Mr JW Lewin by Richard Neville, New South Books, $39.99
The story of John William Lewin, who left England a nobody and rose to become a respected artist, author and printmaker in the young convict colony of Australia, is a gently inspiring one. It reminds us that our early history was not all about floggings and rum but embraced the dreams of free settlers who came here seeking better lives than the Old Country could offer.
Lewin was one of them.
His passion was natural history, all the rage in the late 18th century, though Lewin was no Darwin or Joseph Banks but a humble foot soldier who, through talent and hard work, created the first illustrated book ever published in Australia (now a valuable rarity) and in 1810 became Sydney’s coroner, entitled to add Gentleman after his name.
Especially impressive given it all started so badly, Lewin having missed his boat in 1798, leaving his poor wife Maria to sail alone to the colony and cool her heels until her husband turned up two years later!
The book is profusely, vividly illustrated and concludes with John Lewin’s happy conclusion that he had found “the finest country in the world”.