A deserted Indian village in King George III Sound


This plate was originally published in A Voyage of Discovery to the North Pacific Ocean: Captain George Vancouver’s account of his expedition around the world undertaken from April 1791 to October 1795. Vancouver and his fleet toured five continents, principally in the name of British colonial and commercial expansion but also to forward scientific investigation, particularly in the field of botany.

In September 1791 Vancouver docked in south-western Australia, at an inlet he immediately renamed King George III Sound in tribute to the British sovereign. The scene depicted here shows a ‘village’ in the Sound which Vancouver found deserted. Within a copse he discovered ‘about two dozen miserable huts’, evidence of fires long-since extinguished, but no ‘shells, bones, nor any other relics’ which might explain why the villagers had fled. Before returning to his ship Vancouver left a selection of ‘beads, nails, knives, looking glasses and medals’ in the largest hut to ‘induce’ the local people ‘to favour us with a visit’. Communication with the indigenous community was a priority for Vancouver, not only to realise his mercantile and territorial objectives but also to facilitate navigation, geographical surveys and research.

The original drawing for this illustration was apparently produced ‘on the spot’ by John Sykes, Vancouver’s midshipman. Sykes’ sketch was then reworked for publication by William Alexander, who had been the official draughtsman for Britain’s first embassy to China in 1792. 


Full title:
A deserted Indian village in King George III Sound, New Holland
1 May 1798, London
Richard Edwards John Edwards and George Robinson
Etching / Engraving / View
John Landseer, William Alexander, John Sykes Sykes
Usage terms
Public Domain
Held by
British Library

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Beyond Sydney

Article by:
Michael Rosenthal
Military and maritime

Michael Rosenthal investigates four watercolours that a midshipman, John Sykes, made of King George III Sound in Western Australia, when the Vancouver expedition spent time there in September 1791, and which are now in the King's Topographical Collection at the British Library.

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