View of seated sovereign with attendants. Significant not as an objects in itself, but rather what it represents, this plaster cast of the Great Seal of England represents the recognition of the country’s Aboriginal inhabitants and their continued rights to the land by King William IV (reigned 1831-37). This was the first time Aboriginal rights had been granted in Australia’s colonial history. Attached to the Letters Patent signed 19 February 1836, the seal authorised the establishment of the South Australian province, which was to be erected on unoccupied lands fit for the purposes of colonisation:
“Provided always, that nothing in these our letters patent contained shall affect or be construed to affect the rights of any Aboriginal Natives of the said Province to the actual occupation or enjoyment in their own Persons or in the Persons of their Descendants of any Lands therein now actually occupied or enjoyed by such Natives.”
Colonisation of the new province of South Australia proceeded with little regard for the words of the Letters Patent relating to Aboriginal rights to land, and over time its Aboriginal inhabitants were progressively dispossessed. In the twenty-first century, the Letters Patent is a source of discussion and controversy, some Aboriginal groups arguing that the document, and its Sovereign seal, conferred and recognised rights on Aboriginal inhabitants which survive, despite the actions of the colonists.