sketcher, explorer, clerk and convict, known as William, was described as 'the noted swindler’ on 27 January 1786 when sentenced at the Liverpool Quarter Sessions to transportation for seven years for cheating a storekeeper. After months in the hulks, he embarked for New South Wales on 6 January 1787 on board the Alexander . At Port Jackson on 10 February 1788 he married Mary McCormack, another First Fleet convict. Employed in the commissariat office issuing spirits, Parr received 200 lashes in May for misusing his position; a similar sentence was handed out for the theft of a pumpkin in 1790. By 1791 he had settled on a 50-acre grant at the Northern Boundary Farms. Watkin Tench visited him there in December and noted that he was a man of great industry, yet although he had built a house and altogether spent 13 guineas on the property, rural life apparently did not suit this former 'merchant’s clerk’ who, Tench added, did not seem pleased with the place.

Nothing further is known of Parr until 1814, but the possibility that he provided natural history drawings for John White and other officials cannot be dismissed. When Thomas William Parr – clearly the same man – sued the publisher Absalom West for the £40 West owed him for making four commissioned drawings of the town he was obviously an experienced, if naive, artist. The case was heard on 19 April 1814 and dismissed (perhaps in the light of Parr’s previous record, although both protagonists and most of the witnesses were convicts or emancipists). Nevertheless, it is informative about the complicated genesis of West’s Views in New South Wales , published 1813-14, and the various artists involved. West claimed Parr’s pencil drawings were of no use to him, yet Philip Slaeger , who had earlier engraved for West but testified for Parr, swore that after seeing the first view and assuring West that he could make a good engraving from it West told him that it was the best drawing that had been done for him in the colony. Originally West had offered John Lewin the commission (for £100), but Lewin 'was afraid to go on the church steeple’ and was said to have agreed to colour the views afterwards since 'Mr Parr did not colour’. Slaeger stated that West had expressed a similar satisfaction with two further drawings and it was not until Joseph Lycett turned up in Sydney that he began to say that Parr’s views 'were good for nothing’.

For the defendant, Lewin testified that Parr’s drawings were, in his opinion, 'mere plans or charts’ and he would not colour them as he had not drawn them. He did not think good engravings could be made from them, even in England, as they lacked perspective. Lycett ('now employed by West in making drawings of Sydney’) agreed with Lewin that the sketches were unsuitable for engraving, being inaccurate and incomplete, a 'complete drawing’ in his opinion being 'an accurate delineation of any thing with its true light & shade’ and in watercolour unless otherwise specified. Richard Read senior rightly disagreed with this definition; he thought that Parr had indeed provided 'complete drawings’ and satisfied the terms of the contract in that respect, although as a portrait and historical painter Read felt incompetent to judge them as landscapes.

Nothing further is known of any artistic activity by Parr, who obviously did not work as a professional artist (so it is hardly surprising to find the professional painters more or less united in defending their fledgling profession against an outsider). In 1817-18 William Parr was employed by John Oxley as a mineralogist on Oxley’s expeditions to the interior beyond the Blue Mountains, when he collected minerals and metal ores and tested them with acid supplied from the Sydney medical dispensary. Recording specimens on field trips would explain why Parr confidently drew in pencil but did not colour.

Staff Writer
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