'The secret of England's greatness': Medievalism, ornithology, and Anglican imperialism in the aboriginal gospel book of sir George Grey

Hilary M. Carey*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle (Academic Journal)peer-review

1 Citation (Scopus)

Abstract

The Bible was a central symbol of the Victorian age and one which was readily adapted to the Gothic style which became fashionable from the middle of the nineteenth century. This essay provides an analysis for the Aboriginal Gospel Book (Auckland Public Library, Grey MS 82) which was once owned by the colonial administrator Sir George Grey (1812-1898). This contains a translation of the Gospel of St Luke which was completed by the missionary Lancelot Threlkeld (1788-1859) and his Aboriginal collaborator Johnnie MGill or Biraban (fl. 1819-d. 1842) into the language of the Hunter River and Lake Macquarie people of New South Wales. After Threlkeld's death, Grey's Aboriginal Gospel Book was decorated by the artist Annie Layard (c. 1826-86), wife of ornithologist Edgar Leopold Layard (1824-1900), in the style of a great, medieval illuminated manuscript. This essay analyses the relationship between missionary, manuscript, patron and artist and the medievalizing context of the 1860s and 1870s including the Gothic revival in heraldry and calligraphy and the Gothic mode of the Anglican missionary movement. It argues that the medieval scheme adopted by Annie Layard for the Aboriginal Gospel Book was not an eccentric choice but can be understood in the light of the cultural, scientific and religious context of imperial Anglicanism.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)323-346
Number of pages24
JournalJournal of Victorian Culture
Volume16
Issue number3
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - 1 Dec 2011

Keywords

  • Anglicanism
  • Anne Layard
  • book illumination
  • Gothic revival
  • heraldry
  • Medievalism
  • ornithology
  • Sir George Grey

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