Barron Field in New South Wales: The Poetics of Terra NulliusThomas H Ford
What does the first poetry in Australia, written by the Judge who declared the land terra nullius, tell us about the singular nature of colonialism here? On 24 February 1817, Barron Field sailed into Sydney Harbour on the convict transport Lord Melville to a ceremonial thirteen-gun salute. He was there as the new Judge of the Supreme Court of Civil Judicature in New South Wales - the highest legal authority in the turbulent colony. Energetic and gregarious, Field immediately set about impressing his vision of a future Australia as a liberal and prosperous nation. He courted the colony's leading figures, engaged in scientific research and even founded Australia's first bank. He also wrote poetry- in 1819, he published First Fruits of Australian Poetry, the first book of poems ever printed in the country. In England, Field had been the theatre critic for The Times, and a friend of such major Romantic writers as William Wordsworth, Charles Lamb and Leigh Hunt. In New South Wales, he saw the chance to become a major figure himself, someone who could shape culture and society in enduring ways. Founding Australian poetry was part of that ambition; so too was law. Asked to determine whether Governor Macquarie had authority to impose taxes in the colony, Field issued a fateful judgement that established, for the first time, what is now called terra nullius. This book is an extraordinary reconstruction of the circumstances and implications of Field's actions in New South Wales using an original and revealing method- the close reading of his poetry.