Truganini (pictured) was an Aboriginal Palawa woman that historians originally thought was the last full-blooded member of her people, but while she wasn’t, she certainly became the best-known. Hailing from what is now known as Tasmania, Truganini died on this day in 1876 and has since been honored properly in recent times in light of the atrocities and abuse she faced.
Truganini, or Trugernanner, was born sometime in 1872 on Bruny Island, a smaller island that is a part of Tasmania, which was once known as Van Diemen’s Land before becoming part of Australia properly. Her father, Mangerner, led a group of her tribesmen, and they held fast to their traditions. Their way of life was upended, though, when European sealers, whalers, and timber-getters arrived in the region in the late 1700s and early 1800s.
Like many Aboriginal women, Truganini was physically assaulted by the settlers, with the man she was to marry dying to save her. Her mother was killed by hunters, and her stepmother and sisters were kidnapped and sold as slaves. Tragically, there was little protection offered to her people — all of these acts took place by the time Truganini was 17.
In 1824. Governor George Arthur visited the island to round up Aboriginals and broker peace between the opposing groups. His efforts were largely ineffective and did nothing to stave off the entitled nature of Whites who wanted the Aboriginals’ lands for themselves thus igniting a years-long battle.
The “Black War” was a conflict between the White settlers and the Aboriginal people between 1828 and 1832, although historians differ on times of the clashes.
What is understood is that during the war, the settlers killed thousands of Aboriginals in the name of colonialism and it took a mediator to end the carnage and bring peace to the region.
George Augustus Robinson, a man sent to the area to help round up Aboriginals, met Truganini around 1829, serving as liaisons for Robinson’s people and the Aboriginals in and around Australia. Robinson’s mission from Great Britain was to gather the 300 or so Aboriginals living in Tasmania and resettle them to a camp on Flinders Island.
While Robinson may have had honest intentions, in reality, he and other White settlers attempted to stamp out Aboriginal customs and forced them to take on European lifestyles.
Truganini held fast to her people’s traditions but was essentially a captive under the colonial rulers. The settlers kept Truganini and her people under lock and key in Mission Bay on Bruny Island; Truganini left on missions with Robinson briefly before she and other Aboriginals were sent to Flinders Island and left for dead.
Although Robinson promised them safekeeping in their new settlement, the Aboriginals were largely seen as an unwanted afterthought by the White settlers.
Scientists at the time studied Aboriginals in often despicable ways, examining their bodies after death and displaying them. Indeed, the Aboriginals were unique but the scientists went against the tradition of the people and failed to honor them properly.
As Truganini got older, she asked that she be given a traditional and respectful burial. As she feared, though, when she died, her body was put on display at the Hobart Museum in Australia until 1947 after protests.
On April 30, 1976, the Palawa people were able to give their ancestral sister a proper cremation and ceremony. Her ashes were spread in the D’Entrecasteaux Channel, which was close to the place she was born.
Watch Truganini and her people’s story here: