One of Australia’s foremost maritime historians, Lieutenant Commander Geoffrey Ingleton RAN (Ret.), who has died aged 89, was also an accomplished marine artist and etcher, and a fine cartographer.
Geoffrey Chapman Ingleton was born in Baimsdale, Victoria, and at the age of 13 entered the Royal Australian Naval College, then situated at Jervis Bay. After being commissioned as a lieutenant, he was assigned to the hydrographic service and served in HMAS Moresby surveying waters to the north of Australia.
Ingleton is best remembered through his many writings as a historian of early Australia. But he was also a superb craftsman of marine models and was commissioned to build two large models of the First Fleet vessels Sirius and Supply. Both of these fine models can be found in the Powerhouse Museum.
His etchings of the very early contacts Europe had with Australia evoke the rigours of life in colonial Australia. His marine etchings, and portrayals of early Sydney life were grounded in exhaustive research and knowledge. Ingleton’s major resource in these endeavours was a very extensive private collection of books, manuscripts, maps and paintings on early Australia, including many rare and original editions. He was a passionate collector of books and manuscripts, most of his library having been sold by the Sydney auctioneers Lawsons in a series of sales throughout the 90s.
At a sale held in December 1991, a very rare copy of the album Australian Views of the North-East Coast, with 13 lithographic prints and dating from about 1847, sold for $20,000. The original ship’s log of the Alligator, dated 1838, brought $16,500. A signed letter by Matthew Flinders to J.W. Croker, then the First Secretary of the Admiralty, dating from 1811, sold for $5,000. Reporting the sale of the Ingleton library in 1991, the Herald noted soberly that “unlike some of the high-flying entrepreneurs whose paintings have glutted the art market, Mr Ingleton is not selling out of necessity.
“As he notes in the catalogue preface, this section of his library had grown considerably over the years, and now, at the age of 83, he feels it’s simply time to sell. Mr Ingleton, who began collecting around 1926 while serving as a midshipman in England, said that he regards the extremely rare books relating to the explorer Phillip Parker King as the high points of the sale“. “I kept them to try and do a biography on the life of King‘ he said. But he was exhausted after finishing his biography of Flinders,” the Herald, 1991 report noted.
Astonishing though his library was, Ingleton’s own writings were themselves exemplary. Among the books he wrote, or compiled, were Charting a Continent, a history of the surveying and mapping of Australia’s coasts and his magnum opus, Matthew Flinders, Navigator and Chartmaker, the final portions of which were written during a period of declining health. To the public, he is probably better known for his third book, True Patriots All. Its subtitle said it all – News from Early Australia as Told in a Collection of Broadsides Garnered and Decorated by Geoffrey Ingleton.
Published in 1952, the book was described by a Herald reviewer as “admirable“. It set out in excruciating detail the often-appalling conditions of convict life in early Sydney. “As a result, the white-washers and ‘good-old-days’ addicts will probably not find this book acceptable reading“, the Herald said. “Those who wish to learn something of Australia’s early days cannot afford to miss it, however, for it is a major contribution to Australiana. It is an item for collectors“.
The Bulletin was not so sure. “Mr Ingleton’s book“, said the reviewer, “diverting as it is in Newgate-calendar style, fails in balance, since it paints mainly one side of the picture and not always the most interesting one“.
True Patriots All and Ingleton’s many historical articles in the Herald and elsewhere helped to increase awareness of our past. His illustrations for a private edition in 1949 of Robert D. FitzGerald’s Heemskerck Shoals are regarded as his major artistic work. The edition, one of Australia’s finest private press printings, was sold to subscribers for the impressive sum of £35; The Bulletin called it magnificent.
Ingleton married first, in 1935, Josephine Weekes (marriage dissolved); they had two children who survive him – a daughter Michal (better known as the author Kelly King) and a son, Nicholas. In 1953 he married Nan Furness, the poet, who also survives him.