The blog entry on the engraving site that Lawrence Hargrave called ‘The Spanish Proclamation’ at Meriverie, on the northern headland of Bondi, provides a detailed discussion about its authenticity and likely history of creation. Since it was posted in April 2011 I have come across some additional information about the engraving which adds more to what we can say about it.
Who told Hargrave about the engravings?
The earliest I had tied Hargrave back to the Meriverie engravings was his tracing of 12 March 1910, with a short note a month later jotting down his possibly first inspiration of the symbolic textual message it contained. However, some further work at the National Library at the end of last year adds more to this story.
Hargrave received a letter from [illegible] Kirk of ‘The Ravine’, Ormond Street, Bondi, who had read of Hargrave’s claims in the Sydney Morning Herald in late July-early August 1909. He or she wrote:
After having a look at the Woollahra Pt carvings as a result of your interesting description in the ‘Herald’, I walked across to Meriverie to refresh my memory in regard to the carvings there which I have not seen for some years & with which doubtless you are acquainted. I venture to remind you that they have all the characteristics of those at W. Pt and there can be no doubt were the work of the same people, if not of the same individuals. And if as you surmise they were the work of Spanish adventurers, then those I refer to prove that those gentry travelled at least as far afield as Meriverie & made some stay there. As at W. Pt there are outlines of men and fish, and a similar track of oval markings. Also there are the hulls of two ships but although of antique looking, high pooped built they are in better drawing and probably of later date. They were there however at least 30 years ago & were weatherworn then. I am inclined to think however that some of the glyptic vandals who in late years have been carving initials & dates over the drawings have been adding finishing touches to the ships, touches which I don’t remember as existing when I formerly saw them. [NLA MS 352 ? Kirk to LH 5.8.1909]
Clearly Kirk’s main reference was to the Aboriginal engravings, but their comments on possible additions to the ships is interesting. They push the date of the ships back to before c.1880, which does not challenge the claim made by Peck that they were done by two employees of the Dredge Department in c.1870 [Peck 1929]. Ot is possible that the unfamiliar touches left by the ‘glyptic vandals’ refers to the additional letters.
On this basis we can assume that Hargrave was made aware of the Meriverie site by the letter from Mr or Ms Kirk in August 1909. If he visited it soon afterwards Hargrave would have had some basis for accepting the idea that there was a common hand at work – the Aboriginal engravings are much more abundant than those at Woollahra Point but essentially in the same Sydney engraving style. It was probably before Hargrave obtained a copy of Campbell’s monograph and therefore likely that he formulated the idea of all of the engravings representing the work of Lope de Vega’s men. As with other theories, once he came up with something and fleshed it out to his own satisfaction he was incredibly reluctant to change his mind, regardless of the contrary evidence.
WD Campbell’s 1894 recording
As previously noted WD Campbell  had mentioned the ships and letters near a large group of Aboriginal engravings recorded by him on what is now the Bondi Golf Course. I have now had a chance to see a copy of his original recording, held in the Mitchell Library. This shows his recording dated 12 March 1894 which includes a detail of the engraving in its then form [Campbell 1893-96]. It has three lines of lettering BAL / ZA / NO, then the underline and the ship on the right hand side. Missing are some of the letters and the ship below the lettering. Two of the letters have been changed by the time Hargrave recorded them, the N to a W with the addition of a leading stroke, and the O into a circle englosing a cross [Figure 1].
Figure 1 shows the engraving as recorded by Campbell, while Figure 2 shows it in Hargrave’s time. The difference is considerable and it could be questioned whether the letters and the ship were simply missed by Campbell. In his written commentary [1899: 11] Campbell refers clearly to two ships being present, but does not discuss the lettering. It is not clear why he would have omitted one of the ships. The ship shown is in fact much fainter and now all but invisible if you do not know it is there and look hard for it. The one on the left is about as prominent as the lettering. Hargrave himself noted that the N, I and H were scratched in more shallowly than the other other letters [Hargrave 1914: 34]. Similarly Watson and Vogan noted two different hands at work, presumably on the basis of depth of engraving [Watson 1911].
In the National Library of Australia’s collection of Hargrave papers there is a photo negative of the Proclamation engraving, with a tape measure laid out and held down by rocks [NLA MS 352 Series 2]. It is undated but may be taken when Hargrave recorded the engraving on 12 March 1910. He has chalked in the elements shown in Figure 2, but has omitted other graffiti within the boundary of the proclamation, some overlying the ship engravings. While none of these appear as deeply done as the proclamation lettering, it is clear that Hargrave also ‘vetted’ his recording by deciding which of the many engraved letters and shapes were part of his story before producing his definitive record.
What does it mean?
When I realised what Hargrave had done I was somewhat taken aback. My impression of Hargrave right through the process of getting to know his work was that, despite the wrongness of his idea, he was always willing to let contrary observations and data stand. Not recording the other graffiti did not compromise his conclusions, nor was it an unreasonable way of creating a pictorial record, but reminded me that he was still an active participant in generating and collecting his data, and that we should not assume it is ‘objective’ to the point where the influence of the recorder can be completely left unconsidered. That is a bench-mark that scientists and archaeologists strive for and seldom attain. All of our data are filtered through our brains with their inherent, often unquestioned, sense of what is and isn’t relevant.
This additional information confirms that the Spanish Proclamation was no such thing. It was already clear that Hargrave’s reading of the engravings was completely wrong, as was his entire theory about the Spanish in Sydney Harbour. However, if there had been any signs of life in it at all, then this knocks it dead. Leaving aside the questions and real concerns over the likely origin of the main elements of the engraving, it shows that even relatively recent engraving on Sydney sandstone is sufficient to pass as weathered and take on an appearance of age. If the added N, I and H and changed N and O were, in fact done after Campbell’s recording then we can date them to probably the earlier half of the 16 year gap between the two recordings.
Without those letters Hargrave’s scenario loses the signatures of the witnesses to the proclamation [letters N, I and H], the name of the land conquered [W] and the association of the expedition with the entire Spanish Catholic imperial enterprise [O with a central cross]. It leaves it pretty much as graffiti of some ships done in the late 19th century and a collection of cryptic initials.
Campbell, W.D. 1893-1896
Aboriginal carvings, Port Jackson and Broken Bay, 1893-1896, Mitchell Library PXD 223 – 224, copy on Microfilm reel CY2720.
Hargrave, L. 1914
‘Lope de Vega’ annotated manuscript, amendment dated 23 February 1914, ML MSS 3119, Mitchell Library, Sydney.
National Library of Australia
MS 352 – Lawrence Hargrave papers relating to Lope de Vega. Series 6 – correspondence 1908-1910.
Campbell, W.D. 1899
Aboriginal carvings of Port Jackson and Broken Bay, NSW Department of Mines and Agriculture, Memoirs of the Geological Survey of NSW, Ethnological Series no. 1., Sydney.
Peck, C.W. 1929
[letter to Editor], Sun [Sydney], 11 September 1929.
Watson, J.H. 1909
‘Supposed Spanish occupation of Woollahra Point’ [Letter], Sydney Morning Herald, 14 August 1909, p. 16.
Watson, J. H. 1911
‘Australia’s discovery’ [Letter], Sydney Morning Herald, 15 September 1911, p. 5.
Figure 2 was published in Hargrave’s self-published booklet – Lope de Vega . The copyright on this image has expired.
Figure 1 is an adaptation of Figure 2 to match the elements shown as present in Campbell’s 1894 recording of the site.