Gareth Knapman lecture: “Conciliator or pacificator: the bust of George Augustus Robinson”

1-2pm, Thursday 25 August
Discovery Centre Lecture Theatre at Melbourne Museum, Nicholson Street, Carlton. Entrance is opposite the Royal Exhibition Building.

Free entry. For RSVP and information contact: Dr Heather Gaunt, Indigenous Cultures Department, Phone: 8341 7367, Email:

See below for more information (copied from circular email with lecture details):

Benjamin Law’s busts of Woureddy and Truganini are shrouded in controversy. In May 2010 the previously lost bust of George Augustus Robinson was found in the Collection of the State Library of Victoria. Robinson organised for the creation of all three busts and therefore they represent a collective story of conciliation and representation. As the Protector of Aborigines in Tasmania, during the 1830s, Robinson persuaded the Aboriginal community to surrender into government protection — an approach mythologised as “conciliation” but
resulted in the Aboriginal population being exiled to Flinders Island. By 1835 Robinson had achieved his mission of “conciliation” and chose to represent his importance as a public figure by commissioning Benjamin Law to produce what was an archetype Victorian-era bust of himself. Draped in a toga, Robinson appeared in neoclassical grandeur. The bust provides an insight into Robinson’s desire for self-promotion. Rather than inscribing the bust as “protector” or “conciliator”, Law — probably at Robinson’s direction —inscribed it as “pacificator” of Aborigines, suggesting that Robinson saw conciliation as an imperial ruse. In 1839 Robinson became the protector of Aborigines in the Port Philip settlement. The first mention of the bust’s existence in the Victorian state collection was in the 1865 Catalogue of the Casts, Busts, Reliefs and Illustrations in the Museum  of Art , although it mostly likely entered the collection much earlier. The bust is a historically important representation of Robinson at the height of his “pacificator” powers. The finding of the Robinson bust give us new material for the understanding the complex meanings of conciliation and humanitarianism in the 1830s.

Dr Gareth Knapman is a Fellow at Monash University in the National Centre for Australian Studies. He was formally a curator in the Indigenous Cultures Department at Museum Victoria. Dr Knapman has published articles on the history of anthropology and colonialism in the British Empire. In 2008 he was awarded Museum Victoria’s Thomas Ramsay Science and Humanities Fellowship and continues his relationship with Museum Victoria as a Research Associate with the Indigenous Cultures Department. Dr Knapman is also working on a four year ARC funded project with Professor Bruce Scates on the history of ANZAC Day


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