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Conrad Martens (1978)

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clip Conrad Martens's New South Wales education content clip 2

This clip chosen to be PG

Clip description

Watercolourist Conrad Martens settled in NSW in 1835, remaining there until his death in 1878. He painted a valuable visual record of life in the young colony, and we see many examples of early Sydney.

Curator’s notes

The voice-over is accompanied by a soundtrack descriptive of the scenes depicted in the paintings – water, bird life, and English music from the period.

Teacher’s notes

provided by The Le@rning FederationEducation Services Australia

This clip shows paintings by colonial artist Conrad Martens. The paintings depict early Sydney, including Indigenous Australians on the foreshore of Sydney Harbour and ships on the water, as well as aspects of the settlement itself, including Government House, the Hyde Park Barracks, the Tank Stream, the Rocks and the estates of wealthy settlers. The narrator describes Martens’s arrival in the colony of New South Wales, his subsequent success as an artist and the significance of his paintings as a pictorial record of early Sydney. The clip includes music and sound effects that suggest the sounds of the settlement depicted in the paintings.

Educational value points

  • The clip highlights the colonial artist Conrad Martens, who was born in London in 1801 and trained as a watercolourist and landscape artist. In 1833 he joined Charles Darwin’s expedition to South America as a topographical draughtsman. After 2 years with the expedition he arrived in Sydney where he established himself as a major colonial watercolourist, becoming the first local artist to successfully sell his work in the colony.
  • Martens’s most important works are watercolours but he also produced lithographs and oil paintings. His early work was influenced by JMW Turner’s romantic and picturesque treatment of landscapes, which elevated the sublime in nature. The experience on Darwin’s expedition gave Martens’s work a scientific precision, but he is also renowned for his ability to handle light and colour. He travelled extensively as a landscape painter and some of his works reflect his fascination with the massive viaducts and zigzag tracks built on the steep escarpment of the Great Dividing Range. Sydney Harbour and its environs remained his favourite source of inspiration.
  • Martens’s works provide some of the few pictorial records of early settlement in Australia. When he arrived, Sydney was a growing town with a large merchant and commercial community that was experiencing a period of economic prosperity. Pastoralists, civil servants and merchants used their new-found wealth to build Regency-style villas and many of them commissioned Martens to paint their estates.
  • As depicted in the clip, by the 1830s only small groups of the Cadigal and Wangal clans, who had inhabited the Harbour foreshores in large numbers before colonisation, were still living around Sydney. In 1816 Governor Macquarie restricted the free movement of Indigenous Australians within the colony and they were progressively moved into the first Aboriginal reserves. At the time, artists often depicted traditional Indigenous Australians against the backdrop of Sydney town to contrast what they regarded as the 'primitive’ with the 'progressive’.
  • Sydney was settled around a stream of fresh water called the Tank Stream, and the Stream is depicted in the clip. The city’s only water supply until 1850, the Tank Stream was named after the three large tanks that were excavated from the sandstone bed of the waterway. The tanks made water available during the summer months when the stream flowed poorly and enabled water storage in case of drought. As the population expanded, the stream became polluted and eventually turned into an open sewer. The Tank Stream was gradually covered over and today it still runs beneath the city as part of the stormwater system.
  • One of the paintings included in the clip shows the Military Barracks. Known as the Hyde Park Barracks, the building was the main male convict barracks in the colony and housed convicts working in government employment around Sydney until its closure in 1848. The barracks were designed by colonial emancipist architect Francis Greenway and constructed by convict labour. NSW was established as a penal colony to relieve Britain’s overcrowded jails and about 160,000 convicts were transported to Australia between 1788 and 1868.
  • Located in Sydney’s Domain, the Government House shown in the clip replaced the original Government House on Sydney Cove that had fallen into disrepair. The new Government House was designed by English architect Edward Blore and constructed between 1837 and 1845. It is considered the most sophisticated example of a Gothic Revival building in NSW.
  • The clip depicts the Government House stables. The stables, which now house the NSW Conservatorium of Music, were designed by colonial architect Francis Greenway and completed in 1817. Governor Macquarie originally commissioned Francis Greenway to design both Government House and the adjacent stables, but his successor, Governor Bourke, felt that no colonial architect had sufficient experience to plan such a building and commissioned Edward Blore to complete the work. Blore produced a mock castle that matched the castellated style of the existing Greenway stables.

This clip starts approximately 7 minutes into the documentary.

This clip shows watercolour paintings depicting early Sydney, including Indigenous Australians on the foreshore of Sydney Harbour and ships on the water, as well as aspects of the settlement itself, including Government House, the Hyde Park Barracks, the Tank Stream, the Rocks and the estates of wealthy settlers. The voice-over is accompanied by a soundtrack descriptive of the scenes depicted in the paintings – water, bird life, and English music from the period.

Narrator Early in 1835, Martens sailed from (inaudible) and in April, arrived in Sydney, in the colony of New South Wales, where he remained for the rest of his life.

He settled first in Sydney Cove, now known as The Rocks, part of a city that then numbered no more than 15,000 inhabitants. He was soon at work. These paintings are not only works of art but valuable historical records. Bridge Street, Sydney and the Tank Stream, shown here, were near the first military barracks, a reminder that Martens had come to a colony still based on the transportation of convicts.

While Port Macquarie, seen here, no longer exists, Sydney remains to this day an essentially maritime city. His letter of introduction to Phillip Parker King, eldest son of Australia’s third governor, provided Martens with an enviable introduction to colonial society. By the end of his first year in New South Wales, he’d received commissions to paint harbour views, inland and mountain scenes and studies of the fine houses owned by the colony’s most influential patrons.

Government House still stands today, designed by Edward Blore and built in 1837. Government House stables were designed by architect Francis Greenway for Governor Macquarie were completed in 1821.

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australianscreen is produced by the National Film and Sound Archive. By using the website you agree to comply with the terms and conditions described elsewhere on this site. The NFSA may amend the 'Conditions of Use’ from time to time without notice.

All materials on the site, including but not limited to text, video clips, audio clips, designs, logos, illustrations and still images, are protected by the Copyright Laws of Australia and international conventions.

When you access australianscreen you agree that:

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  • You may download materials for your personal use or for non-commercial educational purposes, but you must not publish them elsewhere or redistribute clips in any way.
  • You may embed the clip for non-commercial educational purposes including for use on a school intranet site or a school resource catalogue.
  • The National Film and Sound Archive’s permission must be sought to amend any information in the materials, unless otherwise stated in notices throughout the Site.

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