Governor Davey’s Proclamation to the Aborigines (1816)

Place Oceania: Australia, Tasmania
Accession Number AWM2019.1099.1
Collection type Art
Measurement Sheet: 45.7 x 27.9 cm
Object type Print
Physical description Handcoloured lithograph
Maker Unknown
Place made Australia
Date made c.1866

Item copyright: Copyright expired - public domain

Public Domain Mark This item is in the Public Domain


From 1788 until the 1920s, violence between settlers and Aboriginal people occurred across the length and breadth of the country over control of the land and its resources. At times, settlers frequently regarding these as law and order issues were aided by the British military, colonial forces and mounted Indigenous militia. In response Aboriginal people fought to retain the land, their law and their sacred places. The details of this conflict varied greatly across the continent and while some conflicts were recorded in writing, many were not.

“The proclamation boards were made during a period of charged contact and frontier violence, between the 1828 declaration of martial law and the Black Line of 1830, which required a further declaration of martial law. They represented, at least in theory, an aspiration for the best aspects of British jurisprudence and have been popularly viewed as 'conciliation' boards. However, as legal scholar Desmond Manderson argues regarding the boards' essential message, Aboriginal people were offered protection though the rule of law but only in exchange for a radical transformation to European ways. It was thus a case of equal justice deferred. The boards were distributed to Aboriginal people in the very midst of frontier conflict; they are constitutive of colonial relations at the time, not artistic reflections of them made at a later date.

The first scene depicts mutual friendship between settlers and Aborigines; the second is a conciliation scene showing an Aboriginal ‘chief’ and a British military official or governor shaking hands; the third depicts an Aboriginal man spearing a white man or ex-convict, who is then hanged while the governor looks on. The fourth scene, the corollary of the third, depicts a white man or ex-convict shooting an Aboriginal man, and in an apparent show of equal justice the white man is then hanged… Recently the images have been reproduced in Australian history textbooks and become visual shorthand for the often-violent contact history of Van Diemen’s Land.”

Penelope Edwards The proclamation cup reCollections Volume 5 number 2 National Museum of Australia.

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