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Proclamation board

One of only several remaining in the world, this proclamation board, issued around1830, represents an attempt by Lieutenant Governor George Arthur of Van Diemen’s Land (Tasmania) to conciliate Aboriginal people amid aggressive settlement and frontier violence.

Arthur had declared martial law in November 1828 against the ‘several Black or Aboriginal natives within the several Districts of the Island’, due to settler pressure to respond to incidents of Aboriginal attack. Three months later, George Frankland, the Surveyor General of the colony, and a linguist and artist, suggested to the Governor that ‘in the absence of successful communication with these unfortunate people with whose language we are totally unacquainted . . . it might be possible . . . to impart to them . . . the real wishes of the government towards them’.

Frankland had seen drawings by Aboriginal people on the bark of trees, and intrigued by this ‘newly discovered faculty’ he sketched a series of Aboriginal and European figures, showing friendship and equality before the British law. Frankland recommended that the boards be ‘fastened to trees in those remote situations where the natives are most likely to see them’.

It was, however, to the white man’s ways Aboriginal people would adapt. In 1830 Arthur instigated the operation known as the ‘Black Line’: an attempt to capture or force Aboriginal people into the Forestier Peninsula. Frankland was at Arthur’s side throughout this violent exercise.

This proclamation board comes from the collection of George Augustus Robinson, who was selected by Arthur to travel Van Diemen’s Land to conciliate Aboriginal Tasmanians, and it is believed he carried such boards. Later, he became Chief Protector of the Aborigines in the Port Phillip Bay area, Victoria.

Proclamation board
 Proclamation board

 Detail of Proclamation board

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Proclamation board (c. 1830), paint on wood
Dimensions H 33 x W 22.5 cm
Image source: Museum Victoria

© Museum Victoria Australia