Field Guide to Falling in Love in Tasmania

Currently showing posts tagged Lieutenant-Governor

  • Naming Mathinna

    Naming Mathinna

    Mathinna never came here, to the town that bears her name.

    ‘The girl in the red dress’, as she was later painted by a convict artist, was born at the Aboriginal settlement on Flinders Island in 1835. Her parents were from the south-west of Tasmania; Towterer, her father, was a chief of the Lowreenne people. Towterer and his wife Wongerneep were convinced by the enterprising ‘conciliator’ G.A. Robinson, on his ‘friendly mission’, to go into exile when he kidnapped a daughter – Mathinna’s sister – on a west coast expedition.

    That daughter died anyway, her name unrecorded, at Sarah Island. Towterer and Wongerneep received new, grandiloquent names at Robinson’s behest: Romeo and Queen Evaline. They quickly passed away too, leaving Mathinna an orphan on Flinders Island.

    But Mathinna wasn’t the name she was born with anyway. She was Mary, like five other Aboriginal girls at the Flinders Island camp. It wasn’t until she was sent to Hobart that she became Mathinna.

    She had been adopted by the ruling powers of Van Diemen’s Land in that day: the Franklins. John Franklin, the Lieutenant-Governor of the island, had previously been a famous Arctic explorer; his wife Jane was an enthusiastic and active woman, who dreamed of making the colony a haven for art and culture. Part of her liberal agenda for Van Diemen’s Land was to prove that the Aboriginal population could be taught to embrace British values and customs. Mathinna was supposed to be the exemplar of this.

    So they gave her a red dress and had a portrait done; they gave her pen and paper, and taught her to write. She was raised alongside the Franklins’ daughter Eleanor.

    But then, less than two years later, John Franklin lost his job and was recalled to Britain. (He went off and froze to death in the Arctic.) Mathinna went to the appalling conditions of the Queens Orphan School in Hobart in 1843, where scarlet fever ran rampant. Finally, she was transferred to a new Aboriginal settlement at Oyster Cove, a station of derelict buildings where abject neglect created insurmountable poverty.

    Alcoholism and prostitution – largely with dodgy settlers who chose to live near to the Aboriginal camp for this reason – was rife. Mathinna got caught up in it, and the only report of her death declares that she drunkenly passed out in a creek and drowned. She was not yet 21.

    This gold mining town was first called Blackboy, then Reedy Marsh, and finally became Mathinna in 1882. Why was it named after this young woman of tragedy? What stories did the miners here tell over a beer, when it was the third-largest town in Tasmania, that made them want to call their town this way?

    Then again, where did the name Mathinna come from anyway? When she was born, she was called Mary; Mathinna an invention, something for the Franklins’ sake, because they wanted something exotic. Funny to be remembered in a town you never went to, with a name that wasn’t really yours.

     

    Later in Mathinna: a mystery surrounding the death of William Mullins.

  • The Maharajah of Launceston

    The Maharajah of Launceston

    In 1811, Major George Gordon was in charge of the fledgling colony at the mouth of Tamar River. When summer came at the end of the year, Major Gordon suffered from sunstroke so badly, it is said, that he went a little bit out of his mind. At about the same time, a curious character named Jonothan Burke McHugo sailed down the river and stepped into Launceston.

    Calling himself a Maharajah and declaring himself of noble descent, McHugo stated that he had been ordered to Launceston by the British Government of India to investigate the numerous grievances of the colony. Major Gordon felt he had little choice but to hand over the reins of the colony to this visitor of great esteem.

    For a week, McHugo was the boss. The military gave their allegiance entirely to him. He gave out tea, rice, sugar and spirits, lending them at long credit, and set up a court of enquiry to hear the concerns of the settlers. At the conclusion of his inquiry, he declared that Major Gordon ought to be hanged.

    So poor George Gordon (still suffering from sunstroke, I suppose) was set to be strung up, and no doubt he would have been, if not for the timely return of a young lieutenant named Lyttleton, who was surprised to find that while on his short holiday, Launceston had regressed to a state of anarchy. He quickly exercised his authority to put a pause on the execution, and then did some investigations of him own regarding the identity of the Maharajah, General Count Jonothan Burke McHugo.

    Who, it turned out, to be of no noble standing at all, but instead the son of an Irish tobacco seller.

    McHugo was sent back to his ship, and told to bugger off. Not much is known about the rest of his life. Major Gordon was returned to his health, but not to his post; he fired as a punishment for his gullibility. Lyttleton, on the other hand, got a promotion.


     
    Another ship, and another enigmatic visitor: Roald Amundsen arrives on the Fram.