Lawrence Hargrave and Norman Lindsay

Norman Lindsay was a writer and artist at the beginning of the 20th century.  His involvement as an illustrator and writer in the Bulletin and Lone Hand magazines, as well as his separately published stories and art, have made him one of Australia’s best known artists.  In 1911 he and his literary colleague J.H.M. [John Henry Macartney] Abbott had a brief but enduring encounter with Hargrave that, arguably, influenced his approach to consider looking for evidence through archaeological excavation.

Figure 2.  Norman Lindsay's depiction of the engraving of the 'Spanish Proclamation'

Figure 1. Norman Lindsay’s depiction of the engraving of the ‘Spanish Proclamation’

Hargrave contacted Lindsay via historical writer J.H.M. Abbott, who was then writing for The Bulletin and Lone Hand [ADB]. Abbott’s first book, Tommy Cornstalk, about his experiences in the Anglo-Boer War, had been well-received and he set himself up for a period, ultimately unsuccessfully, in Britain as a writer.  Returning to Australia, he wrote many articles about Australian history, some of which were illustrated by Norman Lindsay.  Hargrave appears to have first contacted Abbott after reading an article he wrote on Sir Francis Drake in the Lone Hand, sending one of his newly published Lope de Vega III brochures, his self-published follow-up to the two Royal Society papers [Abbott 1911; Hargrave 1911].  Abbott responded on 16 May 1911, saying he would like to visit the sites on Woollahra Headland, and proposing to bring along a companion:

 I am going to ask a favour.  May I visit and see you, and bring Norman Lindsay, the artist with me?  He is very keen on ancient shipping, and knows a great deal about it – particularly of the times between the XVth and XVIIth centuries. [NLA MS 352-9: Abbott to LH 16.5.1911]

Hargrave responded with enthusiasm and they made a date for the following Saturday May 20th, although Abbott warned that Lindsay ‘is a genius, therefore rarely keeps an appointment’ [NLA MS 352-9: Abbott to Hargraves 17.5.1911].  Lindsay had a long-standing interest in drawing ships, and later came to build detailed scale models, most of which survive [].  Lindsay and his brothers also shared a fascination with drawing pirates and ships.  Like his brother Lionel he took up commercial illustration at an early age and worked for a number of publications, such as the Bulletin, while developing his own art.  Hargrave may or may not have known of Norman’s reputation as a ‘genius’ by then.  He had some minor notoriety by the time the invitation came, but his brushes with official wowserism were some time off, as was creation of the famous grump Albert, the Magic Pudding.

The story of the visit itself is taken up by Lindsay, who described the visit in his memoir Bohemians of the Bulletin, published as memoirs almost half a century after the event.  The lack of recognition that Hargrave had for his aeronautical work at that time is well captured by Lindsay, when told that they would be dropping in on him:

Hargrave, it appeared, was of some distinction in the world of mechanics, in his application of the combustion engine to the propulsion of aeroplanes; information which left me cold. [Lindsay 1965: 71]

In contrast, Lindsay saw his Lope de Vega fascination as ‘a humanizing obsession’ and the prospect of a lost Spaniard of the sixteenth century on Sydney’s doorstep must have seemed almost as good as a pirate.

The visit on Saturday, May 20th went badly from the start.  Abbott, who always had a problem with alcohol, turned up drunk.  Hargrave was out, so they had to pass the time attempting small talk with ‘two mature ladies of a severe aspect’.  When Hargrave finally came back, Lindsay was invited out to explore the headland; Abbott by then had passed out in a lounge chair.  Following him around the rocks and newly built homes on Wunulla Road Lindsay found Hargrave ‘a tall, dark, austerely bearded man, he might have been taken for a Spaniard himself …’ [Lindsay 1965: 72].

Lindsay’s account implies that they only ventured as far as the point of the headland, but clearly they must have gone to visit Meriverie at North Bondi as well, about an hour’s walk away.

There was a deep man-made excavation, long since grown over, which he claimed to have been a well.  On the harbour front was a squared rock-face into which a couple of iron bolts had been leaded, about thirty feet apart.  These he insisted, had been used to careen a ship.  And on the rock-face was the outline of a ship, deeply weathered, but obviously scored into the rock with an iron tool.  It had the high poop, short stubby body, and over-hanging construction of the forecastle of a seventeenth century caravel, and I had no hesitation in affirming it to be one, much to Hargrave’s satisfaction.  He them had me into his study, to put before me all the other evidence he had gathered about the Spanish occupation, which was considerable, and convincing, and I agreed to compact it in an article for the Lone Hand, which I did do, later.  [Lindsay 1965: 72]

The well was a water tank or cistern that Hargrave mentions in his inventories of ‘sites’ on the headland, while the careening bolts were, according to him, arranged so that he could estimate the length of the ship.  The engraving of the ship, of course, is the one at Meriverie, on the headland above Bondi Beach.

Abbott wrote to Hargrave a week later, thanking him for the hospitality, but begging a severely strained ankle, possibly a torn ligament, as an excuse not to do a second visit.  Perhaps he had promised to come back to see what he’d missed out on.  His letter continued with a comment about the Facing Island wreck [note 1].  Abbott asked ‘whether anything could not be done in the way of digging out the wreck on Facing Island’ [NLA MS 352-9: Abbott to LH 28.5.1911].  Given that this would be labour-intensive and expensive Abbott suggested that it be done with the support of one of the newspapers, in return for the exclusive rights to the story.  Clearly Lindsay had been convinced for the time being at least, and passed on his confidence in Hargrave’s idea to Abbott.

Hargrave’s reaction is interesting, as his reply the following day began to consider where else evidence of Lope de Vega could be discovered by excavation.   At Facing Island the presence of the alleged wreck could be tested by removing just a small amount of sand, rather than exposing it all.  At Ship Hill on the mainland a supposed carved ship outline at Ship Hill had also disappeared; was it buried?  At the Endeavour River the site had been disturbed by later construction.  Hargrave was beginning to think of what may have been left underground in a way that he had not before.  His previous wanderings around the headland had not taken account of the concealment of evidence by overgrowth, shifting sand and later human activity.  Several weeks earlier a gardener at a neighbouring property had found a piece of lead in the black soil of the midden deposit on top of the rock shelf.  The next day, unbidden, Hargrave wrote to the Australian Museum, requesting their help in excavating the shell midden [NLA MS-352-6: LH to Etheridge 30.5.1911].

Can Hargrave have been inspired by Abbott’s suggestion about excavating at Facing Island to consider the same at Sydney?  Clearly the piece of lead was a prompt, but he had known about it for several weeks.  Until Abbott’s letter there is no mention of archaeological investigations by anyone in Hargraves’ papers, and he certainly was not thinking of recovering any evidence by digging up to that point.  Ummediately upon Abbott suggesting it, Hargrave replies, considering places along the route north of the two ships where they may have stopped.  The obvious omission was Lope de Vega’s long enforced stay at Sydney, and Hargrave had crystallised that thought overnight.  Not only that, he would have known that archaeology was a technical practice and required the services of the Australian Museum, both to maximise the value of any information recovered, and to provide the independent credibility that had to be demonstrated that the find was legitimate.

I’m currently writing a paper on the archaeological dig that Hargrave arranged with the Australian Museum, prompted by Abbott’s suggestion.  In short, all the evidence found was clearly Aboriginal, except for a rusted iron spike, which Hargrave happily accepted as being a lost Spanish implement for carving the rocks.

It took two years for Lindsay to finish the draft and illustrations for his Lone Hand article.  When shown the draft by Lone Hand editor Bertram Stevens, Hargrave had some misgivings about being misrepresented and his argument not being correctly set out.  Stevens or a staffer came out and reviewed the necessary corrections with Hargrave and also borrowed a picture of the Jukes idol as a drawing reference.

The final article by Lindsay, accompanied by his illustrations, was published in the Lone Hand on 1 August 1913.  By then Hargrave’s views were quite well-known, mainly through his constant stream of letters to Sydney newspapers.  It is unlikely that the article enlightened many people or convinced them that he may have been right.  One letter, which does not survive, was forwarded by Stevens to Hargrave.  This appears to be the sum response that either he or the magazine received.

The article is a fair reading of Hargrave’s theory at its least complex.  It is prefaced by a long discussion about how there is little in NSW history that qualifies its past as being romantic, either in the sense of being suitable for novels or representing a freer and less restrained time.  The prospect of a lost Spanish captain, connected to the Conquistadores, provided one possible escape, but Lindsay’s mortal enemies, the wowsers were out to thwart him.

            The indomitable soul of Podsnap is not pleased at the idea of foreigners being allowed any prominence in the discovery of Australia. [p. 273] [note 2]

Lindsay believed that Hargrave was right, or at least on the right track.  Abbott clearly was more ambivalent, and less likely to be swayed by simple conviction or an amateur’s interpretation of markings on rocks.  More important to him though, was the opportunity to spice up Australia’s early history, to make it more interesting and romantic.


Hargrave’s interaction with J.H.M. Abbott and Norman Lindsay would be a minor footnote in all of their careers if it was not for the likelihood that Abbott inadvertently inspired Hargrave to begin to consider the potential of archaeological excavation, which he vigorously pursued over the next year, and which resulted in what was to him incontrovertible proof of the Spanish presence in the form of the iron implement found in the archaeological dig.

The article in the Lone Hand did little to either bring in new supporters to Hargrave’s camp, nor to convince the sceptics.  Its main legacy was to have four very speculative drawings from Norman Lindsay.  Yes, Lope de Vega looks like a pirate and is very probably modelled on Lawrence Hargrave.


1.      The Facing Island shipwreck was an alleged early Queensland shipwreck that Hargrave believed was associated with Lope de Vega.  His belief was based on hearsay statements, and at this time he was seeking copies of official documents that he thought could provide confirmation.  Following detailed research historians were able to specifically challenge all of Hargrave’s claims about it, including supposed eye-witnesses.  While a dead-end in his larger battle to convince thed world about Lope de Vega, the Facing Island wreck was where Hargrave had his first inklings that there was a conspiracy assoicated with the denial of the Lope de Vega case.

2.         Mr John Podsnap was a creation of Charles Dickens in Our mutual friends [1864-5]:

Mr Podsnap was well to do, and stood very high in Mr Podsnap’s opinion. Beginning with a good inheritance, he had married a good inheritance, and had thriven exceedingly in the Marine Insurance way, and was quite satisfied.  He never could make out why everybody was not quite satisfied, and he felt conscious that he set a brilliant social example in being particularly well satisfied with most things, and, above all other things, with himself.

[Courtesy of Project Gutenberg]


Printed sources

Abbott, J.H.M. 1911
‘Pages from our past: no. 7.  Sir Francis Drake and Australia’, The Lone Hand, 1 May 1911, pp. 12-25.

Hargrave, L. 1911
Lope de Vega: in continuation of previous publications contained in the Journal of the Royal Society of New South Wales, Vols XLIII,XLIV, 1909, 1910, privately published, Sydney.

Lindsay, Norman 1913
‘The end of Lope de Vega’, The Lone Hand, 1 August 1913, pp. 271-277.

Lindsay, Norman 1965
Bohemians of the Bulletin, Angus & Robertson, Sydney.

Online resources

Australian Dictionary of Biography

*  Norman Lindsay – available here
*  J.H.M. Abbott  – available here

Manuscript material

National Library of Australia
This is the complete correspondence chain for Hargrave’s interaction with J.H. M. Abbott, Norman Lindsay and the publication of ‘Lope de Vega’ in the Lone Hand.  All of the letters are held in the National Library of Australia, Canberra as part of the Lawrence Hargrave collection [MS 352]

NLA MS 532-9:  J.H.M. Abbott to LH 16.5.1911

Thanks for copy of LdV III.  Would like to inspect sites and introduce Norman Lindsay.

NLA MS 352-9:  LH to Abbott 17.5.1911

Invitation to visit Hargrave for Saturday 20 May.

NLA MS 532-9:  J.H.M. Abbott to LH 17.5.1911

Discusses ‘Drake’ article in Lone Hand.

NLA MS 352-9: J.H.M. Abbott to LH 28.5.1911

Invite LH to meet again, think about digging up Facing Island wreck.

NLA MS 352-9:  LH to Abbott 29.5.1911

Discussing problems of excavating evidence.

NLA MS 352-9:  LH to Etheridge, Australian Museum 30.5.1911

Request to dig up midden where piece of lead was found, as possible evidence of Lope de Vega’s presence.

NLA MS 352-7:  Bertram Stevens, Editor of Lone Hand to LH 20.6.1913

Sending page proofs of Lope de Vega article by Lindsay for checking.

NLA MS 352-7:  LH to Bertram Stevens 21.6.1913

Thinks some of Lindsay’s writing incorrect and needs correcting.  Note on letter – Lone Hand staff came on 23.6.1913 to do reference checking

NLA MS 352-7:  Bertram Stevens, Lone Hand to LH 27.6.1913

Borrowed picture of Jukes’s idol being returned.

NLA MS 352-7 LH to Bertram Stevens 1.7.1913

Complaining that picture has not arrived yet.  Note on letter – arrived 3.7.1911.

NLA MS 352-8 Bertram Stevens, Lone Hand to LH 13.11.1913

Enclosing letter received regarding the Lope de Vega article.  The letter itself does not survive.  Sent by RAN Commander Chambers.

NLA MS 352-7 LH to Bertram Stevens 15.11.1913

Not convinced by Chambers’ letter.

NLA MS 352-7 LH to Bertram Stevens 14.11.1913

Thanks for replying.  Hope the book goes well.


5 Responses to Lawrence Hargrave and Norman Lindsay

  1. John ruffels says:

    Yes, Denis, Unfortunately for my vaunted cleverness concerning the Hargrave/ Spanish Visitors theory I put forward, there is one glaring error. The Northern Italian town is spelt “BALZANO and not BOLZANO. And as you have rightly confirmed, BALZANO (according to “The American Dictionary of American Family Names “; 2013,OUPress), “Balzano” is a nickname for “strange”.

  2. John Ruffels says:

    Denis: Using the information on the “Spanish Carvings’ at North Bondi Golf Course, I believe I have made a useful discovery. Even if it is not conclusive. W.D.Campbell’s papers (as you have discovered) hold a tracing made of the Sydney Aboriginal engravings at Murriverie on the Golf Course in 1880/90. When compared with the Lawrence Hargrave image of the same graffiti, made in 1906/7, it is possible to see letters have been added in the interim. This would have led Hargrave to make a wrong conclusion. I believe the original graffiti was BAL + ZA+NO. Which, to me, spells “Balzano” a city in the Italian Alps. It may be coincidental, but there were Italian stone-workers working on the Bondi Sewer Outfall in 1888. (See “Trove” report of an Inquest following the injury/death of an Italian sewer worker at North Bondi around that time).

    • Hi John

      I’m grateful for the suggestion. Its much less of a stretch than Hargrave’s interpretation, and while its a long-shot, its still plausible.

      In googling Balzano I also found out it means queer or odd, which nicely captures something about the fascination this small engraving continues to have over people.

      Thanks for reading and engaging.


  3. John Ruffels says:

    The following is a post by me, (JR) posted on “Lost Sydney”:
    John Ruffels:, Despite my immense admiration for Lawrence Hargrave, the aviation pioneer so badly ignored in Australia, I must record the fact in relation to pre Cook Spanish exploration and the inscription on Bondi rocks, Hargrave got it wrong. How? In a clever bit of detective work, Denis Gojak of the “Secret Visitors” site decided to double-check Hargrave’s claim. Using W.D.Campbell’s papers (he was the man who recorded most of the existing Aboriginal engraving around Sydney in 1889 ), Gojak was able to find Campbell’s original tracing of the Bondi rock inscription. Unfortunately, vandals had added lettering to the original. This meant Hargrave’s prize interpretation was all wrong. From Gojak’s site, here is the image from Campbell’s papers. Curiously, to me it looks like the original reads: “BO + LZ + AN + O” which reads BOLZANO a Northern Tyrolean / Italian town! Oh no! So the Italians were here first….! Lol.
    This post above and below, appeared on the “Lost Sydney” Facebook page:
    It has since occurred to me that several Italian navvies worked on the stone tunneling below the Bondi Stink in the 1880’s.
    No automatic alt text available.

    • Thanks John

      An interesting theory, and more grounded in reality that anything Hargrave was able to come up with. In the 1990s[?] David Dale wondered out loud just how much better Sydney would be if we’d been settled by Italians instead of Poms. Cappuccino is the national drink, we’d eat outside, have siestas – brilliant!

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