Described by a contemporary as 'a gentleman of the highest talents but without one atom of common sense', Frankland took part in exploratory missions in Van Diemen's Land and drew the misguided 'comic strip' proclamation to the Tasmanian Aborigines in 1829.
sketcher, amateur architect and surveyor, son of Rev. Roger Frankland, Canon of Wells Cathedral, Somersetshire, and Catherine, daughter of Baron Colville, became an ensign in the British Army in 1819 and served in India. In July 1822 he married Anne Mason. The following year he was appointed surveyor-general at Poona. He resigned on the grounds of ill-health and on 10 July 1827 arrived at Van Diemen’s Land in the Harvey as first assistant surveyor. He became surveyor-general in 1828. While employed on the trigonometrical survey of the island, Frankland took every care to record details of the natural history of the place. He took part in three exploratory expeditions: to the upper Derwent, the upper Huon and the central highlands in the Lake St Clair area. John Skinner Prout decided to visit Lake St Clair in 1845 after seeing Frankland’s sketches of the region which, Prout felt, revealed 'glimpses of scenery full of natural grandeur, of unchecked wilderness, and savage majesty’.
Frankland’s official duties were hampered by the inaccuracies of former surveys and he appears not to have enjoyed 'the plodding work of marking the Settlers’ farms’. As surveyor-general he was a member of the Caveat Board, a body which sought to establish the legitimacy of all claims to land grants and purchases before titles were issued. Frankland’s map of the colony, based on the trigonometrical survey, was described by Under-Secretary Hay as 'by far the most valuable contribution that has been received at the Colonial Office from any of the Colonies during my time’. Frankland died in Hobart Town in December 1838, just before his intended return to England. He was survived by his wife, a son and two daughters.
Three drawings engraved by Thomas Bock after Frankland were published in the 1829 Hobart Town Almanack , one titled Stork on Rock being unsigned. The only other known print after one of his drawings is a lithograph, Pansanger [sic], County of Somerset V.D.L. The Seat of Joseph Archer Esq (p.c.). The Allport Library holds his watercolour, Hobart Town, Van Diemen’s Land (1827), a charming, comical and possibly autobiographical view of a family disembarking at Hobart Town with their luggage.
On 21 June 1838 Jane Franklin noted in a letter to her sister, Mary Simpkinson, that an account of the vice-regal ascent of Mount Wellington published in the Hobart Town Courier was written by Frankland: 'and I meant it to be accompanied by some exquisite caricature sketches of various predicaments in which we found ourselves on that occasion, but was not able to get them from him, though faithfully promised’. She called him 'a clever artist, a fine musician, [and] an excellent linguist’. Frankland also designed his own home, Secheron, at Battery Point, Hobart, now a maritime museum.
His contemporary and employee in the Survey Department, James Erskine Calder , retrospectively summarised 'that unfathomable mass of inconsistency Mr George Frankland’ as: 'a gentleman of the highest talents but without one atom of common sense; of extraordinary shrewdness, yet as easily imposed on by villainy as childhood itself; who had mixed more largely with the world than most men without acquiring the smallest worldly wisdom; whose heart was overflowing with goodness, and who was yet unaccountably guilty of more than one act of injustice; such was the good, the clever, the inexplicable Mr Frankland, to whom nature had denied no quality that would not adorn a saint, excepting moral firmness, the absence of which nullified everything, except the contempt of one’s fellows’.
In this innocent but misguided vein, Frankland was responsible for suggesting and drawing the well-known 'comic strip’ proclamation to the Tasmanian Aborigines in 1829, described by James Bonwick as 'the expedition against the Aborigines on the principle of the Fine Arts’. In a letter to Governor Arthur on 4 February 1829 Frankland wrote: 'I have lately had an opportunity of ascertaining that the aboriginal natives of van Diemen’s Land are in the habit of representing events by drawings on the bark of trees … In the absence of all successful communication with these unfortunate people, with whose language we are totally unacquainted, it has occurred to me that it might be possible through the medium of this newly discovered facility, to impart to them to a certain extent, the real wishes of the government towards them, and I have accordingly sketched a series of groups of figures, in which I have endeavoured to represent in a manner as simple and as well adapted to their supposed ideas as possible, the actual state of things (or rather the origin of the present state), and the desired termination of hostility’.
Frankland suggested that his drawings be reproduced, pasted on boards and tied to trees in remote areas of the island. In her JournalElizabeth Prinsep cites an extract from a letter dated January 1830 which refers to these boards being hung by 'F.’ in the woods, F. presumably denoting Frankland. On 5 March a reporter on the Colonial Times (who obviously had not seen the poster) noted that the government had 'given directions for the painting of a large number of pictures to be placed in the bush for the contemplation of the Aboriginal inhabitants. These pictures are said to be representations of the attacks made by the black upon the white population, and in the background is to be seen a gallows with a black suspended; and also, the same consequence to the white man, who, in the other picture, is represented as the aggressor’.
On 26 November 1830 the Tasmanian reported that Frankland had presented the Aborigine, Numarrow, with a sketch 'executed with much spirit, of the consequence of the Aborigines adopting a peaceable demeanour, or of continuing in their present murderous and predatory habits. In one part of the sketch, the soldiery were represented firing upon a tribe of the Blacks, who were falling from the effects of the attack. On the other part were seen, another tribe decently clad, receiving food for themselves and families’, an inaccurate but similarly vivid summary of sections of the image.
Reproductions, and a couple of rare originals, of these painted boards survive in the Mitchell Library, the Tasmanian Museum, the National Library and Parliament House, Canberra, the Museum of Archaeology and Ethnology, Cambridge, and in private collections. One of the original watercolour paintings on board was displayed at the 1866 Hobart Town and 1867 Paris Universal exhibitions, having just been discovered under the floorboards of Old Government House. Lithographic reproductions then issued by the Tasmanian Surveyor-General’s Office were headed 'Governor Davey’s Proclamation to the Aborigines 1816’, a mistake perpetuated in subsequent copies.
Recent artists who have quoted Lieutenant-Governor Arthur’s Proclamation to the Aborigines 1829 include Gordon Bennett ( Double Take , 1989) and Cameron Hayes (in the 1996 Moët & Chandon Touring Exhibition).