Australasian Journal of Victorian Studies, Vol 14, No 2 (2009)

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Arranging the Antipodes: The Archer Family Album as Metaphorical Cabinet

Molly Duggins

Abstract


While surveying the western coasts of Australia between 1818 and 1822, the naval officer and hydrographer, Phillip Parker King (1791-1856) avowed, “no country [has] ever produced a more extraordinary assemblage of indigenous productions – no country has proved richer than Australia in every branch of natural history” (Moyal 37).1 His
enthusiastic assertion not only situates Australia as a fertile ground for imperial collection, echoing the legacy of Sir Joseph Banks (1743-1820) whose personal patronage of the scientific expedition on board the Endeavour initiated a reconnaissance of international natural history on an unprecedented scale, but it also provides insight into a popular conceptual paradigm that posited Australia as a land replete with natural
wonders.

In this regard, King’s choice of language is particularly noteworthy. His use of the term ‘assemblage’ constructs a vision of Australia as a virtual collection or showcase of natural history phenomena, an organizing trope reminiscent of the cabinet of curiosities, a mode of collection and display that began to gain historical recognition in the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries with ecclesiastical and princely collections of natural and artificial wonders that ultimately paid homage to the wonder of God. Such collections played upon the senses through the deliberate juxtaposition and artistic composition of their featured objects. Straddling the divide between art and science, the cabinet was primarily a sensory model that relied upon the strategic employment of wonder as a mobilizing mechanism. Subscribing to this cabinet tradition, King’s superlative language is consciously employed to evoke wonder, arouse curiosity, and stir desire in his readers to visually, or perhaps physically, possess the peculiar antipodean riches of Australia.

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