Making, mapping, and unmaking worlds
Globes, panoramas, fictions, and oceans
in Worlding the south

This chapter considers how the first full-scale panorama of Sydney, ‘A View of the Town of Sydney’, exhibited at Robert Burford’s Leicester Square Panorama from 1828 until at least March 1831, conjured an Umwelt rather than just a view or prospect. As an object able to be viewed from numerous points of view, its hyper-realistic illusion aroused audience interest in how it had been constructed, which in turn suggested that the actual world, like the panorama’s virtual world, is an appearance within material, psychological, and cultural systems of perception. In this hybrid, fictional space, the real and the imaginary, the objective and the mythological, settler and colonised, even settlement and unsettlement move into surprising proximity with each other.

[Jakob von Uexküll] was taking the step from monological metaphysics, which interprets the world as mono context and projects it on to a single eye, to a pluralistic ontology that estimates as many worlds as there are eye types and other sensors to see and feel them, without resorting to the hypostasis of an eye of all eyes (or a sensor of all sensors).

Peter Sloterdijk, Spheres: Plural Spherology (2013)

This chapter’s primary focus is on ‘A View of the Town of Sydney’, a panorama exhibited in the upper viewing-circle of Robert Burford’s Leicester Square Panorama from December 1828 until at least March 1831.1 It was based on eight overlapping views of Sydney, as seen from Palmer’s Hill in the Government Domain, which were drawn by the artist and adventurer Augustus Earle under the supervision of Governor Darling’s brother-in-law, Colonel Dumaresq, who carried the drawings to London.2 This was not the first panoramic view of Sydney to be shown in London. It was preceded by Major James Taylor’s ‘sketches for a “panorama of Port Jackson and of the Town of Sydney”’, engravings of which were exhibited in 1824 at the Leicester Square Panorama, perhaps in the foyer of that building. But it was the first full-scale panorama of Sydney and as such played an important part in shaping popular perceptions of the Antipodes and, to that extent, also of the southern hemisphere. It was so successful that when ‘A View of the Town of Sydney’ closed, Burford almost immediately offered a second full-scale panoramic view of the Antipodes, this time ‘A View of Hobart Town, Van Diemen’s Land, and the Surrounding Country’, based again on drawings by Earle.

The word ‘panorama’ can refer to a 360-degree painting intended to be viewed from a central position and to the circular building (a panorama rotunda) designed to display it. The latter includes a central viewing platform; intercepts, which hide the upper and lower edges of the painting that covers its inside walls; and a concealed source of light, which streams down from above. The word also names the panorama’s optical environment as a whole, patented by Robert Barker in 1787, which is complete only when spectators are added to the viewing platform of a panorama rotunda in which a circular painting has been hung. In this environment, spectators bring the panoramic illusion to life, as they half-perceive and half-create a hyper-realistic virtual reality ‘that extends in a complete circle around [them], to an imagined horizon (and then to an implied beyond)’.3 This collocation of convincing illusion and amazing verisimilitude is why, as suggested by the titles of the two most important books on Australian panoramas – Canvas Documentaries (1998) by Mimi Colligan, and Capturing Time (2012) by Edwin Barnard – panorama paintings are routinely treated as realistic records of places and times. And this in turn underwrites the belief that panoramic entertainments appealed to nineteenth-century audiences because they recalled the global/panoptic views previously reserved for the powerful.4

These claims are true, as far as they go. And yet it is important to recall that the panorama was a place of sociability as much as careful observation; it conjured an Umwelt, rather than a conventional prospect, which could be viewed from numerous points of view; and, perhaps most importantly, its hyper-realistic illusion aroused audience interest in how it had been constructed, which in turn suggested that the actual world, like the panorama’s virtual world, is ‘an appearance within psychological and cultural systems of perception’.5 With regard to all these remarks, ‘A View of the Town of Sydney’ is a case in point. For those inside its apparently objective virtual world, the fictions shaping it are everywhere apparent – in the patterns it makes visible, the myths it invokes, the traces it retains of the cultures it attempts to efface or redeem, and in the variety of responses it rouses in, and the number of ways it is construed by, viewers. In this hybrid space, the real and the imaginary, the objective and the mythological, settler and colonised, even settlement and unsettlement move into surprising proximity with each other.

As this suggests, ‘A View of the Town of Sydney’ both resists and comes to display what Peter Sloterdijk describes as ‘the spatial law of the Modern Age … namely that one can no longer interpret one’s own place of origin as the hub of the existent and the world as its concentrically arranged environment’.6 And as such, it offers a vehicle for thinking through the challenges that emerge when we turn our attention from the north to the south, from a hemisphere dominated by land to one dominated by the ocean – or, more abstractly, from a fixed to a shifting world, structured primarily by time, place, and agency rather than unity, purity, and order. In the following pages, my argument unfolds in five stages: Globes, Panoramic Realism, Regeneration, Fictions, and Oceans. The first, second, and third trace the democratisation, as represented by the panorama, of the all-encompassing view normally associated with gods, kings, and (for the eighteenth century) towering natural philosophers like Isaac Newton. This ought to be a moment of enlightenment, in which the view from on high becomes visible to anyone willing to pay the price of admission. And yet, as the fourth and fifth stages will suggest, it brings with it the seeds of its own demise, by making it equally apparent that the ‘whole’ seen from on high is a fiction designed to manage unruly multiplicities, each of which is able to constitute itself as the ‘hub of the existent and [of] the world as its concentrically arranged environment’. For those standing in Burford’s panorama, I want to suggest, this realisation is coincident with the moment when their virtual journey from the northern to the southern hemisphere begins.


In the nearly 500 years since the Magellan expedition circumnavigated the earth (1519–22) and Nicolaus Copernicus published On the Revolutions of the Heavenly Spheres (1543), the globe has been a ubiquitous presence in the western imagination. It is not difficult to see why. The former provided tangible proof that the earth is a globe and, in so doing, opened the possibility that the world could be viewed, by a human observer, as a single self-contained form – a possibility realised on 12 April 1961, when Yuri Gargarin became the first person to orbit the earth. The latter marks the emergence of the ‘New Science’, developed by Johannes Kepler and Galileo Galilei in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, which culminates in the work of Isaac Newton. For the eighteenth century, Newton’s discovery of the laws of motion and of universal gravitation, and description of the paths followed by celestial and terrestrial globes in absolute time and space, placed him (metaphorically) at an altitude still greater than the one implied by Magellan or attained by Gargarin.

These giddy heights and the global view they make possible are powerfully evoked by Edmund Halley’s ‘Ode to Newton’, included in the prefatory material accompanying the first edition of Philosophiae Naturalis Principia Mathematica (1687). According to Halley, Newton’s ‘sublime intelligence has made it possible for us’, following in Newton’s footsteps, ‘to climb the heights of heaven’ and from this eminence to see the ‘pattern of the heavens’, ‘the immovable order of the world / And the things that were concealed from generations of the past’.7 In the eighteenth century, versions of this trope were a staple of popular accounts of Newton’s genius. In ‘The Ecstasy. An Ode’ (1720), for example, John Hughes represents Newton as ‘[t]he great Columbus of the Skies’, whose ‘Soul . . . daily travels here / In Search of Knowledge for Mankind below’.8 Similarly, Albrecht von Haller writes in Gedanken über Vernunft, Aberglauben und Unglauben (‘Thoughts on Reason, Superstition and Incredulity’ [1729]) that ‘Newton, overleaping the bounds prescribed to created spirits, traces the vast plan of the universe’.9 And Alexander Pope in his Essay on Man (1733–34) urges Newton to ‘Go, wondrous creature! mount where science guides … Go, soar with Plato to th’empyreal sphere, / To the first good, first perfect, and first fair’.10

All-encompassing views (and powers) such as these were traditionally reserved for God and, in less expansive form, for kings, as his representatives on earth. The extent of the former is suggested by images of the ‘Salvator Mundi’ (‘Saviour of the World’), in which Jesus is seen holding a globe (the world) in his left hand, while raising his right hand in blessing. And the latter is symbolised by cartographic globes, such as those made by Vincenzo Corinelli for Louis XIV in 1683, which evoke the king’s (supposed) panoptic gaze and global power. As Christian Jacob explains: ‘The symbolic grasp of the world, held in the open palm, is coupled with a panoptic gaze – on the miniaturized representation, grasping at the same time the whole of terrestrial form and the infinite details of its places.’11 In both contexts, the globe also represents the power to ‘englobe’, to bring a disorganised mass into an ordered whole, which is exercised by gods in the creation of worlds and by kings in the creation of empires. It follows therefore that for some, such as John Desaguliers, Newton’s philosophy is ‘the only true Philosophy’ and, the law-abiding universe it describes, the ‘perfect Model’ of good government.12

One assumes that gods are able easily to grasp ‘at the same time the whole of terrestrial form and the infinite details of its places’; but, notwithstanding the optimistic conclusion of Desaguliers’ poem, when kings attempt the same feat they run into difficulties. The terrestrial and celestial globes made by Coronelli for Louis XIV, for example, were each four metres in diameter, much too large to be held in the palm of even a royal hand and for many of the details inscribed on their surfaces to be read by anyone. Louis solved the second of these problems by ordering special glasses to be ground, which reconciled ‘the contemplative gaze from above with the close-up view belonging to the myopic reader’.13 The glasses therefore become somewhat comic emblems both of his real power and its obvious limitations.

By the middle of the eighteenth century, Newton was often depicted as ignorant of an analogous difficulty. In Pope’s Essay on Man, for example, the lines quoted above are followed by a volte-face in which ascent is troped as a loss of sense that makes Newton, once he returns to earth, no more than a fool.14 Much the same about-face occurs in Haller’s Die Falschheit menschlicher Tugenden (‘The Falseness of Human Virtues’ [1730]), published just one year after Gedanken. In this later poem, Haller again tropes Newton as a ‘transcendent genius’, whose mind ‘passing the bounds of visible space, travels in worlds unknown’; but he nevertheless concludes that ‘all [his] painful and incessant labours have served no purpose but to shew . . . the weakness and ignorance of man’.15 The regularity, harmony, and stability of things when seen from on high only throws into relief the unpredictability, complexity, contingency, and multiplicity of the worlds in which we are immersed.

These ambivalent assessments of Newton’s achievements are informed by Enlightenment thought, which regards the senses as ‘the source of all human knowledge’ and, consequently, no longer identifies the natural ‘with the mathematical or metaphysical’.16 They become still more negative in the wake of the discovery, by Romantic writers, of the roles played by desire, imagination, language, and perspective in the construction of experience, and therefore also of knowledge and of the world in which we live. And this in turn means that the relation between distance and immersion, which in early modern cultures can still be presented as a contrast between substance and surface, becomes an oscillation between competing demands, reflected in Romantic distinctions between mathematical and living form or, in more contemporary idiom, between geometrical and anthropological space (Maurice Merleau-Ponty), analytical and processual space (Michel Serres), and so on.17 In the late eighteenth and early nineteenth century, the tension between these poles becomes commonly visible in the panorama, where an all-encompassing view becomes available not just to Newton but to anyone who pays the price of entry.

Panoramic realism

Like most large-scale panoramas painted in the nineteenth century, ‘A View of the Town of Sydney’ has not survived; and, in this case, even the drawings on which it was based have been lost. All that remains is the guidebook, entitled Description of a View of the Town of Sydney, New South Wales; The Harbour of Port Jackson, and Surrounding Country, which provides a visual and a verbal description of the scene. The former, a rough sketch printed on a folding plate, entitled ‘Explanation of a View of the Town of Sydney’ and, when extracted from that volume and treated as a stand-alone engraving, ‘Panorama of Sydney N.S.W’ (Figure 1.1), singles out for attention sixty of its most important landmarks.18 The latter, drawing on information provided by Dumaresq, includes a brief history of the colony and of the European discovery of Australasia, to which it appends a short explanatory paragraph for each of the sites flagged by the explanatory design. Although this might not seem much to go on, it is enough to conjure, in broad outline, the view encountered by Burford’s customers.

As previously noted, ‘A View of the Town of Sydney’ was taken from the top of Palmer’s Hill in the Government Domain (a site near the present-day Statue of Governor Phillip in Sydney’s Botanic Gardens).19 From this vantage point, the view arranges itself into four unequal, roughly horizontal layers. In the first, the foreground of the painting, the Domain, slopes gently down and away from the viewing platform on all sides, creating the impression that we are standing in the middle of a gentleman’s park. Up close to the spectators are three scenes centred on Australia’s Indigenous inhabitants, entitled Natives (No. 16), Native climbing a Gum (No. 60), and King Boongaree (No. 19). Boongaree, who is the only Aboriginal person named in the panorama, was given the fictitious title of ‘King’ by Governor Lachlan Macquarie. He was ‘a Garigal man, probably from the Broken Bay–West Head group to the north of Port Jackson’,20 who in 1801–2 had sailed with Matthew Flinders on H.M.S. Investigator, becoming the first Aborigine to circumnavigate Australia.21 As the most important intermediary between black and white worlds, he is shown with his cocked hat raised in greeting, as Genl. Darling, the Governor of the Colony, and Col. Dumaresq, Darling’s private secretary, approach on horseback (No. 18). The colony’s military administration, the proximate world to which Darling and Dumaresq belong, is represented a little further away from the viewing platform by the Governor[’]s House (No. 40), Government Stables (No. 48), Entrance to Government Gardens (No. 17), and Entrance to Government Domain (No. 4).

The second layer, which begins just beyond the border of the Government Domain, includes the town of Sydney and the waters of Port Jackson. The former, which stretches in an arc from the south to the north-west, occupies almost ‘the whole neck of land which separates Sydney [Cove] from Cockle Bay’, while the vast expanse of the latter, edged by numerous coves and bays, runs from the north-west to the east.22 As one gazes at the panorama, albeit in imagination, these contrasting ribbons of stone and water seem almost to be intertwined with each other, with the harbour glimpsed at various points behind the city, and buildings such as the Governor’s House, the Government Stables, and the residence of Mr. Fraser (No. 59), the Colonial Botanist, scattered along the southern coast of Port Jackson.

The third layer, which forms the backdrop to the scene, is composed of three elements. First, the ‘bold and precipitous shore’ opposite Sydney Cove, which, as one follows it to the east, becomes a long ‘chain of commanding and almost barren cliffs’.23 Next, the low hills, rising from this shoreline, which join with others to encircle the colony, and which are made still more prominent by the windmills perched, like tutelary gods, on top of them. And third, the expanse that extends in all directions outwards from this circle of hills, to the distant horizon and, implicitly, to the beyond, which is indirectly presented by the North Head and South Head (Nos 53 and 54), beyond which lies the Pacific Ocean; the Blue Mountains (No. 35), which until 1813 were an unpassable barrier to western expansion of the colony; Botany Bay (No. 9), where Captain Cook in 1770 and the First Fleet in 1788 first landed on the East Coast of Australia; and, finally, the road leading inland to Paramatta (No. 11), the second European settlement in Australia.

The sky composes the fourth layer of the painting, which covers nearly 40% of the canvas. Because the upper and lower edges of the painting are hidden by intercepts, it seems to reach up and over the viewing platform and outwards to an infinite aerial world. High above the spectators, light floods through the skylight into the panorama, uncovering ‘golden clouds of dazzling brightness, which are … floating in the blue sky’ and bringing the illusion as a whole almost to life. 24


Those who flocked to see ‘A View of the Town of Sydney’ had probably experienced on other occasions the panorama’s ability to give birth, as if from nothing, to an almost-real double of the world. But in this particular panorama, each time Sydney rises before the eyes of its audience, it echoes the subject matter of the painting, namely the creation (apparently ex nihilo) of an antipodean colony, which seemed likely to become an ‘Albion reborn’.25 In Burford’s Description of a View of the Town of Sydney, these parallels between panoramic illusion, fledgling colony, and regenerated Albion are foregrounded by the poem he chose as epigraph – ‘Visit of Hope to Sydney-Cove, Near Botany-Bay’, by Erasmus Darwin.

Darwin’s poem first appeared as epigraph to The Voyage of Governor Phillip to Botany Bay, with an Account of the Establishment of the Colonies of Port Jackson & Norfolk Island,26 the first ‘official’ account of the founding of the new colony.27 In a letter to Josiah Wedgwood, Darwin suggested that Hope’s speech be extended by adding lines such as ‘Here future Newtons shall explore the skies / Here future Priestleys, future Wedgewoods rise’.28 But even without these additions, from her position ‘High on a rock amid the troubled air’, Hope’s voice exerts a power that repeats in miniature God’s creation of the world:

‘Hear me,’ she cried, ‘ye rising realms! record

Time’s opening scenes, and truth’s unerring word,

There shall broad streets their stately walls extend,

The circus widen, and the crescent bend;

There ray’d from cities o’er the cultur’d land,

Shall bright canals and solid roads expand.

There the proud arch, colossus like, bestride,

Yon glittering streams, and bound the chafing tide;

Embellished villas crown the landscape scene,

Farms wave with gold, and orchards blush between;

There shall tall spires, and dome-capt towers ascend,

And piers and quays their massy structures blend;

While with each breeze approaching vessels glide,

And northern treasures dance on every tide!’29

In ‘A View of the Town of Sydney’, this vision of miraculous emergence/regeneration is conjured by constellations of buildings that together take shape as a modern (colonial/European) city, centred on local/global networks of landed wealth, commerce, communication, religion, moral improvement, and so on. The picture is thrown sharply into relief through contrast: Sydney is contrasted with Indigenous cultures, radically different from anything previously encountered by the settlers; a landscape completely unlike those found in Britain; and the presence of a military government and penal colony, represented by the Military Barracks (No. 21), Military Hospital (No. 33), and Phoenix Hulk (No. 45), among others. And it seems about to detach itself from these contexts, in a moment of miraculous rebirth, because they are represented as fading away. But this last remark takes us too quickly to the next stage of our argument. Here we must pause long enough to map the contours of this emerging world.

In the early years of the colony, its economy was centred on the Commissariat Store (No. 41), which was an arm of the colonial administration. But during the 1820s, its work was eclipsed by the emergence of a modern market economy, represented in Burford’s panorama by the Bank of Australia (No. 37), the Bank of New South Wales (No. 20), and a host of business enterprises, made visible through allusions to retailers, shipbuilders, sealers, merchants, and so on.30 Alongside these developments, a fledgling aristocracy has begun to emerge, raised by landed wealth, which is indexed by the town house of Sir John Jamieson (No. 23), one of the richest men in the colony, the Land Board Office (No. 22), and the Australian Agricultural Company[’]s [Offices] (No. 39), which managed ‘one million acres of land’.31

These developments proceed hand in hand with religion, which appears as a network of ‘friendly’ differences, with its primary nodes marked by the town’s two Anglican churches – St James[’]s Church (No. 8), with its 46-metre spire rising high above the horizon, and St Phillip[’]s (No. 27), high on Church Hill, with its equally tall clock tower. Their ‘competitors’ include the Catholic Chapel (No. 3), the Methodist Wesleyan Chapel (No. 7), and the Presbyterian Scotch Kirk (No. 25). And, stitching church, commerce, and landed wealth together, the colony’s philanthropic institutions, the hallmarks of an enlightened society, are represented by, for example, the Orphan School (No. 31), School of Industry (No. 15), and ‘National School for the children of the lower orders’.32

The primary communication system that supports this activity is evoked by the Sydney Gazette (No. 32), one of ‘eight newspapers … published in the colony’; the Road to Paramatta, which connects coastal to inland parts of the colony; and the ships on the waters of Port Jackson, which link Sydney to other parts of Australia, the United Kingdom, and the larger world.33 The most important of the system’s switching points include the Light House (No. 55), which guides ships in and out of the Harbour, and the busy King’s Wharf & Dock, where goods move in and out of the colony.

This multi-media assemblage supports a wide range of second-order communication systems, such as those associated with religion, commerce, natural science, and the military. The extent of the first is suggested by Burford’s remark that the colony’s Archdeacon, Thomas Hobbs Scott, is under the jurisdiction of the Archbishop of Calcutta; and the second by the sailors seen on the streets of Sydney, who include ‘Chinese, Otahetians, South Sea Islanders, Zealanders, &c.’.34 The colony’s Botanic Gardens and its superintendent, Mr. Fraser, are part of a global network of collectors and natural scientists. And so too are the naval ships singled out by Burford as worthy of mention, such as H.M.S. Warspite (No. 56), which arrived in Sydney in 1826, from Trimcomalee in Sri Lanka (Ceylon), carrying the Commander-in-Chief in the East Indies, Commodore Sir James Brisbane, and bringing news of the end of First Anglo-Burmese War (1824–26).

The most obvious cultural institution is the building, owned by Barnet Levey, which is described as ‘intended for a theatre’, but things look less sparse if we add the forms of sociability found in the colony: ‘dinner and evening parties’; balls and assemblies; fraternal organisations, such as ‘the Sons of St. George, St. Patrick, St. Andrew, and [the] Bachelors of Sydney’; and hotels, such as the Sydney (No. 28), the ‘Australian’, and ‘Hill’s’, which ‘vie with the best establishments of the same kind in England . . . as may the common pot houses with the lowest in St. Giles’.35 And, of course, if we relax our definition still further, cultural institutions are everywhere apparent: in the fledgling civilian legal system, represented by the New Court House (No. 12); the religious, philanthropic, military, and scientific cultures mentioned above; and, still more broadly, the culture of discovery/settlement, to which much of what I have described above belongs. This last aspect is foregrounded by H.M.S. Fly (No. 50), which left Sydney in December 1826 to help establish a settlement at Western Port, in Southern Victoria, and H.M.S. Success (No. 46), which set off on 17 January 1827 to explore the Swan river on Australia’s western coast, where in 1829 the Swan River Colony was established (renamed in 1832 the Colony of Western Australia).

Sydney, the city at the centre of Burford’s panorama, is impressive – so much so that if we allow the contexts mentioned earlier to fade, one might be ready to conclude with Joseph Banks that, thanks to its foundations, ‘the future prospect of empire and dominion … cannot be disappointed’ and that ‘England may revive in New South Wales when it has sunk in Europe’.36


At this point in my argument, ‘A View of the Town of Sydney’ might still seem a work of realism, even if tinged with idealism; but it is, of course, much more and much less than that. Indeed, even when attempting dispassionately to describe its contents, as I have been doing, it is difficult to ignore the narratives stitching its parts into a whole recognisable-as-reality by European audiences. The most important of these narratives is that of discovery, which weaves together journeys already completed (from Botany Bay to Sydney, from Sydney across the Blue Mountains, and so on) with those about to be attempted by H.M.S. Voltage and H.M.S. Success. Discovery is, of course, a chapter in the story of Australian settlement, which belongs to the story of the British Empire. In all these contexts, discovery/settlement sets in motion stories of material and of moral improvement. While standing in Burford’s panorama, the first can be heard through the contrasts drawn between imprisonment and convivial assembly, modest early and magnificent later buildings, and so on; and the second in contrasts between the machinery of incarceration, such as Phoenix Hulk and Pinchgut Island (No. 51), and the engines of moral regeneration, such as St. James[’]s Church (No. 8) and the School of Industry. And all these narratives underwrite the story, mentioned earlier, of ‘Albion reborn’.

One need not dispute the data interpreted by these narratives in order to see that what are experienced by some as facts (discovery, settlement, improvement, rebirth) seem to others to function as fictions, deployed to mask unpalatable realities, such as the belated discovery of Australia by Europeans (they arrived 60,000 years late); the convict experience of exile, cruelty, and injustice; the Aboriginal experience of dispossession, displacement, and genocide; and so on. Inside the panorama these realities are kept from sight by yet another story, this time of the transition from nature to civilisation, which is exemplified (supposedly) by the transition from black to white worlds. ‘The aboriginal inhabitants of New South Wales,’ Burford tells us, ‘are … the very lowest of the human species … having neither huts or clothes … and, being totally unacquainted with any kind of agriculture, they exist on fish, fruit, worms, grubs, &c. and, occasionally, on human flesh.’37 Ignoring the mishmash of falsehoods paraded in this sentence, much the same picture is conjured by the panorama, where the primary Aboriginal figures, apparently without ‘huts or clothes’, are clustered in the foreground of the illusion, close to the viewing platform. This is a locale aligned with nature, as suggested by the kangaroo, emu, and horses also found there. And it is for that reason also a space of paternalism, firmly under the control of the Government, where the work of civilisation must begin.

Like it or not, to stand on Burford’s viewing platform and look out over the panoramic illusion is to become entangled with this story of civilisation: the viewer’s gaze is drawn from Aboriginal nature, close to where we are standing, to the present represented in the middle ground by Sydney, where the work of rearticulating Aboriginal ‘nature’ is underway, and from there to the future, evoked by the still unexplored realms beyond the horizon. Towards the east, the peripatetic labour of hunting and gathering, represented by Native climbing a Gum, is dismissed by the cultivated fields of the Botanic Gardens. To the south, behind the scene entitled Natives, which portrays Aboriginal justice as payback, we can see St. James[’]s and the New Court House.38 Here, the first scene (Natives) recalls the Old Testament dictum of ‘an eye for an eye’, which is dismissed by buildings that represent respectively a New Testament that proclaims and a judicial system (supposedly) based on Christian love and forgiveness. To the south-west, Governor Darling and Colonel Dumaresq, both on horseback, having left the city behind them, approach ‘King Bongaree [sic]’. At first glance, this reverses the trajectories we have been mapping – but in fact the Governor and his private secretary have come to proclaim what the other narratives enact, namely the imposition of colonial forms of government on Aboriginal Australia, in which ‘King Bongaree’ stands beneath Colonel Dumaresq, who answers to General Darling, the governor of the colony, who serves the ‘real’ King in London.

One of the many striking features of this painting is that Aboriginal figures are represented without reference to families or clans, whereas prominent settlers are normally introduced through their domestic establishments: Mr J. Mac Arthur’s ‘magnificent residence’, ‘the residence of Francis Forbes’, the ‘elegant . . . residence of Mr. Underwood’, and so on.39 In the early nineteenth century, bourgeois domestic establishments like these were commonly aligned with the paternal family, centred on the wife/mother, whose sensibility and consequent proximity to nature makes her a source of empathy, benevolence, and, therefore, philanthropy. During the journey from nature to civilisation, this suggests, Aboriginal social systems are displaced by the paternal-family structures characteristic of western modernity.

The point is economically made in the contrast between, on the one hand, the solitary Boongaree and, on the other hand, Darling and Dumaresq, connected to each other by the marriage in 1817 of the former, who was then forty-six, to the sister of the latter, the nineteen-year-old Eliza Dumaresq. Boongaree, in fact, had several wives, but that is beyond the grasp of this panorama, whereas the Darlings’ domestic establishment, Governor[’]s House, can be seen to the west, where Eliza’s labours as a woman of sensibility are represented by the [Female] School of Industry and [Female] Orphan School.40 Without dismissing her achievements, the switch this implies, from Indigenous inhabitant to female settler as representative of ‘nature’, adds yet one more layer to the apparatus of dispossession.

When seen as a whole, the bundle of narratives I have been describing map in surprising detail a ‘civilising’ process, which functions as a mode of initiation into western modernity. And this draws our attention to one more contrast, this time between Sydney, with its Botanic Gardens, the locale where this process assumes cohesive form, and, on the other hand, the initiation taking place to the east, labelled Kangaroo & Dog Dance (No. 58), which assumes a form very different from the first. Because Kangaroo & Dog Dance is on lower ground than Sydney and the Aboriginal figures we have been discussing, it seems much further away, almost to the point of vanishing. It therefore seems to fit neatly into the narrative of settlement/progress mapped by the panorama as a whole, in which Aboriginal/aboriginal ‘nature’ is both pushed to the margins of the colony and, in the paternal family, differently imagined. And yet, at the same time, it is important to note that it is here that we glimpse for the first time a conjunction of convict/settler and Aboriginal worlds, rather than a passage from the second to the first. The linear, predominantly rectangular and/or vertical forms of the colony, which rise without obvious reference to their surroundings, except as resource, are radically different from the curved lines of the Dance, which echo the landscape surrounding them. Further, dance implies modes of embodiment and engagement radically different from those underwriting the work of Sir John Jamieson, Thomas Hobbs Scott, or Charles Fraser. And while the civilising process draws the human apart from its others, during the Kangaroo & Dog Dance the domains of animal, land, and human overlap with each other.

As this second world takes shape, it is possible to experience a sudden volte-face, in which spectators find themselves gazing not at the future-Albion projected by the panorama but at what that vision sets aside. From this point of view, the colony is an alien body, immersed in a world it does not understand, growing through extension and duplication of itself, and this in turn evokes a sense of catastrophe. In ‘Theses on the Philosophy of History’, Walter Benjamin writes of ‘the angel of history’ as caught by ‘a storm [that] is blowing from Paradise’, which ‘propels him into the future to which his back is turned, while the pile of debris before him grows skyward’. Although ‘The Angel would like to stay … and make whole what has been smashed’, he cannot while the storm that ‘we call progress’ rages.41 But in Burford’s panorama only the windmills’ Cyclopean eyes are looking backwards, and these multi-winged angels of history show no sign of wanting to mend ‘what has been smashed’.42


The contrast between colonial and Aboriginal worlds throws into relief the work of exhibition, everywhere apparent in Enlightenment cultures, which draws objects, places, and peoples away from discourses deemed local, so that they can be rearticulated by those thought to be universal. Inside ‘A View of the Town of Sydney’, the Botanic Gardens is an obvious part of the colony’s exhibition system, which disentangles plant specimens from merely local knowledges of them so they can be rearticulated by a ‘universal’ system of classification able to place them within the global kingdom of plants. But so too is the ‘New Gaol’, a complex ‘loosely based on Bentham’s panopticon’, in which prisoners (it was proposed), after being sorted into types, would be placed in buildings, one for each type, that could be monitored from a central viewing platform.43 The prison’s position on a hill overlooking the colony performs an analogous role, reminding settlers and convicts that their actions are likely to be visible by those above. Sydney’s military institutions and hospitals also depend on categorisation/exhibition to bring wayward bodies into accord with respectively the overarching narratives of power and health. And so too do institutions such as the ‘National School for the children of the lower orders’, the ‘school for the education and civilization of the Aborigines’, the school for ‘female children of the lower classes’, and so on, which remove certain ‘types’ of people from their homes, in order to house them in institutions where behaviour, now visible to their custodians, can be reformed.44

Most significantly for the argument of this chapter, exhibition is the organising principle of the panorama itself. Inside the panoramic illusion, spectators are immersed in a milieu crowded with virtual entities detached from the cultural contexts to which their ‘real’ doubles belong. This is at first experienced as a disordered, unmanageable whole (a sublime object) that stops audiences in their tracks. But this same milieu, precisely because it attenuates the links that normally bind perceptions and things, makes it possible for the visible to be rearticulated in relation to a fundamental ground (progress, rebirth, empire, and so on). For those willing to be prompted by the panorama’s guidebook and/or its spatial narratives, the panoramic experience therefore follows the path of the sublime, which concludes with spectators, now confident of their place in the whole, moved by feelings of ‘admiration, reverence and respect’.45

In all the cases we have mentioned, the art of exhibition depends on estrangement (distanciation). Superintendents of the institutions I have mentioned adopt positions and play roles that lift them above the worlds where the objects of their work are found, so that the work of abstraction, classification, and rearticulation/reformation can begin. Similarly, the restorative work of the sublime depends on distance – if we come too close to a sublime object the experience is terrifying rather than delightful.46 And with regard to the panorama, the viewing platform, the categories presented by Burford’s guidebook, and the painting’s visual narratives keep spectators at a distance from the disordered, unmanageable world that it exhibits, so that they can be uplifted rather than overwhelmed. It is hardly surprising, therefore, that those unwilling or unable to distance themselves from one or more of the entities it displays will be moved in ways not countenanced by the guidebook.

The volte-face mentioned earlier, prompted by the Kangaroo & Dog Dance, is a case in point, which is intensified if, for example, one moves closer to the event depicted by reading the first-hand account of the virtual Dance’s real double, found in An Account of the English Colony in New South Wales (1798) by David Collins, which was illustrated by engravings based on drawings by Thomas Watling, who also witnessed the event. And one imagines that for those able in memory or imagination to actually step inside the Dance, the consequent reversal of perspective will reframe the logic of the panorama as a whole, unleashing a flood of quite different emotions.

A second example can be found in the last chapter of ‘Tales of the Early Days’ (1894), by Price Warung, the pseudonym of William Astley, which describes a visit to Burford’s ‘A View of the Town of Sydney’. On this occasion, it is a human guide, rather than a printed one, who re-presents the panoramic illusion in glowing terms. His lecture begins smoothly enough, but before long the accuracy of the painting is disputed by a member of the audience, who gradually becomes more and more disruptive, while the guide, who seems never to have been to the colony, becomes more and more embarrassed. The tables are turned, however, when the guide turns to the Phoenix Hulk, no more than a spot on the horizon, and his interlocutor becomes flustered and then falls silent. This is the prison from which the latter has escaped and to which he will be returned.47 At this moment, as Graeme Davison remarks, ‘The glittering harbour suddenly takes on a new aspect, as a landscape of punishment, as well as civilisation. The dark spot on the horizon becomes a window into a gothic tale of forgery, extortion, betrayal and murder.’48

But even for those without first-hand experience of Sydney, the pictorial elements that draw their eye and the worlds they consequently construe are dependent on their point of view. Although something similar might be claimed about responses to any work of art, in full-scale panoramas the contingency of perception is heightened because, as previously remarked, it establishes a milieu rather than a prospect – ‘a field of open causality, each determination of which is an enactment by the spectator of only one of the possibilities it contains’.49 Just as importantly, the frames through which the painting is viewed are more mobile than those used to frame conventional paintings. It is often remarked, of course, that panorama paintings have no (visible) edge or frame; but this lack foregrounds a quite different kind of frame, one produced by interactions and conversations between spectators, which function as a mobile (rather than static) frame through which the painting is seen. Further, at the Leicester Square panorama visitors were treated to not one but two full-circle panoramas, joined to each other by darkened corridors and winding staircases, with each playing a role in framing the other. With regard to these matters, the panorama we are considering is once again a case in point.

Soon after ‘A View of the Town of Sydney’ had opened in the upper circle of the Leicester Square Panorama, it was joined by a ‘View of Pandemonium’, the mythical home of Satan and his crew, which was shown in the Panorama’s lower circle. This conjunction of an idealised real city, raised by Hope’s voice, and a realistically presented fictional palace, which according to John Milton came into existence ‘like an exhalation’ from the earth, offers audiences a wealth of possible frames with which to explain, contrast, or valorise one or other of the locales.50 But even this wealth seems like poverty when an audience arrives, as depicted by William Heath in his satirical print ‘New Panorama – A Startling Interogation’ (Figure 1.2). To the question posed by the man selling tickets, ‘Do you wish to go to Hell? / or Botany-Bay?’, ‘Sir,’ a young man replies, ‘I wonts to got to Bottomybay.’ Overhearing them both, a young girl confides to her mother that she would ‘like to see the Naughty Place’. The pair’s desired destinations play with the parallels between Sydney and Pandemonium, the virtual and the actual, and with the crossovers between manifest and latent desire, which the assembled crowd develops further through contrasts between startled men and concerned women, flamboyant hats and almost bare feet, heavy clothing and hidden bodies, and so on. The hubbub makes clear that, once inside the panorama, each will encounter a virtual reality different from that seen by the others.

Although this kind of multiplication of realities is often described as heralding the loss of a centre, there is in fact no shortage of centres in modernity, which now spring up everywhere, only a shortage of peripheries.51 For those inside the shifting world this produces, geography becomes a kind of autogeography, in which what is seen is inflected by one’s history and experience; locality becomes a kind of translocality, in which the familiar exists alongside the strange; and politics becomes ‘artful’ in the sense that it depends on the story being told. Seen in this light, ‘A View of the Town of Sydney’ pushes us to think once again about the analytical tools needed to describe the formation, in the late eighteenth and early nineteenth century, of this oceanic world: how best to live in a world where what was taken ‘to be the eternal order of things is no more than a local context of immanence that carries us’;52 and how the forms of permanence found in the southern hemisphere, such as those developed by Indigenous peoples, might open ways of dwelling in and engaging with the world and its two hemispheres. Topics like these turn our gaze, one more time, from the northern hemisphere, the host to the centres in modern times of global power, to the more fluid worlds of the southern hemisphere. And from this perspective, when we look once again at ‘A View of the Town of Sydney’, it suddenly dawns on me that Boongaree is waving goodbye rather than hello to Darling and Dumaresq, and that the pair, leaving at long last the symbolic centre of the illusion, might be about to join the crowd on the viewing platform, who will soon step forward into the world of multiple centres outside.


1 Sibylle Erle et al. (eds), Panoramas, 1787–1900: Texts and Contexts, 5 vols (London: Pickering and Chatto, 2013), 1:249. The argument in this chapter belongs to a project on ‘Architectures of Imagination’ (DP180102604), funded by the Australian Research Council.
2 For details of Earle’s career, see Jocelyn Hackforth-Jones, Augustus Earle: Travel Artist (Canberra: National Library of Australia, 1980), p. 8.
3 Peter Otto, Multiplying Worlds: Romanticism, Modernity, and the Emergence of Virtual Reality (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2011), p. 24.
4 See, for example, Bernard Comment, The Panorama (London: Reaktion Books, 1999), pp. 136, 138.
5 Otto, Multiplying Worlds, p. 44.
6 Peter Sloterdijk, In the World Interior of Capital: For a Philosophical Theory of Globalization, trans. Wieland Hoban (Cambridge: Polity, 2013), pp. 29–30.
7 I am quoting from the translation of Edmund Halley’s ‘Ode on This Splendid Ornament of Our Time and Our Nation, the Mathematico-Physical Treatise by the Eminent Isaac Newton’ published in The Principia: Mathematical Principles of Natural Philosophy, trans. I. Bernard Cohen and Anne Whitman (London: University of California Press, 1999), pp. 379–80.
8 John Hughes, The Ecstasy. An Ode (London: Printed by J. Roberts, 1720), p. 7.
9 Quoted in Simone De Angelis, ‘Newton in Poetry’, in Helmut Pulte and Scott Mandelbrote (eds), The Reception of Isaac Newton in Europe, 3 vols (London: Bloomsbury Academic, 2019), 1:575.
10 Alexander Pope, An Essay on Man, in Alexander Pope: The Major Works, ed. Pat Rodgers (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2008), p. 281 (Epistle II, ll. 19, 23–4).
11 Christian Jacob, The Sovereign Map: Theoretical Approaches in Cartography throughout History, trans. Tom Conley (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2006), p. 323.
12 John Theophilus Desaguliers, The Newtonian System of the World, the Best Model of Government (Westminster: Printed by A. Campbell for J. Roberts, 1728), p. 32.
13 Jacob, The Sovereign Map, pp. 323–4.
14 Pope, Essay on Man, p. 282 (Epistle II, l. 30).
15 Quoted in De Angelis, ‘Newton in Poetry’, pp. 576–7.
16 De Angelis, ‘Newton in Poetry’, p. 569.
17 Michel Serres, The Parasite, trans. Lawrence R. Schehr (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1982); Maurice Merleau-Ponty, Phenomenology of Perception, trans. Colin Smith (London: Routledge and Kegan Paul, 1962).
18 Figure 1.1 reproduces ‘Panorama of Sydney’ rather than ‘Explanation of a View’ owing to the greater clarity of the former. However, in order to avoid ambiguity, and to emphasise the design’s role in Description, I will refer to both images indiscriminately as ‘Explanation of a View’.
19 J. P. McGuanne, ‘Old Government House’, Journal of the Royal Australian Historical Society, 1 (1902), 73.
20 Maria Nugent, ‘Mediating Encounters through Body and Talk’, in Shino Konishi, Maria Nugent, and Tiffany Shellam (eds), Indigenous Intermediaries: New Perspectives on Exploration Archives (Acton: Australian National University Press, 2015), p. 88.
21 Nugent, ‘Mediating Encounters’, p. 88.
22 Robert Burford, Description of a View of the Town of Sydney, New South Wales; The Harbour of Port Jackson, and Surrounding Country (1829; North Sydney: Library of Australian History, 1978), p. 1.
23 Burford, Description of a View of the Town of Sydney, p. 4.
24 Anonymous, ‘Panorama of Sydney’, Sydney Monitor (19 September 1829), p. 1.
25 John White, Journal of a Voyage to New South Wales, ed. A. H. Chisholm (Sydney: Angus and Robinson, 1962), p. 140; Daniel Southwell, ‘Journal and Letters of Daniel Southwell’, Appendix D, in Historical Records of New South Wales, Vol. II, ed. F. M. Bladen (Sydney: Charles Potter, 1893), p. 692. I was drawn to both sources by Deirdre Coleman’s important chapter on ‘“New Albion”: The camp at Port Jackson’, in Romantic Colonization and British Anti-Slavery (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2005), pp. 141–63.
26 Arthur Phillip, The Voyage of Governor Phillip to Botany Bay; with an Account of the Establishment of the Colonies of Port Jackson & Norfolk Island, annot. James J. Auchmuty (1789; Sydney: Angus and Robertson, 1970), p. xxiii.
27 Phillip, The Voyage of Governor Phillip to Botany Bay, t.p.
28 Erasmus Darwin, ‘To Josiah Wedgwood, June 1789’, in The Letters of Erasmus Darwin, ed. Desmond King-Hele (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1981), p. 190.
29 Burford, Description of a View of the Town of Sydney, p. 3.
30 Gordon Beckett, The Colonial Economy of NSW: A Retrospective between 1788 and 1835 (Singapore: Trafford, 2012), pp. 83–4.
31 Burford, Description of a View of the Town of Sydney, pp. 10–11.
32 Burford, Description of a View of the Town of Sydney, p. 8.
33 Burford, Description of a View of the Town of Sydney, pp. 8, 10.
34 Burford, Description of a View of the Town of Sydney, p. 6.
35 Burford, Description of a View of the Town of Sydney, pp. 8, 6. 10.
36 Quoted in Coleman, Romantic Colonization, p. 141.
37 Burford, Description of a View of the Town of Sydney, p. 8.
38 Burford, Description of a View of the Town of Sydney, pp. 8–9.
39 Burford, Description of a View of the Town of Sydney, pp. 9, 10.
40 Anita Selzer, Governors’ Wives in Colonial Australia (Canberra: National Library of Australia, 2002), pp. 89–92; Noeline J. Kyle, ‘“Delicate Health … Interesting Condition …”: Eliza Darling, Pregnancy and Philanthropy in Early New South Wales’, History of Education, 24 (1995), 32.
41 Walter Benjamin, ‘Theses on the Philosophy of History’, in Illuminations, ed. Hannah Arendt, trans. Harry Zorn (London: Pimlico, 1999), p. 249.
42 Benjamin, ‘Theses on the Philosophy of History’, p. 249.
43 Tanya Evans, Fractured Families: Life on the Margins in Colonial New South Wales (Sydney: University of New South Wales Press, 2015), p. 128.
44 Burford, Description of a View of the Town of Sydney, pp. 8, 7–8, 8.
45 Edmund Burke, A Philosophical Enquiry into the Origin of our Ideas of the Sublime and Beautiful (London: Printed for R. and J. Dodsley, 1757), p. 42.
46 Burke, Philosophical Enquiry, pp. 13–14.
47 Price Warung, ‘At Burford’s Panorama’, in Bruce Bennett and Robert Dixon (eds), Tales of the Early Days (Sydney: Sydney University Press, 2009), pp. 172–83.
48 Graeme Davidson, City Dreamers: The Urban Imagination in Australia (Sydney: NewSouth, 2016), p. 23.
49 Otto, Multiplying Worlds, pp. 30–1.
50 John Milton, Paradise Lost, in The Poems of John Milton, ed. John Carey and Alastair Fowler (London: Longmans, Green & Co., 1968), p. 503 (Bk I. l. 710).
51 Sloterdijk, Into the World Interior, p. 29.
52 Sloterdijk, Into the World Interior, p. 29.

Worlding the south

Nineteenth-century literary culture and the southern settler colonies


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