Beth Camp Historical Fiction

Saturday, April 14, 2012

M is for Mathinna . . .

Today's entry for A-Z Blogging is short for I'm going on an all-day quilting road trip.

Anyone who has seen Thomas Bock's painting of this little aboriginal girl (1842) has been drawn into the story of her short life (1835-1852). In summary, Mathinna was born after the Black Line, that abortive effort by the Government in 1830 to remove all aboriginals from the island of Tasmania by force to Wybalenna on Flinders Island, under the auspices of Reverend Robinson.

When the new Lieutenant-Governor John Franklin and his wife, Lady Jane Franklin, visited Wybalenna in 1838, they (or rather Jane) was entranced by a little girl of 2 or 3 named Mary. They adopted her a year later, renamed her Mathinna, and took her to the formality of life in Government House. From unfettered time and surrounded by her own culture, this little girl now must wear shoes, learn to read and write, and generally adhere to Victorian rules of comportment.

Mathinna, in her own way, rebelled. She ran up and down the halls of Government House, often accompanied by her monkey (which, I imagine, terrorized the household). She refused to wear shoes. She danced with abandon at soirees and rode around town in the Franklin's open carriage, always wearing her favorite red dress.

When the Franklins were recalled in 1843, Lady Franklin very nearly had a nervous breakdown. Mathinna, then about 8 years old, was not taken to England, for the Franklin's family doctor advised that Mathinna would most likely die of the very cold climate there. So, Mathinna was taken to the Queen's Orphan School, where lessons, strict rules, and schedules reigned.

Not much is known of her life after the Franklin's left. But in 1852, she was found drunk and drowned in a ditch at the age of 17. Only her portrait remains.

Source of Thomas Bock's painting of Mathinna.