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Massacre in the Black War in Tasmania 1823-34: a case study of the Meander River Region, June 1827

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The recent dispute over the use of evidence in identifying massacre in Tasmania's Black War 1823-34 has generated new research on specific incidents but left key questions unresolved. Were massacres a rare event or were they widespread? If the latter is the case, were they random incidents or part of an “organized process” to dispossess and destroy the Tasmanian Aborigines? Above all, were they sanctioned by the local authorities and by the imperial government in Britain? This article addresses these questions by drawing on the typology developed by the French historical sociologist Jacques Semelin to identify the period in which massacres were most prevalent during the Tasmanian Black War, and to investigate in detail a cluster of massacres in the Meander River region in Tasmania in June 1827 to determine whether or not they were part of an “organized process” or a series of random incidents to destroy a particular Aboriginal group, known as the Pallittorre. The article then considers whether Governor George Arthur could have authorized the massacres. The article finds that massacres were more widespread in one particular phase of the war and, in the area of the case study, were more likely to have been part of an “organized process” than a series of random incidents. It concludes that these massacres were in fact sanctioned by the local and imperial authorities, and were used as a vital strategy in the overall destruction of the Pallittorre.

Document Type: Research Article


Publication date: 2008-12-01

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