Forgery in Eighteenth-Century Britain and Colonial Australian Art: A Case Study of Francis Greenway’s Prison Scenes
Room 611, Level 6
Melbourne Law School
185 Pelham Street
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This seminar analyses the notable degree to which early colonial Australian visual culture was dependent upon the skillset of convicted and transported forgers from Great Britain. As the eighteenth century progressed, forgery crimes were subject to increasingly harsh sentencing, including a gallows death and transportation. This severity reflected broader efforts to enshrine the sovereignty of money at a time when credit systems—exemplified by the widespread use of paper instruments—threatened the perceived intrinsic (or metallurgic) value of coins. Perhaps not surprisingly, given the shared technical skills in mimesis and reproduction, over half the artists who arrived in Australia on The First Fleet were convicted forgers.
Beginning with a case study of two scenes of Bristol’s Newgate Prison painted by the convicted forger cum Colonial Architect Francis Greenway, Helen Hughes will examine the ways in which changes to sentencing for forgery crimes in eighteenth-century Britain delivered a range of artists and artisans—including Thomas Watling, Joseph Lycett, Charles Constantini, Richard Read Senior, Knud Bull, and Thomas Griffiths Wainewright—to the penal colonies in Australia.