Gorge of the southern branch of Depot Creek and the plain over which it flows c. 1856 signed 'T BAINES.' lower right oil on canvas 45.0 x 65.5cm (17 11/16 x 25 13/16in).
PROVENANCE The collection of the artist. Private collection, South Africa By descent Private collection, London, 1996 Fine Australian Paintings, Sotheby's, Melbourne, 28 April 1997, lot 187 (illus.) The Reg Grundy AC OBE and Joy Chambers-Grundy Collection, acquired in 1997
LITERATURE Thomas Baines, Journal of the Detachment of the North Australian Expedition remaining at Depot Creek, Royal Geographical Society, London, 1856-7, part one, p. 165
John Thomas Baines (1820-1875) was a talented and prolific nineteenth century explorer and artist. In pencil, watercolour, and oils, his work is well represented in art galleries and archives in southern Africa, Australia and London.
Baines left England for Cape Town when he was 21. Supporting himself by selling his art, he travelled extensively in southern Africa, making many hundreds of images and keeping a careful written record. Returning to England in 1852, Baines' field experience brought him to the attention of Britain's metropolitan geographers and the most famous explorers of his age. One was Augustus Gregory who planned an expedition to northern Australia to evaluate its potential for agriculture, for minerals, and for trade with the East. He invited Baines to join his team as artist and store-keeper. In mid-July 1855, 18 men and 50 horses sailed from Sydney, reaching the mouth of the Victoria River two months later.
Gregory established a small camp about 250km inland on a small tributary of the Wickham River. While Gregory surveyed the hinterland, Baines was left in charge of the detachment at "Depot Camp'' and maintained an official journal, as yet unpublished and located in the Mitchell Library. It records shortages of water and food, intense heat, physical discomfort and disease, and fear of hostile Aboriginal people whose close proximity was indicated by agate chips and cave paintings. Towards the end of February 1856 the horses wandered away during a heavy storm. Once the camp had dried out, Baines set off in search for them. Part of his journal entry for 26 February reads: "Took Phibb's rifle and walked out upon the plain ... took the following bearings, Camp S by E ¾ mile, end of sandstone range SSE, gorge of the southern branch S by E ¼ E. Gorge of Depot Creek SSW ... ". This appears to be the view depicted in this painting, which would later have been worked up from a watercolour or sketch, probably for a client. The placement of the figure in the landscape and the wildlife in the distance is typical of Baines.
When Gregory departed overland, Baines was deployed to purchase supplies in the East Indies, and he planned to rendezvous with Gregory at the Albert River. The two missed each other, and Baines returned to Sydney by sailing around western Australia while Gregory reached Moreton Bay safely. The North Australian venture marked the high point of Baines' career. He later returned to Africa as explorer and gold prospector, dying of dysentery in Durban in 1875.
Professor Jane Carruthers
REFERENCES Thomas Baines, ''Additional notes on the North Australian Expedition under Mr A.C. Gregory", Proceedings of the Royal Geographical Society 2(1), 1857, pp. 3-16 Thomas Baines, ''Journals'', DX MF FM4 1373. Mitchell Library, State Library of New South Wales, Sydney Russell Braddon, Thomas Baines and the North Australian Expedition, Royal Geographical Society, London; Collins, Sydney, 1986 Jane Carruthers, and M. Arnold, The Life and Work of Thomas Baines, Fernwood Press, Cape Town, South Africa, 1995 Jane Carruthers, and L. Stiebel [ed.], Thomas Baines: Exploring Tropical Australia, 1855 to 1857, National Museum of Australia Press, Aanberra, 2012