About the NGV
National Gallery of Victoria

Exiles and Emigrants
Education Resource


For Educators

Exhibition overview

During the reign of Queen Victoria (1837--1901) almost fifteen million people left the British Isles in search of a better life. Almost one and three quarter million came to Australia. The emigrants’ ranks were increased by people fleeing the potato famine in Ireland, the agricultural revolution in England and the Highland clearances in Scotland.

The exhibition includes paintings, prints and drawings about leaving home, the voyage and arrival in the new land. Several objects are also shown including letters, a Royal Pardon, a handmade quilt, a board game, and girl’s overshoes from the new colony, relics from ship wrecks, drawings and newspaper articles.

The art works concerning leaving home emotionally describe the many reasons families and in some cases whole villages chose to leave, and include poverty, the threat of ill health, land clearances and the potato famine. The scenes depicting the last farewells within families communicate the difficult choices people had to make.

The art works about the voyage reveal the challenges the emigrants faced as they undertook the long journey, and include the potential for shipwreck, the lack of fresh food and water and the risk of disease, how different classes of emigrants occupied their days to overcome the boredom of the long journey, and the importance of the family. Several of the arrival images illustrate the grand three and four masted clipper ships anchored in harbours and at piers in Sydney and Melbourne. The concept of the pioneer is established in the final group of paintings as the new arrivals travelled into the bush, some in search of gold and a new life. The significance of the mail cannot be underestimated; many artists chose to portray the receiving of mail both from the homeland and in the new colony. These letters document the life of the times and communicate again the importance of staying connected to family.

Exiles and Emigrants presents the story of people who left their homeland, undertook the difficult sea journey and became pioneers in the new land.


The Victorian Essential Learning Standards

This resource is based on the new Victorian curriculum structure. The following chart identifies how the curriculum activities relate across strands, domains and specific dimensions. Teachers need to select the appropriate levels relevant to their school and curriculum.





Physical, Personal and Social Learning

Civics and Citizenship

Civic knowledge and understanding

Community engagement

Discipline based Learning

The Arts

Creating and making

Exploring and responding




Speaking and listening


Humanities( Geography )

Geographical knowledge and understanding


Humanities ( History)

Historical knowledge and understanding

Historical reasoning and interpretation.

Interdisciplinary Learning


Listening, viewing and responding



Reasoning, processing and inquiry.

Reflection, evaluation and metacognition.

To reflect the new approaches towards the thinking curriculum and the Victorian Essential Learning Standards questions have been designed for levels 4 and 5. These encourage focussed observation of images, visual analysis and require reasoning and higher order thinking. The resource can be used online or downloaded. Students are encouraged to carefully observe the paintings and objects, read the text and discuss the questions. Questions can be modified where necessary.


Preliminary discussion – levels 4 & 5

Extension program – level 4

Extension program – level 5


NGV: Art like never before