Rare early image of Corroboree

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Newcastle tribe in 1818 from 'An Historical Account of the Colony of New South Wales and its Dependent Settlements' by Captain James Wallis.

Sitting amongst the 2,600 rare books on the shelves of the Australian Institute of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Studies Collection (AIATSIS) is an image of a corroboree of the ‘Newcastle tribe’ in 1818, which is the first image of a major public corroboree in a book.

The image, probably based on an original drawn by convict and painter Joseph Lycett and engraved by fellow convict Walter Preston, is from the rare book An Historical Account of the Colony of New South Wales and its Dependent Settlements, by Captain James Wallis, the commandant of the settlement of Newcastle which was also a secondary penal colony.

Captain Wallis invited the local Chief of the Newcastle tribe, Burigon, to entertain Governor Macquarie who was visiting Newcastle at the time. Burigon gathered 40 tribesmen to perform a corroboree. It was said at the time both the performers and the audience were on fine terms. The performers were rewarded with rum and maize at the end of the evening.

In his writings, Wallis describes King Burigon, the tall figure standing and laughing to the left in the painting as a brave, expert fellow. It has been recorded that Burigon, to prove “his confidence in British humanity”, presented his eldest son to Governor Macquarie to be placed in the native institution in Parramatta.

In late 1820, Chief Burigon died - mortally wounded while trying to apprehend an escaped convict. The Wallis book was published in 1821.

AIATSIS purchased this rare book in May 2013.

AIATSIS maintains and preserves the world’s largest unique collection of materials relating to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples, their traditional cultures and lifestyles, past and present.

Further reading and sources 
  • Brook, J and Kohen, JL. The Parramatta Native Institution and the Black Town: a history. Kensington: NSW University Press, 1991.
  • Butler, John, Printed images in colonial Australia 1801-1901, National Gallery of Australia, 2007.
  • Frost, Shane. Burigon: Chief of the Newcastle Tribe in Joseph Lycett: convict artist, (J. McPhee, ed): Sydney: Historic Houses of Trust of New South Wales, 2006.
  • Macqurie, Lachlan. Lachlan Macquarie Governor of New South Wales : Journals of his Tours In New South Wales and van Diemen’s Land 1810-1822, Sydney: Public Library of New South Wales, 1956.
  • Turner, John and Blyton, Greg. The Aboriginals of Lake Macquarie: a brief history. Lake Macquarie: Lake Macquarie City Council, 1995.
  • Turner, John.  Joseph Lycett: Governor Macquarie’s Convict Artist. Newcastle: Hunter History Publications, Newcastle, 1997.
Last reviewed: 11 Sep 2015