Published in Sydney in 1886-88, the enormous, multi-volume 'Picturesque Atlas of Australia' was an attempt with words and pictures to describe the Australia of the time.
Its publication was one of the most significant cultural projects in 19th-century Australia. Writers, artists, academics, and politicians came together to prepare a book of unprecedented grandeur and ambition, and a publishing company was established to publish it. The 1100+ engravings on steel and wood contained in the Picturesque Atlas were among the finest engravings to be found anywhere in the world at this time, and many of the illustrations were specially commissioned works by leading Australian artists of the era, for the publication.
There are thirty maps in the Atlas's 800 pages, plus hundreds of sketches. The word 'picturesque' was popularised by William Gilpin, for it was he who really popularised the idea of travelling in search of picturesque views. Picturesque took on an increasingly acquisitive edge, as admiration of the beauty of the land was joined by a concern to exploit it. A 'deep reverence for production' can be seen in the Picturesque Atlas's many illustrations of mines, factories and agricultural processes. The slag heaps of a mine were now as 'picturesque' as a fern-filled valley.
Of the hundreds of images included in the Atlas, you will find street scenes, monuments, churches, hills, seaside, farms, horses, scrub, country towns, ships, daily life activities, headstones, bridges, people, caves, aborigines, and mountains just to mention a few.
Though the Atlas was heavily dependent upon illustrations as its main selling point, these were set within texts describing landscape, industry and city streets. Photography was invented by the time of publication, and it has been said that a number of the engravings in the book were based on photographs, but it was chosen to use the engravings instead, even though it could take weeks to engrave on 7 inch by 1 inch block. By doing this it just adds to the uniqueness and high quality of this publication.
A unique and valuable historical record of Australia, New Zealand and the South Pacific.