Australian Historical Art Fund & Heritage Government Residences

Powderhorn, c.1840

Carved cow horn
Length: 24.5cm

With a cameo style cartouche, this carved cow horn designed to hold gun powder, illustrates the beginning of free settlers migrating to Australia; it is a souvenir of a particular voyage of migration (1839-40), showing the only known image of The James Pattison, a three masted vessel with a square rig coming through the heads at Sydney Harbour circa 1840. Around this circular image are fish, scrolls, shell motifs, an anchor, a trident, a sword, a spear, a plain flag, a British flag and a sun with the carved initials "G.R." possibly the initials of the scrimshaw carver. It is not known if they refer to George Roberts who was a painter and glazier on the ship, or Dr. George Roberts, the surgeon on the ship.

Describing the voyage is the inscription "LEFT GRAVESEND NOVR 8th/Arrived Sydney/FEBY 8th 1840" above an incised picture of The James Pattison. In shallower relief are ribbons and swags with thistles, roses and clover. Deeply carved scrolls are found on the narrow end of the horn. There is no existing stopper so a simple cork may have held the powder inside.

This form of carving known as scrimshaw work refers to carving on shells, bone, ivory or wood usually by sailors in their spare time on long voyages. Although the origin of the word scrimshaw is not known, in H. Melville's novel, "Moby Dick", of 1851, he mentions "skrim shunder articles". This powder horn was created by an accomplished carver and may have been produced as a souvenir at the time or even a decade later to commemorate the voyage.

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This selection represents a small sample of our collection. Our book detailing the collection is currently out of print.
An updated edition has been published in 2017.
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