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Walter Arthur

Walter George Arthur (about 1820–1861), Aboriginal activitist, lived as a Launceston vagrant after his separation from the Ben Lomond tribe, until taken to the Hobart Boys' Orphan School in 1832. Sent to the Flinders Island settlement in 1835, he was closely associated with the Commandant Robinson, and was regarded as one of the school's star pupils. In 1846 Arthur was one of eight Aborigines who petitioned Queen Victoria against the return to Wybalenna of the unpopular commandant, Dr Jeanneret. This petition precipitated the 1847 removal of the Aborigines back to mainland Tasmania.

For Christian humanitarians, Arthur and his wife, Mary Anne, exemplified the belief that all were created in God's image and capable of 'improvement'. A committed Christian who was often described as the 'civilised native', Arthur demanded to be treated like a 'white free man', believing that Aborigines were not prisoners. Rather, they were exiles who had freely negotiated an agreement with Robinson and the government to give up their country, after defending themselves in a protracted guerilla war. Arthur was an outspoken member of the Oyster Cove community in criticising the quality of rations, the organisation of the settlement and the land he was farming; and he was incensed that he was not considered for a selection in the Huon Valley unless he pledged to abstain from alcohol for a year. His request to hire a convict passholder was denied. Arthur signed on for whaling voyages in 1859 but drowned in a boating accident soon after his return.

Further reading: H Reynolds, Fate of a free people, Melbourne, 1995; S Dammery, Walter George Arthur, Melbourne, 2001.

Wendy Rimon