State Library Victoria > La Trobe Journal

No 11 April 1973


A NOTE ON HENRY BURN, 1807?–1884

Little has been recorded about the artist Henry Burn, whose paintings and lithographs of early Melbourne and the neighbourhood now provide such valuable evidence of the local scene, and it may therefore be useful to report the results of a recent search for biographical information. The few facts which this has revealed may at least help to explain his obscurity.
The son of Samuel Burn, described as a ‘varnish maker’ and his wife Hannah (nee Oliver), Henry Burn was born in Birmingham, England, about 1807.1 Of his early training nothing has been traced though he claimed to have been apprenticed to ‘an Artist and Drawing Master’2 and it is possible that he received instruction from Samuel Lines, one of the founders of the Birmingham School of Art, and later of the Birmingham Society of Artists.3
Although Burn claimed to have been ‘a pretty constant exhibitor at the Royal Academy’4 inquiries have shown that in fact he exhibited only on one occasion, in 18305 but he is known to have exhibited with the Birmingham Society of Artists in 1832 — when his watercolour Kenilworth Castle received unfavourable notice in the local press6—and again in 1850.7 Another of Burn's claims ‘to have taught drawing at the best schools in Leamington, Warwickshire, and in the neighbourhood’ also has not been substantiated. If he taught drawing in Warwickshire it cannot have been for long.8
That he was a competent architectural draughtsman is evident from his view of St. Mary's Church, Birmingham (1842) and from his drawing of King Edward's School, New Street, Birmingham,9 lithographed by Thomas Underwood, a former pupil of Samuel Lines, who had a substantial ‘Lithographic Establishment’ offering professional services to architects, surveyors and manufacturers, and ‘retaining artists constantly on the premises’.10
Whatever Burn's daily occupation may have been, there is evidence that at least between 1840 and 1852, he travelled quite extensively about England — as far north as Yorkshire, as far south as Dorset, and particularly about the Midlands — and lithographed on stone a number of topographical ‘Views’ of English towns, including Bournemouth (1840), Blandford (n.d.), Weymouth (1842), Wolverhampton (1844), Walsall (1845), Birmingham (1845), Nottingham (1846), Derby (1846), Leeds (1846), Halifax (1847), Shrewsbury (1847), Worcester (n.d.), Northampton (n.d.), Leicester (n.d.), and Winchester (1852), most of which are to be found in the local history collections of County libraries.11 A typical example is Halifax taken from Beacon Hill (1847) where the carefully placed trees and foliage in the foreground frame the more distant view of the town with its meticulous delineation of individual buildings, but three early prints of the fashionable watering-place of Weymouth in Dorset, show eye-level views of the esplanade along the sea-front. One of these is much sought after by English collectors of ‘aeronautica’ since it shows hovering over the town the Albion Balloon, which made its ascent from the Weymouth Racecourse ‘witnessed by an immense assemblage’ on 12 August 1842, later coming down at Blandford.12
In none of these places can Burn be traced in directories or other local records. Also unsuccessful has been the search for a copy of his Views of Walsall and the neighbourhood (Wolverhampton, T. Simpson, 8vo n.d.)13 and it seems possible that this may have been a prospectus for some of his separately published ‘Views’ which, following the contemporary custom, were usually sold on a subscription basis and dedicated to various persons of distinction.14
On 16 October 1852, Burn sailed from Liverpool on the barque Baltimore, arriving in Melbourne on 30 January 1853.15 He is described on the Passenger List as ‘Artist’, aged 43. Also on board were Samuel Cane of Southwark, Surrey, his wife Mary and a family of six sons and three daughters, the eldest of whom, Susan Cane, Burn was to marry seven years later.
Following his English custom. Burn soon attempted to attract subscribers to a ‘View’ of Melbourne, the Argus of 19 December 1853 referring to a recently completed watercolour


which he hoped to lithograph if enough subscribers were found. Apparently they were not forthcoming since no trace has been found of so early a print although the La Trobe Library has four of his views of Melbourne lithographed between 1855 and 1862, all providing useful topographical evidence of the city and its approaches: Melbourne from the south, near the St. Kilda Road (June 1855); Melbourne from the North near the road to Mount Alexander (September 1855), interesting for its inclusion of the gold escort now nearing the end of its journey in very orderly procession, and the first Exhibition Building, an imposing edifice of wood, iron and glass erected the previous year at a cost of £20,000; Panoramic View of the City of Melbourne taken from the South Bank of the Yarra, 4 ft. in length (printed in two sections and offered to subscribers at £1 or £1.10.0 joined together on cloth) and ranging from Batman's Hill on the left to St. Peter's and ‘Dr. Cairns Church’ on the right. Toll Gate, bullock team and unattractive river flats in the foreground, it may well have justified the claim that it would ‘convey to people in England … a more valuable idea of the aspect of Melbourne than a whole volume of verbal description’;16 and Melbourne, 1862, looking North from Prince's Bridge, apparently based on his well known painting Swanston Street from Prince's Bridge, 1861, in the collection of the National Gallery of Victoria.17 In the Mitchell Library, Sydney, there is also a rare lithographed view Port of Geelong, c.1855. In 1867, Burn sought permission to dedicate to the Governor, Sir John Manners-Sutton, a proposed new lithograph, General View of the City of Melbourne which he described as ‘a faithful portraiture of the place’, but Vice-Regal patronage was refused.18 Two lithographed portraits, of the actor G. V. Brooke and Sir Henry Barkly, were taken from daguerreotypes.
On 3 July 1860, Burn, at this time giving his age as 47, was married in St. Peter's Church, East Melbourne, to Susan Cane, then aged 31,19 whose father had established himself as a baker in Collingwood, and whose brothers were also local tradesmen. There were no children of the marriage.20
Burn was unsuccessful in his application to the Denominational Schools Board in 1856 for a position as Assistant Drawing Master,21 and an extensive search has not yet revealed his means of livelihood in Melbourne. Although he exhibited with the Victorian Society of Fine Arts in 185722 and with the later Victorian Academy of Arts in 1870, 1872, 1876 and 187723 (on the last occasion showing only two English works), he is not mentioned in the records of these societies deposited in the La Trobe Library, and his work attracted no attention in the press. One of his patrons was Dr. L. L. Smith who lent six paintings by Burn to an exhibition at the Melbourne Public Library in 1869,24 and who, together with the Melbourne engraver, G. O. Twentyman, sponsored Burn's application to the Trustees in the following year for permission to paint in the Art Gallery.25
Nine of his Melbourne paintings are held in the La Trobe Library and like his earlier lithographed views, they too provide a valuable visual record of much that has long since disappeared. While they reveal interesting historical detail, they also reveal more clearly Burn's considerable abilities as an artist and his interest in capturing the changing effects of light and atmosphere, shown particularly in works such as Sandridge from the Lagoon (c.1870), Train to Sandridge (1870), and Brighton Beach (1862), a watercolour which illustrates the increasing popularity of Brighton once the railway, opened in 1859, was able to bring day-trippers so uniquely close to the beach.26 Another early suburban scene, South Yarra Hil (1868) includes an unusual view from Richmond of ‘Turnbull's Point’, stretching down into the Yarra between Anderson Street and Punt Road, where houses have begun to appear in increasing numbers.
Melbourne from the Old Sandridge Road (c.1867), a monochrome washdrawing and possibly preliminary work for a new lithograph,27 is reminiscent in subject matter of part of his earlier lithographed panorama and shows the still unoccupied river flats of South Melbourne, the road to Sandridge now improved by the planting of young trees, a high footbridge crossing the railway line. The distant view, framed by a tall tree and foliage in the manner

Brighton Beach. 1862

of his English views of the 1840's, is surveyed by a couple on horseback like the riders who, over the heads of a large crowd, conveniently watch the famous cricket match in his First English Team brought to the Colony by Spiers & Pond (1862), an interesting watercolour in possession of the Melbourne Cricket Club.
In Melbourne from the Domain (1871) a picnic party surveys a different view across the river — from Prince's Bridge and the early St. Paul's Church on the left to the utilitarian and rarely depicted waterworks beside the Yarra on the right. Purchased by the Library in 1891, this painting differs only in foreground detail from Melbourne from the South of the River (1870) auctioned at the F. Hobill Cole sale in 1923.28 Two works by Henry Burn included in this sale were in fact later acquired by the Library — Botanical Gardens and Government House (1876) and Melbourne from Wellington Parade, East Melbourne (1872), in which a flock of sheep passes by the fenced-in Fitzroy Gardens, and a horse-bus makes its way out of the city in the late afternoon light.
From the evidence of rate-books, directories and exhibition catalogues, Burn appears to have lived in humble circumstances in the Collingwood-Fitzroy-Richmond area, within walking distance of many of the scenes he painted, until 1877. In that year, on the application of P. J. Petherick, licensee of the Studley Arms Hotel, Collingwood, he was admitted to the Melbourne Benevolent Asylum.29. His wife was cared for by her father Samuel Cane, in whose will there is provision for Susan Burn ‘from whom God has seen fit to withold many of the comforts of this life’.30 Burn was dismissed from the Asylum in December 1877,31 but was readmitted on 22 August 1878, this time on the recommendation of another publican, Robert Showers, licensee of the West of England Hotel, Fitzroy.32 He died at the Benevolent Asylum on 26 October 1884,33 and was buried in a public grave at the Melbourne General Cemetery.34


The following lithographs have been traced in England. Only in some cases has it been possible to include the full letterpress inscription.


Birmingham from Highgate Fields. 1845.

Henry Burn Del & Lith. London. Printed by C. F. Cheffins.
To the Inhabitants of the Borough of Birmingham/This View of [Arms] The Town from Highgate Fields,/Is respectfully dedicated by their obedient Servant, the Publisher/Published July 1845 by Thomas Simpson, Market Place, Wolverhampton.
Copy in Central Reference Library, Birmingham Public Libraries, Catg. No. 73472.

St. Mary's Birmingham. 1842.

Drawn by Henry Burn. Day & Haghe Lithgrs. to Queen.
To the Revd. J. Casebow Barrett, M.A. Incumbent of St. Mary's Birmingham,/This
Print is with permission most respectfully inscribed by his obliged and humble servant/Henry Burn/Birmg. Oct. 18th 1842.
Copy in Central Reference Library, Birmingham Public Libraries; reproduced in Victoria History of the Counties of England. Warwickshire. Vol. 6, ‘Birmingham’.

King Edward's School, Birmingham. n.d.

Drawn by Henry Burn. Printed and published at T. Underwood's Lithogc. Establishment, High St. Birmingham.

Metbourne from Old Sandridge Road. c. 1867

To the Governors of King Edward's School, New Street, Birmingham,/This Print is with permission most respectfully dedicated by their Obliged & Obedient Servant/Thomas Underwood.
[13 ¼″ × 19″]
Copy in the writer's possession.


Westover Villas and Bath Hotel. 1840.

From a drawing by Henry Burn; Lithographed by Day & Haghe, Lithogrs. to the Queen.
Photoprint copy in County Borough of Bournemouth Central Library, Bournemouth; reproduced in D. S. Youne, The Story of Bournemouth (London, Hale, 1957).


View of Derby from the Meadows. 1846.

Published by the artist, May 1846; printed by C. F. Cheffins, London. Dedicated to the Duke of Devonshire.
Copy in County Borough of Derby Central Library, Wardwick, Derby.


Halifax Taken from Beacon Hill. 1847.

Drawn from Nature and on Stone by Henry Burn. Published by W. Birtwhistle,
Bookseller, Halifax, April 1847. Printed by C. F. Cheffins. London.
To the Right Honourable Lord Viscount Morpeth, M.P./This View of Halifax
[Arms] Taken from Beacon Hill/Is with permission most respectfully dedicated by
His Lordship's obliged and obedt. humble Servant Henry Burn.
[11″x 19″]
Copy in County Borough of Halifax Central Public Library, Halifax, and in the writer's possession.


View of Leeds from near the Halifax New Road. 1846.

Drawn by Henry Burn; published by T. W. Green, 34 Commercial Street, Leeds. 1846; printed by C. F. Cheffins, London.
Copy in Central Library, Municipal Buildings, Leeds.


All Saint's Church, Northampton. n.d.

Drawn by Henry Burn; published by R. B. Moodie & Co., Birmingham.
[12 ½″ × 19 ½″]

View of Northampton from Hunsbury Hill. n.d.

Drawn by Henry Burn; published by R. B. Moodie & Co., Birmingham.
[12 ½″ × 19 ½″]
Copies of both Northampton prints in County Borough of Northampton Central Library, Northampton.


View of Nottingham taken from the Meadows [The South]. 1846.

Published by the artist; printed by C. F. Cheffins, London.
Copy in City of Nottingham Public Libraries, Nottingham.


Shrewsbury, taken from the Abbey Foregate. 1847.

Drawn on stone by Henry Burn. Published April 1st 1847, by Henry Richards, Wyle Cop, Shrewsbury.
To John Legh Esqre, Mayor, and the Corporation,/This View of [Arms] Shrewsbury, Taken from the Abbey Foregate,/Is with Permission most respectfully dedicated by their obliged and obedient Servant, Henry Richards.
[11 ½″ × 17 ½″]

Shrewsbury, taken from the House of Industry, n.d.

Henry Burn Del & Lith. London. Printed by C. F. Cheffins.
To The Right Honourable Lord Viscount Hill,/This View of [Arms] Shrewsbury,
Taken From The Roof Of The House Of Industry/Is by Permission respectfully dedicated, by His Lordship's obliged and obedient humble servant,/Henry Burn.
[11 ¼″ × 17 ½″]
Copies of both Shrewsbury prints in the writer's possession.


Weymouth, South View. 1842

Drawn on Stone by Henry Burn. Day & Haghe, Lith. to the Queen. Weymout/
South View/Published by B. Benson, Weymouth. 1842.
[10 ⅞″ × 17 ⅛″]

Weymouth, North View. 1842.

Drawn on Stone by Henry Burn. Day & Haghe, Lith. to the Queen.
Weymouth/North View/Published by B. Benson, Weymouth. 1842.
[10 ⅞″ × 17 ⅛″]

Weymouth, North View. [Ascent of Albion Balloon.] 1842.

Day & Haghe Lith. to the Queen.
Weymouth/North View/with Mr. Greene's and Captain Curries ascent in the Albion
Baloon [sic] August 12th, 1842./Published by B. Benson Library, Alpha Place,
[10″ × 17 ¼″]
Copies of three Weymouth views in Central Library, Weymouth, Dorset.


View of the City of Winchester from Alreford Road. 1852.

Drawn on stone by Henry Burn; published by W. Tanner; 1852; printed by M. & N.
Copy in City Library, Jewry Street, Winchester.


View of the City of Worcester from Bromwich. n.d.

Drawn on stone by Henry Burn; printed by T. Underwood.
[17″ × 22″]
Copy in City Library, Museum & Art Gallery, Worcester.
The late Mr. V. Phillip Sabin, London, generously supplied references from his early records to four additional prints, no further evidence of which has yet been traced:

View of Leicester from Knighton Hill. n.d.

High Street, Blandford, Dorset. c. 1842.

View of Walsall; published by Valentine & Co., Walsall. 1845. [9 ½″ × 13 ½″]

View of Wolverhampton from Goldthorn Hill. 1844. [9 ½″ × 13 ½″]

The following works are held in the La Trobe Library:

Lithographs —

Melbourne from the South, near the St. Kilda Road.

Painted and drawn on stone by Henry Burn. Printed by Campbell and Fergusson; published by the artist, June 1855.
[13″ × 24″]

Melbourne from the North near the road to Mount Alexander.

Painted and drawn on stone by Heny Burn. Printed by Campbell and Fergusson; lished by the Artist, Septr. 1855.
[13″x 24″]

Panoramic View of the City of Melbourne taken from the South bank of the Yarra. May 1856.

Drawn by H. Burn. Printed by Jas. Fergusson.
[8″ × 48″]

Melbourne, 1862, looking north from Prince's Bridge.

[11 ½″ × 18 ½″. Unsigned.]

G. V. Brooke Esq.

On stone by Henry Burn from a daguerrotype. Printed by Hamel & Locher, 8 Collins St., Melbourne. [n.d.]
[12 ½″ × 10″]

Sir Henry Barkly, K.C.B., Captain General and Governor in Chief of the Colony of Victoria.

Drawn by Henry Burn from a daguerrotype. Printed by Hamel & Locher, 8 Collins
St. West, Melbourne. [c. 1857]
[16″ × 14″]

Paintings —

Brighton Beach. 1862.

[12″ × 18 ½″. watercolour.]

Melbourne from Old Sandridge Road. c. 1867

[15″ × 23″. washdrawing.]

South Yarra Hill. 1868

[9 ½″ × 12 ½″. watercolour.]

Yarra Yarra and part of Studley Park. 1868.

[13″ × 19″. watercolour.]

Sandridge from the Lagoon, c. 1870

[12 ½″ × 17″. oil on board.]

Train to Sandridge. 1870.

[10″ × 14 ¼″. watercolour.]

Melbourne from the Domain. 1871

[15″ × 26″. oil on canvas.]

Melbourne from Wellington Parade, East Melbourne. 1872.

[17 ½″ × 23 ½″. oil on canvas.]

Botanical Gardens and Government House, Melbourne. 1876.

[23 ½″ × 352″. oil on canvas.]
Grateful acknowledgment is made to the numerous English librarians and print dealers who assisted in the search, to Mr. T. N. M. Buesst whose interest originated it, and to Mrs. Boyce Cunning, Mr. J. A. C. West, Dr. Ursula Hoff, Mr. Brian Finemore, Mrs. Miles Lewis, Mr. Harley Preston and Mr. Denis Street, for valuable advice.


Place of birth and parents from Marriage Certificate, 20 July 1860, and Death Certificate, 26 October 1884 (Government Statist's Office, Melbourne). Establishing the date of birth has been made more difficult by the inconsistency with which Burn gave his age at various times. Death Certificate shows him as 77 in 1884 and, with other records (see 29 below) suggests the most likely year as 1807. However, all extant baptismal records for Birmingham, 1805–1813, have been searched without success; some were destroyed during the war.


Application to Denominational Schools Board, Melbourne, 8 October 1856, for position as Assistant Drawing Master (Victorian State Archives).


Correspondence City Museum & Art Gallery, Birmingham; for Samuel Lines (1778–1863) see Dictionary of National Biography.


Application to Denominational Schools Board, op. cit.


A. Graves, The Royal Academy exhibitors, 1796–1904; also correspondence, Royal Academy of Arts, London.


Birmingham Journal, 21 October 1832 — ‘This is an unsuccessful drawing, the lights and shadows being too powerfully opposed to each other, which renders it hard and uninteresting.’


Exhibition catalogues, Birmingham Society of Artists, and correspondence Central Reference Library, Birmingham.


Correspondence Borough Librarian, Leamington Spa Public Library, reporting an extensive search.


Both prints listed in Appendix above.


Birmingham Journal, 21 July 1832.


These views are listed, with sources, in Appendix above; from the subjects of paintings later exhibited in Melbourne, he appears also to have visited the Isle of Wight, Oxford, Brighton and Windsor.


The Times, London, 16 & 20 August 1842.


Cited in Rupert Simms, Bibliothetica Staffordiensis (Lichfield, 1894).


M. Twyman, Lithography 1800–1850 (London, O.U.P., 1970). Ch. 14, ‘English topographical lithography 1835–1855’.


Passenger List, Baltimore, 30 January 1853 (Victorian State Archives).


Argus, Melbourne, 19 May 1856.


In the lithograph, a boy rides a bicycle in the foreground and other minor details are changed.


Letter to Manners-Sutton, 30 April 1867 (Victorian State Archives).


Marriage Certificate, op. cit.


Death Certificate, op. cit.


Application to Denominational Schools Board, op. cit. Burn's interest in lithography perhaps suggests other means of employment.


Catalogue of the pictures … forming the First Exhibition of the Victorian Society of Fine Arts 1857 (Melbourne, W. Fairfax).


Victorian Academy of Arts: Exhibition catalogues, 1870, 1872, 1876, 1877.


Catalogue of works of art … exhibited by the Trustees of the Melbourne Public Library & Museum, March-June 1869.


Letter, 2 March 1870, to Trustees of the Public Library, Melbourne (Victorian State Archives).


W. Bate, A History of Brighton (Melbourne, 1962).


Twyman, op. cit., p. 175, describes the preparatory technique.


Catalogue of original paintings & drawings … from the art collection of Dr. F. Hobill Cole (Melbourne, 1923), illustrated.


Admissions Registers, Melbourne Benevolent Asylum (Mss. Collection, La Trobe Library); his age is given as 70. Dr. L. L. Smith, who owned paintings by Burn, was a Life Governor of the Asylum.


Will of Samuel Cane, Grosvenor St., Collingwood, dated 3 September 1880 (Probate Office, Melbourne); Samuel Cane died in 1889.


No record survives of the cause for dismissal, but on transfer of the Registers it was advised that this had usually been for some misdemeanour such as drunkeness.


Admissions Register, op. cit.


Death Certificate, op. cit.


Correspondence, Melbourne General Cemetery.