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The National Portrait Gallery acknowledges the Traditional Custodians of Country throughout Australia and recognises the continuing connection to lands, waters and communities. We pay our respect to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander cultures and to Elders both past and present.

Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander viewers are warned that this website contains images of deceased persons.

Trucaninny [Trukanini], wife of Woureddy [Wurati], 1836

Benjamin Law

cast plaster, painted

Trukanini (c. 1812–1876) is arguably nineteenth century Australia’s most celebrated Indigenous leader. A Nuennone woman and the daughter of Mangana, chief of the Recherche Bay people, Trukanini experienced the loss of her mother, sister and intended husband – all as a result of white violence – at a young age. Believing that she might be able to assist in protecting her people, in 1829 Trukanini joined the group of Palawa leaders associated with George Augustus Robinson, an evangelically-inclined free settler who'd been appointed to effect the removal of Tasmania's Aboriginal people to a mission station, Wybalenna, on Flinders Island in Bass Strait. Trukanini remained one of Robinson's most important companions throughout the course of his so-called 'Friendly Mission', the name given to a series of journeys conducted by Robinson between 1830 and 1835. Trukanini went to Wybalenna in 1835, but held to her traditional ways despite the expectation that the Aboriginal people there would adopt European customs and religion. She travelled with Robinson in 1839 to the Port Phillip district, where she later engaged with four others in raids against white settlers. She returned to Flinders Island in 1842; when Wybalenna closed in 1847, Trukanini was among the remaining residents relocated to Oyster Cove, a former convict depot south of Hobart and close to her traditional country. Trukanini died in Hobart in May 1876. As she had feared, her skeleton was stolen from her grave and later displayed at the Tasmanian Museum. The Tasmanian Aboriginal community eventually won the fight to have her wishes honoured: her bones were cremated on the 30th of April 1976 and the following day her ashes were scattered with due ceremony on the D'Entrecasteaux Channel. Trukanini was erroneously referred to during her lifetime and beyond as the ‘last Tasmanian’ – a false notion attested to by the many descendants of her contemporaries still living in Tasmania today.

Sheffield-born sculptor Benjamin Law (1807–1890) arrived in Hobart as an assisted immigrant in February 1835. He became acquainted with George Augustus Robinson soon afterwards and through him met Wurati, Trukanini's partner. Despite being advised that ‘the Colony [was] too young’ for him to make a living as a sculptor, Law recognised that there was demand for likenesses of Aboriginal people: a demand driven in part by the colonists’ belief that Tasmania’s Aboriginal people were destined to disappear. Law’s bust of Wurati – considered the first portrait sculpture created in Australia – was completed within two months of Law arriving in Hobart. Copies of the bust were available at four pounds four shillings each and, according to Law’s first wife, Hannah, were ‘called for not only in all Quarters of the Colony, but are being sent to India, to Sweden, to England, Scotland … and Cambridge College’. In 1836, Law commenced his portrait of Trukanini and by October that year announced that he had ‘several duplicates ready for delivery, either in bronze or stone colour’. The portraits of Trukanini and Wurati were valued for their ‘correctness’ and sold well, but Law’s output as a sculptor (which included a bust of Robinson) did not earn him a sufficient living. With Hannah, he worked as the head of Hobart’s Infant School and at Port Arthur before opening a store in Hobart in 1840 that, along with his subsequent business enterprises, proved somewhat unsuccessful. During the 1840s, Law acquired property at Westbury in northern Tasmania. He died at Westbury in October 1890, survived by his fourth wife.

Collection: National Portrait Gallery
Purchased 2010

Accession number: 2010.134

Currently not on display

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Artist and subject

Benjamin Law (age 29 in 1836)

Trukanini (age 24 in 1836)

Subject professions

Indigenous identity

Related information

The Companion

Permanent collection catalogue

Café and shop

On one level The Companion talks about the most famous and frontline Australians, but on another it tells us about ourselves: who we read, who we watch, who we listen to, who we cheer for, who we aspire to be, and who we'll never forget. The Companion is available to buy online and in the Portrait Gallery Store.

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The National Portrait Gallery acknowledges the Traditional Custodians of Country throughout Australia and recognises the continuing connection to lands, waters and communities. We pay our respect to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander cultures and to Elders both past and present.

Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander viewers are warned that this website contains images of deceased persons.