In 2013, my wife and I acquired our piece of paradise on the East Coast of Tasmania. This is on a spit of land known as Dolphin Sands and the plot is just over two hectares with a house right in the middle on a slight rise. The rise is important because it lifts the house above the coastal dunes and gives us sensational 180° views of Great Oyster Bay, including a full sweep of the Freycinet Peninsula, including Schouten Island which sits off its southern tip.

Beyond all of this is Antarctica.

The property is just part of my ‘affair’ with the island state, an affair which certainly includes its natural features, but also its culture.

Now, for many ‘mainlanders’, Tasmania is out-of-sight, out-of-mind. And culture? Well, they probably aren’t aware of the rich musical life of the island, of its outstanding printmaking tradition, even of its amazing craft ranging from timber furniture, through boatbuilding to homewares and clothing. And don’t even mention the oysters!

How I became interested in the cultural history of Tasmania I will take up in Part 2 of these musings. For the moment, let me just say how amazed I was to discover how culturally advanced Tasmania was in the period from the establishment of Hobart in 1803 to the late 1840s, after which its early prosperity declined because of various global economic shifts.

In the visual arts and architecture, in particular, Tasmania (then known as Van Diemen’s Land) led the way – although architecturally, Macquarie’s Sydney was certainly a challenger.

But my interest was also spiced by a longstanding fascination with the art of the early French and English maritime explorers. The artists on these expeditions had the job of documenting the topography, flora and fauna of the south seas – so exotic to Europeans.

My fascination had been instigated by my revered university teacher, the late, great Leslie Marchant, whose book, France Australe ought to be essential reading for anyone interested in Australia’s early European history. If nothing else it reminds us of how close we were to being a French outpost rather than an English penal colony. Just check out the number of French place names in Western Australia and Tasmania.

All the European explorers ended up in Tasmania because they sailed down the east coast of Africa, along the southern shores of Australia to Tasmania which offered by then much needed and abundant fresh water and food.

The artists on these expeditions created a fabulous visual record of the animals and birds, the flora, the landscape, the indigenous people and their culture as well as a record of early European culture in, for example, Sydney and Hobart.

So, unsurprisingly, I leapt at the opportunity to acquire two hand-coloured engravings from two French expeditions to Tasmania.

The first was Louis le Breton’s Jardin Botanique d’Hobart-town. Originally it was a watercolour executed during the Comte d’Urville’s visit to Tasmania in January 1839 and subsequently published as part of Gide’s monumental Voyage au Pole Sud (1842).

It is a view of Hobart’s botanic gardens with d’Urville’s ship, Astrolabe, seen anchored in the Derwent. The gardens had opened in 1818, just two years after Sydney’s botanical gardens were established.

My second purchase takes me back to where I began these musings. In fact, it is reproduced in that other piece of essential reading for anyone interested in the early history of art in our part of the world, Bernard Smith’s European Vision and the South Pacific.

Once again it is a hand-coloured engraving based on an original watercolour, this time by Charles Alexandre Lesueur and published in another great piece of exotica, François Péron’s Voyage de Découvertes aux Terres Australes (1807) which documented Nicolas Baudin’s 1800-1802 voyage to the south seas.

The work in question is Terre de Diémen. Navigation. Vue de la coté orientale de l’Ile Schouten. This depicts the southern tip of the Freycinet Peninsula and Schouten Island. In the foreground is a group of Aboriginal fishermen and an elaborate canoe which particularly intrigued Lesueur.

The thing is…this could almost be a view from our place on Dolphin Sands, only a little closer. Like all collectors – and being in the throes of an affair with that particular part of Tasmania – I just had to have that print.

And I invite you to compare Lesueur’s engraving with views from our piece of paradise. Just go to our website:

And if you share any of my passion for early Australian art, check out Antique Print and Map Room Sydney,