(Address to Ambrose Kyte, Est. M.P, from the Victorian Exploiring Committee) 1862
Ink and gouache with gilding on vellum with two photographs, in original carved wooden frame
89 by 72cm (inc. frame)
Presented to Ambrose Kyte, 1862
Thence by descent
'The evening meeting at St. George's Hall", The Age, 22 January 1863, pp 5-6
'The meeting at St. George's Hall", The Argus, 22 January 1863, pp5-6
Tim Bonyhady, Burke and Willis: from Melbourne to Myth, Canberra: National Library of Australia, 2002, pp. 244-5
Lurline Stuart, James Smith: the making of a colonial culture, Sydney: Allen & Unwin, 1989, p.70
The opening chapter of Burke and Wills: from Melbourne to Myth, Tim Bonyhady's definitive cultural history of the Victorian Exploration Commmittee Expedition of 1861 is entitled 'An Irishman's Money.'1 The Irishman in question was Ambrose Kyte (c.1822-1868), an immigrant labourer who had amassed a substantial fortune in the 1840s and 1850s, initially as a grain and general merchant, and later as a gold-boom property investor. Hoping to augment his financial security with social status, in the late 1850s Kyte 'distinguished himself by making several munificent donations to stimulate useful enterprise,'2 funding The Argus gold cups for the advancement of agriculture, a prize for marksmanship for the Victorian Volunteers and offering a reward for the discovery of gold a goldfield on the Victorian side of the Snowy River. Most generously of all, in August 1858 he offered the extraordinary sum of £1,000 towards the cost of exploration in the Australian interior, provided that this amount could be matched two for one by public donations. This act of philanthropy and community challenge was critical in building the momentum and the financial viability of the Burke and Wills expedition.
Curiously, Kyte's proposal was made anonymously, with the donor originally identified only as 'a gentleman of Melbourne.'3 Explaining this decision, Kyte later said that 'his knowledge of human nature told him that if he were to announce himself as the donor, all sorts of charges would be laid at his back. He knew, at the same time, that... anything approaching to secrecy or mystery - would have a certain beneficial effect, and therefore he determined not to disclose his name.'4 The apparent act of self-abnegation may also have been a typically shrewd move, designed to further raise his reputation when his identity eventually became known (as it surely did in the gossipy society of mid-century Melbourne).
Indeed, on 21 January 1863, following Burke and Wills' extravagant state funeral, a meeting was held in St George's Hall, Northcote (a property owned by Kyte himself) at which his contribution as initiator of the enterprise was fully and publicly acknowledged. At that meeting, which was attended by over 2,000 citizens, illuminated addresses - composed by the colonial critic and littérateur James Smith5 - were presented to three important figures in the expedition's story: Kyte, the visionary underwriter; Alfred Howitt, the explorer whose party found the bodies of Burke and Wills, and rescued John King; and William Norman, who commanded HMCSS Victoria on its maritime rescue expedition to the Gulf of Carpentaria.
Before the Governor, Sir Henry Barkly, presented his address, Chief Justice Sir William Stawell paid fulsome tribute to Kyte's seed funding, proclaiming that 'the whole of this land which has lately been discovered, and the position which we now occupy as a nation in consequence of these discoveries, is due to that gift.'6 Kyte might not have secured the knighthood or the land grant he coveted, but by the time Charles Summers came to design his great Burke and Wills memorial, the philanthropy of Kyte (now Ambrose Kyte, M.L.A., member for East Melbourne) had been fully integrated into the narrative of the expedition - he appears on one of the relief panels at the base of the monument, waving his hat to the departing explorers.
The Howitt address is now lost. Photographs were taken of Norman's document, and mounted and dedicated copies were distributed to his ship's company - the State Library of Victoria preserves those presented to Engineer R. Griffiths and to D. Mangan, Carpenter's Mate.7 Kyte's is the only one of the three addresses known to have been preserved in its original form, and moreover in its original frame. It is written in gothic script in black ink on vellum, with decorated and gilded initials, and with an elaborate floriate border. Within the border are gilded medallions each bearing the names of Burke, Wills, King, Norman and Howitt, and one with the three other relief party commanders: Walker, Landsborough and McKinlay. The illuminator has also included three dragons, a snake, a butterfly and a spider's web in his decorations. At the bottom corners are roundels containing photographs of Kyte and of Burke.
The full text of the address is as follows:
'To Ambrose Kyte Esq., M.P.
The members of the Exploration Committee, before bringing their protracted labours to a close, feel called upon to discharge a duty which circumstances have precluded them from fulfilling at an earlier period, and which is as gratifying to themselves as it is honourable to you.
The subscribers are proud to acknowledge that it is to your unostentatious munificence the people of Australia and the cause of science must attribute the initiation of a project the execution of which, if unhappily darkened by disasters, has, nevertheless, been productive of great and glorious results. To your offer so generously conceived and so modestly concealed, of One Thousand Pounds for the purpose of exploring the interior of this continent, we owe the equipment of the Burke and Wills Expedition, and the important discoveries which ensued. The public spirit of a private citizen has rarely been exerted more beneficially for the interests of mankind or with so admirable an indifference to popularity or praise on the part of the donor. In after years, when settlement shall have spread over the whole of that portion of this continent that lies to the eastward of Burke and Wills' track, when cities shall have arisen upon the banks of the Flinders and the Albert, and when a chain of populous communities shall connect the shores of Port Phillip with those of the Gulf of Carpentaria, it will be your enviable privilege to reflect, with a pardonable pride, that you gave the first impulse to the great movement, and that your wise liberality stimulated the bounty of the public and excited the generosity of the Victorian Parliament in aid of an enterprise which has satisfactorily solved a difficult problem and has virtually enlarged the habitable area of the globe.
We have thought it right to place on permanent record the admiration which your disinterested liberality has inspired, and to offer our spontaneous testimony to the patriotism if your conduct. We trust that it will beget emulation, and that the noble example you have set will be copied by others to whom fortune has been similarly propitious
Actions like yours not merely confer honour on the individual, but reflect some portion of their lustre upon the community to which he belongs; and any country may be proud which numbers among its citizens men who, enriched by industry and prudence, do not hesitate to dedicate a portion of their wealth to philanthropic purposes, while diffidently concealing the source from whence that bounty flows.
With the sincerest gratitude and respect, we have the honour to subscribe ourselves,
Your faithful servants
[signed] William F Stawell
The appearance of any original document so very closely related to the expedition and its organisers is a rare and special event. This handsome illuminated address is also an important further reminder of the key role played by Ambrose Kyte in the heroic, epic, foolish tragedy of the Burke and Wills expedition.
1. Tim Bonyhady, Burke and Wills: from Melbourne to Myth, National Library of Australia, Canberra, 2002, p. 10-25
2. The Argus, 17 November 1868, p. 5
3. The Argus, 19 August 1858, p. 4
4. The Argus, 22 January 1863, p. 6
5. Lurline Stuart, James Smith: the making of a colonial culture, Allen & Unwin, Sydney 1989, p. 70
6. The Age, 22 January 1863, p. 6
7. H92.105 (Griffith), Picture Collection; H5429 (Mangan), Manuscripts Collection; State Library of Victoria. The Kyte and Norman documents are evidently by different hands, suggesting that the three addresses, although presented on the one evening, may not have originally conceived and commissioned as a trinity.
Please call 1-800-555-5555 to order a print catalog for this sale.
Online Registration to Bid is Closed for this Sale. Would you like to watch the live sale?Watch Live Sale