Friends of the Orphans Schools logo

Aboriginal Children at the Orphan Schools

Several Aboriginal children - most taken from their families at the Wybalenna Aboriginal establishment on Flinders Island - were admitted to the Orphan School in the 1830s and 1840s. Perhaps the most well-known are Mathinna; William (or Billy) Lanne; and Fanny Cochrane-Smith.
Fanny Cochrane-Smith (1834-1905) was born on Flinders Island. In December 1842, aged eight, she was admitted to the Queen's Orphan School simply as 'Fanny', and remained there until February 1843. She later lived at Oyster Cove with her mother and sister, Mary Anne. Fanny married William Smith in 1854 in Hobart and had a large family.

Mathinna was admitted (aged 8) in 1843 after three years of a privileged life at Government House as the social experiment of Lady Jane Franklin. She was taken back to Flinders Island in 1844, where she had been born in January 1835. Her parents had died during her years of absence. Her older sister, Teanic (believed to be Tina), had died (aged 3) at the Orphan School on 15 June 1835 and was buried at Holy Trinity. After the Aboriginal Establishment was transferred from Wybalenna to Oyster Cove in 1847, Mathinna was re-admitted until 1851 when she was returned to Oyster Cove. She died a few years later at Oyster Cove.

William Lanne, aged 8, was admitted to the Male Orphan School in December 1847 under the name 'Billy Lannie'. He was sent from Wybalenna after both his parents died and was there until January 1853.

One of the first Aboriginal children admitted to the Orphan School was Thomas Bunce, aged 7, who came into to the Male Orphan School in August 1828 (when it was on the original site). He left in November 1836.

Several children were progressively removed from Flinders Island from 1832 through to 1835. One of these - admitted as 'Friday' but later known as Walter George Arthur - became a prominent Aboriginal leader. He married Mary Ann Cochrane, sister to Fanny Cochrane Smith. Several of the children returned to Wybalenna in 1835.
In 1847, the 46 survivors of the Aboriginal establishment were removed to Oyster Cove, south of Hobart. Several children were admitted to the Orphan School in December 1847. In January 1853, Billy Lannie and Adam were among the last of this group to leave.

A number of Aboriginal children died while at the Orphan School. Some may have been buried at the Holy Trinity Burial Ground: eight appear in the burial register there between 1834-1835. Others may have been buried in the burial ground attached to the Orphan School. Four appear in the St John's Burial register: Charley Flinders, who died in 1839, aged 16; Jessie Flinders, who died in 1843, aged 9 or 10; Nannie, who died in 1849, aged 11; and Moriarty, who died in 1852, aged 10.

Further reading:

TAHO SWD 28/1/1 Admission Registers Queen's Orphan School
I. McFarlane, Beyond awakening : the Aboriginal tribes of north west Tasmania : a history, Launceston, Tas.: Fullers Bookshop, 2008.
N.J.B. Plomley (ed.), Friendly mission: the Tasmanian journals and papers of George Augustus Robinson, 1829-1834 / 2nd edition, Launceston, Tas.:Queen Victoria Museum and Art Gallery ; Hobart, Tas. : Quintus Publishing, 2008
N.J.B. Plomley, Weep in silence: a history of the Flinders Island Aboriginal settlement; with the Flinders Island journal of George Augustus Robinson, 1835-1839 / Sandy Bay, Tas. : Blubber Head Press, 1987
J. Clark, 'Smith, Fanny Cochrane (1834 - 1905)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 11, Melbourne University Press, 1988, p. 642.
H. Reynolds, 'Arthur, Walter George (c1820 - 1861)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, Supplementary Volume, Melbourne University Press, 2005, pp 10-11.
Purtscher, Joyce (compiler). Children in Queen's Orphanage, Hobart Town, 1828-1863, Tasmania: VDL & NI Interest Group, 1993.

 

Site last updated June 2017