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Centre for Art and Travel Workshop: Investigating the Archive - page 3 / 11

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questions.1  Tobin was a Lieutenant on HMS Providence, commanded by William Bligh, which had stopped in Adventure Bay, Van Diemen's Land, en route for Tahiti.  These very statements immediately invite the curious to explore the episode further.  As does recognising that his composition acknowledges comparable scenes from the Cook voyages, and, in so doing, declares, as it were, its own context.  This is a knowing image. Investigator.  So even before we begin to inspect his drawing, we have to understand that it was made under specific circumstances, not the least being that, as we know from Flinders's diaries, he often told Westall what motif to draw.  That apart, the drawing is immediately interesting in appearing to cope easily with representing completely unfamiliar terrain and as unfamiliar trees.  Moreover, though topographically accurate (my photograph is not meant as an exact match), there is a resonance of the famous composition of the Thames as seen from Richmond Hill here; one strong enough to need to be taken into account in any proper analysis of the drawing, not least because James Thomson had designated that view as embodying nation, 'happy Britannia', in The Seasons.  And the ease with which Westall has drawn eucalypts rather tells the lie to the hoary old cliché that the British were so alienated by Australian trees they couldn't draw them.  This is backed up by any number of other works, from the Port Jackson Painter's onwards.

To understand the historical consequence of these pictures we must recognise where they connect into and impact on other histories as even these two examples augment, shift the received history.  Drawings, watercolours, the occasional oil, recorded most of what was going on.  There are settlement pictures.  There are representations of

1 Tobin is profusely reproduced in Douglas Oliver  Return to Tahiti.  Bligh's Second Breadfruit Voyage.  Carlton (Melbourne University Press) 1988

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