Date of Award


Degree Name

Master of Philosophy (School of Arts and Sciences)

Schools and Centres

Arts & Sciences

First Supervisor

Deborah Gare

Second Supervisor

Darren Holden

Third Supervisor

Annemarie McLaren


This thesis determines the degree to which the North Australian Expedition, 1855–1857, contested established European fiction of the Australian frontier by systematically collecting new knowledge. It analyses the outcomes of one of the most forgotten expeditions in Australian history by interrogating the journals, charts and artworks of the explorers. In 1855, the Royal Geographical Society and the British Colonial Office sent an expedition into northern Australia under the command of Augustus Gregory. It was a region that Britain hoped would hold lucrative resources to support further economic and population development. The artist-explorer, Thomas Baines, was made second-in-command of the expedition. Baines was, by this time, a proven artist and explorer, and had received praise for his work in South Africa.

This research draws on privileged access to Baines’ materials held by the Kerry Stokes Collection and compares these to the journals and other artefacts held by the Royal Geographical Society (London) and the State Library of New South Wales. The thesis tests the degree to which the explorers extended the ‘European fiction’ of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, and whether they challenged that fiction by the acquisition of new knowledge. They did both. While acknowledging that the explorers’ perspectives were shaped by the racial, cultural and political understandings of their time, it is possible to argue that the expedition’s written records largely achieved a systematic acquisition of new knowledge. Baines’ artworks, on the other hand, were more complex. Dozens of watercolours and sketches, previously unstudied, reveal thoughtful analysis of the people and landscape of the northern frontier. His oil paintings, designed for public exhibition, on the other hand, extended the exercise of myth-making and heroic individualism in the age of empire.

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