Department of Premier and Cabinet

Fanny Cochrane Smith

Significant Tasmanian Women icon

(1834 – 1905)
Tasmanian Aboriginal
Only Aboriginal to be recorded singing in an indigenous Tasmanian Aboriginal language

Fanny Cochrane SmithPhotograph courtesy of Allport Library and Museum of Fine Arts, State Library of Tasmania
  
Fanny was born at the Wybalenna settlement on Flinders Island in 1834. Her mother, Tanganutura, and her father, Nicermenic, were among the Tasmanian aborigines relocated to Flinders Island in the 1830s by Rev. George Augustus Robinson.

Fanny was fostered to the Clark family on Flinders Island and then sent to the Queen’s Orphan School in Hobart in 1842. She was returned to Wybalena to work for Clark until the settlement closed in 1847. After the closure of Wybalena the Palawa people who survived, including Fanny and her family, were sent to Oyster Cove (south of Hobart). Fanny’s father died there in 1849.

In 1854 Fanny married the Englishman William Smith and they had 11 children between 1855 and 1880. Many of the Tasmanian aboriginal community are their descendants.

Following Truganini’s death in 1876, Fanny claimed the title ‘last Tasmanian’. The government recognised her claim and made two land grants to her (several hundred acres) and also granted her a small allowance for the remainder of her life.

She became a Methodist and was well respected by the white community. She donated land to build the church at Nicholls Rivulet, with the first services being held there in 1901. The church fell into disrepair, but has since been purchased by the South-East Tasmanian Aboriginal Corporation (SETAC) who has restored the building as a Living History Museum.

Fanny remained proud of her Aboriginal heritage, telling her people’s stories, collecting bush food and medicine, weaving baskets and making shell necklaces. She is probably best known for her cylinder recordings of Aboriginal songs, recorded in 1899, which are the only audio recordings of an indigenous Tasmanian language. The recordings are held by the Tasmanian Museum and Art Gallery (TMAG). Several photographs of Fanny making the recordings are held by the TMAG.

By the time of her death in 1905, Fanny had become a well respected leader of the Nicholls Rivulet community.

References:

The Companion to Tasmanian History, edited by Alison Alexander, Hobart, Centre for Tasmanian Historical Studies, University of Tasmania, 2005


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