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A real Pratt

by Dr Sarah Engledow, 1 June 2015

Lady Barkly, 1863 by Batchelder & O'Neill
Lady Barkly, 1863 by Batchelder & O'Neill

There was general rejoicing in the colony of Victoria when in mid-1860, Sir Henry Barkly GCMG KCB, the forty-five-year-old governor, married twenty-two-year-old Anne Maria Pratt, daughter of Major General Pratt, commander of the troops in the Australian colonies and New Zealand. The service, enacted at the raw, cramped Christ Church South Yarra, was discreet. The party comprised only the bride and bridegroom; Barkly’s daughter Blanche as bridesmaid; Pratt; Mrs Pratt; and Captain Foster, aide-de-camp to the major general. The Argus reported that the church was handsomely festooned with flowers, and ‘notwithstanding the secrecy preserved two or three hundred spectators, mostly ladies, were present … The nuptial knot was tied by the Bishop of Melbourne … The bride wore a white moiré antique dress, covered with white lace, and a rich white veil.’

Annie Pratt had lived in Madras for twelve years before coming to Victoria, and her husband was familiar with other parts of the world. Born in Rossshire, Scotland in 1815, Barkly started his career in business and politics before serving terms as governor of British Guiana and then Jamaica. Appointed governor of Victoria, he arrived in the colony on Christmas Eve 1856, just a few weeks after the first sitting of its newly-created parliament. Melbourne hadn’t yet turned twenty. Henry Barkly’s immediate priority was securing stable government – a challenge, as into the 1890s, as it transpired, the parliament was to comprise generally independent members who clumped and reclumped into factions according to the issues of the day, amongst them land settlement, education, constitutional and electoral reform and payment of parliamentarians.

Barkly’s first wife, Elizabeth Helen Timins, accompanied him to the colony of Victoria, pregnant with a child that was probably her fifth. She lost no time in impressing the public with her ‘frank and natural manner, feminine tact, and savoir faire’, with ‘the intelligent interest she manifested in the various public institutions and undertakings, to which her attention and patronage were solicited’ and with ‘the cheerful activity of her cooperation with other ladies in the work of charity’. A gold lead was named after her in January 1857; the Lady Barkly Company operated for years to come. However, only four months after her arrival in the colony, and at the age of thirty-seven, Lady Barkly died. The Argus reported that in the nine days following the birth of her son she ‘suffered from a nervous excitement, producing depression of spirits, fits of hysteria, and at length a complete nervous exhaustion, terminating in death’. The paper referred to the ‘uncertain state of her health, together with prostration of spirits, and a foreboding anxiety by which she was oppressed ever since she last quitted the shores of England’. When Augustus Tulk announced her death to the many readers in the Public Library on 18 April 1857 the institution was closed for the rest of the day by general agreement. In due course it was reported that her body was enclosed in three coffins, the inner stuffed with horsehair and lined with satin, the middle of lead and the outer of wood, two inches thick and covered with superfine black cloth. Affectingly, Lady Barkly was said to have chosen her own burial site, knowing she would not survive confinement. A couple of weeks after she died, her infant son joined her in her grave in the ‘new cemetery’ to the north of the city, opened four years before.

It was months later, in November, that the Age ran a sensational story, contributed by a columnist for the Australian and New Zealand Gazette, about Lady Barkly’s involvement in a vehicle accident on the Princes Bridge. ‘Lady Barkly was very fond of driving her own pony phaeton … She drove well. We all admired her elegant ease and simplicity of style. One day she was driving up the slope of the Princes Bridge just as one of the St Kilda omnibuses was coming down … suddenly the reins broke … The omnibus came in contact with her phaeton, which was overturned in an instant. Lady Barkly was taken up almost fainting. The driver was speedily seized.’ According to this account, the amiable lady declined to press charges, and the collision had been hushed-up because the she didn’t want the driver of the omnibus blamed for an accident. The week after its publication in Melbourne, ‘The Death of Lady Barkly’ was syndicated to the Sydney Morning Herald and the Newcastle Northern Times. Twenty-first century readers might find it incredible that an accident involving an omnibus and a lady would go unreported in the first instance. Yet we cannot know the extent of the discretion practised by the proprietors of newspapers of the day; perhaps respect for the governor, and his gentle spouse, was enough to keep the story out of print. Whether Elizabeth Barkly had an accident that set off a miscarriage; had an accident, but died of unrelated infection or birth trauma (‘milk fever’ or ‘post-partum inflammation’); or was never involved in an accident at all, will probably never be resolved, now.

We know very well what Henry Barkly looked like. Even taking into account the fashions of the day, his facial hair – an unholy alliance of sideburns and gossamer beard strands with the chin left all-but bare – must surely have been remarkable. The National Portrait Gallery has several representations of Barkly in various mediums. One of them is a rare photograph by Antoine Fauchery, a Parisian artist and writer who was in Australia from 1852 to 1856, mining on the goldfields of Ballarat, keeping a store in Daylesford and running the Café Estaminet Français in Little Bourke Street. Having returned to Paris to publish Lettres d’un mineur en Australie he sailed back to Melbourne, where at the end of 1857 he established a photographic studio and collaborated with Richard Daintree (later commemorated in Queensland) on a series known as the Sun Pictures of Victoria.

Sir Henry Barkly, K.C.B. Governor of the Colony of Victoria (Plate 1 of Sun Pictures of Victoria by Antoine Fauchery and Richard Daintree), 1858 by Antoine Fauchery, Richard Daintree

Fauchery’s picture of Barkly, taken while the governor was still a widower, is one of the first five photographs issued in the first instalment of Sun Pictures. Its spectral aspect may be an effect of Barkly’s having moved a fraction during the exposure – portrait subjects were customarily clamped, but he seems to have been photographed loose. The suggestion of yearning and questing that strikes the twenty-first century viewer went unremarked in the review in the Melbourne Argus: ‘The portrait of His Excellency the Governor has much of the effect of a sepia drawing, but with a softness and delicacy of finish such as a sepia drawing rarely exhibits. It is especially rich in tone, and strikingly like the original, which (paradoxical as the assertion may appear) a great many photographic portraits are not.’ The Barklys were in the news that week; the following day a Newcastle paper ran a story with the unfortunate headline ‘Blanche Barkly the Monster Nugget’, about a 145-pound find on the Kingover goldfield in late 1857, which had been named in honour of the governor’s daughter.

Sir Henry Barkly, c. 1863 by Batchelder & O'Neill

A second, later photograph of Barkly is a classic example of the studio portraits of Americans Daniel O’Neill and Perez Batchelder, who worked in partnership at 57 Collins Street from 1857 to 1864. The studio had several rooms, and a variety of props: lengths of oilcloth, canvas or drugget; chairs, pillars, plinths, a section of balustrade, painted greenery. Prominent amongst the floorcoverings was a cloth stencilled with marbleised black and white squares mimicking tiles; a different cloth went in a Turkish direction, with more elaborately-decorated squares. Over the course of a few years, Barkly was photographed there on the ‘marble’ floor against a faux pillar; so was his father-in-law, Thomas Simson Pratt; his wife Annie was posed on the patterned floor; so was his successor, Charles Darling, his arm on the base of the lightweight column.

Shortly after Henry Barkly and Annie Pratt married, the Argus reported that the couple was likely to honeymoon at the governor’s residence, Toorak, on account of the immediate departure of Major General Pratt for battle in New Zealand. An epithalamion published in the Age in August 1860 referred to Pratt’s departure for the first ‘Taranaki war’:

Thy beauteous bride receives
Our warmest love.
Soon for an absent sire she grieves
For now the trumpet blows
War’s wild alarm,
And Britain’s foes
Their hostile forces arm;
Thy father leaves thee
Still a trembling bride
And rushes to the field.

The newlyweds maintained a high profile around the burgeoning colony. In 1860 Nicholas Chevalier designed a fancy-dress costume for Annie Barkly, trimmed with sheepskin and gemstone nuggets, appliqued with fern motifs (Ferntree Gully was then all the rage as a picnic spot) and accessorised with a lyrebird-inspired fan. In March 1861 a bag of fine Lady Barkly potatoes gained a special prize at the Melton Agricultural Society Show. Three months later Lady Barkly presented the Victoria Cross to Private Whirlpool of the Hawthorn Rifles for his valour in India.

Major General Pratt arrived back in Melbourne in April 1861. A year later, he was appointed KCB for his services in New Zealand. His investiture, by his son-in-law Governor Barkly, was brilliantly staged in the Exhibition Building: ‘The martial array, the varied uniforms of the military officers, the foreign consuls … and the gay attire of the ladies, together with the bright sunshine which streamed into the building, constituted a picturesque and animated coupe d’oeuil’, reported the Age. At the eastern end of the building, the governor occupied nothing short of a throne, with a canopy of purple and gold; the western end was decorated with flags and banners. Barkly’s private secretary and brother-in-law, Captain Timins – sibling of the securely-entombed Elizabeth – played a star role on the day, reading the warrant of investiture and the despatch signed by the late Prince Albert, Grand Master of the Most Honourable Order of the Bath. Barkly stood to give an account of Pratt’s military career of almost fifty years; in Holland, in Gibraltar; with the Cameronians in India; at the assault and capture of the Chuenpe and Bogue forts in China; in Canton; and at Nankin, where he took a ‘leading part in many a hard fought-encounter, until, in … 1842, a treaty securing immense commercial advantages to Great Britain was dictated.’ (Amongst other concessions at the time, the Chinese handed over Hong Kong to the British.) After twelve years in Madras Major General Pratt was directed to assume control of forces in Victoria. ‘Here, if anywhere’, said Barkly, ‘you might have anticipated a respite from active military service; yet no sooner were you arrived than the breaking out of another Maori war called forth fresh proofs of your alacrity to serve your Queen and country, and afforded further opportunities for the display of skill and valour which had so conspicuously marked your previous career.’

Barkly proved a reliable interpreter of colonial affairs to Britain, and made no enemies in the colony. He was a strong supporter of philanthropic and intellectual movements; he was a founder and president of the Royal Society of Victoria, and helped to found the National Gallery, the Acclimatization Society and the National Observatory. He saw the triumphant departure of Burke and Wills, and the dismal end to their expedition. He saw his name attached to the Barkly Tableland, a huge area of the Northern Territory between Camooweal and Tennant Creek. But it all came to an end in the spring of 1863, when he was relieved of his Victorian post with very little notice, and sent to govern Mauritius.

Barkly was succeeded by Sir Charles Darling (1809–1870), who was to govern Victoria until May 1866. Born in 1809, Darling had first come to New South Wales as an eighteen-year-old, an ensign with the 57th Regiment. From 1830 to 1831 he served as military secretary to his uncle, Governor Ralph Darling, in Sydney. After returning to military school at Sandhurst and serving in the West Indies, he retired from the army and settled in Jamaica. There, he worked in various administrative roles that equipped him for the posts of lieutenant-governor of Cape Colony and governor of Newfoundland, Jamaica, Honduras, and the Bay Islands in succession from 1855 to 1863. When he arrived in Victoria in September of that year he appeared to be the man with the experience for the job. However, every colony was different, and he inherited Barkly’s struggles with a post-gold rush colony in complex tumult over land laws, tariffs and the relative power of the upper and lower houses of parliament. Darling was soon censured for failing to check the dealings of his cabinet ministers and openly opposing further transportation. While the transportation issue died off, in 1865 twenty-two former cabinet ministers petitioned the queen about irregularities that Darling had allowed over the previous two years. He was recalled from office, and a successor was appointed, but he himself resigned from the colonial service in April 1867. Amidst popular outrage, based on the idea that Darling had become a ‘martyr in the cause of progress’, the legislative assembly tried (unsuccessfully) to make a grant of £20 000 to Lady Darling; but Darling met with no sympathy in England, having acted according to his own inclinations rather than exercising the restraint appropriate to his vice-regal position. Finally, after complicated ramifications, in May 1868 Darling was allowed to withdraw his resignation and he was granted a retrospective pension, but he died a broken man soon after.

Sir Charles Darling, 1863 by Nicholas Chevalier

Whether he really did age dramatically or not, various portraits of Darling indicate that his three years in Victoria took a heavy toll. In July 1863, Nicholas Chevalier produced a lithograph of a dashing character with wavy brown locks, clean-shaven with waxed mustachios, white-plumed hat under left arm, right hand on the lion’s head finial of a chair arm. By the time he left, various photographers had recorded a pooped-looking administrator, his waist-length jacket straining, bags under his eyes and a great deal more salt than pepper in his puffs of hair. In fact, posed in the same way, against an identical pillar in the studio of Batchelder and O’Neill, he’s a dead ringer for Thomas Simson Pratt – twelve years his senior. This explains why the State Library of Victoria has two copies of the photograph of Pratt, one listed under the subject Thomas Simson Pratt and the other mistagged years ago as Sir Charles Darling. Perhaps it is the white-plumed hat that deceives; for the Earl of Hopetoun, too, wore a similar one in office as governor in the 1890s. Evidently the men were kept in position by different restraints; Pratt appears to have a third foot, while a thin strut is discernible behind Darling.

In May 2010 the National Portrait Gallery purchased two Batchelder and O’Neil photographs and a mezzotint, the three purportedly comprising portraits of La Trobe, Barkly and Darling, first, third and fourth governors of Victoria. Notes from the vendor suggested that the photographs of Barkly and Darling were taken as Darling took over from Barkly in 1863. Only after the Gallery was offered the photograph of Annie Barkly was the Pratt family investigated; only then did it become clear that the photograph purchased – and displayed – as a portrait of Darling is, in fact, a third photograph from the Batchelder and O’Neil Studio: one of Pratt, plausibly taken when Barkly knighted him in 1862. Institutional embarrassment aside, the only significant consequence of the mixup is that the Gallery’s now on the lookout for another portrait of a nineteenth-century Victorian governor. Yet a seditious question nags: what does it matter, what a long-dead person looks like?

Having been in Mauritius for seven years, Barkly was sent to the Cape of Good Hope, where his eldest son Arthur served as his private secretary. As the Barkly family progressed to Mauritius, Bourbon and the Cape, Anne Maria collected plant specimens; she corresponded with Joseph Dalton Hooker about stapelias, odoriferous succulents in which Henry Barkly was very interested, and compiled A Revised List of the Ferns of South Africa. She is listed in the Dictionary of British and Irish Botanists, as is Emily Blanche Barkly. Lady Barkly was to outlive her husband by thirty-four years – and also to outlive Emily Blanche.

Henry Barkly was recalled to England in 1877, having been constrained to make several decisions in Africa that proved regrettable. However, after his return he was made a member of the royal commission on Colonial defence. In retirement, as an elected Fellow of the Royal Society and the Royal Geographical Society, he applied himself to science and the development of the London Library. He died in 1898; the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography states that four sons precedeased him. Arthur Barkly represented the Empire in Basutoland (his wife Fanny wrote Among Boers and Basutos: The story of our life on the frontier); the Seychelles; and the Falkland Islands. He ended his career as the last British governor of Heligoland, ‘the Gibraltar of the North Sea’, which was swapped between the British and the Germans in 1890 – the British accepting Zanzibar in return.