Black War

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Black War
Black War.png
Perpetrator: George Arthur
British colonists
Date: 1825-1832
Location: Tasmania, Australia
Motive: To clear the aboriginal population of Tasmania for British settlers.
Crimes: Genocide
Ethnic cleansing
Mass murder
War crimes
Crimes against humanity
Genocidal rape
Anti-Native American Sentiment
One by one, they had all gone, some shot, some brained with musket-butts, others rotted with drink and disease of victims of strange and horrible clothing. They had been raped, emasculated, flogged, roasted and starved. They has been badgered from place to place, taken from their country to an unfamiliar island and brought back to die in the pestiferous ruins of a gaol. The colonists' lusts has been succeeded by their hatred, and their hatred by their contempt. The 'black crows' had become the 'savages' and the savages, the dirty, drunken, flea-ridden blacks.
~ Clive Turnbull, Black War: The Extermination of the Tasmanian Aborigines

The Black War was a conflict between British colonists and Aboriginal Australians on the penal colony of Van Diemen's Land (now Tasmania) from the mid-1820's to 1832. This event has been described by many as an act of genocide, as the massacres of the aborigines lead to their near extinction in Tasmania. It was one of the Australian Frontier Wars.


As British settlement encroached into Tasmanian territory, the aboriginal tribes were pushed out of their hunting grounds and many of the people were kidnapped, murdered and raped by the colonists. The aborigines retaliated against the colonists by attacking and plundering their settlements in an attempt to protect their way of life. In response, governor George Arthur declared martial law on the island, allowing the colonists to hunt down and kill any aborigine as wild beasts. In other cases, aboriginal women and children were also kidnapped and raped by the British colonists and convicts. In order to keep peace with the aboriginal people, Governor Arthur established a military campaign known as the "Black Line" by creating a human chain consisting of thousands of colonists to drive the aborigines to the Tasman Peninsula on the southeast of the island, thus separating them from British settlements.

However, the attempt to segregate the aborigines on the Tasman Peninsula failed, as the men guarding the Black Line were forced to leave due to severe weather conditions. When a government agent named George Augustus Robinson came to negotiate with the aboriginal people, they surrendered and were deported to Flinders Island in the Bass Strait, and thus martial law was revoked. At Flinders Island, as Robinson tried to give the aboriginal people support and assimilate them into white culture, most of them had died from disease.

List of massacres

  • Buxton's Property (March 14th, 1826) - A few years after the alleged killing of a Buxton settler by a party of Oyster Bay warriors, a party went out one night and killed several aboriginal people and wounded one man.
  • Dairy Plains Meander River (September 15th, 1826 - December 1st, 1827):
    • First massacre: The Hobart Town Gazette reported that a week after a confrontation between aboriginal warriors and stock-keepers, the colonists went out and massacred more than six people at a Port Sorrell camp in reprisal for the theft of their livestock.
    • Second massacre: Nine months later, a group of nine natives were killed in retaliation for the attempted murder of a stock-keeper named Thomas Baker.
    • Third massacre: Six months later, when a group of employees working for the Van Diemen's Land Company were transporting a herd of oxen from Launceston to Circular Head, they were attacked by aboriginal warriors, who were then "severely handled" by the employees. This account was taken from a historian working for the Van Diemen's Land Company.
    • The Retreat: On September, 1830, G.A. Robinson received news from a stockman named Harry Hellyer that shortly after the third massacre, a stockman named Paddy Heagon, working for Hobart solicitor Gamiel Butler, “shot 19 of the western natives with a swivel gun charged with nails”.
  • Bank Head Farm (December 12th, 1826) - When a group of stockmen and soldiers of the 40th regiment led by Constable Alexander Lang came across a group of Oyster Bay people led by Kickerterpoller (also known as "Black Tom"), the colonists killed fourteen of the warriors and captured ten others, including Kickerterpoller. Black Tom, who was wanted for murder, was released from prison on January 9th, 1827 with his nine compatriots.
  • Lagoon Lower Marshes (March 1st, 1827) - After the death of a stock-keeper named William Walker, G.A. Robinson received news from a settler named Robert Barr that a group of stockmen killed seventeen natives near the Jordan River.
  • Elizabeth River (April 12th, 1827) - On May 4th, the Colonial Times reported that a small party of soldiers massacred a group of aboriginal people a month earlier in a gully near the River Macquarie three weeks after the deaths of two servants of a settler named Walter Davidson. In a published memoir from 2000 by a settler named James George, the author stated that the colonists reported "killing some two score".
  • Sally Peak (May 1st, 1827) - After a stock-keeper named Richard Addey was killed by Oyster Bay warriors, a reprisal party led by John Radford, the master of the murdered stockman, set off to avenge Addey's death and massacred a group of natives camping in a gully near Sally Peak. The massacre was not made public for nearly fifty years until a historian named James Bonwick published an interview he had with James Gumm, one of the colonists involved in the massacre.
  • Blackman River (June 1st, 1827) - When a group of natives were reported to have killed three shepherds and 100 sheep, two military parties were dispatched in search for the warriors. On January, 1828, a land commissioner noted in his journal that mysterious murders have taken place in the junction of Brumby Creek and Lake River.
  • Laycock Falls (June 24th, 1827) - After the killing of a stockman working for T.C. Simpson, a party of six men including Corporal William Shiner surrounded an aboriginal camp and killed 30-60 people as well as 20-30 dogs. Two different accounts were reported in the Colonial Times. The first one stated "the military instantly pursued the blacks – brought home numerous trophies, such as spears, waddies, tomahawks, muskets, blankets – killed upwards of 30 dogs and, as the report says, nearly as many natives, but this is not a positive fact”. The second one stated “the people over the second Western Tier have killed an immense quantity of blacks this last week. In consequence of their having murdered Mr. Simpson’s stock-keeper, they were surrounded whilst sitting around their fires when the soldiers and others fired at them about 30 yards distant. They report there must have been about 60 of them killed and wounded”. On September, 1830, G.A. Robinson received news from a stock-keeper that William Knight, the stockman who was killed by aboriginal warriors, liked to shoot aboriginal people for sport. A historian named Shayne Breen believes that the accounts in the Colonial Times relate to two separate incidents.
  • Quamby Brook (June 26th, 1827) - After the killing of a stockman working for William Field, a party led by John Batman set off in pursuit and several natives were reported to have been killed by Batman and his men.
  • Cape Grim (January 1st - February 10th, 1828):
    • First massacre: An employee working for the Van Diemen's Land Company named Richard Frederick told the captain of the Caroline's wife that he and four shepherds made a surprise attack on a group of aboriginal people at Cape Grim and killed twelve of them before retreating to their ship. The Caroline captain's wife wrote about the incident in her diary on January 19th and the manager of the Van Diemen's Land Company acknowledged what happened, but claimed that since "the guns misfired", there couldn't have been any casualties.
    • Second massacre: When a group of four shepherds working for Edward Curr of the Van Diemen's Land Company came across a hunting party, they killed 30 people and dumped their corpses off a cliff. When Governor Arthur received news of the massacre by an officer named Alexander Goldie nine months later, he ordered G.A. Robinson to investigate the incident. Robinson interviewed two of the killers and they confirmed the death toll and the location of the massacre, but claimed that only one woman had been killed. Robinson then interviewed a female aboriginal witness, who claimed that the vast majority of the victims were women.
  • Bullock Hunting Ground (March 19th, 1828) - In retaliation of the killing of a stock-keeper, a reprisal party came across an aboriginal camp at Bullock Hunting Ground, where they killed four men, nine women and a child.
  • Eastern Tiers (April 2nd - July 1st, 1828):
    • First massacre: In reprisal of the murder of a stock-keeper named Henry Beames, a magistrate named James Simpson sent a party of colonists to hunt down the killers. The party came across an aboriginal camp and prepared to open fire. When the natives' dogs gave the alarm, the aboriginal people ran in an attempt to hide, but the illumination from the campfire gave away their position and they were gunned down by the colonists. The incident was reported on April 5th in Hobart, but there was no mention of the massacre. Two years later, Dr. Turnbull claimed that there was no massacre and that "no bodies were found". In 1835, a journalist named Henry Melville provided an account from an eyewitness. The eyewitness claimed that after the massacre, they retrieved some waddies and spears and burned an infant to death.
    • Second massacre: On March 1st, 1830, a settler named Robert Ayrton wrote a letter to the Aboriginal committee that a massacre had taken place in the Eastern Tiers in July of 1828. He claimed that a party of constables and soldiers of the 40th regiment murdered sixteen people and burned their bodies. Ayrton also claimed that he heard the soldiers boast about their murder, including one man who boasted about running his bayonet through two of the victims.
  • Cockatoo Valley (October 23rd, 1828) - After a party of Oyster Bay warriors killed three civilians in two separate attacks, a reprisal party came across a campsite near Cockatoo Valley and killed approximately thirteen people.
  • Tooms Lake (December 6th, 1828) - When a party of colonists were tracking down a group of natives, they arrived at an encampment near Tooms Lake and surrounded the area. According to one of the guides, as the colonists approached the camp, one of the natives spotted them and shouted an alarm. As the warriors retrieved their spears in defense, the colonists immediately fired upon them. Many of the natives were killed and two of them, a woman and her son, were taken prisoner by the colonists.
  • Break O'Day Plains (January 1st, 1829) - After a series of robberies were reportedly committed in various farms, a reprisal party set out to kill the perpetrators. Nine natives were killed and three were taken to St. Paul's River. Ten natives were also killed and two of them were taken near the Eastern Marshes.
  • St. Paul's River (January 1st, 1829) - Shortly after the massacre at the Break O'Day Plains, ten natives were killed near St. Paul's River.
  • West Tamar (February 18th, 1829) - A report from the Colonial Times claimed that a military party was attacked by a group of aboriginal people and seven of them were killed in retaliation.
  • Coal River (March 1st, 1829) - A report from the Hobart Town Courier stated that an aboriginal man with a party of six warriors were captured by a party of colonists near the Coal River at Richmond. Five of the natives were shot and the leader of the party died shortly after the incident.
  • Cataract Gorge (March 13th, 1829) - After a reported murder of three settlers and the disappearances of two stock-keepers, a reprisal party set off in pursuit and killed four men, a woman and a child.
  • Clyde River (March 28th, 1829 - August 22nd, 1830):
    • First massacre: After an aboriginal raid at a stock hut near Jones' River, a reprisal party attacked an aboriginal campsite and killed nine people. One woman was wounded and was taken to New Norfolk, where she wasn't "expected to live long".
    • Second massacre: In a report to the magistrate of the police committee at Oatlands, the leader of a band of colonists stated that another leader fired at an aboriginal hunting party, leading to the deaths of six people and many more severely wounded.
    • Third massacre: A reprisal party attacked an aboriginal camp at the upper Clyde river and killed at least six natives in retaliation for a raid on a stock-keeper's hut for flour.
    • Fourth massacre: A report from the Colonial Times stated that a group of stock-keepers working for Captain Woods killed several natives and captured a chief named Petelega. On November, 1831, G.A. Robinson visited the site of the massacre and was informed that the colonists "had shot several natives. Mr. Sinnott said he saw two men and one woman laying on a hill that had been shot.”
  • Pittwater (June 1st, 1829) - In response to a series of raids by aboriginal warriors, a reprisal party tried to capture the culprits. Although the magistrate ordered the officers to capture the natives without loss of life, the colonists fired upon the warriors and it was reported that "eight or ten were severely wounded".
  • East of Ben Lomond (September 1st, 1829) - When John Batman arrived at an aboriginal encampment, he and his men ambushed the aboriginal people, numbering approximately 60-70 people. Batman estimated that fifteen people died of wounds and he stated that he executed two wounded prisoners.
  • Ouse River (October 1st, 1829) - After a series of raids by aboriginal warriors, historian James Bonwick was told that "without warning an expedition was fitted out in the night and a terrible slaughter took place”.
  • Whiteford Hills (April 18th, 1830) - The police magistrate at Westbury reported that a group of stock-keepers have shot two natives and stabbed one of them. Six natives were killed in that incident.


With the death of Truganini, the last full-blooded Tasmanian aboriginal individual, the aboriginal population in Tasmania was widely believed to have been extinct. The last native speaker, Fanny Cochrane Smith, also died in 1905. However, many of the survivors intermarried with the British colonists. In 1992, the Tasmanian Aboriginal Centre constructed a new language called "Palawa kani", which is taken from accounts of the original Tasmanian languages and combined into a new one.


  • The term "Black War" has also referred to the frontier conflicts in southeastern Queensland from 1843 to 1855 as well as a series of aboriginal resistance that took place in the Hawkesbury and Parramatta areas from 1799 to 1805.
  • Historians like Lyndall Ryan have argued that the guerrilla conflict between British colonists and Tasmanian aborigines should be known as the "Tasmanian War", while some have referred to it as the "Tasmanian Genocide".
    • In addition, a 2017 book written by Nick Brodie that described the genocidal war in Tasmania was titled "The Vandemonian War".