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Tongerlongeter (c. 1790–1837)

by Nicholas Clements

This article was published:

This entry is from the Australian Dictionary of Biography

Tongerlongeter, by Thomas Bock, 1832

Tongerlongeter, by Thomas Bock, 1832

The British Museum, Oc2006,Drg.72 © The Trustees of the British Museum

Tongerlongeter (c. 1790–1837), warrior and leader, was born in around 1790 into the Poredareme clan of the Oyster Bay nation, whose Country encompassed much of south-east lutruwita (Tasmania). Little is known about his early life, except that he appears to have had a brother, known as ‘Dick,’ and a younger Poredareme clansman, Kickertopoller (also known as Black Tom and Tom Birch). It is likely he would have spent his childhood traversing the beaches and hinterlands of his Country and visiting the allied Big River nation in central lutruwita. Oyster Bay and Big River people shared a common language and common enemies. Boys like Tongerlongeter were raised as warriors, and he probably would have married as a young man.

In 1803 British invaders established their first settlement at Risdon Cove on the Derwent. Early interactions were often violent—some white men preyed on Aboriginal women and girls, and sealers were known to capture and enslave them, leading to retaliation. At first Tongerlongeter would have had little contact with the newly arrived colonisers, his Country being far removed from the original settlements. But by the mid-1820s thousands of new arrivals were flooding into Poredareme Country.

What became known as the ‘Black War’ between colonists and palawa peoples began in earnest in November 1823 and intensified over the next seven years. Tongerlongeter and his clan mounted fierce, but costly, resistance. Many warriors, as well as most women, children, and old people had been killed or captured by 1828. His wife, whose name is not recorded, was abducted along with another woman, Drometehenner. In September 1826, two Poredareme men, Jack and Dick, were found guilty of murdering stock-keeper Thomas Colley, and hanged in Hobart. Dick was most likely Tongerlongeter’s brother. As decimated Oyster Bay clans amalgamated into war parties dedicated to resistance, Tongerlongeter emerged as the overall leader. His war parties employed increasingly effective tactics of guerrilla warfare, including reconnaissance, stealth, decoys, arson, and attacking at multiple locations simultaneously before regrouping and vanishing. In November 1828 Lieutenant Governor George Arthur declared martial law, marking an escalation to all-out war. Between 1828 and 1830 Tongerlongeter’s Oyster Bay warriors and their Big River allies made some 493 attacks on the invaders, killing or wounding at least 217 of them.

By 1830, as colonial casualties mounted and the economy faltered, panic began to set in, and some influential colonists suggested possibly abandoning the colony. In September the colonial government initiated the ‘Black Line,’ still the largest military offensive ever mounted on Australian soil. After escaping the cordon, Tongerlongeter and his people retreated to the relative safety of the Central Plateau but were ambushed in the Den Hill area. He later recalled that one evening ‘plenty of white men’ came and shot at them, killing two men and three women, who ‘they beat on the head’ before they ‘burnt them in a fire’ (Plomley 1987, 325). In the attack a musket ball almost severed Tongerlongeter’s arm just below the elbow, and the remainder of his limb had to be amputated and cauterised. Driven to avoid further gunfire, they wintered in the frigid high country. Though Tongerlongeter recovered, the momentum of the resistance did not: in 1831 Oyster Bay and Big River warriors only made approximately a quarter of the attacks made the preceding year.

The following spring Tongerlongeter’s people made one last foray to the east coast where they were hemmed in on the Freycinet Peninsula by more than 100 armed white men. They escaped the cordon under the cover of night and headed to the Ouse River, where his second wife, Big River woman Droomteemetyer, gave birth to their son, Parperermanener. Here they were joined by the surviving Big River people. Now comprising fewer than thirty individuals, Tongerlongeter’s group made their way to the high plateau.

On 31 December 1831 the Oyster Bay–Big River people were approached by a small palawa party, including Oyster Bay man Kickertopoller and Big River woman Polare, who were envoys of George Augustus Robinson’s ‘friendly mission.’ The governor had tasked Robinson to act as a ‘conciliator’ with the remaining palawa peoples and bring them under government control. Tongerlongeter and Montpelliatta, the Big River leader, met with Robinson who asked them to cease their hostilities, assuring them they could remain on their Country with a government emissary for protection as soon as order was restored. They were sceptical; however, given that the alternative was almost certain death, they accepted.

A week later, on 7 January 1832, Tongerlongeter and the surviving Oyster Bay–Big River resistance entered Hobart. Spears in hand, they walked down Elizabeth Street to meet with Governor Arthur. A crowd of townspeople watched, treating the procession as a spectacle signalling that, after nearly a decade of conflict, the ‘Black War’ was over. While the governor was a meticulous recordkeeper, the promises he made at Government House that day were not documented.

On 17 January 1832 Tongerlongeter and his companions set sail for Flinders Island. Many of them were seasick, including Droomteemetyer who was probably dehydrated and likely struggling to breastfeed her son. Soon after disembarking, Parperermanener died. Tongerlongeter and Droomteemetyer conducted traditional mourning practices and preserved their son’s skull, which became a sacred relic for the couple and their community in the years to come.

Tongerlongeter remained a steadfast leader, both for the Poredareme and, increasingly, for the wider exiled community on Flinders Island, first at The Lagoons and then at Wybalenna. He was proactive in his dealings with the colonial authorities, representing the exiles in negotiations, settling their disputes, and providing counsel, and was instrumental in various improvements to their quality of life. A visiting missionary in February 1834 identified him as ‘the principal chief at Flinders’ (Plomley 1966, 617). Upon taking command of the settlement in 1835, Robinson immediately recognised Tongerlongeter’s status as an elder and leader, renaming him ‘King William’ after Britain’s reigning monarch. His wife was accordingly renamed ‘Queen Adelaide.’

Tongerlongeter attempted to ensure his people’s wellbeing after being forcibly removed and resettled. However, during his five years at the settlement, there were only four births and well over one hundred deaths, mostly from influenza. On 21 March 1837, he and his main rival, the Ben Lomond man Rolepa, insisted that Robinson allow them ‘to leave this place of sickness,’ asking him: ‘What, do you mean to stay till all the black men are dead?’ (Plomley 1987, 432). Tongerlongeter never stopped advocating for their promised return to Country, but the priority was leaving Flinders Island. In 1836 Tongerlongeter and Rolepa reached an agreement with Robinson, who proposed moving the settlement to Port Phillip. However, the plan never went ahead. The surviving palawa exiles would return to the mainland at Oyster Cove in 1847, but not before nearly two hundred of them had died.

Six years into his exile, Tongerlongeter fell ill, suffering from abdominal inflammation. After five days of sickness, he passed away on 20 June 1837 and was buried in the Wybalenna cemetery. Survived by his wife, he was greatly mourned. Robinson stated that his death ‘has thrown a halo over the settlement’ and ‘his loss is deeply deplored by all’ (Plomley 1987, 453). His funeral was carried out ‘with every mark of distinction’ and, according to Robinson, its scale ‘had not been witnessed at Flinders’ (Plomley 1987, 699).

Though arguably one of the greatest resistance leaders in Australia’s history, Tongerlongeter’s grave is unmarked, and no memorial recognises him or his sacrifice in defending his Country. While he has no known descendants, the fog of historical amnesia is starting to lift, and he is increasingly admired by Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal Tasmanians alike.

 

Nicholas Clements is a non-Indigenous Australian born in northern Tasmania.

Select Bibliography

  • Arthur, George. Van Diemen's Land: Copies of All Correspondence between Lieutenant-Governor Arthur and His Majesty's Secretary of State for the Colonies, on the Subject of the Military Operations Lately Carried On Against the Aboriginal Inhabitants of Van Diemen's Land. Hobart: Colonial Office & Tasmanian Historical Research Association, 1971
  • Reynolds, Henry, and Nicholas Clements. Tongerlongeter: First Nations Leader and Tasmanian War Hero. Sydney: NewSouth Publishing, 2021
  • Robinson, George Augustus. Friendly Mission: The Tasmanian Journals and Papers of George Augustus Robinson, 1829–1834. Edited by N. J. B. Plomley. Hobart: Tasmanian Historical Research Association, 1966
  • Robinson, George Augustus Robinson. Weep in Silence: A History of the Flinders Island Aboriginal Settlement, with the Flinders Island Journal of George Augustus Robinson, 1835–1839. Edited by N. J. B. Plomley. Sandy Bay, Tas.: Blubber Head Press, 1987

Related Entries in NCB Sites

Citation details

Nicholas Clements, 'Tongerlongeter (c. 1790–1837)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, https://ia.anu.edu.au/biography/tongerlongeter-32251/text39902, accessed 28 May 2024.

© Copyright Australian Dictionary of Biography, 2012

Tongerlongeter, by Thomas Bock, 1832

Tongerlongeter, by Thomas Bock, 1832

The British Museum, Oc2006,Drg.72 © The Trustees of the British Museum

Life Summary [details]

Birth

c. 1790
Oyster Bay, Tasmania, Australia

Death

20 June, 1837 (aged ~ 47)
Wybalenna, Flinders Island, Tasmania, Australia

Cause of Death

peritonitis

Cultural Heritage

Includes subject's nationality; their parents' nationality; the countries in which they spent a significant part of their childhood, and their self-identity.

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