Image: Bust of Truganini L1014

Bust of Truganini L1014

The bust of Truganini, plaster-cast sculpture, probably 19th century replica from original cast by Benjamin Law produced in Hobart, Tasmania in 1836; acquired by the Museum in 1913.

Stuart Humphreys
© Australian Museum


The artist Benjamin Law, was commissioned by Augustus Robinson in Hobart, to produce two sculptures of Aboriginal Tasmanians, Wouraddy in 1835 and Truganini in 1836. The sculptures were made in plaster and painted in a dark colour to imitate bronze. At the time, several original copies were successfully sold in the Australian colonies and overseas. Some second-generation copies were subsequently produced from the original casts.

The Australian Museum has two sets of busts of Wouraddy and Truganini. One set is made to imitate the bronze sculpture as originally intended by the artist and Robinson. The second set is painted to reproduce natural colours, although Truganini’s shell necklace is absent. The reason for this omission is not known, we can only speculate that the extra work required to remove the necklace from the sculpture was justified. It probably was not for an aesthetic reason. The ‘last minute’ rush for documenting the physical characteristics of the original Tasmanians in the second half of the 19th century created a market for images, casts and even human remains. It is therefore possible that this bust of Trugunini was intended as an equivalent of a ‘human specimen’ where decorations were not needed, even if their removal diminished personal and cultural identity.

This possibility could be supported by the fact that the sculpture was purchased from Thomas Peter Anderson Stuart, a prominent administrator and educator in the field of health and medicine. During his long career Anderson Stuart held a number of senior positions including professor of anatomy and physiology at the University of Sydney, secretary and chairman of the Royal Prince Alfred Hospital and president of the United Dental Hospital of Sydney. He was knighted in 1914.

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