Georgiana McCrae, Robert Burns and a Horsham connection

Rosemary Richards, one of the editors of Memories of Musical Lives (Lyrebird, 2022), writes about an intriguing find in country Victoria that connects her research interests in Georgiana McCrae with Robert Burns.

Gordon Castle, Moray, Scotland.

Fans of Scottish art history, Scottish poet Robert Burns, and an immigrant to early Melbourne named Georgiana McCrae may be intrigued by the forthcoming auction of a painting by Scottish artist Charles Martin Hardie (1858–1916) that features portraits of Robert Burns and the Duchess of Gordon at a meeting of Edinburgh society figures in 1787.

The painting has hung above the fireplace at the Olde Horsham Restaurant in country Victoria since 1977 after its purchase by Evan Mackley (1940–2019). Mackley was an art and antiques collector and dealer, as well as an artist, restauranteur, and motel owner, among many aspects of a fascinatingly widespread career.

The large painting in its ornate frame weighs around a quarter of a metric ton. It had earlier belonged to the Adelaide businessman Thomas Elder, who had displayed it in his mansion called Birksgate in Glen Osmond, Adelaide.

My interest in the painting arose from a mention by Associate Professor Alison Inglis from the University of Melbourne at a symposium connected to an exhibition focusing on Scottish-Australian art at the Art Gallery of Ballarat in 2014. Research over many years into the manuscript music collections of Georgiana McCrae (1804–90) meant I was familiar with interactions between Robert Burns and the fourth duke and duchess of Gordon. Georgiana was an illegitimate granddaughter of the duke and duchess, and Burns’s songs feature in Georgiana’s music collections now housed at McCrae Homestead on the Mornington Peninsula near Melbourne, run by the National Trust of Victoria, and also at State Library Victoria and the University of Sydney Library. The most recent result of my immersion in Georgiana McCrae’s musical and biographical legacy can be found in the Lyrebird Press book published in 2022, Memories of Musical Lives: Music and Dance in Personal Music Collections from Australia and New Zealand, which I co-edited with Julja Szuster.

I was fortunate to be able to view the Hardie painting in person on Monday 26 February 2024 with the assistance of Janet Allan from the Horsham Historical Society, who arranged my visit to the Olde Horsham Restaurant with Michael Peterson representing the Mackley estate. We were joined by artist Amabile Smith and Mackley’s daughter, Lynn Mackley. The four of us had a lively discussion about the Hardie painting and the multitude of other items which indicate the extent of the Mackley family’s activities. A large green model of a Tyrannosaurus Rex marks the entrance to the property off the Western Highway leading into Horsham from the east. The grounds contain a wealth of sculptures. Inside the sizable restaurant complex can be found an old Geelong tram, not to mention stacks of paintings, works of art and antique furniture. Janet Allan, who has been very generous with her research expertise, also invited me afterwards to go on a brief visit to the Horsham Historical Society’s headquarters at the Horsham Mechanics Institute. They can be contacted via their website. My drive to and from Horsham was luckily on a day with reasonable weather, though evidence of bushfires was visible at Dadswells Bridge and many areas were affected by smoke haze.

The auction of items from the “Mackley Estate Collection Part 2” on Sunday 17 March 2024 will be held online from 11am in conjunction with Phillip Caldwell Auctioneers (Melbourne) and Elder Fine Arts Auctions (Adelaide). More information, as well as images of the Hardie painting, may be found on and

Dr Rosemary Richards,