LEWIN, John William (1770-1819)


LEWIN, John William (1770-1819)
first field naturalist and first engraver in Australia
was born in London in 1770. His father, William Lewin, was also an artist and naturalist, his Birds of Great Britain in seven volumes was published in 1789-94. There are varying accounts about the time of Lewin's arrival in Sydney. What really happened was that Lewin was to have sailed on the Buffalo but was for some reason prevented. His wife came to Sydney on that vessel and arrived there on 3 May 1799. Lewin came on the Minerva, which arrived on 11 January 1800. (Journal and Proceedings Royal Australian Historical Society, vol. V, pp. 236-7). In March 1801 he was attached to Lieutenant Grant's (q.v.) expedition to the south-west of Australia on the Bee, a tender to the Lady Nelson, but four days after the start the Bee was sent back to Port Jackson. In August he was with the expedition to the Hunter River, and in November he was on the Norfolk on a voyage to Otaheite. The Norfolk was driven ashore in March 1802, but without loss of life, and Lewin was brought back to Sydney in December of that year. He endeavoured to establish himself as a miniature and portrait painter and teacher of art, but there was probably little demand for his services, as some years later, in May 1808, his wife was keeping the Bunch of Grapes inn and store. He lived at Parramatta for a period, and during 1803-4 he drew, engraved and coloured the plates for Prodromus Entomology Natural History of Lepidopterous Insects of New South Wales. This was published in London in 1805 and contained the first engravings done in Australia. A second edition appeared in 1822. His second work, Birds of New Holland with their Natural History, vol. I, was published in London in 1808. It was subsequently issued under the titles Birds of New South Wales, and A Natural History of the Birds of New South Wales, in 1813, 1822 and 1838, but the colouring of some of the plates in the later issues was badly done. There are bibliographical problems in connexion with this book, and collectors acquiring copies may be advised to look for the watermark to be found in the paper of some of the plates, and Ferguson's Bibliography of Australia should also be consulted. In May 1808 Lewin did himself honour by signing, with 11 others, an address to Lieut.-governor Paterson with regard to the deposition of Bligh, in which they protested against what had been done "as the highest insult to the King, in the Person of his Representative, Governor Bligh; the highest outrage and contempt to the British government and the Laws . . . and to all regular Government, subordination and discipline so necessary in this Colony". In 1810 Governor Macquarie (q.v.) made Lewin coroner, with a salary of £40 a year and rations for himself and family. His salary was afterwards increased to £80 a year. In December 1817 Lewin had the opportunity of going with P. P. King (q.v.) on his voyage of discovery around Australia, presumably as naturalist and artist, but declined on account of the difficulty of providing for his family during his absence. He had now obtained a reputation as an artist, and Macquarie, on 15 December 1817, sent some examples of his drawings of plants to Earl Bathurst with the suggestion that Lewin's "Talents might be most usefully employed here in the service of the Government exclusively". In March 1819 Macquarie sent eight more drawings by Lewin of animals, birds and plants, to Earl Bathurst. Lewin, however, died on 27 August 1819 leaving a widow and son. Mrs Lewin was given a pension of £50 a year.
Froggatt (q.v.) in his memoir speaks with respect of Lewin as a naturalist, stating that "he collected the insects in all stages of development, studied their life histories, noted their food plants, and made accurate coloured drawings from the living insects". His drawings of birds are often good, and he did much other work including landscapes. Examples will be found at the Mitchell library, Sydney. His Map of Part of New South Wales, embellished with views of Sydney and its harbour, was published in London in 1825.
Historical Records of Australia, ser. I, vols. II, III, V to X, XII; W. Moore, The Story of Australian Art; W. W. Froggatt, The Australian Naturalist, January 1930; J. A. Ferguson, Bibliography of Australia; J. J. Fletcher, Proceedings of the Linnean Society of N.S.W., vol. XLV, pp. 572-4; Sir William Dixson, Journal and Proceedings Royal Australian Historical Society, vol. V, pp. 236-40; A. G. Foster, ibid, vol. V, p. 163; G. P. Whitley, ibid, vol. XIX, p. 297; Alfred J. North, Records of the Australian Museum, vol. VI, p. 121; A. Musgrave, Bibliography of Australian Entomology.

Dictionary of Australian Biography by PERCIVAL SERLE. . 1949.

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