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Spectacular illustration depicts rails

Old train tracks uncovered at Nobbys Beach, Newcastle. PIC JONATHAN CARROLLTHE recently rediscovered rail lines running out to Nobbys are at the centre of one of the most dramatic images ever made of colonial Newcastle.

The engraving, Nobby’s Head, Newcastle, was created by American artist Frederic B. Schell (1838-1905), who had come to Australia as the supervising artist for a grand publishing venture known as the Picturesque Atlas of Australasia.

It shows two men running along the railway along the breakwall as waves crash over the rocks and a sailing ship founders in the background.

The railway tracks have been uncovered by Newcastle City Council workers engaged on a Bather’s Way upgrade.

Schell was born in Philadelphia and made his name as an artist through his coverage of the US Civil War for various publications. He produced illustrations for Picturesque Canada in 1879 before coming to Australia.

The atlas was edited by Andrew Garran (1825 to 1901), who came to Australia from England in 1851 and by 1873, was editor of The Sydney Morning Herald.

The Australian Dictionary of Biography reveals Garran to have had a noteworthy career in journalism, business and politics.

A director of the Newcastle Wallsend Coal Company from 1869 and chairman during “one of its most prosperous periods in 1874-79”, Garran was a regular correspondent to the London Times.

The bold premise of the atlas was told in a 2001 book, Paper Nation: the story of the Picturesque Atlas of Australasia 1886-1888, by academic and historian Tony Hughes-d’Aeth.

“With the approach of the first centenary of European settlement in Australia, a team of writers and artists was assembled to produce a monumental illustrated history of the Australasian colonies,” Hughes-d’Aeth wrote. “The massive, three-volume Picturesque Atlas of Australasia was first published in Sydney between 1886 and 1888, and sold a remarkable 50,000 copies.”

Copy pic of “Nobbys Head Newcastle”photo (3).JPG

Financed by American publishers keen to cash in on the 1889 centenary, the atlas is remembered as sparing no expense in both staff and production, but it ended up a financial failure.

Its legacy, on the other hand, was to create some of the finest engravings and maps printed in Australia in the 19th century.

The Schell engraving is one of the images that were included the Nobbys Collection of more than 60 works gathered between 1989 and 1993 by coal industry figures Kevin Brown and Mark Jurisich.

The collection has been disbanded but a book of images records their efforts.

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