Military officer, James Taylor, arrived in Sydney in 1817 with the 48th Foot Regiment aboard the Matilda. Taylor produced a number of paintings and prints throughout his tours and his panoramic works of Sydney were particularly popular.
painter and military officer, arrived at Sydney on 9 August 1817 in the convict transport Matilda with the 48th (Northamptonshire) Foot Regiment which was replacing the 46th as the official military force in New South Wales. Little is known of his background. He entered the 48th Foot Regiment as an ensign in 1804, was promoted lieutenant on 25 April 1805, captain on 4 June 1807, brevet-major on 21 September 1813, major on 26 July 1822 (after his return from New South Wales) and lieutenant-colonel on 8 June 1825, succeeding Erskine as commander of the Indian detachment. He died at Bellary near Madras, India, on 10 August 1829.
In 1808 and 1809 the 48th Regiment had served in the Peninsular Wars, taking part in the battles of Douro, Talvavera, Albuera, Badajos, Salamanca, Vittoria, Pyrenees, Nivelle, Orthes and Toulouse. In comparison, the posting to New South Wales was peaceful, disturbed mainly by a dispute about the government windmill. This had been lent to the regiment and Major Taylor presided at the court of inquiry into its operations. He also presented a long memorandum to the royal commissioner, J.T. Bigge, about the defences of Port Jackson, favouring South Head rather than Governor Macquarie’s choice of Bennelong Point.
The incident apparently had no effect on Taylor’s relations with the governor as he accompanied the Macquaries’ official party on their tour of Van Diemen’s Land in May and June 1821; some of the Tasmanian views in Joseph Lycett 's Views were probably after Taylor’s drawings made during this visit. Shortly afterwards Taylor was granted two years’ sick leave and left for England with his son on 15 February 1822 as members of the vice-regal party returning to England in the Surry . Taylor rejoined his regiment in 1825, sailing for India with Colonel Erskine in May. Erskine died within a few days of their arrival and Taylor assumed command, retaining this position until his own death.
Taylor would have received some training in draughtsmanship as part of his military studies. Like other military and naval officers sent to distant parts of the world he was interested enough in his surroundings to record them as visual images, although now only very few watercolours remain to testify to his talent as an artist. Four are attributed large works (about 56 × 113 cm), bold and assured. Three (one ML, two p.c.) are believed to be the originals from which the plates of Taylor’s best-known work, a three-part panorama of Sydney, was engraved. The watercolours are signed with what appear to be later inscriptions, the only work apparently signed contemporaneously being a view of Sydney from the North Shore. This watercolour, with a set of the engravings and Taylor’s small watercolour of Erskine Park near Penrith (NSW), was presented to the Mitchell Library by a descendant of the Erskine family.
Also in the Mitchell Library is another view of Sydney attributed to Taylor on stylistic grounds, found among Governor Macquarie’s personal papers . John Oxley 's Journals of Two Expeditions into the Interior of New South Wales (London 1820) includes three engraved plates by Robert Havell after drawings by Taylor taken from field sketches by the surveyor G. W. Evans . The only other known works that could have some connection with Taylor are three sepia watercolours in the Mitchell Library. One of Arbuthnot’s Range relates to the engraving in Oxley’s Journals ; the other two show coastal scenes in northern New South Wales.
Taylor seems to have arranged the engraving and printing of the three-sheet panorama based on his watercolours immediately upon his return to England in July 1822. He was fortunate to acquire the services of the foremost London engravers and print publishers, Robert Havell and Colnaghi’s. In 1823 Colnaghi’s issued a single-sheet prospectus announcing its publication, and the date of publication on the imprint of each view is given as August 1823. The arrival of the prints in the antipodes was marked by a notice in the Sydney Gazette of 3 June 1824: 'J. Paul has just received several sets of beautifully executed coloured prints forming a panoramic view of Sydney, from designs by Major Taylor of the 48th, and now exhibiting in London at Barker’s Panorama’.
As presented at Barker & Burford’s Panorama Building in Leicester Square, the panorama would necessarily have been a full 360-degree view, since at such entertainments visitors stood in the middle of a circular room embraced by an enlarged, continuous painted scene. It is not known if Taylor himself completed the extra painting necessary to achieve the full circular view of Sydney from his single fixed point in the grounds of the Military Hospital (the present National Trust Centre) but the unusual perspective certainly suggests that this was his intention. In the event, when his Sydney panorama was published Taylor’s fourth (known) part, depicting the controversial windmill, was omitted, probably because it did not show much of the town and lacked human interest. Havell apparently worked from the large watercolours but amended them with additional details, new buildings (such as St James’s Church) and decorative elements (such as flower gardens and other vegetation).
Combined with the delicate and precise tints of the English colourists—different from the predominant browns and greens of the watercolours—the resulting aquatints have a more refined appearance than the originals, or than the place itself. These London 'improvements’ and the absence of any indication that the three prints need to be appreciated as part of a circular vision exonerates Taylor of the charges levelled against him by G.T.W.B. Boyes , a fellow sketcher and deputy-assistant-commissary in Sydney, who scathingly remarked in a letter written in May 1824 that 'nothing in the shape of Drawings has yet left the Colony except a few by Major Taylor of the 48th and they have very little merit. I have the prints made from them and they are so deficient in perspective and local character that they lose all effect’.
Boyes’s opinion was not general, for the panorama proved popular. It was copied in reduced single-sheet size for a French edition issued later in the 1820s (Powerhouse Museum, Sydney) and two English lithographic editions after the French version appeared before 1830. Unusual survivors in the history of nineteenth-century Australian printmaking are the original copperplates (Dixson Galleries).