Surprising Discovery of Historical Sculpture in Tasmania Unveils Country’s First Political Protest Art
In a stunning revelation, a historic sculpture has been unearthed in Tasmania, and experts believe it may be the country’s first example of political protest art. The Tasmania Maritime Museum has recently released images of a 1.3-meter sandstone statue, depicting a well-dressed colonial gentleman engaged in a decidedly ungentlemanly act, lending weight to this theory.
The sculpture, believed to have been created by a convict in the 1830s, is thought to represent Lieutenant Governor George Arthur, the fourth governor of Van Diemen’s Land (now known as Tasmania) and the founder of the notorious Port Arthur penal settlement. What sets this statue apart is the protrusion of the gentleman’s genitalia from his button fly, suggesting that the original intent was to create Australia’s first urinating human fountain.
Chris Tassell, the president of the museum and managing director at the National Trust of Australia (Tasmania), emphasizes that this sculpture is far from a mere whimsical garden ornament. Instead, he describes it as an extraordinary political statement, representing the contempt held towards the government of the time. Tassell marvels at the uniqueness of the statue, stating that there is nothing comparable to it.
Dubbed “George” by the museum staff, the statue has been dated to around 1836, predating what was previously believed to be colonial Australia’s oldest full-length statue. This bronze statue of General Sir Richard Bourke, erected in 1842, stands outside the State Library of NSW in Sydney. In contrast to the imposing dignity of Bourke’s statue, George possesses a disproportionately large caricaturesque head and an expression of slight alarm.
Upon acquiring George in 2023, the museum had little information about its origins or age. Donated by an anonymous prominent Hobart family, who had held the statue for seven decades, it took a year of research to establish its provenance. The sandstone used for the sculpture was quarried in Ross, a town in Tasmania’s midlands, and the intricate detailing of George’s clothing, particularly the folds and creases, indicate the work of Daniel Herbert, an English stonemason and convict.
Researchers believe that the statue was most likely commissioned by William Kermode, a wealthy Tasmanian maritime merchant and landowner. Kermode’s deep-seated animosity towards Arthur, stemming from clashes over land ownership and the use of convict labor, provides a motive for commissioning this satirical piece. The fact that Kermode possessed the means to create a functioning statue, with his expertise in irrigation and access to skilled stonemasons, further supports this theory.
Now on display in the museum’s Carnegie Gallery, George continues to intrigue visitors. The museum staff encourages anyone with additional information about the statue’s history to come forward and shed more light on this.