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For the first decade or more after Britain settled Tasmania in 1803, its tiny outposts on the Derwent and Tamar rivers never comprised more than a few thousand poorly equipped colonists.The vast majority of the island remained under Aboriginal control and conflict was infrequent.There were six times as many white men in the colony as there were women, and almost none of the latter were available to frontiersmen.Predictably, some of these men employed violence to procure sex with Aboriginal women and children, and this appears to have been the war’s main proximate trigger.The apparent asymmetry stems from the fact that most of the island’s several thousand original inhabitants were probably not killed by white men directly, but rather by the disease, internecine conflict and general bedlam they introduced.
This ambitious seven-week operation involved 550 soldiers and 1,650 settlers and convicts – fully 10% of the colony’s population.This soon changed following the defeat of Napoleon and settlement of the island’s interior was proceeding apace by the mid-1820s.This invasion of tribal lands was the ultimate cause of the Black War, but it was not just the white man’s presence to which Aborigines objected.They pressed the fight until scarcely two dozen of them remained. We even have portraits of some, such as Thomas Bock’s haunting sketch of Tongerlongerter, the celebrated resistance leader who severed and cauterised his own arm after it was shattered by a white man’s bullet.
Such characters are worthy of our intrigue, and our admiration.
Regardless of their guilt or innocence, these luckless men and women are pivotal to Tasmania’s history, and it is essential that we learn their stories too.