The terms “Black War” and “Black Line” were coined by journalist Henry Melville in 1835, but historian Lyndall Ryan has argued that it should be known as the Tasmanian War. She has also called for the erection of a public memorial to the fallen from both sides of the war.
The escalation of violence in the late 1820s prompted Lieutenant-Governor George Arthur to declare martial law—effectively providing legal immunity for killing Aboriginal people—and in late 1830 to order a massive six-week military offensive known as the Black Line, in which 2200 civilians and soldiers formed a series of moving cordons stretching hundreds of kilometres across the island in order to drive Aboriginal people from the colony’s settled districts to the Tasman Peninsula in the southeast, where it was intended they would remain permanently confined.
The Black War was prompted by the rapid spread of British settlers and agricultural livestock throughout areas of Tasmania that had been traditional Aboriginal hunting grounds. Historian Nicholas Clements has described the Aboriginal violence as a resistance movement—the use of force against an invading or occupying enemy. He said the Aboriginal attacks were motivated by revenge for European atrocities and the widespread kidnapping, rape and murder of Aboriginal women and girls by convicts, settlers and soldiers, but particularly from the late 1820s the Aboriginal people were also driven by hunger to plunder settlers’ homes for food as their hunting grounds shrank, native game disappeared and the dangers of hunting on open ground grew.European violence, meanwhile, was motivated by mounting terror of Aboriginal attacks and a conviction that extermination of the Aboriginal population was the only means by which peace could be secured. Clements noted: “As black violence grew in intensity, so too did the frequency of revenge attacks and pre-emptive strikes by frontiersme