Little more than seventy years after the British settled Van Diemen's Land (later Tasmania) in 1803, the indigeus community had been virtually wiped out. Yet this gecide at the hands of the British is virtually forgotten today. The Last Man is the first book specifically to explore the role of the British government and wider British society in this gecide. 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 gecidal imperial past. Although the introduction of European diseases undoubtedly contributed to the decline in the indigeus 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 indigeus 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 gecide. Lawson also illustrates the ways in which the destruction of indigeus 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.
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.