Ellis, Elizabeth.

The Macquarie and Dixon collectors’ chests hold tales of ambition, friendship and intrigue played out against the beautiful and confronting Australian frontier landscape. Commissioned by Governor Macquarie in the early 1800s, these cabinets of curiosities display exotic natural history including layers of jewel-bright preserved butterflies, insects and birds, seaweed specimens and shells, as well as beautifully painted panels believed to be by some of Australia’s best early colonial painters. This book traces the journey of the chests, which have recently been reunited for the first time in nearly 200 years, and reveals much about the fledgling colony, Governor Macquarie, the convict artists who worked on the chests and the natural history of colonial Australia.

Rare & Curious uncovers the secret histories of the Macquarie and Dixson Galleries collectors’ chests for the first time, telling stories of ambition and failure, friendship and betrayal, intrigue and mystery.

The Macquarie collectors’ chest, an enigmatic wooden cabinet filled with painted panels and exotic treasures, was created in Australia for Governor Lachlan Macquarie in around 1818. It was taken to the United Kingdom, and languished forgotten and unnoticed in a Scottish castle until it was rediscovered in the late 1970s.

The Mitchell Library of New South Wales acquired the chest, and its remarkable similarity to the Dixson Galleries collectors’ chest, acquired by the Library in 1937, raised intriguing questions about the cabinets’ creators, owners and purpose. Filled with more than 150 stunning photographs and paintings, Rare & Curious presents these unusual and beautiful chests within a lavishly produced, elegant book.

Elizabeth Ellis is the former Mitchell Librarian and Assistant State Librarian, Collection Management Services, at the State Library of New South Wales,Sydney. She is now inaugural Emeritus Curator at the Mitchell Library and an Honorary Associate with the Department of History, University of Sydney. Her previous publications include Conrad Martins: Life & Art and, as a contributing author, First Views of Australia 1788–1825: A History of Early Sydney and Reframing Darwin: Evolution and Art in Australia.

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Miegunyah Press, September 2011.  Oblong format, hardcover, colour photographs.

Additional information

Weight 968 g