Poster - Chronological Tree of Victorian History, James McKain Meek, Melbourne, 1873


Object Description

Chronological Tree of Victorian History, a picture designed and written by James McKain Meek, printed and published by John Paten, in 1873, and photo-lithographed by John Noone, Crown Lands Office, Melbourne. The picture is in the shape of a gum tree, with a stylised geological and political map of Victoria forming the 'leaves', and it includes substantial statistical information about the colony of Victoria. The author produced a number of such large pictures that promoted the colony.

Educational Value Statement

This quirky document was produced in 1873 by James McKain Meek, 1815 - 1899. Meek emigrated from Norfolk to Sydney in 1838, possibly as a tutor to the children of Governor Gipps, and arrived in Port Phillip District in July 1847 with his wife and young child.  He was a pioneer of the Ballarat gold fields, where he was successful in finding gold, ran a store and also a 'soda water factory' (possibly a sly grog shop). He invested the money obtained in a fishing boat enterprise at Sandridge, together with a café near the pier. This business failed when the three fishing boats were sunk in a storm. He then moved with his family to Curdie's Inlet at Peterborough, where he possibly smoked fish that he'd caught. By August 1855 he had moved to Warrnambool where he set up a fishmonger's store and established the West Coast Fishing Company (1858) which had failed by 1859. Meek then worked as a Librarian at the Melbourne Public Library, before returning to Curdie's Inlet where he fished and sold smoked fish to the people of Warrnambool. He sought gold in the area, explored an inland track from Peterborough to Terang, and produced a number of pen and ink illustrations. In 1874 he and the younger members of his family moved to New Zealand, where he was a schoolteacher for a time. In 1890 when he was 75 he returned to Victoria to live with a married daughter. He was 'Assistant Bookkeeper' at the Ballarat Benevolent Home, where he completed a large historical picture of Ballarat. He died in Warrnambool in 1899.

Meek was a draughtsman who delighted in exercising his skill in miniature penmanship. In 1861, Meek's 'Map of Australasia', which gave the history of the Australasian colonies, won first prize at the Melbourne Intercolonial Exhibition. It was sent on to a World Fair in London in 1862, and a copy is held by the London Stationers' Hall.  He also produced 'The Ballarat Historical Gum Tree' that was also sent to Stationers' Hall. He apparently received a certificate from Queen Victoria declaring him to be 'the best penman in Australia'. To amuse friends, Meek would write the Lord's Prayer on a sixpence or a postage stamp; whenever there was a family wedding he produced an intricate scroll for the occasion. Meek was also a writer and a poet.  In 1869, at Warrnambool, his The Resources of the Western District was published.  In 1874 he published a long poem, 'Creation', published in Melbourne; he tried to get this set to music by a Ballarat schoolteacher to be performed to benefit the Benevolent Home. In c.1880 he published Commodore Goodenough's dying words, with an addendum on life and death; and other original poems. This was published in Warrnambool. He also wrote an Epic Poem, published in Christchurch, New Zealand, in 1886, and a song, Zealandia's Annie Macquaid: only a stewardess: Albion's Grace Darling, that was printed in Ballarat in the 1890s; the last two works are held by the National Library of New Zealand.

This 'Chronological Tree of Victorian history' was produced after Meek's success with the Map of Australasia, and was presumably made to be sold to provide much-needed cash for the artist's family. It sets out to promote the colony as a terrific place for investment, with much information about the development of the colony, its natural resources, and the progress of the colony since representative government had been introduced. But it is not a serious attempt at communication, despite the facts and figures: one gets the impression that the artist's delight was in the detail and the tiny size of the text. Miniature writing was a nineteenth century hobby, and Meek used his hobby to produce this document that 'boosts' the colony where he had made his home.The author produced a number of such large pictures that promoted the colony.

The author included this legend among his extensive text: 'This chronological tree of Victorian history is by permission most respectfully dedicated to William Henry Archer, Esq., Registrar-General of the Colony of Victoria, and Honorary Corresponding Member of the Statistical Society of London, etc. by his obedient servant James McKain Meek. … Victoria is, by her general and healthy climate, by her auriferous, metalferous and mineral deposits, her pastoral capabilities, the productiveness of her agricultural lands, the compulsory education of her children, destined to become one of the great nations of the earth.'

The picture includes extensive text, arranged under the headings: Victoria/Principal Boroughs and Shire Towns/ City of Melbourne/ Metropolitan Boroughs/ Timeline' Geological features/ Statistical Summary of Victoria/ names of Ministers in the Present Government, 1873/ Names of Ministers, First Responsible Government in Victoria, 1855/ details about Edward Henty, and a note that the work was 'Registered by Act of Parliament'. At the base of the 'tree' is a pen and ink drawing of a wilderness scene with an emu and kangaroo, ships in a bay, and a distant lighthouse.

Catalogue Record


HT 6971


Primary support, Width: 896 mm, Height: 1143 mm


Fullname: James Meek
FirstName: James
FamilyName: Meek
StateAddress: Victoria
Country: Australia
Role: Artist

Fullname: John Noone
FirstName: John
FamilyName: Noone
StateAddress: Victoria
Country: Australia
Role: Lithographer


Public Life & Institutions
History of Melbourne
Victorian Pioneers



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