Menu toggle

National Museum of Australia

Where our stories come alive

Collection Explorer


19th Century folk art diorama which portrays Governor William Bligh's arrest during the Rum Rebellion in 1808


19th Century folk art diorama which portrays Governor William Bligh's arrest during the Rum Rebellion in 1808

Object information

Physical description

A 19th Century folk art diorama, similar in appearance to a small stage set. It depicts the front of a two storey Georgian colonial house with a decorative front garden featuring a variety of cloth flowers, birds, two trees, a snake, and a butterfly. It is in a cedar display case that has a plate glass front window divided horizontally near the top by a rail. Bligh is in one of the ground floor windows and there are two soldiers in the other. The two outermost first floor windows have a small figure of a woman in them and the central one contains a boy. When a metal ring on the side of the display case is pulled outwards the two soldiers move from the window to the front door, which has opened, and Bligh disappears. The back of the case is open.

Statement of significance

Sotheby's collection no. 2 comprises a rare folk-art diorama depicting Governor William Bligh's arrest in 1808 by the Militia during the Rum Rebellion in Sydney. The glazed cedar case displays the front of a colonial house and garden with flowers, birds and the figures of Bligh and two soldiers visible in the front windows. A side lever incorporates a simple yet sophisticated mechanism, which causes the soldiers to appear at the front door while Bligh disappears from the window - presumably to hide under a bed.

Dioramas are three-dimensional, full-size or scale models, depicting historical or fictional events, natural or urban scenes, intended to educate or entertain, and achieved their greatest popularity in the 19th century. While the age and provenance of this diorama remain a mystery, it is believed to have been the work of an amateur woodworker or carpenter around the turn of the twentieth century, and is a quirky yet captivating depiction of the arrest of Bligh by allies of pioneering Australian entrepreneur, politician and architect John Macarthur. Bligh, already famous for his earlier overthrow by Bounty mutineers, continued his oppressive style of leadership following his appointment as Governor of New South Wales in 1806. His determination to remove the powers of officers of the New South Wales Corps, who, with John Maccarthur, controlled the colony's rum trade, contributed to the bitter feud with Macarthur and led to his eventual arrest by Major George Johnston in 1808. The story that Bligh was found hiding under a bed is supposed to be untrue but gained enormous popularity and entered popular mythology. At a later enquiry in England, Bligh was cleared of all charges and Johnston was tried and summarily dismissed in 1811. Bligh was promoted to vice-admiral in 1814 and died in London in 1817.

Object information

Back to top