Fanny Cochrane Smith,
a shining example for us all

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How did Fanny Cochrane Smith do it? How did she find it in herself to help others after the appalling way in which she was treated as a child?

Maybe her own suffering taught her what a gift happiness is. Maybe her childhood pain got her thinking about contributing to the happiness of others.

Childhood

She was born in 1834 at the Wybalena Aboriginal settlement on Flinders Island. When she was 8, she entered an orphan school in Hobart to learn skills in domestic service. For Fanny, it was like being in a prison.

Eventually she worked as a domestic servant for Robert Clark and his family, on Flinders Island. She earned a pittance. Worse than that though, she was neglected and brutally treated.

In 1847 the remaining survivors of the Wybalena Aboriginal settlement were moved to Oyster Cove. Fanny now worked as a domestic servant in Hobart. Soon after, she returned to Oyster Cove to live with her mother and sister. I imagine she would have loved being with family again.

Marriage and family

In 1854, Fanny married William Smith, an ex-convict who had been sentenced to transportation for theft of a donkey. Together they ran a boarding house. Fanny's brother Adam lived with them too. Many of Fanny's Oyster Cove friends, including Truganini, came to call on her.

Fanny and William went on to have eleven children.

Living in two worlds

While Fanny was proud of her Aboriginal heritage, she also moved with ease among Europeans. Both she and William became Methodists. One of their sons was even a lay preacher.

Fanny allowed church services to be held in her own kitchen. Eventually a church was built on land donated by Fanny. Fanny was an active fund-raiser and also ran the annual church picnic.

Fanny practised and taught traditional Aboriginal skills such as stringing shell necklaces and basket making. She was well-known for her cooking and for performing Aboriginal songs and dances. She actually recorded songs on wax cylinders, now kept at the Tasmanian Museum and Art Gallery. I would love to hear her singing!

In 1905, Fanny died of pneumonia and pleurisy. Over 400 people attended her funeral.

For me, she is a shining example of how to practise a generous nature and live an unselfish life in spite of many hardships.

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