sketcher, etcher and poet, was the eldest son of Andrew Murison and Georgiana Huntly McCrae . Born in Scotland on 29 May 1833, he was almost eight years old when he arrived at Port Phillip (Victoria) with his mother and three younger brothers in March 1841 to join their father. George and his brothers were given lessons by their mother. From 1842 they were also tutored by John McLure MA of Aberdeen, from whom they received 'a regular and systematic course of instruction’ and who proved to be a capable teacher and ideal companion. Like his mother George kept a diary, only a fragment of which has survived. It details his fascination with the birds, animals, reptiles, trees and flowers of the countryside around Arthur’s Seat on the Mornington Peninsula, (Vic.), and shows that even by the age of thirteen his powers of observation and ability to express himself were well developed. At Arthur’s Seat he also gained an understanding of and affection for the local Aboriginal people, greatly admiring (and learning from) their skill at fishing, hunting, swimming and riding. He was later to use Aboriginal legends and imagery in his writing.

From the age of seventeen to twenty-one George tried a variety of occupations, from surveying to retailing to banking. None suited him and in 1854 he joined the Victorian government service, where he remained until his retirement as deputy registrar-general in 1893. During this time he published a great deal of poetry as well as several works of fiction. A long poem in blank verse, The Man in the Iron Mask , published in 1873, was one of his most successful.

McCrae was an early member of the Yorick Club, together with Henry Kendall, Marcus Clarke and R.H. Horne , the group being said to form 'the only significant centre of literary interest and achievement in Victoria in the late sixties and seventies’. He was elected honorary secretary of the Victorian Society of Fine Arts at its inception in 1856 and exhibited a watercolour titled Victorian Butterflies at the society’s first exhibition. Although clearly regarding himself as a poet first and foremost, McCrae was a competent, lifelong sketcher. Contributions by him can be found in several of the illustrated journals of the 1860s and 1870s, while Garnet Walch’s 1875 Christmas annual On the Cards; or, A Motley Pack , a fantasy, is illustrated with his eccentric two-colour engravings of a deck of decorated cards (proofs SLNSW). His manuscript accounts of his travels in 1864, 1887 and 1894 are interspersed with sketches illustrating the scenes he describes, in Europe, Mauritius and the Seychelles. According to his son, Hugh: 'His heart was in Seychelles; and he had got the trick of talking to us in creole, the patois of the people. He drew a picture of a negro woman with a bundle on her head; and, adapting an ancient rhyme, wrote beneath: Where are you going to, Mozambicky maid? / Moi ne pas connay, m’si, she said’.

Hugh also noted that his father 'couldn’t draw a man, but he could draw a sailing ship against anybody. Oswald Brierly [q.v.] testified to the fact’. Brierly, whom he had met in youth, encouraged his interest in marine painting. In a letter to Hugh, Tom Roberts mentioned 'a pen and ink of two vessels beautifully done’. According to Moore, Nicholas Chevalier and R.H. Horne taught McCrae to etch.

Bruce, Candice
Date written:
Last updated: