Burn, Henry

(1807 - 26 October 1884)

Little has been recorded about the artist Henry Burn, whose paintings and lithographs of early Melbourne and the neighbourhood now provide such valuable evidence of the local scene.

The son of Samuel Burn, described as a ‘varnish maker’ and his wife Hannah (nee Oliver), Henry Burn was born in Birmingham, England, about 1807. Of his early training nothing has been traced though he claimed to have been apprenticed to ‘an Artist and Drawing Master’ and it is possible that he received instruction from Samuel Lines, one of the founders of the Birmingham School of Art, and later of the Birmingham Society of Artists.

Although Burn claimed to have been ‘a pretty constant exhibitor at the Royal Academy’ inquiries have shown that in fact he exhibited only on one occasion, in 1835, but he is known to have exhibited with the Birmingham Society of Artists in 1832 -- when his watercolour Kenilworth Castle received unfavourable notice in the local press -- and again in 1850. Another of Burn's claims ‘to have taught drawing at the best schools in Leamington, Warwickshire, and in the neighbourhood’ also has not been substantiated.

That he was a competent architectural draughtsman is evident from his view of St. Mary's Church, Birmingham (1842), and from his drawing of King Edward's School, New Street, Birmingham, lithographed by Thomas Underwood, a former pupil of Samuel Lines, who had a substantial ‘Lithographic Establishment’ offering professional services to architects, surveyors and manufacturers, and ‘retaining artists constantly on the premises’.

Whatever Burn's daily occupation may have been, there is evidence that at least between 1840 and 1852, he travelled quite extensively about England -- as far north as Yorkshire, as far south as Dorset, and particularly about the Midlands -- and lithographed on stone a number of topographical ‘Views’ of English towns, including:
Bournemouth (1840),
Blandford (n.d.),
Weymouth (1842),
Wolverhampton (1844),
Walsall (1845),
Birmingham (1845),
Nottingham (1846),
Derby (1846),
Leeds (1846),
Halifax (1847),
Shrewsbury (1847),
Worcester (n.d.),
Northampton (n.d.),
Leicester (n.d.), and
Winchester (1852);
most of which are to be found in the local history collections of County libraries. A typical example is Halifax taken from Beacon Hill (1847), where the carefully placed trees and foliage in the foreground frame the more distant view of the town with its meticulous delineation of individual buildings, but three early prints of the fashionable watering-place of Weymouth in Dorset, show eye-level views of the esplanade along the sea-front. One of these is much sought after by English collectors of ‘aeronautica’ since it shows hovering over the town the Albion Balloon, which made its ascent from the Weymouth Racecourse ‘witnessed by an immense assemblage’ on 12 August 1842, later coming down at Blandford.

In none of these places can Burn be traced in directories or other local records. Also, unsuccessful has been the search for a copy of his Views of Walsall and the neighbourhood (Wolverhampton, T. Simpson) and it seems possible that this may have been a prospectus for some of his separately published ‘Views’ which, following the contemporary custom, were usually sold on a subscription basis and dedicated to various persons of distinction.

On 16 October 1852, Burn sailed from Liverpool on the barque Baltimore, arriving in Melbourne on 30 January 1853. He is described on the Passenger List as ‘Artist’, aged 43. Also on board were Samuel Cane of Southwark, Surrey, his wife Mary and a family of six sons and three daughters, the eldest of whom, Susan Cane, Burn was to marry seven years later.

Following his English custom, Burn soon attempted to attract subscribers to a ‘View’ of Melbourne, the Argus of 19 December 1853, referring to a recently completed watercolour.

© Copyright is owned by the State Library of Victoria.; A Note on Henry Burn, 1807?–1884
Manuscript: The Capture of Ned Kelly
James Bonwick. I. Towards a Bibliography. II. The Bonwick Transcripts
Select List of Additions to the Australian Manuscript and Historical Picture Collections, 1972
© Ownership: The Latrobe Library Journal

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