'The Tasmanians' in Port Phillip 1841-42
Auty and Russell take us to another time in the capital of Melbourne. This is a story about displaced, isolated and abandoned Palawa. Two – Tunnerminnerwait and Maulboyheenner – were executed. Three women – Truganini, Planobeena and Pyterruner – were returned to their country, grieving and brutalised.
This essay is an examination of the conduct of an erratic and incompetent trial judge (Willis) who had failed in other jurisdictions and who was now 'in charge' of a fledgling colonial justice system, and of a Protector, G.A. Robinson, complicit in a great injustice.
Across the narrative the reader is introduced to groups of Europeans, both official and unofficial, acting as hunting parties, their conduct approved both tacitly and, finally, officially.
Readers will be shocked by the treatment of the Palawa in this tragedy – not Shakespearean times, but Victoria in the 1840s.
Just two amongst the appalling issues examined here are the direction by the judge to proceed with capital changes, overruling a prosecution application reducing them, and the trial being forced on in the absence of significant witnesses.
This essay is a challenge to the fairness of the legal process that led to the hanging of Tunnerminnerwait and Maulboyheenner on a horror day, watched by thousands in early Melbourne. It is a warts-and-all review of the state of civil society in early Victoria as it related to a race without a voice.
Two Aboriginal men journeyed from the place of their ancestors in the north of Tasmania to become the subjects of Melbourne’s first public execution. The events leading to the crimes for which they were convicted are contested to this day. Their stories intertwine with a host of foundational figures from early years of the colony of Port Phillip, leaving an abiding mark on the culture of this city and its people. Auty and Russell’s Hunt Them, Hang Them is an essential account of a tainted judicial killing – every bit as important to the history of Melbourne as the saga of Ronald Ryan.
Resistance comes in many forms, this is a story of resistance against the odds, against the beginnings of cultural and social dominance of one race over another. Many of the dominant culture viewed these men and their families as criminals, murderers, perhaps even terrorists. To others, they are regarded as heroes of the resistance. In any regard, the perspective given in this missive on how these men were treated by the attitude which perpetuated the law, the law itself and subsequently the racially motivated deformed justice, needs to be heard. This story needs to be heard by our nation, it is only with great courage can we recognise our past as a nation for what it truly is, then we will be enabled to plant seeds of hope here in the present, these stories and this perspective of this part of our nation’s past, give opportunity to plant seeds to create a future which can embrace us all.
Richard Frankland, Gunditjmara, The Wilin Centre for Indigenous Arts and Cultural Development
Faculty of the VCA and MCM, The University of Melbourne
A fair trial or not? Through a combination of detailed legal and historical analysis, this book provides a chilling new account of the events leading up to the trial and execution of Tunnerminnerwait and Maulboyheenner in Melbourne in 1841. Auty & Russell expertly examine the facts, the evidence presented at trial and the legal processes involved: an episode in the history of Tasmania and Victoria and the administration of justice that deserves to be better understood.
Dr Gaye Sculthorpe
Curator, Oceania, The British Museum
Professor Kate Auty is a Vice Chancellor's Fellow at the University of Melbourne. She is a lawyer, historian and environmentalist. Liardet's watercolour of Tunnerminnerwait and Maulboyheenner on their way to their executions is a piece of family iconography, macabre and deeply sad.
Professor Lynette Russell is an historian and Australian Research Council Professorial Fellow. She is Director of the Monash Indigenous Centre. She describes her work as anthropological history, combining archival and material culture in an effort to tell the stories of the past.
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