Matthew Fortescue Moresby (1827 - 1919)

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About Matthew Fortescue Moresby

Matthew Fortescue Moresby (1827–1919) was secretary to his father until he moved to Sydney, New South Wales where he became a well known painter and photographer.

Sketcher, amateur photographer and clerk, was the second of the three sons of Admiral Sir Fairfax Moresby and Eliza Louisa, née Williams, of Bakewell, Derbyshire. Sir Fairfax Moresby was commander-in-chief in the Pacific in 1850-53 and all his sons served in the region. The eldest, Fairfax, died in Bass Strait when the brig Sappho was lost in 1858; John (also a gifted sketcher) was the New Guinea explorer after whom Port Moresby is named; and Matthew Fortescue (known as Fortescue or 'Forty’) was secretary to his father on board HMS Portland in 1852 53. During this period he visited Pitcairn Island several times and enjoyed 'taking walks over the Island, sketching, talking and singing’. He became very fond of the Pitcairners: 'truly a more innocent and delightful race could not exist’.

Before taking up photography Fortescue Moresby had painted lively and competent watercolours, especially of ships. Trial of Sailing, Channel Fleet, 1846 , An Ex-Pirate Junk in Action Defeating her Old Comrade and H.M.S. 'Basilisk’ in a Gale are reproduced in John Moresby’s autobiography and memoir of his father, Two Admirals (London 1909), a book that otherwise makes no mention of this brother. A modern photograph of Moresby’s more tranquil painting of Basilisk surrounded by rowing boats is in the Cooktown Museum, North Queensland.

Fortescue Moresby was at Sydney in 1856-60 as paymaster-in-chief of the first British naval station in Australia under the command of Commodore William Loring of the flagship Iris and he seems to have begun taking photographs then. It is not known from whom he learned the art of wet-plate work but it may have been from his friend E.W. Ward . The photographs he took while stationed in Sydney include the harbour, Government House, Campbell’s Wharf, Iris in dry dock, and portraits of friends and naval personnel. His photographs of Sydney residences include William Dumaresq’s Tivoli, the Barneys ' North Sydney home and Arthur Jeffrey 's residence at Canterbury.

Moresby’s wash drawing of a simple 'Sidney’ Gothic house (possibly his own temporary residence) is also in the major known collection of his work (ML), an album of photographic views and portraits plus fifteen loose photographs and the one sketch (bound together by the library). Two initialled photographs of the Botanical Gardens in the collection are by Ward, the rest were almost certainly taken by Moresby, including a view of a tree-fern in the Botanical Gardens taken at the same time Ward took his. Apart from A New Zealand Chief and his Wife and a view of the old barracks and gaol on Norfolk Island, all appear to have been taken in Sydney.

On 25 September 1857, the Iris with Governor-General Sir William Denison aboard arrived at Norfolk Island, recently colonised by some of the Pitcairners. Denison wrote that since 'Moresby had brought a photographic apparatus on shore, I decided to get good likenesses of as many of the islanders as we could … After a good deal of trouble we got several groups of both males and females; and here and there single photographs’. Moresby himself reported, 'I turned Mr Nobbs’ study into an impromptu dark room and then took some pictures. Of course in taking groups with children, some of them moved’. In 1859 the secretary of the Society for Promoting Christian Knowledge, Rev. Thomas Boyles Murray, stated that 'ten well executed photographic groups and simple portraits, accomplished by Mr Fortescue Moresby under the above disadvantages, have since reached the author’s hands’. They were not, however, the first photographs to be taken of the islanders. James Glen Wilson had photographed them when they arrived on Norfolk Island in 1856.

At the first photographic conversazione of the Philosophical Society of New South Wales, held on 8 December 1858, photographs by Moresby and other amateur photographers – Robert Hunt , W.S. Jevons , Professor John Smith and Ward – were shown alongside examples by professionals such as Dalton , Hetzer and the Freemans . Several Moresby photographs believed to have been owned by Hunt are in the Historic Photograph Collection (SU), while photographs he took on a number of South Pacific islands visited with the Iris , including the Solomons and the New Hebrides, are in the Camden Park albums (ML). As well as individual portraits the latter contains some group scenes of villagers staring suspiciously at the camera.

Fortescue Moresby also painted lively and competent watercolours, especially of ships. Trial of Sailing, Channel Fleet, 1846, An Ex-Pirate Junk in Action Defeating her Old Comrade and H.M.S. 'Basilisk’ in a Gale are reproduced in John Moresby’s autobiography and memoir of his father, Two Admirals (London 1909), a book which otherwise makes no mention of this brother, although Fortescue was obviously on board when H.M.S. Basilisk (under John’s command) was serving on the Australian Station and in New Guinea in 1871-74. Other Basilisk views survive (photographic reproductions, Cooktown Museum, North Queensland).

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Matthew Fortescue Moresby's Timeline

1827
1827
1919
1919
Age 92