Tasmanian Aboriginal Diaspora

Contemporary Tasmanian Aborigines form a well-recognised community. Yet Tasmanian Aboriginal descendants are also more broadly located, on the Australian mainland and overseas. The key to this diaspora is the taking by sealers of Tasmanian Aboriginal women on wide-ranging expeditions during the early nineteenth century. Such journeys regularly included landings at Kangaroo Island, King George's Sound and the islands of St Paul and Amsterdam in the south Indian Ocean. Sealers also kidnapped Tasmanian women to work for them on Kangaroo Island. In some cases neither the women, nor their offspring, ever returned to their home country. Some Tasmanian women also probably escaped their captivity, fleeing to the South Australian mainland, with reports that the woolly hair peculiar to the Tasmanians became common among coastal Aborigines there by the mid-nineteenth century. George Augustus Robinson took sixteen Tasmanians with him to Melbourne in 1838, with the group reportedly leaving progeny in the area.

Tasmanian descendants may also live in Mauritius. In 1825 the schooner Hunter was blown off course, eventually landing three sealers, five Tasmanian women and three children in Mauritius. One sealer, John Tyack, remained in Mauritius, keeping with him his Aboriginal son. The widespread mainland Aboriginal Briggs family also has Tasmanian antecedents through John Briggs, the son of the Tasmanian Woretmoeteyenner and the sealer, George Briggs. John was raised on the Bass Strait Islands and married Louisa, a Victorian Aboriginal woman, there in 1844. John and Louisa had eleven children, with the family moving to Victoria in 1851 to follow the gold rush, settling first at Cummerangunja and later at Coranderrk.

Further reading: B Mollison & C Everitt, The Tasmanian Aborigines and their descendants, Hobart, 1978; B Plomley & K Henley, The sealers of Bass Strait, Hobart, 1990; R Taylor, Unearthed, Kent Town, 2002.

Maggie Walter