When the Europeans landed in Tasmania in 1772 they flowed like a river of Clorox through the island, bleaching out much of Tasmanian culture. By the time Fanny Cochrane Smith was born in 1834, aboriginal culture suppressed to the point of shame and secrecy, with much of it forgotten. She was born at Settlement Point, run by the self titled Reverend George Augustus Robinson, who ‘relocated’ aboriginal people to his facilities. By ‘relocated’, I mean he essentially kidnapped aboriginal people from their own homes using false pretenses. Though Fanny’s mother and father were named Tanganutura and Nicermenic, respectively, Fanny, like all children born at the site, was given a European name. At the age of five she was made to live with the facility preacher, and at age eight she was sent to a boarding school to learn how to be a maid. Upon completing this education, she was shipped back to Settlement Point and was made to work for the same preacher she’d lived with. Thankfully, when Fanny was thirteen, the facility was shut down.
Seven years later, Fanny would find and marry William Smith, an ex-convict who had been shipped to the Southern Hemisphere like so many criminals. The couple lived a frugal life, partly because they did not come from wealth, and partly because they would have a total of eleven children.
Fanny’s culture was dying all around her, and when she was forty-two, another piece of her heritage, literally, died. Truganini, a woman worthy of her own article in this series, was one of the last full blooded aborigine people, and when she died in 1876, Fanny became the last Tasmanian aborigine. Wanting to preserve what was left of her culture, Fanny made a groundbreaking contribution to both anthropology and linguistics. She made the first and only recording of Tasmanian aborigine language. In 1903, five wax cylinder recorders were made of her singing and speaking her language, though once of these cylinders would later break and be lost forever. Upon hearing these recordings, she became emotional, hearing the similarity between her own voice and her mother’s. Fanny would die of pneumonia two years later.
She was remembered as being fiercely proud of her culture, spending much of her time in nature, diving for shellfish, gathering food, and engaging in aboriginal religious practices. Were in not for her confidence and pride, this vital piece of aboriginal culture would be lost to us forever.