State Library of NSW

Governor Bligh’s Arrest, 1808


Australia’s earliest surviving political cartoon

An Ungentlemanly Man

Governor Bligh’s Arrest, 1808This cartoon was exhibited in Sydney—probably Australia’s first public art exhibition—shortly after Bligh’s overthrow on 26 January 1808. The figure on the far right may represent Lieutenant William Minchin and the two soldiers are probably John Sutherland and Michael Marlborough.

Like all political cartoons—and this is Australia’s earliest extant one and one of our most memorable and successful—it relies on exaggeration to make the point. Throughout his career, Bligh came up against accusations that he was not a gentleman. He had in fact worked his way up in the Royal Navy on merit. Such accusations were repeated in New South Wales, especially by the officers of the New South Wales Corps who regarded themselves as gentlemen and were proud of the fact. Cowardice was the worst crime an officer and a gentleman could commit. In depicting Bligh a coward, this cartoon is saying that Bligh is not a gentleman and therefore not fit to govern.
Display item Governor Bligh’s Arrest, 1808


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