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Decisions of the Nineteenth Century Tasmanian Superior Courts

Government Notices Concerning Aborigines [1830] [1]

Aborigines, conflict with - martial law

The first government notices concerning contact with Aborigines in 1830 were published in the Hobart Town Gazette, 20 and 27 February 1830. During 1830, Lieutenant Governor Arthur was attempting at times to conciliate with Aborigines and at others to expel them from the settled districts. In the latter notice, he offered a reward of £5 for every adult Aborigine captured and delivered alive to a police station, and £2 for every child. This notice referred to Aborigines as a "horde of Savages... whose prowess is equal to their revengeful feelings." Despite that, they were a "feeble race; not possessing physical strength." This is much more hostile than the notices issued in New South Wales in the same period. See also Hobart Town Gazette, 21 August 1830, where the tone of a notice dated 19 August is much more conciliatory.
On 21 August, the Gazette published a notice dated 20 August, referring to the "misunderstanding" of the February notices. The 20 August notice stated that some settlers had been aggressive towards the Aborigines, whereas the intention in the February notices had been to reward the capture only of Aborigines who had been committing aggressions. A similar notice was issued on 27 August, published in the Gazette on 28 August 1830. It threatened vigorous prosecution of those who made wanton attacks against Aborigines in remote districts, or who were seeking to conciliate or surrender.
In a further notice published in the Hobart Town Gazette, 10 September 1830, Arthur called for the creation of a volunteer force to capture the hostile tribes, or drive them out of the settled districts. This was to support a military force. This notice, too, fluctuated between extreme hostility and compassion for Aborigines, and between fear of them and scorn for their weakness.
In September, Arthur gave a reward of 1000 acres of land to Humphrey Howells for his conduct in pursuing Aborigines: Hobart Town Gazette, 10 September 1830. See also Hobart Town Gazette 17, 18 September 1830 (the latter being a similar reward to three Aborigines for their aid in the pursuit of the hostile tribes: Pigeon, John Crook and Black Bill, 1000 acres each).
On 22 September, Arthur called for the whole community to act en masse to capture the hostile tribes (Hobart Town Gazette, 25 September 1830); this was the infamous drive to push them onto the Tasman Peninsula.
On 1 November 1828, Arthur had declared martial law to deal with the conflict. The declaration was "against the said Black or Aboriginal Natives within the several Districts of this Island," except for some places and towards those who "are pacifically inclined" and who had not been implicated in any of the outrages. On 1 October 1830, Arthur continued the declaration of martial law. This stated that the government sought to limit bloodshed as much as possible: Hobart Town Gazette, 2 October 1830; and see 9 October. On 18 October 1830, Arthur ordered the publication of a story concerning a convict who had gone bush with some Aborigines:Hobart Town Gazette, 23 October 1830. The next major government notice was dated 26 November, when it was announced that the great drive had been unsuccessful: Hobart Town Gazette, 27 November 1830, and see 4 December.

On 19 February 1831, Governor Arthur took official notice of the work of the missionary Robinson, by appointing him to a government office. Later that month, he gave notice of his intention to appoint other missionaries as well. A conciliatory tone was also evident in a notice in August 1831, though less so in September. Robinson delivered an important speech in 1838.


[1] On Aborigines, see also Tasmanian and Austral-Asiatic Review, 22 January and 14 May 1830. For scholarship on the Aborigines during the Arthur period see AGL Shaw, Sir George Arthur, Bart 1784-1854, Melbourne University Press, Carlton, 1980, pp. 123ff and H Reynolds, Fate of a Free People, Penguin, Ringwood, 1995; Keith Windschuttle, The Fabrication of Aboriginal History, Macleay Press, Paddington, 2002. For earlier work see C Turnbull, Black War: Extermination of the Tasmanian Aborigines, Cheshire, Melbourne, 1965.

Published by the Division of Law, Macquarie University and the School of History and Classics, University of Tasmania