Benjamin Duterrau emigrated to Tasmania in 1832 at the age of 65. In England, he had been a minor painter and printmaker who had exhibited only a small number of portraits and genre pieces. In Hobart, he became one of Australia’s most remarkable colonial artists.
In addition to producing the first etchings executed in Australia, Duterrau made some of the first colonial sculptures, gave the first recorded lecture on art and, most significantly, produced an extended series of oil paintings of Tasmania’s Aboriginal people. These paintings include portraits, ethnographic pictures of the Tasmanians’ ‘occupations and amusements’ and the first Australian history paintings which celebrate the ‘conciliation’ of the Aboriginal people by George Augustus Robinson, who was employed by the colonial government to bring in Tasmania’s remaining ‘wild’ people by peaceful means.
Mr Robinson’s first interview with Timmy shows Robinson pursuing this work – a solitary white man surrounded by Aboriginal people. When Duterrau conceived this painting in 1834, he intended it as a tribute to Robinson’s success in peacefully persuading the Tasmanians to surrender after all the violence of the frontier. By 1840 when Duterrau completed it, approximately half the Tasmanian Aboriginal people who had been removed to Flinders Island as a result of Robinson’s work had died. Yet Duterrau continued to think of Robinson as a ‘real hero’ – a man of ‘noble deeds’1 who induced the Aboriginal people ‘to quit barbarous for civilised life’.2
Tim Bonyhady 2002
1 James Bonwick, The Past of the Tasmanians, Samson Low, Son & Marston, 1870, p.210.
2 Hobart Town Courier, 18 September 1835, p.3.
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