Bergen, Norway 1811 – Sydney, New South Wales, Australia 1889
The wreck of 'George the Third'
1850 Title Notes: At the time of the Ocean to Outback exhibition (2007), following further research, the title was altered.
Place made: Hobart, Tasmania, Australia
Materials & Technique: paintings, oil on canvas Support: canvas
Both New South Wales and Van Diemen’s Land were settled as penal colonies but, paradoxically – or perhaps out of shame – there are few representations of convict life in Australian art. Knut Bull’s The wreck of the George the Third and his two versions of The wreck of the Waterloo are rare images of convict transport ships, and their unhappy ends.
The George the Third sailed from England in December 1834 and almost reached Hobart four months later but, on the evening of the 12 April 1835, within a day’s journey of its destination, it struck an uncharted rock (now known as King George Rock) to the north of Black Reef. The calm sea soon became rough, causing the ship to strike the rock violently and flinging people on the deck off their feet. In less than 20 minutes, the masts were broken and the ship was taking water.
The wreck remains one of the worst maritime disasters in Tasmanian history, with only 81 of the 208 prisoners on board being saved. That only two seamen were lost, and the whole of the guard and their families reached the shore, suggests that no real attempt was made to save the convicts and that perhaps the guards prevented them from escaping from the holds below.
In 1845, the Norwegian-born Knut Bull was arrested in London for feloniously making part of a foreign note and sentenced to 14 years transportation. He arrived at Norfolk Island on board the John Calvin in 1846 and was transferred to the Saltwater River probation station in Van Diemen’s Land in 1847. He painted The wreck of the George the Third in 1850, soon after he received a certificate of general good conduct which enabled him, with official consent, to accept payment for private work. Bull made a successful career in Hobart in the mid-1850s, painting several detailed landscapes of Hobart Town and the surrounding area.
Text © National Gallery of Australia, Canberra 2010
From: Anne Gray (ed), Australian art in the National Gallery of Australia, National Gallery of Australia, Canberra, 2002