A day's picnic at Clark Island

Students engage with a richly detailed historical painting of Sydney’s colonial past. Students think imaginatively, creatively, interpretively and critically about information, ideas and arguments to respond to and compose texts.
Stimulus #1: 
A Day’s Picnic at Clark Island, 1870, Eugene Montagu Scott, oil painting

Text Type

  • Informative: Students write a review of A Day’s Picnic at Clark Island
  • Imaginative: Students write and format a script for the stage
  • Imaginative: Students perform a tableau based on the group’s scripts

Learning intention

Students are learning to

  • Engage with an historical painting
  • Form opinions and make judgements
  • Write imaginatively and critically
  • Work collaboratively to write and perform a tableau

Success criteria

  • Respond to and analyse an historical painting
  • Write a review
  • Work as a group to develop and perform a short play/tableau

Background notes for teachers

A Day’s Picnic on Clark Island is an oil painting by Eugene Montagu Scott (1835-1909), painted in 1870. Scott was a cartoonist and illustrator for a range of Australian newspapers and magazines. He also painted portraits. A Day’s Picnic on Clark Island is 7 ft (2.1 m) by 3 ft 6 ins (1.1 m) in size. It was exhibited at the Sydney Intercolonial Exhibition in 1870.

Monty Scott was often in financial trouble and it is believed that he painted A Day’s Picnic on Clark Island with an eye to quickly making some money. It sold for the very large sum of two hundred pounds, however unfortunately Scott was very soon again in debt. The painting was purchased by a politician and prominent public figure named Richard Hill. It was donated to the Library by his family in 1930. At the time, the painting did not receive good reviews. Today, however, it provides valuable evidence of the fashions and social activities of Australians in the nineteenth century.

The painting depicts a picnic held on New Year’s Day on Clark Island a small, now uninhabited, island in Sydney Harbour off the tip of Darling Point near Double Bay. From the very first years of the colony of New South Wales, Clark Island was occupied by non-indigenous Australians. It is named after Lieutenant Charles Clark, an officer who was a member of the First Fleet, who grew vegetables on the island. This garden scheme was a response to the food shortages in the early days of the colony. However, it is reported that most of Clark’s vegetables were stolen.

Today Clark Island is part of Sydney Harbour National Park and visitor numbers are restricted with access only by boat or water taxi.

Definition and etymology

Picnic (noun or verb, to picnic): from the French word piquenique, meaning to pick, peck at a meal.

The word originally referred to a social occasion, usually held outdoors, to which each guest contributed food for others to “pick” from. It was first used in the 1700s, but was not in common usage until the first part of the nineteenth century. The current meaning is a meal eaten outdoors, usually away from home.

Transcript of a contemporary review and description of A Day’s Picnic on Clark Island


ONE of the pictures that attracted much attention from the immense concourse of visitors thronging the Exhibition Gallery was the large oil painting by Mr. Montagu Scott, entered under the above title. The picnic is quite an established institution among Australians. When the down pouring heat of an Austra-lian summer sun-(and the majority of our holidays occur in summer)-is too great to allow of enjoying athletic sports-of riding, cricketing, and other severe bodily exercise, it is always pleasant to sit down in the shadow -of some green nook, or by the sea shore, where in the hottest seasons a cool breeze is ever blowing. The same in kind, but different in degree, were the picnics of olden time in the far-off fatherland, where we welcomed every bush or flower on our way with exuberant delight, joined in the noisy talk of companions as light and careless as ourselves, determined to be happy, and were almost oblivions of thought!

Who has forgotten such times ! Alas ! in the dusty path of life few of us can boast many like moments of respite from anxiety and trouble ; but, at all events, menaced should remain the sweet memory of woodland rambles with dear companions, the picnic in some quiet glade, and the interchange of friendly courtesies and esteem. And although Young Australia has none of those pleasing memories to fall back upon, she has the actual enjoyment of the present in numerous picnics and holiday excursions. Mr. Scott's picture, we understand, represents a large body of "picnickers" who have been landed on New Year's Day on Clark Island. This little islet is most admirably adapted for the purpose, being situated almost in the centre of the harbour, commanding a lovely prospect of land and water on every side, and affording shelter by its rocky caves from the direst sunshine or from any unexpected shower. To the left of the picture two or three young ladies are waiting for oysters, which one of the party is knocking from the rock, while near at hand some lady of scientific turn of mind is spearing some" wonder of the deep " with her parachute. At the rear a quiet little flirtation is going on by the two ladies sheltered beneath the umbrella, which also serves to conceal the proceedings from their parents on the right. They have not, however, escaped the watchful eye of "mama, "who is calling the attention of " papa " to the state of affairs. The old gentleman, though not the least happy of the party, cannot leave his business proclivi-ties behind, and has been deeply immersed, probably in the commercial column of the Herald. Grouped" near at hand are others tempering the sunny heat by libations, of champagne.

More substantial fare is provided farther to the right, of which the young colonials are partaking, with a small lump of rock for a dining table. On the sands in the foreground a gentleman is inducing his dog to take a bath, while in the centre of the pic-ture a pair who have been " out' for a row" are disembarking from their boat. To the extreme right, last, but not least, is depicted a little "umbrella courtship," bespeaking that passion which is as old as the hills and which will endure as long.

Like Death, Love has all seasons for his own, and perhaps the subtle flame is not the least often ignited at these pleasant and memorable-picnic parties. In this instance the gentleman seems, to have propounded an important question, and probably the young lady is tracing on the sand the answer to which her lips hesitate to give utterance. It is a great pity for the sake of the artist, (and also for the convenience of the visitors) that the original painting has been so badly hung-in common, however, with the other exhibits in the same and similar classes. Hanging perfectly flat, a glare is cast upon the surface that no position in the room can counteract ; but enough can be seen for visitors to carry away a very pleasing idea of the subject, which our engraving will serve to intensify.

From the Illustrated Sydney News (published in NSW from 1853 - 1872) Tuesday 6 September 1870, which can be found here

Student Activities

Bringing the painting to life

Students imaginatively engage with the painting A Day's Picnic at Clark Island and in small groups create a short script for a scene, based on the 'characters' in the painting. Each group then performs their scenes in sequence to create a dramatic portrait of the day, beginning and ending each scene with a tableau.

Number of set tasks: 4

NSW Syllabus for the Australian Curriculum: English K-10

A student:

  • responds to and composes texts for understanding, interpretation, critical analysis, imaginative expression and pleasure EN4-1A
  • effectively uses a widening range of processes, skills, strategies and knowledge for responding to and composing texts in different media and technologies EN4-2A
  • uses and describes language forms, features and structures of texts appropriate to a range of purposes, audiences and contexts EN4-3B
  • demonstrates understanding of how texts can express aspects of their broadening world and their relationships within it EN4-7D



Engage personally with texts

  • explore and appreciate the aesthetic qualities in their own and other texts and the power of language to communicate information, ideas, feelings and viewpoints

Understand and apply knowledge of language forms and features

  • use increasingly sophisticated verbal, aural, visual and/or written techniques, e.g. imagery, figures of speech, selective choice of vocabulary, rhythm, sound effects, colour and design, to compose imaginative texts for pleasure

Respond to and compose texts

  • respond to and compose imaginative, informative and persuasive texts for different audiences, purposes and contexts for understanding, interpretation, critical analysis, imaginative expression and pleasure


Respond to and compose texts

  • use a range of effective strategies for organising information, ideas and arguments, e.g. clustering, listing, compare and contrast, semantic chains, graphic and diagram outlines, and mind maps


Engage personally with texts

  • identify, discuss and reflect on the ideas and information in a range of texts
  • develop a sense of personal style and taste in composition and response


Understand and apply knowledge of language forms and features

  • analyse the ways that language features such as modality are used to represent individual, shared or disparate views of the world
  • analyse how combinations of words, sound and images can create particular perspectives of the same event or issue such as environmental sustainability

In each year of Stage 4 students must study examples of:

  • visual texts
  • media, multimedia and digital texts

Across the stage, the selection must give student experience of:

  • everyday and workplace texts

Learning Across the Curriculum

General Capabilities:

  • creative and critical thinking
  • literacy