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ON DISPLAY

Trucaninny, wife of Woureddy
, 1836

by Benjamin Law

cast plaster, painted

Woorrady (d. 1842), was a Nuennone man from Bruny Island, a skilled hunter, boat builder and renowned storyteller who spoke five dialects. In 1829, he joined George Augustus Robinson, a settler and lay preacher appointed to effect the removal of Tasmania’s Indigenous people to Flinders Island in Bass Strait – a strategy conceived by the colonial government for the supposed protection of the Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal communities alike. Accompanied by a group of Aboriginal leaders who were his guides and interpreters, Robinson conducted a series of expeditions – collectively known as the Friendly Mission – between 1830 and 1835, during which the surviving tribes were persuaded into exile. Though one of Robinson’s trusted assistants, Woorrady remained fiercely proud of his identity, refusing to adopt European diet or dress. He maintained the practice of using ochre for his hair and beard while at Wybalenna, the mission station on Flinders Island to which over 100 Aboriginal people were exiled. Many died there while waiting for fulfilment of the promise that they would be allowed to return to their traditional lands. In 1839, Woorrady was one of the fourteen Tasmanians who went to Port Phillip following Robinson’s appointment to the position of Chief Protector of Aborigines. He died on the return journey to Wybalenna in July 1842.

Woorrady’s partner, Trukanini (c. 1812–1876) is arguably nineteenth-century Australia’s most celebrated Indigenous leader. 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 help protect her people, Trukanini joined Robinson in 1829, remaining one of his most important companions throughout the course of his mission. Trukanini went to Wybalenna in 1835, but held to her traditions 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. In 1976 the Tasmanian Aboriginal community won the fight to have her wishes honoured: her bones were cremated and her ashes were scattered 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. Despite being advised he would struggle to make a living as a sculptor, Law recognised that there was demand for likenesses of Aboriginal people. Law’s bust of Woorrady, whom he met through Robinson, is considered Australia’s first portrait sculpture. 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, he 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 Woorrady 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. He worked as the head of Hobart’s Infant School and at Port Arthur before opening a store in Hobart in 1840. During the 1840s, Law acquired property at Westbury in northern Tasmania where he died in October 1890, survived by his fourth wife.

Collection: National Portrait Gallery, Canberra
Purchased 2010
Accession number: 2010.134