Transcription of Thomas Papers Project

VACL are very pleased to announce the completion of the collation of significant historic Kulin material from the papers of William Thomas made possible through a grant from the Helen Macpherson Smith Trust.

William Thomas was Assistant Protector of Aborigines at Port Phillip and Victoria from 1839 to 1867. The 10,000 pages of the William Thomas Papers, held by the State Library of NSW, contain extensive language materials and a journal of 28 years recording almost daily contact with the Kulin people around Melbourne and adjacent districts. The journal is the most comprehensive daily record of Black-White contact in this frontier period of Victorian history, recording in incomparable detail the lives of over 150 named Kulin men, women and children.

Researcher Dr Marguerita Stephens has painstakingly transcribed the journals, which have now been published by VACL. The four-volume publication includes a volume of language transcriptions revised by VACL staff from earlier work by Dr Stephen Morey, and extended by our new transcriptions of three William Thomas manuscripts held at the State Library of Victoria. The project included a comprehensive Kulin community consultation process.

These four volumes present the journal and language notebooks unabridged, and with comprehensive notes, shining new light on the British evangelical and humanitarian movements in Australia in the pre-1860 era, on the history of race relations in Australia, and on the daily lives of individual Kulin men and women in this time of unprecedented upheaval. The journal reveals the processes of cultural continuity and collapse, resistance and accommodation, the economic reliance of colonists on Aboriginal labour and the agency of Victorian Aboriginal leaders in the establishment of Aboriginal Stations in the 1850s and 1860s. Thomas’ journal is unmatched in the wealth of detail it contains about Aboriginal lives and deaths in this period, and in its documenting of the attitudes of individual settlers and colonial administrations to Aboriginal people.

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