In 1820 Major James Taylor created a series of watercolours on paper which, when joined together, formed a panorama of Sydney. When he returned to England in 1822 Taylor arranged for the engraving and printing of a three sheet panorama based on his watercolours. He engaged the foremost London engravers and print publishers, Tobert Havell and Colnaghi's. (The copperplates for these three engravings are in the collection of the State Library of New South Wales.) The panorama was published in London in 1823 as a set of hand-coloured prints. It must have been popular because it was copied and reduced in size in a French edition produced around 1824. It is this French version, an exquisitely hand-coloured aquatint, which is in the museum's collection.
Known as 'Major Taylor's Panorama', this is one of the most informative depictions of Sydney in its early years. Taylor, a topographical draughtsman attached to the 48th Regiment, arrived in 1817 when Sydney was thriving and Governor Macquarie was trying to turn an 'infantile' penal colony into a 'civilised' society. Taylor's pictures were intended to be a record of that change. The view, taken from Observatory Hill, encompasses Sydney Harbour from the Heads to Lavender Bay, showing many of the major buildings of the day.
Convicts can be seen cutting the sandstone which provided building material for Sydney's expansion. The many fences indicate gardens and a respect for private property. The harbour is filled with trade and military ships. Government House and its stables can be seen set in Governor Macquarie's private park called the Demesne. Much of this park still survives as the Botanic Gardens and the Domain. This area contrasts markedly with the small cottages in the middle ground which were typical of many in The Rocks. They were often occupied by convicts and their families who were encouraged to develop 'respectable' habits like gardening in their spare time.
A prominent building is the Military Hospital, built in 1815, where patients can be seen dressed in long coats. On the horizon are the impressive buildings of Macquarie St, including St James Church, the Hyde Park Barracks and the General Hospital. To the right of the Military Windmill is Cockle Bay, later called Darling Harbour. The land beyond is the Ultimo estate owned by the surgeon John Harris. To the far right are the windmills that gave rise to the name Millers Point.
Topographical artists often included indigenous people in their work. These images were intended to educate European viewers about the appearance and customs of the 'natives', but such depictions were informed by symbolism and ideology rather than a representation of reality. In Taylor's panorama Aborigines stand amid uncultivated bush, in contrast to Europeans who are clearing and grazing the land. When the British took possession of New South Wales they argued that, as the Aborigines did not 'work' the land, they did not own it. This supported the notion of 'terra nullius' or nobody's land. Taylor's representation is a graphic rendering of that argument.