I’m reading an incredible book by Richard Dawkins at the moment called ‘The Ancestors Tale : A Pilgrimage to the Dawn of Evolution’, a scientific journey back through time from our present Homo sapiens sapiens point of view through all our consestors (nice term Richard) meeting other forms of life also moving backwards in their own journeys and meeting us at various evolutionary branching points. In the farmer’s tale I discovered a little bit of Tasmanian history and this posting is dedicated to mostly to Tasmania and Truganini.
Tasmania is an island located to the South East of Australia, separated from it by about 200 km of water known as the Bass Strait. Tasmania was joined to the mainland until the end of the most recent ice age (10-14,000 years ago) when it became cut off completely and it’s local populace, fauna and flora began their own journey forwards to modern times. The indigenous population of Tasmania were the Tasmanian Aboriginals, a group numbering between 5,000 and 10,000 people until the time of British settlement of Australia around 1803.
In 1642, Dutch explorer Abel Tasman named the island Anthoonij van Diemenslandt after his sponsor, governor of the Dutch East Indies. Later Captain James Cook shortened the name to Van Diemens Land. The island was first settled by the British in 1803, their main concern at the time, rather like a ridiculous game of Risk, was preventing the French from claiming it. Early settlers were mainly convicts and their guards sent for the purpose of developing industry and agriculture on the island. By 1833, through a combination of genocide and disease, the population Aboriginal population had dwindled to a mere 300. The Black War refers to a period in the early 1800’s of conflict (genocide is not a comfortable term) between British colonialists and Aboriginals that resulted in the near obliteration of the local indigenous inhabitants. In 1830, Lieutenant-Govenor George Arthur called upon every able-bodied male colonist, convict or free to form a human chain sweeping across the settled districts moving South East for several weeks in an attempt to corral the Aborigines on the Tasman Peninsula, this event is known as the Black Line.
George Augustus Robinson, a builder and untrained preacher, was called in during the 1830’s to mount a “friendly mission” to the 300 remaining aboriginals in an attempt to repatriate them to the camp of Wybalenna on Finder’s Island (a tiny island in the Bass Strait 20 km off the North Eastern Tip of Tasmania). Robinson befriended Truganini and succeeded in forging a relocation agreement with the remaining aborigines with promises of food, shelter, housing and freedom from persecution. By the end of 1835 nearly all remaining aborigines had been moved to Finder’s Island. Soon after their relocation, the beloved preacher George A. Robinson ended his relationship with the aborigines and conditions on Finder’s island deteriorated to something more akin to prison camp conditions, however noble his initial intentions were, Mr. Robinson’s abandonment of the last remaining aborigines casts a black stain over his role in Australian history.
Truganini was born in 1812 on Bruny Island, south of Hobart. She was the daughter of Mangana – chief of the Bruny Island people. before she was eighteen years old her mother was murdered by whale hunters, her first fiance died saving her from abduction and in 1828, her two sisters Lowhenunhue and Maggerleede were abducted and sold into slavery.
In 1856, Truganini and the last few remaining aborigines were moved to Oyster Cove and by 1873, she was the sole survivor, the last remaining indigenous aboriginal of Tasmania
She died alone in Hobart on the 8th May 1876. Two years later her remains were exhumed and put on display. It was only in April 1976 on the centenary of her death that her remains were cremated and her ashes scattered in the D’Entrecasteaux Channel according to her wishes.
Here is a picture of this brave lady a few years before her death, she was someone who witnessed the genocide of everything and everyone she knew – the loss of her entire world.
She should not be forgotten.
“We must remember what ruthless and utter destruction out own species has wrought, not only upon animals such as the vanished bison and dodo, but also upon its own inferior races. The Tasmanians, in spite of their human likeness, were entirely swept out of existence in a war of extermination waged by European immigrants, in the space of fifty years.”
H.G.Wells, Preface to War of the Worlds.