Fanny Cochrane Smith

Henrietta Fanny Cochrane Smith (1834-1905) was born in December 1834 at the Wybalenna Aboriginal establishment, Flinders Island, daughter of Tanganuturra, father unknown. When aged seven she was taken from her family; the rest of her childhood was spent in European homes and institutions. She spent some time in the Queen's Orphan School, Hobart, where she was subject to rigid prison-like discipline and taught the skills to equip her for domestic service. For most of her childhood she lived in conditions of squalor, neglect and brutality in the household of Robert Clark, catechist at Flinders Island. From the age of twelve she was domestic servant to the Clark family on an annual wage of 2 pounds 10 shillings, a fraction of the wage paid to white servants.

In 1847 the Aborigines at Wybalenna were removed to Oyster Cove; Fanny was sent into service in Hobart. Within a year she returned to Oyster Cove, where she lived with her mother and sister until her marriage in 1854 to William Smith, sawyer and ex-convict. On marriage she received a government annuity of 24 pounds. Fanny and William did fencing and split shingles and for some time ran a boarding house in Hobart. They were visited regularly by her people and her brother Adam lived with them until his death in 1857, after which they moved to Nicholls Rivulet (near Oyster Cove) where they took up a land grant. Their first son, William Henry, was born in 1858; five more sons and five daughters were born. Fanny reared her family in a simple five roomed wooden house. She and William grew their own produce and split shingles for income; they walked 40 km to Hobart for supplies.

Following Truganini's (q.v.) death, Fanny renewed her claim as the last Tasmanian Aborigine; her annuity was increased to 50 pounds and she was granted 120 ha of land. Throughout her life she continued to hunt and dive for shellfish, to gather bush foods and medicines, to make baskets and carry out Aboriginal religious observances. She was proud of her Aboriginal identity and she also moved with confidence in the European world. She and William were converts to Methodism. Services were held in her kitchen until a church was built on land which she donated. A son became a lay preacher. She was an active fund-raiser and the annual Methodist picnics were held on her farm. She was loved in her district for her singing, her generosity, hospitality and sense of humour but her performance of Aboriginal songs and dances brought her wider fame. In 1899 and 1903 she recorded several songs on wax cylinders (now in the Tasmanian Museum and Art Gallery), the only recordings made of Tasmanian Aboriginal speech and song.

William died in 1903 after a long illness. Fanny died in 1905. Over 400 people followed her funeral cortege. She is remembered warmly as 'one of nature's ladies' who could keep any gathering entertained with her ready wit.

Julia Clark