ROBINSON, George Augustus (c. 1788-1866)


ROBINSON, George Augustus (c. 1788-1866)
protector of the aborigines
was born probably in England about the year 1788. Nothing is known of his early life or when he came to Tasmania. He was a builder in a small way at Hobart in 1829, when Governor Arthur (q.v.) advertised for a man of good character who would take charge of the aborigines on Bruni Island. Robinson applied for the position but pointed out that he could not possibly keep his family on a salary of £50 a year. He was appointed at £100 a year, subsequently raised to £250. His mission was not a success. Whalers, sealers and others had access to the settlement, and Robinson had much trouble with them. At the beginning of 1830 he suggested that he should go unarmed among the blacks on the mainland of Tasmania, and endeavour to conciliate them. Taking a party with him, including some friendly aborigines, he walked several hundred miles over the island, camping with the natives on occasions and endeavouring to win their confidence. Presently he was able to persuade a party of them to come with him to Hobart. In February 1832 he inspected Flinders Island, and afterwards recommended it as a suitable place on which to found a home for the aborigines. He then went searching for other aborigines and brought in two parties, including altogether 58 aborigines. In September he met some warlike blacks and was in great danger of being murdered. During the next two years he brought in several other parties. By the end of January 1835 practically all the remaining blacks had surrendered. Robinson was rewarded in various ways to the total value of £8000 (Fenton). The aborigines were placed on Flinders Island but, removed from their regular hunting grounds, they gradually pined away and died. In 1838 it was decided to bring in a scheme to protect the aborigines on the mainland of Australia. Robinson was appointed chief protector at a salary of £500 a year, and he was given four assistants. He came to Port Phillip, but though thoroughly well-meaning and a voluminous writer of reports, he was not a success as an administrator. He would make long trips round the country and get completely out of touch with the authorities. In 1842 Governor Gipps (q.v.) reported that the assistant protectors were incompetent, and that though Robinson is "efficient so far as his own mode of holding intercourse with the Blacks is concerned, he is quite unequal to the control of what is becoming a large and expensive department; and moreover is already advanced in years and far beyond the prime of life". The question of the abolition of Robinson's office was being considered in February 1848 and on 31 December 1849 this was brought about. In 1853 he returned to England and died at Bath on 18 October 1866. He was married twice and was survived by children.
Robinson was a sincerely religious man of limited education. He showed great courage and tact in dealing with the borigines, and did valuable work in Tasmania when the relations between the blacks and the whites were as bad as possible. He endeavoured to use the same conciliatory methods in Victoria but he was unfortunate in his assistants, and he had not had the necessary training to become a good administrator. Collections of his papers are at the Mitchell library, Sydney, and the public library, Melbourne.
A. S. Kenyon, The Victorian Historical Magazine, March 1928; J. Fenton, A History of Tasmania; Historical Records of Australia, ser. I, vols. XIX to XXII and XXVI; Kenyon Records at Public Library, Melbourne.

Dictionary of Australian Biography by PERCIVAL SERLE. . 1949.

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