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A Steady Hand: Governor Hunter & His First Fleet Sketchbook

by: Linda Groom
published by: National Library of Australia

History looks back on John Hunter with mixed reviews. Some biographers are critical of his leadership style as the Governor of Port Jackson (Sydney). Others say he was a failure at sea. Linda Groom, however, disagrees on both counts, claiming that Hunter was an outstanding seaman whose mere survival as governor was an achievement for his time.

Hunter grew up in Leith, near Edinburgh. In 1754 he joined the Royal Navy and in 1768, when Hunter was 30, he was made master. By 1786 he was captain, and appointed by Lord Howe to the Sirius, flag ship of the First Fleet.

In October 1788 Governor Arthur Phillip ordered the Sirius to sail from Port Jackson to Cape Town for supplies. Hunterís decision to take the easterly route past Cape Horn made for a record fast passage, even though the Sirius had to dodge icebergs, lost men to scurvy and was nearly wrecked in violent weather off the south of Tasmania.

Hunterís successful return to Sydney Cove was a dramatic moment. People in the settlement erupted in joy to find they had not been forgotten and would not starve. Some say that if Hunter had not succeeded, the colony would have failed, as many in America did.

Hunter began his sketchbook in the same year he made his life-saving journey to Cape Town. Twenty-six of Hunterís paintings in his sketchbook were copied from paintings by one of his midshipmen, George Raper. This was not only a compliment from the captain to his midshipman but demonstrates his willingness to learn from his work, quite a reversal of the usual naval hierarchy. Although many of the works in the sketchbook are copies, Hunter brings his own (often humorous) interpretation to them.

Following in the footsteps of the highly successful First Fleet Artist and Business of Nature, A Steady Hand contains a biography of John Hunter, followed by luxurious colour plates of his work.

RRP: $49.95
Website: http://bookshop.nla.gov.au/book/a-steady-hand.do


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