Skip to Main Content
Have library access? Log in through your library
Henry Prinsep’s Empire

Henry Prinsep’s Empire

Malcolm Allbrook
Copyright Date: 2014
Published by: ANU Press
  • Cite this Item
  • Book Info
    Henry Prinsep’s Empire
    Book Description:

    Henry Prinsep is known as Western Australia’s first Chief Protector of Aborigines in the colonial government of Sir John Forrest, a period which saw the introduction of oppressive laws that dominated the lives of Aboriginal people for most of the twentieth century. But he was also an artist, horse-trader, member of a prominent East India Company family, and everyday citizen, whose identity was formed during his colonial upbringing in India and England. As a creator of Imperial culture, he supported the great men and women of history while he painted, wrote about and photographed the scenes around him. In terms of naked power he was a middle man, perhaps even a small man. His empire is an intensely personal place, a vast network of family and friends from every quarter of the British imperial world, engaged in the common tasks of making a home and a career, while framing new identities, new imaginings and new relationships with each other, indigenous peoples and fellow colonists. This book traces Henry Prinsep’s life from India to Western Australia and shows how these texts and images illuminate not only Prinsep the man, but the affectionate bonds that endured despite the geographic bounds of empire, and the historical, social, geographic and economic origins of Aboriginal and colonial relationships which are important to this day.

    eISBN: 978-1-925021-61-5
    Subjects: History, Language & Literature, Linguistics

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
  3. Dedication
    (pp. vii-viii)
  4. Acknowledgments
    (pp. ix-x)
    Malcolm Allbrook
  5. Biographical Sketches of the Family of Henry Charles Prinsep (1844–1922)
    (pp. xi-xx)

    Born Newton Regis 1746; died London 1831; married Sophia Auriol in Calcutta, January 1783; eight sons and four daughters, and at least four illegitimate children, probably to Indian women. John lived in Calcutta between 1770 and 1788, and made a fortune from diverse business interests, including indigo, chintz and copper. Back in London, he established a trading and shipping company, Prinsep and Saunders, and was involved with other imperial projects, including the Sierra Leone Company. Prinsep was elected member for Queensborough in the House of Commons for one term in 1802. He bought properties in Leadenhall St, London, adjacent to...

  6. 1. Introduction An Imperial Man and His Archive
    (pp. 1-26)

    This book is a biography of Henry Charles Prinsep (1844–1922), colonial civil servant, artist, photographer, member of Western Australia’s social and cultural elite, and family man. More cogently, it is about a remarkable archive, the orderly mind that put it together, and the drive to record, in words and pictures, life in the Western Australian colony and connections throughout the wider imperial world. It is a collection that spans generations and geographic spaces, incorporating a family heritage going back to the Hastings era of the East India Company in Calcutta, to positions of influence in London business networks and...

  7. 2. Images of an Imperial Family
    (pp. 27-80)

    Henry Prinsep grew up in an England far removed from India, but in an environment dominated by his famous family’s Indian background, by tales of heroism and service to the Empire, of fortunes made and lost in the raucous environment of old Calcutta, the ‘city of palaces’, of family mysteries, early death, illness and tragedy.¹ Most of the adults in his extended family had spent the large part of their lives in India, and his childhood was nurtured by adventures from an earlier era of his grandparents John and Sophia Prinsep (née Auriol, 1760-1850), and the tales of his surviving...

  8. 3. An Anglo-Indian Community in Britain
    (pp. 81-116)

    By the time of his departure for the colonies in January 1866, Henry Prinsep had spent most of his life in Britain, but had grown up with the knowledge that his adulthood was likely to take him overseas, to India or another colony, such as Western Australia or Tasmania, where his father owned substantial estates. At the age of 21, he assumed that his departure would be temporary, and that he would soon return to London to take up his chosen career as an artist after securing his financial future and that of his younger siblings, Annie, Louisa, May and...

  9. 4. Indian Ocean Connections
    (pp. 117-144)

    The last part of Henry Prinsep’s voyage to Fremantle, Western Australia, which was devoid of port facilities to cope with modern steamships, was bound to be dull and possibly dangerous. ‘I had the spirit of adventure upon me’, he recalled, so rather than take a more comfortable voyage via Mauritius to the deep-water harbor at King George’s Sound, he embarked on the 141 ton sailing ship, ‘David & Jessie’, with ‘an immense box of tasty food, and much wine to comfort me on this hazardous trip’.¹ The next month was a time of almost exquisite boredom, ‘an idle, slow and...

  10. 5. Meeting Aboriginal people
    (pp. 145-182)

    By marrying into the Bussell family, Henry Prinsep became part of a nascent colonial elite with substantial land holdings throughout the south-west of the new colony. In March 1830, soon after the establishment of the Swan River Colony, four Bussell brothers had arrived onThe Warrior,accompanied by Captain John and Georgiana Molloy, expecting to be granted land in the vicinity of Perth and Fremantle. With most of the good land allocated, they soon left for the outpost of Augusta on the south-western tip of the continent, where they were granted land in the heavily forested Blackwood River region. In...

  11. 6. ‘Stationed but not sedentary’
    (pp. 183-198)

    InThe People of Perth,Tom Stannage portrays 1870s Perth as an ordered, conservative and insular community, in which social life emanated from the Governor’s establishment and politics was ‘the prerogative of the Imperial officialdom, the landed gentry, and the leading town merchants’.¹ Prinsep’s place in the colonial society, and his interest in its social institutions and attitudes to those excluded from Perth’s elite social life, illuminates the manner by which, to use David Cannadine’s terms, settler colonialists sought to ‘replicate the layered, ordered, hierarchical society they believed they had left behind at home’, establishing and patronizing the same institutions...

  12. 7. ‘Received into the very best society’
    (pp. 199-236)

    After the rigours of life on the land, Henry Prinsep settled into a career in the Department of Lands and Surveys, applying his technical and drafting skills to the tasks of allocating, managing and cataloguing a steadily-expanding colonial estate. ‘The work is what I like’, he wrote to Annie in April 1874:

    I have a very large table for my own use, high up and fitted for plan drawing, a shaded window in front of it and colours, mathematical instruments … here I am stationed but not sedentary. We … are in charge of the multitudinous charts, plans, tracings, documents...

  13. 8. Chief Protector of Aborigines
    (pp. 237-270)

    Henry Prinsep took up the role of Western Australia’s first Chief Protector of Aborigines anticipating a change from the unrelenting grind of the Mines Department, but soon realised the job would place him in the midst of fraught political battles over the colony’s indigenous populations. His first parliamentary master, Premier John Forrest, had an active interest in the portfolio and wanted the job done as he determined. A self-proclaimed expert on Aboriginal matters, Forrest believed that governments should intervene only in the most extreme cases of mistreatment or poverty. It was his conviction that Aboriginal people were, in any case,...

  14. 9. ‘Move slowly in a difficult matter’
    (pp. 271-286)

    After six months in the job, Prinsep presented his first annual report to Forrest. His efforts to establish a colony-wide system of ration distribution had made him conscious of matters which urgently demanded the government’s attention. He described the situation of Aboriginal people throughout the colony as ‘moribund’, and noted that, ‘though there are a good many natives working for the settlers’, there were ‘very few young men’ working on the farms and station.¹ As colonisation spread throughout the land area of Western Australia, more and more Aboriginal people were displaced from their lands and forced into relationships with European...

  15. 10. A ‘southern home’
    (pp. 287-298)

    Prinsep’s trip to Britain in 1908 was the first time he had been home since his departure as a 21-year-old in 1866, the first time he had seen his sisters, Annie, Louisa and May, and his brother, Jim, all together since they were young people.¹ His diaries over a 12-month stay record his joy at being once again amongst family members and old friends. Re-united with his cousin, Sir Henry Thoby Prinsep, recently retired after a career in the Indian colonial judiciary of 27 years, he was given a ‘very cordial reception’, and spent hours reminiscing about their shared childhoods...

  16. Bibliography
    (pp. 299-338)
  17. Index
    (pp. 339-344)