Rare 18th Century Watercolour of a Wallaby
showing a dusky pademelon or dusky wallaby; inscribed Didelphys Brunü. Der Filander. Presented in an ebonised frame
The original source for this watercolour was most likely an engraving published in 1711 (here illustrated) by Cornelis de Bruijn and appears to be a copy of an engraving from the German naturalist Johann Christian Daniel von Schreber’s (1739-1810) ‘Die Saugthiere in Abbildungen nach der Natur mit Beschreibungen’ [‘Mammals Illustrated after Nature with Descriptions’] published from 1774 onwards. (also illustrated)
Among the most gruesome stories of shipwreck is the fateful voyage of the Dutch merchantman Batavia, wrecked off the coast of Western Australia in 1629. The disaster would lead to mutiny and the massacre of almost half of the crew. This tragedy, however, also resulted in the first European sighting of an Australian marsupial. The Batavia was wrecked on a reef of the Houtman Abrolhos, and on these islands Francisco Pelsaert, commander of the ship, discovered numerous ‘cats’: “creatures of a miraculous form, as big as a hare; the head similar to [that] of a civet cat, the fore-paws are very short, about a finger long.” He described in full detail how the young lived in a pouch, growing “with the nipple in mouth”. Other sightings were subsequently recorded by Volckerszoon (1658), De Vlamingh (1697), and Dampier (1699), but it would take another decade before the first image of a wallaby was published. Surprisingly, this illustration appeared in a narrative of a voyage to Russia, written by Cornelis de Bruyn, first published in 1711 and translated into English in 1720 (see illustration). De Bruyn had observed a wallaby in Batavia, in the menagerie of the governor-general, and named it ‘Filander’. This species, however, has been identified as Thylogale brunii or dusky pademelon and is endemic to New Guinea.