View of Malay Road from Pobassoo's Island, February 1803

This is one of the ten paintings by Westall of Matthew Flinders' Australian voyage (1801-03) that the Admiralty commissioned from 1809 (ZBA7914, 7935-7936, 7938-7944): they were completed over the next three years.

The place shown in the painting is near Cape Arnhem on the western side of the Gulf of Carpentaria. Here Flinders met Pobassoo (the English version of Bapapasu), an experienced Malay fishing captain operating out of Makassar, Sulawesi. He and others came to the coast under an agreement with the Yolngu people of the region to fish for trepang (sea-cucumbers), then dried and sold on to China via the East Indies. Flinders referred to him as being senior captain of about six fishing praus (though Westall shows 10) which are anchored offshore to the right, with a small boat also shown there. According to Pobassoo there were about another 60 operating west of him along the coast under an overall commander for the Sultan of Boni called Salloo. The figure is presumably Pobassoo, though romanticized - since Flinders described him as 'a short, elderly man', with whom he was able to communicate thanks to having a Malay ship's cook who acted as interpreter. The encounter was significant as the first between Europeans and Asians operating in Australian coastal waters. The initial meeting was wary until everyone's friendly intentions became clear, to which the stormy sky background and the fact the figure is armed with a spear may allude.

The image was engraved as one of the nine plates in Flinders ‘A Voyage to Terra Australis' (1814, and also separately published that year in Westall's 'Views of Australian Scenery'), where it is the third included in Flinders, vol. 2, illustrating the account of the meeting on 23 February 1803. For other notes on the group see ZBA7914.

Object Details

ID: ZBA7936
Collection: Fine art
Type: Painting
Display location: Display - Pacific Encounters Gallery
Creator: Westall, William
Date made: 1809-1812
People: HM Admiralty
Credit: National Maritime Museum, Greenwich, London
Measurements: Frame: 806 mm x 1060 mm x 115 mm;Overall: 885 mm x 1060 mm x 115 mm;Painting: 610 mm x 864 mm

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