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.
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.
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.
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.
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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.
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.