Culture and heritage


Medallion of 1789

Wedgewood's Etruria or Sydney Cove medallion of 1789, inspiration for Great Seal of New South Wales issued in 1790


This medallion commemorated the landing of the First Fleet in New South Wales in January 1788, and was made from white clay dug in Sydney Cove and sent by Governor Phillip to Sir Joseph Banks. The design, with its four classical figures, inspired the composition of the first Great Seal of NSW approved by King George III in 1790 (Gullick 1907: 31).

When Governor Phillip sent the clay to Sir Joseph Banks he wrote that this was the clay ...with which the Natives mark themselves, it is found in great plenty, a few feet below the surface ... the people use it to cover their Houses. Banks in turn sent the clay to his friend Josiah Wedgwood, who made a series of medallions marking the founding of the colony. The design shows `Hope encouraging Art and Labour under the influence of Peace, to pursue the employments necessary to give security and happiness to an infant colony'.

The medallions were made at Wedgwood's pottery at Etruria in Warwickshire, England. The pottery was named Etruria after the Etruscans of pre-Roman Italy who, in late 18th and early 19th century Europe, were romanticised and idealised as unspoilt by Greek or Roman civilization, living in harmony with nature. These pre-Imperial Etruscans were compared to the indigenous peoples of New South Wales and the Pacific Islands, who were called by the French philosopher Rousseau (among others) "Noble Savages" in allusion to the supposed similarities of their lifestyles with the those of the idealised Etruscans.

Some questions to research:

  1. Who were the Etruscans and how did understandings of them change over the 18th and 19th centuries?
  2. What other observations were made of the symbols and emblems used by the Aboriginal people in the Sydney area during the 1790s?

Image Source: State Library of NSW, Digital a928587 State Library of NSW, Picman

Page last updated: 01 September 2012