The miniature of Vice Admiral John Hunter attributed to William Mineard Bennet, sold for £19,000 at Lawrences of Bletchingley.

Enjoy unlimited access: just £1 for 12 weeks

Subscribe now

However, far more important to its commercial value is the probability that the sitter was a key figure in the early history of colonial Australia.

The extensive inscriptions to the reverse of the ebonised and gilt metal frame state that the miniature was painted in 1819 and depicts Vice Admiral John Hunter (1737-1821), an officer of the Royal Navy who served as second governor of New South Wales from 1795-1800. Other inscriptions describe its family descent.

Both a career sailor and a scholar, Hunter was a veteran of the Seven Years’ War and the American War of Independence before leading a First Fleet expedition up the Parramatta River in 1788. He was the first to surmise that Tasmania might be an island and gave his name to the Hunter River.

His five years as governor, when he tried to combat serious abuses by the military, were hugely difficult. Of his sojourn in the colony Hunter said that he “could not have had less comfort, although he would certainly have had greater peace of mind, had he spent the time in a penitentiary”. He returned to his native Leith later in life.

A similar small oil on panel of the same subject by Bennett dated c.1812, complete with a South Pacific sunset in the background, is in the collection of the National Library of Australia.

This Surrey version, estimated at £2000-3000 at the auction on October 21, sold at £19,000.