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In 1851 Swainson travelled from New Zealand to the colony of New South Wales. While there he visited the home of the Scott sisters on Ash Island and was impressed by their drawings.

Chelepteryx Collesi by Harriet Scott

Chelepteryx collesi, drawn by Harriet Scott, Plate 7 in Vol. 1 of Australian lepidoptera and their transformations, drawn from the life by Harriet and Helena Scott with descriptions by A.W. Scott, 1864

Image: Australian Museum
© Australian Museum

At this time Harriet and Helena Scott (aged 21 and 19) were producing the illustrations of Lepidoptera for which they were later to become so admired. As a fellow illustrator, Swainson was able to appreciate their skill. He wrote to his son that Mr Scott’s daughters 'have made hundreds of most beautiful drawings, having the larva, pupa and perfect insect of each. These young ladies are also very accomplished. The insects of this colony are numerous and very beautiful, so that if I remain here until Spring I shall really begin once more to collect.'

While there, Swainson wrote a lengthy review of the manuscript and plates which were destined to be later published as Australian Lepidoptera and their transformations, drawn from the life by Harriet and Helena Scott; with descriptions general and systematic by A.W. Scott, M.A. His review was published in the Sydney Morning Herald in August 1851. He stated that the drawings are ‘equal to any I have ever seen by modern artists.’ He referred to ‘the exquisite and elaborate finishing, the correct drawing ... the astonishing exactitude of the colors, often most brilliant, and generally indescribably blended’ concluding that ‘there is no poetic exaggeration in saying that The force of painting can no farther go.’