Dunedin from Maclaggan Street, Otago (Taken from my Lodgings, Clifton Villa)

370 x 590mm

Richard Kelly – survey draughtsman, engineer, artist, astronomer and poet – was the eldest son of Captain Richard Kelly and Sarah Pawley of Hythe, Kent. Clearly a man with an adventurous nature, he left home on 16 October 1836 at the age of 18 years sailing on the Osbert for Dominica in the West Indies. He returned to England after three months and worked for the Darlington Railway Office. In 1842 he travelled to Jamaica where he set up as an engineer, filling his time with painting and writing poetry. In 1843 he returned to England, travelling again, this time to Canada in 1851. Here for a short period he took up a position of tutor in English and drawing at University of Victoria College, Coburg, West Canada.

Kelly’s next journey was to Macau followed by another to Australia during which his ship was wrecked off the coast of Brazil. It was eleven days before the crew and passengers were rescued and Kelly spent the time recording the wreck and surrounding landscape, painting on salvaged pieces of the ship’s canvas. Four years after his 1852 arrival in Australia he married and, on losing his job with the Public Works Office, decided to try his luck in New Zealand. He arrived in Dunedin in July 1862, travelling to Christchurch on 15 August 1862 where he was employed in the Public Works Office. There he was joined by his wife and two children where the family settled into their Madras Street home. Richard Kelly died aged 55 years and was buried in the Barbadoes Street cemetery.

These two highly competent and very specifically titled watercolours were no doubt painted while the artist was awaiting transport from Dunedin to Christchurch. Like a number of colonial artists he was in fact an engineer with an artistic bent whose careful watercolours were made not primarily to give expression to an artistic vision but rather to record scenes from his own daily life and surroundings. They show an understanding of and interest in precise landscape detail and as such are a valuable record.