Tall tales

Students learn about ‘tall tales’ and use images from the collection to compose their own tall tale. Students also consider the historical context of these collection items and consider how they would have been received by readers at the time. 
Stimulus #1: 
The Wonderful Large Wild Man (ca 1790s), unknown author
Stimulus #2: 
Images of monsters taken from Le relationi vniversali di Giovanni Botero Benese, (1618), Giovanni Botero

Text type

Imaginative Writing

Background notes for teachers and students

Learning Intention:  

Students are learning to:  

  • understand contextual influences on texts and to be able to experiment with language to produce imaginative texts.  


Success Criteria  

Students will be successful when they can:   

  • use appropriate descriptive techniques – particularly hyperbole and comparative devices  
  • compose of ‘tall tale’ story using a ‘monster’ as stimulus  
  • present work in broadside format  


The Wonderful Large Wild Man

The Wonderful Large Wild Man is a broadside (a large sheet of paper printed on one side – see below for more information on broadsides) made up of two woodcuts. The left-hand image is of three buildings by the water, and is probably supposed to represent Botany Bay. The right hand image is of a monster guarded by two men with guns. It matches closely the description of the wild man given in the letterpress of the broadside, and was probably cut especially for the broadside. 

The broadside describes the capture of the giant creature, by the crew of the Ship Rover, under Captain Lee. There is no evidence that a ship Rover visited Australia in 1789. 


Full transcript of the broadside 

A description of a wonderful large WILD MAN or monstrous giant BROUGHT FROM BOTANY-BAY 

This surprising monstrous Giant was taken by a crew of English Sailors when they went on shore to furnish themselves with fresh water at Botany-Bay. To their surprise they beheld at a distance three of the most surprising tallest and biggest looking naked men that have been seen in the memory of this age, turning towards them, which much affrighted the sailors, caused them to make expedition on board the ship for the safety of their lives, leaving the casks of water and a quantity of good old rum which they had in a cage to refresh themselves  and make merry, when the three savages got to the sea-side they started at the ship for a long time with wonder and admiration, one of them having got the cag of rum, he tasted, spit it out and shook his head, another did the same, but the third drank plentifully and began to jump about in a frightful wild manner, shouting and making a hideous noise, the other two Giants went off and left this one enjoying the cag of rum, who drank to such excess that he dropped on the ground and lay as if dead the sailors went on shore well armed and found this monstrous body motionless they bound him fast with ropes and with much fatigue got him on board the ship, where they secured him with iron chains, where he slept upwards of 24 hours before he was awake and was kept chained during the passage, he shewed not the least token of illness at sea, he came in the ship Rover, the capt. Lee to England from Botany-Bay, and landed at Plymouth, November 29, 1789. 

Ladies and gentleman in great numbers honoured him with their company, and has been seen by thousands of people, and all acknowledge him to be the greatest curiosity ever seen in England by the oldest man living, he being such a monstrous overgrown size, and being the first ever brought from that country captain Lee determined to bring him to London: he is much tamer and not to savage in temper as might be expected. He is 9 feet 7 inches high, 4 feet 10 inches broad, a remarkable large heard, broad face, frightful eyes, a broad nose and thick lips like a black, very broad teeth, heavy eye-brows, hair stronger than a horse’s mane, body and limbs covered with strong black hair, the nails of his fingers and toes may be properly called talons, crookt like a hawk’s bill, and as hard as horn, in short he is viewed with admiration and astonishment on account of his huge size. 

He is allowed to be the greatest curiosity in England being the largest man in the known world, though some say there is larger in New Holland. He resembles a black, but his skin is yellow. The sailors who brought him over say when they took him he was curiously painted with red. There are red, green and blue mines where he came from, and delight in painting their skin. The captain says that before he got this wild savage into custody he took a close view of them with a spying glass from the ship, and of the other two giants that were with him which he though were his sons, for they looked young and had little or no beard, and variety of red circles and spots and screapes on their bodies and limbs which hey seemed to admire. This giant is very wild and seems to know nothing of Christianity he has offered to shew many fits of violence, but is fond of his keeper, and is more calm in his temper. He is chained round the middle, but has liberty to lie down, and rise and sit, and walks some yards when he chuses. They take great pains to instruct him in the English tongue, and it is hoped that he will be made to talk and become a Christian. He will sometime go willingly, eat human flesh if he can get it, but now seems to alter his mind, he was a long timed muzzled- this is a full description. 



9 feet 7 inches = 2.9 metres 

4 feet 10 inches = 1.5 metres 

The average height of men entering the army in this period was about 1.65 metres so the Wild Man was supposedly about 1.3 metres taller than most men in Great Britain at the time! 



cag: a keg or small wooden barrel 

affrighted: frightened 

rum: an alcoholic drink or spirit commonly found on sailing ships 

fatigue: exhaustion or tiredness 

shewed: showed 

expedition: a trip or voyage 

New Holland: Australia was originally known as New Holland. From 1788 the term was used to describe the areas that had not yet been colonised. The colonised areas were known as New South Wales. Australia was not adopted as the official name until 1824. 

crookt: crooked, bent or not straight 

screapes: scrapes  

spying glass: a small telescope or device for looking at object some distance away 

chuses: chooses 

muzzled: a device fitted over the mouth of a person or animal to stop them from biting or eating 


More about broadsides 

The Wonderful Large Wild Man is printed as a broadside. It features two wood block illustrations that were probably designed especially for this publication. 

A broadside is a large sheet of paper usually printed on one side only.  

Historically, broadsides were posters that announced news, events or proclamations by the government. Other broadsides were simply advertisements. They were one of most common forms of printed documents created in Great Britain, Ireland and North America between the 1500s and the 1800s. Broadsides were also a common method of printing the lyrics of ballads and other popular songs. 

Today broadsides are much less common and are often created by artists with the intention of them being framed as artworks to be hung on walls or collected. Poets often publish small collections of their writing as broadsides.  

Broadsides are what many museums and libraries label as ephemera. Ephemera are documents designed for a specific purpose that are then intended to be thrown away. Contemporary examples of ephemera might include junk mail or posters advertising films or concert tours by bands that are pasted on walls or telegraph poles. 

One place broadsides were commonly sold in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries were at public executions. People attending an execution could buy a broadside that might be illustrated with a rough picture of the crime or a portrait of the unhappy criminal. Other broadsides featured a wood cut of the method of execution, such as hanging. They often included a gory account of the crime, the trial and perhaps of the criminal’s confession of guilt. 

A common feature of the broadsides sold at public executions was an example of doggerel verse or a roughly written poem. This poem usually warned the audience not to follow the unhappy criminal’s example in case they then also risked being put to death. 

The Wonderful Large Wild Man is a broadside that features a long narrative about the capture of the giant creature, by the crew of the Ship Rover, under Captain Lee. The text of the story is printed beneath two wood block pictures. The broadside claims the Rover landed at the port of Plymouth in England on 29 November 1789. However, there is no evidence that a ship called the Rover ever travelled to Australia so this may just be a sensational story that was designed to sell broadsides to people eager to hear strange and wonderful stories about the very recent colonisation of Australia by Europeans.  

The Library has a large collection of broadsides that are proclamations from the early days of the colony of New South Wales. 

The proclamations include orders from the Governor on the conditions of employment for assigned convicts who worked for free settlers. This included expectations of how the convicts should be paid, fed and clothed. 

You can click on the link, here, to view some of these proclamations printed as broadsides. 


The Long S: not af confufing af it firft lookf! 

When you read the original copy of The Wonderful Large Wild Man broadside you may have noticed that some of words containing the lower case letter “s” appear as though they have been written with an “f” instead. This does not mean that the “s” was pronounced as an “f”, though! 

This type of “s” was known as a long or medial “s” and was used in English where “s” occurred at the start or in the middle of a word. The long or medial “s” evolved from the way that “s” was written in Old English with a long descending stroke.  

English is a language that has continued to change over time. Old English is the form of English spoken by the Anglo Saxons between roughly the fifth and eleventh century AD. The Modern English spoken today is said to have emerged from about 1650. 

The long “s stopped being used in printing typefaces in England between 1795 and 1810. The use of the long “s” in The Wonderful Large Wild Man broadside is very typical of printing in the 1790s in England where it was produced.  

The long “s” continued to be used in handwriting in England until the 1860s. There are many manuscripts in the collections of the Library that feature this odd letter that were produced long after this broadside was printed. 

Student Activities

Reading the tall tale

Students will learn about ‘tall tales’ and will complete an imaginative writing task. 

Number of set tasks: 2

Doggerel Verse

Students write a three stanza poem about The Wonderful Large Wild Man that would be considered doggerel verse. 

Number of set tasks: 1

NSW Syllabus for the Australian Curriculum: English K-10

A student:

  • responds to and composes texts for understanding, interpretation, critical analysis, imaginative expression and pleasure EN4-1A
  • effectively uses a widening range of processes, skills, strategies and knowledge for responding to and composing texts in different media and technologies EN4-2A
  • uses and describes language forms, features and structures of texts appropriate to a range of purposes, audiences and contexts EN4-3B
  • makes effective language choices to creatively shape meaning with accuracy, clarity and coherence EN4-4B
  • identifies, considers and appreciates cultural expression in texts EN4-8D
  • uses, reflects on and assesses their individual and collaborative skills for learning EN4-9E



Engage personally with texts

  • experiment with language forms and features to compose texts for pleasure and enjoyment

Understand and apply knowledge of language forms and features

  • use increasingly sophisticated verbal, aural, visual and/or written techniques, e.g. imagery, figures of speech, selective choice of vocabulary, rhythm, sound effects, colour and design, to compose imaginative texts for pleasure
  • apply increasing knowledge of vocabulary, text structures and language features to understand the content of texts

Respond to and compose texts

  • respond to and compose imaginative, informative and persuasive texts for different audiences, purposes and contexts for understanding, interpretation, critical analysis, imaginative expression and pleasure



Respond to and compose texts

  • use a range of effective strategies for organising information, ideas and arguments, e.g. clustering, listing, compare and contrast, semantic chains, graphic and diagram outlines, and mind maps 



Develop and apply contextual knowledge

  • recognise and use appropriate metalanguage in discussing a range of language forms, features and structures



Understand and apply knowledge of language forms and features

  • experiment with particular language features drawn from different types of texts, including combinations of language and visual choices to create new texts
  • experiment with text structures and language features to refine an clarify ideas to improve the effectiveness of students’ own texts

Respond to and compose texts

  • plan, draft and publish imaginative, informative and persuasive texts, selecting aspects of subject matter and particular language, visual, and audio features to convey information and ideas
  • creatively adapt and transform their own or familiar texts into different forms, structures, modes and media for a range of different purposes and audiences



Develop and apply contextual knowledge

  • investigate texts about cultural experiences from different sources, e.g. texts from Asia and texts by Asian Australians, and explore different viewpoints

Respond to and compose texts

  • respond to and compose texts in a range of different modes and media, recognising and appreciating cultural factors, including cultural background and perspectives 
  • explore and appreciate the ways different cultural stories, icons, Aboriginal images and significant Australians are depicted in texts



Respond to and compose texts

  • use and reflect on metacognitive processes used for planning, including brainstorming, mind mapping, storyboarding, role-play and improvisation 

In each year of Stage 4 students must study examples of:

  • print texts
  • media, multimedia and digital texts

Across the stage, the selection must give student experience of:

  • a widely defined Australian literature including texts that give insights into Aboriginal experiences in Australia
  • a wide range of literary texts from other countries and times, including poetry, drama scripts, prose fiction and picture books

Learning across the curriculum

Cross Curriculum Priorities:

  • Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander histories and cultures

General Capabilities

  • creative and critical thinking
  • literacy