Image Indigenous Australians feasting on a beached whale, c1817

TLF ID R4028

This is a watercolour, measuring 17.7 cm x 27.9 cm, created by Joseph Lycett in about 1817. It depicts Indigenous Australian people on the New South Wales coast near the mouth of the Hunter River at Nobby's Head. There is a sailing ship on the horizon and nine people are on the beach, some looking on while two kneel beside a beached whale. A man and a woman with a baby on her back walk from the beach towards eight adults and a child who are grouped around two fires. Several people have meat in their hands and two are holding the meat close to the fires. The men on the beach who are standing carry spears, and one of the women holds a basket.

Educational details

Educational value
  • This asset depicts Indigenous Australians harvesting whale meat (which was highly prized) from a beached whale - Indigenous peoples did not actively hunt whales, but when a recently beached whale was found, messengers were sent to neighbouring communities to invite them to come and share the feast; a famous incident happened at a whale feast in September 1790, when about 200 Indigenous people, gathered on Manly Beach, were joined by Governor Arthur Phillip; Phillip was speared in the shoulder after a misunderstanding.
  • It reflects the consequences of British settlement on the Indigenous population, with 19 adults but only one child and one baby pictured - high death rates, mainly through killings and disease, as well as low birthrates drastically reduced the original population; the artist's inclusion of a sailing ship is a subtle comment on the cultural and technological differences between British and Indigenous societies, and suggests the extent of British exploration and settlement.
  • It illustrates one cooking method often used by Indigenous Australians, the roasting of meat on hot coals - across Australia, a variety of cooking methods was used; damper, seeds, nuts and root vegetables were often cooked in hot ashes; in some places, large game was wrapped in paperbark and cooked in a ground oven, along with vegetables.
  • It depicts two fires used for cooking - fire provided warmth, light, heat for cooking and for straightening wood to be used in tools and weapons; a firebrand was often carried to enable new fires to be lit quickly; firebrands were also used in hunting, to start fires in order to flush out game; specially constructed fires were also central to many ceremonies.
  • It depicts the people in the foreground wearing white loincloths - prior to British contact, Indigenous people on the north coast of NSW wore only ornamental bands, and belts made of hair or animal fur, as well as possum or flying-fox skins in winter; the artist has painted these people wearing loincloths so viewers of his work would not be offended.
  • It is part of an important collection of paintings showing the daily life of Indigenous people in early colonial times - a bound album of 20 watercolours painted before 1828 by Englishman and convict artist Joseph Lycett, and bought by the National Library of Australia at Sotheby's, London, in 1972 for £9,500; text on the album's title page, 'Drawings of the natives and scenery of Van Diemens Land 1830', is partly incorrect, as all the watercolours with identifiable locations depict areas in NSW, near Newcastle and Port Jackson (Sydney).
  • It was painted by the convict artist Joseph Lycett, who was transported to NSW in 1814 for forgery - although four of the watercolours in the album appear to be at least partly copied from other works, Lycett did have some contact with Indigenous Australians, as there is a record of him being wounded in an attack before he returned to England in 1822.

Other details

  • Author
  • Person: Joseph Lycett
  • Description: Author
  • Contributor
  • Name: National Library of Australia
  • Organization: National Library of Australia
  • Description: Content provider
  • URL:
  • Name: Education Services Australia
  • Organization: Education Services Australia
  • Description: Data manager
  • Person: Joseph Lycett
  • Description: Author
  • Copyright Holder
  • Name: National Library of Australia
  • Organization: National Library of Australia
  • Publisher
  • Name: Education Services Australia Ltd
  • Organization: Education Services Australia Ltd
  • Description: Publisher
  • Address: VIC, AUSTRALIA
  • URL:
  • Resource metadata contributed by
  • Name: Education Services Australia Ltd
  • Organisation: Education Services Australia Ltd
  • Address: AUSTRALIA
  • URL:
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Learning Resource Type
  • Image
  • © Education Services Australia Ltd and National Library of Australia, 2013, except where indicated under Acknowledgements