Mary Ann Friend

Born: 1800

Died: 1838

Sketcher and lithographer, was born in London, daughter of John Ford of Hampstead. In 1826 she married Matthew Curling Friend (1792-1871), a retired naval officer, inventor and nautical scientist. Three years later they left Portsmouth on board the Wanstead , a merchant ship of which her husband was master, transporting settlers to the new Swan River settlement in Western Australia. They arrived on 30 January 1830 – eight months after the first British settlers had embarked. In March, Mary Ann made a drawing of the camp at Fremantle on the banks of the Swan River where she, her husband and her husband’s brothers, Daniel, Charles and George, were living (two of the brothers, her husband and the artist herself can be seen in the image). Later published as a lithograph, her View at Swan River. Sketch of the Encampment of Mattew Curling Friend, Esqr. R.N. Taken on the Spot & Drawn on Stone by Mrs M.C.F. March 1830 (Mitchell Library) shows the unusual core structure of her temporary home and studio (supplemented by tents and tarpaulins)-a ‘horse house’ from the ship converted into what she herself called a ‘cottage orné’.

Mary Ann Friend achieved a wider English audience for her drawing than the usual family circle. After returning to London so that Matthew could obtain permission from the Admiralty to settle in Tasmania, she converted her initial sketch ‘taken on the spot’ into a lithograph, redrawing it onto the stone herself. Although her drawing transformed the place into an amusing and easily comprehensible late eighteenth-century picturesque conceit – a ‘rural cabin’ in which to play at pioneering life – more than her male relative’s carpentry did, the prospect is still not particularly enticing. The dry and infertile landscape shows only dead or straggling trees, one of which alone offers any prospect of shade-and it leans dangerously-a few logs on the ground for cooking (on dry days) and a general sense of desolation.

Since Mary Ann’s husband was the ship’s captain, this was apparently a pick site! It’s no wonder that the Wanstead departed for Van Diemen’s Land with all Friends aboard only days after the drawing was made. As well as being a memento of antipodean wilderness à la Salvator Rosa (but sunny), the drawing explains the Friends’ failure to settle in West Australia. Friend was not attempting to convey precise information about the still largely unknown antipodes but confirming prevailing assumptions about the peculiarities of life in this strange, primitive land. This was the sort of image that gave gumtrees a bad name. Yet because her romantic distopian view slotted the alien landscape-along with the ‘horse house’-precisely yet dismissively into an aesthetic category known to all educated gentry, it had more appeal in England than Jane Currie ‘s detailed, naturalistic panorama faithfully depicting the struggling European Swan River settlement did. Friend’s image was published and widely circulated; Currie’s was not.

In March the Wanstead sailed on to Van Diemen’s Land, reaching Hobart Town in April 1830. The Friends decided to settle there and Matthew applied for a grant of land then had to return to England in May to clear his migration with the Admiralty. They returned in July 1832 with Mary Ann’s mother, on board the Norval of which Matthew was again master. He was appointed port officer at Launceston in September. A house, Newnham, was erected on their land grant of 250 acres near Launceston, but this fertile scene was not made into an English print. Matthew was subsequently appointed landing waiter, police magistrate and port officer at George Town as well as retaining his Launceston job. In both places he was unrelentingly attacked by W.L. Goodwin , his rival for the Launceston port officer position, and from 1838 proprietor of the Launceston Cornwall Chronicle . The strain, coupled with Goodwin’s attacks on their private lives, is said to have hastened Mary Ann’s death at George Town, on 27 September 1838. Her husband, who remarried in 1840, erected a large neo-classical marble mausoleum to her memory in the George Town Cemetery.

Written by Joan Kerr