Audio Transcript for Portraits of the Famous & Infamous: Rex Nan Kivell Collection Speakers: Nat Williams (N)
Location: National Library of Australia
N: To say that Nan Kivell was something of a character would be a massive understatement. He was born as Reginald Nankivell, illegitimate, gay and in difficult circumstances into a family of modest means in Christchurch in 1898. He died as you can see here as Sir Rex De CharembacNan Kivell Esquire in London in June 1977. He charmed his way through life, elaborating on his achievements, or sometimes his lack of them, with brio, all the while amassing a personal fortune as a leading modern art dealer and creating a collection of almost incomprehensible richness. Since 1959 we’ve been lucky enough to own this treasure trove, acquired for a very modest price considering its immense financial and historic value. The first part of the collection was formally acquired by the Library after almost a dozen years of complex negotiations. Nan Kivell had placed 1,300 items, key collection items with the Library from 1948, chastened by his wartime bombing experiences during the blitz and the looming cold war. The £70,000 Nan Kivell received for its acquisition was channelled back into more ... channelled back into thousands more purchases which came to us more or less continuously from 1959 to the year of his death. This further enriched what was already a truly remarkable overview in pictorial, map, manuscript, object and in printed form of our part of the world.
To say that Nan Kivell liked portraits is also something of an understatement. He acquired thousands of them to illustrate his maverick publication, Portraits of the Famous and the Infamous New Zealand ... Australia, New Zealand and the Pacific 1492 to 1970. He laboured over this project with his collaborator and fellow New Zealander, Sydney Spence, for more than 20 years. Almost exact contemporaries, he and Spence were born in the same year, 1898, and Spence died a year after him in 1978. Spence was a book dealer who lived in London and had written bibliographies on Cook, Bligh and Antarctica amongst other things. The book which has recently been digitised by the Library is an autodidact’s fantasy. Finally self-published at huge expense in 1974 it attempted to catalogue in encyclopaedic form the famous and infamous of our part of the world. Nan Kivell contrasted the famous whose activities he said foresaw, discovered, opened up and settled our region with the infamous whose contributions had been chiefly romantic, dramatic and sometimes historic. Into this curiously defined grab-bag of characters he inserted the famous cartographer, Abraham Autilius, who you can see on the screen here on the left, King George III, Captain James Cook, Sir Joseph Banks, the celebrated missionary of the Pacific, John Williams, and the social reformer and Quaker, Elizabeth Fry, no doubt all as famous listings. Conversely he collected characters such as Arthur Orton, the infamous Tichborne claimant and Edward Gibbon Wakefield, father of systematic colonisation and convicted kidnapper alongside bushrangers and the celebrity convict pickpockets George Barrington and Ikey Solomon. All of these characters are featured in the exhibition. Fifty portraits in different media have been distilled from thousands to give the public an introduction to the extraordinary reach and resonance of Nan Kivell’s collection and to his obsessiveness as a collector.
But what was the purpose behind this publication? Was it the author’s desire to present a collection of approved images of an elite that has in some way colonised our part of the world? Was it to set before us works of art, portraits which were in some way instructional? Or was it felt that exposure to selected portraits would be to our betterment somehow through some form of osmosis occurring while empathising with those depicted? Perhaps the portraits could ... would be seen as useful examples of the kind of noble forebears that we should be inspired by and seek to emulate. Or was it rather an attempt of provide pictorial and historic evidence of the broad range of characters that it contributed in acknowledged and unacknowledged ways to our history? A visual dictionary of sorts. This I think is the most compelling way of viewing such a maverick publication and collection. In granular detail the book puts before us the names of thousands of individuals or groups of people as evidence of their achievements and their collective contribution to our past. Some characters were catalytic like Ortelius, Columbus, Cook, Major Mitchell or Leichardt. Others were more hidden from our gaze, people such as those seen here, the resilient child survivor of a Maori massacre, Betsy Broughton, the vengeful Maori chief, Te Pēhi Kupe, and the Maori women and the child, Amoko, Eana and Hepee, illustrate the achievements made by people whose names are virtually lost to us now. Or they may represent extraordinary adventures happening to ordinary people.
Less than one-fifth of the individuals listed are illustrated in the book for reasons of space and cost. I think the purpose was more about placing people in some sort of context providing proof that they have existed in some cases rather than collecting them just to show them off for public betterment as they ... the National Portrait Gallery in London might have done in its earlier days. It is an interesting aside thought to note that Nan Kivell had many friends through his art dealing business that were celebrities, Charles Laughton, John Gielgud, John Mills, Elizabeth Taylor, Richard Attenborough, the artist, Duncan Grant, and his partner, the poet, Paul Roche, the Earl of Sandwich, Henry Moore, Ben Nicholson and Graham Sutherland. Many other artists of the day and key figures of the ... many other artists and key figures of the day were his friends so he was part of the world of the celebrity but I think the motives for the portraits book were more long-lasting historically resonant and deep-seated stretching back to his youthful interest in the accounts and evidence of voyaging and discovery. He had gazed at the world from isolated Christchurch and his youthful imagination had been fuelled by the books he had read, famous and infamous accounts, no doubt.
Australian libraries have been the great collecting place for portraits of those that came before us and it’s worth remembering that the original National Portrait Gallery was formed by the Library through its collection and its ground-breaking exhibitions at Old Parliament House in early 1994. The first exhibition was as you can see here ‘About Face, Aspects of Australian Aortraiture, 1970 to 19 ... 1770 to 1993’ curated by Anne Loxley with art historian Daniel Thomas as curatorial consultant. It featured the portrait of Betsy Broughton which you’ve just seen and which is in the exhibition downstairs. Australia’s fascination with portraits continues. Look no further than the yearly Archibald fracas in Sydney or other portraiture competitions that now exist around Australia and the great popular success of the NPG here since its opening in late 2007. It seems that Nan Kivell was in some respects ahead of the game in deciding that portraits were both attractive to people, illustrative of our interesting past and worthy of serious investigation by assembling them in what is still a useful database of imagery even if it did take him 20 years to do so and is not without faults as a volume. However I’m reminded of the quote by Falconer Madan who was in charge of the Bodleian Library at Oxford from 1912 to 1919. He wrote, ‘it is better to bring out an imperfect book if it is a useful one and the result of hard work than by straining after an unattainable completeness to delay indefinitely its publication.’ I think this could be usefully applied to Nan Kivell and Spencer’s book especially after the long journey to complete it.
I should also say that part of my desire to curate this exhibition other than that it brought me closer to understanding aspects of Nan Kivell’s collecting was to expose some of the extraordinary portraits held in his collection and which are not currently on loan to the National Portrait Gallery or the National Gallery or on display here. And to hint thereby at the richness of his collection and the scale and arduous nature of this epic and curious publishing project.
Rex Nan Kivell escaped his family problems, shamed and fled to the First World War in 1916. The opportunity to separate himself from his past and from the shores of New Zealand meant that he could create a new sophisticated man of the world persona as a friend to the rich and famous but also that he could not look backwards. He invented stories of his family’s illustrious pioneering past as early settlers in the Canterbury area and collected images of them or of people that might be them. That’s the curious part of it. Here we can see portraits he said were his forebears, the hardy Robert and William Nan Kivell brothers who arrived in New Zealand in 1840. William with the axe was a surveyor in the Canterbury area. Robert moved to Auckland then to Australia. These early indomitable settlers, as he referred to them, were very important to him and he included them as in these images in his portrait book thereby proclaiming his pedigree or provenance and placing himself and his family in good company. The fact that he found out that he was illegitimate and only related to them on his mother’s side it seems propelled him to leave Christchurch to head into the unknown and to seek his fortune. Rubbing shoulders in this book with famed explorers, kings and queens of the Pacific and Europe, knights, politicians, social reformers and the scientific elite obviously appealed to him however while this might be seen as an elaborate form of social climbing I think it seems more likely that his tireless labour and great financial commitment to the publishing project would be motivated by potential social attainment alone.
Nan Kivell’s gradual process of reinvention helped to secure his public past as a man with roots, heritage and a productive colonial past, something that could override his illegitimacy and homosexuality in the public eye. The ... this reinvention also meant that he could never risk returning to New Zealand and being unmasked despite entreaties over decades to visit as a special guest of the government nor did he visit Australia, gently declining numerous requests from Prime Minister Menzies and Harold White.
I now want to make a few observations on the book itself. Portraits of the Famous and the Infamous is the wellspring for the exhibition and also the documentation and culmination of a life’s work of collecting, of correspondence and research. Here on double page spread are illustrated Edward Gibbon Wakefield, Charles Darwin, the King and Queen of Hawaii, artist Conrad Martins, Napoleon, Captain Cook, architect Francis Greenaway and keeping good company of course, William Nan Kivell again. A rather random assortment of characters, it appears which gives a sense of his random placement of images throughout the book. To self-publish a volume on the scale of Portraits of the Famous and Infamous one would need to have had very deep pockets, an obsessive eye for detail, a knowledge of bookbinding and book production techniques, a boundless thirst for knowledge and for imagery that was not clearly in the public domain and a good set of long-suffering colleagues and friends to rely on and to assist when necessary. One would also need a very good secretary, there are literally hundreds and hundreds of typed letters seeking portraits, images of biographical details of those to be included. Nan Kivell had all of these requisites covered. After labouring on the book for decades he wrote in late 1975 after the book’s publication to the Library’s Pauline Fanning, Principal Librarian in Australian Reference, saying that the cost of producing the volume was simply astronomical. He had wanted to make he said an interesting and useful book and making money from it was not a consideration. Still it cost him more than he could possibly have imagined. He specifies a cost of £33,569 to Pauline Fanning. The accuracy of this figure says something about Nan Kivell’s recordkeeping capability and his ability to both afford and record the many costs, major and minor, over decades. Thirty-three thousand odd pounds would equate to something probably like $300,000 to $400,000 today, a very substantial sum indeed for a book.
Pauline Fanning in her reply letter was clearly gobsmacked by the price mentioned. Nan Kivell had the mind of an accountant in some respects which without appearing to denigrate art dealers I think is a characteristic that separates the successful ones from those that go under. Accounting for income, expenses and liabilities was key to his success. His profitable Redfern Gallery business funded his extraordinary collection development and his lifestyle of fast cars, Bentleys mainly, it seems, gifts to his friends and comfortable properties in the UK and his huge estate in Tangier later in life. But one might speculate that on a bad today plagued by chronic arthritis as he was and at the end of this massive undertaking, which must have stressed both the limits of publication and of friendship, that he must have seen the Portraits book as something of a liability. However that said, that the defining characteristics of a successful entrepreneur, scholar, collector, banker or author are risk-taking, self-belief and ultimately a belief in the utility of the final outcome whether it be a business, collection, surplus of funds or a magnum opus like the Portraits book.
In Nan Kivell’s case he could not have laboured for 20 plus years without the belief that the book would be both a success and the sort of volume that every library and every Australian, New Zealander and Englishman seriously interested in the history of our part of the world would have to have on their bookshelf. As difficult as that might be to accommodate it due to its large format and considerable bulk and you can see it sitting at the front here. The fact that copies of the book published in a limited print run of 1,400 copies can still be purchased relatively easily at prices from about $20 to $250 suggest that it may not have been the great publishing success that Nan Kivell had hoped for. The cost of production wasn’t nearly covered by sales, the price of the volume seems to have been £8 though figures between £10 and £30 are mentioned in his papers. My recently-procured copy of the book is here if anyone wants to look at it out the front and get a better sense of the scope and the illustrations and the size of the volume.
The book lists as its distributors the National Library, Canberra and the famous antiquarian dealers, Maggs Brothers and Francis Edwards, both based in London. Nan Kivell had very strong relationships with both of the latter companies having purchased thousands of items from them over decades and had become very friendly with Frank Maggs and his son, John, both of whom he includes in the book, though without images. Nan Kivell also lists Herbert Edwards as seen here in this letter from France as Edwards, the company, in his volume as an incomparable compiler of catalogues dealing with Australasia and the Pacific. The other distributor was B. T. Batsford, Brookvale, Sydney which seems to have been a Sydney-based offshoot of established British publisher Batsford founded in 1843 and specialising in definitive books for the serious enthusiast and professional. It transpired ultimately that neither the National Library nor Batsford chose to handle the volume when they reviewed the distribution arrangements, decisions which must have cost Nan Kivell sales.
The inclusion of his friends and associates in the book is another of Nan Kivell’s peccadilloes in crafting its content and in shaping it’s his version of history. It seemed an odd thing to do to some who were privy to his decision but it was I think his way of publicly thanking those that had helped him and stuck with the project over decades. I think he felt it also brought the book up-to-date in keeping with its ambitious title range of 1492 to 1970, from Columbus right up to Rex and his associates. And in time his contemporaries would not appear so out of place. With the exception of Sydney Spence as seen here images aren’t included of the many associates listed.
Nan Kivell does list four portraits of himself but only includes these two images, one significantly featuring his business partner and great friend, the Australian, Harry Tatlock Miller, top right. The image is at the very back of the book. He chose not to push himself forward, it seems. He also lists bibliographer, John Ferguson; Rex and Thea Rienits who produced a pictorial history of Australia; Dorothy Searle, a beloved Redfern Gallery partner; bibliophiles George and Alice Mackaness from Sydney; librarians Phyllis Mander-Jones and Pauline Fanning; politicians Sir Robert Menzies and Sir Alister McMullin; National Librarian, Harold White; collectors Ken Webster and Biani Kroepelien; the National Library’s Liaison Officer, Bill Torrington; and distant relative, Maie Casey and her husband, Richard. And also ornithologist, Keith Hindwood. The book is in some respects a time capsule of names, a modest who’s who of the cultural life in Australia and the UK.
A few statistics about this labour of love might also be helpful to get an idea of book, scope and complexity from a research and production point of view. There are in total 2,045 listings of people, places, events and groups. I know because I counted them laboriously. Nan Kivell rather overestimated that there were 4,000, something he was prone to do on occasion. Many listings of multiple portraits catalogued, some of only one. Still this means that Nan Kivell and Spence managed to track down several thousand portraits to be entered. The alphabetical characterisation of portraits is both elastic and eccentric. They might be noted figures such as Matthew Flinders, Magellan or Lola Montez or the Polynesian gods, Tangaroa and Tairi or Venuka, the Maori deity shown in carved wooden form. Travel artist, Augustus Earle’s dog, Jemmy, even received his own listing however subjects, categories like the French encyclopaedists, missionaries and convicts all get a mention as well along with grouped entries like Australia’s debt to the British Navy, the conquest of the Blue Mountains, pioneers of the medical profession and fathers of Christianity in Australia. Pacific Island groups are also mentioned alphabetically with portraits of them catalogued. It is a truly Catholic assortment of people, places and names. Indigenous people feature strongly in the mix, particularly portraits of Aboriginal people and Maoris but also of Hawaiians as seen here and those of people from Tahiti.
Women often appended as the wife or associate of someone also feature strongly where a portrait exists, for example, Sophia Banks, Mrs Elizabeth Bligh and Lady Jane Franklin who you can see here. There are 356 illustrations with 60 of them in colour, part of the reason for the great expense incurred at the time in producing the book along with the very expensive paper, the book’s format, its cover and its binding. Some of the people listed have expansive entries written on them, some have virtually nothing. Clearly in some cases the job of chasing historical figures led almost nowhere but the people were included anyway. For a book that runs to 332 pages and lists encyclopaedically so many prominent and obscure figures it has precious few words of introduction or extended commentary on the ambitious scope of the project within. There is no overarching narrative as we like to have now to interpret the book and its thesis. In only 400 words the book is simply introduced, the text is dated 1970, the book was published in late 1974. The hiatus between writing the foreword and actual production I think hints at the issues they were having getting the book finished, threatened by the monthly escalating costs which clearly troubled Nan Kivell. This can be seen reflected in the copious correspondence that exists with prospective printers, suppliers, contributors and other interested parties held in Nan Kivell’s papers here and manuscripts.
Luckily Sydney Spence was obsessive too. The self-published bibliographer and author of other works it seems may ... it seems he may have seeded the idea at least in part for the publishing project in the first place. In 1952 Spence had listed 88 portraits as an appendix to one of his bibliographies of early Australian printed material. This germ of an idea, and I believe the impressive legacy of Australian bibliographer, Sir John Ferguson, whose massive undertaking to record all Australian early books seems to have inspired Nan Kivell in his quest. Nan Kivell and Ferguson corresponded and the former always received Ferguson’s next bibliographic volume with great relish and praise. From the mid-1950s Nan Kivell and Spence were in regular contact about the project. As you can see from this 1968 telegram Nan Kivell couldn’t have done the project without Spence nor without the dedicated contributions of staff at the National Library, State Library of New South Wales and other state libraries that were asked for information on portraits held in their collections. There are many letters in Nan Kivell’s papers attesting to the assistance of librarians and fellow collectors. There is also positive feedback on the draft Portraits volume which he circulated widely in 1962 to test the waters and to seek corrections and further inclusions.
Spence it seemed worked hard writing the biographical entries and chasing up provenance and images as well. In a letter to Nan Kivell in Tangier dated 18 April 1968 he says he’s been working continuously on the text and made some new discoveries, completed a cross-reference for the entries and hopes to finish the following week, this some six years before the book was even printed. Spence’s ongoing role in the project is not greatly mentioned in Nan Kivell’s ... by Nan Kivell when writing to people chasing up entries or images. Perhaps he felt that as he was funding it and as he was writing the letters he was clearly the owner of the project. Their names though were jointly inscribed for posterity on the front cover and on the title page. How Spence felt about it all is not recorded but they seem to have remained on good terms through a long ordeal and Nan Kivell left him £1,000 in his will. Nan Kivell agonised over the title of the book thinking that Portraits of the Famous and Infamous might be too gimmicky, he said. It’s not recorded what Spence thought, he mightn’t have got a vote at all, I suspect. But certainly the final title was better than the mad possibility of ‘Primogenitors of Terra Australis’ which he scribbled on a note in his papers.
In the foreword to the book Nan Kivell and Spence write regarding its scope, ‘We have rejected no medium at all including portrait illustrations from books and photographs where a photograph is the only known portrayal in order to make the listing as complete as possible. The portraits include the early philosophers, cartographers, navigators, explorers, statesmen, home and colonial, churchmen, missionaries, authors, artists, political and social reformers, legal and criminal personalities, emigrants, naval and military governors and officials and some who were in the double sobriquet of famous and infamous.’ They continue, ‘It is inevitable that further research will find more portraits. These will be collected and published in a supplement at a future date.’ Nan Kivell was still working on this unachieved ambition to supplement the book when he died in 1977.
Curiously the colour image that sits underneath the text which I’ve just quoted from is labelled Feodor Petrowitsch and ‘see page 249’. This usefully illustrates a frustration of using Nan Kivell and Spence’s to me. The many images included almost never align with their biographical listing, a maddening feature of the book and one which seemed could have been avoided. If there was purpose behind Nan Kivell’s crazy layout it’s not apparent to me after perusing the book on numerous occasions. Petrowitz, the character being illustrated is listed in the book as, ‘is said to have made a voyage to the Pacific’. It seems an enigmatic image to commence the book with. Surely if one was asserting that the volume assembled was authoritative and compiled with scrupulous attention to detail and regard for historical fact then the first image ought to be someone concrete and preferably well known. Nan Kivell opts for somebody who might have voyaged to the Pacific. And inserts Petrowitsch.
It seems he didn’t know that the person depicted was most likely Count Fyodor Petrovich Litke who was born in 1797 and died in 1882. He was a Russian navigator, geographer and Arctic explorer and looks very grand here in this image. Litke voyaged around the world aboard the frigate, Kamchatka, between 1817 and 1819 with the objective to deliver supplies to the Kamchatka Peninsula. The voyage was documented in Around the World on the Kamchatka which describes the crew’s encounters with native Kodiak people and the Sandwich Islanders who they encountered 40 years after Cook’s fateful visit. So Nan Kivell’s speculative inclusion of Petrowitsch was justified, he did indeed visit the Pacific, a risky manoeuvre though, it could be argued. Generally Nan Kivell seems to have had pretty good instincts when it came to acquiring material, speculating on the artist, draftsman, author’s hand and then finding out later the decision was correct. He was not always so successful in his attributions, though.
Sitting opposite the listing for Petrowitz in the book are these images of Sir Giuseppe Banks and Giacomo Cook with explorers La Perouse and Anson below them. Again this illustrates the curious layout of the volume but also the richness of Nan Kivell’s portrait collection extending to rather risible Italian impressions of the famous Cook and Banks duo. Nan Kivell claimed he owned 80 portraits of James Cook in his collection and this seems fairly close to the truth. He also acquired 32 portraits of Joseph Banks in 45 different versions collecting up to five versions of the same print, sometimes with minimal differences between them. Acquiring portraits was truly an obsession and one that played out over years. Did he remember how many he collected? is the question you might be asking. Well I’m not sure but he must have tallied them up when he catalogued all the items for delivery to the National Library and realised if not earlier that he had many multiples in his collection. He was also known to swap items with ... or give multiples to his fellow collectors in the UK, Australia and in New Zealand.
There is another interesting piece of Nan Kivell editing going on here. The colour print featuring Petrowitsch was originally printed with him saving the figure of Ein Marquezas Insulaner aus Nukuhiwah as seen here. The tattooed man from Nuku Hiva, which is featured as one of the page openings of the Portraits book in the exhibition, Nuku Hiva is the largest of the Marquesas Islands in French Polynesia. As an aside it was visited by Robert Louis Stevenson on his first Pacific voyage on the Casco in 1888. Stevenson also features in the exhibition because of his Pacific exploration, visits to Sydney, his residence on Samoa and ultimately his burial there in 1894 and to stoke any latent Sydney/ Melbourne rivalry that might be simmering in the audience today Stevenson actually considered settling in Sydney but when on one occasion he was shown a map of Melbourne he responded ‘When I think of Melbourne, I vomit’. Which is something perhaps the New South Wales tourism authorities would like to explore in a future marketing campaign.
To return briefly to the man from Nuku Hiva it’s interesting to note that Nan Kivell and Spence did not make the clear connection between Petrowitsch and his tattooed companion and that he definitely did visit the Pacific. It does seem a capricious way to introduce such a large volume which they laboured over for so long. I think it probably points to Nan Kivell’s eccentric bent and to his autodidacticism. I think he was very lucky to enlist the services of Sydney Spence to work with him so earnestly and who clearly had the staying power and dedication that was required over decades. Curiously if you go to the listing for the man of Nuku Hiva there are a number of portraits mentioned but just above it is the listing for Nan Kivell’s life partner, Mizouni Nouari, who he credits. Born in Algeria, 1929 and that since 1942 he has been responsible for moving the whole RNK collection when needed and to our knowledge not one single item has been misplaced. Very many thanks, Mizouni. It’s a brief and rather dispassionate listing after more than 30 years of dedicated service and he doesn’t use the portrait of him by Bryan Kneale as an illustration. Well here we can see the real Mizouni in one of Nan Kivell’s photos. Rather staged photo, you might say, and we can see the Neill, the Bryan Kneale portrait of him which I managed to track down in London last year. It seems Mizouni suffered the longevity of the portrait’s book project and Rex’s other obsessions with good humour and outlived him by more than 30 years and inherited half of his very substantial estate.
Well now to conclude with a few stories included in the exhibition which I think are illustrative of Nan Kivell’s collecting interests and strengths. I should direct you to the catalogue of the exhibition, to Ron Ranford here, which outlines my new research and is available in the exhibition space. Rather than write labels for each item I thought it was better to follow in some ways the Portrait Gallery’s model here and put the individual stories on the record in printed form for posterity and to increase enjoyment of the show. I hope you agree if you choose to buy a copy of the book ... donate towards a copy of it.
The story, the Pacific voyagers who travelled to England as part of the disruptive process for colonial expansion are included in great depth in Nan Kivell’s collection and also in the exhibition and book. The compelling story of Giolo, William Dampier’s so-called painted prince, who was removed from the island of Miangus in the Philippines and exhibited as a wonder to show off his revelatory tattoos in London in 1691 and who sadly died of smallpox is included in the show. In an era when tattooed skin abounds this image of exotic Giolo may not raise not raise too many eyebrows however his presence in 17th century London must have been revelatory. The English didn’t even have a word for tattooing until James Cook returned from his first Pacific voyage and then later introduced them to the Polynesian Omai 80 years later, 80 years after Giolo.
‘The just wonder of the age’, Giolo’s extensive body tattoos entranced the British who believed the intricate symbolic designs were painted or stained onto his skin and that as the text further describes underneath it, ‘nothing can wash it off or deface the beauty of it.’ The juice from the plant used in the tattoos could infallibly ‘preserve human Bodies from the deadly poison or hurt of any venomous creature’, which is why the snakes are fleeing from him. And they believe that only the royal family could be thus painted. Sadly Giolo’s captivating tattoos could not protect him from smallpox which killed him aged about 30 in Oxford in 1692. Giolo is imaged in a favourite renaissance pose by engraver John Savage and sends venomous serpents fleeing. He’s described as graceful and well-proportioned in his limbs, extremely modest and civil, neat and cleanly but his language is not understood, neither can he speak English. We can only imagine what he made of encountering Dampier and then being pressed into service and displayed daily as a curiosity from June 1692 if his health will permit as it said by Thomas Hyde and John Pointer at the Blue Boar’s Head inn in Fleet Street.
The other image seen here is from the wrapper of a set of playing cards which I found looking in the British Museum’s collection, probably also printed by John Savage. It’s included really just to give an idea of how quickly the image of the exotic art had found its way into popular ... the public domain. This rare print of Giolo by Savage acquired by Nan Kivell is actually a play bill advertising his display in the Blue Boar’s Head inn. Giolo sits in the exhibition next to Omai or more properly Mai. While this is slightly out of chronology I wanted to show these two tattooed princes together, both for them voyagers who enthralled the English, Polynesian voyager Mai because some ... became something of a sensation during the almost two years he spent in London being looked after by Joseph Banks. Mai was a refugee from the power struggles on Raiatea and sailed willingly to England aged 22 in September 1773. He travelled on Cook’s second voyage, the adventure under Tobias Furneaux.
Captivating society from King ‘Tosh’ down, Mai’s pronunciation of English names endeared him to the English as did his mimicry, his good manners and his tattoos. The word tattoo, from tattow—an English corruption of tatau—tatau entered the language thanks to Cook’s first Pacific voyage but the first visual evidence of tattooing really came to the public eye through Mai. ‘Toote’, as Mai called Cook, was to return him to Huahine in August 1777. Mai hoped his newfound wealth and status would translate into the power to recover his father’s stolen lands. He had a white stallion, armour and muskets, a jack-in-the-box, globes and maps. Instead he died from a fever before he turned 30 and had his many possessions appropriated. At least he managed to return home unlike Giolo. Mai’s friend, ‘Opano’ or Joseph Banks, wrote of him that he had ‘so much natural politeness I never saw in any man: wherever he goes he makes friends and has not I believe as yet a foe’, unlike Joseph Banks, it might be added. Mai became a celebrity and was created in verse and musical theatre, his exotic features and origins appealing greatly to many who read Rousseau and believed in the ideal of the noble savage. Mai’s plans for revenge on Raiatea were not comprehended by the British who preferred to enjoy his company as he became one of them.
Mai enjoyed a busy life, he mastered cards and chess, rode horses, shot game, was inoculated against smallpox, which saved him unlike Giolo. He bathed in the sea, impressing the English with his swimming ability, he prepared a luncheon in a Polynesian earth oven and had his portrait taken by the portraitist of the moment, Sir Joshua Reynolds. It seems appropriate that Reynolds who pioneered the imaging of the cult of celebrities should capture Mai and that his full-length portrait exhibited to acclaim at the Royal Academy in 1776 should become his most famous and valuable work. Reynolds kept the oil of Mai which it seems he had painted for his own interest until his death. His drawing of Mai is something of a rarity as he didn’t usually sketch his sitters and it ... not in pencil and it is penultimate study before he undertook the oil. Here beside it, the finished work, we can see one of a number of prints of Mai collected by Nan Kivell. This engraving by John Jacobi is obviously directly taken from Reynolds’ acclaimed painting. Nan Kivell collected more than 20 portraits of Mai and numerous related manuscript and published accounts as well. I think the example of Mai eloquently illustrates the wealth of imagery Nan Kivell collected about voyages into the Pacific.
The affecting story of Prince Lebuu is also included in the exhibition. This grouping of portraits embodies a fascinating story of colonial British voyaging and survival and of cultural exchange. Captain Wilson on the left led an adventurous life commanding British ships, most notably the Antelope, a packet ship of the East India Company. When it sailed for China in 1783 the young British portrait painter, Arthur Devis, was aboard. The Antelope was wrecked during a storm on a reef near Ulong Island in Palau, Micronesia. The local paramount chief of Koror, known by the title Ibedul, misunderstood them as Abbat ... misunderstood by the English as Abba Thulle heard of their predicament and sailed to meet them. Wilson sought to build a vessel to sail home and asked for Ibedul’s protection. In doing so and in unknowingly adhering to a local cultural protocol Wilson secured the chief’s benevolence and protection. This was further enhanced through the exchange of goods. In return Ibedul later asked for armed support in battle against his enemies which he was ... received.
When it became time to return to England 20 year old Lebuu, Ibedul’s adopted son, was taken across the seas to Rotherhithe in London by his guardian, Captain Wilson. Lebuu left behind his family to study and learn the ways of the world. He met, made friends, studied hard and charmed people. He met George Keate who published the famous voyage account, which is in the exhibition, and his daughter, Georgiana, drew him and this image was translated into print. Keate’s account is in the exhibition in different formats and I purposely chose the octavo and the quarto editions to show the range of Nan Kivell’s collecting and his strong interest in voyage narratives and the visual output that ran parallel to them. Books and pamphlets were subsequently written about Lebuu inspired in part by the fact that he too perished from smallpox with only ... after only five and a half months. These images also collected by Nan Kivell further illustrate Lebuu’s brief life in London and the profusion of publications around this sad tale. Further evidence of the translation of images from this story is found in the collection as seen here. Here Devis’ original drawing of Ludee on the right, Ibedul’s wife, which was completed on Koror Island can be seen alongside the print worked up without his input by etcher, Henry Kingsbury. The subtle changes in the image to create a more erotically charged portrait can be traced clearly here and it is the depth of the encounter material held that allows this kind of analysis and re-evaluation to occur.
I will finish today with two slightly brighter stories. The first is that of the amazing survivor, Betsey Broughton. Of all the voyages in this exhibition Betsey Broughton’s story is perhaps the most affecting and unlikely. Nan Kivell’s discovery of this portrait is almost as improbable. Betsey, the daughter of hardworking William De Broughton, the Acting Commissary General of New South Wales, and his wife, Elizabeth, a former convict, was a tiny survivor of the infamous Boyd massacre in Whangaroa, New Zealand in 1809. In this notorious incident the ship’s entire crew and passengers were slaughtered and most eaten with the only exceptions being Betsey, Anne Morley and her infant, and Thomas Davis, a clubfooted cabin boy aged 15. Davis was spared by the Maori due to his friendship with Te Ara, also known as George, who was on the voyage from Sydney. A Whangaroa Maori chief’s son, George was flogged and mistreated for an alleged theft on board and revenge for his loss of face ultimately precipitated the attack. Having lost her mother at the age of only two, Betsey lived with the Maori for three weeks, she barely survived on their unwholesome food before being freed in a very emaciated state by Captain Berry of the City of Edinburgh. Berry, a friend of Betsey’s father captured and ransomed two Maori chiefs to engineer her release. She then travelled eventfully to Lima, Peru.
Betsey was first taken care of by a local family but eventually returned to Sydney via Rio De Janeiro arriving in May 1812, two and a half years after first departing. Her arrival and I quote ‘to the great joy of her disconsolate father’ led to this portrait, which Broughton commissioned from Richard Reid and dedicated as he said to ‘Don Gaspar De Rico and the other Spanish Gentlemen and Ladies’ who ‘nobly distinguished themselves by their humanity in their protection’ of Betsey. This image of a poised and rather preoccupied child was discovered by Nan Kivell in a Salisbury antique shop window in the early 1950s. One of the earliest extant portraits of a European created in Australia, Betsey was staring at the collector as he passed by. Later he was astounded to find a letter inside the back of the frame from Betsey’s father to her adopted family in Lima. One can only imagine their surprise when this poignant portrait arrived from across the Pacific. Somehow it made its way to London and became a great favourite in Nan Kivell’s portrait collection. Betsey later married Charles Throsby and lived in Throsby Park, Moss Vale. She had 17 children and died at the age of 84 in 1891 and she’s buried in Bonbon Cemetery if you want to go and visit her.
I will finish with this story today which is perhaps the most improbable. In the 21st century it seems inconceivable that a celebrated case such as that surrounding the Tichborne claimant in 1871 could have made it to court let alone occupy the attention of the public for months and then years. The case became the longest-running legal proceeding in Britain in the 19th century. It revolved around the missing heir to a fortune and the Tichborne baronetcy in Hampshire, England. Lady Tichborne advertised in 1863 for any information regarding her missing son, Roger, who had disappeared in 1854 after leaving Rio De Janeiro on a ship. She offered a handsome reward and possibly a title and a fortune. The news of the opportunity eventually made its way to colonial Australia. A married insolvent butcher’s employee from Wagga Wagga who went by the name of Thomas Castro claimed to be Lady Tichborne’s son and wrote in poor English in 1866 to his mother. He then travelled to England to settle his claim and to meet his family. Subsequently his identity was revealed as Arthur Orton, a former butcher from Wapping in London who had been convicted of stealing horses in Australia. To say that the Tichborne claimant stretched credulity in inventing himself in opposition to the fact would be a massive understatement. In court where his utterances should have been in congruence with the facts it appears they were not. Yet it seems his grieving mother and some of the public at large didn’t seem to mind a bit.
Young Roger grew up in Paris and French was his first language. The claimant couldn’t speak a word of French nor could he remember where he had lived. In fact he couldn’t recall anything about his childhood at all. Roger had been a lanky youth, the claimant returned to England weighing 20 stone. The butcher from Wagga Wagga looked the part and his weight continued to balloon. Roger was educated in the classics and Euclidian geometry. The claimant didn’t know who Virgil was nor did he know that algebra had anything to do with mathematics. His supposed mother’s name was Lady Henriette Felicité, she was French and lived in Paris yet he originally wrote to her as Lady Hannah Francis. This shambolic and conniving figure however had won Lady Tichborne’s heart against probity and the better judgement of her family who recognised him for the imposter that he was. The Tichborne v Lushington case was ultimately brought to court by the family in 1871 after the mother’s death and 10 months later Orton’s claim was rejected. A final straw, and a rather damning piece of evidence, was that Roger was tattooed on the forearm, the claimant was not. I think they might have worked that out earlier on in the proceedings but immediately Orton became the centre of a perjury trial which ran for another 188 days and ended with his conviction and imprisonment for 14 years. He remained recalcitrant until the end. The richly illustrated album in the exhibition is peppered with news clippings, detailed courtroom drawings that give a sense of the claimant’s comportment and invented prints and cartoons lampooning Orton from the popular press. The claimant is seen here above standing in the witness box, his massive frame filling the scene with one thick arm drawing the eye down to a fidgeting hand.
Recent research on the album strongly suggests that it was assembled by Philip Pleydell-Bouverie or possibly one of his children as one of the drawings as signed ‘Bouverie’ and a document in the volume has his banking firm’s address on it. The drawings are amateurish but detailed and suggests the sketcher had time to study Orton and his behaviour during the lengthy case. Pleydell-Bouverie was linked to the Tichborne family as a stepbrother by marriage to Lady Tichborne and obviously had a personal interest in the case. These images that you can see here document the first trial brought by the family.
It is interesting that Rex Nan Kivell, an expatriate in Antipodean who audaciously invented himself from very little and who was prepared to lie creatively when he felt the need justified it was so intrigued by the inventive Arthur Orton. The collector amassed a substantial collection of material covering the trial and in the exhibition you can see just three items that give scope to both the extent of and the public interest in the case but also Nan Kivell’s obsession with it. The Library has an exceptional selection of material in differing formats documenting the remarkable Tichborne case and most of it has come as the result of the acquisition of Nan Kivell’s collection. It is the density of material and Nan Kivell’s collection about key figures like Arthur Orton or the celebrity pickpocket George Barrington or colonial strategiser and kidnapper, Edward Gibbon Wakefield or James Cook and Joseph Banks or the celebrated missionary of Polynesia, the Reverend John Williams for example that enables him to document the famous and the infamous in great detail as part of the rich narrative of the discovery and settlement of the Pacific.
I said that Nan Kivell was still working on his supplement to the Portraits book when he died. I hope that the research I’ve accumulated in the catalogue for this exhibition forms in some small way a coda, a fitting coda to Nan Kivell’s years of collecting and documenting portraits that intrigued him. In a compressed space of time I’ve managed to run up about 50 or so essays clarifying the history of just a fraction of the portraits in the collection and to show how they often relate to one another. There are so many more to investigate and I hope I can reveal more about the portraits as well as other aspects of the Nan Kivell collection as time progresses. Thank you very much.
Applause End of recording