A family group with canoe, possibly near Clovelly House in Watsons Bay1886

by William Pitt Wilshire

The man with the oar in this painting is most likely John Blanket, the Māori boatman and gardener for the prominent politician John Robertson (Premier) who owned Clovelly House, Watsons Bay. In 1874 Blanket bravely used his oar to save the life of another boatman after their boat capsized in a storm off Dee Why. Their fellow boatman Emanuel Jacinto however was tragically drowned in the same accident, leaving behind a widow and four young daughters. The small fishing community at Watsons Bay, roused by Jacinto’s death, united to fundraise for his family’s wellbeing. Aboriginal groups are known to have lived nearby at Parsley Bay.

The artist William Pitt Wilshire was married to Catherine Maria Robertson, a sister of John Robertson. After John Blanket’s death in 1889 he was buried in the Robertson family vault at South Head Cemetery.