Sir George Arthur (1784–1854) issued several printed proclamations during his term as Lieutenant Governor of Van Diemen’s Land (Tasmania) to try to reduce the escalation of violence between Aboriginal peoples and the British settlers. George Frankland (1800–1838), the Surveyor-General, wrote to Arthur in 1829 and suggested the Proclamation Board as a visual tool to support the printed proclamations.
The boards featured four-strip pictograms that attempted to explain the idea of equality under the law, in that those who committed violent crimes – Aboriginal or colonist – would be punished in the same way. The Proclamation Board was inspired by the way Aboriginal people communicated by leaving drawings on the bark of trees.
Governor Arthur’s proclamation was painted on boards and nailed to trees in areas where they would be seen by Aboriginal people. The images on the Proclamation Boards have inspired numerous derivatives, such as lantern slides, lithographs, postcards, book covers and pottery. The boards, too, serve as ‘pamphlets’ on punishment and justice. Dr Rachel Franks explores the history of the Proclamation Boards – seven have survived – and talks about the board in the State Library of NSW collection.
Dr Rachel Franks is the Coordinator, Education & Scholarship, State Library of NSW and a Conjoint Fellow, The University of Newcastle. Dr Franks is a popular culture researcher and has delivered numerous conference papers on crime fiction, true crime, food studies and information science. An award-winning writer, her work can be found in a wide variety of books, journals and magazines as well as on social media.