painter and draughtsman, was born in London on 8 May 1824, one of the eight children – three boys and five girls – of the London engraver, lithographer and watercolour painter Henry Melville (1826-41) and his wife, Martha, née Harden. Harden’s career as a painter began with lessons from his father and at school but, as he explained in his (third person) autobiographical The Adventures of a Griffin on a Voyage of Discovery. Written by Himself (London 1867), he speedily began to regard with conceited contempt the drawing master’s copy, and acquired with some readiness the power of drawing from nature; and so in a few years, during which a medal had been gained at the Society of Arts, a picture or two placed near the ground at the [Royal] Academy Exhibition, and a provincial sketching tour or so had been accomplished, the young art-student became confirmed in his calling.

Indeed H.S. Melville had three paintings hung in the Royal Academy’s summer show between 1837 and 1841. They were sent in from the same London addresses as his brother Henry Alfred Melville , then also practising as a painter.

Splendid visions of the South Pacific acquired from reading Captain Cook’s Voyages as a boy, said Harden, induced him to accept the position of draughtsman on board HMS Fly in 1841. Under the command of Captain Francis Price Blackwood Fly and her tender Bramble conducted the first official hydrographic survey of the north-east coast of Australia in 1842 46. Melville later regretted this 'time given up from the regular practice of my profession and spent either in countries which rarely offered anything worthy of its exercise, or under circumstances which made that exercise almost impossible’. He found Australia very dreary, writing of 'the dull, matter-of-fact, dense, unchanging and monotonous forests of the vast and tractless Australian regions’, which he compared unfavourably with the romantic palm trees and spice groves of the East.

Nevertheless, a considerable body of Australian work is known. Original shipboard sketches of Pacific subjects are included in John Sweatman 's journal (ML). Bush Scene, Swan River, W.A. is in the National Library. The Adventures of a Griffin contains a frontispiece and twenty-nine other illustrations drawn on the wood by Melville from his original voyage sketches, then cut by H.N. Woods. They include Fern Tree Valley near Hobarton , Wombeyan Cave [NSW] and other picturesque views. How the Natives Danced the Corrobary was seen and sketched at Port Stephens (NSW), while two of the Aboriginal figures in Bush Scene – Port Stephens were, he said, 'taken at Sydney; the rest were taken on the spot’.

While in Van Diemen’s Land from 28 August to 30 September 1842, Melville drew 'a sketch of Lady Franklin’s native girl [Mathinna, see Thomas Bock ]; she seemed intelligent, but was very ugly, and of a more coppery colour than Australian blacks’. He was a member of the party that accompanied Governor Sir John Franklin in the government yacht on a tour of inspection of the penal stations on the Tasman Peninsula. When about to leave Port Arthur, 'the draughtsman [Melville] promised his Captain to make an oil sketch of two favourite Kangaroo-dogs of Captain Booth, the Commandant’ – the dogs having saved Booth’s life. According to Melville, the ship’s departure was delayed to allow him to finish this painting.

Annette Macarthur Onslow has discovered that Melville visited Camden Park in 1845; Emily Macarthur recorded it in her diary:

16 October – Went to the school. Hannibal, Emmeline and Mr. Melville came. Fires in the evening. [From that time there was a bit of sight seeing, driving around here and there, etc.]

17 October – Mr. Melville sketched Pussy [the pet name of Elizabeth Macarthur , then five years old. There were three sittings on different days until]

24 October – Mr. Melville left for Illawarra.

The National Library of Australia owns two coloured drawings of Elizabeth at exactly this age, which it claim are by Emily Macarthur, following an unconvincing attribution by Susanna de Vries. But such competent portrait sketches were well outside Emily’s artistic range and are clearly by a professional artist. They were presumably sold to the library by the distant relative to whom they had been bequeathed by Elizabeth Rothe, the last family member to own them.

By 1847 Harden S. Melville was back in London, living at 67 Charlotte Street, Fitzroy Square. As well as providing nineteen drawings and two maps for Joseph Beete Jukes’s official Narrative of the Surveying Voyage of H.M.S. Fly… (2 vols, London, 1847) he published a collection of twenty-five tinted lithographs (hand-coloured in the expensive edition), each with a leaf of descriptive notes, titled Sketches in Australia and the Adjacent Islands (London, 1849). Included are views of Port Essington (Northern Territory), the Queensland and New South Wales coasts, Port Phillip, Van Diemen’s Land, the Swan River (WA), New Guinea, Timor, Java and other places visited.

He seems to have provided all but one of the full-page illustrations in Ludwig Leichhardt’s Journal of an Overland Expedition in Australia, from Moreton Bay to Port Essington…1844 1845 (London, 1847), the exception being Charles Rodius ' drawing of the two NSW Aborigines who accompanied Leichhardt, Charley Fisher (from Bathurst) and Harry Brown (from Newcastle), which was undoubtedly drawn in Sydney. Some of John Murphy 's drawings were apparently used as small, unacknowledged vignettes in Leichhardt’s book, but the full-page illustrations, like Lagoon near the S. Alligator and Ranges Seen from a Granite Hill between the 2nd and 3rd Camp at the Burdekin , were of places Melville had visited on board the Fly . Victoria Square, Port Essington is actually a duplicate of Melville’s view in Jukes’s Voyage . The fact that Harden’s father lithographed the plates doubtless explains his involvement. Harden also supplied five illustrations of Australian Aborigines and their weapons for James Greenwood’s Curiosities of Savage Life (London, 1864). He added several of the figures introduced into views drawn by S.C. Brees when Brees published them as Pictorial Illustrations of New Zealand (London, 1848), with the lithographer again being Henry Melville senior. As well, Harden was one of the painters employed to turn Brees’s New Zealand sketches into a full-scale London panorama in 1849.

Melville showed two paintings and a drawing of an equestrian statue at the Royal Academy in 1859 and 1864 65; ten works appeared at the British Institution in 1848 65; and he exhibited seventeen works at the Society of British Artists, Suffolk Street between 1847 and 1879. Only one appears to have been of an Australian subject, an oil painting entitled The Squatter’s Hut – News from Home (NGA), shown at Suffolk Street in 1851. Issued as a colour-etched and wood-engraved 'Baxter print’ in 1853 titled Australia. News from Home , it depicts three men in a rough bush hut containing their possessions, a pet sulphur-crested cockatoo and numerous dogs. Two hideous caricatures of Aborigines have just delivered a letter and a copy of the Illustrated London News (showing the Crystal Palace, London) which two of the men are avidly reading. A more sentimental companion print, News from Australia , was produced in 1854 (at the height of the Victorian gold-rush), possibly after a painting by Chester Earles . It shows an elderly cobbler and his wife in their British hovel listening to their daughter reading a letter from Australia while their son jumps with joy at the £100 note enclosed, seemingly about to heed the poster on the wall advertising emigration to Melbourne in the ship Hope . As a pair, they were among the most popular of the well-known Baxter prints. Melville obviously varied his style for his market. The Aborigines in the English oil painting and print bear little relation to the sympathetic ethnographic illustrations he made as a naval draughtsman, e.g. the group of sensitively drawn Aborigines in the foreground of his view of the hospital at Victoria, Port Essington (1846).

Harden S. Melville has been confused with his brother, Henry Alfred Melville, who lived in Sydney from about 1841 until he died, aged thirty, in 1849. Although trained as a painter and exhibiting work at major London art exhibitions between 1826 and 1841 Henry junior worked as a schoolteacher in New South Wales. As the Sydney Morning Herald stated in 1847, when Henry was operating his Commercial Academy at 30 Elizabeth Street, he was 'following, from necessity, another profession’. Although not known to have painted in Sydney, Henry may have exhibited an old work there: Scene from the Lord of the Isles . A scene from Lord Howe Island, however, identified in the Herald of 24 July 1847 as being by 'H.A. Melville’ was surely by Harden, Lord Howe being on the Fly 's itinerary.

All the Melville paintings shown at the second exhibition of the Society for the Promotion of the Fine Arts in Australia in 1849 were demonstrably by Harden. James Melville lent Sporting on the Moors , while Charles Rodius (Harden’s fellow illustrator in the Leichhardt journals) exhibited Harden’s The Flute Player , considered to be 'A drawing from the hand of a true artist, full of colour, character, and effect’. Cornelius Delohery showed Harden’s Poacher in a Storm , labelled 'another favourable specimen of the talents of this artist in a different branch’. Design from Scottish History by 'H.S. Melville’, called 'A drawing of a high character in the Cattermole school, affording another evidence of the varied talent of the artist’, was lent by H.A. Melville. His English work also appeared in New South Wales e.g. Bloodhound with Armour was shown (non-competitively) by Sidney Douglass at the 1870 Sydney Intercolonial Exhibition.

On 22 October 1851, Melville married Fanny Beale in the parish of Speen, County of Berkshire. In 1881 there were at least five living children of the marriage: Frances E., another Harden S., Henry B. (an artist), Jessie M. and Lydia. Harden S. Melville died in North London in the second quarter of 1894.

Staff Writer
Date written:
Last updated: