The wreck of the George the Third depicts the aftermath of the shipwreck in 1835 of the George the Third off the coast of Tasmania. Following a four-month voyage from London and bound for Hobart, the 35-metre convict transport ship entered D’Entrecasteaux Channel on the evening of 12 April 1835. Less than 200 kilometres from its destination, the ship struck submerged rock and in the catastrophe that followed 127 of the 220 convicts on board died.1 Survivors’ accounts said the ship’s crew fired their weapons at convicts who, in a state of panic, attempted to break from their confines as the vessel went down.
Painted by convict-artist Knut Bull, this image is dominated by a huge sky, with the broken George the Third dwarfed by the expanse. Waves continue to crash over the decks of the ship, while a few figures in the foreground attempt to salvage cargo and supplies. This is a seascape that evokes trepidation and anxiety. The small figures contribute to the feeling of human vulnerability when faced with the extremities of nature.
In 1845 Norwegian-born Knut Bull was tried in London Central Criminal Court for the attempted forgery of a 100-dollar Norwegian bill. He was sentenced to fourteen years transportation and arrived in Norfolk Island in 1846. After nine months Bull was transferred to the Saltwater River probation station in Van Diemen’s Land. From 1849 he was permitted to work as an artist in the colony under a certificate of general good conduct and by 1853 had received a conditional pardon. He went on to work as a professional painter and teacher and relocated to New South Wales in 1856.
1 Michael Roe, An Imperial disaster: the wreck of George the Third, Hobart: Blubber Head Press, 2006, p. 12.