eCite Digital Repository

The Art of genocide: Benjamin Duterrau’s The Conciliation


Lehman, G, The Art of genocide: Benjamin Duterrau's The Conciliation, Art, War and Truth Conference, 13-14 February 2014, The Australian National University (2014) [Conference Extract]

Pending copyright assessment - Request a copy


The Black War in Van Diemen’s Land sought the complete ‘extirpation’ of the island’s Indigenous nations. It culminated in the most ambitious military campaign in the history of the Australian colonies, and was ended by an historic treaty agreement authorised by Governor George Arthur in 1831. Benjamin Duterrau’s The Conciliation, 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. But does our reading of the painting today adequately acknowledge the milieu of the painting’s production, and its meaning for audiences of the time? Historian Bain Attwood suggests that The Conciliation was inspired by Benjamin West’s Penn’s Treaty with the Indians. However, this analysis fails to adequately consider the complexity of academic traditions represented in Duterrau’s composition.

This paper presents the results of recent research at the University of Oxford, suggesting thematic links for the painting that are more profound than those proposed by any previous author. It is argued that Duterrau was pointing to far more than simple parallels between colonial conflict in North America and Australia. The Conciliation is presented as an allegorical tale of conciliation, deception and fall from innocence; its roots in the French Revolution and Milton’s grand drama of Paradise Lost. The implications of this research add weight to recent calls by Henry Reynolds for a reappraisal of colonial conflict with Indigenous people in Australia, and demonstrate the need for a more critical reading of Australia’s early visual history.

Item Details

Item Type:Conference Extract
Keywords:Aboriginal, Tasmania
Research Division:Indigenous Studies
Research Group:Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples, society and community
Research Field:Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander sociology
Objective Division:Culture and Society
Objective Group:Understanding past societies
Objective Field:Understanding Australia's past
UTAS Author:Lehman, G (Professor Gregory Lehman)
ID Code:145896
Year Published:2014
Deposited By:Aboriginal Engagement
Deposited On:2021-08-10
Last Modified:2021-08-10

Repository Staff Only: item control page