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Woretemoeteryenner (c. 1795–1847)

by Maggie Walter and Louise Daniels

This entry is from the Australian Dictionary of Biography

Woretemoeteryenner (c. 1795–1847), palawa woman, also known as Pung, Bung, and Margaret, was born in the mid-1790s in the Cape Portland area, north-eastern Van Diemen’s Land (Tasmania). The North East (Cape Portland Tasmanian) people are one of the estimated nine Aboriginal nations of Tasmania and Woretemoeteryenner’s father, Mannalargenna, was one of the leaders of this nation. Woretemoeteryenner is an ancestor of many of today’s Tasmanian Aboriginal people and, with her sisters, Wapperty (Wobberrertee), Wottecowidyer, and Teekoolterme, is part of small group of palawa women who form a link between pre-European contact Aboriginal people and present-day Tasmanian Aboriginal communities. Her daughter Dalrymple (Dolly) Briggs married Thomas Johnson and had eleven children who lived to adulthood; their families and descendants mostly live in north-west Tasmania. Woretemoeteryenner’s son John Briggs married Aboriginal woman Louisa Strugnell in 1853 and moved to Coranderrk Aboriginal station, near Healesville, Victoria. Eight of John’s children survived to adulthood and their many descendants live mostly in Victoria and New South Wales.

The dispossession of the palawa began with the arrival of sealers. In 1797 the Sydney Cove was wrecked in the Furneaux islands off the coast of Van Diemen’s Land alerting the crew to the bountiful population of seals. By 1802 around two hundred European men were in the Bass Strait islands and some of them began abducting Aboriginal women as concubines and workers. The European invasion of Tasmania commenced with settlements at Risdon Cove in 1803 and Port Dalrymple in 1804. Records are scant; however, by 1810 Woretemoeteryenner was likely living with the sealer George Briggs, who arrived as a fourteen-year-old from England in 1805. Some sources indicate that Briggs abducted her; others suggest that she went with Briggs as part of what was originally a cooperative relationship between the sealers and the palawa. The latter seems more likely as Briggs was on good terms with Mannalargenna. Further, Woretemoeteryenner was referred to as ‘Mrs Briggs’ by colonial officials at various times, including on her death certificate, a status not commonly afforded to other Aboriginal women who bore children to sealers.

Woretemoeteryenner lived and worked on the Bass Strait islands during her childbearing years. In about 1812 she gave birth to her first recorded child, Dalrymple, who, aged seven, was reported as being part of the household of Dr Jacob Mountgarrett, the settlement’s surgeon. Her second daughter, Eliza, was born in about 1817. Another daughter, Mary/Margaret, followed in 1818. Both Eliza and Mary/Margaret died at a young age. Woretemoeteryenner’s fifth recorded child, John, a son, was born in 1820. Before John’s birth, in around 1819, she and Briggs had a fourth daughter, and the death of this child features in colonial writings and family history. While camped near Port Dalrymple with her baby, she was attacked by a group of Aboriginal people, and the child was snatched and thrown into a large fire. She grabbed her child and hid, later making her way back to town. Despite medical attention provided by Mountgarrett, the child died.

Sometime after 1820 Briggs sold Woretemoeteryenner to another sealer for a guinea. By then the Furneaux islands’ seal colonies had been depleted and sealers were travelling further for their quarry. In 1825 she was with a sealing party on route to the Indian Ocean islands of Saint Paul and Amsterdam. Unable to land because of bad weather, the captain left some of the group, including Aboriginal women and children, at Rodrigues. When the vessel failed to return, the group travelled to nearby Mauritius, where authorities eventually arranged for the repatriation of the three surviving women, including Woretemoeteryenner and one child.

On her return to Tasmania in 1827, Woretemoeteryenner found the palawa waging a desperate war. In 1830 George Augustus Robinson was given the task of leading a conciliatory mission to persuade the surviving palawa to give up their struggle. In return they were promised freedom to pursue their traditional lifestyles on the Bass Strait islands. This promise was never fulfilled. Instead they were moved to Wybalenna Aboriginal establishment, Flinders Island. Woretemoeteryenner was living with sealers on Penguin Island when she was picked up by Robinson’s men in 1830 and taken to the government settlement on Gun Carriage Island (Vansittart Island) before being transferred to Wybalenna in 1832.

The Aboriginal people at Wybalenna were given English names; Woretemoeteryenner was renamed Margaret. Weekly market transaction records show that, in the week commencing 25 October 1836, she was paid five shillings and three pence for seven kangaroo skins, and that she purchased two quantities of sugar. Mannalargenna was sent to Wybalenna in 1835 and died there less than three months later. Robinson recorded that a daughter and a son were among those who attended him. In 1840 Robinson stated that Woretemoeteryenner had a husband, probably Philip (Noowerer), a man from the Campbell Town area. Although there is no formal record of their marriage, Robinson often ‘married’ Aboriginal people at Wybalenna in an effort to reduce what he perceived as their ‘licentious’ behaviour. Philip had died at Wybalenna in 1839.

In 1841 Dalrymple, who lived with ex-convict Thomas Johnson, petitioned the colonial office for the release of her mother from Wybalenna:

As it is now a long time since I had the pleasure of seeing her, and as my situation and circumstances enable me to keep her with me in comfort may I respectfully beg leave to solicit your interposition though the proper [channel] of getting an order for the removal of my mother from Flinders Island to my residence in the Township of Perth. (NA CO280/133)

Her letter coincided with a review of Wybalenna that focused on what were increasingly seen as the exorbitant costs of maintaining the establishment. When the board recommended Woretemoeteryenner’s release, she became the only Tasmanian Aboriginal person released from confinement at Wybalenna and allowed to return, unfettered, to Tasmania.

Dalrymple had seven children at the time and Woretemoeteryenner was enchanted by her youngest child, Lewis, who she would carry ‘on her back and go all round the Christmas Hills lighting fires all the way so that it would be known where they were’ (Atkinson 1910, 49). Woretemoeteryenner died peacefully at Dalrymple’s home on 13 October 1847. One week later Wybalenna was closed and the remaining forty-seven people, including Woretemoeteryenner’s surviving sisters, were moved to another Aboriginal establishment, Oyster Cove, in southern Tasmania. Wapperty died there on 12 August 1867. She was later described as the last of the ‘sealing women’ (Ryan 1981, 214).

 

Maggie Walter and Louise Daniels are palawa, part of the Tasmanian Briggs family that descends from the Pairrebenne people of north-eastern Tasmania. Maggie and Louise are sisters and are direct descendants of Woretemoeteryenner.

Select Bibliography

  • Atkinson, George. Record of interview, 11 January 1910. Transcript in The Westlake Papers: Records of Interviews in Tasmania by Ernest Westlake, 1908–1910, compiled by N. J. B. Plomley, 49–50. Launceston, Tas.: Queen Victoria Museum and Art Gallery, 1991
  • National Archives (UK). CO280/133, Colonial Office: Tasmania, Original Correspondence
  • Plomley, B., and K. A. Henley. The Sealers of Bass Strait and the Cape Barren Island Community. Hobart: Blubber Head Press, 1990
  • Pybus, C. ‘Mannalargenna’s Daughters.’ Heat 15 (2000): 93–107
  • Ryan, L. The Aboriginal Tasmanians. St Lucia, Qld: University of Queensland Press, 1981
  • Tasmanian State Archives. CSO/1/121/3067, Colonial Secretary’s Office General Correspondence
  • Walter, Maggie, and Louise Daniels. ‘Personalising the History Wars: Woretemoeteryenner’s Story.’ International Journal of Critical Indigenous History 1, no. 1 (2008): 35–44

Citation details

Maggie Walter and Louise Daniels, 'Woretemoeteryenner (c. 1795–1847)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://ia.anu.edu.au/biography/woretemoeteryenner-29701/text36773, accessed 19 November 2019.

© Copyright Australian Dictionary of Biography, 2012