Observing Justice?: Protectors of Aborigines in Early Colonial Australasia

Historians of Aboriginal protection as a mode of colonial governance have emphasised both its global origins and its varied local practices. Between 1838 and 1842 the British government appointed at least sixteen Protectors of Aborigines across four Australasian colonies. Their contrasting careers suggest the important influence of local conditions in refining colonial policy; but because protection was a field of governance that routinely operated through individual forms of contact and influence, their personal histories and networks are also worthy of attention. This presentation will consider the utility of group biography to the study of Aboriginal protection. It will focus on two protectors, William Thomas (1793–1867) and Charles Symmons (1804-1887), whose contrasting careers in Port Phillip (Victoria) and Western Australia illustrate the ambiguity of the protection project. They are among eight protectors under study for a book I am writing with the tentative title of Observing Justice? Protectors of Aborigines in Early Colonial Australasia.

Sam Furphy is a historian based in the National Centre of Biography, School of History. He is a research editor for the Australian Dictionary of Biography and was a recipient (2014-17) of an Australian Research Council early career fellowship. His previous publications include Edward M. Curr and the Tide of History (2013), as well as several edited books and commissioned histories including Australian of the Year Awards: A Fiftieth Anniversary History (2010). His most recent book (co-edited with Amanda Nettelbeck) is Aboriginal Protection and Its Intermediaries in Britain’s Antipodean Colonies (Routledge, 2020).

* This seminar was given as part of the ANU School of History Zoom Seminar Series

Date & time

Wed 07 Oct 2020, 4.15pm


Dr Sam Furphy


National Centre of Biography


Alexander Cook


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