A Rare Find

Gerard Foley Sunday, September 15, 2013 - 16:26
Is this the first image of cricket in Australia?

With the generous support of the Friends of Battye Library, the SRO has been digitising crown surveyors' field books from the 19th and early 20th centuries (WAS 32). The project has focussed on the 1,638 field books held in consignment 3401 (part of WA Series 32) and to date approximately 200 have been digitised and made available online through the SRO's online catalogue.

The digitised fieldbooks include some of the earliest produced in WA, such as those made by WA's first Surveyor General John Septimus Roe, and the explorer John Forrest, later WA's first Premier. While they are small, field books are important historical documents. Used by surveyors as they travelled around WA to record topographical information for the making of maps, field books recorded details such as distances, latitude and longitude as well as land features such as rivers, hills and vegetation.  Distances were measured in chains and horses were trained to walk a certain distance and stop to allow for measurements to be taken at regular intervals.

Sometimes official archives reveal unexpected things. While digitising the field books of Henry Mortlock Ommanney, one of JS Roe's first assistant surveyors, it was noticed that Field Book No. 7 - a survey along the Avon River in 1834 - included personal details such as a list of Ommanney’s washing being sent to be laundered by a Miss Heal, and several sketches of life. One is a drawing of the survey office in York with a caption reading ‘Three Lords of the house settling a sheepish affair’, the men surrounded by barrels marked ‘rum’ and ‘porter’. Another is a sketch of John Picton Beete, Captain of the 21st Regiment, who arrived in the colony in late 1833. The sketch shows Picton Beete with a very tall hat and the caption ‘Capt Beete as he appeared’.

One small sketch is of a cricket game where someone who appears to be a sailor is bowling underarm to a batsman. But research has revealed that this small sketch is quite historic. The State Library of New South Wales claims that the earliest known images of cricket in Australia are in a series of three watercolours of Hyde Park painted in 1842 by John Rae. But Ommanney's sketch is from 1834. Isn't this then the first image of cricket in Australia?

Ommanney's Field Book No. 7 is available online.

Gerard Foley, Senior Archivist