Truganini (1812 – May 8, 1876) was the last living full-blooded Tasmanian alive, with her died an entire ethnicity, and a unique dialect of language that is all but completely forgotten today.
The Tasmanian people came from Tasmania, and island off the coast of Australia that is known in pop culture as the home place of the cartoon character, The Tasmanian Devil, and the real life animal of the same name. The Tasmanian people were hunter gatherer societies mostly, and there never were very many of them, but a sudden catastrophe, some say disease, some say genocide by the British, quickly wiped out huge numbers of Aboriginal Tasmanians.
Truganini was born on Bruny Island, just south of the Tasmanian capitol. It is unknown who her father was but it is believed her mother was another well known last surviving Tasmanian, Ouray Ouray.
Truganini lived traditionally as her people did for all her youth, until British colonists moved into the islands as well and began to round up Tasmanian people both through coercion and force. Before it was through Truganini’s mother was dead, her uncle shot, her sister captured by sealers and her fiancé clubbed to death before her very eyes before the men sexually assaulted her as well.
Truganini went on to live as an outlaw, shooting at caravans with a band of other Aboriginees, until authorities eventually caught up with them leading to a chase that ended in two dead whalers and a non-fatal gunshot wound inflicted to Truganini’s head. The group of outlaws was brought to trial and two were hanged but Truganini and some others were sent to a small camp where the remaining Aboriginal Tasmanians resided. They numbered only 14.
Truganini pleaded with the British government that her body be respected after her death and that she be cremated and her ashes be spread across her home on Bruny Island, but despite her wishes her remains were put on display in Museums in Britain.
It is said that she had a daughter by a white man who saved her life from the men that sexually assaulted her, but it was never confirmed.
Truganini’s wishes were finally respected in 1976 a full one hundred years after her death. Later a necklace and jewelry of hers was returned to Tasmania as well. She may not have changed the world, but Truganini and the Tasmanian people’s story is worth hearing about.
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