The Last Man: A British Genocide in Tasmania

The Last Man

A British Genocide in Tasmania

Tom Lawson

We are pleased to announce the publication of a new book by Parkes alumnus and former member of staff Professor Tom Lawson.

The Last Man

Little more than 70 years after the British settled Van Diemen’s Land (later Tasmania) in 1803, the indigenous community had been virtually wiped out. Yet this genocide at the hands of the British is largely forgotten today.

The Last Man is the first book specifically to explore the role of the British government and wider British society in
 this genocide. It positions the destruction as a consequence of British policy and ideology in the region. Tom Lawson shows how Britain practised cultural destruction and then came to terms with and evaded its genocidal imperial past. Although the introduction of European diseases undoubtedly contributed to the decline in the indigenous population, Lawson shows that the British government supported what was effectively the ethnic cleansing of Tasmania – particularly in the period of martial law in 1828–1832. By 1835, the vast majority of the surviving indigenous community had been deported to Flinders Island, where the British government took a keen interest in the attempt to transform them into Christians and Englishmen in a campaign of cultural genocide.

Lawson also illustrates the ways in which the destruction of indigenous Tasmanians was reflected in British culture – both at the time and since – and how it came to play a key part in forging particular versions of British imperial identity. Laments for the lost Tasmanians were a common theme in literary and museum culture, and the mistaken assumption that Tasmanians were doomed to complete extinction was an important part of the emerging science of human origins. By exploring the memory of destruction, The Last Man provides the first comprehensive picture of the British role in the destruction of the Tasmanian Aboriginal population.

‘This clearly written, accessible and strongly argued book contends that the British government committed genocide in Van Diemen’s Land/Tasmania – and, by implication, in other parts of the British Empire. This study, whilst obviously controversial, provides an important contribution
to the current public debate that is reassessing the record of the British Empire following the recent emergence of new archival sources.’

– John S. Connor, author of The Australian Frontier Wars

‘The Last Man enhances our knowledge of British imperial history as it played out in one of
its most distant colonies, Tasmania. It shows how British policies and practice meant that Aboriginal society there was almost destroyed. In using the international scholarship on genocide along with its own original and detailed empirical historical study, it reminds us of the enormity of what happened. As if that were not enough, The Last Man then goes on to show how understandings of this Tasmanian genocide have since reverberated through British culture, right up to the present. In doing so, it asks us to reconsider the nature and meaning of British history for us now.’

– Ann Curthoys, author of Freedom Ride


Tom Lawson is Professor of history at northumbria university. He is the author of Debates on the Holocaust and The Church of England and the Holocaust: Christianity, Memory and Nazism.

Special Offer Price £17.50 RRP £25.00* (release offer expires 30th June 2014)

To order online go to http://www.ibtauris.com/lastman and enter the discount code AN2 when prompted

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3 Responses to The Last Man: A British Genocide in Tasmania

  1. Lois says:

    This sounds a fascinating although painful read; I’ve ordered it and looking forward to receiving it.

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