The Integration of Aborigines in Van Diemen's Land
The Integration of Aborigines in Van Diemen's Land
By: W. Tweedie
Date: May 1860
Source: "The Integration of Aborigines in Van Diemen's Land." Proceedings of the Twenty-Third Annual Meeting of the Aboriginal Protection Society.
About the Author: W. Tweedie belonged to the Aboriginal Protection Society, one of the first efforts to protect the original inhabitants of Australia from extermination.
The settlement of Australia in the early nineteenth century brought conflict with the indigenous people, known as Aborigines, who had inhabited the continent for at least 40,000 years. When the Aborigines had been removed as a military threat, philanthropists and missionaries began to advocate for their protection. These charitable activities focused on Aborigines in such areas as Van Diemen's Land, present-day Tasmania.
The first Europeans to settle on Van Diemen's Land were British convicts, military men, and free settlers who arrived in September 1803. To colonize the area, the British granted 100 acres, tools, and livestock to individuals who planned to farm. Despite instructions from the British Colonial Office to try to get along with the natives, the colonizers quickly entered a state of war with the Aborigines.
The problem between the whites and the indigenous people did not simply involve a struggle over land. The British had believed for centuries that the world should be made as Anglo-Saxon as possible. Englishness implied superiority; the Aborigines were an irrelevance. While some English regarded the Aborigines with uneasy interest, others tried to kill them. Many settlers believed that the destruction of the Aborigines was as inevitable as British colonial success.
The Aboriginal Protection Society was the most important of several organizations that formed in the nineteenth century to advocate for the indigenous people of Australia. Founded in 1836, it argued that rapid assimilation and incorporation into the developing mainstream was in the best interests of the indigenous cultures. The society lobbied extensively for the protection of government reserves, health and education services, and a more respectful approach by British colonial authorities to the Aborigines.
… Some recent information respecting the remnant of the Tasmanian race has been given by a gentleman, whose benevolent interest induced him to pay them a visit of observation and inquiry. It will be in the recollection of some members of this Society, that a few years ago the natives of Van Dieman's Land were, as far as possible, collected from all parts of the island, and removed to a small island called Hinder's Island, situated not far from the coast: this retreat was devoted to them and their keepers, and their number amounted to about fifty persons. They have since been brought back again to Van Dieman's Land, and are at present reduced to eleven persons, of whom more are females than males, and all of middle or declining age, but they are chiefly of the latter description. They live in small ill-kept tenements, and, except their keeper, they are apart from the other inhabitants, but they are not far from convicts, with whom they have injurious intercourse. They are exposed to the temptation of ardent spirits, and are induced to part with articles of clothing, with which they are furnished. Except that one man, of good natural abilities, is engaged as a postman, and that two or three others are occasionally taken on whaling voyages, they seem to have no employment. Deprived of the religious instruction which they once received, and had begun to appreciate, they are in a truly deplorable condition. Destitute of physical and moral comfort and consolation, they are depressed below the zero of hope, and are consequently void of all energy. It is well known that such was not the state of the happy Tasmanians, when they were first seen by Europeans, and is it fair or right to point to the remnant of a race whom we have rendered abject and all but extinct, and say, it is the ordination of Providence to get rid of such a people, to make room for ourselves who are so much better?
Wherever Europeans historically settled, indigenous peoples often faced a brutal onslaught. Van Diemen's Land was no exception. In an island such as Tasmania, there was no interior to push natives into as whites took the land. Instead, the Aborigines were slaughtered. Upon European arrival, there were 3,000 to 4,000 Aborigines in Van Diemen's Land. By 1830, only about 300 were left and most of the usable land in Tasmania had been placed in European hands.
Racial harmony has not been achieved with the descendents of the original settlers. At the start of the millennium, Aborigines make up about two percent of the population of Australia. They suffer appalling housing, health, and medical disadvantages. The Aboriginal and Torres Straits Islanders Commission funds programs designed to correct the two centuries of disadvantages. Its creation reflects the desire of present-day whites in Tasmania to ammend for the actions of their ancestors.
Morgan, Sharon. Land Settlement in Early Tasmania: Creating an Antipodean England. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 1992.
Robson, Lloyd. A History of Tasmania. Melbourne, Australia: Oxford University Press, 1983.