Nicolas-Martin Petit (1777-1804)
Nicolas-Martin Petit (1777-1804)
1 More
Nicolas-Martin Petit (1777-1804)

Toulgra (Bulldog), Port Jackson, New South Wales, 1802

Nicolas-Martin Petit (1777-1804)
Toulgra (Bulldog), Port Jackson, New South Wales, 1802
titled ‘TOULGRA’ below the image, with inscription ‘Toulgra A Native of New South Wales / taken from life by Monsr Petitt [& Péron(?)] 1800 / 1800’ on the reverse
pencil and charcoal on laid paper
10 7/8 x 8 ¾in. (27.5 x 21.4cm.)
Private collection, England.
(the same subject) by Roger, unpublished plate XLIII intended for the Atlas of the first edition (1807).
(the same subject) by Roger, in F. Péron, Voyage de découvertes aux terres australes, Paris, 1824, Atlas, plate 23.

Brought to you by

Helena Ingham
Helena Ingham

Lot Essay

In Sydney, while many of the first inhabitants had dispersed, Government House was open to a small number of Aborigines. ... Possibly at Government House, or Colonel Paterson's, Petit executed a small portrait-gallery of Aboriginal Australians.

'Catalogue of Works - Le Havre Collection' in S. Hunt and P. Carter, Terre Napoléon Australia through French Eyes 1800-1804 (MoS exhibition catalogue), Sydney, 1999, p.82

Petit’s depictions of the aborigines, close to the picture plane, have an immediacy and directness unlike any previous images of them
Martin Terry

The present drawing is an important previously unknown and unpublished portrait of an Australian Aborigine by Nicolas-Martin Petit, artist on Baudin's voyage to Australia in 1800-1804. It was discovered in England this year in an album of unrelated artwork. The portrait is all the more remarkable for being a rare early image of an identifiable and famous Aborigine. The drawing was one of a series of portraits of Aborigines of New South Wales drawn by Petit at Port Jackson during the expedition's anchorage at the colony between 20 June and 18 November 1802, their lengthy layover following the rigours of the Géographe's survey of the southern coast of Australia. Just a few more than twenty drawings made by Petit at Port Jackson have survived. The subject was one of nine plates of Aborigines of New South Wales engraved after drawings by Petit published in the second edition (1824) of the official account of the voyage.

For Petit’s three hitherto known drawings of the sitter (all in the Muséum d’histoire naturelle du Havre) to which the present newly discovered drawing can be added, see J. Bonnemains, E. Forsyth and B. Smith (eds), Baudin in Australian Waters. The Artwork of the French Voyage to the Southern Lands 1800-1804, Melbourne, 1988, p.178, nos 20043.1-3. The same three drawings in Le Havre are listed by the ethnographer Hamy (E.-T. Hamy, ‘L’Oeuvre ethnographique de Nicolas-Martin Petit Dessinateur à bord du “Géographe” 1801-1804’, LAnthropologie, 2 (1891), p.613, nos 45-7).

One of Petit's drawings in Le Havre (fig.1 above) (Bonnemains 20043.1) is the model for the engraved plate of this subject, published in the Atlas to the second edition of the official account of the voyage. Less finished than the present sheet, the figure is not clothed and has alterations to the anatomy. It is untitled (perhaps explaining how it came to be mistitled in the plate), inscribed 'Bon à graver ... ', and signed off by Péron and Lesueur.

For the engraved plate (fig.4) see J. Bonnemains, E. Forsyth and B. Smith (eds), op. cit., no 20043.4 (‘Plate [XLIII] intended for [the first edition, 1807-16] Atlas ... but which did not appear at that time. Figure engraved facing the opposite way from the preceding drawings. It appears as plate 23 of [the second edition, 1824] Atlas.’). The plate by Roger after Petit is titled ‘NOUVELLE-HOLLANDE: NLLE. GALLES DU SUD / OUROU-MARÉ, dit BULL-DOG par les Anglais, Jeune Guerrier de la Tribu des GWÉA-GAL.’

As has been noticed elsewhere, the proof, and the subsequent plate included in the second edition of the Atlas, are incorrectly titled, the sitter not Ouro-Maré but Toulgra, ‘Toulgra, (Bouldogue)’, as the sitter is identified by Petit on two of the Le Havre drawings (200.43 and 200.44), and 'Toulgra' as the present version is uniquely titled. The two Aboriginal men, 'Toul-gra' and 'Ourou-Maré' are different individuals, both listed in Péron’s Table II (where Péron lists the results of his dynamometer measured strength tests on the indigenous mainlanders): here our sitter is described as ‘No. 2 TOUL-GRA, dit Boul-dog, 14 à 15 a. … Assez bien conforme, très vif, spirituel, excellent mime.’ (F. Péron, Voyage de découvertes aux terres australes, …’, II, Paris, 1824, p.452).

The sitter Toulgra or Toul-gra is one of Petit’s Port Jackson subjects who, along with the Broken Bay resistance leader Musquito, Gnung-a Gnung-a, and Bidgee Bidgee, are all related by marriage to Bennelong. Toulgra, aged around 14-15 when drawn by Petit in 1802, would then have been born in or around the year of the arrival of the First Fleet in January 1788. Petit also drew an Aborigine woman titled 'Toulgra (mère)' at Port Jackson (Bonnemains, 20032.1-4), presumably the present sitter's mother, plate 27 in the second edition titling her 'Oui-Ré-Kine, femme sauvage des environs du port Jackson'. She was Wárrgan, a relative of Bennelong, wife of Yeranibe (Euranabie), and had sailed with James Grant on the Lady Nelson. She spoke English, probably from her association with William Dawes, who was then attempting to compile an Aboriginal vocabulary.

The identification of the Petit's sitters 'Bulldog' and 'Musquito' with the Aboriginal resistance fighters of the same names was clarified in the 2010 exhibition at the Mitchell Library, for which see the exhibition catalogue Mari Nawi: Aboriginal Odysseys 1790–1850, Sydney, 2010, p.14: 'The portrait of ‘Y-Erran-Gou-La-Ga’, from the Atlas in François Péron’s Voyage de découvertes aux terres Australes (Paris 1811) was engraved from a sketch made by the artist, Nicolas-Martin Petit, in Sydney in 1802, captioned in pencil mousquéda ou mousquita. Petit’s caption for ‘Our-oumare, dit Bulldog par les Anglais’ was Toulgra (Bouldogue). These are the men we know as Musquito and Bulldog. In his table of Aboriginal men tested for strength with a device called a Dynamometer, Péron lists No. 2 ‘Toul-gra, dit Bouldog’, who is clearly not the same person as No. 7 ‘Ou-rou-Maré’. Such errors occurred because Petit and Péron died before 1810. Mousquéda has also been confused with ‘Musketer’, a Kameygal man from the north shore of Botany Bay who was speared and killed at The Rocks in January 1806. ... '

Just three years after being portrayed by Petit, Toulgra was exiled with his compatriot Musquito to Norfolk Island by Governor King for actions against the colonists at the Hawkesbury River. The two Aboriginal warriors thus became the first Aboriginal convicts and transportees:

‘[King] exiled them to one of the colony’s harshest penal settlements, Norfolk Island, where the least desirable officers and worst of the convict offenders were being shipped from New South Wales. Convict labour on the island produced food to supply Sydney, which struggled to feed itself in its early years. In a letter dated 8 August 1805 to Acting Commandant John Piper, the Governor wrote:

The two Natives Bull Dog and Musquito having been given up by the other Natives as principals in their late Outrages are sent to Norfolk Island where they are to be kept, and if they can be brought to Labour will earn their Food - but as they must not be let to starve for want of subsistence - they are to be victualled from the Stores.

'Musquito and Bull Dog arrived at Norfolk Island on 5 September 1805 where they spent more than seven years relegated to the lowest ranks of convicts, labouring as assistants to a charcoal burner. … In 1806 the colonial administration decided to close Norfolk Island because it was expensive to administer, difficult to communicate with, and awkward to approach safely by water. Over several years, numerous convicts from Norfolk Island were shipped to Port Dalrymple in the north of Van Diemen’s Land. On 20 January 1813, Musquito boarded the Minstrel II to be relocated. Sometime after August 1812, Bull Dog (also known as Roy Bull) seems to have been returned to Port Jackson along with another aboriginal convict, Jackson.' (K. Harman, Aboriginal Convicts, Sydney, 2012, pp.13-14), although K. Willey reported him dead by 1813 (K. Willey, When the Sky fell down, The Destruction of the Tribes of the Sydney Region 1788-1850s, Sydney, 1979, p.180). Musquito worked as a tracker for Governor Davey in Van Diemen’s Land before being sentenced to death for various murders and hung at Hobart gaol in February 1825.

There are no portraits of Aborigines from western Australia in 1801 (nor on the return to Shark Bay in 1803) where 'l'imprudent Petit' was almost taken by a shark and where the aborigines were nervous and hostile. In contrast the encounters on the south-eastern Tasmanian coast in January and February 1802 were generally friendly (in spite of Petit's life being unexpectedly threatened at one encounter) and resulted in the most significant body of anthropological work made on the voyage, including a fine series of drawings of the Tasmanians by Petit. The circumstances surrounding Petit's portraits of Aboriginal sitters at Port Jackson differed from the fraught conditions under which he made drawings in western Australia and on the Tasmanian coast, for the Aboriginal population here had lived alongside the British settlers since 1788: 'In Sydney, opportunities for carrying out ethnographic work in depth were readily available. Despite the ravages of smallpox on the Aboriginal population in the first few years of British settlement, reasonably tolerant relations had been set up between the two peoples. ... Aborigines wandered through the streets and camped outside houses. they casually used items of British clothing, ate bread, drank alcohol when they had access to it, and there was a great deal of social intercourse, albeit some in the form of casual prostitution and with a generally condescending attitude of the whites towards the blacks. ... The artists Lesueur and Petit ... were able to avail themselves of the opportunities for making detailed and leisurely observations not only of various artefacts but also of individual people, some of whom might have sat for formal posing sessions. ... [Petit's] portraits [at Port Jackson] are beautiful drawings, with individual personalities sensitively depicted. They were obviously posed, under conditions that allowed the artist scope for his skill, and they represent one of the best series of portraits ever done of Australian Aboriginal people ... .' (R. Jones, 'Images of Natural Man', in J. Bonnemains, E. Forsyth and B. Smith (eds), op. cit., pp.57-63).

At Port Jackson Petit was able to work in a more controlled environment that allowed him to supply the closely observed portraiture which met the demands of the new science of anthropology as formulated by La Société des Observateurs de l'Homme founded by Jauffret in 1799. The Society's members included the naturalist Georges Cuvier who had addressed detailed instructions regarding the study of mankind to the expedition's artists: If specimens of the race are not able to be brought back (‘Les hommes eux-mêmes, rassemblés vivants, seraient sans doute les meilleurs matériaux pour une comparaison exacte des diverses variétés de l’espèce humaine; …’ from Cuvier’s Note Instructive sur les recherches à faire … quoted in G. Baglione and C. Blanckaert, L’Autre, les Naturels vus par l’Occident, Muséum d’histoire naturelle du Havre exhibition catalogue, Le Havre, 2008, pp.128-9), then portraits are the next best thing: ‘Des portraits vrais et nombreux et des préparations anatomiques, voilà donc tout ce que nous pouvons espérer des voyageurs. Si ces objets sont accompagnés d’observations faites avec esprit et avec soin sur les lieux, ils suffiront à nos travaux. Il faut des études particulières pour le genre de portraits que nous exigeons: il doit réunir au mérite des portraits ordinaires celui d’une précision géométrique qu’on ne peut obtenir que dans certaines positions de la tête, mais qui doit être rigoureuse. Ainsi il faut toujours que le profil soit joint au portrait de face.’ The sitters are to be portrayed without their clothes and markings: ‘Les costumes, les marques par lesquelles la plupart des sauvages se défigurent, et que les voyageurs ordinaires ont tant de soin de nous transmettre, ne servent qu’à masquer le véritable caractère de la physionomie … Tous les ornements étrangers, les bagues, les pendants, le tatouage, doivent etre supprimés.’ The requirement is for anatomical drawings, stripped back to record nothing but the particular characteristics of the race, to serve as specimens, and to determine differences between races, as might skulls and skeletons (‘Des squelettes entiers seraient infiniment précieux.’) – the drawings are simply required to relay data for the new science.

We know the naturalist Péron not only selected the sitters for Petit ('[M. Petit] 's'occupait à dessiner celui d'entre eux que j'ai dit nous avoir le plus frappé par la regularité de ses traits, le développement de ses formes et l'expression de sa physionomie, ...'), but, from his inscriptions on many of Petit's drawings, carefully policed their creation and later presentation to ensure they carried the anthropological value required. The inscription on the reverse of the present sheet even suggests he was considered its co-creator. Péron's input extended to the supervision of the artwork for publication, which he shared with Lesueur and Jacques Milbert, the official artist who had quit the voyage at Mauritius but returned to supervise the direction of the plates.

The present drawing adds a fourth original drawing of Toulgra by Petit to the series of three original portraits of the sitter in Le Havre, and comparison of the four portraits together in Le Havre in July 2017, along with the engraved plate of the sitter, showed the extent to which the portrait was transformed from Petit's original vital likeness of an individual to the final lifeless plate of a specimen. The difference between this beautiful breathing image and the plate (with its actual distortions of physiognomy due to a prevalent scientific bias) shows how the artistic accomplishment of Petit's original work was diminished for a perceived greater good. The present portrait is the most finished and accomplished of the series, without Péron's adulterations, and so captures the vitality of the sitter: 'Possibly because Petit was one of the few really skilled artists to work in Australia, his drawings, and the subsequent engravings, are some of the few images to depict something Aboriginal people were rarely allowed: a personality. Yet the process of translation - from drawing to engraving and colouring - could de-sensitise the image.' (R. Neville, A rage for curiosity, Visualising Australia 1788-1830, Sydney, 1997, p.49)

For recent discussions of the processing of the original artwork ahead of publication, of these 'Serial Representations' and 'Composite Images' from the voyage, which 'give an indication of how the observed reality was reconstructed' for publication, see G. Baglione and C. Cremière in J. Fornasiero, L. Lawton and J. West-Sooby, the Art of Science Nicolas Baudin's voyagers 1800-1804, Adelaide, 2016, pp. 28-33, and M. Sankey, op. cit., pp.154-57. For the selection of the voyage images for publication see G. Baglione, 'Au retour: l'élaboration des images' in Terres Australes (Muséum d'histoire naturelle du Havre exhibition catalogue), Le Havre, 2007, pp.117-9 ('La variété des thèmes est manifeste, mais les dessins choisis pour les illustrer, peu nombreux, figent une image nécessairement réductrice. La richesse des dessins et des manuscrits conservés par ailleurs met en relief l'aspect parcellaire de l'information donnée par les gravures.')

Une grande expedition se prépare ... Des Savans de toute espèce vont aller au-delà du tropique du Capricorne, dans des climats presque entièrement inconnus encore, cueillir une ample moisson d'observations utiles. (François Péron, Observations ...)

Baudin sailed from Le Havre in October 1800 with a complement of twenty-two scientists, ranging from hydrographers, geographers and astronomers to zoologists, botanists and artiste-peintres. They were charged to explore the three-quarters of the coast of Australia not examined by Cook and to study, record and recover specimens for the National Museum of Natural History. In spite of a number of defections and desertions at Mauritius, the voyage continued on to the west coast of Australia, sighting Cape Leeuwin on 27 May 1801, and, after provisioning at Timor, on to Van Diemen's Land in 1802. The French then ran into Flinders on the south coast of New Holland (at Encounter Bay) in April 1802, only to discover that the Englishman had already surveyed a large part of the unknown coastline. After scurvy cut short their survey of the southern coast, they headed up to Port Jackson in June to recover and re-provision. Hamelin's Naturaliste, which had lost contact with the Géographe on the east coast of Van Diemen's Land, had been at Port Jackson since April. Hamelin sailed for France from Port Jackson, leaving Baudin's Géographe and the sloop Casuarina, now under the command of Louis Freycinet, to continue the expedition. Baudin and Freycinet sailed around the southern and western coasts of Australia and back up to Timor and on to Mauritius (where Baudin died, and Milius assumed command) before arriving back in France in March 1804.

peintre de genre ... chargé de dessiner tout de qui peut offrir quelque intérêt pour l'histoire de l'homme

Petit, the son of a Parisian fan-maker and described as an élève de David, joined Baudin’s voyage of discovery, nominally as gunner’s mate. After the three government artists on the scientific staff (Milbert, Lebrun, and Garnier) left the voyage at Mauritius, Nicolas-Martin Petit and Charles-Alexandre Lesueur, who had already produced drawings for their commander on the voyage out, were instated as official artists in their place, Petit as peintre de genre (‘officiellement chargé de dessiner tout de qui peut offrir quelque intérêt pour l'histoire de l'homme.’) and Lesueur, who had embarked as 'private artist to the Commander', as peintre dhistoire naturelle. The expedition, ill-fated in many aspects, returned to L'Orient on 25 March 1804 without its commander, who had died at Mauritius on 16 September 1803, but with an unprecedented cargo of over one hundred thousand natural history specimens, 960 paintings or drawings by Lesueur, and Petit's 'large portfolio of drawings'.

Petit was granted permission to spend a year perfecting his drawings and recovering his health (he had been ill with scurvy three times on the voyage) but died following a road accident on 21 October 1804. His brother retrieved a portfolio of voyage artwork, containing 120 drawings, which were deposited at the time in the library of the Muséum d'histoire naturelle, Paris. The majority of the artwork from the voyage by Petit and Lesueur is now in the Muséum d’histoire naturelle du Havre but, due to the difficult circumstances surrounding the preparation of the official account of the voyage, took a circuitous route there, described by Hamy in 1891 and Bonnemains in 1988. There are also drawings in the Archives nationales and Muséum d'histoire naturelle, Paris and in private collections, the latter including the sheets which illustrated Milius's journal (Christie's London, 26 Oct. 1988, lot 80), and the artwork retained by Louis-Claude de Saulces de Freycinet who completed and augmented the official account of Baudin's voyage after Péron's death (for which, see for examples, Christie's London, 16 July 1993, lots 59-66, and the cartographic drawings included in The Freycinet Collection, Christie's London, 26 Sept. 2002, lots 5-6 and 10-11).

Several drawings of Port Jackson Aborigines by Petit were known to have gone to England with Surgeon James Thomson, who took passage home on Hamelin's Naturaliste in November 1802. Four of these 'were first published by George Riley in August 1803 as high quality coloured stipple engravings. In 1804 two of the drawings, Mackabarang and Kilpriera, joined William Granger's accumulation of the curious in his The Wonderful Museum and extraordinary magazine (1804).' (R. Neville, op. cit., Sydney, 1997, p.49). The titling of the portraits in these first engraved images (i.e. 'Mackabarang, A Native of New South Wales And known in the Colony as Broken Bay Jack From a Drawing by Monsr le Petit in the possession of Jas Thomson Esq', and the four together as 'Natives of New South Wales' is similar to the titling on the reverse of the present drawing ('Toulgra A Native of New South Wales ...'). The similarly styled English title might suggest the present portrait is one of Thomson's 'several' portraits taken to England on the Naturaliste in 1802-3.

More from Topographical Pictures

View All
View All