State Library Victoria > La Trobe Journal

No 77 Autumn 2006


Kerry Heckenberg
‘…bringing facts into some connexion with each other…’
Ludwig Becker's Narrative Strategies in his Burke and Wills Illustrations

In This article I am interested in the narrative roles of images in nineteenth-century Australian inland exploration journals, both published and unpublished. My focus is on the work of German naturalist and artist Ludwig Philipp Heinrich Becker (1808–1861) who accompanied the 1860–61 Victorian Exploring (or Burke and Wills) Expedition to Central Australia as both expedition artist and naturalist.1 Most accounts of exploration art stress its descriptive role in depicting (and appropriating) new landscapes as well as describing peoples and items of natural history. But artists could also play a part in documenting the events of the expeditions they accompanied and the pictures they produced could be utilised as illustrations in the published narratives that were one outcome that could be expected for any successful exploratory venture. Because of the disastrous result of the Burke and Wills Expedition (leader Robert O'Hara Burke, surveyor William John Wills, and others, including Becker, died in the course of the journey), such a volume was not produced in this instance.2 Nevertheless, Becker kept meticulous records, both verbal and visual, of the progress of the expedition as well as its discoveries in his sketchbooks, reports and letters sent back to the expedition sponsors, the Royal Society of Victoria.
Recent discussions of narrative theory have debated its relevance for visual works of art.3 However, illustrations included in exploration journals are always viewed in relation to the written text; that is, the images are always framed by an explicit verbal narrative. They are arranged in a sequential manner and thus can readily be used to represent ‘a causally related series of events’.4 But they can be used for a variety of narrative ends. They may combine with, augment, or supplement the verbal text; as well, various formal and representational aspects of these images can also suggest an independent or ‘strong’ narrative dimension within a single image.5
Drawing on Mark Stansbury-O'Donnell's approach to pictorial narrative (Pictorial Narrative in Ancient Greek Art, 1999) as well as ideas from genre theory and semiotics, this article examines the narrative strategies that Becker employs in his pictures of the Burke and Wills expedition. The story of the troubled journey is detailed in a number of scenes that are self-contained (or monoscenic),6 but nevertheless include various indexes and compositional formats that suggest its progress while (perhaps inadvertently) pointing to its
ultimately disastrous outcome. (Following Stansbury-O'Donnell, pp. 20–21, I use the term ‘index’ here to mean some component of a picture that connects it to another picture, action or a wider narrative.)
In other words, in these pictures Becker seeks to go beyond the limitations of the single static view by introducing a temporal element, an approach that is also evident in his more scientific images. Like Count Strzelecki, another scientific explorer of Australia, Becker was a ‘traveller of the Humboldt school’. A review of Strzelecki's published account of his exploratory achievements offers a succinct contemporary description of the Humboldtian approach:
The naked observation of facts must ever be essentially the same process, with due allowance for variation in the important elements of number, minuteness, and accuracy; and no observer so crude, as not to bring his facts into some connexion with each other, or with kindred parts of human knowledge. But the method to which we allude, which has grown with the growth of science, and become strong in its strength, rests upon a foundation common to all true philosophy. It views nature through the relations and analogies of parts; throws an eagle glance over objects seemingly the most remote and dissociated; masters difficulties by attacking them from points already known and secured; and achieves, by a principle of research, results which no rude or untutored observation can attain.7
An interesting story of change in time and space is suggested by Becker's treatment of landscape elements where, like Strzelecki, he ‘views nature through the relations and analogies of parts.’ In particular, although pre-Darwinian notions of evolutionary change informed his ideas, Becker was interested in the visible effects of invisible forces that resulted in change over time in landscape formations. Furthermore, Becker's natural history illustrations with their multiple views, details and careful annotations invite the viewer to participate in a sequential process of description and explanation.
But most importantly, his work provides a marked contrast with other influential narratives of Australian exploration, particularly as they were detailed in the illustrative content of published journals. The idea of the European explorer as a distinctly national hero has been very influential in Australia; it was created in poetry, literature and art, but also in the historiography of Australian exploration. As early as 1865, in part in response to the deaths of Burke and Wills, William Howitt wrote (in his History of Discovery in Australia, Tasmania, and New Zealand, from the earliest date to the present day) that Australian explorers ‘present to those familiar with their labours and adventures, scenes of danger and wild romance, of heroic daring and devoted deaths, such as few countries have to show.’8 In celebrating the centenary of European settlement of Australia in 1888, two books reiterated this theme. In one, George Grimm argues that ‘the story of the exploration of Australia is one which we cannot willingly let die. There are many reasons for keeping alive the remembrance of such heroic deeds.’9 And Ernest Favenc suggests that ‘the great charm of Australian exploration’ ‘is the spectacle of one man pitted against the whole force of nature.’10 The illustrations included in published journals both responded to, and also
helped to construct, this idea of the heroic Australian explorer. I will begin by summarising the results of a larger project, briefly outlining the general trends in illustration of the journals throughout the nineteenth century,11 and then move on to a more detailed examination of Becker's practice at a critical moment in this history.

Narration and illustration in published nineteenth-century
Australian inland exploration journals

In general, the published versions of nineteenth-century Australian inland exploration journals were worked up from field notebooks with the aim of producing a book that would appeal to the wider public. Daily entries recount the course of the expedition, its events and discoveries, a format that contributed a sense of reliability. And they were usually illustrated. However, some distinct changes in these illustrations can be seen over the course of the century: most importantly, the journals produced after 1850 contain fewer pictures (with Ernest Giles's Australia Twice Traversed: The Romance of Exploration, 1889, an exception), and they become less varied in type. While the subject matter of pictures in the earlier journals involved the landscape, items of natural history and the indigenous inhabitants or their possessions, later in the century there is more interest in depicting the explorers and their experiences rather than their discoveries. Although the text of the journals generally became more scientific or ‘dry’ and factual in style as science became more specialised and professional (again Giles is an exception), the illustrations that were included emphasise the dramas and dangers of exploration.12
In other words, the published journals were considered as a form of travel narrative, conforming to the changing conventions of that genre. This is evident in the response of a reviewer of the earliest of the Australian inland journals, John Oxley's Journals of Two Expeditions into the Interior of New South Wales (1820), who criticises the author for failing to provide either a ‘book for general information, or interesting narrative of travelling adventures’.13 The most successful earlier Australian explorers looked to an earlier model, attempting to combine information (description of the events of the journey and its discoveries in a sequential and systematic way) and amusement (comment on these events, often with literary allusions) in their journals. However, later writers tended to conform to one of the two conventional modes of travel writing noted in the Oxley review: in Mary Louise Pratt's terminology these can be described as ‘informational’ versus ‘experiential’ or ‘sentimental’.14 While the former is impersonal and descriptive in approach, the latter concentrates on the adventures and experiences of the hero-narrator (pp.149–150).
Pratt suggests that characteristic forms of illustration accompanied these modes: in the informational mode the landscape is the subject, not the describer, although small figures may be included as staffage. In the sentimental style, pictures feature the narrator and his exploits (frequently using a one-point perspectival construction in order to direct the viewer's attention to this figure) while landscape is included only as background (pp.

Fig. I. First use of the boats, wood engraving by Samuel Williams after a sketch by Thomas Mitchell. From T. L. Mitchell, Journal of an Expedition into the Interior of Tropical Australia, London, 1848, p. 61.

Fig. 2. Last use of the boats, lithograph by Thomas Picken after a sketch by Thomas Mitchell. Plate 12 from Mitchell, Tropical Australia, 1848, facing p. 395.


Fig. 3. Attack of natives near Hanover Bay, lithograph by George Barnard after a sketch by George Grey. From George Grey, Journals of Two Expeditions of Discovery, London, 1841, vol. I, facing p. 106.

153–157). However, the situation in the Australian exploration journals is more complex than Pratt's model suggests because of the persistence of the earlier ideal of pleasurable instruction.
In this regard, the example provided by the copiously illustrated journal published by Thomas Mitchell (1792–1855) in 1838, Three Expeditions into the Interior of Eastern Australia, is most significant. Utililising recent technological developments in lithography and wood engraving, Mitchell was able to integrate many types of image (based on his own sketches) with his text, creating the effect of a transcription of his field note books. The critical acclaim was so great that this approach was emulated by his followers over the next decade in varying degrees.15 However, his second book, Journal of an Expedition into the Interior of Tropical Australia (1848), begins the trend noted above: it has a reduced number of images that deal mainly with landscapes and negative depictions of Aborigines. In the former book the landscape images have various implied narrative voices, ranging from more impersonal and descriptive where there is an elevated viewpoint to more subjective where we seem to share Mitchell's point of view.16 But in the latter, the stylish, mainly sunny landscape plates employ the impersonal, descriptive format and are carefully arranged in a series that contributes its own sense of narrative progress.
Eleven of the twelve plates in Tropical Australia are finished landscape drawings taken

Fig. 4. Attack at Ularring, engraving by Stanley Berkeley, after a sketch by Henry Charles Prinsep. From Ernest Giles, Australia Twice Traversed, London, 1889, vol. 2, facing p. 223.

from Mitchell's preliminary sketches.17 Plate I (a nocturnal scene of flood waters entering a dry river bed) is used as a Frontispiece while the remaining plates are arranged in a progression of scenic views, in the manner of illustrations for a picturesque tour. Although each individual scene is monoscenic, when viewed in succession they build up a narrative sequence with the series being introduced by Plate 2 (First use of the boats), which shows the boats being used to water cattle, and ending with Plate 12 (Last use of the boats) in which the boats are used to cross a river [Figures 1 and 2]. This gives a sense of narrative finality, of a journey successfully completed. In fact, although the expedition ostensibly set out (to use the words of his subtitle) ‘in search of a route from Sydney to the Gulf of Carpentaria’, Mitchell terminated the expedition (arguing that supplies were running low) after merely sighting a river flowing to the north. He hoped that it might provide such a pathway to northern Australia, but did not verify that this was the case and was later shown to have been mistaken.
An important indication of the change in function of exploration art in the second half of the century is the use of illustrations provided by artists who did not actually accompany the expedition; for example, George French Angas (1822–1886) produced the illustrations included in the journals of Stuart and Forrest (Journals of John McDouall Stuart, 1865, and John Forrest's Explorations in Australia, 1875).18 Although such illustrations may

Fig. 5. The dust storm.-under the lee, engraving by Ulick J. Burke. From Peter Egerton Warburton, Journey across the Western Interior of Australia, London, 1875, facing p. 194.

have been based on sketches drawn by expedition members,19 there is less emphasis on the accuracy and authenticity of the images. Furthermore, the increasing importance of the personality of explorers can also be seen in the trend to include portraits of the explorernarrator as a frontispiece. This is first seen in the various unofficial volumes that were published following the deaths of Burke and Wills. Such frontispieces became the norm in the second half of the century, pointing to the new role for explorers as significant cultural figures.20 In particular, the development of the concept of the explorer as hero, discussed above, contributed to the desire to present the exploration journal as an exciting tale of adventure. However, the demands of an impersonal scientific approach were in conflict with this aim.
Nevertheless, it is interesting that similar sorts of pictures are found in both the more impersonal type of journal and Giles's journal, which is more romantic in style. Pictures are used to provide an element of sensationalism that is missing from the texts themselves, largely through the suggestion of threat of Aboriginal attack, sometimes without any textual justification, or by increasingly explicit emphasis on attacks by or on Aborigines [see Figures 3 and 4]. In other words, the pictures introduce a supplementary narrative theme or emphasise one that is merely an undercurrent in the written text. Another indication of the

Fig. 6. Ludwig Becker, Crossing an ancient Crater 25 Aug. 60, pen and ink, 12.4× 17.7 cm. La Trobe Picture Collection.

shift I have been discussing is the increased use of pictures depicting explorers arriving at significant places or departing to the cheers of their well-wishers and returning triumphantly, beginning with Edward Eyre's Journals of expeditions of discovery into Central Australia (1845). In some cases such as Eyre and Warburton (Peter Egerton Warburton, Journey across the western interior of Australia, 1875), merely surviving is a form of triumph, and the narrative emphasis in the pictures is on ethos or character of the explorers, contributing to the construction of the wider socio-cultural myth of the explorer as hero [Figure 5]. Dying in the course of exploration was to prove the ultimate guarantee of heroic status in the case of Burke and Wills.

Becker and his pictures for the Victorian Exploring Expedition

I began this article by suggesting that Becker was influenced by the ideas and example of German naturalist and traveller, Alexander von Humboldt (1769–1859). This influence encompassed not only Becker's scientific approach, but also his art. The type of science Humboldt espoused (concerned with measurement and mapping of physical and biological variables over wide areas) is known today as ‘Humboldtian science’,21 while his attitude to landscape art, expounded particularly in his book Kosmos (five volumes, published 1845–1862), involved praise for its ability to convey not only information about distant

Fig. 7. Ludwig Becker, Crossing the Terrick-Terrick Plains, Aug. 29. 60, watercolour and ink, 12.5× 17.7 cm. La Trobe Picture Collection.

lands but also to forge an emotional link with them. Emotion and the exercise of the imagination, romantic characteristics, were not incompatible with the practice of science in his approach. This is in contrast to the developing British tradition that separated knowledge and feeling.
But while Humboldt's ideas provided a general background for Becker's work, more immediate guidance was provided by the Royal Society, which issued very specific instructions to the expedition's ‘scientific observers’.22 However, because of general disarray in the planning of the expedition, Becker did not actually receive them until he had been en route for about two weeks,23 and the first five pictures had been completed. Their most marked impact can perhaps be seen in the representation of campsites that begins at this point. Otherwise, Becker was instructed to produce a wide variety of pictures, comparable with the range found in Australian expedition art from the first half of the century. In fulfilling this task, his principal aim is the provision of information, but he seeks to extend the capacities of visual representation in interesting ways by introducing different sorts of temporal dimension into his pictures. He is not interested in the notion of the explorer as hero.
His pictures are particularly admirable because they were produced under conditions of extreme difficulty. Although the expedition was sponsored by the Royal

Fig. 8. Ludwig Becker, Arrival of the party at Duroadoo, 21 February 1861, pen and ink, 14.0× 21.1 cm. La Trobe Picture Collection.

Society, the expedition leader, Robert O'Hara Burke (1821–1861), did not have much patience with delays caused by scientific investigations. He was more interested in the idea of the expedition as an heroic exploit, with being the first European explorer to achieve a south-north crossing of the continent of Australia. Keen to make rapid progress, he commanded Becker to take part in much of the manual labour of exploration, thereby limiting the time that he could spend on his observations and his paintings and drawings, and contributing to the problems with ill-health that he encountered.
Two of Becker's most unusual pictures, painted before he had received his explicit instructions, are views of the whole expedition as it appeared while travelling in its early stages. In Crossing an ancient Crater 25 Aug. 60 [Figure 6] Becker shows the Victorian Exploring Expedition proceeding across the landscape as seen from an imaginary, elevated viewpoint while in Crossing the Terrick-Terrick Plains, Aug. 29. 60 [Figure 7] the viewing position is at ground level, immediately in front of the convoy. Becker's interests were in the scientific results of the expedition, not in its success in terms of conquering unknown territory, and so he could afford to survey it as a whole as though from the position of an outsider.
Most importantly they are markedly different from the pictures of expeditions that become common in the later Australian journals of inland exploration, the celebratory

Fig. 9. Ludwig Becker, First camp from Duroadoo, 18 February 1861, pen and ink, 14.0× 22.5 cm. La Trobe Picture Collection.

departures and arrivals noted earlier. It is interesting that Giles provides a written description that is analogous to Becker's visual depiction from on high in Crossing an ancient Crater:
The region is so desolate that it is horrifying even to describe. The eye of God down looking on the solitary caravan, as with slow and snake-like motion it presents the only living thing around, must have contemplated its appearance with pitying admiration, as the directors of its motions forced it continually on – slow as eternity, but certain as death.24
However, Giles does not include a comparable visual depiction of his exploration party from a point of view that would make clear its vulnerability, concentrating instead on scenes of public acclaim.
In Becker's picture the slow progress of the expedition is suggested by the movement of the single file of carriages, groups of horses and finally camels from left to right, following as it goes the gently curving contours of the crater. The open rather than closed composition means that the viewer can imagine the continuation of the movement beyond the picture plane. However, this sense of slow, but purposive movement is disrupted in Crossing the Terrick-Terrick Plains, in which Becker conspicuously employs a one-point perspectival construction in the type of country that would seem to be most resistant to it. Although this compositional device is used traditionally to impose order (and this was probably Becker's intention), in this case paradoxically it suggests a lack of order in the expedition as a whole.

Fig. 10. Ludwig Becker, Border of the Mud-Desert near Desolation Camp, 1861, watercolour, 14.0× 22.8 cm. La Trobe Picture Collection.

The expeditionary members are shown travelling in two parallel columns since the horses had to be separated from the camels because they were frightened of them. Adopting a frontal viewpoint, Becker shows the column of camels with their riders (he is astride the second camel) resolutely proceeding to the viewer's left while wagons and horses go to the right. Instead of the receding colonnade and tiled floor of a Renaissance perspectival construction, there is the regular diminution of similar shapes of camel and rider or wagon plus the marking off of the recession on the ground by the regularly spaced and diminishing, elongated shadows. The two groups appear to diverge at a marked angle while Burke on his white horse cuts across the void between them. But while this brings structure and order to the picture plane, the angle of divergence is so marked that the disunity of the expedition seems to be irrevocable.25
My explanation for the unease produced by the picture derives from the use of one-point perspective in a scene which depicts a fairly extensive span of country, thus implying a close view-point. According to Svetlana Alpers' argument about the imaginative effect of such images (the viewer is either placed in the picture or has no specified position), the combination of one point perspective with the wide panoramic landscape is fundamentally incompatible, leading to the disruptive effect that is evident in this image.26 It points to the impossibility of being both inside and outside the picture.

Fig. 11. Ludwig Becker, 1860. Meteor seen by me on Oct. 11t At 10h 35 m p.m. at the river Darling, 25 miles N. of Macpherson's station, in Lat: 33, S., watercolour, 10.2× 16.2 cm. La Trobe Picture Collection.

Another example of Becker's reversal of usual points of view can be seen in the sketch entitled Arrival of the party at Duroadoo [Figure 8] in which it is very difficult to actually make out ‘the party’. It is depicted in the middle ground, largely obscured by a mound in the foreground and a group of Aborigines who are shown from behind, pointing at the group of camels and two Europeans who almost blend in with the tangle of lines that delineate the background vegetation. It is interesting that Becker here considers how the party would appear to the indigenous inhabitants, an example of the sympathetic attitude he generally displayed towards the Aboriginal people he encountered and depicted. Unlike Mitchell and the other explorers discussed earlier, there are no pictures of threatening or doomed ‘savages’ in Becker's work.27
Becker stopped his depictions of the process of the expedition as a whole after the two early images, partly because his instructions did not require this sort of picture, but also because he was left behind the expedition leaders. However, two of his last pictures suggest its ultimate end. First camp from Duroadoo (18 February 1861) [Figure 9] again utilises a dramatic one-point perspective structure, here intentionally highlighting the disrupted nature of the expedition. Because of a leg injury Becker was left with the mound of abandoned equipment that is arrayed across the foreground, while two groups set off in disparate directions from a spot close to his own viewpoint in the middle ground. The two
on the right are going ahead in search of fresh water supplies while the larger group on the left are returning to a known source of water at the previous camp site.
In March near the same spot Becker painted Border of the Mud-Desert near Desolation Camp [Figure 10], an image in which drama is achieved by powerful effects of light and colour used to suggest intense atmospheric phenomena. The sun is elongated into a sun pillar28 with a triangular cone of light spreading from its top while the rest of the sky is an intense blue. The distant hills seem to float above the horizon, and the trees in the distance are elongated in a mirage. These effects of light and colour are the main subjects of the painting, but two dingoes watching in the foreground are included along with two emus fleeing from five camels depicted in the distance. While the translucent camels seem to be a part of the mirage, the ambitious aims of the expedition could also be seen to be melting away beyond grasp.

Becker and the Elusiveness of the Visible

Some incentive to explore elusive light effects came from the expedition sponsors since mirages and meteors were among the phenomena considered of especial interest.29 Becker had gained experience in this field by previously working for Professor Georg Neumayer (1826–1909), a meteorologist from Bavaria and a practitioner of Humboldtian science, who
accompanied the expedition in its early stages.30 Becker's concern with physical forces rather than material forms in his painted landscapes reflects both Humboldt's approach and that of German science more generally.31 Often in his landscape sketches, solid mountains or trees seem to disappear or are distorted or transformed by the forces bending light rays from the sun, e.g. Terrick-Terrick Hills (p. 49).
Nature had also provided a spectacular visual effect late in the evening of October 11, while Becker and a companion (Mr. Landells) were proceeding through the dark with three camels following the main group from which they had become separated due to an accident: ‘suddenly the whole firmament and the country underneath it was lit up by a day-like light: a splendid meteor fell in the west’ (pp. 203–204). This scene is represented in Sketch No. 26 (1860. Meteor seen by me on Oct. 11t.) [Figure 11].
Becker and Landells were presumably with the camels, not some distance away, while they observed the meteor. However, the event is shown from the point of view of a distant observer: the camels are shown in the distance against the horizon, their backs illuminated by the meteor. The sketch also telescopes together several seconds since the complete transit of the meteor is shown, including the red sparks that remained after it disappeared. It is therefore a constructed image with added drama coming from the inclusion of the camels. It relies on memory and imagination although the insistence on details of position in the sky, time and location add to its claims of veracity.

Becker and the History of the Earth

In addition to his interest in effects of light, the ability of water to modify landscape over time is the subject of several other sketches: ‘Mallee Sand-cliffs at the Darling’ [Figure 12], Banks of the Darling, near Bilwaka camp. Oct.6.1860. (p. 69), and Water-marks on the banks of the river Darling. 1861 (p. 111). This again was a feature of Humboldtian science, although it was also a general focus of geological ideas at this time.32 Commenting on the weathered Mallee sandy cliffs, Becker is fascinated with how natural forces can achieve effects analogous with those created by art; he compares the cliffs with something man-made, a model or a painted theatrical backdrop, but concludes: ‘As it is, however, these sandcliffs are entirely the result of natural forces, and human hands had no play in it: no sand pits, no excavations are to be seen’ (p. 204). The imaginative response to natural effects is characteristic of the romantic approach to science.
Becker also hints at a union of science and religion in his comments about another early sketch, View from Mt. Hope. Pyramid Hill bearing S. 30 W. Sep. 1. 60. (p. 51). This picture is interesting because here Becker intersects with Mitchell's path in 1836: this is the area that Mitchell termed ‘Australia Felix’ in celebration of the discovery of fertile land. This was the ultimate aim of all explorers and this discovery formed the narrative climax of his third expedition. The mountain and hill were both named by Mitchell and pictured in outline in his journal, Three Expeditions.33
But while Mitchell (p. 155) gives a concise geological description of the mountain,
Becker (p. 195) is more fanciful: ‘the whole mountain chain is Granit [sic] of a very coarse character, brittle, and fast decomposing. Immense blocks stretch their backs along-side the hills, where they look like petrefied Wales [sic] & Elephants of pre-adamitic dimensions.’ There is a similarity in wording that suggests that Becker was familiar with Mitchell's account. The use of the term ‘pre-adamitic’ is also suggestive, raising the question whether Becker, unlike Mitchell, still believed in the union of science and religion.34 The term was given contemporary notoriety by Isabelle Duncan in her controversial but popular book entitled Pre-Adamite Man: or, The Story of Our Old Planet and Its Inhabitants told by Scripture and Science. This was published early in 1860 and widely reviewed. In it Duncan attempted to reconcile geology and religion by postulating a succession of worlds, notably an earlier Pre-Adamitic world populated by humans who became angels separated from the later, Adamitic world by an ice age that destroyed all life.35 Evidence of change in the environment increasingly became the subject of Becker's later pictures.

Desert Natural History: the limitations of visual representation

While his natural history illustrations follow established conventions, Becker utilises approaches that enable him to provide the maximum amount of visual information, overcoming the limitations of the single view by including copious notes and observations, with sketches of details as well as the whole specimen. Indeed, he presents the results of a complicated sequence of examinations. He is interested in details of structure rather than the relationship of the creatures he describes to the environment, but the notes and different views provide as complete a description as possible. Wendy Steiner has pointed to the relationship between narrative and knowledge.36 By proceeding from the overall view to details presented in a numbered sequence Becker also directs the activities of the viewer in an orderly manner so that they achieve maximum understanding.
The subjects of these sketches are mainly small creatures, particularly reptiles, and even include a parasite (p. 95) that had to be viewed under magnification. They were produced without much of the equipment that Becker had requested in order to carry out his investigations and under more and more difficult conditions as the journey progressed.37 An example of one of his reptile pictures is sketch No. 24 (p. 91), with an overall dorsal view of ‘Gecko No. II’ at the top and below, eight numbered details of different aspects of its head, tail and feet.
He depicts only one mammal, the Long-haired or Plague Rat, which was present in plague numbers at this time and was a constant source of annoyance to the explorers. A similar systematic sequence of views can be seen here [Figure 13] and in his picture of four carefully painted shell types (p. 99). In his sole picture of a plant, The so-called “Darling Pea” (p. 77), Becker also skilfully includes different views and different developmental stages of the flowers which make up the spray which he has depicted while the mature pea is added as a supplementary detail.38

Fig. 13. Ludwig Becker, Long haired or plague rat, watercolour, pen and ink, 11.6× 17.3 cm. La Trobe Picture Collection.

In summary, the natural history illustrations show an interest in details that differentiate one species from another and often attempt to provide a record of overall characteristic appearance by presenting different points of view and different stages of development. Such comprehensive descriptive aims can also be seen in Becker's landscape images. But in both types of picture he seeks to go beyond description in order to bring facts into connexion with each other by demonstrating the relations and analogies of parts in a way that introduced new understandings. His expeditionary art also provides a valuable contrast to other images that were used in constructing the standard narrative of Australian exploration. His work demonstrates some of the complexities of this type of art and the ways in which it was constructed and used.


Acknowledgement: I would like to thank an anonymous referee for some useful suggestions.


For studies of Becker and his work, see Marjorie Tipping, ed., Ludwig Becker: artist & naturalist with the Burke & Wills Expedition, Carlton, Victoria, Melbourne University Press on behalf of the Library Council of Victoria, 1979; Marjorie J. Tipping, ‘Becker, Ludwig’, in vol. 3 of Australian Dictionary of Biography, eds N. B. Nairn, A. G. Serle and R. B. Ward, Carlton, Victoria, Melbourne University Press, 1969, pp. 127–128; Marjorie Tipping, ‘The Artist as Historian’, The Victorian Historical Magazine, vol. 42, no. 4, November 1971, pp. 679–687. See also Margaret A. Rose, ‘Alexander von Humboldt and Australian art and exploration’, in The German Experience of Australia 1833–1938, South Australia, Flinders University for the Australian Association of von Humboldt Fellows, 1988, pp. 106–119; A. G. L. Shaw, ‘Becker, Ludwig’, in The Dictionary of Australian Artists: painters, sketchers, photographers and engravers to 1870, ed. Joan Kerr, Melbourne, Oxford University Press, 1992, pp. 59–60; and Roslynn D. Haynes, Seeking the Centre: the Australian desert in literature, art and film, Cambridge, Cambridge University Press, 1998, pp. 98–103.


For studies of the Burke and Wills expedition, see Max Colwell, The Journey of Burke and Wills, Brookvale, Child & Associates, 1987; Tim Bonyhaday, Burke & Wills: from Melbourne to myth, Balmain, David Ell, 1991; Tim Bonyhady, Burke & Wills: From Melbourne to Myth, exhibition catalogue, Canberra, National Library of Australia, 2002. Several of the explorers' field notes were published in the Journal of the Royal Geographical Society, vol. 32, 1862, pp. 430–529: ‘Exploring expedition from Victoria to the Gulf of Carpentaria, under the command of Mr. Robert O'Hara Burke: containing journals of Howitt, King, Wills, Burke, Wright and Brahe; communicated by the Colonial Office’. As well, an account originally published in the Argus newspaper was issued in booklet form: The Burke and Wills Exploring Expedition, Melbourne, Wilson and Mackinnon, 1861; and Wills' father, William Wills, produced an edited version of his son's journals and letters in 1863.


See Werner Wolf, ‘Narrative and narrativity: a narratological reconceptualization and its applicability to the visual’, Word & Image, vol. 19, no. 3, July-September 2003, pp. 180–197.


This is Brian Richardson's preferred definition of ‘narrative’, one that I have found useful: ‘Recent Concepts of Narrative and the Narratives of Narrative Theory’, Style, vol. 34, no. 2, Summer 2000, pp. 168–175 (quotation from p. 170).


Wendy Steiner has examined ‘what a strong pictorial narrative would be’, i.e. the ‘factors in a picture [that] prompt us to take it as a narrative even without the guidance of its title’: Pictures of Romance: form against context in painting and literature, Chicago and London, The University of Chicago Press, 1988, p. 2; see pp. 7–42.


Mark D. Stansbury-O'Donnell, Pictorial Narrative in Ancient Greek Art, Cambridge, Cambridge University Press, 1999, p. 3 (in a monoscenic image there is ‘one picture, one space, one moment’).


‘Art. VII’ (review of Physical Description of New South Wales and Van Diemen's Land; illustrated by a geological map, sections, and diagrams, and figures of the organic remains by P. E. De Strzelecki), The Quarterly Review, vol. 76, no. 152, September 1845, p. 494. The phrase ‘traveller of the Humboldt school’ also comes from this review.


William Howitt, The History of Discovery in Australia, Tasmania, and New Zealand, from the earliest date to the present day, London, Longman, Green, Longman, Roberts, and Green, 1865, vol. 1, p. iii. His son, Alfred William Howitt, led a party that searched for the remains of Burke and Wills in 1861.


George Grimm, The Australian Explorers: their labours, perils, and achievements. Being a narrative of discovery from the landing of Captain Cook to the centennial year, Melbourne and Sydney, George Robertson & Company, 1888, p. v.


Ernest Favenc, The History of Australian Exploration from 1788 to 1888, London, Griffith, Farran, Okeden & Welsh and Sydney, Turner & Henderson, 1888, pp. v-vi. For further bibliography and more details, see Kerry Heckenberg, ‘“Monarch of all I surveyed, and lord of the fowl and the brute” or man of science: the dilemma of the explorer in nineteenth-century Australia’, Australasian Victorian Studies Journal, vol. 9, 2003, pp. 82–83.


See Kerry Heckenberg, ‘The Art and Science of Exploration: a study of genre, vision and visual representation in nineteenth century journals and reports of Australian inland exploration’, PhD Thesis, The University of Queensland, 2002, for an extended discussion of these trends.


For more detail, see Kerry Heckenberg, ‘The nineteenth-century Australian inland exploration journal and pleasurable instruction’, BSANZ Bulletin, vol. 28, nos. 1, 2, 2004, pp. 93–110.


‘Review of New Books’, The London Literary Gazette, and Journal of Belles Lettres, Arts, Sciences, etc., no. 182, 15 July 1820, p. 451; see pp. 451–452.


Mary Louise Pratt, ‘Scratches on the face of the country; or, what Mr. Barrow saw in the land of the Bushmen’ in ‘Race’, Writing, and Difference, ed. Henry Louis Gates, Jr., Chicago and London, The University of Chicago Press, 1986, pp. 138–162 (quotation from p. 150).


These journals include George Grey, Journals of Two Expeditions of Discovery in North-West and Western Australia, during the years 1837, 38, and 39, two vols, London, T. and W. Boone, 1841; Edward John Eyre, Journals of Expeditions of Discovery into Central Australia, and Overland from Adelaide to King George's Sound, in the years 1840–1, two vols, London, T. and W. Boone, 1845; Charles Sturt, Narrative of an Expedition into Central Australia, performed under the authority of Her Majesty's Government, during the years 1844, 5, and 6, two vols, London, T. & W. Boone, 1849.


For a more detailed discussion of Mitchell's pictures, see Heckenberg, ‘Monarch’, pp. 72–77.


The one exception is Plate 7, a voyeuristic picture of an Aboriginal woman dancing before three explorers while her uneasy partner lurks in the background, which is taken from a sketch by Edmund Kennedy, second-in-command on the expedition.


Angas did accompany George Grey on an early expedition (in 1844) and produced sketches for him that were incorporated in a report published in the Journal of the Royal Geographical Society for that year.


In Stuart's journal the pictures are ‘from sketches taken during the different expeditions’ (in the words of the subtitle), but there is no information about who was responsible for the original sketches.


The booklet version of the Argus account included ‘biographical sketches of Robert O'Hara Burke and William John Wills and portraits of Burke and Wills are used as a frontispiece: Burke and Wills Exploring Expedition. William Wills included a portrait of his son in his book: A Successful Exploration through the Interior of Australia, London, Richard Bentley, 1863, facing p. 1.


This term was introduced by Susan F. Cannon to refer to the technical rather than the romantic aspects of Humboldt's approach: Science in Culture: the early Victorian period, New York, Dawson and Science History Publications, 1978, pp. 73–110.


See ‘Instructions furnished to scientific observers attached to the Victorian Exploring Expedition – surveyor, astronomer, meteorologist, geologist, mineralogist, zoologist, and botanist’, Transactions and Proceedings of the Royal Society of Victoria, vol. 5, 1860, pp. lxviii–lxxiv.


Ludwig Becker, ‘Becker's reports [First Report]’, entry for Wednesday, September 5, in Tipping, Ludwig Becker, p. 196. Further references to Becker's reports and pictures included in Tipping's book will be given in brackets in the text.


Ernest Giles, E. Giles's Explorations, 1875–6, Adelaide, Government Printer, Parliamentary Paper no. 18, 1876, p. 13.


Compare Rose, p. 116.


See Svetlana Alpers, ‘Interpretation without representation, or, the viewing of Las Meninas’, Representations, vol. 1, no. 1, February 1983, pp. 31–42. Compare Haynes, pp. 101–102.


For discussion of Becker's depiction of Aborigines, see Marjorie Tipping, ‘Ludwig Becker and Eugène von Guérard: German artists and the Aboriginal habitat’, in From Berlin to the Burdekin: the German contribution to the development of Australian science, exploration and the arts, eds David Walker and Jurgen Tampke, Kensington, New South Wales University Press, 1991, pp. 81–107.


Sun pillars are usually caused by reflection from ice crystals: see Robert Greenler, Rainbows, halos, and glories, Cambridge, Cambridge University Press, 1980, pp. 65–72.


Transactions and Proceedings of the Royal Society of Victoria, vol. 5, January–December 1860, p. lxix.


Tipping, Ludwig Becker, pp. 12, 25. For Neumayer, see entry by R. A. Swan in Bede Nairn, Geoffrey Serle and Russel Ward, eds, Australian Dictionary of Biography, Carlton, Melbourne University Press, 1969, vol. 5, pp. 329–331; for Neumayer's Humboldtian projects in Australia, see R. W. Home, ‘Humboldtian Science Revisited: An Australian Case Study’, History of Science, vol. 33, 1995, pp. 7–9.


See D. M. Knight, ‘German Science in the Romantic Period’, The Emergence of Science in Western Europe, ed. Maurice Crosland, London and Basingstoke, Macmillan, 1975, pp. 161–178, especially p. 164. See also Timothy F. Mitchell, Art and Science in German Landscape Painting 1770–1840, Oxford, Clarendon Press, 1993, p. 5.


For the influence of geological ideas on German art, see Mitchell, Art and Science, pp. 6–8, 170–205.


T. L. Mitchell, Three Expeditions into the Interior of Eastern Australia; with descriptions of the recently explored region of Australia Felix, and of the Present Colony of New South Wales, 2nd ed., London, T. & W. Boone, 1839, vol. 2, pp. 155 and 159.


For Mitchell's change from a religious to a more scientific approach to geological formations, see Kerry Heckenberg, ‘Thomas Mitchell and the Wellington Caves: the relationship among science, religion, and aesthetics in early-nineteenth-century Australia’, Victorian Literature and Culture, vol. 33, 2005, pp. 203–218.


See Stephen J. Gould, ‘The Pre-Adamite in a nutshell’, Natural History, vol. 108, no. 11, November 1999, pp. 24–27, 72–77; and S. D. Snobelen, ‘Of stones, men and angels: the competing myth of Isabelle Duncan's Pre-Adamite Man (1860)’, Studies in the History and Philosophy of Biological and Biomedical Science, vol. 32, no. 1, 2001, pp. 59–104.


Steiner, p. 7.


See Tim Bonyhady, ‘A rat's tale’, Overland, vol. 127, 1992, pp. 7–9.


Svetlana Alpers has pointed out that the depiction of many aspects of the one object is characteristic of the Dutch ‘art of describing’: see, The Art of Describing: Dutch Art of the Seventeenth Century, London, John Murray in association with the University of Chicago Press, 1983, pp. 84–85.