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Thomas Bluett

Paul wrote about Mary Bluett’s nightmarish return voyage to England in 1845, for the April issue of FTF Magazine. Mary, her husband Thomas and family had left England, emigrating to New Zealand, five years previously, where Thomas became a successful lithographic printer.

Paul will finalise the family’s story in the September issue, when he will be writing about Thomas’ untimely death, shortly after rejoining his wife in England.

During 1840, this advertisement appeared in several issues of the Times in London:-

FOR WELLINGTON, New Zealand, direct, under charter with the New Zealand Company, their last ship this season, will positively sail on 25th November, and has room for a limited quantity of freight and passengers, the remarkably fine British-built ship the Olympus, A1, burthen 550 tons, John White Commander, lying in the St Katherine Docks. This ship has excellent accommodation for passengers and will carry an experienced surgeon. Her commander, who is well acquainted with the Colonial trade, will be happy to give any information to parties requiring such. For terms of freight or passage immediate application to be made to the owner, Mr. Anthony Ridley, Lloyds, to the commander on board; or to Henry and Calvert Tomkin, 8, George-yard, Lombard St.

A fortnight late, on 9th December 1840, the barque ‘Olympus’ set sail from Gravesend for Hobart, New Zealand, via Wellington, carrying amongst its 159 passengers: 21 year old Irishman, Thomas Bluett, his wife, 25 year old Mary, and their children, 3 year old Thomas and 2 year old Mary Ann. They were accompanied by his father Adam Bluett, listed as a 40 year old locksmith and his 38 year old second wife, Catherine. Thomas was listed as cook for the voyage and, strangely, as a smith and bell hanger.

Australia’s most important lithographic printer before the gold rush era. In fact, we now know that Thomas had been working for Day and Haghe of London, regarded as the country’s leading lithographic printers. It must be assumed that he had at least one lithographic printing press in the hold, plus all the related paraphernalia – paper, inks, chemicals, plates etc.

The New Zealand Company records give the family’s address as 50 St Clements Lane, off the Strand; at the time this was one of the poorer areas of London.

The new colony’s development and prosperity was hindered by the easy acquisition of free or very cheap grants of land. The resulting scarcity of labour drove away capital since the man of means disliked becoming his own labourer. The ready availability of land led to a dispersed population living at subsistence level. The solution was to offer the incentive of free passage to people with particular manual skills. Wellington was at risk of becoming a land of middle class investors with no lower classes to do the dirty work.

A lithographer would have had to pay his own way; a smith or bell hanger could apply for free passage, so this is probably why Thomas was described as such.

The ‘Olympus’ finally anchored in Port Nicholson (the old name for Wellington) on 20th April 1841.

At the time about 3,000 white Europeans lived there, with settlement only really beginning a couple of years previously. A total of 445 houses, 75% of the beach frontage, comprised of 195 substantially built wooden or brick homes and 250 native built. Many private homes of influential settlers were well built with every comfort of home.

On 1st May 1841 the New Zealand Gazette carried this article:-

We are happy to find that a lithographer has arrived here in the Olympus, and that we shall now be able to publish charts of the harbour, of Cooks Straits, and plans of the town at a very moderate charge. A chart of the harbour has long been wanted for general distribution; and some means should be taken to get them put on board of the numerous whalers on the coast. We hear that the Captain of the American whaler states that many of his countrymen would resort to this port if acquainted with it, which they will not be, until steps have been taken to circulate the necessary information.

On 3rd May 1841, shortly after the Bluetts arrived, New Zealand was declared a British colony, and Thomas was about to make his mark.

He can be traced in newspapers of the time, and some of his surviving work can be found in museums and in national archives. Within a month of arrival he was to produce a historically important chart and go on to deal with some of the most respected and influential artists in the region. He has been described to me by Roger Butler, curator of The National Gallery of Australia, as Australia’s most important lithographic printer before the gold rush era.

Thomas was now operating the first ever lithographic press in Wellington. An advertisement soon appeared in several issues of the New Zealand Gazette:-

CHART OF PORT NICHOLSON – Just published, and on sale at the office of this paper, a lithographic chart of Port Nicholson from the survey of E.M.Chaffers Esq RN, commander of the New Zealand Company’s Ship Tory, price 2s 6d. Gazette office May 27 1841. Copied from a chart of 1st June 1840 by James Wyld.

This was historically important as it was the very first map of Wellington. An example is held in the Hocken Library, Dunedin, and other examples are held throughout the world, including one in the British Library in England.

Thomas was working with a partner of the same age, Jacob William Jones, who prepared the plates. He was a cabin passenger on the same Olympus voyage as the Bluetts. I have not established whether they knew each other prior to the trip, but Jacob was an accomplished artist and some of his own works survive.

The New Zealand Gazette further reported on 12th June 1841:-

A plan of the harbour is now on sale at our office, price two shillings and sixpence. It is very neatly lithographed, and does its authors, Messrs, Jones and Bluett, great credit. A considerable number were purchased by a subscription, with a view to circulating them gratis. Already a large number has been forwarded, to Akaroa and other places, with instructions to put them on board of whaling and other vessels not acquainted with our port. We anticipate a satisfactory issue from the adoption of so prudent a course. Though, by this subscription, a certain amount was secured to the artists, still it is not sufficiently large to remunerate them properly; we hope, therefore, both, as a means of augmenting that sum, and of further making the port known, those who have not contributed to the original subscription, will each purchase a few copies, and circulate them among their friends out of the Colony. Mr. Jones and Mr. Bluett have since lithographed a plan of Wade’s town, and a view of the harbour from the Tinakori Hill. The latter is a mere sketch, but it would be interesting to our friends at home; we hope, therefore, we shall be allowed to have it on sale at a small price. We esteem it, because it is in every respect faithful, and must tend to give the absent a right conception of the harbour and its scenery. We believe, in a few days, we may expect to have a plan of the town, also by Messrs. Jones and Bluett.

Sure enough, another advertisement appeared regularly in the New Zealand Gazette on 16th July 1841:-  PLANS OF WELLINGTON On sale at this office, plans of Wellington, lithographed by Messrs Jones & Bluett. Large size, coloured: 10s 6d each. Ditto, plain: 5s 0d. Small sized, plain: 2s 6d.

However, this ominous statement appeared in the New Zealand Gazette of 24th July 1841:- The plans of the town which were advertised last week as on sale at this office will not be published for fourteen days owing to arrangements it has been found absolutely necessary to make for the construction of a new press with which to print them, the press with which they were commenced proving inadequate to the work.The construction was apparently achieved, as on 21st August 1841 the plans of Wellington were advertised as being available. However, Thomas had greater plans.

Thomas had greater plans. On 16th September, the first and, as it turned out, the only issue of The Victoria Times appeared, published by Thomas Bluett at his Lithographic printing office in Wellington Terrace. Plot number 489 on the Terrace was owned by a Mr J Jones, who was most probably Jacob. This corresponds on a modern map to numbers 19 to 85 The Terrace. A great earthquake of 1855 changed the shoreline, but in 1841 it was close to the water at Lambton Quay.

At a shilling per issue, a 12 month advance subscription was 40s, a saving of 12s. It comprised of two ‘half demy’ sheets (roughly similar to modern A3) 17.5ins x 11.2ins unfolded, printed front and back. Lithography in 1841 was not an ideal printing method for a newspaper as there was no possibility of amendment once the plates had been created. Letterpress printing offered that flexibility and would have been ideal for setting type. Every word of the Victoria Times was handwritten, furthermore it is doubtful whether Thomas had any background in journalism or had a means of news gathering. With the benefit of hindsight it looks like a project destined for failure.

Page one carried advertisements, though unused space at the bottom suggests that Thomas had failed to secure enough advertising to fill the page. In fact it may be that he copied at least one of the advertisements from another newspaper to avoid running blank space.

The New Zealand Gazette and Wellington Spectator of 25th September 1841 carried this disclaimer:- JOSEPH McGREGOR, Watch and Clock Maker, begs to intimate to the public, that he gave no authority for the use of his name to the Editor of the publication called the Victoria Times.Page two was a map of the City of Wellington, which was the one already being sold. By using an existing lithographic plate, Thomas had saved himself some time and effort, but had apparently overlooked the fact that the imprint remained in the bottom right hand corner with Jacob Jones’ name on it.

Jacob by this time was distancing himself from Thomas, no doubt due to the advance payments for advertising and subscriptions which Thomas was accepting.

No wonder that, when Jacob ran an advertisement in the New Zealand Gazette & Wellington Spectator on 13th November 1841, he cautioned the public, “against giving credit to T. Bluett, Lithographer Printer, on account of an alleged partnership which he represents has existed or does exist between him and myself, such partnership never having had any existence”.

The second sheet, comprising of pages three and four was taken up almost entirely by a long-winded editorial, that was turgid and overblown even by 1841 standards. There can be no doubt that Thomas was educated and articulate, but his pompous diatribes were almost comic in their attempts to impress. Peppered with Latin phrases and classical references it made heavy reading.

By the end of the year Thomas had moved to Sydney, Australia, with Jacob following shortly after, although there is no evidence of a renewed partnership. The following year Sydney was declared the first city in Australia and the big news at the time of the Bluetts arrival, was the introduction of gas street lighting.

This advertisement appeared in the Sydney Morning Herald on 28th December 1841:-  The undersigned begs to inform landed proprietors, surveyors, auctioneers and draftsmen that per ‘Lalla Rook’ [a ship that docked the week previously] he has received his expected supply of materials for printing impressions in lithograph, as large as the Herald newspaper, with every other requisite; as also an artist from Day and Hague’s Establishment, under which facilities, will be afforded for the economical conduct of his business, of which no house out of London but this can offer. R.Clint. George-Street, opposite the Bank of Australia.Raphael Clint had established a printing and engraving business in Sydney in 1835. Clint modelled his New Zealand maps on published works, but he failed to acknowledge the sources. Clumsily drawn, Clint’s maps nevertheless contain useful information.

Isaac Nathan was the first notable musician to settle in Australia and eventually wrote the first Australian opera (‘Don John of Austria’) and gave the first productions of Mozart operas in the Southern Hemisphere. Despite his apparently lapsed Judaism (his children were all baptised) he presided over the opening of the first synagogue in Sydney. According to some, he composed the tune for the Australian anthem, ‘Waltzing Matilda’.

He was the first to take an interest in Aboriginal music, and made attempts to transcribe it, although it is said that it came out strangely like ‘Victorian drawing-room products’. A surviving piece bears Thomas’ imprint.

‘The Aboriginal Father’, a native song of the Maneroo Tribe, was versified from the original words by Mrs Eliza Hamilton Dunlop. Another sheet exists of ‘Australia the Wide and the Free’, an anthem written by William Augustine Duncan and sung at a civic dinner for the mayor of Sydney on 21st December 1842.

Thomas Liley, another established lithographic printer in Sydney, operated from premises at 11 Brougham Place, off Pitt Street, now the site of Australia’s one-time tallest building, the 60-storey MLC Centre completed in 1977. A subdivision map of Annandale produced for an auction on 14th March 1842 bears the imprint Liley and Bluet lithographer.

The imprint on Isaac Nathan’s Aboriginal Father says ‘T Bluett Lithog Brougham’. It would therefore be reasonable to assume that Thomas Bluett and Thomas Liley had some sort of business arrangement, both producing subdivision plans for the same auctioneer and musical scores for Isaac Nathan.

The artist John Skinner Prout was the leading light of a group of artists who began a strong watercolour tradition in Australia and Tasmania in the 1840s. Born in Plymouth, Devon, he arrived in New South Wales in 1840. It is known that he brought a set of lithographic equipment from England.

His ‘Sydney Illustrated’ was published in parts in 1842-4. Part I (13th August 1842) had an inscription at the end which read ‘J S. Prout and Co. Australian Lithographic Establishment, O’Connell Street’.
In spite of the fact that Prout was so well equipped he apparently had to call on Thomas for some help. The title page to ‘Sydney Illustrated’ has on it ‘T. Bluett, Printer, Lith.’

The island of Tasmania, also called Van Diemens Land, off the southern coast of Australia, was a penal colony with the capital, Hobart Town, proclaimed a city in 1842. With a population of over 57,000, made up largely of freed convicts, it was at the time beginning a period of economic depression.

Scottish born ex-convict and entrepreneur James Alexander Thomson was also a schoolteacher and a short-lived publisher based at 26-28 Liverpool Street, Hobart Town.

On 21st July 1843 Thomson announced in the Hobart Town Courier that he had just engaged an experienced litho printer from the house of Day & Haghe of London, who could execute any type of printing. Hence “Artists or amateurs may be supplied (on moderate terms) with stones, chalks, &c, and their drawings will be printed with the utmost care and attention”.

Print shops had been appearing in Hobart Town and in Launceston since the 1830s, and Lithographers would have been employed by these shops. Their work was mainly commercial, preparing advertisements etc, but they also produced fine lithographic prints.

The importance of lithography was that it enabled artists who otherwise would not have been trained in the technique of engraving to draw directly onto stone in the same way as he or she would have drawn onto paper. Artists were probably dependent on a trained lithographer who ould complete the technical process once they had ‘drawn on stone’.

Other known work of that time, by Thomas Bluett, includes the sheet music for ‘Tasmanian Waltzes’ by John Howson, printed for the author by J.A. Thomson.

After Thomson abandoned the business in October 1843, Thomas Bluett set up on his own at the Liverpool Street shop, producing amongst other things a further series of ‘Tasmanian Waltzes’.

He announced his new enterprise in the local newspaper:-

Hobart Town Courier, 6th October 1843

LITHOGRAPHY. THOMAS BLUETT, LITHOGRAPHIC PRINTER, from Day & Haghe, London, begs to inform the inhabitants of Hobart Town and its vicinity, that he has commenced business in the above line, at No. 28, Liverpool-Street, next door to Mr. Robin Hood. Lithographic Drawings, Maps, Plans, Music, Circulars, Cards, Billheads, &c., executed in the neatest manner, and on reasonable terms. N.B. Artists supplied with Prepared Stones, Chalks, Ink, and every article required in the trade.Hobart Town Courier, 27th October 1843

NEW ZEALAND PORTRAITS. This day is published, by Mr. Bluett, at his Lithographic Establishment, Liverpool-Street, PORTRAITS of Raupa-rahah, Kafia Chief, and Rangihaeata, his Fighting General, the principals in the late massacre at New Zealand, taken from life by Mr. Cootes, Artist. To be had at Mr. Bluett’s, and at Mr. Tegg’s, Bookseller, Elizabeth-street. Price, per pair, 3s. plain; 4s. coloured.Mary Morton Allport was a skilled artist and lithographer. Thomas assisted her in the preparation of a print of an opossum mouse, printed in 1843. He may have assisted Mary with her earliest lithographs and he obviously improved the sketches which less talented local residents put on stone. Mary Allport enjoyed a regular income from producing portrait miniatures.

It is tantalising to note that a portrait miniature of Thomas was in the possession of a family member in the 20th century. Described as a good looking man with dark wavy hair and side whiskers, it has, sadly, been long since lost.

Thomas would often spell his name ‘Bluet’, instead of ‘Bluett’, perhaps because he felt that it looked more French than Irish!

The first three parts of John Skinner Prout’s collection ‘Sydney Illustrated’, printed in Sydney, had attracted scathing press comments. In January 1844 Prout and his family relocated from Sydney to Hobart where Thomas Bluett printed the two plates in Part four. These were twice the size of the others in the series.

On 12th February 1844 Thomas and Mary Bluett returned to Sydney on the brig ‘Louisa’ from Hobart, probably to deliver the final part of Sydney Illustrated.

Six weeks later the following review appeared in ‘The Register’ of 30th March 1844:-

SYDNEY ILLUSTRATED, by J.S.Prout, with Descriptive Letter-press, by John Rae, AM. Concluding Part.
We have just been favoured with an early copy of the concluding part of this work, which will be published in a few days; and we must say we regret that it is not the first part, instead of the last. None of the preceding parts were destitute of merit, but the views having been printed upon common paper, lost thereby more than half their effect. This evil is remedied in the present number, and accordingly we have two general views of Sydney which would do credit to any artist, besides a very pretty vignette view of Garden Island, and a general plan of the harbour; all so much superior to the former views, that it would hardly be believed they were the work of the same artist. The letterpress of this number is also very interesting, being a summary of the whole, and giving the best succinct description of Sydney which we have seen. We are so much pleased with this part that we should, for the credit of the artist, recommend a new impression of the earlier views.Clearly Thomas’ professional involvement had saved Prout’s credibility. After this success, Prout began work with Thomas on a further series of lithographic views called Tasmania Illustrated.

Apart from what was done in association with Prout, Bluett’s most important work was the production of ‘Six Views of Hobart Town’ from sketches by Thomas Evans Chapman. Henry Green Eaton’s signature (or initials) appear on every print, and was probably the man who copied Chapman’s sketches onto the stone.

Thomas also lithographed six illustrations to a religious book ‘True Piety’ printed by William Pratt and published in Hobart Town in 1844. Their original artist is unknown.

It seems that soon after this the Bluetts left Hobart and headed for Hong Kong, where in the Spring of 1845, Mary claimed that Thomas had got into debt, fled to Calcutta and left her and her children destitute, forcing her to return to England onboard the ship ‘Tory’, the voyage of which I wrote about for the April 2008 issue of the magazine – The ordeal of Mary Bluett

Paul Barton, Special Agent

© Paul Barton, Special Agent 2008


I have recently been very fortunate to successfully bid for two of Thomas’ prints on the internet auction website ebay.

These are of two views of Sydney NSW, which were part of a series produced in 1842-3, and can be seen in the above article.



The Times various issues during 1840

The New Zealand Gazette various issues during 1841

The Victoria Times 16th September 1841

Wellington Spectator 25th September 1841 13th November 1841

Sydney Morning Herald 28th December 1841

Hobart Town Courier 21st July 1843, 6th October 1843

‘The Register’ 30th March 1844

The New Zealand Company archive

Hocken Collections University of Otago, New Zealand


Catalogue: Sydney illustrated / by J.S. Prout ; with letter press description by J. Rae