Three Lives in an Age of Empire
The Douglas Stewart Literary Prize for Non-Fiction (2021, Australia)
The Historians of British Art Book Prize (2022, USA)
The NSW Premier’s Prize for General History (2020, Australia)
Shortlisted for the James Tait Black Biography Prize (2021, UK)
Available from Yale University Press.
This book tells the unlikely story of the connections in the eighteenth century between a Cherokee warrior in the southern Appalachians, a Raiatean voyager from the Tahitian archipelago, and the British artist who painted them both. It is a story about the globalizing force of the empire that touched them all, but also of the rich diversity of the 18th-century world.
“Kate Fullagar peers into the soul of the eighteenth century, discovering the shared human challenges that connected three very different men, three faces of the whirling gyre of the British empire. As deep and luminous as a Reynolds portrait, and as wide and wondrous as the Pacific, The Warrior, the Voyager, and the Artist will astonish.”— Jane Kamensky, author of A Revolution in Color: The World of John Singleton Copley
“Fullagar does for biography what Reynolds wanted to do for portraiture—have it speak with the authority and humanity of history. But where he failed, Fullagar brilliantly succeeds.”—Peter Brunt, Victoria University of Wellington
“Deftly combining indigenous studies, postcolonial perspectives, cultural history, and visual studies, Kate Fullagar produces a new portrait of Georgian Britain that is both surprising and entirely convincing.”—Douglas Fordham, University of Virginia
“Spanning three land masses and two oceans, The Warrior, the Voyager, and the Artist exemplifies the very best of the new biography, and is a must read for anyone interested in the cultural history of the British Empire.”— Eliga Gould, author of the Among the Powers of the Earth: The American Revolution and the Making of a New World Empire
“A deftly‑told story of three inter‑connected but very different lives that challenges many of the clichés about the history of the British empire. Fullagar’s account is subtle, persuasive and humane.”—John Brewer, California Institute of Technology
The Yale Press Blog summary of it is here, and an excerpt from Lapham’s Quarterly is here.
A History Today podcast on the characters here, and a History Today summation in print (but behind paywall) is here.
Zara Anishanslin in American Historical Review “…eminently readable…readers will find much to delight as well as intrigue and educate them within Fullagar’s book. Although it is not a global history per se, nor does she call it such, it answers the call of historians to embrace global history more fully, especially when telling the history of the eighteenth-century British Empire.”
Jeff Sparrow in the Sydney Review of Books: “…works in overturning any sense of British imperialism proceeding methodically according to a schema mapped out in advance by London. Later claims about the inevitability of empire emerge more from ideology than the reality of the eighteenth century….Fullagar’s achievement lies in the decentring of an expansionist England, showing its colonists and explorers not simply as agents but also as objects, facing opposition from their own compatriots and repeatedly challenged by the Indigenous people they sought to subdue.”
Padraic Scanlan in Journal of Modern History: “In this cleverly constructed triple biography, of Reynolds and of two men whose portraits he painted (the Cherokee warrior-diplomat Ostenaco and the Ra‘iātean traveler Mai), Fullagar limns the limits of British imperial power in the era of the Seven Years’ War and the American Revolution…As an experiment in biography intended to dislodge Britain from the center of British imperial history, the book succeeds brilliantly.”
Maria Nugent in Australian Journal of Biography and History: “Rather than working from the British imperial centre outwards, the book reverses that direction. Its two distinct parts begin in other imperial contexts where struggles for authority, sovereignty and territory are a feature of local Indigenous politics and which are being made even more complicated by the incursion of British imperial travellers and settlers. In the reconstruction of each man’s life, Fullagar keeps the problem of empire and how we understand it at the forefront… In this regard, Fullagar provides a model for how life stories of Indigenous people can be brought to bear on larger historical issues … The joy here is that book can be read for the interest in the interlocking lives, but its real satisfactions rest on the rich seams of scholarship on which it builds to re-present imperial history with biographic intensity… [A]n intelligent and innovative book that is sure to become a classic.”
Bryan Rindfleisch on H-Net: “Kate Fullagar weaves together a masterful story of three disparate individuals whose paths intersected only briefly in early modern London, but together reveal much about … broader imperial, Atlantic, and Pacific worlds… Altogether, Fullagar challenges historians of the British Empire … to realize a more authentic narrative of empire that includes Indigeneity during the eighteenth century. And she blazes the way forward.”
Shino Konishi (Yawuru) in HistoryAustralia: “In these studies of Ostenaco and Mai, Fullagar’s ambitious whole-of-life approach to biography really shines. Biographers’ and historians’ reliance on written, western sources means that detailed biographical studies of Indigenous figures are particularly challenging and need to be tackled in creative ways lest they uncritically reproduce colonial views….Fullagar’s approach decentres empire from the stories of Ostenaco’s and Mai’s lives….[the book] also offers a compelling new take on the British Empire.”
Robbie Richardson (Mi’kmaw) in Journal of British Studies “If it is an “experiment,” then The Warrior, the Voyager, and the Artist is successful…Fullagar sensitively handles the lives of the Indigenous men, and she resists both tragedy and romance in telling their stories. The British Empire was profoundly damaging for most Indigenous nations, but The Warrior, the Voyager, and the Artist reminds us that people found ways to negotiate and survive in the face of what appeared to be overwhelming force.”
Nicholas Thomas on Inside Story: “The Warrior, the Voyager, and the Artist is imaginatively conceived and engagingly written. It builds on biographic experiments such as those of Natalie Zemon Davis and the historical anthropology of Greg Dening and Anne Salmond, acknowledging that the lives linked by Reynolds’s portraits were not all the same, and not those of “selves” of the modern individualistic sort.”
Jace Weaver (Cherokee) in WMQ: “Fullagar … skillfully pieces together the lives of these two indigenes from fragmentary evidence. She also vividly depicts their wider communities and the world in which they operated … [Her] monograph is pushing back against a moment when nostalgia for empire seems on the rise … Fullagar does not deny the brutality of empire or its pernicious and pervasive effects. She makes clear that it deserves no one’s nostalgia. Hers is a tale—three actually—well told.”
Emma Gattey in FCH: “This powerful biography does far more than narrate three eighteenth century lives. Kate Fullagar historicises the notion of the ‘self’, the concept and conventions of life writing, contemporary societies on opposite sides of the world, and the reception and promulgation of the expansionist British empire…[D]estabilises Eurocentric notions of biography…Fullagar has rendered a stunning work.”
Evan Rothera in Middle Ground Journal: “Ostenaco, Mai, and Reynolds offer three striking examples of the many and varied meanings of empire in the eighteenth-century…This book will certainly work well in graduate seminars …. a deeply researched and well-written example of how New Biography can shed new light on old questions.”
Sophie Forgan on CCS: “Does the author achieve her aims of using these three lives to write a chapter in the history of the British Empire as seen through the experience of the indigenous individuals in question? … the answer is a definitive “yes”. It is well written, with a real sense of biographical narrative and drive, following the travellers on their voyages to Britain, and back to their homeland, and their subsequent lives. There is an acute awareness of indigenous protocols of behaviour, practices and language …”
Peter Hobbins in Signals: “…an extraordinary achievement. Its creative prose is matched by exhaustive research and a generosity of spirit that accords its three protagonists equal validity, volition and voice.”
Paul Giles nominated it as one of his books of 2020: “It uses the interwoven life stories of Sir Joshua Reynolds, Cherokee warrior Ostenaco, and Pacific Islander Mai to challenge drier historical clichés about the British Empire in the eighteenth century.”