Georgiana McCrae

Georgiana Gordon McCrae (15 March 180424 May 1890) was an Australian painter and diarist.

Early life and family background

Born in London, she was the illegitimate daughter of George Gordon, 5th Duke of Gordon and Jane Graham. The Marquis of Huntly played little part in her life, as far as can be deduced from Gordon's memoirs. In 1805-07 she spent much of her early childhood in Scotland - her first memories were playing with rocks in Newhaven. She was baptised on 6 October 1806 at St James' Church, Piccadilly.

By 1809, Gordon and her mother had moved to Somers Town, where she began her education at a convent school. Somers Town was full of French refugees from the revolution some thirty years earlier. She did not study there for long; because those who paid her school fees were worried about Catholic revolutionary influences, she was temporarily sent to Claybrook House in Fulham. She stayed there less than a year, and it was when she was tutored at home that her talent was discovered.

Education, apprenticeship and first Academy exhibition

Her first art teacher was Louis Mauleon, a civilian prisoner of war who earned his living by making cartons and jacks for London toyshops. He taught her at one shilling a lesson. Under Mauleon she learnt how to draw in black and red chalk. He left her on August 13 1813, the same date as her aunt, Margaret Graham, dying.

Graham had left Georgiana's mother £400. It was to be used for Georgiana having a home of her own. After having become ill in the winter of 1813, she studied music under novelist Fanny Holcroft. The need to control her future was emphasised by her father's second marriage.

In 1814, Georgiana studied under John Varley. At eleven, she was committed to a professional career, and as such, studied Greek and Roman statues for fifteen hours a week. However, she thought portraits were her metier. She also studied with John Glover and Dominic Serres. Abbé Huteau, a French priest, took charge of her general education from 1814-1820, and she received two proposals.

Overqualified to teach young ladies painting, and overspecialised to be a governess, Georgiana was unable to use her talents for money or be properly taught at the Royal Academy. There were few successful women painters while she was training, except for Swiss painter Angelica Kauffman, and Mary Anne Knight, who supported her family by making portraits.

Georgiana herself exhibited a view of a church in 1816, two Thames River scenes and two genre studies: a boy returning from market in winter, and a Margate cottage scene. In 1820, she won a silver medal from the Society of Arts for her portrait of her grandfather, Alexander Gordon, 4th Duke of Gordon. A year later she won the Society's silver palette with her "Portrait of a French lady".

Love and suitors at Gordon Castle, and work in Edinburgh

When Jane Graham had an accident, her Gordon relatives took charge of Georgiana's life and so she lived at Gordon Castle from the time she was sixteen. Her sense of history was greatly inspired. Duke Alexander Gordon died when she was twenty-two, and the Duchess took over the house.

When it came time for Georgiana to look for suitors, there were three possible candidates. Andrew McCrae was a solicitor and distantly related to the Gordons. Major McDonald who belonged to a Catholic family (and was never a serious possibility, even though he promised to convert) and Peter Charles Gordon, known as Perico, the heir of the Laird of Wardhouse. In 1828 the Wadehouse marriage looked favourable, and she tells it amusingly in 'Stray Leaves' (MS 12018 McCrae Family Papers).

After being separated from Gordon in 1829, she went to Wodehouse to paint again in Edinburgh. Her first patron was Charles Kilpatrick Sharpe, and she focused at this time on women and children, especially the then-fashionable art of miniatures. By 1830 she made £250, however her art did not engross her as she was in love with Gordon.

Marriage to Andrew McCrae, passage to Port Philip and life in Argyle Cottage

On 30 January 1830 Andrew McCrae proposed to her, and she accepted some time during that month. They were married in September and she made her home in Westminister. During their marriage, their fortunes were erratic and they lived in London until 1837. Georgiana painted many portraits of the McCrae family. While in London and in Edinburgh, they had four children, but during her married life she lost her first child, her mother and father.

In November 1838 McCrae was to sail for Sydney on the "Royal Saxon". Georgiana was not allowed to sail because of birth complications, and waited in London. She painted portraits again while McCrae thought about settling in New Zealand. In January 1840 "The Port Phillip Herald" told Gordon that McCrae might be practicing law in Melbourne, and in October of that year, Georgiana and the children were able to join him on the "Argyle".

The "Arygle" arrived in Port Phillip Bay on 27 February 1841, and anchored in Hobson's Bay on 1 March. They moved into Argyle Cottage in Little Lonsdale Street West, Melbourne. She made good friends with Sophie La Trobe, and Governor Charles La Trobe tickled her interest in the flowers, native birds and animals. At the time the McCraes first settled there, Melbourne grew rapidly, and Andrew's brothers were successful within its institutions. Georgiana, meanwhile, enjoyed a professional and social life with a few close friends, and took her sons on walks, as she had done in London.

Debt on Mayfield and squattocracy in Arthurs' Seat

In December 1841, her first daughter Lucia was born, and they lived in a much bigger house called Mayfield on the corner of Church Street and Victoria Street. However, McCrae borrowed a great deal and Nicholson took out a mortgage in July 1843.

When times in Port Philip grew hard, despite the Insolvency Act, Andrew McCrae wished to abandon Melbourne life, so he started a project to go to Arthur's Seat. Georgiana visited there in 1844. The Duchess did not wish to buy Mayfield, so in 1845 the McCraes prepared to move to Arthur's Seat, and sailed on the "Jemina" for nine hours. Andrew's plans to expand were at first hampered by the Purchase Regulations set up by Governor Gipps - but the leases were extended by seven years and McCrae held 21,360 acres of Arthur's Seat.

Return to Melbourne - artistic and intellectual stimulation in the goldfields - exhibition of early work

Georgiana returned to Melbourne in November 1850 when Port Philip was separated from New South Wales. The Bunurong people were part of the McCrae life at Arthur's Seat, and Georgiana learnt the language and painted portraits of Benbenjie and Eliza. They left Arthur's Seat by 1851, by which time Melbourne had been seized up by the gold rush.

Andrew McCrae had become a Police Magistrate in Alberton, Gippsland, and Georgiana and the children lived in La Trobe Street West. Georgiana greatly enjoyed the intellectuals who were brought to her house by gold, especially the influence of the Pre-Raphaelite Movement and William Howitt, who wrote "Love, Labour and Gold".

In 1854 she met Nicholas Chevalier, one of the foremost painters of the Australian landscape. In 1856 she met Louisa Anne Meredith who was a painter and poet, and they stayed friends until Georgiana's death. There was another female artist who came to Melbourne in 1852 - Julie Visseux. Despite the artistic and intellectual stimulus of gold-rush Melbourne, McCrae seemed to have done little of her own painting from 1851-69, except for a portrait of Meredith and two studies of Hewitt. In 1857 she exhibited with the Victorian Society of Fine Arts, and the "Argus" was greatly impressed. There were nine pencil/watercolour drawings and miniatures on ivory.

The belated professional stimulation and recognition was not to last, however, regarding the turmoil in her personal life caused her role on the perphirery of the Scottish aristocracy and her respectable life in the colonies technically with but in practice often apart from Andrew McCrae.

Death of the Duchess and separation from McCrae

On 31 January 1864, the Duchess died. She had been engaged in church politics and evangelical work. Unfortunately she left Georgiana McCrae and her children nothing, and McCrae had to claim her birth.

McCrae had been disabled by a hip injury since 1859 which meant she could not visit Andrew who had been Police Magistrate in Kilmore. In any case he was no support when he learnt Georgiana had been cut from the will, and the sons had to support themselves. Her eldest son, George, went to Britain in 1864 after ten years in the Public Service, and his brother Sandy worked in Queensland. Georgiana coped by writing memoirs of the Gordon Castle and, more generally, the family history. She also copied out her journals from 1838 to 1845, with possible cuts and additions. It was around this time of frenetic activity, after his leavetaking in Kilmore, that Georgiana left McCrae after thirty-seven years of marriage. McCrae left for Britain in 1867 and stayed for seven years until 1874.

Legacy of the matriarch at Arundel Cottage and Cape Schanck

Georgiana then lived with George and Maggie, the only unmarried daughter. They were sociable and came to know great writers like Henry Kendall and Marcus Clarke and Adam Lindsay Gordon while still maintaining their privileged position in the Government House circle. In 1868 they moved to Arundel Cottage in Richmond, and Georgiana travelled more frequently within Victoria than she had been able to do in the past, particularly in Cape Schanck.

At the homestead of Barragunda she painted the Pulpit Rock. While her two daughters gave her trouble, she enjoyed a happy mother-daughter relationship with Edith Anderson. Andrew McCrae died on 24 July 1874, leaving the seventy-year-old Georgiana free to take on the role of matriarch, despite her increasing dependence on her children.

In her last years, beginning in 1886, she lived with her daughter and grandchildren, but occasionally visited and painted in Cape Schanck. She wrote frequently to Edith's daughter, and the letters give insight into her old age, as do the letters she wrote to friends in Scotland and her half-sister Susan Sordett. She lived to see Melbourne's half-century and the centenary of white settlement in Australia in 1888. She made her will on 6 May 1890 with a balance of £149 and her paintings and jewellery, and died on the 24 May 1890 in the presence of almost all her family who kept her possessions and records.

Her legacy includes the journals her grandson published in 1934, and her great-grandson George Gordon McCrae buying back the Arthur's Seat homestead in 1961. In 1969 after his death it went to the National Trust from his son Andrew.


*Niall, Brenda. (1994) "Georgiana: a biography of Georgiana McCrae, painter, diarist, pioneer". Melbourne: Melbourne University Press.
*cite web
title =McCrae, Georgiana Huntly (1804 - 1890)
publisher =Australian National University
work=Australian Dictionary of Biography
url =
accessdate = 2007-06-04

*cite web
title =McCrae, Georgiana Huntly (1804 - 1890), née Gordon,
publisher =Project Gutenberg Australia
work=Dictionary of Australian Biography
url =
accessdate = 2007-06-04

NAME=McCrae, Georgiana Huntly
SHORT DESCRIPTION=English/Australian diarist and painter
DATE OF BIRTH= 15 March 1804
PLACE OF BIRTH= London, England
DATE OF DEATH= 24 May 1890
PLACE OF DEATH= Hawthorn, Victoria

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