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Pioneers landing at Port Adelaide
Watercolour on paper sketch depicting pioneers being carried on the backs of sailors through the shallow waters of Port Adelaide as they land for the first time in South Australia.
The sketch Pioneers landing at Port Adelaide, depicts pioneers being carried on the backs of sailors through the shallow waters of Port Adelaide as they land for the first time in South Australia.
This artwork was borrowed by the Art Gallery of South Australia for the Visions of Adelaide 1836-1886 exhibition in 2005, curated by Tracey Lock-Weir., who suggested
neither the governor, John Hindmarsh, nor many of Adelaide's earliest settlers shared Light's high regard for Port Adelaide's beauty and suitability as Adelaide's gateway, and this first landing site at Port Adelaide in October 1840, parallel to today's McLaren Road, Port Adelaide.
Colonel William Light, comments in a letter, near the Gulf St. Vincent November 22, 1836
My dear Jones If you go to the Adelphi and look at my Chart you will see we are now at Anchor in the Harbour formed by two sand banks opposite the IV and VI anchorages and a most beautiful harbour we have discovered it surpasses every thing we could have expected or even dared to wish for. Nature has done so much that very little human labour and cost [art?] is requisite to make this one of the finest settlements in the whole world.
In this sketch Skipper mocks the conditions greeting early settlers at the first landing site at Port Adelaide. This satirical watercolour shows disembarking passengers being piggybacked by sailors to shore before the construction of the new wharf, and offers an almost grotesque counterpoint to Light's more idealised view of the same location. Skipper's considerable sense of humour comes to the fore in this rapidly executed work which makes light of what must have been the final indignity at what became know as 'Port Misery'. (Lock-Weir, Tracey Visions of Adelaide, 1836-1886, 2005).
Artist John Skipper was noted for his vignettes of colonial Adelaide. Passengers alighting at Port Misery (1839) captures with humour the difficulties and frustrations encountered on landing at the colony. Without a wharf at the port, ships could not reach the shore and so goods were 'floated' to land and people ferried in small boats or were carried. In 1840 David McLaren built the first wharf which extended into the deeper waters of the Port River, alleviating some of the new arrivals' difficulties.
In addition to problems with landing from the ships, for several years prior to the completion of a proper road, newly arrived migrants had to walk the considerable distance to reach the settlement at Adelaide. Migrants with sufficient finances had their goods transported by bullocks, but many carried their possessions or used wheelbarrows for transport.
Early German settler Carl Gustav Schedlich described in his memoirs his disappointment upon landing at Port Adelaide in December 1846:
But speak of Adelaide. O Holy Moses. ...Adelaide was a perfect mudhole... Schedlich continued about the colony All my grand ideas were vanished...we found a priest-ridden, narrow-minded community. Not a sign of intellect or refinement; the country nearly bankrupt, the only industry was the grand Burra Burra copper mine.
Born in Norwich, Skipper joined the East India Company as a young man and served on the Sherbourne (ship). Skipper was interested in art from an early age and was encouraged by his uncle James Stark, a noted landscape painter. During his time at sea Skipper kept a journal which he illustrated with sketches. In 1836 he immigrated to South Australia, arriving on the Africaine (ship) 6 November. On the voyage Skipper met Frances Thomas, whose father Robert was to establish South Australia's first newspaper, the South Australian gazette and colonial register. They married in December 1839.
In South Australia Skipper commenced his legal career and was articled to Charles Mann the Advocate-General and Crown Solicitor of South Australia and later worked with EC Gwynne. Skipper was admitted as an attorney and proctor of the South Australian Supreme Court in March 1840. He continued his artistic pursuits however, and sketched many scenes depicting the early years of European settlement in South Australia. Skipper's satirical watercolour of Pioneers landing at Port Adelaide in 1839 mocks the primitive conditions which new settlers found when they arrived in the colony.
Skipper spent several years at the Victorian goldfields in 1850 and 1851. On his return to South Australia he was appointed clerk of the Local Court of Port Adelaide; a position he held until his retirement. Skipper's sketches and paintings provide a valuable record of life in South Australia from 1836. His key achievements include his arrival to South Australia 1836 articled to Charles Mann, Advocate-General and Crown Solicitor, admitted as attorney and proctor of the South Australian Supreme Court March 1840, clerk of the Local Court of Port Adelaide 1852-1872.
Skipper is known for his tiny detailed sketches in the margins of his diaries and published books in his possession. The State Library of South Australia holds several examples including Psellus' dialogue on the operation of daemons and South Australian almanack and general directory for 1841.
Copyright is assigned to the Libraries Board of South Australia with unreserved use by State Library of South Australia customers.
Permission to use this item for any purpose, including publishing, is not required from the State Library under these conditions of use.
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