Compiled between 1905 and 1922, the 'Autograph' book has considerable aesthetic coherence, even though drawings and text are by different hands. Together, it provides a vivid depiction of social life and values in Brisbane in the period preceding the First World War. Like other autograph albums of the period, it is a compilation of pen and ink sketches, watercolours, quotations, poems, aphorisms and signatures. Most entries are from Queensland, particularly Coorparoo in Brisbane; friends and acquaintances from other Australian States also contributed items. The autograph album predictably contains numerous mementoes of the notable and the forgotten. It includes the signatures of the British contralto Dame Clara Butt (1872-1936) her husband, the baritone R. H. Kennerley Rumford (1870-1957), and that of the Australian actress and singer Nellie Stewart (1858-1931).
The owner of the 'Autograph' book was Mary Alys (Gipps) Kirkland, the daughter of Richard Brook Woodthorpe Gipps (c.1872-1946). The family had migrated from Great Britain to Coorparoo, Brisbane, where most of the items in the album were created. In June 1925, The [Brisbane] Telegraph reported the wedding of Richard Gipps to Mary Alys Kirkland at Elvaston, The Righi, South Yarra. The bride, like the groom, was originally from Queensland, but at the time of her marriage lived with her parents at 21 The Righi. The album passed to their daughter Rosemary Alison (Gipps) Vaughan-Smith, and thence by donation to the collection of the Kew Historical Society.
While the signatures are interesting, they are not rare. Rather it is the illustrations that dazzle with the surety of their design and execution. In the portraits, one can recognise the debt that Edwardian art and design owed to the Pre-Raphaelites whose serene and poised idealisations of women are exemplified in the drawings, albeit simplified for a new 20th century sensibility. Typical, is a very early portrait from 1906 of Mary Alys Kirkland by a 20-year-old Garnet Agnew (1886-1951). Agnew later became an illustrator for The Brisbane Courier and The Queenslander Illustrated Weekly, creating cover illustrations for these publications between 1926 and 1930. Another pen and ink portrait of Mary Alys Kirkland was created in 1910 by Augusta Frances Isabel Hobday (1884-1961). Augusta, with her brother and sister, Percy Stanhope Hobday and Gladys Hobday, were artists and teachers. Each was involved for many years in the Queensland Art Society. While the album has historic, aesthetic and social significance to Brisbane’s history, as a document, its preoccupations have a wider Australian relevance and importance.