The Sarah Stone Collection

A fascinating collection of original watercolours by a talented female natural history artist.

Sarah Stone page 4

Sarah Stone page 4
Photographer: James King © Australian Museum Research Library

One of the Australian Museum Research Library's greatest treasures is a collection of 132 watercolours bound in red morroco, unpublished, bearing no title page except an attribution written in pencil : 'A collection of drawings by Sarah Stone of the principal objects of curiosity in Sir Ashton Lever's Museum, consisting of natural history, the arms ornaments and dresses of the inhabitants of New Zealand and other countries discover'd by Capt. Cook'.

In 1928 the Museum received this generous donation from Mr George Robertson of Angus and Robertson, Ltd. The illustrations are of objects from the eighteenth century Leverian Museum also known as Sir Ashton Lever’s Holophusikon. Sarah Stone’s drawings are the last visual record of this significant collection. The collection contained a number of objects collected on Captain Cook's second and third voyages. Unfortunately the Museum was auctioned off in lots in 1806. The objects were dispersed to individual buyers, smaller collections and other museums. The Sale Catalogue from this time listed the lots of objects being auctioned and accompanying annotations list some of the buyers.

Not much is known about Sarah Stone. There is no record of her birth although a younger sister of hers was born in London. A portrait of Sarah Stone was published in the Universal Review in 1890 well after her death. In 1789 Sarah Stone married Captain John Langdale Smith, she was almost 30 at the time of her marriage. They had a son Henry Stone Smith. Some of the images she has drawn are credited to her using her married name Mrs Smith.

Sir Ashton Lever commissioned Sarah Stone in the 1770s to paint the objects in his Museum, she continued to paint at the Leverian Museum throughout the 1780s and started painting the ethnographical items in 1783. It is not known how Sir Ashton and Sarah came to meet.

Sarah Stone’s work is the last record of a prominent eighteenth century collection recorded at a time when exploration of unknown territory was yielding artefacts and specimens never seen before. Public curiosity was heightened and Sir Ashton Lever’s new museum in London drew large audiences. Australians would recognise her art from her illustrations in John White’s Journal of a Voyage to New South Wales published in 1790. This journal is one of the 5 first fleet accounts of the new colony. The Leverian Museum under the later stewardship of James Parkinson exhibited some of the ‘never seen before’ Australian specimens collected by John White.

Most of the objects in the watercolours in this volume still need to be identified and tagged. If you have information about the object please tag it or contact the Research Library with your information.

Sarah Stone Bibliography:

  • Anderson, Charles. A link with the Leverian Museum Australian Museum Magazine vol. 3, no. 8 (1928) pp. 255-256.
  • Force, T & M, 1968. Art and artifacts of the 18th century: objects in the Leverian Museum as painted by Sarah Stone. Bishop Museum Press.
  • Jackson, Christine E. Sarah Stone: natural curiosities from the new worlds, 1998, Natural History Museum, London.
  • King, J.C.H. New evidence for the contents of the Leverian Museum, Journal of the History of Collections 8 no.2 (1996) pp. 167-186.
  • Leverian Museum. A companion to the Museum. 1790, and The sale catalogue of the entire collection. 1806. A facsimile reprint of the above two rare volumes published by Harmer Johnson & John Hewett, 1979.
  • Shaw, George. Museum Leverianum, containing select specimens from the museum of the late Sir Ashton Lever, Kt. with descriptions in Latin and English by George Shaw, published by James Parkinson, proprietor of the above collection. 1792-1796.
  • White, John Journal of a voyage to New South Wales : with sixty-five plates of non descript animals, birds, lizards, serpents, curious cones of trees and other natural productions. 1790, printed for J. Debrett, London.


Ms Leone Lemmer
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