The Snakes that Hattie & Helena Scott drew in 1869.
Harriet (1830-1907) and Helena (1832-1910), artists and naturalists, were born in Sydney, Helena on 11 April 1832. Educated by their father on Ash Island, they acquired a considerable knowledge of Australian plants, animals and insects. They collected for and corresponded with leading colonial scientists. Their many paintings of Australian insects earned high praise from members of the Entomological Society and after the publication of Australian Lepidoptera they were elected honorary members.
In 1864 Helena married Edward Forde and the next year accompanied him on a survey of the Darling River between Wentworth and Bourke. The plan was that Helena would draw fodder grasses and other specimens for a proposed ‘Flora of the Darling’ collection. It didn’t work out. Forde died of fever at Menindee on 20 June 1866 and Helena returned to Sydney, transferring her collections to Rev. William Woolls, who used them for a section of his Contribution to the Flora of Australia (Sydney, 1867). Harriet and Helena received commissions from the Macleays, William Macarthur, E. P. Ramsay, and Sir Terence Murray and for years provided the imagery for almost all the scientific literature produced in Sydney, including J. C. Cox’s Monograph of Australian Land Shells (1868) and Krefft’s Snakes of Australia (1869) and Mammals of Australia (1871). They also designed Christmas cards with Australian themes for commercial production, while Harriet’s drawings of native flowers and ferns graced the 1884 and 1886 editions of The Railway Guide of New South Wales.
In 1882 Harriet married Dr Cosby William Morgan but the marriage was unhappy. She died at Granville on 16 August 1907.
Helena, whose letters reminded her patron Murray of ‘what letter writing was in the Augustan days of England’, died at Harris Park on 24 November 1910.
The Scott Sisters are today regarded as amongst most prominent natural history illustrators of the 19th century and they were possibly the first professional female illustrators in Australia. The sisters were also highly skilled amateur naturalists and collectors, rare accomplishments for women of their time. Whilst the sisters are best known for their (slightly twee) drawings of moths and butterflies in their father’s book, Australian Lepidoptera and Their Transformations, it’s these amazing snakes that are their most graphic and powerful images.
In the preface ofThe Snakes of Australia, Krefft thanked the Scott sisters:
“The gifted daughters of AW Scott, Esq, MA – Miss Scott and Mrs Edward Forde – have done everything in their power to give correct figures of the reptiles illustrated. This task (one of peculiar difficulty, as every naturalist knows) has been well carried out, and the different species will be easily recognised.”
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