The First Execution
oils and montaged paper on canvas
This set of three paintings, which is inspired by my ancestor W F E Liardet’s 1870’s watercolour, ‘The First Execution’, references Sidney Nolan’s ‘The Trial’ and Edvard Munch’s ‘The Scream’. In keeping with Liardet’s later works they are in a naive style and the two men are painted white to give then a ghostly appearance. The montaged newspapers cuttings are from copies of the report telling the grisly story in a local Melbourne paper dated 1842.
The works are a narrative, telling the tragic story of five Tasmanian Aboriginal people brought to Melbourne by George Augustus Robinson.
The hopelessness of never having the means of returning to their homeland drove them to run away from the Aboriginal Mission in Melbourne and they became outlaws. Eventually they killed two whalers in revenge for the murder of their relatives at Port Arthur. They were captured after eight weeks on the run and tried for murder. In an unjust court case where they were not allowed to speak in their defence, the two men, Tunneminnerwait and Maulboyheenner, were found guilty and sentenced to death. The three women, including Truganini who later became known as ‘The Last Tasmanian Aboriginal’ were released and eventually returned to Van Dieman’s Land. The two men were publicly executed. Their badly managed hanging was witnessed by 5000 people in January 1842.
Today these men are honoured as Freedom Fighters in a commemoration ceremony on the site of their burial at the Victoria Markets on January 20th.
The paintings highlight the ‘white washing’ of Australian history.