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Broinowski, Gracius Joseph (1837–1913)

by A. H. Chisholm

This article was published in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 3, (MUP), 1969

Gracius Joseph Broinowski (1837-1913), by G. C. Beresford

Gracius Joseph Broinowski (1837-1913), by G. C. Beresford

National Library of Australia, nla.pic-an22922403

Gracius Joseph Broinowski (1837-1913), artist and ornithologist, was born on 7 March 1837 at Walichnowy, near Wielun, Poland, son of Gracius Broinowski, landowner and military officer, and his wife Alicia, née Nieszkowska. He was educated privately and at Munich University where he studied classics, languages and art subjects. Later, to avoid being conscripted into the Russian army, he went to Germany and there was robbed of all his possessions. A period of privation followed both on the Continent and in London, and about 1857 he joined a windjammer bound for Australia. Experiences at sea appear to have been very trying for him, so that he was glad to swim ashore at Portland, Victoria, and walk into the country. On that journey, according to his own record, he met with the only act of kindness he had received since leaving home: an elderly Scottish lady provided a meal and sent him on his way with 'new courage'.

After working in country areas for a few years Broinowski found employment with a firm of publishers in Melbourne; he then travelled widely in Victoria, New South Wales and Queensland, painting landscapes and scenes of various towns and promoting 'art unions' with his pictures as prizes. About 1863 at Richmond, Victoria, he married Jane Smith, daughter of the captain of a whaler. Settling in Sydney in 1880 he taught painting to private pupils and at colleges, lectured on art and exhibited at various showings of the Royal Art Society. His life continued to be, however, as it had been since leaving home, largely a matter of 'battling'. He was naturalized at Sydney in 1886.

Broinowski's first commercial venture into the field of natural history, the type of work that was to perpetuate his name, appears to have been a commission to supply the Department of Public Instruction in New South Wales with pictures of Australian birds and mammals. These illustrations, mounted on board and varnished, were hung in classrooms in many schools in the 1880s. But instead of taking a thousand copies, as originally arranged, the department took only five hundred. Broinowski therefore had a number of sets bound with appropriate text; copies at the Mitchell and National Libraries show them as Birds and Mammals of Australia … 'by Gracius J. Broinowski. Sydney. Printed by G. Murray, 91 Clarence Street, Wynyard Square'. In the same period it was proposed to bring out a 'small popular edition of the late Mr. Gould's Birds and Mammals of Australia', but a London firm intervened and the project was abandoned. In 1888 he published The Cockatoos and Nestors of Australia and New Zealand.

Broinowski had begun in 1887 to prepare a series of volumes entitled The Birds of Australia. This work, of forty parts in six volumes, was accomplished while its artist-author was farming at Campbelltown, New South Wales, and was completed in 1891; it carries some three hundred full-page illustrations and notes on over seven hundred species. For ornithologists neither the text nor the pictorial work has particular merit, except perhaps as examples of devotion by a man who had 'jumped' into his subject; yet with the passage of time the set of volumes has attained much value with collectors. A similar point obtains regarding three prospectuses issued by Broinowski, all relating to proposed books that failed to appear; one of them bears the date 1897 and the other two were prepared in 1910.

Broinowski died at Mosman, Sydney, on 11 April 1913. He was survived by his widow, six sons and a daughter. His reputation endures as that of a hard-working but somewhat frustrated migrant who did useful service to Australian schools and the public, not only as an artist but as an advocate of fauna conservation.

Select Bibliography

  • G. Mathews, ‘G. J. Broinowski’, Emu, vol 41, part 3, Jan 1942, pp 195-99
  • T. Iredale, ‘Broinowski's Birds and Mammals of Australia’, Proceedings of the Royal Zoological Society of New South Wales, 1954-55, pp 14-16
  • K. A. Hindwood, ‘Gracius Joseph Broinowski: His Books and His Prospectuses’, Australian Zoologist, vol 13, part 4, Dec 1966, pp 357-69.

Citation details

A. H. Chisholm, 'Broinowski, Gracius Joseph (1837–1913)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/broinowski-gracius-joseph-3061/text4513, published first in hardcopy 1969, accessed online 1 October 2016.

This article was first published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 3, (MUP), 1969

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