Early Settler Artists of South Australia 1836-1856 is a spin-off research project from the Trailblazers exhibition, a collaboration between the RSASA and the Pioneers’ Association of South Australia, mounted for History Festival 2021. Work for this document was undertaken by Adam Dutkiewicz as part of the exhibition preparations and around his work on the Historical Documents of the RSASA two-volume project, the second of which is nearing completion. The first volume covered the years 1856-1872, the second 1873-c.1900.
Connections between the earliest settlers and the South Australian Society of Arts are quite easy to find. The professional or amateur artists who emerged from the early settler families produced art during the 20 years until the Society was established in 1856, but only some of them maintained memberships and continued to exhibit with it. Some of them stayed only briefly in the colony, or moved interstate to the goldfields or overseas, seeking greater opportunities.
There were a number of the founders who felt a responsibility to develop a cultural life in the new province, and visual art was a central facet of that intention, so people like George Fife Angas (whose eldest son George French Angas [1822–1886, arr. 1844] exhibited with the Society even after he left the colony in 1845–60), maintained an interest in the Society by serving on its committee.
The environment first encountered on the Adelaide Plains is hardly visible today, even in the small pockets that have been kept as conservation reserves to preserve flora and fauna. Bruce Pascoe’s recent popular book Dark Emu (first published 2014) has sparked controversy but provided an idea of what the land across the continent looked like in places while it was governed by an Indigenous regime. His text was to some extent inspired by reading Bill Gammage’s earlier book The Biggest Estate on Earth: How Aborigines made Australia (2011). The sketches and paintings, and soon the photographs, of the site of Adelaide and the extensive lands beyond the capital city of Adelaide, now enable us, to some extent, to decode what the environment looked like when those settlers arrived, and to see how they transformed it.
The artists of note and covered in some detail include: William Light, Samuel Thomas Gill, Frederick Robert Nixon, Edward Andrew Opie, John Bishop Hitchins, Mary Hindmarsh, George Milner Stephen, William Wyatt, Robert George Thomas, Frances Amelia Skipper, John Michael Skipper, Martha Berkeley, Theresa Walker, Robert Hall, George Hamilton, William Anderson Cawthorne, George Cole, and John Michael Crossland.
The document can be downloaded here: https://rsasarts.com.au/about-rsasa (go to the third logo button on the bottom of the page and click on).