Tag Archives: colonisation

Britain’s monument culture obscures a violent history of white supremacy and colonial violence



The statue of slave trader Robert Milligan was removed from outside the London Docklands Musuem.
Emma Tarrant/Shutterstock

Rebecca Senior, University of Nottingham

After 125 years in the same spot, the bronze statue of slaver Edward Colston lies at the bottom of Bristol Harbour. Unsurprisingly, many were unhappy with the move by Black Lives Matter protestors. Only a day later a group of dissenters attempted to fish the heavy statue from its watery grave.

It would seem that such attempts at retrieval are as futile as resisting the long-awaited reckoning on the nature and meaning of public monuments across Britain. Colston’s removal has featured prominently in the international press and sparked debates about history and erasure across the world. It has also prompted widespread conversation around which statues and monuments should be scrutinised for their celebration of violent colonialism and white supremacy.

The significance of this moment cannot be overlooked by art historians. Monuments demonstrate how visual and material culture can be weaponised to obscure the violence that characterised British colonial expansion. From single statues to elaborate multi-figure designs, monuments represent a visual culture that has been mobilised as a means to celebrate and justify white supremacy throughout history. To this end, they did not solely rely on sculptural statues of colonial “heroes” such as Colston, but also other types of visual communication to misrepresent empire as a noble and heroic pursuit.

Artistic state propaganda

Sculptures of allegorical figures are the omnipresent artistic symbol of state propaganda and oppression on sculpted monuments. Fictional female figures such as “Victory”, “Peace”, “Justice” and “Britannia” gained popularity during the most aggressive period of British imperial expansion in the 18th and 19th centuries.

A statue of Victory at the top of the Victoria Memorial in front of Buckingham Palace, London.
Anibal Trejo/Shutterstock

It is important that the role of these figures is not forgotten in this current moment. Firstly, because they demonstrate how monuments enabled sculptors to not only commemorate the deceased, but also to propagate the message of British colonialism and white supremacy for future generations. Secondly, because understanding them enables the public to recognise how visual culture can obfuscate state oppression. The “Victory” figures that appeared on British monuments in the 18th century were reused en masse for Confederate monuments over a hundred years later.

It was not a coincidence that, ahead of the civil rights protest, Bristol City council decided to cover Colston’s statue under a canvas. Much like history as a discipline itself, monuments are not neutral records but revisionist objects that mobilise art as a means to oppress. Acknowledging them as state-sponsored attempts to transform slavery and genocide into palatable subjects for public consumption exposes them as a visual accompaniment to Britain’s violent programme of colonisation.

Campaigns for removal

More statues commemorating white perpetrators of colonial atrocities are coming down daily, such as that of Leopold II outside Antwerp Museum in Belgium. New resources are also being developed to identify which should be next. The statue of slaver Robert Milligan has already been removed from outside the Museum of London Docklands. The decision was made by the Canal and River Trust in response to to petitions calling for its removal, showing that institutions can and should take decisions into their own hands.

However, those advocating for removal are increasingly met with the now-familiar argument that such moves represent an erasure of history. It’s an argument that has been firmly established in debates around Confederate monuments in the United States. Its an argument that has become louder in the UK over the past few days.

Over the coming weeks, figures from British history will be scrutinised and judged in an unprecedented way. This process will educate more people on the real history of Britain and bring new meaning to the monuments people walk by daily. This will hopefully, as the historian David Olusoga has argued, achieve tangible results where previous campaigns have failed.

#RhodesMustFall is a movement that started in 2015 in Cape Town, South Africa.
JeremyRichards/Shutterstock

London’s mayor, Sadiq Khan, has announced that he will be establishing a Commission for Diversity in the Public Realm to review London’s landmarks. But the move echoes the move by New York City mayor Bill de Blasio in 2017 to establish a Mayoral Advisory Commission on City Art, Monuments, and Markers, which recommended only one removal. This was monument to the torturer James Marion Simms, who in the 19th century performed horrific experiments on enslaved black women. Rather than being fully removed, it was relocated to a public cemetery in Brooklyn. There are fears that there will be similar outcomes in the London review.

Bolstered by the recent protests against anti-Black racism and state violence, public art continues to be reckoned with across the world, with ongoing campaigns such as #RhodesMustFall in Oxford and Take Em Down Nola in New Orleans, US.

Allegorical figures are one of the ways that monuments fictionalise history through visual culture. Understanding the role art played as a sanitiser of violence shows that destroying or removing monuments from public view does not erase history. Instead, monuments were designed to do just that by obfuscating state oppression and white supremacy through a thin veil of sculptural order.The Conversation

Rebecca Senior, Postdoctoral research fellow, University of Nottingham

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.


Cook commemorations are mute on intimate encounters and their profound impact on Indigenous women



Artist: John Pickles, Author provided

Katie Pickles, University of Canterbury

Captain James Cook arrived in the Pacific 250 years ago, triggering British colonisation of the region. We’re asking researchers to reflect on what happened and how it shapes us today. You can see other stories in the series here and an interactive here.


History is always selective, particularly when it is tied up with national identity. Certain stories are recovered, while others remain silent.

Intimate encounters are often muted, even though we know they played a central part in first encounters during the colonial era.

Tuia 250, a government-sponsored series of events to commemorate 250 years since Captain James Cook arrived in New Zealand, focused on Pacific voyaging and first onshore encounters between Māori and Pākehā (non-Māori) during 1769–70, at the expense of reconsidering private history.




Read more:
My ancestors met Cook in Aotearoa 250 years ago. For us, it’s time to reinterpret a painful history


Colonial comfort

The laborious maps and longhand entries in explorers’ journals, their sketches of specimens gathered during their long journeys – these can all be seen as skillful antiques of a bygone era. But they also represent potent past tools of imperialism.

Tuia 250 was about both voyaging and encounter histories, but it seems that re-enacting traditional sailing was easier than restaging the intimate encounters that were central to the colonial enterprise.

Captain Cook charted New Zealand during his voyage in 1769.
Wikimedia Commons, CC BY-ND

Commemorations of voyages across the open oceans sailed clear of the awkward topic of intimacy. The history of intimate encounters remained consigned to a private space, perceived as outside of the making of history and national identity.

But as historian Anne Salmond has written, bodily contact involved Cook’s sailors exchanging items such as nails for sex with women.

In her book The Trial of the Cannibal Dog, Salmond describes the Endeavour’s arrival at Anaura Bay, where Cook’s party went ashore, and the expedition’s official botanist Joseph Banks commented about Māori women being less accessible than Tahitian women.

Banks remarked ruefully that they ‘were as great coquettes as any Europeans could be and the young ones as skittish as unbroke fillies’. If the local women were reluctant to make love with the strangers, however, they were wise, because by Cook’s own reckoning several of his men had stubborn venereal infections, and at least half of the rest had contracted venereal diseases in Tahiti.

In historian James Belich’s view, described in his book Making Peoples, sexual contact became the initial intercultural trade in New Zealand.

The sex industry began at first contact in 1769, and from the 1810s it became large and important – very probably preceding wool, gold and dairy products as New Zealand’s leading earner of overseas exchange.

But Hazel Petrie has argued that intimate encounters have to be considered within the context of cultural practices that emphasised hospitality.

Contemporary Western attitudes sometimes led to characterisations of more casual sexual activity between Māori women and visiting Pākehā men as ‘prostitution’, and in our own time such liaisons have been deemed to represent a ‘sex industry’. But these perceptions may be in large part the result of the different moral codes of the narrators and seeing sexual relationships through different lenses. Māori society may have more typically viewed short- to medium-term relationships with sailors or other visitors in terms of manaakitanga or the normal extension of hospitality with expectations of a courteous material response.




Read more:
An honest reckoning with Captain Cook’s legacy won’t heal things overnight. But it’s a start


Women as agents of history

According to historians, Cook disapproved of the sexual behaviour of his officers and men, but was unable to stop it. In his journal, Cook wrote:

A connection with Women I allow because I cannot prevent it, but never encourage tho many Men are of opinion it is one of the greatest securities amongst Indians, and it may hold good when you intend to settle amongst them; but with travelers and strangers, it is generally otherwise and more men are betrayed than saved by having connection with their women, and how can it be otherwise since all their Views are selfish without the least mixture of regard or attachment whatever; at least my observations which have been pretty general, have not pointed out to me one instance to the contrary.

Sailors embodied the complex, disease-ridden, sexual shipboard culture of the 18th century, combined with western unequal attitudes towards women and the perception of Polynesian women as exotic.

As indigenous and cultural studies scholar Alice Te Punga Somerville puts it:

Gender is so central to the story of Cook. And how Cook, and everything that came after, has done so much to gender in this region.

Māori women were entangled in the encounters as two worlds met. First contact marked the beginning of changes to customary processes (tikanga Māori), ended pre-colonial balance and had profound effects on Māori women’s lives, as the work of indigenous scholar Ani Mikaere has shown.

Mikaere has argued that:

It is often assumed that, according to tikanga Māori, leadership was primarily the domain of men and that men in Māori society exercised power over women. However, evidence abounds which refutes the notion that traditional Māori society attached greater significance to male roles than to female roles.

It came to pass that Māori women, white women missionaries and settlers were all integral to history. As feminist scholar Anne McClintock pointed out of women in imperialism, they were not “hapless onlookers”. They were variously colonisers and colonised.

Just as women were a central part of those first encounters in 1769-70, they continued to be agents of history. Some women, as the helpmeets of Empire, taught generations of schoolchildren about Cook the hero as part of an imperial curriculum.

Navigating a shared future needs to recognise women’s part in colonial encounters. It needs to consider that in the present, as with the past, public and private spaces are interconnected.The Conversation

Katie Pickles, Professor of History at the University of Canterbury and current Royal Society of New Zealand Te Apārangi James Cook Research Fellow, University of Canterbury

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.


My ancestors met Cook in Aotearoa 250 years ago. For us, it’s time to reinterpret a painful history



Tuia 250

Peter N. Meihana, Massey University

Captain James Cook arrived in the Pacific 250 years ago, triggering British colonisation of the region. We’re asking researchers to reflect on what happened and how it shapes us today. You can see other stories in the series here and an interactive here.


Commemorations of Captain James Cook’s 1769/70 Pacific voyage began late last year in New Zealand, marking the first encounters between Māori and Cook’s crew 250 years ago.

A flotilla of traditional twin-hulled ocean voyaging vessels and tall ships, including a replica of Cook’s Endeavour, sailed along the coast for more than two months as part of Tuia 250, a government-sponsored series of events framed around New Zealand’s voyaging heritage.

The events have polarised many communities. Māori in several areas protested, while others took part enthusiastically. The community to which I belong – Ngāti Kuia, Rangitāne and Ngāti Apa – made up the latter.

Local Māori perform a formal welcome ceremony (pōhiri) as the Tuia 250 flotilla arrives in Gisborne.

For us, Tuia 250 was about many things, but least of all about James Cook. We inverted the “Cookfest” in the same way our ancestors took European technologies and put them to customary use.

Insight into our world

My ancestors were present in Tōtaranui/Queen Charlotte Sound, at the top of the South Island, when James Cook arrived in 1770. Fifty years later, the area was invaded by tribes from the north, armed with muskets.

The inter-tribal conflicts that occurred in New Zealand during the 1820s and 1830s are known as the “musket wars”. While the weapon technology was new, the causes for conflict between tribes were customary and many were settled in accordance with custom, primarily through marriage.




Read more:
Explainer: the significance of the Treaty of Waitangi


The Treaty of Waitangi was signed by tribal chiefs and Crown representatives in 1840.
CC BY-ND

The musket wars led up to 1840, the year tribal chiefs and representatives of the Crown signed the Treaty of Waitangi. By then, the geo-political situation in the northern South Island was quite different from 1770.

I mention these events – Cook’s expeditions, the musket wars and the treaty – because they have framed our historical experience and influence our contemporary response. When the government announced its plans for Tuia 250, we saw an opportunity to revisit the past, re-imagining it in order to create a new reality in the present.

We knew that our ancestors had met Cook, but more importantly, they had established a relationship with Tupaia, the Ra’iātean navigator who had joined the expedition in Tahiti. The intensity of that relationship is reflected in the lament composed by our ancestors when they heard of Tupaia’s death.

A traditional ocean voyaging canoe sails into Wellington.
CC BY-ND

Custom goes to court

The muskets wars certainly influenced the history of the northern South Island. From that point on the area was occupied by new tribes whose “take whenua” (occupation rights) were based on “raupatu” (conquest). But my tribal community soon faced a far more formidable opponent – the Crown and British settlers.

Following the signing of the treaty, the Crown imposed its native policy. Fundamentally this meant relieving Māori of their “idle” lands. Through the Native Land Court system, judges were asked to determine who held rights to certain areas according to native custom. Despite having heard evidence from my tribes, the court decided that they had been conquered and had therefore lost their rights to land they claimed through “take tupuna” (ancestry).

These issues were revisited 110 years later. The Waitangi Tribunal, a specialist commission of inquiry, found that Ngāti Kuia, Rangitāne and Ngāti Apa had retained rights following the invasion and that the Crown had failed them. The Crown subsequently apologised and compensated the tribes in 2014.

All of these factors influenced why and how my tribes engaged with Tuia 250. The fact that the flotilla included voyagers from East Polynesia reminded us of the relationship our ancestors forged with Tupaia 250 years earlier. Cultural imperatives demanded that our guests be received in an appropriate manner.

The Tuia 250 flotilla sailed along New Zealand’s coast for more than two months.
Tuia 250, CC BY-ND

Pragmatic solutions

The events following Cook’s arrival and the musket wars were significant but did not constrain the aspirations of coming generations. The boundaries that were later imposed on us through Crown policy were both artificial and ultimately temporary.

Few people had the opportunity to witness the pōhiri (traditional welcome) for the flotilla at Meretoto/Ships Cove in Queen Charlotte Sound last November. It was an interesting example of custom whereby tribal leaders worked to accommodate each other’s cultural practices.

Despite a history of conflict and ongoing disputes, the pōhiri demonstrated that Māori are also pragmatic and search for solutions that maintain the mana (status, authority) of all – at least on this occasion.

A waka festival signified the Tuia 250 voyage’s final stop at the Mahia peninsula.

Tuia 250 also showed that Māori history continues to unfold, both in relation to the Pākehā (non-Maori) world, and independent of it. With the government’s recent announcement that New Zealand history will be made compulsory in schools, it will be interesting to see how these diverse realities are incorporated into the curriculum.




Read more:
Why it’s time for New Zealanders to learn more about their own country’s history


Another theme of Tuia 250 is the notion of shared futures. The rekindling of a relationship that began 250 years ago was strengthened through the retelling of oral traditions, and the creation of new ones. This was a reminder that we are a Pacific island nation and our shared future is here, not in London or Whitby.The Conversation

Peter N. Meihana, Lecturer, Massey University

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.


From Captain Cook to the First Fleet: how Botany Bay was chosen over Africa as a new British penal colony



‘The Founding of Australia 1788’, an oil painting by Algernon Talmage.
Mitchell Library, State Library of New South Wales

John Gascoigne, UNSW

Captain James Cook arrived in the Pacific 250 years ago, triggering British colonisation of the region. We’re asking researchers to reflect on what happened and how it shapes us today. You can see other stories in the series here, and an interactive here.


After Captain Cook’s Endeavour voyage in 1770, the east coast of Australia was drawn on European maps of the globe for the first time. Yet, in terms of European contact with the continent, there was an 18-year lull in between Cook’s 1770 landings and the arrival of the First Fleet in 1788.

The main reason for this was Britain’s preoccupation with subduing its rebellious colonists in the War of American Independence from 1776-83.

Britain’s defeat in that war brought forth an urgent problem that eventually led to the colonisation of Australia: what it saw as a need to dispose of convicts who were overflowing the available prisons at home.

Previously, many British convicts were transported to the American colonies but after independence this option was no longer available.

Cook’s chart of Botany Bay.
British Library

The next penal colony: let the search begin

Discussions about alternative penal colonies meshed with Britain’s larger strategic and commercial goals at the time. Many hoped a new convict settlement would provide a base for extending British power in the wake of the American debacle and be “advantageous both to navigation and commerce”.

The search began in 1779 when the House of Commons established a committee under the chairmanship of British politician Sir Charles Bunbury. Various locations were considered, in particular, Senegal and Gambia on the west African coast.

But a new destination soon emerged with the testimony of Joseph Banks, the botanist on board the Endeavour, who had recently been elected president of the Royal Society. Botany Bay on the Australian coast, he contended, would be the best site for a penal colony since it had a Mediterranean climate and would be fertile. Banks added, too, that

there would be little Probability of any Opposition from the Natives

It was a prediction that would ultimately prove incorrect.

Why Botany Bay?

The search for a penal settlement lost momentum during the war, but regained some sense of urgency with its end in 1783.

James Matra, an American-born seaman aboard the Endeavour, circulated a proposal among policy-makers about establishing a new settlement at Botany Bay. It was based on his own first-hand knowledge of the coast, as well as his discussions with Banks, who remained the most influential advocate for the site.

Matra’s most immediate concern was to provide a home for the American loyalists – those, like his own family, who had lost their property in the new United States because of their loyalty to the British crown during the war.

Matra’s proposal also appealed to some key strategic and commercial concerns:

  • flax and timbers could be brought from New Zealand to grow in the new colony, providing the British navy with much-needed supplies;

  • the planting of spices and sugarcane would reduce Britain’s reliance on the Dutch East Indies;

  • the site could be used as a base for those engaged in the lucrative fur trade in America; and

  • the settlement could act as a strategic base to challenge the Dutch in the East Indies and the Spanish in the Philippines and even South America.

Another serious contender emerges

After Matra submitted his proposal, another House of Commons committee was established in 1785, chaired by Lord Beauchamp. Both Matra and Banks gave evidence in favour of Botany Bay, with Banks arguing,

from the fertility of the soil, the timid disposition of the inhabitants and the climate being so analogous to that of Europe I give the place the preference to all that I have seen

The committee, however, opted for an African site. It believed Das Voltas Bay, in southwest Africa, could reduce British dependence on the Dutch Cape of Good Hope in what is now South Africa and serve as a refuge for the American loyalists.

Before venturing down the path of establishing a colony, however, an exploratory voyage was sent to the African coast. It concluded the site was unsuitable as it lacked an effective harbour and fertile land.

Botany Bay was back in serious contention.

Dreams of Pacific trade

Other supporters soon emerged to sing the praises of Botany Bay.

Sir George Young, a naval officer and former East India Company officer, argued a colony at the site could serve as a base for trade with South America and underlined its strategic importance. If war broke out with Spain in the region, Botany Bay could be a place of refuge for British naval vessels.

Another advocate, John Call, an engineer with the East India Company, saw the advantages of a secondary settlement on nearby Norfolk Island. Flax grew in abundance on the island, he said, and the mighty Norfolk pine tree would be ideal for the masts of ships.




Read more:
Terra nullius interruptus: Captain James Cook and absent presence in First Nations art


These observations were based on reports from Cook’s second and third Pacific voyages. The second included a visit to Norfolk Island, while the third ventured to the northwestern coast of America and traded furs in China, further fuelling British aspirations for Pacific trade.

Such arguments eventually led Prime Minister William Pitt and his Cabinet to accept the proposal to establish the settlement at Botany Bay.

A drawing by John Webber depicting the arrival of Cook’s ship in Nootka Sound in April 1778 on his search for the Northwest Passage.
British Library

A costly endeavour

Such a settlement demanded an unprecedented degree of state planning and financing.

The First Fleet, for example, consisted of 11 ships (no larger than the Manly ferry) that carried, among other things, a supply of seeds from Banks to help establish a “new Europe” on the other side of the Earth.

The convicts sent to New South Wales also incurred considerable state expense compared to those sent to America. From 1788-89, the new colony accumulated expenses of over 250,000 pounds, which equated to 100 pounds per convict per annum.




Read more:
Cooking the books: how re-enactments of the Endeavour’s voyage perpetuate myths of Australia’s ‘discovery’


The fact it cost considerably more to transport a convict to New South Wales than to keep him or her in a British jail supported the view held by some in England that the penal colony was a subterfuge for broader strategic goals.

Rival nations also thought the British were trying to deceive them. Alejandro Malaspina, who captained a Spanish expedition that visited Sydney in 1793, thought the settlement could be a potential naval base for an attack on Spanish America.

A list of female convicts onboard the Lady Penrhyn in the First Fleet.
Wikimedia Commons

A repository for convicts

And yet, in the end, the settlement at New South Wales did little to advance British strategic goals.

The site lacked a naval base and its defences were so weak, François Péron, a naturalist aboard the French Baudin expedition that circumnavigated much of Australia from 1801-03, thought it could be easily captured.

In fact, no naval expedition was mounted from New South Wales during the Napoleonic wars of 1803-15. Nor did New South Wales live up to the commercial benefits some had invested in it. Tropical fruits and spices would not grow in Sydney, and Norfolk Island proved a disappointment as a source for naval supplies.

The American loyalists also chose to resettle in nearby Canada instead of distant New South Wales.

But New South Wales proved to cater to the most immediate reason for British settlement: a repository for convicts.The Conversation

John Gascoigne, Emeritus Professor, UNSW

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.


Terra nullius interruptus: Captain James Cook and absent presence in First Nations art



Vincent Namatjira, Western Arrernte people, Northern Territory, born 1983, Alice Springs, Northern Territory, Close Contact, 2018, Indulkana, South Australia, synthetic polymer paint on plywood; Gift of the James & Diana Ramsay Foundation for the Ramsay Art Prize 2019.
Art Gallery of South Australia, Adelaide, photo: Grant Hancock

Bruce Buchan, Griffith University and Eddie Synot, UNSW

Captain James Cook arrived in the Pacific 250 years ago, triggering British colonisation of the region. We’re asking researchers to reflect on what happened and how it shapes us today. You can see other stories in the series here and an interactive here.

Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander readers are advised this article contains names and images of deceased people.


In Vincent Namatjira’s Ramsay Award winning Close Contact (2018), the artist construes Captain James Cook as the reverse image of his own self-portrait. The colonising presence of Cook looking toward a colonial future is satirised by making another present: Vincent Namatjira’s self-portrait looks out in a diametrically different direction.

Towards what, exactly?

Australia’s link to Cook has always been mediated by iconography. Cook was a promise recollected in pigment, bronze and stone to a nation at war with its first inhabitants and possessors.

Cook, and the violence of colonisation in his wake, embodied a claim to a vast inheritance: of Enlightenment and modernity at the expense of peoples already here.

Since his foundational ritual of possession, First Nations people have called for a reckoning with Cook’s legacies, and in recent years First Nations artists have reinvigorated this call.

By invoking the presence of Cook, they ask their audience to recognise how colonisation and empire rendered them all but absent – and his celebration today continues to do so.

Taking possession

In Samuel Calvert’s 1865 print, Cook Taking Possession of the Australian Continent on Behalf of the British Crown, the noisy presence of the newcomers’ industry and weapons drives two huddled Aboriginal men into the bush.

Captain Cook taking possession of the Australian continent on behalf of the British Crown A.D. 1770 (c. 1853-1864), colour process engraving.
National Gallery Victoria

Wathaurung Elder Aunty Marlene Gilson re-worked Calvert’s image in The Landing (2018): widening the lens to show peoples living in the landscape.

Gilson imaginatively runs together Calvert’s imagery with accounts of Governor Phillip’s later landing. As the flag is hoisted ships hover in the bay. Colonisation was a process of denying who was already there, the First Nations families and figures Gilson captures in lively habitation on land and water.

The landing, 2018, Marlene Gilson, National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne. Purchased Victorian Foundation for Living Australian Artists, 2019.
© Marlene Gilson

Gilson challenges the mythology of empire: that empty territory needed no treaty.

Gilson’s image is also a homage to Gordon Bennett’s earlier reworking of Calvert in Possession Island (1991). Bennett deliberately obscured Cook and his companions, with the exception of one dark-skinned servant. The presumptuous act of possession is only glimpsed behind a Jackson Pollock-like forest of lines. Visual static intervenes. Terra nullius interruptus.

This obscurity stands in marked contrast to Christian Thompson’s Othering the Explorer, James Cook (2015). Part of his Museum of Others series, his images invite us to consider the effacement of First Nations people by colonial authority and knowledge.

Dr Christian Thompson AO, Museum of Others (Othering the Explorer, James Cook), 2016. c-type on metallic paper, 120 x 120 cm, from the Museum of Others series.
Courtesy of the artist & Michael Reid Sydney + Berlin

Thompson superimposes Cook’s head and shoulders on the artist’s own. His choice of images is deliberate, the 1775 Nathaniel Dance portrait of Cook in full naval regalia glowering over his Pacific “discoveries”.

Official portrait of Captain James Cook, c 1776, by Nathaniel Dance.
National Maritime Museum, United Kingdom

Since European colonisation, the assertion of the discoverer’s right to possess has erased the rich tapestry of prior ownership and belonging. In Thompson’s wry self-effacement, Cook’s superimposition is a reminder of someone already there. This was always the coloniser’s ploy. Presence as absence is a conceit of colonisation.

The presence of absence informs Daniel Boyd’s re-imagination of Cook’s landing in We Call Them Pirates Out Here (2006), a re-working of E. Phillips Fox’s Landing of Captain Cook at Botany Bay (1902).

E. Phillips Fox, Landing of Captain Cook at Botany Bay, 1770, c1902.
National Gallery of Victoria

Phillips Fox portrayed Cook restraining his men from shooting the distantly pictured “natives”. This was empire as it wished to be seen: peaceful, British, white and triumphant.

Boyd plays on the flattery of imperial self-imagining by exposing the wilful piracy of colonial possession. Boyd’s Cook cuts the same imperial dash, but with an eye patch and skull and crossbones on the Union Jack behind him empire is revealed as the pirate’s resort.

Daniel Boyd, We Call them Pirates Out Here, 2006, oil on canvas, Museum of Contemporary Art, purchased with funds provided by the Coe and Mordant families, 2006.
© Daniel Boyd

Challenging mythologies

The growing First Nations challenge to Cook’s iconography highlights his continued presence in our nation’s colonial mythology.

It is a challenge to Cook’s elevation as hero of the modern Australia built on Indigenous erasure. Jason Wing’s bronze bust of a balaclava-wearing Captain James Crook (2013) symbolises that challenge.

Jason Wing, Captain James Crook, 2013, bronze, 60 x 60 x 30cm, edition of 5. Photograph by Garrie Maguire.
Image courtesy of the Artist and Artereal Gallery.

Wing’s addition of the balaclava forces us to confront Cook’s legacy not as the projected shining icon of Enlightenment, but as a mythic presence built on deliberate theft, dispossession and violence.

These are only a small collection of artists reconsidering the place of Cook in our collective memory. Provocative, challenging, arresting, often satirical and sometimes funny, First Nations artists powerfully challenge us to reconsider Cook and our nation’s iconography.

Within the art lies an open invitation to reflect on who we have become and where we are headed.

This invitation is highlighted in Fiona Foley’s most recent retrospective, named for a song by Joe Gala and Teila Watson performed in Badtjala and English: Who are these strangers and where are they going?




Read more:
Tall ship tales: oral accounts illuminate past encounters and objects, but we need to get our story straight


The song weaves together the narratives of the First Nations people who first saw the Endeavour make its way along the coast. Together with the photographs and installations drawn from across Foley’s long career, the retrospective is a powerful affirmation of continuing presence: in 1770, in 1788, and today.

As we confront the Cook commemorations, Foley’s and the Badtjalas’ question, like Namatjira’s double-sided self-portrait, is a nudge to our nation’s future. Who are these strangers and where are they going?

By reminding us that the question was asked of Cook’s sudden presence in 1770, we must ask it again of ourselves to confront the absence his possession still makes present for us 250 years on.The Conversation

Bruce Buchan, Associate Professor, Griffith University and Eddie Synot, Centre Manager, Indigenous Law Centre, UNSW

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.


Explorer, navigator, coloniser: revisit Captain Cook’s legacy with the click of a mouse


Justin Bergman, The Conversation; Sunanda Creagh, The Conversation, and Wes Mountain, The Conversation

Captain James Cook arrived in the Pacific 250 years ago, triggering British colonisation of the region. We’re asking researchers to reflect on what happened and how it shapes us today.

Click through below to explore Cook’s journey through the Pacific, his interactions with Indigenous peoples and how that journey led to Australia becoming a penal colony 18 years later.

You can see other stories in the series here.


Click through to explore the interactive.The Conversation

Justin Bergman, Deputy Editor: Politics + Society, The Conversation; Sunanda Creagh, Head of Digital Storytelling, The Conversation, and Wes Mountain, Multimedia Editor, The Conversation

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.


Botany and the colonisation of Australia in 1770



Botanist Joseph Banks recommended Botany Bay as the site for a penal colony.
Charles Gore (1788) / State Library of NSW

Bruce Buchan, Griffith University

Captain James Cook arrived in the Pacific 250 years ago, triggering British colonisation of the region. We’re asking researchers to reflect on what happened and how it shapes us today. You can see other stories in the series here and an interactive here.


James Cook and his companions aboard the Endeavour landed at a harbour on Australia’s southeast coast in April of 1770. Cook named the place Botany Bay for
“the great quantity of plants Mr. Banks and Dr. Solander found in this place”.

Joseph Banks and Daniel Solander were aboard the Endeavour as gentleman botanists, collecting specimens and applying names in Latin to plants Europeans had not previously seen. The place name hints at the importance of plants to Britain’s Empire, and to botany’s pivotal place in Europe’s Enlightenment and Australia’s early colonisation.

A new series from The Conversation.

‘Nothing like people’

Joseph Banks became one of Britain’s most influential scientists.
National Library of Australia

Cook has always loomed large in Australia’s colonial history. White Australians have long commemorated and celebrated him as the symbolic link to the “civilisation” of Enlightenment and Empire. The two botanists have been less well remembered, yet Banks in particular was an influential figure in Australia’s early colonisation.

When Banks and his friend Solander went ashore on April 29, 1770 to collect plants for naming and classification, the Englishman recollected they saw “nothing like people”. Banks knew that the land on which he and Solander sought plants was inhabited (and in fact, as we now know, had been so for at least 65,000 years). Yet the two botanists were engaged in an activity that implied the land was blank and unknown.

They were both botanical adventurers. Solander was among the first and most favoured of the students of Carl Linnaeus, the Swedish botanist and colonial traveller who devised the method still used today for naming species. Both Solander and Banks were advocates for the Linnaean method of taxonomy: a systematic classification of newly named plants and animals.

When they stepped ashore at “Botany Bay” in 1770, the pair saw themselves as pioneers in a double sense: as Linnaean botanists in a new land, its places and plants unnamed by any other; as if they were in a veritable terra nullius.

The plant specimens Joseph Banks collected were taken back to England, where they remain today in the Natural History Museum.
Natural History Museum

Botany in ‘nobody’s land’

Terra nullius, meaning “nobody’s land”, refers to a legal doctrine derived from European traditions stretching back to the ancient Romans. The idea was that land could be declared “empty” and “unowned” if there were no signs of occupation such as cultivation of the soil, towns, cities, or sacred temples.

As a legal doctrine it was not applied in Australia until the late 1880s, and there is dispute about its effects in law until its final elimination by the High Court in Mabo v Queensland (No. II) in 1992.




Read more:
Terra nullius interruptus: Captain James Cook and absent presence in First Nations art


Cook never used this formulation, nor did Banks or Solander. Yet each in their way acted as if it were true. That the land, its plants, and animals, and even its peoples, were theirs to name and classify according to their own standards of “scientific” knowledge.

In the late eighteenth century, no form of scientific knowledge was more useful to empire than botany. It was the science par excellence of colonisation and empire. Botany promised a way to transform the “waste” of nature into economic productivity on a global scale.

Plant power

Wealth and power in Britain’s eighteenth century empire came from harnessing economically useful crops: tobacco, sugar, tea, coffee, rice, potatoes, flax. Hence Banks and Solander’s avid botanical activity was not merely a manifestation of Enlightenment “science”. It was an integral feature of Britain’s colonial and imperial ambitions.

Banksia ericifolia was one of the many species given a new name by Banks.
Natural History Museum

Throughout the Endeavour’s voyage, Banks, Solander, and their assistants collected more than 30,000 plant specimens, naming more than 1,400 species.

By doing so, they were claiming new ground for European knowledge, just as Cook meticulously charted the coastlines of territories he claimed for His Majesty, King George III. Together they extended a new dispensation, inscribed in new names for places and for plants written over the ones that were already there.

Long after the Endeavour returned to Britain, Banks testified before two House of Commons committees in 1779 and 1785 that “Botany Bay” would be an “advantageous” site for a new penal colony. Among his reasons for this conclusion were not only its botanical qualities – fertile soils, abundant trees and grasses – but its virtual emptiness.




Read more:
From Captain Cook to the First Fleet: how Botany Bay was chosen over Africa as a new British penal colony


Turning emptiness to empire

When Banks described in his own Endeavour journal the land Cook had named “New South Wales”, he recalled: “This immense tract of Land … is thinly inhabited even to admiration …”. It was the science of botany that connected emptiness and empire to the Enlightened pursuit of knowledge.

One of Banks’s correspondents was the Scottish botanist and professor of natural history, John Walker. Botany, Walker wrote, was one of the “few Sciences” that “can promise any discovery or improvement”. Botany was the scientific means to master the global emporium of commodities on which empire grew.

Botany was also the reason why it had not been necessary for Banks or Solander to affirm the land on which they trod was empty. For in a very real sense, their science presupposed it. The land, its plants and its people were theirs to name and thereby claim by “discovery”.

When Walker reflected on his own botanical expeditions in the Scottish Highlands, he described them as akin to voyages of discovery to lands as “inanimate & unfrequented as any in the Terra australis”.

As we reflect on the 250-year commemoration of Cook’s landing in Australia, we ought also to consider his companions Banks and Solander, and their science of turning supposed emptiness to empire.The Conversation

Bruce Buchan, Associate Professor, Griffith University

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.


Poor health in Aboriginal children after European colonisation revealed in their skeletal remains



File 20181211 76971 1q1nikl.jpg?ixlib=rb 1.1
The excavations at the Normanton site in 2015.
Shaun Adams, Author provided

Shaun Adams, Griffith University; Michael Westaway, Griffith University, and Richard Martin, The University of Queensland

The poor health conditions of eight young Aboriginal people who died around the time of early European colonisation have been revealed in their skeletal remains, according to a new study.

The bones provide evidence of the displacement of Indigenous Australians from their traditional lands as a result of European colonisation. We view this as an opportunity to undertake “truth-telling” of our colonial history, as outlined in the 2017 Uluru Statement from the Heart.

The remains were sold as “scientific specimens” to the Australian Museum in Sydney in the early 20th century, but were repatriated in the 1990s to the local community in remote northwest Queensland.




Read more:
Oral testimony of an Aboriginal massacre now supported by scientific evidence


A discovery of skeletal remains

In 2015 one of us (Michael) was contacted by the Queensland Police for advice on the skeletal remains of several individuals. They had been found eroding from a floodplain just outside the town of Normanton.

They were identified as Aboriginal but it was obvious they were not from a traditional Aboriginal burial site.

Initial reburial site of the remains, Normanton.
Adams et al. 2018, Author provided

The remains appeared to have been reburied together. They were heavily weathered and did not include complete skeletons, just skulls and some long bones.

The state archaeologist Stephen Nichols contacted several museums, and deduced that these individuals had been repatriated in the 1990s from the Australian Museum. At around the same time, local Aboriginal people told police that the remains had been reburied in this location after their repatriation.

It quickly became apparent that these were the remains of eight young people who had died of disease on the colonial frontier in the late 19th century and had been collected by the Aboriginal Protector, Walter Roth.

The collection of Aboriginal skeletal remains (ancestral remains) was common practice in the 19th and much of the 20th century. Today, many thousands of individuals remain in institutions around the world awaiting repatriation.

The Gkuthaarn and Kukatj people from Normanton wanted to find out more about the lives of these people who had been taken from their country. They discussed this after one of us (Michael) attended the site.

The human skeleton provides a unique record of an individual’s life history. Our investigation showed the remains were all young people, with an average age of about 15 years, and some as young as seven.

Reburial of remains in the Aboriginal cemetery, Normanton.
Michael Westaway, Author provided

Evidence of stress

The remains told the story of young people who had undergone significant nutritional stress in their formative years. This was evident from linear stress markers recorded as defects in their tooth enamel, referred to as dental enamel hypoplasias.

The teeth also indicated that while traditional foods were still important in their diet they also regularly consumed European foods rich in sugar and carbohydrates. This had created dental caries (cavities) in their teeth, similar to those we see today in many modern populations but which are unknown in pre-contact Aboriginal remains.

Walter Roth wrote about the high frequency of disease in Aboriginal people found barely holding on in the fringe camps around Normanton (reported in 1901). He reported that “about half” of the 176 Aboriginal inhabitants were suffering from introduced venereal diseases.

The remains provide first-hand pathological evidence in the wake of colonisation. In one individual there were signs of a pathological lesion defined as caries sicca, a lesion diagnostic of syphilis.

Syphilis was also evident in two tibiae (lower leg bones) reburied with the crania (skulls minus the jaws) in the form of a condition known as Sabre Shin, where significant bowing of these long bones is evident.

This all provides evidence of the stress that Aboriginal people endured during the early colonial period.

Normanton in 1906.
Queensland Police Museum Archive: ehive-PM0940, CC BY-NC-SA

‘Truth telling’ and history

The Gkuthaarn and Kukatj people’s request for help was in the spirit of the Uluru Statement from the Heart where “truth telling” about the colonial past was emphasised as a priority for reconciliation between all Australians.

Research into our shared colonial past plays a fundamental role in this objective. Bioarchaeology can offer new narratives from the historic period that have not been captured in the historic record.

Some archaeologists have called for a post-colonial approach to the discipline, in which we establish, together with Aboriginal people, the types of historic investigations they consider important.

Traditionally this has not included research on the skeletal remains of their ancestors, as this has been a taboo research area for many Aboriginal groups.




Read more:
The violent collectors who gathered Indigenous artefacts for the Queensland Museum


But in parts of the country, Indigenous attitudes towards research are changing, with groups such as the Gkuthaarn and Kukatj people wanting to know more about their past.

As one Indigenous leader from this community said:

… these were young people who left behind such a sad story that needs to be told so non-Indigenous people, not just throughout Australia but particularly in our region of northwest Queensland, know and understand that these traumas still impact on our people 120 years later.

These eight young people from Normanton, who died at the end of the 19th century, are not forgotten. They provide tangible evidence of the hardships that Aboriginal people endured through the colonial acquisition of their land and displacement of their way of life.


Susan Burton Phillips, Counsel to the Gkuthaarn and Kukatj people, contributed to this article.The Conversation

Shaun Adams, Isotope Bioarchaeologist Research Fellow, Griffith University; Michael Westaway, Senior Research Fellow, Australian Research Centre for Human Evolution, Griffith University, and Richard Martin, Senior lecturer, The University of Queensland

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.


%d bloggers like this: