This study is concerned with the challenging question of how British geographies of Australia were made in the mid-nineteenth century. It examines the processes and practices that constituted the analysis, movement and use of the enormous amount of information produced by British explorations and surveys of the Australian continent. The study focuses on the period between 1829-1863, when the interior of the continent was explored and settlements expanded at a rapid rate. The study focuses on the roles of the following actors in Great Britain and the Australian colonies: The Colonial Office, official establishments overseen by governors in the colonies, the Royal Geographical Society (RGS) and the cartographer John Arrowsmith (1790–1873). The material examined consists of the official correspondence between the Colonial Office and the governors of the colonies, and other correspondence, printed material, and manuscript and printed maps that were prepared in the Australian colonies and in Great Britain by different actors.
The research is conducted by investigating the processes of knowledge-making with methodological tools used in the history of knowledge and processual map history. These include the analytical tool of ‘circulation’ and examining the processes that constituted the production, movement and use of maps. In practice, the study is conducted by (1) examining the manuscript material (maps, texts) alongside the printed and published material and (2) by examining the material relating to their circulation and use, such as minutes, annotations and marginalia.
In sum, the research findings demonstrate how the snippets of information produced by different individuals gained the power to define the continent by being circulated. These developments, which took place in the mid-nineteenth century, were rooted in the social processes that occurred in different, interconnected locations. The main findings and implications of this study include: (1) The production of British geographies of Australia was a spatio-temporal process, as the location of knowledge-work and the pace at which material became available in different locations influenced the type of knowledge formed by the actors; (2) Geographical knowledge of Australia was achieved through chains of knowledge brokers in different locations. Pieces of information were mediated and transformed in the hands of numerous different actors into geographical knowledge; (3) Intertextuality and multi-modality contributed to the production of geographical knowledge, whereby maps and text had co-constitutive roles in the process; (4) John Arrowsmith was a key individual in the process of mapping Australia. This was due to his strong relationship with the Colonial Office, the RGS and Australian explorers; (5) The processual approach is productive when studying the history of knowledge and this work encourages the use of archival material in order to examine the processes of knowledge-making. This study encourages the further application of this method, especially in relation to studies aiming to understand how knowledge was formed and how structures of knowledge were established in different locations.