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"A woman of New South Wales cureing the head ache"

Artist: Port Jackson Painter
Created: [between 1788 and 1797]
Dimensions: 21.7 x 34.2 cm
Reference: Watling Drawing - no. 62


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Aborignal woman engaged in the act of healing a child. The two figures are seated on an irregularly shaped pale yellow rock in front of a stretch of water which is represented by a blue gradated wash overlaid with short horizontal grey brush marks. There is a headland to the right and an island on the horizon to the left. The woman is sitting on her right with her legs drawn up, holding a piece of string between her teeth and causing her gums to bleed, creating a pool of blood on the rock in front of her. The other end of the string is tied around the head of the child who sits in profile to the left of the picture, facing the woman. Both figures have black jaw-length hair, and brown skin with black marks representing cicatrices on their upper arms and chests. The sky behind them is largely unpainted except for a pink stain on the horizon and patches of blue wash towards the top. The drawing is framed by a double-banded border, with the inner band coloured with black ink. It is annotated in brown ink outside the frame.


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  • Port Jackson Painter]
  • The drawing is inscribed in blue pencil at top right with the number "71", which refers to the pre-1984 numbering system for the Watling Collection.
  • The drawing is annotated in brown ink at bottom "A woman of New south wales cureing the head ache, The blood which she takes from her own gums she supposes comes along the string from the part affected in the patient. This operation they call" followed in paler ink and what may be a different hand "Bee-an-mee".
  • The drawing is unsigned and undated.
  • The subject matter is also represented in the Port Jackson Collection drawing number 45. A contemporary account of the Aboriginal belief in this form of healing and an example involving Abaroo is given by Watkin Tench in his Complete Account of the Settlement at Port Jackson, originally published in 1793. (ref. Flannery, Tim Ed). 1788: Watkin Tench. The Text Publishing Company, Melbourne, 1996, p.250-1.)
  • The author of this catalogue record is Suzanne Stenning.
  • By permission of the trustees of the Natural History Museum (London).
  • Two sets of transparencies held in the Natural History Museum (London) Zoology Library and Picture Library: Picture Library order number 12062
  • James Lee of Kensington : purchased ; 1902
  • Data sheet available.
  • Wheeler, A. and Smith, B, (eds.) The Art of the First Fleet and other early Australian Drawings. New Haven and London, Yale University Press, 1988. (Plate 27, p. 39.)