From Artist Unknown to Attribution: The Thomas Woore Drawings of Camden

Very occasionally you will find an artwork at an auction, gallery or charity shop that has no obvious signature, no date and no title, but the quality of the artwork suggests that it might be important enough to take a punt on. That perhaps after a good deal of research, the work may reveal itself to be by the hands of a great artist. This is the dream of 'the sleeper'. 

Andrew stumbled on two pencil drawings last year that he immediately felt were important. Depicting what appeared to be Australian pastoral landscapes with more than a bit of age to them and with no signature to go by, we began the hunt to track down the location depicted in both drawings. At first, we wondered whether the mill and and bridge might place the drawings in Parramatta. However after studying the geography we ruled out that possibility but felt that we weren't too far off, the landscapes still felt like outer Sydney.

John Oxley’s Kirkham Mill, Camden Village 1842

After studying a few old maps, Andrew decided to take a closer look at the suburb of Camden. Believing the Church in the background of (Cowpastures) Bridge might be St John's Church, Andrew began to look for 19th century drawings of the church and it was this search that provided a link between the subject matter and potential creator.

On page 9 of The Sydney Morning Herald, 10 June 1933, was an almost identical sketch to that of (Cowpastures) Bridge & Village of Camden. The previously unpublished drawing by Lieutenant Thomas Woore was included in this edition of the Sydney Morning Herald to celebrate the eighty-forth anniversary of the consecration of St John's Church. It appeared we had found our artist.

Thomas Woore (1804-1878) was a surveyor, pastoralist and naval officer. His commissions brought him to Sydney several time between 1829-35. In 1839 he settled in New South Wales where he was made a magistrate and became one of the state's leading pastoralists on his estate Pomeroy, near Goulburn.

Armed with the knowledge that this was almost certainly a 19th century drawing of what was then rural New South Wales by a man who was a notable figure in the history of the state, we turned our attention to the public institution that holds Thomas Woore's diary and family papers, the Mitchell Library (State Library of New South Wales).

Cowpastures) Bridge & Village of Camden 1842

The Mitchell Library's amazing collection of drawings, diaries, sketchbooks, manuscripts etc. is one of the most useful research resources in the country. The Thomas Woore rough sketch book 1834-1869 held by the Mitchell Library and available to view on microfilm provided enough information for us to attribute the drawings to Thomas Woore. The sketch book revealed smaller studies of both John Oxley’s Kirkham Mill, Camden Village and (Cowpastures) Bridge & Village of Camden as well as confirming the date of creation, 1842. 

The sketch book was presented as a gift to Mrs William Thomas Busby (née Catherine Anne Woore, the only daughter of Thomas Woore) in March 1877 by her father, the year before he passed away and who made later additions to the book. The sketch book is still owned by the Busby's descendants. 

Having completed this research in time for the publication of our first exhibition, Volume 1, the catalogues were sent out and we waited for the response (a nerve-wracking and terrifying 48-96 hours, depending on the efficiency of Australia Post that week). We were thrilled when the Mitchell Library contacted us which is where both drawings are now housed. 

There is no better feeling in art than when research reveals a unique and important work that may have otherwise remained a mystery. It's the kind of detective work that encourages so many of us to enter the art world. The only other feeling that rivals it is when that art work finds a good home. In this case, the Woore drawings going to the same institution whose collection helped us to attribute the works was a wonderful and fulfilling way to end that journey.