The story of Truganini: one of the last full blooded Aboriginal Tasmanians (Palawa)




File:Truganini and last 4 tasmanian aborigines.jpg

Truganini, seated right



Truganini (c. 1812 – 8 May 1876) was a woman widely considered to have been the last full-blooded Aboriginal Tasmanian, although she was outlived by Fanny Cochrane Smith (1834–1905).

Truganini (Trugernanner)
Truganini in 1870.
Bornc. 1812
Died8 May 1876 (aged 63–64)
Hobart, Tasmania, Australia
Other namesTruganini, Trucanini, Trucaninny, and Lallah Rookh "Trugernanner"
Known forLast surviving full-blooded Aboriginal Tasmanian[citation needed] and terminal speaker of the Nuenonne language[citation needed]

There are a number of other spellings of her name, including Trugernanner, Trugernena, Truganina, Trugannini, Trucanini, Trucaminni,[a] and Trucaninny.[b] Truganini was also widely known by the nickname Lalla(h) Rookh.[a]

Early life

Location of Bruny Island (shaded pink) near Tasmania

Truganini was born about 1812[2] on Bruny Island (Lunawanna-alonnah), located south of the Van Diemen's Land capital Hobart and separated from the Tasmanian mainland by the D'Entrecasteaux Channel.[3] She was a daughter of Mangana, Chief of the Bruny Island people. Her name was, in the Bruny Island language (Nuennonne), the name of the grey saltbush Atriplex cinerea.[4]

In her youth she took part in her people's traditional culture, but Aboriginal life was disrupted by European settlement. When Lieutenant-Governor George Arthur arrived in Van Diemen's Land in 1824, he implemented two policies to deal with the growing conflict between settlers and the Aboriginals. First, bounties were awarded for the capture of Aboriginal adults and children, and secondly an effort was made to establish friendly relations with Aboriginals in order to lure them into camps. The campaign began on Bruny Island where there had been fewer hostilities than in other parts of Tasmania.

Truganini, seated right

When Truganini met George Augustus Robinson, the Chief Protector of Aborigines, in 1829, her mother had been killed by sailors, her uncle shot by a soldier, her sister abducted by sealers, and her fiancé brutally murdered by timber-cutters, who then repeatedly sexually abused her. In 1830, Robinson moved Truganini and her husband, Woorrady, to Flinders Island with the last surviving Tasmanian Aboriginals, numbering approximately 100. The stated aim of isolation was to save them,[citation needed] but many of the group died from influenza and other diseases. In 1838 Truganini also helped Robinson to establish a settlement for mainland Aboriginals at Port Phillip.[5] After about two years of living in and around Melbourne, she joined Tunnerminnerwait and three other Tasmanian Aboriginals as outlaws, robbing and shooting at settlers around Dandenong, which triggered a long pursuit by the authorities. The outlaws moved on to Bass River and then Cape Paterson. There, members of the group murdered two whalers at Watson's hut. The group was captured and sent for trial for murder at Port Phillip, and a gunshot wound to Truganini's head was treated by Dr Hugh Anderson of Bass River. The two men of the group were found guilty and hanged on 20 January 1842.[6] Truganini and most of the other Tasmanian Aboriginals were returned to Flinders Island several months later. In 1856, the few surviving Tasmanian Aboriginals on Flinders Island, including Truganini, were moved to a settlement at Oyster Cove, south of Hobart.[7] According to The Times newspaper, quoting a report issued by the Colonial Office, by 1861 the number of survivors at Oyster Cove was only fourteen: "...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, headed "Decay of Race", adds that although the survivors enjoyed generally good health and still made hunting trips to the bush during the season, after first asking "leave to go", they were now "fed, housed and clothed at public expense" and "much addicted to drinking".[8]

Final years and legacy

Benjamin Law's 1835 bust of Truganini, commissioned by George Augustus Robinson

Oral histories of Truganini report that after arriving in the new settlement of Melbourne and disengaging with Robinson, she had a child named Louisa Esmai with John Shugnow or Strugnell at Point Nepean in Victoria. Further, Truganini was from the bloodlines of Victoria's Kulin Nation tribes. Indeed, they hid the child from authorities hunting Truganini. After Truganini was captured and exiled, her daughter Louisa was raised in the Kulin Nation. Louisa married John Briggs and supervised the orphanage at Coranderrk Aboriginal Reserve when it was managed by Wurundjeri leaders including Simon Wonga and William Barak.[9][c] Louisa was grandmother to Ellen Atkinson.

According to a report in The Times she later married a Tasmanian Aboriginal, William Lanne (known as "King Billy") who died in March 1869.[a] By 1873, Truganini was the sole survivor of the Oyster Cove group, and was again moved to Hobart. She died three years later and was buried at the former Female Factory at Cascades, a suburb of Hobart.

Before her death Truganini had pleaded to colonial authorities for a respectful burial, and requested that her ashes be scattered in the D'Entrecasteaux Channel. She feared that her body would be mutilated for perverse scientific purposes as William Lanne's had been.[11] Despite her wishes, within two years, her skeleton was exhumed by the Royal Society of Tasmania and later placed on display.[12] Only in April 1976, approaching the centenary of her death, were Truganini's remains finally cremated and scattered according to her wishes.[13][14]

Truganini is often considered to be the last full-blood speaker of a Tasmanian language.[15] However, The Companion to Tasmanian History details three full-blood Tasmanian Aboriginal women, Sal, Suke and Betty, who lived on Kangaroo Island in South Australia in the late 1870s and "all three outlived Truganini". There were also Tasmanian Aboriginals living on Flinders and Lady Barron Islands. Fanny Cochrane Smith (1834–1905) outlived Truganini by 30 years and in 1889 was officially recognised as the last full-blood Tasmanian Aboriginal, though there was speculation that she was actually mixed-race.[16] Smith recorded songs in her native language, the only audio recordings that exist of an indigenous Tasmanian language.[2][17]

In 1997 the Royal Albert Memorial Museum, Exeter, England, returned Truganini's necklace and bracelet to Tasmania. In 2002, some of her hair and skin were found in the collection of the Royal College of Surgeons of England and returned to Tasmania for burial.[18]

In 1835 and 1836, settler Benjamin Law created a pair of busts depicting Truganini and in Hobart Town that have come under recent controversy.[19] In 2009, members of the Tasmanian Aboriginal Centre protested an auction of these works by Sotheby's in Melbourne, arguing that the sculptures were racist, perpetuated false myths of Aboriginal extinction, and erased the experiences of Tasmania's remaining indigenous populations.[20] Representatives called for the busts to be returned to Tasmania and given to the Aboriginal community, and were ultimately successful in stopping the auction.[21]

Artist Edmund Joel Dicks also created a plaster bust of Truganini, which is in the collection of the National Museum of Australia.[22]

Truganini Place in the Canberra suburb of Chisholm is named in her honour.[23]

Cultural references

See also


  1. ^ a b c "A royal lady - Trucaminni, or Lallah Rookh, the last Tasmanian aboriginal, has died of paralysis, aged 73. She was Queen Consort to King Billy, who died in March 1871, and had been under the care of Mrs Dandridge, who was allowed £80 annually by the Government for maintenance."[1]
  2. ^ Colonial-era reports spell her name "Trugernanner" or "Trugernena" (in modern orthography, Trukanana or Trukanina). In 1869 the town of Truganini was established near Bendigo in Victoria; in 1870 that spelling was first used for Truganini's name.[citation needed]
  3. ^ According to the Australian Dictionary of Biography, Louisa Briggs was probably the daughter of Doog-by-er-um-boroke, a Woiorung woman kidnapped from Port Phillip by sealers.[10]


  1. ^ The Times, Thursday, 6 July 1876; p. 6; Issue 28674; col D
  2. ^ a b Ryan & Smith 1976.
  3. ^ Flannery 1994.
  4. ^ Ellis, V. R. 1981. Trucanini: Queen or Traitor. Australian Institute of Aboriginal Studies. p.3
  5. ^ The Andersons of Western Port Horton & Morris
  6. ^ The Australasian Chronicle 1842, p. 2.
  7. ^ Gough 2006.
  8. ^ The Times, issue 23848 dated Tuesday, 5 February 1861; p. 10; col A
  9. ^ Register of Births, Deaths & Marriages
  10. ^ Barwick 2005.
  11. ^ Australian Museum.
  12. ^ Kühnast 2009.
  13. ^ "The Last Wish: Truganini's ashes scattered in the D'Entrecasteaux Channel", Aboriginal News, vol. 3, no. 2, 1976
  14. ^ DPAC Tasmania 2011.
  15. ^ Crowley & Thieberger 2007.
  16. ^ Roth 1898, pp. 451–454.
  17. ^ Fanny Cochrane Smith.
  18. ^ Barkham & Finlayson 2002.
  19. ^ Hansen 2010.
  20. ^ ABC News 2009.
  21. ^ Davies 2009.
  22. ^ NMoA 1931.
  23. ^ Gazette 1978, p. 14.
  24. ^ The Times, Saturday, 24 April 1886; p. 4; Issue 31742; col E
  25. ^ The Times, Thursday, 22 October 1908; p. 13; issue 38784; col A
  26. ^ Kongfooey 2019.


External links



Massacre of the Aborigines

Van Diemen’s Land, as Tasmania was then known, was first settled by the British as a penal colony in 1803. Convicts who were deemed difficult were sent here for punishment, and it quickly became infamous as a bitter land of sadism, terror, and violence.

The arrival of the British was a disaster for the four or five thousand Aboriginal inhabitants of the island. The British actively engaged in genocide, which succeeded by 1876, when Truganini, the last pure-blooded Tasmanian woman, died.

Truganini witnessed the total destruction of her people during her lifetime. She was born around 1812, and her life was a long series of horrors. Her mother was stabbed to death by sealers, her sister abducted and killed by sailors, and her fiancé was murdered while trying to save Truganini from being kidnapped and raped.

She lived through a period when Aborigines were shot on sight, tortured, and forced into slavery. A final solution was attempted in 1830, when the authorities formed the “Black Line,” a battalion of some 5,000 soldiers and citizens, who marched in a line across the island, shoulder to shoulder, trying to kill or capture the native people. In 1834, the last 150 Tasmanian Aborigines were gathered up and transported to a mission on a small island off the northern coast called Flinders Island, where they were converted to Christianity. The majority did not survive the experience. Only 34 Aborigines were still alive in 1847, when the government allowed them to return to Tasmania.

Truganini was the last of her people, and her last request was that she be buried with dignity. “Don’t let them cut me up,” she begged as she lay dying. “Bury me behind the mountains.” She had good reason to fear. There was considerable scientific interest in Aborigines at this time, based on the mistaken notion that they were the “missing link” between ape and man. Following the death of William Lanne, the last Aboriginal man, his body was horribly mutilated. His head, hands, and feet were cut off and stolen — all in the interest of science.

Truganini’s body was buried, but the Royal Society of Tasmania later dug up her remains. Her skeleton was strung together with wires and displayed in the Tasmanian Museum until 1951. A century after her death, her last wish was finally granted in 1976. Her bones were removed from the museum, cremated, and scattered in the water around her homeland.


Woolley, C. A. (Charles Alfred), 1834- Portrait of Truganini [picture]

Trugernanner (Truganini) (1812–1876)

by Lyndall Ryan and Neil Smith

This article was published in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 6, (MUP), 1976

(Truganini) Trugernanner (1812?-1876), Tasmanian Aboriginal, was born in Van Diemen’s Land on the western side of the D’Entrecasteaux Channel, in the territory of the south-east tribe. Her father was Mangerner, leader of one of the tribe’s bands, and in her adolescence she was associated with its traditional culture, making occasional visits to Port Davey. The tribe was disrupted by European sealers, whalers and timber-getters; by March 1829, when she and her father met G. A. Robinson at Bruny Island, her mother had been killed by sailors, her uncle shot by a soldier, her sister abducted by sealers, and Paraweena, a young man who was to have been her husband, murdered by timber-getters. At Bruny Island mission in 1829 she ‘married’ Woorraddy, from Bruny. They were associated with all the missions that Robinson and his sons conducted around Tasmania in 1830-35; they acted as guides and as instructors in their languages and customs, which were recorded by Robinson in his journal, the best ethnographic record now available of traditional Tasmanian Aboriginal society.

Trugernanner, Woorraddy and other Aborigines from Robinson’s mission arrived at the Flinders Island settlement in November 1835. With the hundred or so captured Aborigines still alive they were to be ‘christianized and europeanized’ and taught to be farmers. She was renamed Lallah Rookh by Robinson, but held to her traditional ways. In March 1836 she and Woorraddy returned to Tasmania to search in vain for the one family remaining in the north-west. By July 1837 when they went back to Flinders Island, many had died there and Robinson’s programme had proved unsuccessful. Trugernanner told him that all the Aborigines would be dead before the houses being constructed for them were completed.

In February 1839, with Woorraddy and fourteen other Aborigines, she accompanied Robinson to Port Phillip. She and four others, without Woorraddy, later joined a party of whalers near Portland Bay. In 1841 all five Aborigines were charged with the murder of two whalers and in January 1842 the two men were hanged. In July Trugernanner and two other women, Fanny and Matilda, were sent back to Flinders Island with Woorraddy who, however, died en route. She lived with the Aborigine Alphonso until October 1847 when, with forty-six others, she moved to a new establishment at Oyster Cove, in her traditional territory. She resumed much of her earlier life-style, diving for shellfish, visiting Bruny Island by catamaran, and hunting in the near-by bush. By 1869 she and William Lanney were the only full bloods alive. The mutilation of Lanney’s body after his death in March led Trugernanner to express concern; she told Rev. H. D. Atkinson, ‘I know that when I die the Museum wants my body’.

In 1874 she moved to Hobart Town with her guardians, the Dandridge family, and died in Mrs Dandridge’s house in Macquarie Street on 8 May 1876, aged 64. She was buried at the old female penitentiary at the Cascades at Midnight on 10 May. Her body was exhumed in December 1878 by the Royal Society of Tasmania, authorized by the government to take possession of her skeleton on condition that it be not exposed to public view but ‘decently deposited in a secure resting place accessible by special permission to scientific men for scientific purposes’. But it was placed in the Tasmanian Museum where it was on public display in 1904-47. Trugernanner was the most famous of the Aboriginal Tasmanians, but her life is shrouded in myth and legend. As the faithful companion of Robinson in 1829-35, she assisted in bringing in her compatriots because she wanted to save them from European guns. The establishment at Flinders Island was a grave disappointment to her. Small in stature, forceful, gifted and courageous, she held European society in contempt and made her own adjustment on her own terms.

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