the most famous British sculptor of his time. Rather, it occurred as part of his officer training program of the British Army's Royal Staff Corps. This military education during the early 1820s included lessons in draughtmanship, surveying and topographical drawing, all of which were to be applied in the preparation of battlefield plans, the taking of coastal profiles and landscapes, and in outlining the geography of new additions to the Empire. These skills also extended into the making of a pictorial record of the flora, fauna, and peoples of the garrisons at which one was stationed, or areas involved in administering. Whilst the art of military officers such as Captain Westmacott may have been purely documentary and often naive, it has assumed added significance with the passing of time and recognition of the rarity of much of the work. These men and their families traveled beyond the confines of local settlements, and were on hand to take views of localities never previously seen by Europeans. In an era before the invention and widespread use of photography, the artwork of sketchers and watercolourists such as Westmacott - especially via their city and town landscapes - form an important part of the surviving pictorial record of eastern Australia. Westmacott produced only a few scarce lithographs and small scale sketches whilst in the New South Wales, and as he never possessed the natural skills of a Conrad Martens or John Skinner Prout, and left Australia in 1851 with no colonial ties following on a residence of some 20 years, he has understandably become a shadowy figure in Australian history - unknown nationally, and little-known locally.

The following essay sheds light on Robert Marsh Westmacott's personal history and surviving artistic output. He is an artist whose notices in the standard Australian art history texts such as Moore (1934) and McCulloch (1968) have consisted of only a few brief lines, with his collection of original artworks largely unknown to the public. It was only in 1992 with the appearance of Joan Kerr's Dictionary of Australian Artists to 1870 that a more complete summary of his work appeared. This essay will help place Westmacott in his proper context as a significant colonial-period, amateur artist. His work contains important depictions of Australian subjects - such as the Illawarra landscape, Sydney Harbour, and references to early coal mining in the Colony during the 1830s and 'forties. During his lifetime he also took views of Mauritius (1825-26), New Zealand (1840-50) and South America (1858). Any revelation of biographical information can only help to enhance documentation and appreciation of Westmacott's art.

Biographical Sketch

Early Years

Robert Marsh Westmacott was born circa 1801 at Sidmouth, County Devon, on the south coast of England. He was the third child and second son of the famous British sculptor Sir Richard Westmacott (1775-1856). Sir Richard's other children included Richard Junior (1799-1872), Dorothy, Elizabeth, Arthur, and Maria. No birth certificate for Robert has yet been located, raising the possibility that he was an illegitimate son, a circumstance apparently common among the Westmacott line. As Sir Richard Westmacott's residence was in London we do not know the circumstances of Robert's birth in the coastal town of Sidmouth, south east of the city - perhaps it was the location of the family's holiday retreat. N.S. King (1964) states that Robert was born in Sidmouth, based on the 1946 testimony of John Westmacott of Parramatta, New South Wales (a grand-nephew). It has not as yet been verified.

Whilst Robert's elder brother Richard followed in their father's footsteps and became an eminent sculptor, young Robert - or 'Watty' as he was known to his friends - chose a career (or had it chosen for him) in military administration within the Royal Staff Corps and Quartermaster General's Department of the British Army. Nothing is known of his early life and education prior to joining the army in March 1823. With his father's respected and financially well-placed position in English society, Robert Westmacott was most likely received a comprehensive, liberal education. His choice of a career in the administrative arm of the military is not strange, for it was a common career path open to sons of the wealthy. Whilst any military career in the British Army during the 1820s would have been affected by the cessation of the Napoleonic wars after 1815, there were nevertheless many opportunities existing in other areas in which the British military forces were involved, such as in administering the various colonies.

The defeat of Napoleon had given England the encouragement it needed to further expand its burgeoning Empire. The 1820s and thirties saw expansion and consolidation of colonies throughout Africa, Australasia and the Americas. New garrisons and stations were opened up, trade was expanding, and the penal colony of New South Wales was one example of an area requiring administration by British authorities. While the army was not involved in much fighting on the battlefield during these years, it nevertheless faced many foes and obstacles in its administration of occupied lands and colonies, especially from indigenous peoples, foreign pirates, and other colonising powers. As far as we know, Robert was not involved in any military actions during his period in the army, being mainly concerned with administrative and ceremonial duties.

Sir Richard Westmacott's wealth was able to support the purchase of commissions for his son during throughout the 1820s, beginning on 13 March 1823 when Robert was made an Ensign in the Royal Staff Corps. The relatively late age at which he entered the services suggests that he may have attempted some other career but was unsuccessful. After two years as an Ensign, in September 1825 Robert attained the rank of Lieutenant, again with the Royal Staff Corps and again by purchase. This 'promotion' coincided with his departure from England for the colony of Mauritius, a small island off the east coast of Africa.

It should be noted that between 1823-58 Robert Westmacott traveled widely, both as a soldier and civilian, before eventually settling back home in England. During those years abroad he visited Mauritius, South Africa, New South Wales, New Zealand, Brazil, Spain, France and Abyssinia. Our only record of these travels are the details of his military record and the many small pencil sketches and watercolours he produced at the time. No major collection of letters or personal papers have yet been located by the author, though the Westmacott family archives still survive in a private collection in England and offer possibilities for future discoveries. The fact that Robert Marsh Westmacott was also a competent sketcher and chronicler means that we are fortunate in having access to recording his many travels during the first half of the nineteenth century.

Mauritius 1825-26

Between 1825-26 Lieutenant Westmacott was stationed at Mauritius (also known as the Ile de France), as aid to the English Governor Sir Galbraith Lawney "Harry" Cole. Britain had gained control of Mauritius from France after the battle of Port Louis in 1810. This was formalized at the Treaty of Paris in 1814. England maintained the island as a colony until 1968, though the French ties ran deep and still remain. Mauritius was politically and strategically significant for the two colonial powers due to its two sea ports and position in the Indian Ocean.

Westmacott's pencil sketches and watercolours of the island record his time there, however little is known on the subject. His earliest surviving artworks are of the island. In 1846, whilst resident in New South Wales, Robert reminisced of his time on Mauritius upon being queried by some Illawarra residents regarding his credentials as a surveyor and supervisor of the Bulli mountain road construction. He was able to inform them that he had carried out a complete survey of Mauritius while serving under Harry Cole, and was therefore competent to map the proposed mountain road.

Cape Colony (South Africa) 1827-29

By 1827 Robert had left Mauritius and transferred to the nearby Cape Colony, where he became Aide-de-camp to Governor Richard Bourke. He was to remain attached to Bourke in this role until 1837, throughout the latter's governorship of New South Wales. Unfortunately their final parting was not entirely amicable.

No artworks survive from Robert's time in South Africa, we know little of his experiences there. Hazel King's biography of Bourke (1971) describes the activities of the Governor of Cape Colony, but makes no reference to Westmacott. On 9 September 1828, supposedly whilst still in Africa, Robert purchased a commission as Captain in the 98th Regiment, transferring from the Royal Staff Corps. During this era army commissions were freely purchased or exchanged. Even though Robert was now a Captain within the 98th, his duties may have been substantially the same as during his years with the Royal Staff Corps, namely serving as assistant and Aid-de-camp to the governor.

Robert was station in South Africa for approximately two years. Early in 1829 Bourke's governorship ended and both he and Westmacott returned to England.

England 1829-31

Upon arrival in London in April 1829 Robert went on half pay. This was a form of semi-retirement from the army, enabling an officer was able to maintain his military ank and entitlements for a period whilst carrying out other duties. As Robert was only 29 at the time, permanent retirement was not then envisaged. Westmacott remained on half-pay for just over two years (April 1829 - June 1831). His activities during this period are unknown, but as he later stated that he worked with Richard Bourke for 11 years (i.e. from 1827 to 1837), it seems likely that he remained in Bourke's employ as A.D.C. and/or personal assistant during these years. He may also have used the time simply as a holiday, or to look for an alternate career in England.

In early 1831 Richard Bourke was offered the position of Governor of New South Wales, replacing the unpopular Ralph Darling. When he decided to accept in July of that year, he called on Lieutenant Westmacott to accompany him as his Aid-de-camp. Robert accepted and was also given the title of Deputy Quartermaster General of the Colony as a preliminary to his departure.

Just one week prior to leaving England, Robert married Louisa Marion Plummer, on 18 June 1831 at St George's Cathedral, Hanover Square, London. Louisa was the eldest daughter of the late Reverend George Plummer of North-hill, Cornwall. The couple would go on to have 5 children and share a rather stormy relationship, before finally separating in 1851.

Voyage to New South Wales 1831

A week after their marriage, Robert and his new bride boarded the ship Margaret bound for Sydney. They were part of the official Bourke entourage. It included the Governor and Mrs. Bourke, their children Anne and Richard, Captain and Mrs. Westmacott, Captain Hunter (Bourke's military secretary), Mrs. Hunter and her 5 children, the Reverend George Innes, and Doctor Stephenson. An entertaining journal of this voyage was kept by Anne Bourke, the Governor's daughter, and it contains many references to their old friend Watty and his new wife. Judging from comments in the journal, Anne Bourke did not like the new Mrs. Westmacott, finding her "so very selfish, and all bone, no softness about her". By mid voyage she was even confiding to her sister "... we do not like Capt. Westmacott now so much as we used to....", and referring to him as "the little tyrant"! Such were the tensions arising on board ship during the long voyage to Australia.

New South Wales 1831-47

The Margaret arrived in Port Jackson on 2 December 1831, and Robert Westmacott immediately played a prominent part in arranging the official welcoming ceremonies as part of his formal role as the governor's A.D.C. The Colony gave Bourke a hearty welcome, happy to see him after the departure of Darling. Bourke was to remain well-liked throughout his time in New South Wales, as was shown by his being the first colonial governor to be memorialised in a statue, the funds for which were got up by popular subscription shortly after his departure from the Colony.

Coinciding with Robert's arrival in Sydney, early in 1832 he transferred from the 98th Regiment to the 4th (King's Own) Regiment as Captain and remained in this unit until the end of 1837 when he sold out to settle in New South Wales. From 1832 to 1837 Robert led a hectic schedule in association with his official duties, responsible for the Governor's many ceremonial engagements and travel arrangements. As Bourke was probably the most traveled colonial governor since the time of Lachlan Macquarie (1810-22), visiting many of the settled areas of New South Wales and Port Phillip, Westmacott therefore had the opportunity to see much of the Colony as it was then known. These travels took him to Illawarra (1834, 1836), Twofold Bay and Eden on the New South Wales south coast (1835), the Southern Tablelands, Newcastle, Port Stephens, over the Blue Mountains to Bathurst, and as far south as Port Phillip in 1837.

Whilst at Twofold Bay in 1835 Westmacott was injured by an exploding powder keg and forced to return to Sydney by sea. Bourke and party continued their expedition overland via Arthursleigh and Berrima to Parramatta. The Port Phillip visit has been immortalized in a painting by Joseph Panton of the "Commandants House, Melbourne 1837", commissioned by the King family in 1880 and based on a sketch taken by Philip Parker King during the visit to Melbourne. Westmacott, with umbrella in hand, is seen walking by Governor Bourke's side in the right background of the painting. Throughout these journeys Robert accompanied the Governor with sketchbook in hand, producing numerous pencil and wash drawings of areas of New South Wales, concentrating especially on Sydney harbour prior to 1837.

Settler at Illawarra 1837-47

In December 1837 Richard Bourke returned to England and Westmacott, somewhat soured by the governor's lack of recognition for his many years service, resigned his commission to become a settler in New South Wales. He immediately purchased properties at Illawarra and on the Paterson River, and from 1838 to 1847 he was an active member of the Illawarra and Sydney business communities, operating from his residences at Bulli in northern Illawarra - including the old house of Cornelius O'Brien located on the headland now known as Sandon Point - and in Sydney (c.f. King, 1964).

The period 1838-41 was one of intense activity and increasing prosperity for Westmacott. It saw him involved in farming and horse breeding at Bulli, land speculation (acquiring over 1000 acres in Illawarra and 1280 on the Paterson River), brick making and sea trading - instigating the first regular steamship service between Wollongong and Sydney in 1839, and operating his own vessel, the Trial.

In May 1838 he issued a set of six lithographs entitled Series of Views in Australia, printed in London by the famous English lithographer C. Hullmandel and containing the first published view of Illawarra.

In May 1839 Lady Jane Franklin, the wife of Sir John Franklin, Governor of Van Dieman's Land, stayed with Westmacott for a couple of days during her visit to Illawarra. Her pencil portrait of Westmacott is revealed in letters to her husband and diary notes of the trip. They present a picture of a man whose star was on the rise and future in the Colony looked bright:

During our stay of several days in this district we were chiefly under the care and guidance of Captain Westmacott (a son of Sir Richard Westmacott the great sculptor) who has a fine property in Illawarra [at Bulli]. Captain Westmacott was for eleven years Aide-de-camp to Sir Richard Bourke, a proof of his good qualities which to us were very apparent without this recommendation. He is the person perhaps we have liked best in our tour, kind, sincere, active, energetic, religious. (Organ 1988)

Around this period Robert unsuccessfully attempted to open a coal mine (the first in Illawarra) on his property at Bulli, against the wishes of the Australian Agricultural Company, the holders of the sole right to mine coal in the Colony until 1848. He was ultimately forced to cancel these plans due to lack of convict labour and personal financial problems.

By early 1841 Westmacott had over-committed himself with his various real estate and shipping ventures. When the steamship service of which he was a shareholder became insolvent he was held partially responsible for a #4000 debt. He placed his affairs in the hands of trustees, but was eventually forced to sell his Illawarra property and house at Sandon Point, Bulli, in 1844 to cover those debts. Upon being declared solvent later that year he set up house once again at Bulli, this time with money from England provided by his father.

From 1844 to 1847 the Westmacott family resided in a cottage known as Woodlands, Bulli, hoping the financial tide would turn. They also had residences at Bent Street, Sydney and at Parramatta during their years in the Colony, and it was here - closer to medical services - that their children were born. These included:

* George Richard b. 31 May 1832, Bent St, Sydney - d. 18 October 1882, India

* Robert Horatio b. 1 September 1834, Parramatta - d. 27 November 1851, Hastings, England

* Francis Herbert b. 29 December 1835, Parramatta - d. 6 February 1907

* Louisa Margaret b. 4 August 1837, Sydney - d. 30 August 1885

* Helen Maria Sophia b. 20 May 1845, Kent St, Sydney

Robert Westmacott, along with many other prominent businessmen of the time, never fully recovered from the 1841-44 depression. Despite setting up Woodlands and gaining employment as a Commissioner for Crown Lands in 1845 (at one point he was also considered for the position of postmaster at Port Phillip), the family's colonial prospects did not look as bright as they had done in 1839. The stigma of a bankrupt would also have been a burden to his financial recovery.

After struggling on in Illawarra for two years, by the end of 1846 Robert had decided to quit New South Wales and in February 1847 he returned to England with his family, seeking better fortune and help from his father and brother in starting a new career.

New Zealand - circa.1840

If not for the fact that Robert was a competent amateur artist and draughtsman his life would be of local or family interest only, however his many extant artworks - mainly topographic views dealing not only with Australia but also New Zealand and South America - raise his status somewhat. One of the subjects which remains somewhat of a mystery in his life is his association with New Zealand.

Until recently the only suggestion of a link, or even the possibility that he visited there, came from a collection of watercolour drawings by him in the National Library of Australia. They date from 1840-50 and show various topographic and ethnographic views of New Zealand and its people. The drawings vary in quality from simple, naive pencil sketches, to finished watercolours of ethnographic and historical importance. The 17 works (listed and described below) are largely unknown to New Zealand art historians, possibly due to the fact that they are housed in an Australian collection and little is known of Westmacott himself. Yet they warrant recognition and study, not only because of their above-mentioned values, but also due to their rarity and age.

Like most such Australasian colonial period artworks, their use and value is largely dependant upon their quality and their historical context. For example, we may ask of Westmacott's New Zealand views: when and where were they taken; what were the circumstances of the artist's presence in New Zealand; how long did he stay; are there diaries or letters which further describe the subjects of individual drawings; are they preliminary sketches or finished works; original or copies; by Westmacott or another artist? Such information commonly gets lost through time, leaving the art historian with many questions and much to discover.

Until recently very little was known of Captain Westmacott's New Zealand experiences apart from what the drawings told us. However recent information from Commander H.P. Westmacott - a descendant of the Westmacott family who formerly resided in New Zealand but now lives in England - and his sister Mrs. Wigley, suggested that Robert Marsh Westmacott not only visited New Zealand in 1840 but also formed an association with a Maria woman of the King Country, North Island, during his visit there as the owner of a trading vessel. Commander Westmacott in a recent letter to the author asked whether Robert ever visited New Zealand

"....My reason for asking is that I farmed the property my Father left, in the King Country of the North Island of New Zealand, and as described in a book my wife assembled based on my Father's memoirs, (The After-Breakfast Cigar by Spencer Westmacott), the Maoris of that locality claimed descent from a Westmacott. I had understood that the Westmacott in question had been a Robert Marsh Westmacott, en route to take up his duties as A.D.C. to the Governor of New South Wales. My version had it that his ship had traded around the coast of N.Z. and called into the port of Kawhia, where R.M.W. was able to indulge in a dalliance."

Recent evidence from Mrs. Wigley suggests that the Westmacott with the Maori connection was one James Westmacott, of whom nothing is known, and not our Robert. The remainder of the story with regards to the trading vessel warrants further investigation as it may explain the album of drawings.

We know that around 1839-41 Westmacott was a major shareholder in the Illawarra Steam Packet Company and later the General Steam Navigation Company, which operated a number of coastal steam vessels including the Sophia Jane, William IV, and the Maitland. He was also owner of a small 13 ton brig the Trial which traded along the eastern coast of New South Wales between Newcastle, Sydney, and his home port of Bulli in Illawarra, carrying coal and other commodities. Due to its small size it is highly unlikely that it ever visited New Zealand. If it is true that he took one of his own vessels to New Zealand, then it must have been one of those belonging to the General Steam Navigation Co. or another of which the author is unaware.

Further proof comes from identified landscape views in Westmacott's album which are all of localities in the North Island, apart from a view in Queen Charlotte's Sound (cat 1) which is located on the northern tip of the South Island. Westmacott took views of the Hutt River near Wellington (cat 3 & 8); the Mokau and Waikato rivers and Manukau on the western coast of the North Island (cat 4 & 12); at Hauraki (cat 7) and Rotu-rua (cat 10) on the east coast, and Auckland (cat 2 & 5).

An art historian at the Turnbull Library in Wellington has recently suggested that Westmacott never visited New Zealand, but copied the works of other artists following his return to England in 1851. This would tie in with what we know of Westmacott's movements and seems to ring true. There also exists reference to Westmacott having been engaged to investigate one of the New Zealand coalfields at the end of 1853 and having made preparations to depart England for Nelson, however it is unclear as to whether he ever made the journey.

Back in England 1847-1850

Whilst in England looking for employment between August 1847 and July 1850, Westmacott issued his second series of lithographs, entitled Sketches in Australia. They were printed at W. Spreat's Lithographic Establishment, Park Place, Exeter, and included a number of views of Illawarra and the environs of Sydney with accompanying descriptive text.

Robert's attempt to find employment in England paid off in August 1850 he was offered the prestigious position of General Superintendent to the Australian Agricultural Company's New South Wales operations, based at Tahlee, near Stroud. Robert accepted the offer and his father supplied the Company with a 5000 bond to indemnify his son's position.

The Westmacott's left Plymouth, England for New South Wales on 26 October 1850 aboard the Tartar, skippered by Captain Rudge. Their party consisted of Robert and Louisa, 4 children and three female servants. Also aboard was Mr. Blaine of the A.A.Co.

Superintendent of the Australian Agricultural Company 1850-1

It is indeed ironic that the very company which had thwarted his attempts to mine coal at Bulli in 1840, should now offer Westmacott control of its Australian operations - an irony which was not appreciated by some employees in the Colony. The English directors of the Company were pleased with their choice, obtaining the services of a man with wide experience in colonial affairs. However some of the local Company personnel still remembered the 1840 episode, when Robert had attempted to challenge their local coal monopoly.

When notified of his appointment many were not happy and upon Westmacott's arrival in Sydney on 8 February 1851 a campaign was got up by elements of the local Australian Agricultural Company management to discredit Westmacott and bring to light his former insolvency and a small unpaid debt to the Company. Despite these machinations he was appointed to the position of General Superintendent on 31 March 1851 and immediately took up duties, based at Tahlee House, Stroud.

If not for unfortunate personal circumstance, Robert may have been able to ride out the storm of local opposition from within the Company. However events were moving against him, coming to a head in May 1851 when his wife Louisa eloped with captain Rudge of the Tartar, the vessel which had brought the family from England. The relationship between Robert and Louisa appears to have been shaky even before their return to Sydney in 1851. Residents of Illawarra recorded the couples violent fights while living at Bulli during the 1840s, and noted that husband and wife lived in two separate buildings upon the Westmacott estate.

The combination of young children to support; local hostilities and political maneuvering against his appointment; and the scandal of his wife eloping with a sea captain, caused Westmacott to resign his Superintendency position on 2 June 1851 and return almost immediately to England.

The Westmacott's left Sydney aboard the Mountstuart on the 25th August, bound for England via Cape Horn. Robert was never to set foot on Australian shores again. To add to his personnel woes during this period, whilst on the return trip to England Robert's 17 year old son Robert Horatio died in Hastings, England, on 27th November, having been sent there for schooling.

Return to England 1852

Arriving in London in February 1852 to the news of his son's death, and out of pocket with a young family to support, Robert once again sought the help of his immediate family. He moved in with his father at South Audley Street, London, and by July he was listed as Managing Director of the New South Wales Gold Mines Company, operating from England. This company was not successful and quickly faded from the scene, with Westmacott leaving them in mid 1853, possible to take up an offer to visit New Zealand and investigate the viability of the Pakewau coal fields near Nelson. During this period Robert was also involved in seeking compensation from the A.A.Co. and return of his father's bond. During 1852 he also became a Fellow of the Royal Geographical Society and the Geological Society, having been nominated to the latter by Sir Roderick Murchison.

South America 1858

Robert's activities for the 5 years between 1853-57 are unknown. In 1858 we find that he was employed in Brazil as surveyor on the construction of the railway line between Racife and the Sao Francisco River, near Pernambuco. During this period he took a number of pencil and watercolour sketches recording his movements.

Late in 1858 Robert contracted an illness (possibly malaria) as a result of the intense heat and many mangrove swamps through which the railway line passed. Upon his enforced return to England in January 1859 due to ill health, he wrote the following letter to Dr Norton Shaw of the Royal Geographical Society outlining his experiences there:

London January 13th 1859

My dear Sir

I have lately returned from the Brazils, where I have been employed in carrying out the operations now in progress of the Railway in Pernambuco - surveying from "Racife" to the River "Sao Francisco". The intense heat of the climate and the Malaria arising from the Mangrove Swamps, in the vicinity of "Racife" caused me some illness and obliged me very reluctantly to return.

As I conceive it to be a duty incumbent upon every Member of the Society to contribute anything that may serve to add to its usefulness, I have ventured to send you a few Sketches illustrative of operations now progressing in a Country so little known. Perhaps Sir R. Murchison would like to see them, in order that he may be made aware how English Enterprise, English Capital, and how English Engineering Talent can insert itself in a Foreign Country to increase its Mercantile resources, and develop its riches.

The Country through which the Railway passes is very beautiful and rich, not only in soil, but mineral riches.

A vast quantity of produce, Sugar, Spices, Coffee, Timber, etc, that now cannot find its way to Market will soon do so.

Independent of Gold, Silver, Diamonds, precious Stones, Cinnabar, etc, which would have been forever, owing to the apathy and indolence of the Brazilians, lost to the world.

Owing to want of labour, the intense heat, and ..... not permitting Europeans to work in open air, and other local causes, the work at present progresses slowly, there are however great difficulties to contend with.

I was much surprised at receiving your letter but will enquire, and comply with its contents. From the effects of a bad cold I am unable to call upon you at present.

Believe me

Yours very truly, Robt. M. Westmacott


Dr. Norton Shaw, F.R.G.S., Whitehall Place


As far as is known, this was the only instance of Westmacott visiting South America, though it is possible he also made stops there during the return voyage to England from Australia late in 1851. A number of his sketches have survived from this period in tropical South America.

Final Years in England 1859-70

Westmacott's movements over the twelve years following his return to England in 1859 remain a mystery. On 10 May 1870 he died of inflammation of the stomach and exhaustion at Augusta Villa, Heath Road, Twickenham. He was survived by four children.

So ends the rather melancholy tale of Captain R.M. Westmacott. His previously mysterious life is revealed to be full of variety and incident, especially in the years prior to the New South Wales depression of the early 1840s. He was an efficient Aide-de-camp to Governor Richard Bourke and played an important role in the development of the Illawarra district of New South Wales between 1838-47. However from the time of his first financial problems in 1841 his life takes on a tragic note - we see financial ruin; the disastrous Australian Agricultural Company episode; the elopement of his wife; the death of his beloved son; and a later illness.

Westmacott's surviving artworks and lithographs are perhaps the finest legacy to his role in the pioneering of Australia - a country he tried so hard to make his own.


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King, Hazel, Richard Bourke, Oxford University Press, Melbourne, 1971.

King, N.S., History of Austinmer and Robert Marsh Westmacott in Australia, Illawarra Historical Society, Wollongong, 1964.

King, Philip Parker, Notebook, 1837-43, Mitchell Library MSS963, p101. (Contains a pencil drawing of "Commandant's House, Melbourne" showing Westmacott and Bourke at Melbourne in 1837).

McCormick, A., Catalogue Number 12, Paddington, 1985. (Offering a set of Sketches in Australia [1848] for sale at $8500).

McCulloch, Alan, 'R.M. Westmacott', Encyclopaedia of Australian Art, Hutchinson of Australia, Melbourne, 1968.

Mitchell, W. & Sherington, G., Growing Up In Illawarra: A Social History 1834-1984, Wollongong University, Wollongong, 1984.

Moore, W., The Story of Australian Art, Angus & Robertson, Sydney, 1923, volume I, p17.

Organ, Michael, 'Bibliographic Notes on Captain R.M. Westmacott's Sketches in Australia', Biblionews, volume 11, no.3, September 1986, pp79-81.

----, The Illawarra Diary of Lady Jane Franklin, 10-17 May 1839, Illawarra Historical Publications, Woonona, 1988.

Pemberton, P.A., Pure Merinos and Others: The "Shipping Lists" of the Australian Agricultural Company, Archives of Business and Labour Australian National University, Canberra, 1986.

Riviere, L., Historical Dictionary of Mauritius, Scarecrow Press, London, 1982.

Stewart, Alexander, Reminiscences of Illawarra [1828-94], Illawarra Historical Publications, Woonona, 1987.

Speirs, Henry, Landscape Art and The Blue Mountains, APCOL, Chippendale 1981, p.49. (Contains a reproduction of Westmacott's lithograph 'Road from Emu Plains over the Blue Mountains' [1848]).

Wantrup, Jonathan, Australian Rare Books, Hordern House, Sydney, 1987.


{Sir Richard Bourke Papers, Letters to His Son Richard, Volume 6, Mitchell Library A1733, CY336, frames 829-38}

R. Recd. 7th November 1834

Wollongong, N.S.Wales

April 21 1834

My dear Richard

You will perceive by the place from where this is dated that I have accomplished my intended visit to the Illawarra District. I am indeed seated in the house of Mr Gray the Police Magistrate, and here alas I am likely to sit as one of our Coast rains has commenced without any prospect of finishing. The Settlers tell me I may get out tomorrow and that the road will then be in that sate of mud and water as to leave no doubt in my mind, but many to ..... in my boots of the ..... of immediate repair - or rather formation, as none have yet been regularly laid out and they tell me I am the first Governor who has descended their rugged Mountain Pass.

I have bought Mitchell with me and I hope to organize some improvements in this secluded but fertile and beautiful tract. It has exceeded my expectation in point of beauty of vegetation. The Cabbage Plam and Fern Trees are exquisite - as are some of the tropical Creepers and parasitical Plants. The Maize and Tobacco are more valuable indeed but I almost lament that the ground tho' have been cleared of the former to make room for these homely productions. My Horses and most of the Servants are however of a very different opinion, & the Maize is .... and the Tobacco smoked in profusion by the ... Members of the Cavalcade.

I had ..... a week to this District and would wish that the rain had kept at the other side [of] the hills where it is wanted, and left us at liberty to pursue our investigations with a dry skin. I am however totally well provided in case of delay having bought the Revenue Cutter .... with my baggage; not withouyt some apprehension in Lauga that the pretty vessel might be wrecked! I have sent her to Jervis's Bay to make the Captain acquanited with the Coast. I hope to make a good Boat Harbour for small craft and ... at this place by means of a Break Water to be constructed by an Ironed Gang.

Having mentioned these Gangs I hope you may have been instrumental in showing the Lady of State how I am hampered by legal doubts as to the power of imposing ..... on the Road Parties, & are increasingly idle tho' not otherwise delinquient must always be found here whom no prudent Settler will feed and clothe; and that unless the Govt can put them into Irons will remain a useless charge on the Treasury and a reproach to our laws.

As to Australian Politics they remain pretty much as when you sailed. The Monitor has perhaps gone more into opposition and the Sydney Gazette entered chivalrously into the contest in favour of the Governor. Hall is losing himseff and his Paper by his attachment to the Major. The latter has written four sheets of twaddle to me in the form of advice to the government on the management of the Convicts, but .... for the purpose of giving offence. However I am determined not to be offended tho' I need not .... the twaddle. If it wd not be a breach of official decorum I wd send the letter to some of the Papers to publish. In addition to this letter the Major is printing a pamphlet here to be published in London expressing my errors in Convict management and the hardship of his Case .... Homecutas is also parating his, but whether to be published here or in London is doubtful. A letter under that name appeared lately in the Gazette addressed to Hall, which is very ably written. I know not the author, but he has Ireland himself an Emigrant of W23.

The Petition from the Hunter is still on the ... of that celebrated stream but no copy has I understand been allowed to be taken. None of my friends have been able to procure one. In the meantime, the Colony continues remarkable quiet and notwithstanding the short harvest of last year every thing is flourishing but in Sydney & the Country is a degree never before ..... In reply to a Circular lately addressed to the Magistrates on the subject of the renewal of the Bushranging Act, they almost all admit the tranquility of the Country when compared with former times, some of them attributing it to the provisions of that Act other merely asserting the fact as undoubted. The Council too who have renewed the Act for three months only in order to allow of its being amended at the Annual Meeting in June, have taken this step on the representation of the Judges that the preamble which sets forth the prevalence of robbery and housebreaking is not now correct and that the foundation for so arbitrary an Act has been underminded by the tranquility of the Colony. These opinions will be printed and will probably form a counterpoint to the Hunters River Petition. You shall have copies ........

John Macarthur is dead. He went off rather suddenly but peacefully and quietly and apparently more reasonable, tho' he had been for some time before. It is not known how his property has been disposed of.

His Ld and Lady Parry passed a couple of days with me at Parramatta. he has expressed himslef sorry for having signed the newcasle Petition of last year, and repulsed with vigor an attempt to induce him to take home that noe concocting in the Hunter. I am sorry the Colony is to lose two such valuable Persons. My official difficulties continue as great as ever. I have no help in the Colonial Office, but on the contrary encouter much unwarranted obloguy from the delays and ill will of that depot of discontent. This must blow up before it is long. As I am indifferent to the result I will take care to make my case to the Pallice.

The .... is gone for these .... to the Hunter. He is better in health as is Mrs Forbes. ... is well and .... the Marriage Act which I promised the .... to introduce this year. Mrs B. is ailing as usual - but not worse. Poor dear Breton died last week! This is a sad blow to a very worthy husband and friend.

May 15

This much have I written in the Illawarra from whence I returned the 26 April ......... where I had passed all probable chance of one tho' one of those peaks of Martin which .... me she has detested to you. Thank God I am now quite well and finishing despatches for the .... which will ..... sail with Sir Ld & Lady Parry on the 19. We go to Sydney as before for the Birthday. ........ no ... from England having arrived since you sailed nor any thing from England later than the 15 November (post six months) now in the Colony. This is the longest drought in the way of pens we remembered!

God bless you my dear Boy. I hope soon, I mean in some months, to hear

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