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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.



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