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Woureddy, an Aboriginal Chief of Van Diemen’s Land

National Portrait Gallery, Canberra, Australia - Joy of Museums - Woureddy, an Aboriginal Chief of Van Diemen's Land

Woureddy, an Aboriginal Chief of Van Diemen’s Land

Woureddy was a Nuennone man from Bruny Island and his wife was Trucaninny. There are a number of other spellings of his name, including Woorrady. He was a skilled hunter, boat builder and spoke five dialects. Woureddy remained fiercely proud of his identity, refusing to adopt the European diet or dress. He maintained the practice of using ochre for his hair and beard.

Believing that she could better protect her people, Trukanini joined George Augustus Robinson, a settler and lay preacher appointed to lead the removal of Tasmania’s Indigenous people to a mission on Flinders Island in the Bass Strait. This strategy was conceived by the government for the proposed protection of the Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal communities.

At the mission station on Flinders Island, there were over 100 Aboriginal people exiled. Many died there while waiting for the fulfilment of the promise that they would be allowed to return to their traditional lands. In 1839, Woureddy was one of the fourteen Tasmanians who went to Port Phillip following Robinson’s appointment to the position of Chief Protector of Aborigines. Woureddy died on this return journey to the mission in 1842. Trukanini, his wife remained at the mission until it closed in 1847, and was then relocated to a former convict depot south of Hobart, close to her traditional country.

In 1835 and 1836, sculptor Benjamin Law (1807–1890) created a pair of busts depicting Truganini and her husband Woureddy in Hobart. Law’s bust of Woureddy, whom he met, is considered Australia’s first portrait sculpture. According to Law’s first wife, copies of the busts, were:

‘called for not only in all Quarters of the Colony, but are being sent to India, to Sweden, to England, Scotland … and Cambridge College’. 

The Benjamin Law’s portraits of Trukanini and Woorrady were valued for their ‘correctness’. Trukanini and Woureddy were popular subjects and portraits of them were made by a number of other artists who each spelt their names differently.

Among the many historical portraits in the National Portrait Gallery, the following are highlights:

Woureddy, an Aboriginal Chief of Van Diemen’s Land

  • Title:               Woureddy, an Aboriginal Chief of Van Diemen’s Land
  • Artist:             Benjamin Law
  • Year:               1835
  • Medium:         cast plaster, painted
  • Dimensions:   75.0 x 48.3 x 27.0 cm
  • Museum:         National Portrait Gallery, Canberra, Australia

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“Some mistakes are too much fun to only make once.”
– Australian Proverb

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Photo Credits: 1) GM