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


Trugannini 1866.jpg

Truganini in 1866.
Born c. 1812
Bruny Island, Australia
Died 8 May 1876 (aged 63–64)
Hobart, Australia
Other names TruganiniTrucanini,Trucaninny, and Lallah Rookh
Known for Last surviving Tasmanian Aborigine
Relatives Very close to Ouray Ouray, if not her daughter.


Truganini (c. 1812 – 8 May 1876) was a woman widely considered to be the last full blood Aboriginal Tasmanian (Palawa).

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

Early life

Truganini was born in 1812  on Bruny Island, south of theTasmanian capital Hobart, and separated from the Tasmanian mainland by the D’Entrecasteaux Channel. She was a daughter of Mangana, Chief of the Bruny Island people. Her name was the word her tribe used to describe the grey saltbush Atriplex cinerea.  Before she was 18, her mother had been killed by whalers, her first fiance had died while saving her from abduction, and in 1828, her two sisters, Lowhenunhue and Maggerleede, had been abducted and taken to Kangaroo Island, off South Australiaand sold as slaves.

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 Aborigines. First, bounties were awarded for the capture of Aboriginal adults and children, and secondly an effort was made to establish friendly relations with Aborigines 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.

File:Truganini and last 4 tasmanian aborigines.jpg

Truganini, seated right


In 1830, George Augustus Robinson, the Protector of Aborigines, moved Truganini and Woorrady to Flinders Island with the last surviving Tasmanian Aborigines, numbering approximately 100. The stated aim of isolation was to save them,  but many of the group died from influenza and other diseases. Truganini also helped Robinson with a settlement for mainland Aborigines at Port Phillip in 1838.  After about two years of living in and around Melbourne they became outlaws, stealing from settlers aroundDandenong before heading to Bass River and then Cape Patersonwhere members of their group murdered two whalers at Watsons hut then shot and injured other settlers around the area. A long pursuit followed where those responsible for the murders were captured, sent for trial then hanged in Melbourne. A gunshot wound to Truganini’s head was treated by Dr. Hugh Anderson of Bass River before she and her party were sent to stand trial in Melbourne, resulting in her being sent back to Flinders Island. In 1856, the few surviving Tasmanian Aborigines on Flinders Island, including Truganini, were moved to a settlement at Oyster Cove, south of Hobart.

Final years and legacy

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.   According to a report in The Times she later married a Tasmanian known as “King Billy” who died in March 1871.  By 1873, Truganini was the sole survivor of the Oyster Cove group, and was again moved to Hobart. She died three years later, having requested that her ashes be scattered in the D’Entrecasteaux Channel; she was, however, buried at the formerFemale Factory at Cascades, a suburb of Hobart. Within two years, her skeleton was exhumed by the Royal Society of Tasmania and later placed on display.  Only in April 1976, approaching the centenary of her death, were Truganini’s remains finally cremated and scattered according to her wishes.

Truganini is often considered to be the last full-blood speaker of a Tasmanian language.  The Companion to Tasmanian History details three full blood Tasmanian Aboriginal women, Sal, Suke and Betty, who lived onKangaroo Island in South Australia in the late 1870s and ‘all three outlived Truganini.’ There were also Tasmanian Aborigines 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 blooded Tasmanian Aboriginal. Smith recorded songs in her native language, the only audio recordings that exist of an indigenous Tasmanian language.[4][14]

In 1997 the Royal Albert Memorial Museum, Exeter, England, returned Truganini’s necklace and bracelet toTasmania. 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.

Cultural references

  • “Truganini’s Dreaming” is the title of a song written by Bunna Lawrie, the founding member, sole songwriter and lead singer of the Australian Aboriginal band Coloured Stone. It appeared on their 1986 album, Human Love, which won the Best Indigenous Release at the ARIA Music Awards of 1987.
  • “Truganini” is the name of a song by Midnight Oil; this song spoke partly of Truganini herself but also of what Midnight Oil saw as Australia’s environmental and social problems.
  • Truganina, a suburb of Melbourne, is possibly named after her.
  • In the roman à clef Doctor Wooreddy’s Prescription for Enduring the Ending of the World, one of the main characters is Trugernanna, a somewhat-fictional portrayal of Truganini.
  • A steamer called ‘Truganini’ sailed in the South Seas in 1886, visiting Papua New Guinea. 
  • A racehorse named ‘Truganini’ ran in Britain in the early 20th century and another named ‘Trucanini’ started racing aged 2 in the 2012 season.
  • “Truganini of Bruny Island” is a song by the Tasmanian band, The Dead Maggies [2012]. The song poetically details her abduction and the murder of her fiance.



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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