Lawrence Hargrave and Norman Lindsay

December 29, 2013

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’

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Lawrence Hargrave’s Spanish Sydney – new paper

December 8, 2012

I’ve just had a new short paper published in the December 2012 issue of Placenames Australia, which is the excellent quarterly newsletter of the Australian National Placenames Survey [ANPS] .  This organisation is supported by the different state and Commonwealth place name gazettal boards, to capture the history and meaning of the different toponyms around Australia.  These provide a rich landscape archaeology of successive occupations from indigenous people to the present.

The paper is ‘Lawrence Hargrave’s Spanish Sydney’, and it is about his belief that Lope de Vega landed in Sydney in c.1595, in the ship Santa Isabel [or Ysabel], after separating from the rest of Mendana’s expedition to the Solomons Islands [Gojak 2012].  Hargrave believed that place names around Sydney and Torres Strait supported his case.  According to him the Spanish named various parts of Sydney Harbour and the surrounding coast they explored, and these names were adopted by the Aborigines.  Later, after the arrival of the First Fleet in 1788, it was assumed that these were Aboriginal names.  Hargrave annotated about two dozen of these into his evolving text for his book on Lope de Vega, added them on maps and charts and in amongst his voluminous correspondence.  A further list of names was ready to hand, presumably ones for which he was still searching for an origin.

You’ll have to read the paper for the full list [download of all the ANPS Newsletters is free], but just one example shows Hargrave’s logic follow.

In 1900 heavy storm surges had eroded or stripped grassed dunes, leaving behind exposed dense beachside scatters of Aboriginal artefacts.  These were written up by Etheridge and Whitelegge [1907].  A few years, in 1914, later Australia was hosting the British Association for the Advancement of Science, and a variety of excursions were offered to the delegates.  One took in Kurnell, on Sydney’s southern outskirts, for a visit to Captain Cook’s landing place, and a side trip to Quibray Bay, on the Botany Bay side of the Kurnell Peninsula.  At Quibray Bay one of these desne artefact scatters had been exposed.  Hargrave’s copy of the conference handbook is annotated on the page describing the tour.  He notes ‘quibra’ is Spanish for ‘crack’, as in Quibray is ‘the flint cracking place’.  Seemingly unaware of the Etheridge and Whitelegge paper, he may have otherwise wqondered why this place was so named, when they record the same storms having exposed Aboriginal artefact scatters on many beaches all along the coastal area of Sydney, and Quibray was perhaps one of the more modest.  Quiebra acloser meaning is to break or fail, rather than crack.

Hargrave didn’t speak Spanish, but did get assistance from Captain Bertram Chambers of the Royal Australian Navy.  Its not clear how good Chambers’s Spanish was, but he seems to have been a speaker of the language rather than a writer or reader.

This was just another example of how Hargrave’s obsession with the inherent truth of his belief clouded his judgement, allowing him to selectively pick at different facts, and twist them until they matched his belief.


Etheridge, Robert and Thomas Whitelegge 1907
‘Aboriginal workshops on the coast of New South Wales, and their contents’, Records of the Australian Museum, vol. 6 [4], pp. 233-250.  Available here.

Gojak, Denis 2012
‘Lawrence Hargrave’s Spanish Sydney’, Placenames Australia: the newsletter of the Australian National Placenames Survey, December 2012, pp. 3, 6-8.  Available here.

The Ploughed Ground – 1

August 12, 2012

One of the earliest speculations about unrecorded voyages to Australia comes from the memoirs of Joseph Mason, a convict who served his sentence in NSW in the 1830s.  Mason’s handwritten memoirs remained almost unknown, but were finally edited and published in 1996 [Kent and Townsend 1996] and are an important source for Australian convict history as seen from the inside.

Mason was transported for participation in unrest arising from the social dislocations accompanying industrialisation in Britain.  Perhaps because of his status as a political prisoner he reveals himself to be a thoughtful chronicler whose memoirs are quite different from the normal convict fare.  He was assigned as a convict servant to Hannibal Macarthur at his Vineyard estate near Parramatta in 1831.  Macarthur also had another grazing estate called Arthursleigh on the banks of the Wollondilly, south of Sydney, which had been established before official settlement was permitted within this area [Fletcher 2002].

In a section of his memoirs where he speculates about previous history of Australia, and whether the Aboriginal people were its sole former occupants, Mason says:

There is two spots of ground one about 30 miles to the south of any residence and the other on the bank of the Hunters River which I was informed by creditable witnesses as well as having seen the same in a book bear marks as if it had once undergone the operation of ploughing. The first of these lies in the road leading to the south of the colony and is always called the ploughed grounds. The blacks have been asked if they know what occasioned these spots [of] land to Assume their present shape but their are quite ignorant as to the cause Had any of their ancestors been acquainted with husbandry there certainly would have been more extensive marks of it remaining than these two spots of ground nor is it likely that the present race or rather generation should have been so retrograded from the path of industry as to possess not a single grain of corn an agricultural impliment, or the slightest notion of cultivating land.  [Kent and Townsend 1996: pp. 121-2]

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The ‘Spanish Proclamation’ – additional information

January 10, 2012

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.

Postscript – 9 Nov 2014 – J. Ruffels identified the head of the household at ‘The Ravine’ as R.N. Kirk, a company manager of O’Connell Street.  Using that clue I was able to find out that Kirk’s business was mining investment and management.  From the sounds of his letter he was a long-term occupant of the area, so his estimate of the engravings being present ’30 years ago’ should be accepted.

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More Devil Hands making lighter work

November 6, 2011

A previous blog post described the Devils Hands rockshelter along the Shoalhaven River, which was interpreted and incorporated by Lawrence Hargrave into his theories.  Since then I have found the correspondence between Hargrave and Walter Hull, who brought it to his attention, in the National Library of Australia.

On 20 August 1910 Walter Hull, of ‘Tolosa’, Beuna Vista Road in the Sydney suburb of Mosman wrote to Hargrave.  He was interested in Hargrave’s idea that what was considered to be Aboriginal art had a more complex origin.  He included a copy of the photo that had been reproduced in the Lone Hand, having sold them the copyright some time earlier.  Hargrave gave a quick and positive reply within a few days, as was his practice, but a month later came back with a much more developed understanding of them.

… Boat shaped marks refer to water journeys, footsteps refer to land journeys and ‘hands’ refer to manual labour.  What labour?  The search for gold, and it is certain that if Lope de Vega got any gold from near Sydney it was from the Shoalhaven River.  The hands or fingers are a record of the number of quills of gold obtained.  The Peruvian-Spaniards did not go there by water, they had had enough of the sea and were only interested in the land.  The land journey was easy, a few cabbage palms or dry logs would ferry all that it was necessary to keep dry.  14 days would suffice to get there.

The blacks got it hot for the memory to last to our time; and continued opposition would decorate the outskirts of the gold working camps with blakc fellows seated on pointed stakes. [NLA MS 352-6: Hargrave to Hull 22 Sept 1911]

A month later Hargrave wrote again, requesting whether he could use it in his forthcoming latest work.  Neither Hull nor the Lone Hand had any issue with it, and it was incorporated in the third Lope de Vega instalment [Hargrave 1911].  Hull set out his belief that the hand stencils reflected foreign influences, asserting that the hands were found only in the Shoalhaven district, which was also cited by Hargrave.  Given that Hull’s Mosman home was probably within a few kilometres of many rockshelters with all manner of hand stencils it is hard to know how he made that statement except by remarkable lack of awareness.

In another group of papers in the Hargrave collection there is a small map cut out of the Daily Telegraph of 4 July 1913 showing the proposed Warragamba Dam in Sydney’s west.  Hargrave marked it with a red pencil and the annotation ‘Probable track to silver mine and gold river’.  The path chosen was along the coast south of Sydney, then along the Shoalhaven, to where it swings southwards and into the Bungonia Gorge.  The Spanish travellers then emerged passing the site of Marulan and joining the Wollondilly River, which they followed north into the Burragorang River valley, now submerged by Warragamba Dam.  Joining the Nepean River at Mulgoa they then followed this to about Richmond, presumably crossing back to Sydney overland [NLA MS 352-19].

Hargrave sought corroborating evidence for this theory, including writing a letter to the Burragorang Valley school principal, in case he had come across anything of interest.  Unsurprisingly, no answer was forthcoming.

As I had supposed, Hull was prompted by Hargrave’s newspaper articles to offer his own idle speculation to what was a surprisingly sympathetic ear.  As discussed in the earlier post the quest for gold provided a very useful reason to have Spanish mariners and their Peruvian slaves running around the landscape, and attempting to explain the great quantity of contrary evidence that did not fit his theory.  In late 1910 Hargrave was busily working on the third instalment of his Lope de Vega paper, and perhaps if he had more time may have looked harder at the evidence.  As it was he put more effort into getting a copy of the Lone Hand picture into his paper than in thinking about the contribution it made to his case.


Greig, A.W. 1909
‘Aboriginal art: with an account of the mysterious rock pictures of the Glenelg District [W.A.]‘, The Lone Hand, 5, 1 May 1909, pp. 42-48.

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.


National Library of Australia
MS 352 – Lawrence Hargrave papers relating to Lope de Vega
Series 6 – correspondence 1908-1910
Series 19 – newsclippings

Lawrence Hargrave talk

July 31, 2011

Today I gave a talk to the ‘Tea Time talks’ for Woollahra Council [a local government area covering the Eastern Suburbs of Sydney] , which they hold monthly at the Council Chambers.  Originally last year I had approached the Woollahra Historical Society to see if they would be interested in a talk to coincide with the 100th anniversary of Lawrence Hargrave’s dig at Woollahra Point in July 1911.  The President, Peter Poland, suggested that the Tea Time talks got a bigger crowd and might be worth a try.

Peter was not wrong.  We had more than 90 people turn up – a record!  A good story in the local newspaper helped to drum up interest, and we were left with a standing room only crowd.  Can’t get better than that.

The talk itself was focussed on the archaeological dig that Hargrave persuaded the Australian Museum to conduct on a shell-midden in a rock shelter near his house on Wunulla Road, about a kilometre from the venue.  The dig was a small affair, run by C.C.Towle, who was the Curatorial Assistant in Ethnography.  This was probably his first dig and it neither showed great prospects for further rockshelter excavations or for answers being forthcoming on the big questions like the length of Aboriginal occupation, and whether there was a single or multiple waves of people.  The dig did find a heavily rusted iron spike, which vindicated [to some extent] Hargraves’ belief that the dig would reveal evidence of the Spanish occupation of Woollahra Point, part of his grand theory that the Spanish had been in Sydney Harbour nearly two centuries before the First Fleet.  As well as the rockshelter Hargrave identified many sites that he thought were evidence for his theory in the Woollahra / Double Bay / Rose Bay area.

The crowd asked lots of good questions.  If any of them were believers in either Spanish or Portuguese they didn’t let on.  Several had memories or stories of Aboriginal art sites that were sitting in peoples’ back yards in different suburbs.  I think they appreciated the bitterness that consumed Hargrave in his last decade, and while I was talking the penny dropped and I realised that he had been watching past history repeat itself.  For two decades he bore ridicule as a ‘crank’ for his aeronautical experiments, only to be vindicated with the Wright Brothers achievement of powered flight.  He did not get a lot of credit at the time – his contribution was not nearly as well understood as it could have been.  When he embarked on the quest for Lope de Vega and the lost Spanish ship his actions were clearly informed by his past experience.  This time he waited more than three years from the time of his ‘revelation’ before he went public with the story, hoping to have a water-tight and uncontestable argument prepared.  It proved not to be the case.  He still held on to the idea though that, even though he was being pilloried, he would eventually be vindicated.  It never came, and in the last years of his life his thoughts became darker and darker.  It was only in preparing the talk and stepping it out that I really saw the parallels between the aviation and Spanish phases so clearly.

Another good thing that came out of the talk is that although I have been a constant whinger about how archaeologists should present their findings back to the public, we seldom do it.  Now I can be just that little bit less hypocritical next time I complain about it, and the failings of my colleagues.  The audience were gagging to hear about archaeology, and we could so easily fill venues around the state and present factual interesting information to people who care, and vote and fund it all through their taxes.

As a final thing, the talk fell nicely on the World Archaeology Congress’s Day of Archaeology, which aims to document the range of work done by archaeologists around the world on a single day.  Look for the site here.  I’ll add something about my day soon.

The ‘Spanish Proclamation’

March 20, 2011

High above Bondi Beach with spectacular views out to sea you will find a small rock engraving which became one of the proofs used by aviation pioneer Lawrence Hargrave in support of his theory that the Spanish had landed in eastern Australia in 1595.  He thought that the Spanish had made this carving as their official record of their presence and possession of the land, and termed it the Spanish Proclamation.  Hargrave’s argument convinced very few people and the story associated with the engraving remains largely forgotten.

Hargrave is best known for his aeronautical experimentation, for which he is rightly recognised as a pioneer.  Much of this took place in the late 19th century; once the Wright brothers flew successfully his work was superseded by others.  Perhaps in part driven by relevance deprivation, during mid 1906 Hargrave was inspired by the discovery of a cannon in Torres Strait and his own memories of work in the same area in the 1870s to develop a theory that the Spanish mariner Lope de Vega in the ship Santa Isabel [or Ysabel] had been separated from Alvaro de Mendana de Neira’s expedition to settle the Solomon Islands and had instead travelled as far south as Sydney Harbour, where they stayed for perhaps 3 years before being rescued.


Figure 1. Hargrave’s recording of the ‘Spanish Proclamation’.

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The Devils Hands at the Shoalhaven

March 20, 2011

Figure 1.  The cave as depicted in the Lone Hand [Greig 1909: 45]

Lawrence Hargrave did not falter from the strong negative reception to his two presentations to the Royal Society of NSW announcing his Lope de Vega theory [Hargrave 1909].  His next venture was a privately produced pamphlet titled Lope de Vega [Hargrave 1911].  Written during 1910 and published in 1911, it extended and amplified the information that Hargrave had collected in the year since his previous paper.  One new piece of evidence that he introduced related to a rock shelter near the Shoalhaven River, south of Sydney.  This was covered with Aboriginal hand stencils and other motifs.  Our interest is in how Hargrave took this new information and wove it into his scenario. Read the rest of this entry »

Hargrave – ‘They searched for gold’

March 10, 2011

Another piece of Hargrave evidence, another blog post.

Lawrence Hargrave believed that when Lope de Vega’s crew were stranded in Sydney in 1595 they occupied their time gainfully by doing what all Spaniards in New Worlds do – they searched for gold.  Fortunately they had Peruvian miners amongst their crew because the glowing testimony Mendana gave about the Solomons Islands all but guaranteed that abundant gold would be found there.  Once Lope de Vega in the Santa Ysabel became separated from the remainder of the ships and ended up stranded in Sydney Harbour it is perhaps to be expected that they would have taken the chance to go looking for gold.  And, according to Hargrave, they found it. Read the rest of this entry »

Lawrence Hargrave – Powerhouse archives

July 20, 2010

Lawrence Hargrave is rightly considered one of Australia’s foremost pioneer scientists, with many valuable contributions to early aeronautics and aeroplane design. He also figures as a brief but important contributor of claims for Spanish voyaging along the east coast of Australia in the late 16th century.

I had the opportunity to search the Powerhouse Museum’s Lawrence Hargrave archival collection recently. It was acquired from the Royal Aeronautical Society in the 1960s following strong lobbying of the Australian government by W. Hudson Shaw, one of Hargrave’s biographers. Read the rest of this entry »