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Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people should be aware this website contains images, voices and names of people who have died.

Violent dispossession in Tasmania

1830: The ‘Black Line’ — settler force attempts to corral Aboriginal people onto the Tasman Peninsula

Allport Library and Museum of Fine Arts, State Library of Tasmania
1800 1900
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Use the following additional activities and discussion questions to encourage students (in small groups or as a whole class) to think more deeply about this defining moment.

Questions for discussion

1. Look closely at Governor Arthur’s ‘Proclamation to the Aborigines’. About 100 boards like this were produced and spread around Tasmania in 1828 and 1829, and many were mounted on trees in remote areas of the bush.

(a) What does the proclamation board show?

(b) Who do you think this proclamation is aimed at?

(c) From what you have learned about the Black Line, do you think the proclamation boards were successful?

2. Some people have argued that the Black War should be commemorated at the Australian War Memorial in Canberra. Research the arguments for and against this proposal. Explain which argument/s you find most persuasive and why.

3. Is the Black Line a defining moment in Australian history? Explain your answer.

Image activities

1. Look carefully at all the images for this defining moment. Tell this story in pictures by placing them in whatever order you think works best. Write a short caption under each image.

2. Which 3 images do you think are the most important for telling this story? Why?


3. If you could pick only one image to represent this story, which one would you choose? Why?

Finding out more

1. What else would you like to know about this defining moment? Write a list of questions and then share these with your classmates. As a group, create a final list of 3 questions and conduct some research to find the answers.

<p>Map showing movements of the Black Line, 1831</p>

WL Crowther Library, Tasmanian Archive and Heritage Office, SD_ILS:994395

WARNING: This page contains some difficult and potentially distressing content.

In a snapshot

Relations between Tasmania’s Aboriginal people and European colonisers were hostile from the first recorded contact. By 1830 a virtual state of war existed. The British Lieutenant-Governor responded by creating the ‘Black Line’, a military campaign involving a human chain designed to move all remaining Aboriginal Tasmanians to the Tasman Peninsula. While the campaign did not succeed at first, the devastating effect of colonisation on Aboriginal Tasmanians ultimately allowed Europeans to take control of the region.

Map showing movements of the Black Line, 1831


Findout icon Can you find out?

1. How long after Europeans arrived in 1788 did the Black Line begin?

2. About how many colonists joined in the Black Line? Did they outnumber the remaining Aboriginal people at this time?


3. How did Governor Arthur justify the use of the Black Line?

What was life like in Tasmania before European colonisation?

Around 40,000 years ago the original Tasmanians settled the island they called Trowunna by migrating from mainland Australia on a land bridge. This land bridge later permanently flooded, cutting them off from the mainland and creating what is now called the Bass Strait.

There were up to 15,000 Aboriginal people living in nine nations in Tasmania when the First Fleet arrived in Sydney in 1788. They lived off the island’s many resources, especially its great hunting grounds and fresh waters.

<p>Tasmanian Aboriginal people at Oyster Cove</p>

National Library of Australia an23182428

<p>Tasmanian Aboriginal people at Oyster Cove</p>
Photograph of Tasmanian Aboriginal woman Truganini, by Charles Alfred Woolley

When did the British come into contact with Tasmania?

British colonists and convicts arrived in Tasmania in the early 1800s. At first there were fewer than 3000 Europeans living in Tasmania. They were mostly military personnel and convicts, along with a small number of free settlers. But by 1830 this number had increased to about 23,500.

Nearly one million sheep had been moved into good grazing land, which destroyed the local environment and many food and water sources used by Aboriginal people. Aboriginal people also suffered as a result of introduced European diseases and violence from the colonists. By 1818 the number of Aboriginal Tasmanians had dropped to less than 2000.

As the British population grew conflict with the Aboriginal Tasmanian population increased. Many Aboriginal women and children were kidnapped, and in about 1824 the violent Black War began as colonists drove Tasmanian Aboriginal groups from their lands, murdering many in the process. In response Aboriginal people attacked and killed colonists, sometimes using guerrilla warfare tactics to defend themselves.

Black and white portrait illustration of a man.

What was the Black Line?

Soon after becoming Lieutenant Governor of Tasmania in 1824, George Arthur made it a crime to resist British colonisation. He allowed soldiers and police to raid Aboriginal camps and take prisoners for almost any reason. As the fighting and resistance continued, Arthur suspended ordinary law and declared martial law, which led to Aboriginal people being considered ‘open enemies’ of the colony. This gave Aboriginal people few protections, even though the famous Arthur’s ‘Proclamation to the Aborigines’ seemed to promise a fairer approach.

Governor Arthur then used the ‘Black Line’ to try to force the remaining Aboriginal Tasmanians onto the Tasman Peninsula. On 7 October 1830 2200 free settlers, military, police and convicts formed a human chain and moved across the Tasmanian landscape to remove the remaining Aboriginal people. It was the largest force ever brought together against Aboriginal people anywhere in Australia, and made up of about 10 per cent of the European Tasmanian population. 

The Black Line did not successfully achieve its goal of capturing the remaining Aboriginal Tasmanians right away. Only two Aboriginal people were reported as captured. But the campaign did frighten many Aboriginal people, who later surrendered to the colonists. Around 200 Aboriginal Tasmanians were removed to Flinders Island in Bass Strait, where many died from the extremely poor living conditions.

Although a huge number of Aboriginal Tasmanians died up to and during the Black War, today many thousands of people in Tasmania identify as Indigenous (according to the 2016 census). Many keep up their traditional culture, traditions and language, and practise traditional skills such as basket weaving, necklace making and mutton birding.


Read a longer version of this Defining Moment on the National Museum of Australia’s website.

Research task


What were the main events and conflicts that took place during the Black War? Who were some of the main Aboriginal and European leaders involved in the war? About how many people (Aboriginal and European) died during the war?

Findout icon What did you learn?

1. How long after Europeans arrived in 1788 did the Black Line begin?

2. About how many colonists joined in the Black Line? Did they outnumber the remaining Aboriginal people at this time?

3. How did Governor Arthur justify the use of the Black Line?