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Video clip synopsis – First Fleet captain John Hunter’s sketchbook showing life in Botany Bay was copied from the work of his talented young midshipman, George Raper.
Year of production - 2008
Duration - 5min 30sec
Tags - botanical, colonisation, discovery, environment, exploration, sketchbooks, see all tags


First Fleet Sketches

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About the Video Clip


From the series Hidden Treasures – Inside the National Library of Australia.

The National Library of Australia is the country’s largest reference library with over nine million items in its collection, including a surprising number of art works. In a new series of Hidden Treasures, Betty Churcher presents an insider’s guide to some of the little known and rarely displayed art treasures held by the National Library. From her unique vantage point, Churcher makes intriguing historical connections between paintings and engravings, photography, manuscripts and artefacts, illustrated journals and diaries. These are fascinating tales about the creative process and the works themselves that offer a tantalising insight into Australia’s culture and heritage.

A Film Australia National Interest Program in association with Early Works. Produced in association with the Australian Broadcasting Corporation. With special thanks to the National Library of Australia.

Curriculum Focus


Students are required to research visual artworks from a variety of past and present social and cultural perspectives. Students should also demonstrate an understanding of how histories are constructed in the visual arts both reinforcing and challenging values in the social, cultural and historical contexts in which they are produced.

This is a guide only. Teachers and students should consult their state’s curriculum and learning programs.

Background Information


First Fleet captain John Hunter copied the work of young First Fleet midshipman George Raper to produce his famous sketchbook showing life in Botany Bay. Raper’s own First Fleet paintings, begun in 1788, show his skill and fine eye for detail in capturing the birds and flowers of New South Wales. They were acquired by the National Library of Australia in 2004 after lying undiscovered and undisturbed for more than 200 years in an English manor. While Hunter, who became the second Governor of NSW, didn’t share Raper’s talents with a paintbrush, both men shared equally an excitement and enthusiasm for recording what they found in Sydney Cove in 1788.

Classroom Activities

  1. Why would people of the First Fleet have wanted to record the flora and fauna that they saw?
  2. What impact might the publication of these and other similar sketches have had on people in Britain and elsewhere?
  3. Can you think of any similar example of something new and totally different that might exist in our society today, or in the near future?
  4. The episode stresses that copying the work of another artist was acceptable in this period. How do we view this copying today?
    1. Copyright and creativity are valued and protected today. In NSW there is a compulsory study of the idea that people have a right to their own creative works, and that any use of them by others must be acknowledged, or even have the creator’s permission. Why? Prepare a list of points that you might make in explaining why protection of a person’s creative output is necessary and desirable. Are there any strong arguments that you could put against this idea?
      For more information on the idea of creativity and copyright see Nothing Beats the Real Thing! in STUDIES 2/2008. (This magazine is sent to every secondary school in Australia and should be in your library. Alternatively, you can see a copy of the unit at online.)
    2. The argument is sometimes made that the earliest European-trained artists who saw the Australian landscape were not able to paint it—they applied their European expectations and traditions and failed to reproduce the Australian reality. Does this ‘treasure’ support or challenge this idea? Explain your reasons.
  5. Summarise in just one or two sentences why this collection is a ‘treasure’ in our knowledge and understanding of aspects of Australian history.

Further Resources


Go to Screen Australia Digital Learning’s Arts Portal

For more on John Hunter go to The Australian Dictionary of Biography

For more on George Raper go to The George Raper Collection