The Last Indigenous Tasmanian

Truganini lived through the mass killing of Indigenous Tasmanians

In her lifetime she watched her people massacred, her mother killed by sailors, her uncle shot by soldiers, her sister abducted by sealers and her fiancé brutally murdered by timber cutters.

She was raped and exiled with one hundred other indigenous Tasmanians.

On this day in 1876 Truganini, the last full-blooded speaker of the Tasmanian language died. Born in 1812, she was witness to British invasion and colonisation. She watched her home cleared and farmed by the invading settlers.

Truganini in 1870

Image: Truganini in 1870, Wikipedia

Daughter of an elder, she was just seventeen when her family was killed in the 1830s ‘Black War’. The Black War claimed the lives 900 Indigenous Australians, all but annihilating the island’s indigenous population.

The fighting was so widespread and brutal that George Augustus Robinson a builder and untrained preacher was appointed to find the 300 remaining indigenous Tasmanians and relocate them to a nearby island for their “protection.”

He feigned friendship with Truganini and her father, convincing them that he could protect them.

Robinson promised the indigenous people food, housing, blankets and most importantly that they could return to their home occasionally. Truganini recognised that this may be the only chance for her people’s survival and so agreed to help Robinson move the remaining indigenous Tasmania’s to the island.

Truganini also saved Robinson from being speared and from drowning.

In 1835, nearly all the indigenous Australians agreed to move to the Wybalenna settlement on Flinders Island. They trusted this would be their temporary home but the island turned into a prison. Many died from sickness. Truganini saw that her people were slowly dying and actively tried to stop anyone else from migrating to the Island.

The Indigenous Tasmanians were forced to live in their Flinders Island prison, until 1847 when the last 45 Indigenous Australians were moved to an abandoned settlement in Oyster Cove, Tasmania. Conditions were even worse for the surviving indigenous Australians. The Times covered the story in 1861:

“14 persons, all adults, aboriginals of Tasmania, who are the sole surviving remnant of ten tribes. Nine of these persons are women and five are men. There are among them four married couples, and four of the men and five of the women are under 45 years of age, but no children have been born to them for years. It is considered difficult to account for this... Besides these 14 persons, there is a native woman who is married to a white man, and who has a son, a fine healthy-looking child..."

The article: The ‘Decay of Race’, tells of how the remaining 14 were housed, fed and "much addicted to drinking.”

Truganini died in 1876 aged 64. Before her death she pleaded with authorities to let her be cremated, so her body would not exhumed for scientific purposes. Against her wishes, she was buried and her body was exhumed two years later by the Royal Society of Tasmania and placed on display.

It wasn’t till 1976, a century after her death that she was taken down and cremated. Truganini is remembered as a gentle spirit in a brutal time. Her courage and perseverance during Australia’s darkest and most violent history is a testament to her and she deserves to be remembered.

Header: Truganini, seated right, Wikipedia

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