From the early 1820s to about the mid-1830s, the Black War raged in Tasmania. Exact figures are unknown, but it’s estimated that at least 900 Tasmanian Aboriginal people and 200 British colonists were killed.
A portrait of Mithina by Thomas Bock. Source: Supplied / TMAG
Robinson had started travelling the state in 1830, rounding up the surviving Tasmanian Aboriginal people and sending them to the settlement on Flinders Island.
“It was like offshore detention for almost 20 years,” Julie says of Wybalenna.
It was like offshore detention for almost 20 years.
“It was misconstrued to them [Tasmanian Aboriginal people] about what was happening, where they were going, and for how long they’d be there.”
Trawlwoolway woman and curator Julie Gough. Source: Supplied / TMAG
Sir John Franklin was appointed Lieutenant Governor of Van Diemen’s Land (Tasmania’s former colonial name) in 1837, for a four-year term. Julie says that he and his wife, Lady Jane, requested an Aboriginal boy and girl.
Eleanor Franklin – the daughter of Governor Franklin and his first wife Eleanor Porden – was 11 years older than Mithina, and wrote in her diary at the time of Mithina being given a doll with a petticoat.
The doll believed to have belonged to Mithina. Source: Supplied / Gell Trustees via Derbyshire Record Office, UK/ TMAG
Mithina lived with the Franklins for four years, but four months before his term as Governor was due to end, Mithina was abandoned by the Franklins and left at the orphan asylum in Hobart.
“Some of the terminology is that she drowned in a puddle or a creek at Oyster Cove, after such a horrendous young life.”
A chance discovery
The pin cushion had a label on it that identified it as being made by “Tasmanian girl, Methinna [sic].”
The pin cushion that was found with the doll. Source: Supplied / Gell Trustees via Derbyshire Record Office, UK
The Derbyshire Record Office contacted TMAG, who contacted the Tasmanian Aboriginal Centre.
“Fortunately, the historic label on the cushion identified Mithina. Without that, [finding the doll] may never have eventuated,” Julie says.
Artefacts return home
It sees a number of ancestral objects from around the world returned to Tasmania on long-term loans from museums and institutions. The objects will be displayed alongside the Tasmanian Aboriginal artists’ work.
An artwork depicting the doll by Janice Ross. Source: Supplied / TMAG
Three of the artists – Janice Ross, Cheryl Rose, and Lillian Wheatley – have created contemporary pieces influenced by Mithina and her pin cushion and doll.
“As the Aunties always said to me: ‘oh you’ve never been gone, you’ve been always with us, it’s just that sometimes the spirits in our young Aboriginal children, they’re sleeping for a while until they awaken,’” Ross says.
“Having a natural resource within an institutional setting [a museum] can bring about the story for people to connect with,” she says.
“But the cultural objects, I suppose, have been waiting their turn, because bringing back the ancestors has been the primary responsibility of community.”
The cultural objects … have been waiting their turn.
Would you like to share your story with SBS News? Email [email protected]