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Thursday, 25 December 2014

Which New Zealand photographer became chief cartoonist on the Sydney Punch, and Queensland’s Worker and was known for his paintings of racehorses?

Eugene Montagu Scott (1835-1909)

In a career spanning some 50 years Montagu Scott produced around 3000 front-page, full-page or double-page illustrations for a variety of Australian publications. He was Australia’s, if not the world’s, most prolific 19th century cartoonist; only Alice in Wonderland illustrator, Sir John Tenniel, is said to have matched his output.

Scott was born in London in 1835, the son of artist and portrait painter, William Scott, and his American wife Sarah. His siblings Walter, William and Emily Anne all became accomplished artists in their own right, and it may have been sibling rivalry that prompted Montagu, in July 1855, to accompany his cousins Robert Manfred, Arabella and Julia, on the Joseph Fletcher bound for New Zealand. Among the other cabin passengers was the Reverend John Kinder. Today Kinder is known, amongst other things, for his skill as a watercolourist, but it was Montagu Scott who was dubbed “the artist on board” by a fellow migrant.

Immediately on arrival in Auckland in October 1855, Scott took rooms adjacent to the Masonic Hotel in Princes Street, and advertised “portraits on glass” – ambrotypes - plain or coloured, from 10 shillings “including frame”. Unfortunately his chemicals had succumbed to the sea air on the voyage, and he was forced to suspend his photographic activities until fresh supplies arrived from Sydney. In the meantime he offered tuition in painting and drawing, eventually establishing formal segregated drawing classes to supplement his income from photography. He was, after all, as an “Exhibitor at the Royal Academy, London”, supremely qualified for this role, although he neglected to point out that he had exhibited just one work - a portrait of “James Smith Esq”. He also made good use of his artistic skills at the Theatre Royal in Victoria Street, repainting the stage doors, adding decoration, and painting the drop scene for a production of Ali Baba.

But with the theatre in financial difficulties, and sustained competition from other photographers and artists, Scott determined to try his luck in Australia. In August 1856 he left Auckland on the Elenora, arriving in Sydney on 15 September 1856, en route for Melbourne. When in 1868 he was commissioned to paint a portrait of the visiting Duke of Edinburgh for the princely sum of 250 guineas, at the time highest fee ever commanded for a portrait in the Colonies, it must have seemed like a very shrewd move. But Scott had already survived a catastrophic bankruptcy in 1860, and despite simultaneously working as both an artist and photographer and, from 1866, as chief cartoonist on the Sydney Punch, he was again declared bankrupt in 1870, and forced to sell his photographic equipment. In the 1880s he went on to work for the radical Brisbane-based Boomerang and Queensland’s Worker. But his finances barely improved, and despite the popularity of his paintings of racehorses, he was once again bankrupted in August 1908. He died on 15 May 1909 at Randwick, Sydney.
On arrival in Auckland in October 1856, Scott rented rooms and set up a photographic studio in Princes Street, probably in what had been (until 1847) Wood's Royal Hotel, but was now the Claremont Boarding House (left). The building in the centre is the Union Bank of Australia;  the Masonic Hotel can be seen centre right. (Sir George Grey Special Collections, Auckland Libraries. 4-16)

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