State Library Victoria > La Trobe Journal

No 43 Autumn 1989


The Godfrey Sketchbook

One of the La Trobe Library's great discoveries in 1988 was the Sketchbook by Henry Godfrey, dating 1841 to 1845. It consists of 167 leaves of pencil, pen and ink and watercolour drawing, of which 56 depict the Port Phillip District including some of the earliest images of Aboriginal people living around Melbourne and in the Upper Goulburn District. The State Library of Victoria is acquiring this important sketchbook with the support of a public appeal (which is still running) for the $30,000 needed for its purchase.
Henry Godfrey was born in Madras, 1824, second son of Lieutenant-Colonel John Race Godfrey of the Madras Native Infantry. As his sketchbook shows, he was living or visiting in Hereford, Dartmouth and Exeter in 1841. On 7 March, 1843, he sailed from London on the Duke of Roxburgh for Hobart, where he arrived on 19 July.1 His fellow passengers included the Port Phillip pioneer, John Helder Wedge, whose sketchbook of first European settlement is held in the La Trobe Library, and Bishop Nixon of Hobart. Godfrey copied from both their sketchbooks. His own duly records his passage through Port Phillip Heads on 14 October, 1843, as he sailed on the Tamar from Launceston to Melbourne.2 His drawings showing Victorian Aborigines are of the same importance as those of Wedge, Mitchell, William Thomas and John Cotton, of which the last two artists are well represented in the La Trobe Collection. The Godfrey Sketchbook is similar in subject to the recently donated drawings of Charles Norton, in that it is a sequential record of pastoral selection in the Port Phillip District. But Norton did not depict Aboriginal people although both he and Godfrey visited or lived in some of the same districts.
Godfrey's images and portraits of the Aborigines are sympathetic and, given his rather limited gifts of artistry, true to life. He has drawn a wonderfully animated scene of lubras gathering food, amidst their plentiful dogs, and shows Black ‘Billy Hamilton’ standing before Gobur, Godfrey's first grazing property in the Upper Goulburn District. Is this the same Billy Hamilton of whom William Thomas, Assistant Protector, wrote on 19 December, 1839?
At night, much jaw work among the natives but no fighting. J. McNall had taken Judith, a lubra, into the bush. Billy Hamilton and others vowed vengeance against him, but all ended in tongue.3 Godfrey, sometimes with his brother, owned Gobur from 15 January, 1844; Boort, 1838 to 1857 and 1864 to 1871; and Maintoongoon B, 1872.4 After 1850, Godfrey lived most of the time in England, where he married. He did return to Australia, and lived at Boort for a while. He died in England in 1882.5
Is it coincidence that these sympathetic images of Victorian Aborigines were made by a man who numbered amongst his acquaintances people like Wedge and Nixon who also exhibited some sympathy? It is coincidence that Maintoongoon was once held by John Cotton in the 1840s, and later by John Fraser Bon who, with his wife Ann, was a champion of the people living at Coranderrk.
Jennifer Phipps is Curator of Special Projects in Australian Art with the National Gallery of Victoria.
Donations to assist purchase of the Godfrey Sketchbook may be made to the Godfrey Appeal, c/- Picture Collection, State Library of Victoria, 328 Swanston St., Melbourne. 3000.

Henry Godfrey, “Black Billy Hamilton.” watercolour, f.101 of the “Godfrey sketchbook.”


Hobart Town Courier, 21 July 1843, p. 2, col. 3 & 4. Dr. Nixon was the newly installed Lord Bishop of Tasmania. There is a drawing of Wedge's sheepwash at Trio near Kyneton in the sketchbook dated 1 December 1843 (f.87)


Port Phillip Gazette, 18 October 1843, p. 2, col. 1.


Historical Records of Victoria. Foundation Series. Aborigines and Protectors 1838–1839, (Melbourne: Victorian Government Printing Office, 1983) vol. 2B, p. 574.


Billis, R. V. & Kenyon, A. S. Pastoral Pioneers of Port Phillip. 2nd edition. (Melbourne Stockland Press 1974) p. 72.


Henderson, Alexander. Early Pioneer Families of Victoria and Riverina. (Melbourne: McCarron, Bird, 1936), pp. 347–348.