Sketches in the sand: speculative thought and the aesthetic foundations of the Swan River Colony 1826-1839

Research output: ResearchDoctoral Thesis



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This thesis is a study of the formation of the Swan River Colony in Western Australia between 1826 and 1839. In particular it examines the aesthetic impact of what I am calling speculative thought, which I discuss as a world-view associated with both romanticism and colonial economics, developing strongly in the early nineteenth century. The thesis explores the background and influence of this world-view within the colonial context, and particularly as it affected the development of the Swan River Colony. Of special interest are the cultural paradigms of the prospect and the sketch, each of which is strongly underpinned by speculative thinking. These paradigms are presented in the thesis as forms of visual and verbal representation, as well as ways of thinking and seeing, that inform a kind of collective sensibility. Through these various functions, the prospect and the sketch provided powerful mechanisms through which the settlement at Swan River was initially envisaged and ultimately shaped by the civil establishment, artificers and private settlers. The history of settlement at Swan River has typically been explained in economic terms: its slow growth over most of the nineteenth century and its dispersed urban form have been mainly attributed to lack of funding and resources and poor soil quality. Comparison with other colonies in Australia has only confirmed the consensus that with greater means, colonisation of the western capital would likely have had a different outcome. The thesis sets out to challenge this conventional explanation by focusing on the combined aesthetic and colonial imperatives driving settlement at Swan River. A key premise underpinning my argument is that the timing of colonisation at Swan River is crucial to understanding its development as distinct in subtle but important ways from earlier Australian colonies, especially that of New South Wales.
Original languageEnglish
QualificationDoctor of Philosophy
StateUnpublished - 2011

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