Historical information

A copy of an early oil painting of Fernshaw in Victoria.


A copy of an early oil painting of Fernshaw in Victoria by Isaac Whitehead.
Isaac Whitehead (1819–1881) was an Irish-Australian artist who worked in watercolour and pastel. He was also a picture framer and art promoter. It is believed that Isaaz Whitehead emigrated to Australia with his family in either 1853 or 1858. Isaac Whitehead died at his home 50 Punt Road, Prahran, Melbourne, on 21 April 1881. Isaac Whitehead had established himself as the foremost picture framer in Melbourne by 1860, known for his highly ornate frames with floral decorations. Among the clients of his framing business were Louis Buvelot, Nicholas Chevalier, and Eugene von Guérard. In his own paintings, he painted a number of scenes of the forests of Gippsland, Victoria. His work focused on the rich landscapes with trees and ferns, with a high degree of botanical detail. His work won him two medals and his work was posthumously exhibited at 1884 Victorian Jubilee Exhibition, the 1886 London Colonial and Indian Exhibition, and the 1888 Melbourne Centennial Intercolonial Exhibition.
Fernshaw was a rural township 63 km northeast of Melbourne and 10 km northeast of Healesville. Situated on the Watts River, near where a log had fallen making a convenient crossing, Fernshaw was settled in the 1860s. It provided good country for orchards and berry growing. The location was at the foot of Blacks Spur, with Mounts Juliet and Mondah rising on either side, providing spectacular scenery. There were nearby fern gullies giving rise to the name – ‘shaw’ is old English for thicket or wood. By 1875 Fernshaw had a post office (1865), two hotels, a school (1871), and stores. It was famed for its beauty, attracting tourists. In 1886 the Melbourne and Metropolitan Board of Works began work on the Watts River water catchment scheme – later to become Maroondah – and the Board obtained approval for the catchment country to be reserved and kept free of settlement. This required the removal of the Fernshaw township, which was completed by about 1890.