david coombe history


F.R. Nixon's Twelve Views, &c., 1845

SUMMARY: F.R. Nixon – a somewhat mischievous artist – etched and printed 12 Views of Adelaide in 1845, priced 21 shillings. A few months later, when controversy erupted, James Allen said they weren't worth 3 farthings!

In early 1845, Frederick Robert Nixon published "Twelve Views of Adelaide", as well as a print of Ridley's reaping machine. Although a good watercolour painter, Nixon taught himself etching and made his own equipment, and the resulting prints didn't reach the same standard as his other work. His series was somewhat overshadowed by an artistic controversy a few months later.

This article compares Nixon's works with similar ones of contemporary artists, especially S.T. Gill's "Series of Adelaide Views".

Frederick Robert Nixon (1817-1860)

Frederick Robert Nixon (1817-1860) arrived in South Australia as a government surveyor on the brig Rapid in June 1838. In the ensuing survey turmoil involving William Light and George Strickland Kingston, Nixon was one of two new surveyors who didn't have an option to join in the mass resignation,1 but contrived to do so anyway just days later and in melodramatic fashion.2 But he was back in the service as early as October.3

Nixon busied himself with surveying, building a windmill on the Mount Barker survey and in his leisure taking rides in the country, frequently writing for the South Australian Magazine in 1841 and 1842. Nixon was a good sketcher, cartographer, cartoonist and watercolour painter.

Twelve Views

In January 1845, less than a week after the (unexpected) return to Adelaide of artist George French Angas, Nixon had a chance to show some of his own work to James Allen of the South Australian Register.

THE FINE ARTS. – Mr Nixon, who has long been favourably known to the Colonists as a draftsman, is, we understand, about to publish a number of etchings, descriptive of Adelaide and its neighbourhood. This gentleman will be his own draftsman, etcher, and printer. Among the objects described will be the Government House, the Public Offices, the Banks, the Churches, and other public edifices. We have been favoured with a sight of Mr Nixon's portfolio, and of some of his incipient efforts at etching, and, although not equal to what might be brought out in London, they are very creditable as Colonial productions. All attempts of this kind are deserving of encouragement, and we cannot, therefore, but wish this gentleman success.4

A few more weeks saw Nixon making progress with his etchings, this time noticed in the South Australian.

VIEWS IN ADELAIDE AND ITS VICINITY. – We have had the pleasure of inspecting a number of etchings by F. R. Nixon, Esq., of some of the most interesting scenes in Adelaide and its neighbourhood. As Mr Nixon is self-taught in his art, and had to manufacture all his machinery for preparing and pressing his etchings, he deserves the greatest credit for his industry, perseverance, and skill. Without reference to any of the disadvantages under which the author has labored, the etchings are superior as works of art, and accurately as well as pleasingly depict the scenes which they represent. Mr Nixon is also engaged in making an etching of Mr Ridley's reaping machine, which he intends publishing in a few days.5

The following month Nixon released his work to the South Australian public.

JUST PUBLISHED, A Series of Views in Adelaide and its neighbourhood, comprising –
  1. Government House and part of North Terrace.
  2. The Government Offices.
  3. St. John's Church.
  4. Hindley street.
  5. Hindley-street, looking West.
  6. Part of Adelaide.
  7. The City Mill.
  8. Frome Bridge.
  9. The South Australian Company's Mill on the Torrens.
  10. Klemzig (German Village on the Torrens).
  11. The Plains from Glen Osmond Mine.
  12. The Port.
ALSO, A Drawing of Ridley's Reaping Machine, price 1s.
To be had at Platts's Library, and at Mr Stephens's, Bookseller and Stationer, Hindley-street, Adelaide.6

The twelve views were priced at one guinea (21 shillings).

Artistic Eruption

Three months later Nixon triggered an artistic eruption. On the eve of George French Angas' Adelaide exhibition, Nixon wrote a letter to the editor of the South Australian newspaper, critiquing Angas' paintings and praising S.T. Gill. (This controversy will be the subject later of a separate article.) James Allen of the South Australian Register blasted both the editor and the correspondent. He criticised Nixon for writing before Angas' exhibition opened. He hit back too, claiming Nixon had "practised a gross imposition upon the colonists by the publication of twelve views around Adelaide, at a guinea, which were not intrinsically worth three farthings".7

Allen's criticism was very harsh – far harsher than Nixon – but some may have stuck. A quick look is enough to see that "Twelve Views" are roughly executed. But the problem was not Nixon's artistic ability. He was a good watercolour artist – see Identifying one of South Australia's Earliest Colonial Paintings | Bank of South Australia  (in which he seems to give the middle finger) – and a good cartoonist – see South Australia 1841 : military sketches and cartoons [SLSA B 3241/1-18] .

The problem was Nixon's unfamiliarity with engraving. This was his first (self-taught, self-manufactured) attempt. As such the set was probably overpriced at 21 shillings.

Nixon's separate drawing of Ridley's Reaping Machine saw further publication in June/July being included as a plate in "South Australia in 1844-45 ..." by Marcus Collison.

The Works and S.T. Gill

Nixon's controversial letter to the editor in June 18458 spoke of his familiarity and admiration of Gill's work. And Nixon's views have much in common with S.T. Gill, especially S.T. Gill's Series of Adelaide Views . There is a commonality in the views and one may well imagine the pair comparing notes. But it's also true that certain views were popular among artists, the most notable perhaps being the view of Port Adelaide from across the reach. (See S.T. Gill's Port Adelaide .)

The Twelve Views and the Reaping Machine prints are all available in Australian collections. But only one original work is identified – the watercolour of Adelaide viewed from the northwest. It is interesting to note James Allen used a picture of Klemzig for his lectures in England. Given Allen's criticism, it would be a surprise to find he used Nixon's print, but not implausible. Perhaps he used Angas' picture.

Nixon left South Australia for good in May 1846. He sailed for Mauritius. One presumes he took his original view watercolours with him. And in the manner of those discovery journey shows ... that's where I have to go to next. (I wish ;-)

Listed here are the reaping machine, the twelve views, and the northwest view watercolour.

To see these works, with accompanying notes, just scroll down or jump to the List of Works.


Some references are included with the individual works below.


1. Southern Australian, 7 July 1838: 3. <http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article71684627>
2. Southern Australian, 28 July 1838: 4. <http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article71684675>
3. Southern Australian, 10 November 1838: 4. <http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article71684892>
4. South Australian Register, 28 January 1845: 3. <http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article27449285>
5. South Australian, 21 February 1845: 3. <http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article71600740>
6. Adelaide Observer 22 March 1845: 1. <http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article158919884>
7. South Australian Register, 18 June 1845: 3. <http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article27450382>
8. South Australian, 17 June 1845: 3. <http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article71601839>

List of Works

You can scroll down to see all pictures along with detailed notes or click a link to jump to a specific work from the list.

Detailed notes each include a link to the map location for the view where available.

Dates in the descriptive text are generally in yyyy-mm-dd format and more specifically in Extended Date/Time Format (EDTF) .

Twelve Views in Adelaide and its Vicinity, South Australia (cover) | NGA 2006.51.1-12

Thumbnail image for NGA 2006.51.1-12Twelve Views in Adelaide and its Vicinity, South Australia (cover) | National Gallery of Australia 2006.51.1-12 
Artist: Nixon, F.R. | Date: 1845-02~/1845-03-22

"Twelve views in Adelaide and its Vicinity, South Australia / Drawn, Etched and Printed by F.R. Nixon" (cover). The bound volume containing 12 engraved plates was priced at one guinea.

568 10/10/2021 10:23:42 AM

Government House & part of N. Terrace, E. View | NGA 2006.51.1

Thumbnail image for NGA 2006.51.1Government House & part of N. Terrace, E. View | National Gallery of Australia 2006.51.1 
Artist: Nixon, F.R. | Date: 1845-02~/1845-03-22

The front of Government House (viewed from the ENE). The Governor's four-wheeled carriage is at the entrance. At left is the Government flagstaff and in the background is the Bank of South Australia (left), North Terrace. Also visible is a windmill – probably Phillips and Horne (acre 186) on the corner of Waymouth Street and West Terrace.

This is the exact same view as Gill's watercolour SLNSW-M PX*D 383 f.01, the only differences being the framing tree at right and minor foreground detal.

Map | S. T. Gill - Adelaide

498 10/10/2021 9:43:56 AM

Government Offices S. view | NGA 2006.51.2

Thumbnail image for NGA 2006.51.2Government Offices S. view | National Gallery of Australia 2006.51.2 
Artist: Nixon, F.R. | Date: 1845-02~/1845-03-22

This is a view of the Government Offices (acre 236) from across Flinders Street. At left is a street sign on the corner where King William Street leads (away) to the north. Background (right) has the old military barracks on Grenfell Street (acre 106).

This view is almost identical to Gill's wash drawing NLA NK2038/13 (Series of Adelaide Views). Nixon shows more of King William Street and adds the government flagstaff at the end.

Map | S. T. Gill - Adelaide

499 10/10/2021 9:44:03 AM

St John's Church | NLA S1161

Thumbnail image for NLA S1161St John's Church | National Library of Australia S1161 
Artist: Nixon, F.R. | Date: 1845-02~/1845-03-22

St. John's Church (acre 581) Halifax-street near East Terrace looking south-east with the hills in the background.

This print by Nixon is of a near identical view to Gill's NLA NK2038/25 (Series of Adelaide Views) but with a slightly more southerly angle. Unlike Gill, Nixon has chosen realism and shown all six side windows.

Map | S. T. Gill - Adelaide

504 10/10/2021 9:48:38 AM

Hindley Street | NGA 2006.51.4

Thumbnail image for NGA 2006.51.4Hindley Street | National Gallery of Australia 2006.51.4 
Artist: Nixon, F.R. | Date: 1845-02~/1845-03-22

Looking east along Hindley Street with the Mount Lofty Ranges in the background.

A very similar view to Gill's watercolour AGSA 0.944 but with added extent to the left to include Trinity Church and the Government flagstaff. Both pictures have the same building at right of picture.

Map | S. T. Gill - Adelaide

501 10/10/2021 9:49:00 AM

Hindley Street looking West | SLSA B 60128

Thumbnail image for SLSA B 60128Hindley Street looking West | State Library of South Australia B 60128 
Artist: Nixon, F.R. | Date: 1845-02~/1845-03-22

A view from Rundle Street, across the King William Street intersection and away along Hindley Street. Nixon includes the Rundle Street business signs of White, Tailor; Robinson; and Bean, Leather.

With the exception of Robinson, these are all also identified in Gill's watercolour AGSA 0.647. However Gill's picture, although having the same title, is viewed from closer to the intersection.

Map | S. T. Gill - Adelaide

500 10/10/2021 9:49:39 AM

Part of Adelaide, from the N.W. | NGA 2006.51.6

Thumbnail image for NGA 2006.51.6Part of Adelaide, from the N.W. | National Gallery of Australia 2006.51.6 
Artist: Nixon, F.R. | Date: 1845-02~/1845-03-22

A view from the northwest of the city of Adelaide across the grassed Park Lands with the Mount Lofty Ranges in the background. ("Mt. Lofty" is noted in Nixon's caption.) Buildings line the southern side of North Terrace. Trinity spire is the old one before it was removed for rebuilding in February 1845.

The engraving would have been based on Nixon's watercolour (NLA NK232). It's interesting to note he has omitted the soldiers.

Map | S. T. Gill - Adelaide

503 12/10/2021 7:58:28 AM

Adelaide seen from the N.W. | NLA NK232

Thumbnail image for NLA NK232Adelaide seen from the N.W. | National Library of Australia NK232 
Artist: Nixon, F.R. | Date: 1845-01~

A view from the northwest of the city of Adelaide across the grassed Park Lands with the Mount Lofty Ranges in the background. Buildings line the southern side of North Terrace – Trinity Church standing out. On the near side of the road is the foot police station. At near right the soldiers march from the city to the gaol. A group of Aboriginal people view the scene.

Trinity spire is the old one before it was removed for rebuilding in February 1845, making this 1845 painting likely to be January.

Nixon would have used this watercolour as the basis for his engraving.

Map | S. T. Gill - Adelaide

488 12/10/2021 8:02:49 AM

The City Mill, S. View | NGA 2006.51.7

Thumbnail image for NGA 2006.51.7The City Mill, S. View | National Gallery of Australia 2006.51.7 
Artist: Nixon, F.R. | Date: 1845-02~/1845-03-22

This is a view from the south of the City Mill on acre 464, Wright Street. The engraving is also captioned at lower left: "(Phillips' in the distance)" – referring to Phillips' mill. City Mill was the city of Adelaide's first windmill; Phillips (acre 186) was second.

Map | S. T. Gill - Adelaide

496 10/10/2021 9:44:38 AM

Frome Bridge | NGA 2006.51.8

Thumbnail image for NGA 2006.51.8Frome Bridge | National Gallery of Australia 2006.51.8 
Artist: Nixon, F.R. | Date: 1845-02~/1845-03-22

Frome Bridge on the Torrens River opened on 18 August 1842. It was located on a bend opposite Pulteney Street.

This picture is very similar in composition to James Henderson's sketch (SLSA B 2434/11). Although similar to the many Gill pictures of Frome Bridge, this is not identical to any of them. Nixon's version lacks common Gill features such as the rocky ford below the bridge and the distinctive log from flood debris.

Map | S. T. Gill - Adelaide

497 13/10/2021 3:54:25 PM

The S.A. Company's Mill on the Torrens, N. View | NGA 2006.51.9

Thumbnail image for NGA 2006.51.9Flour Mill, Hackney | National Gallery of Australia 2006.51.9 
Artist: Nixon, F.R. | Date: 1845-02~/1845-03-22

This is the South Australian Company's (SAC) steam flour mill on the River Torrens. The mill was completed around July 1842 on SAC land (acre 256) growing wheat. It was let by SAC to John Ridley who also had a steam flour mill at Hindmarsh. SAC commenced building a bridge here in October 1844.

Gill takes a different view of the mill in NLA NK2038/27 (Series of Adelaide Views), which likely predates this one by Nixon.

Map | S. T. Gill - Adelaide

507 10/10/2021 9:52:42 AM

Klemzig (German Village on the Torrens) | NLA S1168

Thumbnail image for NLA S1168Klemzig (German Village on the Torrens) | National Library of Australia S1168 
Artist: Nixon, F.R. | Date: 1845-02~/1845-03-22

This is dated February 1845 by Nixon in the picture.

Nixon displayed an early artistic interest in Klemzig which is only four miles from Adelaide and was the subject of his travel writing in 1842, identifying it as a prime artist's subject:
"Soon after leaving [Walkerville], you reach Klemzig – its name telling it is a German village. This again is another pretty spot, but wearing altogether a different aspect to that we have passed; nothing English here – even from the picturesque kirk down to the pony cart, all is different. In building the village, the people appear to have previously made a series of plans and sketches, by which their houses should be placed and formed; all is regular, and, at the same time, (though perhaps rather paradoxical,) extremely simple and picturesque. Again in the dress and looks of the people themselves, there is something certainly much more suited to a picture, or what an artist would select, than anything of the kind we might seek for among our own common-place commercial-looking countrymen. This is the same with their very carriages, their harness, their mode of driving..." ("South Australian Magazine", June 1842 issue. p.343-44. <https://nla.gov.au/nla.obj-1988478354/view?partId=nla.obj-1988496815#page/n38/mode/1up>)

The subject matter corresponds with James Allen's lecture 2, dissolving view 8.

This view is almost identical to the one in Angas' Sketchbook No. 3 (NLA R6521). Philip Jones thinks Nixon's engraving "appears to be a direct copy of Angas's pencil drawing or finished watercolour of Klemzig" (Jones 2021, 96-99). He doesn't give any evidence for this opinion, however there is much evidence against it.
  1. Content. Nixon's picture has more content than Angas'; there is a complete additional building (left foreground). It's not possible to copy what's not there.
  2. Opportunity. Nixon was a long time resident, surveyor and amateur artist, even writing about his artistic interest in Klemzig in the June 1842 "South Australian Magazine", well before Angas' visit to South Australia.
  3. Timing. Nixon published his "Twelve Views in Adelaide" in March 1845 while Angas was in town. Nixon's portfolio for this series was reported in the newspaper less than a week after Angas' return from New Zealand.
  4. Motivation. It's hard to imagine what interest Nixon would have had to copy the peripatic Angas for just one out of twelve scenes in his series and of a location just down the road.
  5. Absence of criticism. In June 1845 James Allen criticised Nixon's criticism of Angas, and heavily criticised Nixon's prints, but did not raise lack of originality.

Reference. Jones, Philip G. and Angas, George French. and National Library of Australia, issuing body. and South Australian Museum, issuing body. Illustrating the Antipodes : George French Angas in Australia & New Zealand, 1844-1845 / Philip Jones. NLA Publishing, Canberra ACT. South Australian Museum, Adelaide SA. 2021

Map | S. T. Gill - Adelaide District

502 19/10/2021 8:37:21 AM

The Plains from Glen Osmond Mine, Adelaide | NGA 2006.51.11

Thumbnail image for NGA 2006.51.11The Plains from Glen Osmond Mine, Adelaide | National Gallery of Australia 2006.51.11 
Artist: Nixon, F.R. | Date: 1845-02~/1845-03-22

A view of the Adelaide Plains. Although Adelaide and the Port can't be made out in the image, there is a windmill!

A similar view to Gill's plate in Dutton (1846): "The Adelaide Plains: Taken from Wheal Watkins Lead Mine".

Map | S. T. Gill - Adelaide District

505 10/10/2021 9:45:05 AM

The Port | NGA 2006.51.12

Thumbnail image for NGA 2006.51.12The Port | National Gallery of Australia 2006.51.12 
Artist: Nixon, F.R. | Date: 1845-02~/1845-03-22

A view generally south-east across Hindmarsh Reach (Gawler Reach) to Port Adelaide. The Mount Lofty Ranges are in the background. Prominent are the South Australian Company stores (McLaren warehouse, left) and the Customs House (right). Between them are the flagstaff and the canal beside Queen's Wharf. On the river side of the Customs House are the Queen's wharf warehouses. (The confiscated French ship "Ville de Bordeaux" is not in view and would be to the right of the picture's extent.)

Map | S. T. Gill - Port Adelaide

481 10/10/2021 10:21:32 AM

Ridley's Reaping Machine, S. Australia | SLNSW-M

Thumbnail image for SLNSW-M Ridley's Reaping Machine, S. Australia | Mitchell Library, State Library of New South Wales  
Artist: Nixon, F.R. | Date: 1845-03~

John Ridley built his reaping machine in 1843. He had constructed eight such machines by the end of 1844.

This is the only plate in COLLISSON, Marcus - "South Australia in 1844-45 ..." <https://collection.sl.nsw.gov.au/record/74Vvgk337yMM>

519 10/10/2021 9:37:42 AM

David Coombe, October 2021 | text copyright (except where indicated)
Updated 19 October 2021 08:38

CITE THIS: David Coombe, 2021, F.R. Nixon's Twelve Views, &c., 1845, accessed dd mmm yyyy, <http://coombe.id.au/1840s_South_Australia/F_R_Nixon's_Twelve_Views_etc_1845.htm>