Jane Neville-Rolfe

Harriet Jane Neville-Rolfe (1850-1928), artist, was born at Sedgeford Hall, Norfolk, England, on 3 January 1850, fourth of nine children of Martha and Charles Fawcett Neville-Rolfe. While her Oxford-educated father helped tutor her brothers, Jane Neville-Rolfe received her early education from a governess and learnt Latin from the local vicar. From 1861-63 the family lived in Italy, where her childhood talent for drawing developed. Later she studied art at London's Slade School, probably from its opening in 1871 until 1873, and in Paris from 1874-77 at the École Nationale de Dessin de Jeunes Filles, where she won annual prizes.

Late in 1883 Jane left Paris to join her brother Charles (known as Carl), who had been at 'Alpha' station in central western Queensland since the early 1870s. At 'Alpha' she joined a close-knit family circle comprising two of her brothers, a sister, sister-in-law and brother-in- law. For just over two years in Queensland Jane Neville-Rolfe produced scores of small pencil and watercolour studies, mainly as direct outdoor sketches. In the convention of the time they were intended for private circulation, recording impressions of everyday colonial life in a remote corner of empire for the large Neville-Rolfe family in England and Europe.

Carefully annotated studies from 'Alpha' depict many aspects of station life in the 1880s - from flora, fauna and avian life to the people and activities involved in managing the station, horse-breaking, making camp and riding to hounds at the start of a kangaroo hunt, the family on picnics and at breakfast, and the mail delivery. The visit coincided with a bad drought, which Neville-Rolfe recorded from August 1884 in sketches showing a parched countryside and the plentiful bones and remains of starved cattle. A regenerating land, shooting after summer rain, duly appeared in her studies from February 1885. The birth of her nephew Clive at Clermont on 17 September 1884 provided the opportunity to visit the goldmining centre and sketch its diggings.

She left 'Alpha' in November 1885, visiting Brisbane where she sketched the Parliament buildings, and Western Australia, where she painted some still lifes. After her return to England and marriage in 1886, her husband (and later two children) became the chief focus of her life. Between 1895 and 1905 her creative talents found an outlet when she revived the Heacham brickyard and did ornamental work there, as well as organising and preparing 'creations' for the carnivals at Sedgeford, where she died on 11 October 1928. In 1964 her son presented a group of her Australian watercolours to the Queensland Art Gallery.

Bettina MacAulay