Tasmania was first discovered by in 1642 Abel Janszoon Tasman, a Dutch explorer, who called it Van Diemen’s Land. At the time, the island supported some 5,000 to 10,000 hunter-gatherers. They used wood, bone and stone along with bark, grass, seaweed and sinew to make tools and containers, but apparently did not possess boomerangs or nets.
Then the British, led by Lt. John Bowen of the British Royal Navy, established the first settlement at Risdon Cove. The white settlers kidnapped native children as laborers, and took women as “consorts.” They simply killed the men. Martial law was declared in 1828 and soldiers shot any Aborigine unlucky enough to be found in a settled area.
Even that brutal “solution” to the Aborigine problem proved inadequate, and in 1830, the last Tasmanians were gathered up and forcibly transported to nearby Flinders Island. Conditions on Flinders Island were so terrible that most of the transported Aborigines could not survive, and very few infants were able to live more than a few months after birth. By 1833, due to war, persecution, intermarriage, and decimation by infectious diseases introduced by the Europeans, the number of purebred Tasmanian aborigines had dwindled to a mere three hundred.
One Aborigine man, William Lanne, managed to survive until 1869. But he was not to find peace even in death. He was duly buried, but his body was repeatedly dug up and mutilated by scientists. His head, feet and hands were removed for “study.” His ears and nose were removed from the decapitated head. A doctor removed Lanne’s skin and made a tobacco pouch out of it.
With William Lanne’s death, only one purebred Tasmanian survived. Truganini, a woman, died in 1876. She had been horrified by the Europeans’ treatment of Lanne’s body, and begged to be buried at sea. Her wish was not to be granted, however, although she was properly buried, at least for a short time. But her skeleton was later dug up and put on display in the Tasmanian Museum. It was only in 1976, a hundred years after her death, that Truganini was granted her final wish. Her bones were cremated and she was buried at sea.
Is it any wonder that native peoples in Hawaii, the Americas, and the islands of Tasmania and Australia, among others, are suspicious of the intentions of anthropologists and archaeologists?
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