After many years of search we believe we may at last have an image of the Skelton barque on which William and Margaret voyaged to Van Diemen’s Land. This photograph was taken recently (2017) from the original painting owned by Mr Ian Brown of Sydney, who has very kindly granted us permission to display it here.
Our thanks for this discovery are due to Mike Wilson and Jenny Brown, Mike for tracking down the existence of the painting and its possible general location, whilst Jenny focused us to a member of the Headlam family who was able to tell us just where it was. The Headlam family were fellow travellers on board the Skelton in 1820. It is understood the painting was originally in the possession of descendant members of the Roadknight family who were also voyagers on board Skelton. Members of the Brown and Roadknight families were known to one another in the Geelong area, being very involved in the Geelong Historical Society. Ian’s late father, Dr Philip Brown, acquired the painting at an Estate auction of chattels from the Estate of the Gladys Clare Roadknight after she died in 1971.
Unfortunately identification of the artist on the painting is uncertain, the ID we are advised being a handwritten note on the painting’s back saying it is the Skelton: placed there in the past presumably by an early member of the Roadknight family. How and when the Roadknight family originally came to own the painting is equally uncertain – did they purchase it from the artist, or perhaps they commissioned the artist to paint it as a commemorative of the five months they were aboard en route to Van Diemen’s Land in 1820. This chart depicts the ownership trail which we have been able to trace so far, John-Sleath-Hill-Skelton-Chart
If Captain Dixon did indeed create this image we must assume he was an accomplished artist as well as mariner: he is said also to have produced a painting of his later residence beside the Isis River in Tasmania, west of Campbelltown – a residence he named Skelton Castle – shown below. This painting is held by the Dickson Gallery, Mitchell Library in Sydney, and may be viewed by appointment. It is displayed n the Gallery below courtesy of The Dickson Gallery.
Skelton was shipwrecked and lost in 1828 soon after striking a submerged rock near Anguilla Island in the Caribbean – all on board survived, Captain Percy being in command then.
Mike has also produced the documents linked here Items-of-Interest-Related-to-the-Skelton and here Comparison-of-Skelton-with-260-ton-barque An image of Captain Dixon is shown in the gallery below – click gallery images to enlarge.
There is some debate as to whether the painting is set in Trinidad or in Tenerife in the Canaries, with passed down legendary stories from arms of the Headlam family, suggesting both. Trinidad and Tenerife harbours both have rugged mountains beyond their foreshores and immediate hinterland. Extensive browsing of the many images available on the internet of both locations has been inconclusive.
The Tenerife mountains look to be a better fit as to height and ruggedness, but the indigenous group on the left foreground of the painting would better support a Trinidad location – the indigenous of Trinidad derived from American Indians and were of darker skin colour than the Guanches of the Canaries, whose origins were of the generally paler skinned Berbers of North Africa.
Further, the Trinidad indigenous were noted for their coastal (American Indian style) canoes as displayed in the painting whilst it appears the Guanches had no history of canoe type water craft at all – no record or relics of such have ever been found: one might expect desert peoples like the Berbers might not readily assume a maritime culture (on the other hand how did they get to the Canaries).
Appropriate scientific expertise may in due course answer these questions. It may also be the artist painted the scene from memory so that the mountainous backdrop whilst based on one of these locations was somewhat imaginary, as were the inclusion of indigenous subjects – a not uncommon practice of colour artists.