Illustration of 19th-century Australian convict tattoos. art illustration convict Australia historical

Tattooing Goes Way, Way Back in Australia

Tattoos have been a part of Australia's history since the Tasmanian convict era of the early 19th century.

Powerton in Stories

It turns out that tattoos have been around in Australia for an incredibly long time. This is what Simon Barnard has unearthed through rigorous historical research into documents from early to mid 19th-century Tasmania and recently published in his book, Convict Tattoos: Marked Men and Women of Australia. This intrepid tome of pictorial history delves into the complicated past of what was then know as "Van Dieman's Land" by using tattoos as it's focal-point. 

Ross Howerton
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Head shot of the book's author, Simon Barnard. Australia convicts history SimonBarnard tattoos
Head shot of the book's author, Simon Barnard. #Australia #convicts #history #SimonBarnard #tattoos

Barnard is an illustrator, writer, and collector of historical artifacts, who specializes in Tasmanian history. He also recently published a children's book titled A-Z of Convicts in Van Diemen’s Land, which won the Eve Pownall Award for Information Books in 2015. 

Ross Howerton
From Tattoodo App
The hardcover edition of the book with fun and educational promotional materials. Australia convicts history SimonBarnard tattoos
The hardcover edition of the book with fun and educational promotional materials. #Australia #convicts #history #SimonBarnard #tattoos

The book is currently available from Penguin Australia in hardcover, and it even comes with temporary tattoos that mimic some of the popular iconography that convicts had tattooed on them during that time period.

Ross Howerton
From Tattoodo App
Amazing circular graph from Barnard's book that illustrates percentages of tattoo imagery from the convict era in Tasmania. Australia convicts history SimonBarnard tattoos
Amazing circular graph from Barnard's book that illustrates percentages of tattoo imagery from the convict era in Tasmania. #Australia #convicts #history #SimonBarnard #tattoos

The book is full of interesting facts and compelling visuals. Take the one above, for instance, that visualizes the percentages of certain tattoo motifs that were popular among the convicted deportees. What's incredible is that photography didn't exist for the majority of Western Australia's convict era, so most of this information comes from official records that detailed features of the convicts down to the ink on their skin. 

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Ross Howerton
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Centuries-old paper from Australia that depicts an anchor tattoo design. It's amazing Barnard was able to piece together this book given the condition of historical artifacts like this one. Australia convicts history SimonBarnard tattoos
Centuries-old paper from Australia that depicts an anchor tattoo design. It's amazing Barnard was able to piece together this book given the condition of historical artifacts like this one. #Australia #convicts #history #SimonBarnard #tattoos

Though all of Barnard's findings are interesting, they collectively point to a greater possibility, one that has major implications for the history of tattoos: Australians were likely the most heavily-tattooed English-speaking population of the 19th century. This book will likely forever change the way historians view the worldwide diaspora of tattoos.  

If you're interested in learning more about this fascinating subject, consider ordering a copy of the book for yourself, and keep a lookout for future publications by Barnard, especially if they're related to tattoos.

Powerton

@Ross Howerton

Originally from Oklahoma. BA in literary studies from The New School. MFA in creative writing from New Mexico State University. English teacher, published poet, and writer for Tattoodo. I love art, books, movies, music, and video games.

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