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Records of an Australian adventure facing export from UK

01 August 2013

Museums and Libraries

A collection of paintings, drawings and additional material that document a 19th century British exploration of northern Australia could be exported permanently unless a UK buyer can be found.

Culture Minister Ed Vaizey has taken the decision to defer granting an export licence for the works, following a recommendation by the Reviewing Committee on the Export of Works of Art and Objects of Cultural Interest (RCEWA). The RCEWA, administered by Arts Council England, are of the opinion that the collection is of outstanding significance for the study of British Colonial history and the exploration of Australia in the mid-19th century.

All the paintings, watercolours, drawings and the chart are by Thomas Baines (1820-1875). Between 1841 and the early 1860s Baines worked as artist to a succession of British expeditions, initially to Australia and later in Africa, where he accompanied Livingstone. The works currently at risk of export were completed during the Gregory expedition to northern Australia in 1855-6. They entered the Royal Geographical Society’s collection on Baines’ return to the United Kingdom in 1857.

The collection consists of:
• 21 oil paintings on canvas, all measuring 45.1 x 66 cm;
• Four notebooks containing a letter, studio photograph of Baines, and 272 drawings and watercolours, mainly of North-Western Australia but also of Port Jackson and of Timor and other Indonesian islands, all taken in the course of Arthur Gregory’s expedition to northern Australia;
• Nine folding panoramas;
• Seven unframed drawings and watercolours of various sizes; and
• One chart and route traverse in pencil, pen, ink and watercolour showing the tracks of the ships involved in the expedition, measuring overall 124.5 x 155.6 cm.

The works provide an extraordinarily direct, informative and evocative record of the landscape and peoples of Northern Australia and Indonesia during the time of the expedition, and such a unique group of material offers a wonderful opportunity for further research to be undertaken.

Culture Minister Ed Vaizey said:

“This collection of works that document Gregory’s exploration of Northern Australia is remarkable and to see such a collection all still together is incredibly rare. I do hope that this fascinating record of British exploration in the 1800s remains in the UK where it can be studied in more detail, and I encourage any interested parties to contact the Arts Council at the earliest opportunity.”

The decision on the export licence application for the collection of works will be deferred for a period ending on 31 October 2013 inclusive. This period may be extended until 30 April 2014 inclusive if a serious intention to raise funds to purchase the works is made at the recommended price of £4,200,000 (plus VAT which can be reclaimed by most institutions).


Notes to editors

1. Organisations or individuals interested in purchasing the works should contact RCEWA on 0845 300 6200.

2. The Reviewing Committee on the Export of Works of Art and Objects of Cultural Interest is an independent body, serviced by Arts Council England, which advises the Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport on whether a cultural object, intended for export, is of national importance under specified criteria.

3. Arts Council England champions, develops and invests in artistic and cultural experiences that enrich people’s lives. Between 2010 and 2015, it will invest £1.9 billion of public money from government and an estimated £1.1 billion from the National Lottery to help create these experiences for as many people as possible across the country.

Contact information

Arts Council England
Arts Council England
Job Title
Duty Press