Image 'First grave at Challicum, 1847'

TLF ID R3264

This is a watercolour measuring 12.8 cm x 16.6 cm showing a grave and headstone beside an old gum tree and five smaller trees, with a post-and-rail fence behind. Distant blue hills in the background are the Challicum Hills in Victoria. The artist, Duncan Cooper, included this painting as the twentieth watercolour in his field sketchbook and inscribed the title 'First grave at Challicum, 1847' on the mount. Cooper also transcribed the epitaph onto the mount - 'In Memory of / Titus William Aspinall / Who was drowned in the Creek / Near this spot, Feb 20, 1847 aged 3 years. / A little Child, his Mothers Dear, / Now rests in Peace with Angels near'.

Educational details

Educational value
  • This asset shows a grave on a squatting run (illegally occupied Crown land) called Challicum near Fiery Creek, 130 kilometres north-west of Geelong and 12.8 kilometres south-west of Mount Cole in Victoria - because virtually no visual records were kept by squatters, this watercolour offers a unique historical illustration of a child's tombstone and its surroundings on a squatting property in the late 1840s.
  • It shows the grave of Titus William Aspinall, a three-year-old who drowned in the local creek - he went missing while he and his mother were visiting a neighbour, William Freeman, a labourer on the Challicum run; William Freeman assisted Mrs Aspinall in searching until darkness fell and continued searching with Alexander Decker the next day until Titus's body was found 50 metres from the homestead.
  • It gives an indication of the some of the dangers facing young children in the Australian bush - anxiety about children becoming lost is a theme in 19th-century Australian literature, for example Henry Lawson's story 'The babies in the bush'.
  • It shows a watercolour in which the date of death in the epitaph on the headstone is inconsistent with official records - at the inquest, several witness accounts testified that 19 February was the actual date, including this statement, 'William Aspinall, of Challicum having been duly sworn, deposeth and sayeth - On Saturday morning the 20th Instant I learned from William Freeman that my son Titus William Aspinall had been drowned in the Challicum creek at the Home Station of Mess Thomsons and Cooper, on the previous evening'; there are two possible explanations for this discrepancy, the first of which is that the mason carving the headstone made a mistake, not an uncommon occurrence, with headstones often containing inaccurate information; the second explanation is that Cooper painted this from memory after he returned to England and made a mistake in the date.
  • It displays the beginnings of a cemetery, enclosed with a fence of split railings and mortised posts, on a squatting property - because such properties were a distance from the nearest town, and transport was very slow, the dead were buried close to where they had lived; over the years the fence decayed, cattle damaged some headstones and humans removed others and now little remains from Cooper's time.
  • It features the twentieth watercolour in Duncan Cooper's field album, a visual record of the early squatting years in Victoria - Cooper (c1813-1904) named the album 'The Challicum sketchbook' and described it as 'a collection of drawings made at Challicum, Fiery Creek, Victoria, Australia, from my first settlement there, January 1st, 1842 till 1853'; the album, measuring 26.5 cm x 37 cm and containing 34 paintings, is a prized item in the collection of the National Library of Australia.
Year level


Topics Pastoralists
Learning area
  • History

Other details

  • Author
  • Person: Duncan Cooper
  • Description: Author
  • Contributor
  • Name: National Library of Australia
  • Organization: National Library of Australia
  • Description: Content provider
  • URL:
  • Name: Education Services Australia
  • Organization: Education Services Australia
  • Description: Data manager
  • Person: Duncan Cooper
  • Description: Author
  • Copyright Holder
  • Name: National Library of Australia
  • Organization: National Library of Australia
  • Publisher
  • Name: Education Services Australia Ltd
  • Organization: Education Services Australia Ltd
  • Description: Publisher
  • Address: VIC, AUSTRALIA
  • URL:
  • Resource metadata contributed by
  • Name: Education Services Australia Ltd
  • Organisation: Education Services Australia Ltd
  • Address: AUSTRALIA
  • URL:
Access profile
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Learning Resource Type
  • Image
  • © Education Services Australia Ltd and National Library of Australia, 2013, except where indicated under Acknowledgements