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'Other picture boards in Van Diemen’s Land: The recovery of lost illustrations of frontier violence and relationships '

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'Other picture boards in Van Diemen’s Land: The recovery of lost illustrations of frontier violence and relationships '
  3 Other picture boards in Van Diemen’s Land: The recovery of lost illustrations of frontier violence and relationships Nicholas Dean Brodie and Kristyn Harman  Art history is replete with works whose prior existence is affirmed only by text, most commonly through titles and descriptions in catalogues, but also by passing mentions in other sources. A significant Australian colonial illustration of this phenomenon of textually surviving lost art concerns ‘Several Paintings on Panel’, described in detail by a colonial witness, which depict scenes intended to convey government messages to Indigenous Tasmanians during the Vandemonian War. ese descriptions do not match the better known and frequently reproduced Tasmanian Picture Boards, typified in Figure 1, which survive in several archives around the world and have been the subject of considerable study and commentary. 1  eir iconographical recovery is, we argue, an important correction to the imagery of frontier relations in 1820s and 1830s Van Diemen’s Land specifically and colonial  Australia more generally. 1 ese boards are held within the collections of the Tasmanian Museum and Art Gallery, the Queen Victoria Museum and Art Gallery, the National Museum of Australia, the Mitchell Library, the Museum of Victoria, the Cambridge Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology, and the Peabody Museum at Harvard University. Carroll 2014: 75–76, 78, 81, 83.   ABORIGINAL HISTORY VOL 41 2017 4 Figure 1: Tasmanian Picture Board A, c. 1830. An example of the surviving boards. Source: Mitchell Library, State Library of New South Wales.  5 OTHER PICTURE BOARDS IN VAN DIEMEN’S LAND  Accounts contemporary with the srcinal use of imagery to communicate with Indigenous Tasmanians are few and relatively terse. e clearest descriptors of government action survive from newspaper reports in the Colonial Times   of Hobart. e editor of that paper wrote on 5 March 1830 of having been ‘informed that the Government have [sic] given directions for the painting of a large number of pictures to be placed in the bush for the contemplation of the Absrcinal Inhabitants’. 2  ese pictures were then briefly described in terms reminiscent of the well-known surviving boards. ey were: said to be representations of the attacks made by the black upon the white population, and in the back ground is to be seen a gallows with a black suspended; and, also, the same consequence to the white man, whom in the other picture is represented as the aggressor. 3 Ten months later, the Colonial Times again referred somewhat sarcastically to this ‘most ingenious plan’ concerning a ‘hundred pictures’ supposedly (and seemingly meant ironically) ‘painted, by an eminent artist in Hobart Town’, which depicted ‘black-killing whites, and white-killing blacks’. 4  e editor had ‘lately seen these productions’, which were intended to be ‘placed in different parts of the bush’, suggesting their temporal proximity to these reports.Curiously, however, even before these newspaper reports, it appears that such boards  were already in use. Mrs A. Prinsep, a visitor to Van Diemen’s Land in January 1830 and wife of a prospective settler, penned and then published a series of letters of her  journey, which included a rumination on the state of affairs between the colonists and the Indigenous Tasmanians: During the first years of the settlement, these poor naked creatures lived in great harmony with us, came without fear into the white man’s house, and soon felt the value of a blanket and other little trifles. In course of time, however, these articles became naturally so coveted by them, that they commenced thieving; this was resisted, and one or two imprudent timid stock-keepers fired and killed some of the natives. Deadly hatred was in consequence avowed against the whites, which not even all the pictures of explanation our friend F— has hung up in the woods, depicting the  governor punishing the white man for firing at the black  , can lessen. Great pains have been taken with those that are caught, to civilize and educate them but, excepting learning a few English sentences, it was to little purpose, as they invariably ran back to the woods when an opportunity offered. 5 2 Colonial Times  , 5 March 1830: 2.3 Colonial Times  , 5 March 1830: 2.4 Colonial Times  , 14 January 1831: 2.5 Prinsep 1833: 78–79 (emphasis added).   ABORIGINAL HISTORY VOL 41 2017 6 Describing these boards in January 1830 as being ‘hung up’ in the past tense, and textually situated amid an account of her own journey to the town of New Norfolk,  where she perhaps observed such images in situ, Mrs Prinsep complicates the established timelines scholars have drawn from the Colonial Times  , but also affirms the key personality increasingly associated with the surviving boards. At a dinner of the Van Diemen’s Land Society in January 1830, Mr Prinsep was reported toasting  with ‘his Friend, Mr Frankland’ a plan to inquire into ‘the character and habits of the absrcines of Van Diemen’s Land’. 6  Surveyor General George Frankland, mostly likely ‘our friend F––’ was certainly one of the more vocal ‘doves’, or peacemakers, advocating relative restraint towards Absrcinal people during the Vandemonian War. 7  A year earlier, in February 1829, Frankland had advocated using pictures to communicate with Indigenous Tasmanians, telling Lieutenant Governor Arthur that he had: sketched a series of groups of figures, in which I have endeavoured to represent in a manner as simple and well adapted to their supposed ideas, as possible, the actual state of things /or rather the srcin of the present state / and the desired termination of Hostility. 8 Frankland proposed that the pictures ‘be multiplied’ on ‘more durable materials’, and then ‘fastened to trees in those remote situations where the Natives are most likely to see them’. 9  Because of this letter, the use of boards in 1830 has generally become accepted as Frankland’s initiative, and the surviving designs are by association connected with him. 10  Certainly Mrs Prinsep seems to have accepted the association. Yet, late in 1830, another colonial newspaper described Frankland giving an image to Eumarrah, a tribal chief accompanying a colonial mission, which does not match the surviving imagery: Before the departure of Numarrow [Eumarrah], Mr. Frankland presented him with a little sketch, executed with much spirit, of the consequences of the Absrcines adopting a peaceable demeanour, or of continuing their present murderous and predatory habits. In one part of the sketch, the soldiery were represented firing upon a tribe of the Blacks, who were falling from the effects of the attack. On the other part  were seen, another tribe, decently clad, receiving food for themselves and families. 11 6 Hobart Town Courier  , 23 January 1830: 4.7 Brodie 2017b: 128, 131–32, 291.8 Frankland to Arthur, 4 February 1829, Tasmanian Archives and Heritage Office, LSD17/1: 23. 9 Frankland to Arthur, 4 February 1829, Tasmanian Archives and Heritage Office, LSD17/1: 23.10 Edmonds 2011.11 Tasmanian and Austral-Asiatic Review  , 26 November 1830: 783. See also Bonwick 1870: 84 for a slightly mis-transcribed version.  7 OTHER PICTURE BOARDS IN VAN DIEMEN’S LAND ese described images do not conform to those on the known surviving boards and, upon closer examination, nor does the logic of Frankland’s 1829 letter. ere  were, it seems, other images with other messages. While the surviving boards have been subject to considerable scholarly discussion and varying interpretation, this has been predicated on a generalised context derived from the above-cited sources (excepting Mrs Prinsep), which has conflated what are clearly distinct iconographical sequences. Moreover, while some historians have acknowledged the likely existence of other iconographical traditions, to date no extensive discussion of this has been forthcoming. We hope to fill this gap by recovering and investigating the alternative iconography represented in a remarkable source. 12 *** ‘Several Paintings on Panel (a rather perishable material for their intended use)  were executed’ during the Vandemonian War, according to the currently unknown author of ‘e Absrcinal Natives of Van Diemen[’]s Land’, a first-hand account of colonial Van Diemen’s Land, surviving in two distinct copies. A description of several ‘compartments’ within these images followed this comment, detailing a set of imagery unlike the surviving boards, but similar in tone, content and purpose to Frankland’s sketches of 1829 (detailed to Arthur) and 1830 (given to Eumarrah).e text of ‘e Absrcinal Natives of Van Diemen[’]s Land’ survived into modern times in two variants. One srcinal manuscript copy is held in the Allport Library at the State Library of Tasmania in Hobart and, for present purposes, will be referred to as the ‘Allport MS’. 13  e other copy of the text is currently known only in transcription. In 1926, Tasmanian antiquarian and surgeon William Crowther described, transcribed and published a manuscript supposedly srcinating from ‘among the papers of the Rev. R. Knopwood’, although apparently not in his distinct handwriting. 14  Because Crowther acquired the manuscript from the collection of the colonial photographer James Beattie, we have designated it the ‘Beattie MS’.Borrowing from the manuscript analysis techniques deployed for medieval studies,  we are confident that the Beattie MS and the Allport MS are not the same document, even though they reflect the same general text. e Allport MS has additional elements not transcribed from the Beattie MS. By Crowther’s account, the Beattie MS ‘ceases’ at a point before the text of the Allport MS does. Close reading suggests 12 Independently of the project presented here, Tasmanian Absrcinal artist and writer Dr Julie Gough also visually reconstructed these images after recording the source manuscript in the Allport Library and Museum of Fine Arts on 28 July 2013. Her results are as yet unpublished, but were presented at a public talk at the Allport Library and Museum on 6 August 2015. e authors are grateful to the reviewer who brought this parallel research to their attention in July 2017, and to Julie Gough for allowing us to then see her images. Our commissioned reproductions were presented at the Australian Historical Association conference, Sydney, 9 July 2015.13 ‘Allport MS’, Tasmanian Archives and Heritage Office, Allport Library and Museum Manuscripts, L8 Store, Box 2, Folder 1.14 Crowther 1926.
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