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George Alphonse Collingridge de Tourcey (1847–1931)

by O. H. K. Spate

This article was published:

George Alphonse Collingridge de Tourcey (1847-1931), artist and historian, was born on 29 October 1847 at Goddington Manor, near Bicester, Oxfordshire, England, son of William Collingridge, and his wife Louisa, née Maguire. He rarely used 'de Tourcey'. His parents moved to France in 1853 and he was educated at the Jesuit College, Vaugirard, and the Académie des Beaux-Arts, Paris, studying architecture under Viollet-le-Duc, wood-engraving and painting. Corot informally accepted him as a pupil, a very rare favour. In 1867, when Garibaldi invaded the Roman States, Collingridge joined the Papal Zouaves and took part in seventeen engagements, receiving no wounds but three medals, including the Mentana Cross.

In 1869-70 he was back in Paris, returning to England after Sedan before settling again in Paris in 1872. Although he continued to paint throughout his career—he held his last exhibition in 1926—he now found his real métier in wood-engraving, then the staple form of graphics in such famous journals as the Illustrated London News and L'Illustration, for both of which he worked. Collingridge very probably engraved for Gustave Doré, and made many blocks from drawings by Daniel Vierge, especially in the great 1877-78 edition of Michelet's Histoire de France. In 1878 Le Monde Illustré sent him to Spain with Vierge to cover the marriage of Alfonso XII.

On the advice of his brother Arthur (1853-1907), also an artist, who was already in Australia, Collingridge migrated in 1879 to join the Illustrated Sydney News, in which he published the first picture of Jenolan Caves (1881), from Arthur's drawing; he also worked for the Australian Town and Country Journal and the Sydney Mail. He very quickly made his mark, gaining the first prize for xylography at the Sydney International Exhibition in 1879; his view of Bathurst in 1880 was thought to be the largest wood-engraving yet produced. Dissatisfaction with lay control of the existing New South Wales Academy of Art led the brothers to found the (Royal) Art Society of New South Wales in July 1880, and in 1888 they launched the short-lived Australian Art, the first such journal in the continent. Both brothers taught in schools and technical colleges—George, who wrote a manual Form and Colour, at Sydney Technical College.

On 23 November 1882 at the Villa Maria Chapel, Hunters Hill, Collingridge married Lucy Monica Makinson, who bore him four sons and two daughters. He took up a small property on Berowra Creek; in Berowra & the Unsolved Mystery of its Amazing Ridge (1924) he told of finding that the Department of Lands had omitted four (6.4 km) or five miles (8 km) of foreshore from its maps. By 1895 he had settled at Jave-la Grande, Hornsby, where he published, irregularly, a journal called Progress, which combined real estate boosting for the new northern suburbs of Sydney with articles on Australian maritime discovery.

This latter theme became an over-riding passion, and between 1890 and 1925 Collingridge devoted two books and some thirty articles to establishing Portuguese priority. He based himself largely, but far from solely, on the maps produced at Dieppe between 1536 and 1566 showing a large land mass, Jave-la Grande, in the right latitudes for Australia, but wrong longitudes. Collingridge's magnum opus is The Discovery of Australia (Sydney, 1895); the smaller First Discovery of Australia and New Guinea (Sydney, 1906) was designed for New South Wales schools but, owing to a change in administration, not adopted. He amassed formidable documentation, especially cartographic, in support of his thesis that the Portuguese had charted all but the south coast of Australia before 1530, and he put forward his views with great vigour and ingenuity; his skill as a draughtsman provided sometimes quaint illustrations to a lively if not always well-organized presentation. The analysis of the nomenclature on the Dieppe maps is thorough and acute, and since his work hardly any serious student, even amongst those who discount the evidential value of the maps, has disputed their Portuguese origins. On the other hand, his enthusiasm led him too often into special pleading, even into gratuitous attempts to discredit undoubted Dutch discoveries, and such extravagances must have contributed to his failure to obtain general acceptance. Nevertheless, it is now increasingly recognized that the cartographical core of his argument deserves more serious consideration than it received from orthodox Australian historians, with the partial exception of G. A. Wood. He was a prophet not without honours in countries other than his own: knight commander of the Portuguese Order of St James of the Sword (1908) and the Spanish Royal American Order of Isabella the Catholic (1917). In 1909 he was made the first honorary member of the (Royal) Australian Historical Society.

Collingridge was a most versatile and active man, and the pseudonym he sometimes assumed, 'the Hermit of Berowra', was a distinct misnomer. He had six languages, plus Esperanto, and in 1908 founded one of the first Esperanto clubs in Australia. His later writings, privately published at Hornsby in the 1920s, are a strange medley, abounding in plugs for Esperanto and Portuguese priority and in the most bizarre puns. They include children's books—Alice in One Dear Land (1922) and Through the Joke in Class (1923), which may have had some appeal in their time; IT is Principally a Collection of Woodcuts (1924); Round and Round the World (1925-33), good humoured rambling reminiscences of travel; and Pacifika, the Antediluvian World (1928-30?), which seeks to show that 'Atlantis' was really in the Pacific and that all later civilizations were its offshoots.

Collingridge died on 1 June 1931 and was buried in the Catholic section of the Field of Mars cemetery. He was survived by three sons and one daughter. In his earlier days, his reputation as a wood-engraver stood high, but with the advent of photo-processing the demand and the reward for such work rapidly dwindled away. He was untrained as a historian and there was thus no check to his uncritical zeal for his theories. The impression remains, however, of a genial and engaging personality and a lively if undisciplined intellect. His talents were doubtless dissipated through a lack of rigour and by the pressures of work for a living on a falling market; but he deserves respect as a pioneer in the history of one aspect of Australia's origins. With all its flaws, The Discovery of Australia is certainly a remarkable work for its time and especially for its place, far from the great centres of palaeocartographical research.

Select Bibliography

  • K. G. McIntyre, The Secret Discovery of Australia (Medindie, 1977)
  • Lone Hand, 1 Sept 1917
  • Town and Country Journal, 21 June 1882
  • Sydney Mail, 31 Oct 1923
  • Sydney Morning Herald, 2 June 1931
  • Collingridge manuscripts (State Library of New South Wales)
  • private information.

Citation details

O. H. K. Spate, 'Collingridge de Tourcey, George Alphonse (1847–1931)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 1981, accessed online 17 June 2024.

This article was published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 8, (Melbourne University Press), 1981

View the front pages for Volume 8

© Copyright Australian Dictionary of Biography, 2006-2024

Life Summary [details]

Alternative Names
  • Collingridge, George Alphonse
  • Hermit of Berowra

29 October, 1847
Bicester, Oxfordshire, England


1 June, 1931 (aged 83)

Cultural Heritage

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