On This Day …

Thursday 3rd May, 1804

Trugannini, the last surviving aborigine from Tasmania, 1866

Today is a sad day in our history. It is a day that the Battle of Risdon took place in Risdon Cove, Tasmania.

Tasmania, then known as Van Diemen’s Land, was newly colonised by the English — only the previous year in September, in fact — so the settlement must have still been rather small with only approximately fifty people. Meanwhile another settlement began only seven kilometres away at Sullivans Cove (which eventually became Hobart).

On the day in question a band of 300 aborigines on a kangaroo hunt happened to enter the settlement. The settlers, thinking they were under attack and probably alarmed by the large number of natives, began to fire upon them. Naturally the aborigines retreated, but not before several were killed.

The original accounts state that only two or three natives died with further numbers wounded, but accounts given decades later increased the number to the fifties and even later the number grew to over one hundred.

Whatever the case is, it was a tragedy for the original owners of the land, and a terrible beginning to the complete decimation of the native people in Tasmania. The last full-blooded aborigine from Tasmania died in 1876.

Does it make you sad that some of our ancestors were involved in wiping out a race? I know it grieves me, even if they were not directly my ancestors.

Published in: on 3rd May, 2013 at 11:24 am  Comments (8)  
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8 CommentsLeave a comment

  1. Yes so sad, Amanda. It only takes one or two people to jump to wrong conclusions for panic to set in a crowd. Sometimes cruel acts have been deliberate by those who were only too happy to wipe out any competition for the land.

    • Thanks for visiting Ritah. I think that people fear what they don’t know. The English didn’t understand the native’s motives, just saw a band of three hundred warriors. It’s easy to see why they jumped to the wrong conclusion. But it is a pity, they got their guns out so quickly all the same.

  2. So interesting that the death count went from two or three, to perhaps a hundred. How stories change with time… or become accurate when the real version emerges. Sad all around, though. No matter how you look at it.

    • I know, it is strange, Dorothy, and it is hard to tell whether the later reports were more accurate or exaggerations. I guess we’ll never know. Definitely sad.

  3. I’ve ‘liked’ this post in support of the memory of these brave peoples, not because I like what happened to them. Was it a convict settlement at the time? I also feel sorry for those people who were transported from one grim and ghastly situation to another.
    Thank you for writing about this incident

    • Thanks for dropping by, Lois. Yes, there were convicts amongst the group, along with soldiers and a few free settlers. It’s true that a life of hardship waited for the convicts, but many went on to build better lives, after serving their time, than they could ever have had back home in the conditions there. It would have been sad to live through, however.

  4. It was a tragic day, no mistake about it, but what about the fact that prior to any gun being fired, Lt. William Moore waited until he was convinced there was cause for alarm after his servant, William Page, who was returning to camp, had a kangaroo taken from him, and that some unfriendly attention was paid to a settlers wife, also returning to camp. It wasn’t simply a case of the settlers and soldiers seeing a large group of Aborigines and instantly becoming alarmed and then beginning to shoot wildly in all directions. There’s also a large problem with accounts given some 27 years later, most were given by people who were not at Risdon Cove on the 3rd May 1804, and only was ‘eyewitness’ came forward later also happens to be missing from all records for 1803, 1804 and 1805, and there’s a good possibility he was not an ‘eyewitness’ after all. Certainly tell the story of that day, but telling all of it allows for a much better understanding of it.

    • Hi Scott, thanks for your input. I hadn’t read that part of the story when I researched it. There’s always two sides of course, and I did try to make readers aware that later accounts changed the details. So, it’s hard to know exactly what the truth is. Either way, it is sad that the incident resulted in deaths at all. Great to have you here. 🙂

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