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Benjamin Duterrau: The art of conciliation

journal contribution
posted on 2023-05-18, 19:48 authored by Greg LehmanGreg Lehman

The Black War in Van Diemen's Land (Tasmania) sought the complete ‘extirpation’ of the island's Indigenous nations. It ended with an historic agreement authorized by Lieutenant-Governor George Arthur in 1831. Benjamin Duterrau's The Conciliation (1840), considered to be Australia's first epic history painting, commemorates this moment, providing what the Australian Museum of Democracy considers as one of Australia's Founding Images.

By examining details of the artist's life, and concurrent developments in the British Academy, this paper suggests new thematic influences on the painting, and significantly extends its implications for our understanding of a significant, but under-acknowledged period in Australian military history. I argue that Duterrau's painting must be considered as far more than an example of parallels between colonial sentiments in North America and Australia. The Conciliation is described as an allegorical tale of conciliation, deception, and tragic heroism; its roots in the art of the French Revolution and Milton's epic drama of Paradise Lost. The implications of this research demonstrate the ongoing need for critical reading of Australia's early visual history, to enable more complete understandings of the role that long-established European narratives have played in the foundation of relationships with colonized peoples.


Publication title

Journal of War and Culture Studies








School of Humanities



Place of publication

United Kingdom

Rights statement

Copyright 2015 W.S. Maney & Sons Ltd.

Repository Status

  • Restricted

Socio-economic Objectives

Expanding knowledge in history, heritage and archaeology

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