Sunday, March 4, 2012

Archaic and Bloody: Enjoy

Apologies to all lovers of seals (and I'm one of them) for some of these images but my area of research is the communities whose industry contributed to the decimation of seal colonies in the 1800's. These pictures are as valuable to me as those certain scents that return us to our childhood. Connect that to a British society who wore sealskin hats and whose streets were lit with their oil. The cloaks of the Chinese Mandarins were made of Western Australian sealskin - it was a global export industry born decades before the colony itself. Wild stuff. So here goes.
Flinching a Yearling, Tristan De Acuna, by Augustus Earle, 1793 - 1838.

This image Rafting Blubber at Tristan De Acunha by Augustus Earle is curious in many ways. I'm gathering that the rafting of blubber means the sealer is about to float the flensed blubber of a seal out to the boat standing off the rocks. Check out the swell. Crazy. Then there is the dog, who looks a bit like a dingo crossbreed. 19th century sealers are often described as travelling with Aboriginal women, children and big mobs of brindle dogs that were European hounds crossed with Antipodean dingoes. Dogs changed Aboriginal society in Tasmania after invasion/colonisation but also had a part to play in a massive shift of Aboriginal society on 'mainland' Australia 3000 years ago, when the dogs crossed from south east Asia. I get that Tristan De Acunha is northwards from my particular rave but the presence of that dog says that they were still used as familiars and co-workers.

 View on the north side of Kanguroo Island, painted by William Westall. Published by G & W Nicol, Feb.12. 1814.
An idyllic view. Most of the seals and the kangaroos were gone by the mid 1800s thanks to not only the resident sealers but also visiting colonists who shot everything to salt down for later. A species of short legged emu endemic to the island is now extinct, an Australian version of the Moa extinction narrative.

 Native Cats of Australia, Charles-Alexander Lesueur, 1778 - 1846.
We hate introduced cats making a right mess of native animal populations, right? Here is rare image of marsupial cats getting stuck into a seal carcass. I like this image because of everything that it represents - native carnivores, the carnage of colonisation, the shifting of food resources, etc. etc.

Chasse aux phoques, by Leon Jean Baptiste, d. 1887.
It's French for 'carnage'.

 Frank Wild, Leader, and Morton Henry Moyes, Meteorlogist, Western Base Party, standing with knife over a Weddell seal, Australasian Antarctic Expedition, 1911-1914. By Frank Wild, 1873-1939.
This photograph is obviously posed but even after that ... well. Awkward silence. I've got no idea what is going on here. It's an nineteenth century Facebook moment, methinks.


  1. Re the last photo - it would go well in a catalogue of 'Awkward Family Holiday Photos'.

  2. They were men of their time. Hopefully the family photograph albums were too!

  3. Great images. Thank God for visual artists, without them so much info would be missing.