In the mid and late nineteenth century 'bird's-eye view' prints - depictions of landscapes or towns drawn as if seen from the air by a bird - became very popular in Europe and America. These were composed for hundreds of years before mechanical flight made aerial photography possible. The concept was naturally imitated locally, with the main Australian artist of bird's-eye views being A.C. Cooke.
Albert Charles Cooke and Samuel Calvert
Cooke was born in England and came to Melbourne at the age of 18 in 1854. He set up in business as a draughtsman, and was also a watercolour artist of some note. However his most prolific output was as a newspaper illustrator. Cooke travelled extensively for his work, which appears in the major illustrated newspapers of the day. Many of his drawings were engraved for printing by Samuel Calvert. Calvert worked in Adelaide from 1848 to 1852, before moving to Melbourne. He also had a prolific output until returning to England, late in his life. From about 1871 until 1895, Calvert engraved Cooke's bird's-eye views, for the Illustrated Australian news, as well as other illustrated newspapers.
Early SA bird's eye views
The earliest known South Australian bird's-eye view was published by the Melbourne Argus, owners of the Australasian sketcher, in association with their local partner, the artist and anthropologist, William Anderson Cawthorne. This view of Adelaide appeared as a supplement to the Australasian sketcher on 10 July 1875. (The Sketcher later published bird's eye views of Hobart (10 May 1879, p. 24-25), Sydney (6 March 1880, p. 8-9), Melbourne (16 October 1880, supplement - missing from the Library set) and Sandhurst (22 October 1884, supplement, damaged). A facsimile of the 1879 Hobart view has been published by the National Library.
Prior to this, the Illustrated Adelaide post had published bird's-eye views of other Australian cities. The issue of 23 July 1867 included a view of Melbourne from the tower of St Patrick's cathedral engraved by Calvert. A bird's-eye view of Melbourne was included with the issue of 6 October 1871 (supplement). The Post for 21 March 1874 contained a bird's-eye view of Sydney (supplement, missing). (Unfortunately these large supplements were often not kept with the newspaper, or have subsequently been catalogued separately, as part of the map or archival collections of the Library.) The same issue includes an article describing, 'A trip to Cape Otway by our travelling photographer.' (p. 12) The 'artist,' who provided a self-portrait, is AC Cooke.
The best known Adelaide bird's-eye views are two published by the Frearson brothers, printers and newspaper publishers. In 1876 they produced a view by Cooke and Calvert in their Illustrated Adelaide news (July 1876, supplement). This appeared in the same month in the Illustrated Sydney news as well as the Illustrated Australian news. (The Library copy came from the latter title.) This was reprinted as a facsimile by the National Library in 1976. In 1892 Frearsons published a new version of the Adelaide bird's-eye view in the Pictorial Australian (July 1892, supplement). The 1892 bird's-eye view was drawn by Cooke, engraved by J. Bruer, and printed by the Register newspaper.
An interesting very late bird's eye view, of Port Wakefield, appears in an illustrated supplement to the Kapunda herald (5 April 1907, p. 7). The Library also holds a coloured bird's eye view from approximately 1884 of 'Adelaide and its environs,' including its coastline on the Spencer's Gulf, by an unidentified artist. (C 1044/1)
(References: 'A note on Albert Charles Cooke,' LaTrobe journal, no. 30 (Dec. 1982), p. 34; Dictionary of Australian artists online, Samuel Calvert (University of New South Wales); 'Holiday rambles, a trip to Cape Otway by our travelling photographer,' Illustrated Adelaide post, 21 March 1874, p. 12)