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Trukanini, 1866 (printed 1890s)

Charles Woolley

glass plate negative (sheet: 10.5 cm x 8.2 cm)

Escalating hostilities between settlers and Indigenous people in Van Diemen’s Land in the late 1820s led to the introduction of a policy aimed at the removal of the Aboriginal population to a mission station on Flinders Island in Bass Strait. A free settler named George Augustus Robinson (1788–1866) was appointed to the position of ‘Conciliator of Aborigines’ to bring this policy into effect. Between 1830 and 1834, he conducted a series of expeditions – known as the ‘Friendly Mission’ – during the course of which, aided by guides and interpreters such as Trukanini (c. 1812–1876), he persuaded Aboriginal people into exile. Trukanini and others associated with Robinson consequently became popular subjects for portraits, partly for reasons of celebrity but also because of the white community’s belief in the idea that Tasmania’s Aboriginal people were disappearing. Charles Alfred Woolley (1834–1922) was one of a number of photographers who created portraits of Trukanini in the 1860s, by which time it was held, erroneously, that she was among the ’last’ of her people. Woolley ran a studio on Macquarie Street in Hobart from 1859 to 1870, and is perhaps best known for his series of portraits – of Trukanini, William Lanne, Cooneana, Wapperty and Bessy Clark. Woolley photographed each sitter at three different angles: one face on; one with face averted from the camera; and one in profile, as in this example. Taken in Hobart in August 1866, they were exhibited at the Intercolonial Exhibition in Melbourne later the same year. The photographs subsequently ended up in anthropological collections overseas, engravings of them appeared in various publications, and they were exhibited by Woolley again in the 1870s.

Some years later, Woolley’s negatives were acquired by John Watt Beattie (1859–1930), a photographer who ran a private museum in Hobart displaying his collection of convict relics and other artefacts relating to Tasmania’s history, environment and people. He was also a collector of photographic prints and negatives which he reprinted for sale as postcards and souvenirs. This photograph is believed to be an example of one of Beattie’s later reprints of the photographs taken by Woolley in 1866.

Collection: National Portrait Gallery
Purchased with funds provided by Allanah Dopson & Nicholas Heyward 2009

Accession number: 2011.88

Currently not on display

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Artist and subject

Charles Woolley (age 32 in 1866)

Trukanini (age 54 in 1866)

Subject professions

Indigenous identity

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