The Library has recently completed digitising 11,000 works on paper by significant Victorian artists, representing over 150 years of artistic output. With thousands of individual creators, every item needed to be researched and catalogued before digitization.

Our first step was to establish the date the work was produced and whether the artist was living or when they had died, then we could judge whether the work was out of copyright. In many cases we had no dates. And no contact details on file.

Collared plain wanderer (Pedionomus torquatus), H83.224/3 

For example, works such as Elizabeth Gould’s rare watercolour of the Collared plain wanderer, ca. 1840; is a preliminary watercolour for a lithograph published in John Gould’s Birds of Australia. This watercolour was purchased in 1936 but not researched until now. Only one other known drawing of the Collared plain wanderer is held; in the University of Kansas Library.

Elizabeth Gould’s watercolour of the White throated Gerygone (Gerygone albogularis) is very faintly signed ‘Mrs. Gould’, in the lower right and only now has been attributed to her. The digitizing of these watercolours coincided with the publication about Elizabeth titled the Birdman’s wife, which contributes to the rebuilding of her legacy. Elizabeth Gould worked as principal artist in the Gould’s publishing firm, creating the artworks for more than 600 works before she died at the age of 37.

White throated Gerygone (Gerygone albogularis), H83.224/2

For the sketches of John Martin Paterson, the copyright status was uncertain as we didn’t know when he died. Thus we weren’t able to digitize his WWI album Album of sketches of Devonport Military Hospital, England and Australian soldiers in France, 1914-1918 until our research found that he had been engaged to Margery Withers, a fellow student. This sketch is dedicated to Margery and reads:

To Margery. This kitten often comes into the orderly room so I sketched him one day / Jack.

To Margery. This kitten often comes into the orderly room so I sketched him one day / Jack. H29070/3

Our research also told us that John was killed in action at Villers-Bretonneux in August 1918. We hold the sketch he made two months before he died.

Australian soldier with gas mask on, Grantham June 6th 1918 / Jack. H29070/25

Margery Withers later married the artist Richard McCann, and it was Richard who donated John Martin Paterson’s album of sketches to the Library along with Margery’s work. We now have digitized works on paper by all three artists in the collection. This watercolour by Margery Withers was painted between 1913 and 1922.

A Warrandyte farm – near Frank Crozier’s, H36478/2

The drawing below by Richard McCann, shows a group of people in the Fitzroy Gardens ca. 1910-ca. 1915.

Fitzroy Gardens sketches, H29080/1

Stained glass window designs by Napier Waller, three metres long, were for a memorial window dedicated to John and Mary Grice, which was lost in the Ash Wednesday bush fires of 1983 at Mount Macedon.We have now preserved this record of the original design.

Design for double lancet memorial window dedicated to Sir John and Lady Mary Grice, Anglican Church of the Good Shepherd, Mount Macedon, H93.150/94

This project has been such a pleasure to work on, to open every box and find something wonderful, bringing to light over 11,000 unique digitized items by its conclusion. Many artists and their descendants were deeply touched that the Library is interested in preserving their work, and that they will be remembered.


This article has 15 comments

  1. Christine Simons

    What a sad and charming story, love the drawings of the kittens.

  2. Any chance the works of my great great Uncle JAMES SCURRY have been digitized ?

    • Five works have been digitised by James Scurry (1826-1894), including a portrait of the artist’s brother Frederick Scurry 1853, H5033, a self portrait 1854 H5032 and a drawing of Coles Wharf 1853, H285. Search the catalogue under the name of the artist to find the works.
      There is also an aquatint by the artist John Scurry (1947- ), H2003.73 Figures on a roof 2001.

  3. What a wonderful collection, well done.

  4. Is there reference to Joan Torrance Kerr (my great aunt) who wrote and illustrated “‘Twixt Heather and Wattle Poems” 1902-11 and in 1889 married Harold Bertrand Kerr, son of Peter Kerr 1820-1912 Architect of Victoria Parliament House?

  5. Pingback: Inside History magazine | What’s New Online: Latest family history records, August 2017

  6. Dear Sir,
    I am seeking copyright permission for A Warrandyte farm – near Frank Crozier’s, (H36478/2) by Margery Withers c1913; and Fitzroy Gardens sketches, (H29080/1) by Richard McCann c1910.
    My book,”No Place Quite Like It: the family history of Walter Withers and Fanny Flinn” will be published next year, 180 pages, not for profit.

    I am also seeking further information of Margery’s sister Nancy Josephine Pitt Withers and her brother Charles Meynell Pitt Withers. Does the Library hold any examples of their work, please?

    With many thanks

    • Hi David,
      I’ll put your enquiry into our Ask A Librarian service and somebody will be in touch shortly.


    • David
      When and where did Margery Pitt McCann (nee Withers) die?

      • Hi Robert,
        According to an entry on the Australian Prints + Printmaking website, she died in Heidelberg in 1966.

        Paul (info from Kassi)

      • Margery Withers was my great aunt and both she and her husband Uncle Dick McCann were influential in my childhood. I have inherited artworks and papers related to both and am currently trying to ensure that a more accurate and nuanced account of their lives and work is made available. Unfortunately a lot of inaccuracies have been perpetuated in so-called authoritative places. Please contact me for further details.

    • Hello. My name is Wendy Owen and I am great granddaughter of Walter Withers. I knew Margery and Uncle Dick McCann well when I was a child they took me to their art exhibitions and encouraged my painting. On death of my mother Mary Owen four years ago I have become custodian of many of their works as well as considerable research my mother made on Margery and family for a book she never quite managed to complete. I am in contact with Charles Meynell ( who I knew as Uncle Bill)’s son John) and have a painting by him and also by his sister Nan. On behalf of my mother and my siblings I would be grateful if you could keep me informed of any publication regarding the Withers family. As a writer,editor and artist I have taken on family responsibility for passing on the legacy of these family members.

      • Hi Wendy,

        I am currently on the Committee of Management of the Algie Hall Neerim South. We have on our wall an early Richard McCann painting called “Tarago View, Gippsland” with his 101 The Boulevard, Ivanhoe address recorded on the back.

        It captures an historic view of Tarago River Valley (now dammed into a reservoir and surrounds more populated). It was viewed and painted from the Neerim South ridge where the back of the local Home Hardware store yard now stands.

        The painting also hung in the old Neerim South Mechanics Hall which Algie Hall replaced. We’ve been told it was donated to the town’s hall, I believe by Jack D Algie well over 20 years ago.

        I have been trying to discover the paintings provenance, asking questions about how it ended up in our town: Did Richard McCann just happen to visit the town for his en plein air painting inspiration or was he invited specially? Did Jack Algie or a member of the Algie family buy or commission the work? Did someone else from our town buy the work at an exhibition? If so which exhibition so early in McCann’s career?

        I’ve been watching over this painting to make sure it doesn’t disappear into the mists of forgetfulness, which can so easily happen when people are not tuned in to the importance of art, place and history and as those who knew the people involved leave the district or pass away.

        I’ve contacted the Twenty Melbourne Painters Society to find if they had more information about Richard McCann to no avail. At least they now know this painting exists and where it is.

        I’ve suggested to the hall committee that I contact the Latrobe Regional Gallery Morwell because they have a collection of historic art connected with the region. If they are interested, the painting would be safer in their collection where it can be preserved and conserved professionally and into the future. We do not have the resources to adequately care for it.

        It would be lovely to have a contextual narrative to exist alongside the artwork. I’m hoping you have some clues about Richard’s artistic (and perhaps social) forays into Gippsland and Tarago District.

        Since you’re the custodian of the family’s artistic legacy, I’m interested in your thoughts and am happy to share what I know with you.

        I’m happy for the SLV to share my email address with you.

        Kind regards,


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