People: Truganini

Truganini (1812-1876) The last 'full blooded' Aboriginal of the Bruny Island tribe

Trugernanner, often referred to as Truganini, was a woman widely considered to be the last "full blood" Palawa (Tasmanian Aborigine). There are a number of other transcriptions (or spellings) of her Palawa language name, including: Trugannini, Trucanini, Trucaminni, and Trucaninny. Robinson had given European names to all the Tasmanians who arrived at the Island in attempt to suppress their culture. Hers was Lalla Rooke, however she resisted using it and was only ever called it by Robinson.

Trugernanner was born around 1812 on Bruny Island, south of Hobart. 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 Australia and sold as slaves. Trugernanner married Woorrady, although he died when she was still in her 20s.

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.

In 1829 Truganini became the partner of Woorraddy and with him accompanied Robinson on his missions to the Aboriginal tribes between 1830-1834. She worked with Woorraddy to help George Augustus Robinson, the Protector of Aborigines, move Aboriginal people from the mainland to settle on Flinders Island. In 1830, established an Aboriginal settlement onThe stated aim of isolation was to protect them for the desrivtion being wrought on the Tasmanian Aborigines by white settlers, but many of the group died from influenza and other diseases.

Portrait of Truganini by Thomas Bock between 1831 and 1835. It was published in James Fenton s History of Tasmania Hobart [1884]

Trugernanner became an important guide and interpreter for Robinson. He undertook a total of six expeditions, eventually making contact with every tribe and group of Aborigines left in Tasmania. He had persuaded the approximately 200 surviving Aboriginal Tasmanians to surrender themselves with assurances that they would be protected, provided for and eventually have their lands returned to them.

In 1835, after the last expedition was completed, Truganini arrived at the Wybalenna Aboriginal settlement on Flinders Island. Trugernanner also helped Robinson with a settlement for mainland Aborigines at Port Phillip in 1838. After about two years of living in and around Melbourne the Aborigines at the port Phillip settlement became outlaws, stealing from settlers around Dandenong before heading to Bass River and then Cape Paterson. There, members of their group murdered two whalers at Watsons hut, then shot and injured other settlers around the area.

Truganini, 1866

A long pursuit followed where those responsible for the murders were captured, sent for trial then hanged in Melbourne. A gunshot wound to Trugernanner's head was treated by Dr. Hugh Anderson of Bass River before she and her party were sent to stand trial in Melbourne.

She was not found guilty of murder but the incident resulted in her being sent back to Flinders Island. Disillusioned with Robinson and his mission, she realised that the resettlement program had eroded the chances of the remaining Aboriginal population leading their preferred way of life. In 1856, the few surviving Tasmanian Aborigines on Flinders Island, including Trugernanner, were moved to a settlement at Oyster Cove, south of Hobart.

According to a report in The Times she later married a Tasmanian known as "King Billy" who died in March 1871. By 1873, Trugernanner 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 former Female 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, Trugernanner's remains were finally cremated and scattered according to her wishes.

Trugernanner was long considered to be the last full-blood speaker of a Tasmanian language. Fanny Cochrane Smith, who spoke one of the Tasmanian languages, outlived her, however. She lived into the twentieth century, and recorded songs in her native language.

In 1997 the Royal Albert Memorial Museum, Exeter, England, returned Trugernanner'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.

A group of Tasmanian Aborigines at Oyster Cove, Hobart, in the 1860s. Truganini is seated at the far right.