George Augustus Robinson - Protector of Aborigines

As Chief Protector of Aborigines in the early 1800s, George Augustus Robinson recorded the deaths of dozens of Indigenous people and because of this remained a man deeply concerned with their plight.

Robinson (born 1791 in London) immigrated to Australia in 1823 from the port of Leith in Scotland. He was followed two years later by his wife and children. Settling in Van Diemen's Land (Tasmania), he arrived at a time of open conflict between European settlers and traditional owners. The Government's solution was to relocate the Aboriginal population out onto island reservations and in 1829 Robinson accepted a job as Protector of Aborigines at the first of these on Bruny Island.

Detail from The small outline of a National Picture [The Conciliation], 1835 / by Benjamin Duterrau.

Detail from The small outline of a National Picture [The Conciliation], 1835 by Benjamin Duterrau  Pictures PXA 2004

By January 1830 however, disease had decimated the Aboriginal population and the settlement was closed. Undeterred, a new settlement was established on Flinders Island in 1835 and Robinson undertook many expeditions across Tasmania to contact and bring in remaining Aboriginal groups. However the high mortality rate continued, and by 1858 only 15 Indigenous people survived, including the iconic Truganini, at the Oyster Cove settlement, near Hobart.

In 1839 Robinson was appointed Chief Protector of Aborigines for Port Phillip (Victoria). He travelled widely throughout the region as he had done in Van Diemen's Land, and was one of the first to describe life outside the colonial settlements. Travelling through the western district in 1841, Robinson documented many atrocities committed against Aboriginal people. In his journal he wrote 'this would not be allowed in civilised society'.

For all his understanding however, Robinson was widely considered a failure as 'Protector' of Aborigines and his position was abolished in 1849. The Mitchell Library acquired his vast personal collection of papers, pictures and journals in 1939 where they remain, a lasting account of Aboriginal Australians and their experiences during the initial years of contact with non-Aboriginal people.

> Find more of the George Augustus Robinson papers, 1818-1924, via the Library's online catalogue catalogue link

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