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Edward La Trobe Bateman (1815–1897)

by Daniel Thomas

This article was published:

Edward La Trobe Bateman (1815-1897), by unknown photographer, 1870s

Edward La Trobe Bateman (1815-1897), by unknown photographer, 1870s

La Trobe Picture Collection, State Library of Victoria, H94.118

Edward La Trobe Bateman (1815?-1897), book illuminator, draughtsman, architectural decorator and garden designer, was born on 8 January 1816 in Lower Wyke, Yorkshire, England, son of John Frederick Bateman, manufacturer, of Moravian stock, and his wife Mary Agnes née La Trobe. He was a nephew of Benjamin Latrobe, architect for major buildings in Washington and Baltimore, and a cousin of Lieutenant-Governor Charles La Trobe. One brother, Frederick, became a civil engineer; another, Henry, compiled a collection of hymns.

In London early in 1849 Bateman became known to the writers, Mary and William Howitt, and to the pre-Raphaelite artists, Thomas Woolner, Bernhard Smith, J. E. Millais and D. G. Rossetti, who all refer to him as an 'illuminator'. In 1850 Bateman became engaged to Anna Mary, daughter of William and Mary Howitt, on the eve of her departure for two years of study in art at Munich; she broke the engagement in 1853 after Bateman went to Australia; later she married Alfred Watts. Mrs Howitt records that he designed and made rustic furniture for the Hermitage, a house he had taken at Highgate, 'owned such treasures of old china as would make an antiquarian rave', brought them exquisite work out of medieval missals, had no money and worked under Owen Jones. Jones had his own press and trained his workmen to produce from 1841 the first and finest chromolithographic books issued in England. Two at least of his 'illuminated' gift books, Fruits from Garden and Field (1850) and Winged Thoughts (1851), were chromolithographed by Bateman with flowers and birds to accompany poems by Mary Ann Bacon. Later sources claim that Bateman helped Jones on his famous Grammar of Ornament, but it was published in 1856 and has no such acknowledgment. Another late and more likely claim is that under Jones, who was responsible for decoration of the interior structure of the Crystal Palace, Bateman arranged and decorated the Fine Arts Court at the Great Exhibition in 1851.

In spring 1852 Rossetti stayed for some time with Bateman at the Hermitage. Then William Howitt set off for the Victorian goldfields, and a month later Bateman, Woolner and Bernhard Smith also joined the gold rush. In July they were seen on board the Windsor at Gravesend by Holman Hunt, Ford Madox Brown and Rossetti who noticed they were all 'plentifully stocked with corduroys, sou'-westers, jerseys, firearms, and belts full of little bags to hold the expected nuggets'. This occasion inspired Madox Brown's painting 'The Last of England'. Mrs Howitt took over the lease of the Hermitage.

In Victoria on the road to the diggings William Howitt's well-organized party overtook the trio and Bateman transferred his allegiance. He stalked ahead 'with a courier pouch at his side for his sketching things'. At Bendigo in September 1853 Howitt supposed 'he will paint all the flowers'; at the McIvor in 1854 he 'was besieged … to sketch tents, huts or stores … and netted a considerable sum at £5 per sketch, a small pencil one at that'.

Before Lieutenant-Governor La Trobe left Melbourne in 1854 pencil sketches were taken of his cottage at Jolimont. More topographical sketches were made for the Bakewells (connexions of the Howitts) before they departed in 1857. Such drawings, tight and detailed, in pencil heightened with white, seem to belong chiefly to the 1850s; examples are in the La Trobe Library and the National Gallery of Victoria. He contributed some of his own water-colours of wildflowers to a loan exhibition of Australian pictures at the Public Library, Melbourne, in March-May 1869. In private possession are some water-colour portraits and at least one finished water-colour of dead robins on a bed of flowers, but little survives in this medium. His work seldom bears a signature.

Bateman seems to have made his headquarters with Dr Godfrey Howitt, either in Collins Street, Melbourne, or at the Howitts's Cape Schanck house, Barragunda. Other friends were the Barkers, with whom he stayed for some time at Cape Schanck, the McCraes at Arthur's Seat, and the Charles Merediths in Tasmania. A late account claims that Bateman had a part in the original planning of the Botanic Gardens and of the Treasury and Fitzroy Gardens in Melbourne, and he laid out grounds at the University of Melbourne. At Barragunda the romantic circular garden set in a hill slope may well be his design. He was certainly engaged in May 1867 at a salary of £300 for three years to lay out the grounds for John Moffat's Chatsworth House in the Western District. There he was injured in a buggy accident on 13 September 1867 and after prolonged lawsuits left Australia, his right hand so damaged that he learnt to write and draw with his left. In his last years he was landscape gardener to the marquess of Bute at Mountstuart House, Rothesay, Scotland, where he died aged 82 on 30 December 1897. Engravings of the Hermitage in London, old photographs of Barragunda and of his last house, also called the Hermitage, at Rothesay reveal his taste for dense planting, and enclosures centred upon picturesque houses with gables and towers, buried in thatch and ivy.

He did some remodelling at both his Hermitages. He has also been credited with the design of Barragunda built for Godfrey Howitt's daughter in 1866, and Heronswood built at Dromana for Professor William Hearn in 1871. Both are extremely informal and ruggedly picturesque stone houses in a neo-medieval style, very much in Bateman's taste. However, the reminiscences of G. G. McCrae credit the design of Barragunda to the architects Joseph Reed & Barnes and assume Bateman only had a say in the decoration. He certainly worked for them, and was admired for his coloured stencil decorations on the board walls and ceiling of the Octagon they built behind the Melbourne Public Library as a part of the Intercolonial Exhibition 1866. Other recorded decorations were passion-flowers painted over a fireplace at the pre-1866 Barragunda, and a drawing-room at Mountstuart House. For the Paris Exhibition 1867 he also produced designs for shawls made of Australian wool.

Bateman is best remembered for his contributions to book design. His initial headings, tailpieces and titles engraved on wood by Samuel Calvert for several catalogues issued by the Melbourne Public Library from 1861 were the first instances of Australian flora being used for decorative motifs. The two volumes of Louisa Meredith, Bush Friends in Tasmania, 1860 and 1891, which scarcely differ from the Owen Jones gift books, each contain Bateman's 'quaint lettering' in their poem-titles and display his designs on their embossed covers. In private possession there survives a manuscript book illuminated by Bateman with comical personages for a children's nonsense poem about the results of 'supping on clotted cream and slices of pickled udder'.

Bateman was long-legged, long-nosed. George McCrae knew him with dark brown hair falling on the nape of his neck, moustache and beard almost red, clothing simple and always grey, so that he would sign himself 'The Artist in grey' to McCrae's mother, Georgiana. Earlier Mary Howitt had found him 'odd-looking', and like McCrae compared him with Don Quixote. She records his belief that 'there was no excuse for ugliness as beauty properly understood was cheap'. McCrae liked his 'gentle but determined ways, and picturesquely humorous denunciation of inartistic things'.

Select Bibliography

  • W. Howitt, Land, Labour and Gold (Melb, 1855)
  • M. Howitt (ed), Mary Howitt. An Autobiography (Lond, 1889)
  • W. Minto (ed), Autobiographical Notes of William Bell Scott (Lond, 1892)
  • W. M. Rossetti (ed), Praeraphaelite Diaries and Letters (Lond, 1900)
  • A. Woolner, Thomas Woolner, R.A., His Life in Letters (Lond, 1917)
  • A. Lee, Laurels & Rosemary (Lond, 1955)
  • A. Gross, Charles Joseph La Trobe (Melb, 1956)
  • D. Saunders (ed), Historic Buildings of Victoria (Melb, 1966)
  • M. E. B. Howitt, ‘The Howitts in Australia’, Victorian Historical Magazine, vol 3, no 1, Sept 1913, pp 1-24
  • Australasian, 5 Oct 1867
  • Times (London), 3 Jan 1898
  • Age (Melbourne), 13 Feb 1932
  • G. G. McCrae, letters to Tom Roberts, June 1927 (State Library of New South Wales)
  • private information.

Citation details

Daniel Thomas, 'Bateman, Edward La Trobe (1815–1897)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 1969, accessed online 21 June 2024.

This article was published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 3, (Melbourne University Press), 1969

View the front pages for Volume 3

© Copyright Australian Dictionary of Biography, 2006-2024

Edward La Trobe Bateman (1815-1897), by unknown photographer, 1870s

Edward La Trobe Bateman (1815-1897), by unknown photographer, 1870s

La Trobe Picture Collection, State Library of Victoria, H94.118

Life Summary [details]

Alternative Names
  • Artist in Grey, The

Derbyshire, England


30 December, 1897 (aged ~ 82)
Rothesay, Scotland

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