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  • Online publication date: December 2014



After studying the Aboriginal and Tasmanian men, each of the expeditions departed local waters, though not all of the voyagers safely returned home to Europe. Marion-Dufresne met his end at the hands of Maori warriors in New Zealand, and Cook was killed by the Hawaiians. Phillip was ailing by the time his commission ended and he returned home to England, though Collins stayed on and became an eventual lieutenant-governor. D'Entrecasteaux contracted scurvy and died after departing New Britain, and Baudin died at Mauritius, his lungs destroyed by tuberculosis. Flinders also suffered on that island, imprisoned by the French for many years. In fact, in many respects, the drama of the explorers’ tragic ends overshadowed their achievements, and is now better known than their Aboriginal ethnographies. History also attests that tragedy dogged Aboriginal lives, as the number and extent of British colonies expanded and competition between natives and newcomers over land and resources increased.

Throughout the nineteenth century settlers increasingly came to consider Aboriginal people as a ‘nuisance and a menace to life and property’. Bernard Smith contends that this outlook manifested in their depictions of Aboriginal people, and their ‘harden[ed], unsympathetic attitude is revealed in the grotesque comic figures of natives’. One of his examples is a lithograph, ‘King Teapot and His Two Gins’ (1833), which depicts a man (see Figure E.1), ostensibly the ‘Chief of the Bogen Tribe’, and his two wives carrying two small children. The king is depicted in profile, his body exaggeratedly grotesque with an enormous stomach and round buttocks protruding over his thin legs. His left arm, which extends back, bent at the elbow, is drawn to mimic the handle of the eponymous teapot, and his spear, the spout. His wives are little more than stick figures, their emaciated frames struggling under the weight of the children and burdens they carry. Given the nature of contemporary settler–indigenous relations, it is tempting to read colonial imperatives in the production of this image of the indigenous body as comical.