Australian Dictionary of Biography

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Dalrymple, Dolly (1808–1864)

by Ian McFarlane

This article was published in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Supplementary Volume, (MUP), 2005

Dolly Dalrymple (c.1808-1864), Aboriginal matriarch, was born in the Furneaux Islands in Bass Strait, daughter of George Briggs, a sealer from Bedfordshire, England, and Woretemoeteyenner (also known as Pung or Margaret), who was the daughter of Mannarlargenna, a chieftain from the north-east of Van Diemen's Land. One of two Aboriginal women abducted by Briggs, she bore him three children before he sold her to another sealer John Thomas for a guinea. Three of her daughters, including Dolly, were adopted by European couples on the mainland and her younger son John remained in the islands to be cared for by James Munro, another sealer.

Dolly's foster parents Jacob Mountgarrett (1773-1828), the surgeon at Port Dalrymple, and his wife Bridget had her baptized Dalrymple on 18 March 1814. The author Charles Jeffreys referred to her in 1820 as 'Miss Dalrymple' and James Bonwick as Dolly Dalrymple, the name by which she has become known. Jacob Mountgarrett was in continual conflict with the authorities and notorious as a bad debtor, suspected of cattle stealing and misappropriating stores and medicines. His adopted daughter, however, was taught all the necessary domestic skills, as well as reading and writing, and was quick to learn. About 1825 she left the Mountgarretts, to live with a convict stockman Thomas Johnson (1801-1867), who worked at Dairy Plains near Deloraine. Born in Cambridgeshire, England, he had been convicted of burglary in December 1822 and sentenced to death, later commuted to transportation for life.

On 24 September 1830 G. A. Robinson visited the family, which then included two girls aged 6 and 2. Informed by a local stock-keeper that many Aborigines had recently been killed in the district, Robinson also recorded that Dalrymple had lived for a time with the notorious murderer Cubitt and had assisted him in the killing of Aborigines. On 22 May 1831, perhaps in response to earlier grievances, a group of Aborigines mounted an attack on the Johnsons' hut while the mother was alone with her children. Armed with a musket, she held off the attack for six hours until help arrived. As a reward, the government granted her twenty acres (8 ha) of land at nearby Perth, where Johnson erected a dwelling.

Dalrymple married Thomas Johnson on 29 October 1831 with Anglican rites. In August 1836, only recently pardoned, Johnson received a further seven-year prison sentence for receiving stolen wheat. With four children to support, his wife displayed great resourcefulness and tenacity in holding her family together. In October she petitioned Governor Arthur, asking that her husband be assigned to her as a servant, but the request was refused. By 1841, with Johnson out of gaol, conditions began to improve and Dalrymple requested that her mother, then at Wybalenna, on Flinders Island, be permitted to live with her. The petition was granted and Woretemoeteyenner came to Perth to live with her daughter and seven grandchildren.

The family moved to the Mersey region in 1845 and Johnson, pardoned again, took over the tenancy of the Frogmore estate. Prospering in the new district, he purchased 500 acres (202.3 ha) south-west of Frogmore, where he built the family home, Sherwood Hall. He became the owner of two hotels (the Native Youth Inn at Sherwood and the Dalrymple Inn at Ballahoo), a coalmine (the Alfred colliery) and a timber exporting business. The family became one of the largest landholders in the district and was well respected. Dalrymple was said to be devoutly religious. She died on 1 December 1864 at Latrobe aged 56, survived by her husband and ten of her thirteen children. In 1865 the widower married a younger woman Marie Emma Bourne. He died on 3 December 1867.

Select Bibliography

  • J. West, The History of Tasmania, A. G. L. Shaw ed (Syd, 1971)
  • B. C. Mollison, Tasmanian Aboriginal Genealogies, vol 3 (Hob, 1977)
  • C. Ramsay, With the Pioneers (Hob, 1979)
  • R. M. Fowler, The Furneaux Group, Bass Strait (Canb, 1980)
  • L. Robson, A History of Tasmania, vol 1 (Melb, 1983)
  • N. J. B. Plomley, Weep in Silence (Hob, 1987)
  • H. Felton, On Being Aboriginal, book 1 (Hob, 1984)
  • N. J. B. Plomley and K. A. Henley, The Sealers of Bass Strait and the Cape Barren Island Community (Hob, 1990)
  • CSO 1/886/18804 (Archives Office of Tasmania).

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Citation details

Ian McFarlane, 'Dalrymple, Dolly (1808–1864)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 2005, accessed online 24 October 2016.

This article was first published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Supplementary Volume, (MUP), 2005

© Copyright Australian Dictionary of Biography, 2006-2016

Life Summary [details]

Alternative Names
  • Johnson, Dolly

Furneaux Islands, Tasmania, Australia


1 December 1864
Latrobe, Tasmania, Australia

Cultural Heritage