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Georgiana McCrae

Captain Alexander McCrae, 84th Regiment
inscribed on reverse in ink: ‘Captain Alexander McCrae/84th Regiment/Captain Alexander McCrae/84 Regt/June 23 1832
12.0 x 14.5 cm



McCrae family, UK; Unknown; Wallis & Wallis, auction of Militaria, Arms and Armour, East Sussex, UK, 2013. 

There is a similar portrait by Georgiana showing Alexander in day clothes which is dated 1840.  A later 1856 portrait by John Irvine is in the State Library of Victoria (see Georgiana A biography of Georgiana McCrae, painter, diarist, pioneer by Brenda Niall Melbourne University Press 1994 plate 15, op p 206.

Whilst Georgiana’s importance as an artist is well recorded, less has been previously known of her brother in law Alexander McCrae. Alexander (army officer and administrator) was the eldest of 4 brothers, Andrew Murchison (solicitor and Georgiana’s husband), John (who died in India in 1823 from cholera) and Farquhar (1807-1850 medical cavalry officer in the Bengal Establishment, who was discharged in 1830- studied at University of Edinburgh). All 3 brothers came to Australia about 1839-41, together with Georgiana. There were 4 sisters; Mary, Agnes, Thomas (Thomasina) Ann and Margaret[1]. Dr Farquhar McCrae was a “firebrand” who was in dispute with John Foster about the sale of a property. Foster challenged Farquhar to a duel and upon being denied satisfaction, confronted McCrae and gave him a horsewhipping in Queen Street[2]. Farquhar went to Sydney had a very public dispute with Dr William Bland, known as “a silly quarrel about a sore knee”[3].
 The McCrae family had constant financial worries, which appears to be the catalyst for their emigration. “By 1837 the McCraes were already in financial trouble. Georgiana had raised 800 pounds by selling an annuity of 50 pounds per year, left to her by Duke Alexander.” There also appeared no hope of a legacy from the estate of the Duke of Gordon, as he left his estate to his wife. Andrew first thought of Canada, but following his friend Major Thomas Mitchell who had just taken leave in England following his second expedition of the Darling Basin where he described the view from Pyramid Hill (in Victoria) and “I felt conscious of being the harbinger of mighty changes, and that our steps would soon be followed by the men and animals, for which it seemed to have been prepared.” [4], decided on Australia. Farquhar’s career in the Army medical service had ended in a serious breakdown in health.

Alexander McCrae 1799-1861
 Alexander was born at Edinburgh, Midlothian, Scotland on 25 February 1799. He was the son of William Gordon McCrae, born in Jamaica, an advocate who had broken with his father, a planter, over the issue of slave-emancipation. Alexander entered the army at the age of fourteen, in the Chasseurs Britanniques, from which corps he passed on 18 October 1815, on its disbandment, to Ensign the 84th foot.[5] Alexander wrote to his mother on 28 June 1819:“My dear mother, I have just done an extraordinary thing, I have volunteered a married officers duty to escort convicts to New South Wales. The application for my being allowed to take the duty has gone to the Horse Guard for approval which will no doubt be granted- I expect the answer by tomorrow’s post – If it is granted we shall be off in about a fortnight. The vessel is fitting out at Deptford she is a Government Store Ship and is to bring back a cargo of timber from the Prince Edward Island – We return with her – I suppose we shall be absence (sic) from this country about a year and a half. I expect we shall have some allowances besides our pay…… Your affectionate sonA M M Crae” …[6] He is mentioned in the Colonel Wylly book on the 84th regiment.. “On 21st July 1819 he was on the SS Dromedary as an Ensign, under Captain R. Cruise, with 2 sergeants and 27 other men, escorting convicts to Australia”.[7] The journey was undertaken under the command of Captain Skinner. Alexander wrote a Journal  on his time in New Zealand “Journal Kept in New Zealand by Ensign Alexander McCrae of the 84th Regiment Together with Relevant Documents [8] The 1928 reprint also contains an Editor’s Introduction, and Notes on N Zealand by an Officer (Alexander McCrae).[9] There is a scarcity of historical matter written on early New Zealand and Alexander’s journal forms an important part of New Zealand’s history. Major Cruise also wrote a book about his journeys in New Zealand.[10] Alexander’s journal covers only part of his New Zealand voyage, with several entries concerning Hobart and Sydney. Alexander records that HMS Store Ship Dromedary left from Spithead on 21 September 1819, with 360 convicts for New South Wales and Van Diemens Land. He saw the SW Cape of Van Diemens Land on 9 January 1820. He describes the “beauty of the scenery on the Derwent”, and then sailed to Sydney leaving 22 January and arriving in Sydney 6 days later. “On the 15 February he proceeded to New Zealand pursuant to Instructions from the Navy Board to ascertain whether a supply of timber fit for naval purposes could be obtained from these Islands”.[11] Also onboard HMS Dromedary with Rev Samuel Marsden were nine Maori chiefs who had been at Marsden's seminary in Parramatta, including a fifteen year old son of Hongi Hika.  The naval ship arrived in the Bay of Islands on February 27 and anchored off Paroa. The whaleships IndianMarthaCatherineNew Zealander, and Echo were all in the Bay at the time and after HMS Dromedary came to a standstill, several boats crew from the whalers rowed over to meet her. Captain Skinner visited Hokianga during March in search of a good supply of timber[12]. Alexander’s journal includes descriptions of the Maori and their culture, as well as the topography. In his Notes on New Zealand (accompanying his Journal), McCrae states “the public is presented with the results of observations made on the country and people during the residence of 10 months in which period from the frequent excursions I made and from associating with the natives and conforming with their habits more than any European before me ever did or had it in his power to do I became possessed of a mass of information more certain and therefore more to be relied upon than could possible be obtained in any other way.”[13] And then “And here it may be remarked that these Islands with a climate equally removed from the extreme of either zone and therefore well suited to Europeans and European animals and plants, a soil capable of producing in the greatest abundance the fruits of the earth indigenous and exotic.”  He then notes the numerous natural harbours, extensive forests of timber, teeming fish of many species, the remarkable fine looking people and their natural Grace and dignity. [14] In his Third New Zealand Journal, Rev. Samuel Marsden notes an incident): “The following circumstance occurred while we were in conversation, which created a little bustle :—Lieutenant McCrae had seated himself on the stump of a tree, with his boat cloak thrown over his shoulders, where he was closely surrounded by the natives. When he got up he found the buttons cut off his cloak, and the clasp from the collar, which some one of the natives had carried off. He immediately told the chief he had been robbed, and showed where the buttons had been cut off. A boy whom we had observed in the company was accused of the theft but upon examination he could not be found, which confirmed the suspicion. Persons were immediately dispatched to apprehend the boy; in about half an hour he was brought before us and examined. The chief's daughter insisted that he had committed the theft; another stout woman warmly vindicated the boy's character, when she was as warmly opposed by a third woman. The altercation got to such a pitch that in a short time they came to blows with their hands, and at length they armed themselves with thick sticks. I now interfered, and laid hold of the woman who was the most violent and who contended that the boy had stolen the buttons, to prevent her from striking the other woman who advocated the boy's cause. The chief's daughter was very much vexed that the theft had been committed there, and desired me to let the woman alone and allow them to fight, for she was sure that the boy had stolen the buttons and no person ought to defend him. I, however, thought it more prudent to prevent any more blows passing between these ladies, and put an immediate stop to the quarrel. I had never seen any fighting amongst the New Zealanders before. It is not common for them to strike one another. The chief's daughter and the other woman belonging to the family were very indignant indeed that any insult should have been given to us while we were at their residence. The chief was equally hurt that anything should have occurred to give us offence, and said he would endeavour to have the stolen things returned, and thus the business ended for the night. Before daylight the next morning (Friday, May 5th) the clasp and buttons were brought back, but we never could learn who had actually stolen them. The chief informed us that the boy who had been accused was innocent.”[15] Commissioner J. T. Bigge visited New Zealand for his Royal Commission on the state of affairs in New South Wales. [16]Bigge reported to Lord Bathurst on 27 February 1823 and Bigge writes of McCrae “In the evidence of Mr McCrae, a very intelligent officer of the 84thRegiment, and in the course with his detachment on board the Dromedary had an opportunity of making tours of the interior (in one he was accompanied by Rev. Mr. Marsden), I have been able to obtain information about the present state of New Zealand, upon which I am justified in stating that the greatest reliance may be placed. The intelligence and activity of Mr. McCrae, and his impartiality and candour, are fully admitted by Rev. Mr, Marsden, whenever any appeal was made upon questions of doubtful authority, and it is certain that no person that ever visited this island enjoyed so many opportunities of observing the character of the country, as well as its inhabitants.”[17] McCrae’s evidence before Commissioner Bigge is extensively quoted in historical and academic studies; e.g. New Zealand’s Hidden Criminal Past by Matthew Wright “Alexander McRae discovered Maori were “friendly and humane”; The sign of the cannibal: Melville and the making of a postcolonial reader by Sanborn “since Europeans have shown a disposition to procure them (preserved Maori heads), they have become like everything else an article of commerce.”; The Journal of the Polynesian Society Vol 72 1963 Maori and Pakeha; The Expansion of a Competitive Society* A Study in Nineteenth-Century Maori Social History. Though Ngapuhi (tribes settled in the Hokianga and Bay of Islands) were said in 1821 to own about 500 stand of arms, 'a great many of these firelocks that have been received from the whaling vessels.” McCrae, Cruise and Bigge returned to Sydney Cove under Captain Skinner on the Dromedary on 21 December 1820, and after refitting sailed on 14 February, rounded Cape Horn on 1 April, and anchored at Plymouth on 3 July 1821.[18] This was the first export on the Dromedary of 98 Kauri trunks (highly valued as replacement masts and spars for sailing ships). Kauri's fame as a timber tree grew rapidly because of its massive volumes of attractive clean grained timber. For more than a century kauri would be the only indigenous species exploited on such a large scale.[19] Upon his return, on 18 July 1822, Alexander purchased the rank of Lieutenant.[20] Little is known of him, until on 30 August 1831, Alexander advanced to Captain without purchase.[21]. The portrait of Alexander is dated 23 June 1832, soon after his achieving his captaincy and before his next posting to Ireland. However, as with many other officers of his generation his career stagnated in the long period of relative peace after the Napoleonic Wars. Moreover, he had made what was considered- at least by his sisters- to be an imprudent marriage to Susannah Danway (about 1812-1870), who was not a “lady”. While Alexander served with his regiment in Ireland in the 1830s, Susannah and their first three children were socially isolated and not well off. In a new country Alexander McCrae might hope (mistakenly as it turned out) to escape the class distinctions which made for unhappinesses in his family life.[22] Just before leaving for Australia, Alexander retired from the army on 31 October 1840.[23] Andrew emigrated to Australia in 1839, leaving Georgiana  (who had a fever) in the care of his brother Alexander, Alexander, waiting to go to Australia with Georgiana was concerned about the lack of letters from Andrew (his brother and Georgiana’s husband) in Sydney, who had not been offered a position by the new Governor Gipps. Alexander became angry with his brother[24]. The Alexander McCraes accompanied Georgiana and family to Melbourne arriving in 1841. Unable to find a suitable administrative post his position appears to have been improved by being appointed “clerk in Treasury” in 1847. “Captain Alexander McCrae lived quietly in Richmond with his large family, but his days of poverty were over; he was promoted to Postmaster General in 1851”. [25]  He remained in that position until 1857. He finished his career as a magistrate in the Police Courts (1859-61).[26]  Alexander died in 1861. The younger sister of Alexander Mrs Thomas (Margaret), after the death of her husband Dr Thomas, about 1880 settled in Dunedin. Mrs Thomas said that when she was a very little girl she remembers her brother return for New Zealand; “he brought back some interesting objects, including a dried tattooed Maori head”…..”with which she was allowed to play”.[27] 

Georgiana McCrae. 
The following is from the Georgiana McCrae entry in Australian Dictionary of Biography by Norman Carter: Georgiana Huntly McCrae (1804-1890), artist and diarist, was born on 15 March 1804, in London, the natural daughter of George, marquis of Huntly, afterwards fifth Duke of Gordon ('Cock o' the North, ma Huntly braw'), and Jane, daughter of Ralph Graham of Rockmoor. She was educated in London at a convent school kept by noble French refugees from the Revolution and later at Claybrook House, Fulham, and the New Road Boarding School. She became an accomplished linguist; French was to her as a mother tongue and she was well grounded in Latin and Hebrew. She was a talented musician, but her strength was in pictorial art. She was taught drawing and painting by John Varley, John Glover and M. D. Serres, and miniature painting by Charles Hayter. She studied at the Royal Academy and in 1820-21 won medals for a miniature and a group of portraits in water-colours from the Society for Promoting Arts, Manufactures and Commerce. After leaving school she lived for about seven years at Gordon Castle, where she was acknowledged and treated as the duke's daughter. Her romance with 'Perico' (Peter Charles Gordon of Wardhouse, a 'Spanish' Gordon and a Roman Catholic) was frustrated by the duchess, a bigoted Protestant, whose professions of goodwill to her were scarcely supported by her actions. Soon afterwards Georgiana went to live in Edinburgh, with high hopes, encouraged by her father's friends, of making a good income from portrait painting. A list in her handwriting, headed 'painted for “fame”—and money', shows that fifteen portraits were executed at Gordon Castle in 1827-29 and thirty-five at Edinburgh in 1829-30.On 25 September 1830 at Gordon Castle Georgiana married Andrew Murison McCrae, a writer to the signet and a kinsman of the Gordons. Long afterwards she wrote in her Journal against the date of this anniversary 'left my easel and changed my name'. In 1834 they moved to London. Andrew practised at Westminster until, influenced by (Sir) Thomas Mitchell, he decided to emigrate, and sailed in the Royal Saxon. He reached Sydney in March 1839 and next year went to Port Phillip, where his brother, Dr Farquhar McCrae, with his wife and two children, his mother and two sisters, had arrived from Scotland in June 1839. Andrew began to practise law in Melbourne in partnership with James Montgomery.Georgiana and her children were to have gone with Andrew, but she 'took ague' (fever) after the birth of her fourth child and it was deemed unwise for her to risk the sea voyage then. She did not embark with her four sons until October 1840 and in the Argyle they landed at Port Phillip on 1 March 1841. The family first lived in a wooden house in Bourke Street. In February 1842 they moved to Mayfield, on the Yarra River (near Studley Park), designed by her and described as 'one of the first superior houses erected in the Colony'. In 1843 Andrew took up the Arthur's Seat run near Dromana, and there built a house in which the family lived from 1845 to 1851. Probably because of the turmoil arising from the gold discoveries, Andrew abandoned squatting to become police magistrate at Alberton (Gippsland), then at Barrow's Inn, Hepburn, Creswick, and finally for seventeen years at Kilmore, where he was also warden for the goldfields, deputy-sheriff and commissioner of crown lands. He retired in 1866 and died in 1874. Georgiana did not accompany him in all these moves but lived with her children in Melbourne. She died on 24 May 1890 at Hawthorn. Of her seven surviving children, the eldest, George Gordon, was a writer and the friend of writers, and the youngest son, Farquhar Peregrine, became inspector of the Bank of Australasia.Georgiana does not seem to have painted many portraits after she came to Australia. On 8 February 1845 she wrote in her Journal: 'There is a living to be had here through my art of miniature painting, for which I have several orders in hand; but dare not oppose the family wishes that “money must not be made in that way”!' The Royal Australasian College of Surgeons in Melbourne has a fine oil painting of Dr Farquhar McCrae painted by her. At Mayfield and Arthur's Seat she did a large number of water-colours and drawings, many of which are in the possession of her descendants as well as some of her finest miniatures. She was a woman of strong character, exceptional education, wit, charm and cultivated taste, and was a significant figure in the early days of settlement in Victoria. It was said that her skill in managing the Aboriginals at Arthur's Seat was acknowledged by other runholders; she was as useful as a drover among cattle and horses, and was renowned as a 'medicine woman'. Mayfield and the homestead at Arthur's Seat were resorted to by people with literary and artistic leanings, and her visitors included Bishop William Grant BroughtonWilliam Charles WentworthBenjamin Boyd'Orion' HorneHenry KendallAdam Lindsay GordonRichard BirnieSir Oswald BrierlyNicholas Chevalier, and Sir John Franklin. She was a close friend of Lieutenant-Governor Charles La Trobe and his wife. According to an obituary by Alexander Sutherland, 'It was largely due to the influence of such women as Mrs McCrae that ideas of refinement and principles of taste were kept alive during the “dark ages” of our colonial history'.[28]“The McCrae tendency to congregate in large numbers and quarrel amongst themselves”, is evident in the her journal entries in 1841, although Georgiana appears to keep clear of the quarrelling. She appears “to have done her best to reconcile the Alexander Mcraes with the rest of the group. [29] Alexander’s house Sherwood in Richmond was within walking distance of Mayfield (but) he may as well as still being in Ireland for all the family saw of him” He had quarrelled with Farquhar , and his sisters Thomas and Margaret had not changed their view that his wife was socially unacceptable.[30] “It is likely that both Andrew and Georgiana were influenced by their dealings with the Bunurong by Captain Alexander McCrae’s experiences in New Zealand.” Alexander had observed that “nothing is more foolish and dangerous than to violate the customs of any people”.[31] 

Another Portrait of Alexander McCrae by John Irvine
 In the State Library of Victoria there is an oil portrait of Alexander McCrae by John Irvine dated 1854, It has an Edinburgh framing label verso and was almost certainly painted in Scotland. The DAAO has Irvine arriving in Australia in 1859. It is clear that the Irvine portrait of Alexander McCrae has been copied from the 1832 watercolour portrait by Georgiana McCrae. It is probable that a member of the McCrae family, most likely the sitter Alexander McCrae, commissioned Irvine to make a large oil copy the 1832 watercolour portrait. Alexander may not have been able to obtain ownership of the watercolour portrait or, more likely, he felt that an oil portrait of himself as a Captain in the 84th Regiment would be impressive for his career in Australia. 
[1] Georgiana p87[2] Georgiana p150[3] Savage or Civilised? Manners of Colonial Australia Penny Russell p185[4] Bill Peach The Explorers ABC 1984, p73[5] Journal Kept in New Zealand by Ensign Alexander McCrae of the 84th Regiment Together with Relevant Documents [5] The 1928 reprint also contains an Editor’s Introduction, and Notes on N Zealand by an Officer (Alexander McCrae). Alexander Turnbull Library Bulletin No 3, Edited by The Honourable Sir Frederick Revans Chapman formerly a Judge of the Supreme Court of New Zealand, with Notes  by Johannes C Andersen, F.N.Z. Inst,. Librarian.Published by the Alexander Turnbull Library, under authority of the Hon, the minister of Internal Affairs. Wellington. By Autority W.A.G. Skinner, Government Printer. 1928 Editors Introduction p8[6][7] York and Lancaster (regimental) Museum . Quote from Colonel Wylly’s  book.[8] Journal Kept in New Zealand in 1820 by Ensign Alexander McCrae of the 84th Regiment[9] Alexander Turnbull Library Bulletin No 3, Edited by The Honourable Sir Frederick Revans Chapman formerly a Judge of the Supreme Court of New Zealand, with Notes  by Johannes C Andersen, F.N.Z. Inst,. Librarian.Published by the Alexander Turnbull Library, under authority of the Hon, the minister of Internal Affairs. Wellington. By Autority W.A.G. Skinner, Government Printer. 1928.[10] Journal of a Ten Months’ Residence in New Zealand by Richard A Cruise, Major in the 84th Regt. Foot. Pub Longman, Hurst, Rees, etc London 1824[11] Journal of Alexander McCrae p11[12][13] Notes on N. Zealand by an Officer (part of McCrae’s Journal) p10[14] Notes on N. Zealand by an Officer (part of McCrae’s Journal) p10[15]  p237[16] Australian Dictionary of Biography on John Thomas Bigge  Bigge's assignment to New South Wales sprang from Bathurst's decision in 1817 to examine the effectiveness of transportation as a deterrent to felons. His royal commission, issued on 5 January 1819, authorized an investigation of 'all the laws regulations and usages of the settlements', notably those affecting civil administration, management of convicts, development of the courts, the Church, trade, revenue and natural resources. In three letters of additional instructions Bathurst suggested the criteria on which the inquiry should operate. Transportation should be made 'an object of real terror' and any weakening of this by 'ill considered compassion for convicts' in the humanitarian policies of Governor Lachlan Macquarie should be reported. Where existing administration was too lenient the commissioner could recommend the establishment of harsher penal settlements. He was also to disclose confidences of the private or public lives of servants of the Crown and leading citizens and officials 'however exalted in rank or sacred in character'. He thus left England in the dual guise of public commissioner of the Crown and of private inquisitor for the government.[17] Editors Introduction  Attached to McCrae’s Journal p6[18] Editors Introduction p6[19][20] York and Lancaster Museum (Raike & Kegs Roll of Officers 84th Regiment 1758-1910)[21] York and Lancaster Museum [22] Georgiana p101[23] York and Lancaster Museum [24] Georgiana pp 103 107.[25] Georgiana p207[26][27] Editors Introduction p3 [28] Australian Dictionary of Biography, item by Norman Carter[29] Georgiana p132[30] Georgiana p165[31] Georgiana p193

Specialising in Australian Colonial, Impressionist, Edwardian and Modern paintings,
prints and sculpture of museum quality for over 40 years.