• Christies auction house James Christie logo

    Sale 7652

    Exploration and Travel

    25 September 2008, London, King Street

  • Lot 38

    John Skinner Prout (1805-1876)

    Alluvial gold washing [Victoria]

    Price Realised  

    John Skinner Prout (1805-1876)
    Alluvial gold washing [Victoria]
    signed 'SKINNER PROUT' (lower left)
    watercolour on card
    10½ x 15 5/8in. (26.4 x 39.8cm.)


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    'Soon after leaving the town [Belvoir], the road runs away nearly due south to Beechworth, the chief town of the Ovens gold-fields. Some little distance to the east of the road, and about the same number of miles from Beechworth and Belvoir, is the digging township of Yackandandah. It is built upon one of the tributaries of the Kiewa river. During the wet season, and in the summer, when the snows upon the Bogong Mountains are melting, the Yackandandah Creek becomes a turbid, troubled stream; it rushes impetuously over its bed, and sometimes overflows its banks. The town itself is a pleasant place, surrounded by scenery that would make any district a favourite with its inhabitants. Yackandandah is the chief town of an important district road-board, the boundaries of which extend over an area of nearly four hundred thousand acres. Some ten thousand persons reside within the district, the rateable property of which is estimated to be worth 400,000.

    'Yackandandah, so far as its gold-bearing properties are concerned, was discovered by one of the many parties of diggers who spread themselves in all directions after the first discovery of gold near Beechworth, at the latter end of the year 1852. Some few miles above Yackandandah is the pleasant little digging town of Stanley -- Snake Valley, the prospectors of the country called it. The creek runs from Stanley to Yackandandah, for the most part, between high precipitous banks. The ranges on either side were originally clothed with gigantic and handsomely grown specimens of the white gum; now the sides of the hills are comparatively bare, and the waters of the creek have been diverted from their original channel, and led, by means of flumes and races, round every hill-side, across every flat, and over every gully, in the neighbourhood of which gold could be obtained.

    'In a previous work [Another England, first edition, pp.97-8], I have referred to the gold-diggings of this part of the Ovens district as follows: "In those far-off mountains, gold-digging is work fit for a man, and if any one tired of the commonplaces of every-day existence desires a life at once pleasant and comfortable, let him set out on a voyage of discovery for other diggings, such as lie between Snake Valley and the Yackandandah. The breeze is as pure as being close up alongside of heaven can make it. The trees shine and shimmer the long year through, and have a beauty of form, a brilliance of foliage, and a majesty of size unknown in less favoured regions; their branches are filled with birds 'radiant in plumage and prodigal of song,' and the deep undergrowth of the forests affords shelter to game, that any sportsman who loves to live on the produce of his toil would delight in. It was a merry manner of mining up at the Ovens: no dreary drives to crawl into, or noisome holes to descend. To dam up the waters of a creek, and to turn them among the sweet-smelling flowers and herbs upon some handy point or conveniently shaped flat, to find gold from the roots of the grass down to the bed-rock, to work in the free air, and with a long-handled shovel to throw the sweet-smelling soil into the still sweeter water, is one of the pleasantest ways of growing rich in the world".' (E.C. Booth, op.cit., pp.53-4)

    Prout left Australia in 1848 before the discovery of gold in the colony: 'The family left for England in June 1848 and settled in London. Over the next twenty-eight years they lived at different addresses in the Camden Town-Kentish Town area. In the summer of 1850 Skinner Prout produced a diorama called Voyage to Australia based on his Australian experiences. The views were painted onto glass lantern slides and shown by projection. After the discovery of gold in Australia in the latter part of 1851 he updated this to produce a "moving panorama" (on rollers). This was exhibited over 600 times in London during 1852-53, taken on a three-month tour of the Plymouth-Torquay area in April-June 1854, and shown again at Leicester Square in 1855.' (J. Kerr, ed., The Dictionary of Australian Artists, Melbourne, 1992).

    'In 1850 at the Western Literary and Scientific Institution, Leicester Square, he lectured and exhibited his dioramic views illustrating convict and emigrant life, and the habits of bushrangers and Aboriginals in Australia. In 1852 he published An Illustrated Handbook of the Voyage to Australia and in 1853 A Magical Trip to the Gold Regions; both works led to further exhibitions and ran to several editions. They also suggest that he may have revisited Australia, for he claimed that his sketches were made on the spot.' (ADNB)

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