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Sketchbook with contents drawn by Oscar, Cooktown boy, aged 18 years

1984.0011.0001

Sketchbook with contents drawn by Oscar, Cooktown boy, aged 18 years

Object information

Physical description

An exercise book with green-black marbled paper on the front and the back covers, and a green fabric spine. A label attached to the front cover reads "Drawn by Oscar. / Cooktown boy / Aged 18 years". It also has a stamp of the Australian Institute of Anatomy in Canberra on it. The sketchbook contains 40 drawings in lead and coloured pencil on lined paper with printed red margins, with a table of contents provided on the first two folios. The drawings include images of indigenous and non indigenous men and women. Several are depictions of ceremonies and hunting animals while others show violent interactions with police. Two drawings show steamboats, while several show images of people in town wearing smart clothing. One page is standing proud from the edge.

Educational significance

This is an exercise book with marbled paper on the front and the back covers, and a green fabric spine. A label attached to the front cover reads 'Drawn by Oscar. / Cooktown boy / Aged 18 years'. The sketchbook contains 40 drawings in lead and coloured pencil on lined paper with printed red margins, with a table of contents provided on the first two folios. This resource is supported by a Flash interactive of the book.

In 1899, Augustus Henry Glissan, the manager of Rocklands Station, near Camooweal in far North Queensland, posted a small blue-lined notebook to family friend Charles Bage, a medical practitioner in Melbourne. Inscribed on the book's front cover were the words 'Drawn by Oscar, Cooktown boy, aged 18 years'. Glissan obtained Oscar in 1887 from the police at Cooktown, when Oscar was about 9 or 10 years old. The police brought him by steamer to the Gulf of Carpentaria, where he was given to Glissan, before making the long return journey to Rocklands on horseback.

Glissan's index gives titles to all the sketches, briefly describing and locating them. The drawings appear to present an autobiographical account of Oscar's life. Nearly half are concerned with the Palmer River goldfields area around Maytown and Cooktown. The drawings depict both the traditional life of the Indigenous tribesmen, especially ceremonies and fight scenes, and the interchange between the different cultures: Aboriginal, European and Chinese. The remaining drawings illustrate aspects of Oscar's life after he was taken to Rocklands. This series may also include stories that Oscar heard from stockmen around the campfire, including graphic depictions of the brutality of the Queensland Native Police force.

Oscar's life was perhaps typical for his time and place. The disruptions and violence caused to traditional Indigenous life by the Palmer River gold rush in 1873 led to dispossession from his tribal lands, either by being orphaned or stolen from his family. Obtained by Glissan as a 'boy' or stockman to work at Rocklands, Oscar was forced to adapt to a completely different way of life. What is unique in Oscar's story is that he was encouraged to tell his life in drawings, and equally remarkable is the fact that his small volume has been preserved.

Object information

When

  • Date of use

  • 1898
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  • Date sketchbook was given to Oscar by Augustus Glissan, manager of Rocklands Station

  • Date acquired by donor

  • 1899
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  • Date sketchbook sent to Charles Bage at Institute of Anatomy from Augustus Glissan

Where

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