Possession of aboriginal lands by European settlers and the government of Van Diemen’s Land

John Wadsley’s Brighton, Central Highlands, Derwent Valley and Southern Midlands Councils Joint Land Use Planning Initiative – Stage 2 Heritage Management Plan of July 2010 reports: ‘After the initial period of European settlement from 1803, a large influx of free settlers and pastoralists in the 1820s saw a major expansion of European influence and land grants in the central and midlands areas of Tasmania. Settlement along the Derwent, Jordan, Clyde and Ouse rivers forced local Aboriginal bands from traditional hunting grounds and increased tension between settlers and tribal groups. Conflicts flared in a number of areas, with local farmers and vigilantes attacking Aborigines and retaliation by tribal groups attacking road gangs, stockmen and homesteads.

In 1828 Governor Arthur declared martial law against Aborigines after failed attempts to divide Aboriginal lands from the “settled districts” to reduce the number of attacks by tribal groups. By 1830 the number and frequency of attacks by and on had reached such a level that Arthur decided to launch a full scale military operation against the indigenous population in the southern Central Highlands, southern Midlands and south east areas. This became the so-called “Black Line” which was intended to round up Aborigines and move them from the settled districts. By 1831 some hundreds of Aborigines and settlers had been killed over land occupation and dispossession of traditional tribal lands. The Aboriginal population in the Midlands and Central Highlands was by now very small, probably less than 100. Many traditional hunting areas had been cleared of tribal groups allowing further expansion of pastoral activities. The so called “conciliation” process under George Robinson eventually saw the remaining Aboriginals moved off their traditional lands to Flinders Island by 1834, and then to Oyster Cove in 1847.’

8 thoughts on “Possession of aboriginal lands by European settlers and the government of Van Diemen’s Land

  1. MikeH

    To put the situation in context –

    The colonial authorities and settlers had a totally different concept of the ownership and use of land than that of the aborigines, and there was NO common ground. The British concept was (and still is) that ALL land is held ultimately by the Crown, but able to be alienated/granted to private individuals, etc for their use for a fixed period (leasehold) or in perpetuity (freehold). The extent of the land was defined on the ground and on maps and survey plans, and any rights associated with it detailed in documentation (deeds and later land titles). The owner of the land could use it as he wished within limits and under conditions imposed by the Crown via the government. Apart from providing food and associated articles, the land was most often used to earn cash to purchase goods and services not otherwise available; in other words exploit the resource.

    Contrast this with the native inhabitants who had no understanding of private, exclusive ownership, who regarded all resources as being available to all, with few or no restrictions on use. They roamed and camped wherever they wished, and used the resources only to survive, seeming to have little idea of exploiting them to better their condition in life.

    It was a recipe for disaster, and there were very few individuals on either side who had any understanding of the other’s point of view. Yes, there were some atrocities committed on both sides, but the situation in Tasmania was not unique – it had happened elsewhere and continues to happen today.

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    1. Tasmanian traveller Post author

      Thank you for this additional information – yes I agree the historical backgrounds of both groups of people meant there was no common ground and that it would have been impossible in the 19th century for either group to begin to understand the system which the other took for granted. I also agree that all around the globe there has been, and continues to be, ignorance of the variations in land ‘ownership/stewardship/etc’ that exist.

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  2. Margaret

    …Such ignorance of Australian Aboriginal life.
    The mind boggles at how neo colonist can collude with their narritives of a past of barbaric genocide of first Nation people. I suggest you return to the journels of the early explorers and rethink the context of Aboriginal people and their relationship with the natural resources.

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    1. Tasmanian traveller Post author

      Hi Marg Thanks for your comment. My post is an example, of the information which is provided in recent Tasmanian public reports, about the situation as perceived by European settlers in the first part of the 19th century. The report struck me as a particularly damning statement against the actions of European settlers way back then. That report is not about the situation last or this century in respect of Aborigines in Tasmania – it is about early in the preceding century. Since the report covers very little in relation to the Aboriginal way of life and seems to be summarizing the ‘failures’ of the Europeans, I am puzzled as to why you would suggest it shows ignorance about Aboriginal life. It does not seem to be writing about Aboriginal life – that is not its intention.

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    2. MikeH

      Yes, Margaret, there was an ignorance of aboriginal life and their relationship to land by the early colonialists (what is a neo colonist?). There were very few individuals who were even inclined to discover any thing about the aboriginal population. They were there to establish a settlement, to provide food, building materials and other such things in order to survive. To most of the settlers and government officials, the aborigines were just a side issue, a nuisance which had to be dealt with. Remember too, that govt officials were working under instructions sent from London (3-4 months to ask a question, at least the same again to get a reply) written by other senior officials who had even less idea of the circumstances in the colonies.

      Much of the colonial govt was staffed by military and naval officers who had been trained to deal with opposition in certain ways, mainly by force. Other officials were just plain inadequate – some out of their depth, promoted beyond their level of competence because there was no one else to do the job. They were in a foreign environment, on the other side of the world from family and any other support, having to work with people they might not like, supervising convicted criminals. No wonder they made mistakes!

      There is no intention in either the original post nor my comments to “collude with … narritives of a past of barbaric genocide”, merely to put some issues in context. Which journals do you suggest we consult? Part of my interest derives from the fact that George Robinson details in his journals the efforts of one of my ancestors, as an employee of the colonial government, in rescuing native women and children from sealers and whalers on the Bass Strait islands.

      This is probably not a suitable forum for a discussion like this.

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    3. MikeH

      Yes, Margaret, there was an ignorance of aboriginal life and their relationship to land by the early colonialists (what is a neo colonist?). There were very few individuals who were even inclined to discover any thing about the aboriginal population. They were there to establish a settlement, to provide food, building materials and other such things in order to survive. To most of the settlers and government officials, the aborigines were just a side issue, a nuisance which had to be dealt with. Remember too, that govt officials were working under instructions sent from London (3-4 months to ask a question, at least the same again to get a reply) written by other senior officials who had even less idea of the circumstances in the colonies.

      Much of the colonial govt was staffed by military and naval officers who had been trained to deal with opposition in certain ways, mainly by force. Other officials were just plain inadequate – some out of their depth, promoted beyond their level of competence because there was no one else to do the job. They were in a foreign environment, on the other side of the world from family and any other support, having to work with people they might not like, supervising convicted criminals. No wonder they made mistakes!

      There is no intention in either the original post nor my comments to “collude with … narritives of a past of barbaric genocide”, merely to put some issues in context. Which journals do you suggest we consult? Part of my interest derives from the fact that George Robinson details in his journals the efforts of one of my ancestors, as an employee of the colonial government, in rescuing native women and children from sealers and whalers on the Bass Strait islands.

      This is probably not a suitable forum for a discussion like this.

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  3. Margaret

    Indeed puzzling as it might be… Your blog and comments are from a perspective that do not include Aboriginal people! Regardless of your litratrateue there is no reference to the many people you refer to. Again I find your references in comments offensive!! How dare you make reference to my people having no sense of privacy and not having sophiscated means of economy!! You have no authority to refer to “natives” and their practices.. Yes agree that the forum is appropiate to talk about the objective!

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