Picture this

If you live anywhere in Melbourne or thereabouts, it’s odds on that you’ve already encountered the name “Howitt” somewhere along your travels whilst scarcely noticing it. The fact is, it’s a name that is closely associated with the early story of the Port Phillip District. There are Howitt streets and roads, Howitt parks and palms and the occasional memorial cairns and monuments, all named after the various members of that most interesting family of our early history.

The monotypic genus Howittia, a native blue-flowered mallow, named by Baron von Mueller in acknowledgement of Howitt's "devotion to botany".
The monotypic genus Howittia, a native blue-flowered mallow, named by Baron von Mueller in acknowledgement of Godfrey Howitt’s “devotion to botany”.

There’s even a Mt Howitt somewhere in the so called Australian Alps which you can climb, as Mallory once said, “Because it’s there”.

mount-howitt-track-sign

However there are no streets in Yallambie named after these Howitts, which is perhaps surprising. There are no mountains either, for that matter.

William Howitt
William Howitt

As previously discussed in the pages of this blog, both Richard and William Howitt visited the Bakewell farm at Yallambee and wrote about their experiences in 1842 and 1852 respectively. That’s a story that deserves a closer inspection later alongside the Yallambie connection of that prominent exponent of Melbourne’s early cultural establishment, Dr Godfrey Howitt.

Dr Godfrey Howitt, by Samuel Calvert, 1873.
Dr Godfrey Howitt, by Samuel Calvert, 1873.
Phoebe Bakewell (Mrs Godfrey Howitt) c1858-c1862
Phoebe Bakewell (Mrs Godfrey Howitt) c1858-c1862

The good doctor was the brother of William and Richard and the brother in law of Yallambee’s John and Robert Bakewell, Godfrey and his wife Phoebe having travelled with the Bakewells when emigrating to Port Phillip aboard the SS Lord Goderich in 1840. Godfrey and Phoebe came to Australia partly in an attempt to improve the health of their eldest child, John Henry Howitt who it was considered would benefit from the warmer climate. The eleven year old John Henry Howitt is known to have visited his Bakewell uncles at Yallambee in 1842, a year before his premature death from Tuberculosis. He wrote a very interesting and eloquent letter to his then similarly aged cousin in England, the future Australian explorer, Alfred Howitt, describing the Bakewell farm and the exploits of the marauding Plenty River bushrangers.

However, more to that story in my next post.

With this in mind, it was while Googling the name of Dr Godfrey Howitt today that I found the following two images online, the property of the State Library of Victoria.

1. "Dr. Godfrey Howitt's garden" [sic]", SLV.
1. “Dr. Godfrey Howitt’s garden” [sic]”, SLV.
2. "Dr. Godfrey Howitt's garden" [sic]", SLV.
2. “Dr. Godfrey Howitt’s garden” [sic]”, SLV.
The pictures are sixth-plate Daguerreotypes from the collection of Stanley Yalkowsky and were purchased at auction by the Library at Sotheby’s in New York in 2010 for USD$18,750, nearly three times the pre-sale estimate price. The pictures reportedly carry a pencil inscription describing the images as being “Dr Godfrey Howitt’s garden”.

I had these images open on my lap top, wondering about them in a curious way when my wife came along and glanced over my shoulder.

“Oh look,” she said. “It’s the Station Plenty. Is it on ebay?” she added hopefully.

“You would have needed $20,000 6 years ago to buy it,” I replied. But she was right. It did look like Yallambee.

View of the Station Plenty, Port Phillip district, (I) Distant view of station with cattle in foreground, 1853-1856, Edward La Trobe Bateman, NGV.
View of the Station Plenty, Port Phillip district, (I) Distant view of station with cattle in foreground, 1853-1856, Edward La Trobe Bateman, NGV.

A lot.

Dr Godfrey’s house in Collins Street East was the centre of Melbourne culture in the early colony and the beauty and the extent of his garden was widely regarded. On the face of it the photographs could have been this garden but all the same, one of the Daguerreotypes seemed to show a pre-fabricated building similar to the sort put up by Superintendant La Trobe at Jolimont or the Bakewell buildings at Yallambee. Dr Godfrey and Phoebe are believed to have built something similar in Collins Street in the 1840s but the only pictures I had seen previously of the Howitts’ house in Melbourne were of a later date and of a rendered brick building in the 1860s.

Home of Dr Godfrey and Phoebe (ne Bakewell) Howitt on the corner of Collins Street East and Spring Street, Melbourne, 1868, SLV.
Home of Dr Godfrey and Phoebe (ne Bakewell) Howitt on the corner of Collins Street East and Spring Street, Melbourne, 1868, SLV.

Daguerreotypes are laterally reversed or mirror images because they are necessarily viewed from the side that originally faced the camera lens. By reversing the first of the SLV pictures and comparing it to a cropped detail of Edward La Trobe Bateman’s View I, the truth suddenly becomes clear. The Howitt Daguerreotype of the building is taken looking up at the roof line and from a closer proximity than the Bateman drawing, which was made from the top of the ridge on the modern day Yallambie Road, but in essence the picture is the same. The trees are the same. The trellis is the same. The chimney is the same.

Comparative detail View I of the Station Plenty, Port Phillip district, by Edward La Trobe Bateman (reversed) and 1. Dr. Godfrey Howitt's garden [sic].
Comparative detail View I of the Station Plenty, Port Phillip district, by Edward La Trobe Bateman (reversed) and 1. Dr. Godfrey Howitt’s garden [sic].
Comparative detail View IX of the Station Plenty, Port Phillip district, by Edward La Trobe Bateman and 2. Dr. Godfrey Howitt's garden [sic].
Comparative detail View IX of the Station Plenty, Port Phillip district, by Edward La Trobe Bateman and 2. Dr. Godfrey Howitt’s garden [sic].
As to the second Daguerreotype, I would suggest that the Yucca depicted is the same plant visible on the right of picture in the Edward La Trobe Bateman drawing, View IX.

The photographs are extraordinarily rare out door images from the colonial era. The author of the images is unknown and one can only wonder at the reason behind and under what difficult circumstances the pictures could possibly have been made. The Howitt provenance is clear but the Bakewell connection is at this stage, speculative. One of the few photographers working in the Daguerreotype medium in early Melbourne, Douglas T Kilburn, was like Dr Godfrey’s son John Henry, a consumptive. Kilburn kept Melbourne’s first professional photographic studio in Little Collins Street and it is perhaps easy to guess at the situation leading to the creation of the SLV pictures.

Douglas T Kilburn, 1850s, SLT.
Douglas T Kilburn, 1850s, SLT.

To my mind the SLV “Howitt” Daguerreotypes should join the 12 Edward La Trobe Bateman Station Plenty drawings as a part of documentary evidence in any discussion of the early farm at the Bakewell brothers’, “Yallambee Park”. The story of how the Daguerreotypes came to be made, almost in unison with the Bateman drawings and at a time of or before the Victorian gold rushes, remains uncertain. Clearly more research needs to be conducted from this point by those with an academic persuasion.

However, as a last but probably not final word, it is interesting to note that Dr Ann Neale in her PHD thesis, “Illuminating Nature”, suggested that the 12 Station Plenty Bateman drawings at the NGV may have been part of an overlapping series, only a part of which the Bakewells retained privately.

Might the SLV Daguerreotypes have somehow figured in this theoretical series?

Might the two SLV photographic images have once been a part of a larger whole?

daguerreotype camera

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Ouroboros

My wife’s parents’ fox terrier hated garden hoses.

With a vengeance.

Usually all you had to do was turn on a garden tap to set little Rosie a howling. A few weeks ago the dog was out in their garden and keeping uncommonly quiet. On investigation she was found sitting astride the end of the garden hose, the running sprinkler held firmly beneath her body where she could snap in a conquering and triumphant way at the end of the flowing water.

“Ol’ Rosie,” I said after being told this story. “She’s been after that hose for years. I guess she reckons now she’s finally caught it, she might have taught it a damned good lesson. Just like the dog chasing the moon in that movie, Dean Spanley.”

Title page and frontispiece from "My Talks With Dean Spanley", by Lord Dunsany.
Title page and frontispiece from “My Talks With Dean Spanley”, by Lord Dunsany.

Almost on queue and at the mention of Lord Dunsany’s story about reincarnation and the theme of the transmigration of souls, Rosie the dog in question, came in from the garden and to everyone’s great distress, foamed at the mouth, rolled over and died.

Right there in front of us.

Rosie the fox terrier the victor of the garden hose.
Rosie the fox terrier the victor of the garden hose.

Poor little Rosie. It soon became apparent that she had suffered a fatal snakebite, especially when signs of a battle and the mortal remains of a deadly Tiger Snake were found outside the next day. She was a plucky little terrier our Rosie, no doubt, but the timing of her demise was very strange. Maybe she will be reincarnated someday like the Dean in Dunsany’s book, but in her particular case with an inexplicable fear of snakes.

And garden hoses.

In Western medicine a snake is seen in the Rod of Asclepius, the ancient Greek symbol of the deity associated with medicine and healing, which is ironic given the dangers associated with some forms of snake bite. In Australia snake bite is an ever present danger of the summer months, particularly around river landscapes like those that exist along the eastern margins of Yallambie. One of the world’s most venomous snakes, the Tiger (Notechis scutatus) is an aggressive species although the availability of anti-venoms today means that the bite is usually manageable. They are all too common however along the rivers and I’ve seen several in our garden over time.

Sign on the Plenty River below Montmorency Park.
Sign on the Plenty River below Montmorency Park.

Nationwide, snakebite comes in after road trauma as the single biggest cause of the untimely demise of “man’s best friend” and in the time we have lived at Yallambie, our neighbours on all sides have lost pets to snake bite. A pity St Patrick never made it downunder to do his thing with snakes. Our next door neighbour’s pet moggy survived a snake bite although only after two lots of anti-venom at the vet costing $800 a pop. What price a pet? Another neighbour accidentally stepped on the head of a snake in his darkened garden at night, crushing the life out of it under foot in his open sandals. A lucky man perhaps but it shows the importance of keeping a battery torch handy in your garden at night.

Tiger snake scientific illustration.
Tiger snake scientific illustration.

In my earlier post, Dear Diary, of January 2015, I recounted a story once told to us of how the late Ethel Temby found a Tiger snake inside her home at Yallambie Homestead. When she saw the snake it was going under the back door, however its direction of travel was from the inside going out. On questioning her young sons they admitted that they had caught it in the garden some while previously and brought it secretly into the house to keep as a pet. This dangerous, so called, pet had escaped and been at large in the house for days before being spotted by Ethel, slip, sliding away.

Old tintype (ferrotype) image of a model of an unwelcome house guest.
Old tintype (ferrotype) image of a model of an unwelcome house guest.

There are a number of blue tongue lizards living in our garden this year which have become so used to us that they can literally be fed from the hand. I often see one or another poke its head out of the random rocks of the garden wall at the back of the kitchen as I walk by.

Young Blue-tongue lizard at Yallambie, January, 2016.
Young Blue-tongue lizard at Yallambie, January, 2016.

Blue tongues are a type of skink with back markings not unlike those of the Tiger snake, a fact that has given rise at times to some dangerous confusions. A lad in my youth, a hero of the school yard just for this story, once pulled what he thought was the tail of a blue tongue lizard from a hollow log. This so called “lizard” gradually revealed itself as being longer and longer in body but without any evident signs of the expected leg appendages. Suddenly came the drastic realization that, far from a lizard being held by the tail, the boy was actually tugging at the tail of a snake. You can well imagine the speed with which a retreat was conducted by the school children from the vicinity of the hollow log on that occasion.

Overseas visitors to our country sometimes comment on the perils of living in a society where you can be eaten by sharks in the ocean, burned to death by fire in the bush or fatally poisoned by the bite of spiders and snakes in and around the home. Growing up in Australia the boy scouts were taught that, in the case of a snake attack, a cut should be made into the wound with a pen knife and the poison sucked out. I don’t know if this advice ever saved a life but the action was later discouraged when it was realized that the knife wounds were often more dangerous than the bite itself.

Instructions from 50 year old Melbourne made snakebite lancet kit.
Instructions from 50 year old Melbourne made snakebite lancet kit.

As a small boy in Rosanna I remember my father once coming in and declaring that he had killed a black snake on our corner.

“How did you do that, Daddy?” I asked in my innocence.

“Picked it up by its tail Son, and cracked it like a whip.”

I was particularly impressed by this story and imagined for years my father, my hero, going around the neighbourhood, picking up snakes by their tails and cracking them right and left like stock whips.

Years later when I was grown I happened to recall this tale to my father and quizzed him about its veracity. He looked puzzled for a moment before recalling, that yes, he had killed a snake on the corner once upon a time but had done so by collecting it across the back with the edge of a garden spade.

In such ways are the illusions of our childhood destroyed.

It is said that to dream of snakes is to dream of your enemies. My wife said she dreamed of a snake the night before poor Rosie died in what might uncertainly be described as a premonition of events.

Theda Bara as Cleopatra, 1917.
Theda Bara as Cleopatra, 1917.

The serpent as an icon is almost as old as mankind itself with the snake of course infamously representing the temptations of the Devil in the Garden of Eden but in many other cultures, the idea of a snake shedding its skin is used as a metaphor for the reincarnation of the soul. The Kundalini awakening, the object of a powerful form of yogic theory, is described as being like a coiled serpent at the base of the spine. It is seen as a primordial and dormant energy present in three-and-a-half coils at the base of the spine in a triangular bone called the Sacrum, the Latin word for a holy bone identified as the last bone to be destroyed when the body is burnt.

 

Ouroboros, the ancient symbol of a snake eating its own tail, symbolizes this cycle of life and the eternal return. Carl Jung included the Ouroboros as one of his psychological archetypes. For mine, that’s the best way of imagining the snake for I like to think of our Rosie making a return some time soon.

Sam Neill as the Dean in the movie "Dean Spanley".
Sam Neill as the Dean in the movie “Dean Spanley”.

Take a second look at the communion wine the next time the Dean offers it your way. It just might be Dean Spanley or maybe the Rev Roscoe offering you a glass of the finest Tokay.

ouroboros