Incidents in the History of Tasmania

Source: Australia’s First Century [1788-1888], edited by E.E. Morris from the original Cassell’s Picturesque Australia [1899]. Published by Fine Arts Press, Gordon, N.S.W., 2072, in the year 1978. Available at Australian libraries.


The troops, 3000 persons were engaged in carrying it out. Preparations were made as for an actual campaign. Depots were established. Arthur was indefatigable in his organisation, and for several weeks all business was suspended while the colony was occupied in preparation for the capture of the Aborigines. At length the Black Line was formed. In October, 1829, it began its march, broken into parties separated by such small intervals that not even a black savage could pass between them unnoticed, as they fondly supposed. The line moved systematically onward towards Tasman's Peninsula, never doubting but that the aborigines were in full retreat in the same direction. The peninsula is joined by a very narrow strip of land to the mainland, so that if the natives were once there, they would virtually be in prison. The troops and volunteers searched it from end to end. Not a native was to be found. One black man and one black boy were captured on the march, and this was all the result of the so-called Black War, and undertaking which had cost the colony £30,000 in direct expenditure, and more than double that amount in waste of time, &c., if the time and personal expenses of the volunteers be taken into account.

But while this futile attempt, was being carried out to its ridiculous conclusion, a far different solution of the native difficulty was being thought out. A bricklayer named Robinson, who belonged to the Wesleyan body, and was a diligent worker in their Sunday schools, conceived the notion of winning over the aborigines by kindness and sympathy. How he fared has already been told,* so that here it need only be said that one group after another surrendered to his kindly persuasion. The Government decided to transplant them to Flinders Island. The whole number placed on the island was only 203, probably about a twentieth of the population which the colonists had found in Van Diemen's Land at their first landing. They were well cared for, were able and amiable under kind treatment, but their numbers rapidly dwindled. The women seemed stricken with barrenness, and the men pined for free life of their plains and their forests. Births were very few, and deaths were numerous. The mountain peaks of Tasmania are plainly visible from Flinders Island, and the sight of them kept alive a nostalgia, which developed into actual disease. The symptoms were loss of appetite, then actual distaste for food, then a disorganisation of the vital functions, under which the sufferer would lie down and die without any wish to prolong life. By the year 1847 only forty-four were left, and these were removed to Oyster Cove, a little bay on D'Entrecasteaux Channel, which had been used as a penal establishment. Here they were housed in the huts which had been constructed for the prisoners. But the habit of drink took possession of them, and by 1876 the race was entirely extinct.

The remaining events of Arthur's rule must be briefly noticed. In 1828 a new Constitution Act came in force. The Legislative Council was enlarged to fifteen members. They were nominated by the Crown, but all vacancies were to be filled up by the Governor. He himself was President, and had a deliberative as well as a casting vote. The powers of this Council were strictly defined.