Cartoon: From the Italian cartone. The concept originated in the Middle Ages and first described a preparatory drawing for a piece of art, such as a painting or fresco. The cartoon (copy) included only the broad, main lines of the original design or drawing which were then pinpricked to allow transfer by ‘pouncing’ [charcoal or other dust] through the cartoon to the final medium e.g. plaster wall or canvas.

Probably Australia’s first cartoon is the drawing made in 1829 by Van Dieman’s Land Surveyor General: George Frankland. This followed the Governor’s proclamation of Martial Law the previous year – a misguided step designed to end the escalating slaughter of the ‘Black War’.

The pictogram scenes that depict Aborigines, British military and settlers were based on drawings by surveyor and artist George Frankland, who suggested in a letter to Governor Arthur that they be tied to trees in remote areas of the island. The proclamation boards were designed to communicate to the Indigenous peoples of Van Diemen’s Land that all people, black and white, would be treated equally under the British colonists law. Historian Penelope Edmonds notes…

The boards were made after the 1829 declaration of martial law against Tasmania’s Aboriginal people, and the hangings from trees actually depict moments of summary justice and retribution on a violent frontier.

The proclamation boards were reproduced by convict artists. The drawing was mass-produced by pricking the outline of a drawing with a pin, in a technique known as pouncing or spolvero. Charcoal was then dusted through the pinholes and pounded to make an outline.


Herewith is a facsimile of the pictorial proclamation issued by Governor Davey in 1816 to the Tasmanian aborigines. It is interesting, as showing the means employed in getting over a linguistic difficulty. The blacks strongly resisted the settlement of the whites, and the strained relations that existed are fairly well portrayed in the proclamation. The first tableau represents the whites and blacks on terms of domestic intercourse; the second shows the cordial intimacy the Governor would like to see established between the chief and himself ; the third tableau portrays the execution of a black for spearing a white : and the last shows how a white man would be dealt with if he shot a black. The original is in the Hobart Museum.

Sunday Times (Perth, WA : 1902 – 1954), Sunday 14 September 1902, page 1


… lithographs were made as souvenirs for the 1866 Intercolonial Exhibition in Melbourne and the Paris Universal Exhibition the following year. While they were painted by hand, and perhaps from memory, each is individual and unique.

While Governor George Arthur instigated the original proclamation boards aimed at conciliation with Aboriginal people and an avoidance of violence, the text on the lithographs contains an important error noting that it was ‘Governor Davey’ who made the ‘Proclamation to the Aborigines 1816’. The text printed at the bottom appears to be using a form of Creole or maybe Aboriginal English, and reads,

‘Why – Massa Gubernor’ – said Black Jack – ‘You Proflamation all gammon – how / blackfellow read him? – eh! He no learn him book.’

‘Read that then,’ said the Governor, pointing to a picture.’

The continuation of the production of the imagery from the proclamation boards in the context of these international exhibitions is of particular historical importance, as it was at a time when there was much discontent with the question of slavery. A civil rebellion was underway in other British colonies, like the Jamaican Rebellion of 1865, and so the lithographs served to reinforce the so-called successes in this part of the British Empire with colonisation and the imposition of the rule of British law. The imagery is descriptive of a co-operative model or strategy of containment that is shadowed by a different reality.

The lithograph is an original handpainted work of great significance historically. It is a reproduction of ‘proclamation boards’ produced in Van Dieman’s Land and is a rare example of the derivative lithographs exhibited in nineteenth-century intercolonial and international exhibitions illuminating the use of the boards for imperial propaganda at various times. This lithograph was produced as a souvenir for the 1866 Intercolonial Exhibition in Melbourne. Of particular note in the text at the bottom is the reference to an iconic yet largely forgotten Aboriginal resistance fighter, ‘Black Jack’. Black Jack was hanged in 1825 along with his more renowned counterpart in this action, ‘Mosquito’, and the imagery in the lithograph here shows an Aboriginal man being hanged.

These notes from the Melbourne exhibition in 1866 indicate that the proclamation board being exhibited had been discovered “under the floor of the old Government House” in Hobart.

It’s interesting to note that all the blood depicted in Frankland’s 1829 drawing has been censored out of the 1866 lithograph version. Also that the first panel depicting the aspirational harmony between the two races has the indigenous people dressed in white people’s clothing – what was really wanted was obedient assimilation into European culture.

Here’s a gallery of ‘close-up’ panels of perhaps our first cartoon’……..

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