Barossa Valley & Jacobs Creek Paintings for Bonhams Auction

An album of paintings of Australia’s famed wine growing region, the Barossa Valley, by an English vicar sent as a parish priest to Lyndoch in 1877, will be sold at Bonhams Exploration & Travel Sale on September 15 in London.

What makes this album of topographical views particularly interesting is that they show the region as it was before the total domination of the vineyards. Jacob’s Creek for example is just a river running through a bleak rocky valley.

Estimated to sell for £40,000-60,000 the album is of topographical views by Reverend Alfred Sells (English, 1822-1908), in and around Adelaide and the Barossa Valley, South Australia. There are also sketches depicting the artist’s voyage to Australia aboard the S.S. Somersetshire. Most are inscribed with title and dated 1876-1879.

Giles Peppiatt, Director of the Travel & Exploration Pictures at Bonhams, comments: “It is remarkable to see these early images of such a well known area in Australia as well as such an iconic name and brand as Jacob’s Creek, painted some 131 years ago.”

The album remained in the collection of the artist and then by descent to the current owner who has consigned it for sale at Bonhams.

Sells was an Anglican clergyman and talented artist who sailed for Australia in January 1877. The journey was also documented by Emma Heald, a young lady who befriended one of Sells’s daughters onboard and whose diary was published in 1877:

She writes: “Sunday 21st [January] – We crossed…the equator between six and seven o’clock this morning…In the evening it [church service] was held again, at eight o’clock, in the saloon, and the sermon was preached by the Rev. A. Sells. It was a very good and suitable one, the text being, “Who shall separate us from the love of God?”. Of course he referred to our being separated from all our friends on land for the time being.”

They sailed into Port Philip on 1st March: “This has been a most eventful and exciting day…Last night, about eleven o’clock, we went up upon deck to see the light on Cape Otway…We reached Sandridge pier about three o’clock…The pier was thronged with people to see the ship come in.”

Sells took up his post as Incumbent of the Holy Trinity Church at Lyndoch in the Barossa Valley. Settled in 1839, Lyndoch is one of the oldest towns in South Australia. The present lot contains many landscapes in the local area, many of them featuring figures, presumably members of his large family.

One is an early view of Jacob’s Creek, which lent its name to the famous wine brand. Wine was already being produced in the area at the time: Johann Gramp, the founder of Orlando Wines, first planted grape vines on the banks of Jacob’s Creek in 1847.

Sells was later Incumbent at St Michael’s Church at Mitcham from 1884 until he returned to England in 1888. Another album of watercolour sketches by the artist, painted in South Australia and on a journey back to England 1896-1902, is in the collection of the State Library of South Australia.

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