Fanny Cochrane Smith

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Fanny Cochrane Smith
Fanny Cochrane Smith.jpg
Born December 1834
Settlement Point (or Wybalenna, meaning Black Man's House) on Flinders Island, Tasmania, Australia
Died 24 February 1905(1905-02-24) (aged 70)
Port Cygnet, Tasmania, Australia
Spouse(s) William Smith
Children 11 children
Parent(s) Tanganutura and Nicermenic

Fanny Cochrane Smith (December 1834 – 24 February 1905) was an Aboriginal Tasmanian, born in December 1834. She is considered to be the last fluent speaker of a Tasmanian language, and her wax cylinder recordings of songs are the only audio recordings of any of Tasmania's indigenous languages. Her recordings were inducted into the UNESCO Australian Memory of the World Register in 2017.[1]

Early life[edit]

Fanny Cochrane's mother and father, Tanganutura and Nicermenic, were two of the Tasmanian Aboriginals settled on Flinders Island in the 1830s by the Rev. George Augustus Robinson, and she was born at Settlement Point (or Wybalenna, meaning Black Man's House) on Flinders Island. No indigenous name is known; Robinson gave European names to all the Indigenous Tasmanians who arrived at the Island as part of his attempt to suppress their culture.[2][3]

From the age of five to eight she lived in the home of Robert Clark, the Wybalenna preacher, and was then sent to the orphan school in Hobart to learn domestic service skills after which she returned to Wybalenna. She served as Clark's servant until the station closed in 1847. In 1847 her parents, along with the survivors of Wybalenna were removed to Oyster Cove. Note that there is no evidence that Nicermenic was the Father - who is probably unknown - Nicermenic was not on Flinders Island in the 1830s (see 'Van Diemen's Land: An Aboriginal History' p300. In June 1834, the year of Fanny's birth on Flinders Island, he was reported to Robinson as being involved in stealing a boat on the Leven River on the NW Coast with Probelatter see FM p.893.


In 1854, Fanny married William Smith, an English sawyer and ex-convict, and between 1855 and 1880 they had 11 children.[2]

Following her marriage, Fanny and her husband ran a boarding-house in Hobart. After receiving a government annuity of £24 and a land grant of 100 acres (40 ha), she selected land near Oyster Cove to be near her mother, sister and brother and the couple moved there shortly before their first child was born. The Smiths grew their own food but derived their income from timber.

Following the death of Truganini in 1876, Fanny laid claim to be "the last Tasmanian". The government of the Colony of Tasmania recognised this claim in 1889 and granted her 300 acres (120 ha) of land and increased her annuity to £50. She became a Methodist and gave the land needed to build a Methodist church at Nicholls Rivulet, which opened in 1901.[3]


Cochrane Smith died of pneumonia and pleurisy at Port Cygnet, 10 mi (16 km) from Oyster Cove, on 24 February 1905. There was some dispute at the time of her death as to whether she or Truganini was the last Tasmanian Aboriginal Person.[2]


1903 recording

Smith is known for her wax cylinder recordings of Aboriginal songs, made in 1903, which comprise the only audio recordings of an indigenous Tasmanian language.[3] Five cylinders were cut, however by 1949 only four remained as "A fifth cylinder, on which was recorded the translation of the songs, was broken some time ago".[4] Upon hearing her own performance, Smith had cried "My poor race. What have I done",[4] she believed the voice to be that of her mother.[4]

The recording of Smith's songs was the subject of a 1998 song by Australian folk singer Bruce Watson, The Man and the Woman and the Edison Phonograph. Watson is the great grandson of Horace Watson, who recorded Fanny in 1903.[5][4]

A photograph of Fanny Cochrane Smith and Horace Watson is displayed in the collection of the National Museum of Australia.


  1. ^ "NFSA: Aboriginal recordings added to Australian Memory of the World". Australian Government. 9 February 2017. 
  2. ^ a b c "Fanny Cochrane Smith". Australian Dictionary of Biography. Retrieved 30 June 2010. 
  3. ^ a b c "Fanny Cochrane Smith". Retrieved 30 June 2010. She is probably best known for her cylinder recordings of Aboriginal songs, recorded in 1899, which are the only audio recordings of an indigenous Tasmanian language. 
  4. ^ a b c d "Aboriginal Recordings: Voice of Extinct People Lives on in Memory and Wax". The Mercury (Hobart, Tas. : 1860 - 1954). National Library of Australia. 23 March 1949. p. 5. Retrieved 2 November 2013. 
  5. ^ Musicological Society of Australia

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