Author's abstract: George Augustus Robinson, the 'Great Conciliator', conducted one of the most high profile and subsequently notorious experiments with indigenous people in the nineteenth-century British Empire. His 'removal' of Tasmanian Aborigines from the settler-dominated main island was well known at the time: celebrated by many as the most efficacious resolution to frontier conflict, even as it was criticized by (some) liberal commentators. Robinson was acutely aware of himself as an actor on the imperial stage, boasting in his diary on 3 September 1832 that, 'By taking the whole [group of Aborigines] I gain not only the reward but also celebrity' (Friendly Mission). As Patrick Brantlinger argues, colonial, American, European and British commentators were acutely interested in the fate of indigenous peoples when they encountered white, Western civilization: the Tasmanian genocide (as it was known) 'offered a moral and political lesson in how the progress of empire and civilization could be badly botched'.
Ideas about Robinson and his 'mission' to the Tasmanian Aborigines have circulated in popular culture and art since the 1830s. A variety of mechanisms have kept Robinson in the popular imagination. Benjamin Duterrau's portrait of Robinson in 'The Conciliation' memorably pictures a soft-faced Briton surrounded by his Aboriginal 'charges', but colonial and imperial commentators positioned Robinson equally often within the racial science of high imperialism. Alongside such representations, Robinson and the Tasmanian Aborigines were envisioned by popular newspapers, pamphleteers and writers in the Victorian economy's commodification of Empire. These imaginings of Robinson were as vigorous in the imperial centres as in the colonies, and have continued to be so. Twentieth-century authors - from Robert Drewe, to Mudrooroo, to Matthew Kneale, to Stephen Scheding and Nicholas Shakespeare - seem compelled to re-imagine Robinson's story. This paper examines Robinson's colonial celebrity and its postcolonial aftermath through theories of mass media and celebrity.