Tasmanians - History - After European Settlement - Resettlement of The Indigenous Population

Resettlement of The Indigenous Population

In late 1831 George Augustus Robinson, a Christian missionary, brought the first 51 Aboriginals to a settlement on Flinders Island named The Lagoons, which turned out to be inadequate as it was exposed to gales, had little water and no land suitable for cultivation. Supplies to the settlement were inadequate and if sealers had not supplied potatoes, the Aboriginal people would have starved. The Europeans were living on oatmeal and potatoes while the Aboriginal people, who detested oatmeal and refused to eat it, survived on potatoes and rice supplemented by mutton birds they caught. Within months 31 Aboriginal people had died.

"They were lodged at night in shelters or "breakwinds." These "breakwinds" were thatched roofs sloping to the ground, with an opening at the top to let out the smoke, and closed at the ends, with the exception of a doorway. They were twenty feet long by ten feet wide. In each of these from twenty to thirty blacks were lodged ... To savages accustomed to sleep naked in the open air beneath the rudest shelter, the change to close and heated dwellings tended to make them susceptible, as they had never been in their wild state, to chills from atmospheric changes, and was only too well calculated to induce those severe pulmonary diseases which were destined to prove so fatal to them. The same may be said of the use of clothes ... At the settlement they were compelled to wear clothes, which they threw off when heated or when they found them troublesome, and when wetted by rain allowed them to dry on their bodies. In the case of Tasmanians, as with other wild tribes accustomed to go naked, the use of clothes had a most mischievous effect on their health.

By January 1832 a further 44 captured Aboriginals had arrived and conflicts arose between the tribal groups. To defuse the situation, Sergeant Wight took the Big River group to Green island, where they were abandoned and he later decided to move the rest to Green Island as well. Two weeks later Robinson arrived with Lieutenant Darling, the new commander for the station, and moved the Aboriginal people back to The Lagoons. Darling ensured a supply of plentiful food and permitted "hunting excursions." In October 1832, it was decided to build a new camp with better buildings (wattle and daub) at a more suitable location, Pea Jacket Point. Pea Jacket Point was renamed Civilisation Point but became more commonly known as Wybalenna, which in the Ben Lomond language meant "Blackman's Houses".

Robinson befriended Truganini, learned some of the local language and in 1833 managed to persuade the remaining 154 "full-blooded" people to move to the new settlement on Flinders Island, where he promised a modern and comfortable environment, and that they would be returned to their former homes on the Tasmanian mainland as soon as possible. At the Wybalenna Aboriginal establishment on Flinders Island, described by historian Henry Reynolds as the "best equipped and most lavishly staffed Aboriginal institution in the Australian colonies in the nineteenth century", they were provided with housing, clothing, rations of food, the services of a doctor and educational facilities. Convicts were assigned to build housing and do most of the work at the settlement including the growing of food in the vegetable gardens. After arrival, all Aboriginal children aged between six and 15 years were removed from their families to be brought up by the storekeeper and a lay preacher. The Aboriginal people were free to roam the island and were often absent from the settlement for extended periods on hunting trips as the rations supplied turned out to be inadequate. By 1835 the living conditions had deteriorated to the extent that in October Robinson personally took charge of Wybalenna, organising better food and improving the housing. However, of the 220 who arrived with Robinson, most died in the following 14 years from introduced disease and inadequate shelter. As a result of their loss of freedom, the birth rate was extremely low and few children survived infancy.

In 1839, Governor Franklin appointed a board to inquire into the conditions at Wybalenna that rejected Robinson's claims regarding improved living conditions and found the settlement to be a failure. The report was never released and the government continued to promote Wybalenna as a success in the treatment of Aboriginal people. In March 1847 six Aboriginals at Wybalenna presented a petition to Queen Victoria, the first petition to a reigning monarch from any Aboriginal group in Australia, requesting that the promises made to them be honoured. In October 1847, the 47 survivors were transferred to their final settlement at Oyster Cove station. Only 44 survived the trip (11 couples, 12 single men and 10 children) and the children were immediately sent to the orphan school in Hobart. Although the housing and food was better than Wybalenna, the station was a former convict station that had been abandoned earlier that year due to health issues as it was located on inadequately drained mudflats. According to the guards, the Aboriginal people developed "too much independence" by trying to continue their culture which they considered "recklessness" and "rank ingratitude." Their numbers continued to diminish, being estimated in 1859 at around a dozen and, by 1869, there was only one, who died in 1876.

Commenting in 1899 on Robinson's claims of success, anthropologist Henry Ling Roth wrote:

While Robinson and others were doing their best to make them into a civilised people, the poor blacks had given up the struggle, and were solving the difficult problem by dying. The very efforts made for their welfare only served to hasten on their inevitable doom. The white man's civilisation proved scarcely less fatal than the white man's musket.

Read more about this topic:  Tasmanians, History, After European Settlement

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