The engraving is from the Picturesque Atlas of Australasia which was the most ambitious publishing venture in Australian history during the 1800’s. It was conceived and financed by American publishers under the name of the Picturesque Atlas Publishing Co Ltd, Sydney and Melbourne. Its ambitious aims of being the most comprehensive survey of Australia’s colonial history at the time; using the best available artists, the best paper and the finest printing engraving techniques; doomed it to financial failure. On the other hand it left a legacy of some of the finest engravings and maps printed in Australia in the 19th Century.
Francis (Frank) Mahony was born on 4 December 1862 in Flinders Lane, Melbourne, third surviving child of Timothy Mahony, Irish-born contractor, and his Cornish second wife Elizabeth, née Johns. Christened Francis Mahony later added ‘Prout’ and generally signed his work Frank P Mahony; a brother, William Henry (1856-1918), was a solicitor and represented Annandale in the New South Wales Legislative Assembly (1894-1910).
Brought to Sydney aged 10, Mahony began work in an architect’s office and studied under Giulio Anivitti at the New South Wales Academy of Art. His emergence as an artist dates from his employment on the Picturesque Atlas of Australasia (1886); two of his contributions, the spearing of Edmund Kennedy and E.J.Eyre’s struggle along the coast with the faithful Wylie, became part of the legendry of Australian exploration. From the centenary until Federation Mahony was one of the best-known Australian artists and illustrators, specializing in horses, which he studied assiduously, and in action scenes which stimulated—and reflected—national sentiment. His oils included ‘Rounding up a Straggler’ (1889), which possibly influenced Tom Roberts, and ‘The Cry of the Mothers’ (1895); both were bought by the National Art Gallery of New South Wales. More significant was his black-and-white work contributed to such journals as the Sydney Mail, the Bulletin and the Australian Town and Country Journal. In 1893 he illustrated A.B.Paterson’s poem ‘The Geebung Polo Club’ for the Antipodean; later in the decade his illustrations were a prominent feature of several popular books, notably Henry Lawson’s While the Billy Boils (1896) and In the Days when the World was Wide (1900) (which includes a sketch of Lawson as swagman), Barcroft Boake’s Where the Dead Men Lie (1897), and Ethel Pedley’s Dot and the Kangaroo (1899).