Sig­nalling a fi ne his­tory

Sunday Tasmanian - Tassie Living - - BOOKS - WAR­REN BREWER

ACA­SUAL glance will con­vey to the dis­cern­ing reader that this is an ex­cep­tion­ally high- qual­ity pub­li­ca­tion. It’s un­usu­ally for­mat­ted as a hor­i­zon­tal large cof­fee- ta­ble style hard­back with full colour.

This lim­ited- edi­tion col­lec­tion is unique in its pre­sen­ta­tion of fl ags, semaphore sig­nals and sketches of boats that came to Ho­bart Town in the mid- 19th cen­tury.

This is a col­lec­tion of the amaz­ing- yet-ob­scure works of Pri­vate Ed­ward Mur­phy of the 99th Reg­i­ment of Foot, de­ployed in Ho­bart Town in the 1840s and 1850s.

It’s the work of a fas­tid­i­ous and metic­u­lous mind with an ob­ses­sive in­ter­est in all things of a mar­itime na­ture.

The de­tail, ac­cu­racy and painstak­ing tech­niques dis­played here make the sub­jects im­por­tant and idio­syn­cratic works of art in their own right.

As well, they pro­vide an his­tor­i­cal record of com­mu­ni­ca­tion be­tween ships at sea dur­ing those im­por­tant Colo­nial years.

The fact that Pri­vate Mur­phy had no ed­u­ca­tion, was com­pletely un­trained and made his own colours is re­mark­able.

The work ex­hibits vi­brancy, con­sis­tency and dura­bil­ity in the im­ages and adds to their sur­pris­ing qual­i­ties.

How did he get the work ex­actly the same ev­ery time?

Art his­to­ri­ans in par­tic­u­lar will be in­debted to Mark Risby for hav­ing the sen­si­tiv­ity, per­sis­tence and ded­i­ca­tion to the task of re­search­ing, writ­ing and pro­duc­ing the col­lec­tion of Mur­phy’s works.

The Risby fam­ily is well known in Tas­ma­nia for its so­cial and eco­nomic con­tri­bu­tion to the state. As the bril­liant for­ward ex­plains, the fi rst of the Risby clan came to Van Diemens Land in 1826.

Ini­tially, Ed­ward Risby was trans­ported to Botany Bay in 1808, then later to Nor­folk Is­land un­til its clo­sure as a pen­i­ten­tiary.

Choos­ing to set­tle per­ma­nently in Van Diemens Land, Ed­ward Risby es­tab­lished a highly suc­cess­ful boat- build­ing in­dus­try and its var­i­ous man­i­fes­ta­tions pros­pered for a cen­tury and a half.

Ho­bart Town had a pop­u­la­tion of about 8000 in 1850 and con­se­quently, as con­tem­po­raries, it’s likely that mem­bers of the Mur­phy and Risby fam­i­lies may have even been ac­quainted.

Sev­enth gen­er­a­tion Mark Risby’s some­what be­lated in­ter­est was pro­voked by his re­search into the fam­ily house fl ag used as a proud busi­ness tal­is­man for more than a cen­tury.

Now the con­nec­tion with the bril­liant work of Mur­phy has emerged.

This pub­li­ca­tion will not arouse the ca­sual page fl ip­per, but will cer­tainly be­come a ref­er­ence re­source for artists and mar­itime his­to­ri­ans.

Like the work it­self, the book re­quires a dis­ci­plined and ded­i­cated reader.

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