State Library Victoria > La Trobe Journal

No 45 Autumn 1990


Samuel Jackson and the Panorama of Early Melbourne

Samuel Jackson was a builder and architect who arrived in Van Diemen's Land in August 1829 at the age of 21. After some success in his profession in Launceston, Jackson and his brother William joined John Pascoe Fawkner's venture to establish a settlement at Port Phillip. He arrived at Williamstown on 10 July 1836 and took up pastoral land near Melbourne. In 1839 he opened an architectural practice in Melbourne. One of his commissions during 1841 was Scots Church on the corner of Russell and Collins Streets. It was from the partially completed tower of this building that he made his panoramic sketch of Melbourne on July 30 1841.1
In 1888 it was reported that Jackson drew his picture “through an opening cut in a barrel” and viewed and drew the scene through the staves until a full circle was completed.2 As the sketch is made in what was an established technique of the three hundred and sixty degree panorama it is likely that he merely rotated his vantage point while “taking” the picture, perhaps using the barrel as a camera obscura.
From the 1790s three hundred and sixty degree panoramas were a feature of the London entertainment scene The technique had been invented by an obscure Irish portraitist, Robert Barker. To create an illusionistic effect, straight lines were curved and curved lines straightened. This explains the “exploding” perspectives of the Jackson sketch. When viewed from within a circle the perspective is normal. By the time young Jackson left London in 1829, two circular buildings, one in Leicester Square and one in the Strand, were showing huge 360 degree oil paintings of current battles and foreign cities. By this time people were employed to make sketches of such places and send them back to London where a team of painters enlarged the sketches for exhibition.3 In 1824 Major James Taylor's panorama of Port Jackson was exhibited at Burford's Panorama on the Strand and Augustus Earle's sketches of Sydney Harbour and Hobart Town were adapted into large panoramas in the late 1820 and early 1830s.4 Although no documentary evidence has been found it is possible that Jackson's sketch was executed for this purpose.
It seems, however, that the panorama stayed in Victoria in the hands of Jackson's nephew, a pastoralist living near Casterton.5 Jackson retired to England in 1862. He died at Enfield, Middlesex in his mansion called Yarra House in 1876.
In 1888 the Victorian Government purchased the panorama from Jackson's nephew for £450 hoping to enlarge the panorama from its 18 inches by 18 feet measurement for display at the 1891 Imperial Exhibition, London.6 After various unsuccessful attempts at photographic enlargement the Exhibition Trustees accepted an offer by John Hennings, the German-born scenic artist of the Melbourne Theatre Royal, to paint a full-circle picture of early Melbourne, using the Jackson sketch as a reference. Hennings’ commission fee was 500 guineas.7 This Cyclorama is also owned by the SLV.
The Jackson sketch remained rolled up in a safe in the Trustees’ office until 1918 when Dr. M. O'Donnell of the Historical Society announced its re-discovery.8 It was given to the Public Library (as the State Library of Victoria was then known) and for many years was displayed in the Newspaper Room.
Mimi Colligan


Australian Dictionary of Biography (Carlton, Melbourne University Press, 1976).


Australasian, 15 December 1888, p.1315.


Robert Altick, Shows of London, (Cambridge Mass., Belknap Press, 1978).


Sydney Gazette, 3 June 1824 mentions that the engraving of Major Taylors’ panorama was being displayed in London; J. Hackforth-Jones, Augustus Earle Travel Artist (Canberra, National Library of Australia, 1980).


VPRS 3992: Chief Secretary's Inwards Correspondence: Unit (Box): 710:10799: Receipt dated 16 November 1888.


VPRS 3992: 710: 10799: Undated letter, F. Stanley Dobson to Alfred Deakin.


Exhibition Trustees, Report of Proceedings and Statement of Income and Expenditure, 30 September 1891, VPP, Vol. 6, No. 193, 1891, p.4.


Royal Historical Society of Victoria Minutes, Vol. 6. p.168, 1918. I am indebted to Mrs. Barbara Savill, Honorary Research Officer of the Royal Historical Society of Victoria Picture Collection for this reference.