Black War: Tasmania



Black War’ identifies the conflict between British Colonists and Tasmanian Aborigines in the nineteenth century. Although historians vary on their definition of when the conflict began and ended, it is best understood as the officially sanctioned time of declared martial law by the colonial government between 1828 and 1832.

‘Black War’ can also refer to later conflicts between European colonists and Aboriginal Australians on mainland Australia.

From the sixteenth century, Europeans colonised the Americas, Asia and Africa.  Land inhabited by non-white, non-Europeans was seen as free to take, occupy, rule and plunder.  Although colonialism is now recognised as a breach of international humanitarian law and international human rights, physical remnants and European colonial attitudes persistently remain, with devastating effect on peace and economic equality between and within nation states and their indigenous communities. Wikipedia


Governor Arthur’s proclamation 

In 1830, small ‘proclamation boards’ containing pictograms began appearing on trees in Van Diemen’s Land.

They were designed to show that Aboriginal people and Europeans were equal before the law.

Based on drawings by the Surveyor General George Frankland (1800–1838), they underscored the proclamations of 1828 by Lieutenant Governor George Arthur (1784–1854), in which he had declared martial law and banned Aboriginal people from entering settled areas.

Described by 19th-century historian James Bonwick as ‘the expedition against the Aborigines on the principle of the Fine Arts’, the boards could be likened to a comic strip in appearance.

The equality implied did not exist at the time.

Arthur’s proclamation came amidst increasing violence between settlers and Aboriginal people. By that time, the island’s Aboriginal population had dwindled from about 4000 (in 1803) to between 1000 and 2000.

It is doubtful whether Aboriginal people understood the proclamation board—pictograms produced by one culture are not necessarily obvious to another.

Painted in oils on durable huon pine timber, this board is incorrectly labelled ‘Governor Davey’s Proclamation’. (Coincidentally, Thomas Davey, Lieutenant Governor from 1813 to 1817, also proclaimed martial law, against bushrangers.) National Library of Australia

Read more at the National Library of Australia

For an example of a display of a current attitude to native populations, see an ACMA Investigation (2741) relating to a segment of Sunday Night on the Suruwaha tribe in the Amazon jungle in Brazil, broadcast on 4 September 2011 by Channel Seven Brisbane Pty Ltd (BTQ Brisbane) which found “that, in relation to content which discussed the alleged practices of infanticide among the Suruwaha, the segment breached requirements which prohibit the broadcast of content which is likely, in all the circumstances, to provoke or perpetuate intense dislike and serious contempt on the grounds of ethnic origin.”  For more information on tribal peoples’ rights and a movement to protect them, see Survival International, the group which made the complaint against Seven.  Reported also by Max Chalmers in New Matilda, 25 June, 2014.