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5 Independence Movements You Probably Haven’t Heard Of

As the world becomes increasingly polarised, and people become estranged from the government representing them, more and more of us are pondering going it alone. Britain’s vote to leave the EU, Catalonia’s struggle to rid itself of Madrid, and Scotland’s 2014 referendum are perhaps the best recent examples of this. Governments are however struggling to put out the fires of independence all over the world, some in areas you probably wouldn’t expect. We’ve listed five of them here.  


Western Australia

The state of Western Australia is the combined size of Alaska and Texas. It has a population of 2.6 million, 2 million of which live in the state capital, Perth. The drive from Perth to the next nearest state capital, Adelaide, would take 28 hours – roughly the same amount of time it would take you to drive from Paris to Moscow. A flight to the Australian capital, Canberra, would take about four hours – longer that it’d take you to get from London to Marrakech.

These vast distances and the isolation that comes with it has sometimes led Western Australians to contemplate whether they should go it alone, particularly when they feel unfairly treated by their distant compatriots.

Resentment was growing in WA in the early 1930s, with many feeling the state contributed far more to the Federal Government than it got back. Feeling forgotten about, separatists held an independence referendum, with 66% backing withdrawal from Australia. Almost 240,000 people had voted, a majority of the state’s population at the time.

The secessionist leaders headed to London with their results to seek British approval for independence. However Westminster was reluctant to go over the heads of the Australian Federal Government, who had not given the vote official approval.

Western Australians in London in 1933, seeking approval for their 1933 independence referendum

The movement resurfaced in 1974, seeking independence for ‘Westralia’. More recently, the possibility of ‘WAxit’ was raised by liberals in the state who feel they get a raw deal. The Constitution of Australia however refers to ‘one indissoluble Commonwealth’, meaning a divorce down-under looks unlikely.



Of the 193 member states of the UN, 57 got their independence from Britain. Scotland could very well become the 58th; its independence movement buoyed by Brexit turmoil and the growing divergence between Scottish liberalism and Westminster conservatism. There is also a significant independence movement in Wales, where Plaid Cymru agitate for further devolution from English domination.

Most would never consider, nor see how, the English themselves might contemplate or want independence from the UK. England is by far the most powerful of the four countries which make up the union, Parliament is based in London, and English votes typically dictate who is in charge. Nonetheless – and apparently with no  sense of irony – a political movement agitating for English independence has gained traction in the past decade.

An English Democrats conference held in 2011

A political party named the English Democrats was established in 2002, with a manifesto pledging to achieve independence for the English. Its manifesto states that an England independent of the UK would “leave properly and fully the EU; end uncontrolled mass immigration; and fly the Cross of St George from all public buildings in England.”

The party labels the Barnett Formula , which divides UK public spending between the constituent countries, “institutionalised discrimination.” The European Elections of 2014 saw the party gain 126,024 votes for a spend of just £40,000 – “by far the most cost efficient electoral result of any serious party in the UK!”

An association with the British far-right looks like it will prevent the movement from breaking into the mainstream anytime soon however. That, and the fact that a country getting independence from itself makes no sense.



When thinking of a rebellious Canadian province, you’d probably have Quebec in mind. However, since the election of Justin Trudeau, the Liberal Government has led a successful rapprochement. This has come about thanks not least to ‘equalization payments’ paid from Ottawa to Quebec – with $13 billion set to be paid in 2019.

These same policies have however alienated others, not least those on the west coast, who have historically received far less funding in comparison. The most aggrieved are the Albertans, who have taken to social media to share pro-independence op-eds and debate an #Albexit from Canada.

As a landlocked but oil-rich province, Alberta depends heavily on pipelines to transport its resources. Liberal policies have in recent years hindered the expansion of these pipelines, threatening the Albertan economy and livelihoods of Albertan workers. Quebec’s Premier Francois Legault recently called Albertan oil ‘dirty’, worsening a growing rift between western and eastern Canadians.

The Alberta Freedom Alliance advocates for Albertan secession, and cites on its website that ‘for 60 years Alberta has been the driving force of Canada. We now find ourselves stuck with a provincial and federal government whose economic and social values are foreign to us.’ Polls suggest that around 25% of Albertans would support independence, with many referring to Brexit for inspiration.

Critics have however pointed out that Canada’s constitution does not contemplate secession, with any pro-independence vote requiring ratification from all other Canadian provinces. Emmett Macfarlane, an Associate-Professor in Political Science at the University of Waterloo, wrote on Twitter that Albexit ‘would make the Brexit process look like a fucking walk in the park.’  



India is an incredibly diverse continent, somehow operating as a nation, and is no stranger to separatism. Aside from the divisions between Muslims and Hindus, nationalist unrest has led to conflict in Kashmir, as well as independence movements in the remote regions of Assam and Tripura.  All of these have played a significant role in post-independence Indian politics, as has the Khalistan movement of Punjab, which seeks to form an independent Sikh nation.

Khalistan flags at an independence rally

When Pakistan achieved independence from the British as an Islamic theocracy, many Sikhs fled to India seeking religious freedom. By the 1950s however, many felt persecuted by the ruling Hindus. Lacking a state of their own, thousands protested when Hindi was declared India’s main language. Persecution and marginalisation within Punjab caused tensions to simmer throughout the 1960s and 70s, before violence broke out in the 1980s.

In 1983, Sikh separatist leader Jarnail Singh Bhindranwale led an occupation of the Harmandir Sahib shrine in Amritsar. Prime Minister Indira Gandhi ordered an attack on the shrine, in which prominent Sikh leaders were killed. Indira Gandhi was assassinated by her Sikh bodyguards in 1984, prompting riots in which 3,000 were killed in Delhi alone. The violence culminated in June 1985, when Sikh militant group Babbar Khalsa detonated a bomb aboard an Air India plane flying over the coast of Ireland – killing 329.

While the Khalistan movement is thankfully nowhere near as violent and divisive as it was in the 1980s, the issue continues to simmer. Many see Prime Minister Modi as a Hindu nationalist, and there has been a recent resurgence of support for Khalistan among Sikhs in India, Canada, and the UK. There are growing calls for a 2020 referendum debating the formation of a Punjabi state. Punjab Referendum 2020 states that its campaign is ‘to liberate Punjab, currently occupied by India. Once we establish consensus on the question of independence, we will then present the case to the United Nations for reestablishing the country of Punjab.’

Read more about the history of the Khalistan Movement at The World Unreported – Khalistan.



Cornwall is the only Celtic region of England. It is one of the six Celtic nations, along with Ireland, the Isle of Man, Scotland, Wales, and Brittany. It has its own language, spoken by around 2,000 people, and a distinct local identity famous for pirates, ice cream, and pasties. While Wales, Scotland, and Northern Ireland are allowed their own assemblies and governments within the United Kingdom, Cornwall is considered a county of England – much to the chagrin of the region’s nationalists. Many organisations, both serious and tongue-in-cheek, advocate for Cornish independence.

The Celtic League and Celtic Congress represent the Celtic nations, and have pressured for Cornish independence as part of a wider pan-Celtic organisation. Mebyon Kernow – Cornish for Sons of Cornwall – are a political party which campaigns for a devolved national assembly for Cornwall, effectively Cornish independence from England within the United Kingdom. The Cornish National Liberation Army (CNLA), active throughout the 2000s, modelled itself on paramilitary groups but restricted itself to violating English flags with graffiti. The group also threatened English celebrities, including Jamie Oliver, who owned second homes in the country and were blamed for rising house prices.

Football in Exile: The Chagos FA and the Struggle to Get Their Islands Back

Establishing a national football team can be difficult, particularly if the British Government have forcibly depopulated your country.

Yet, despite living in exile in Britain, Mauritius, and Seychelles, this is exactly what the Chagossian people have done.

Sabrina Jean is a second generation deportee, and settled in the UK in 2006 after living in Mauritius. Since 2013 she has organised the Chagos FA, who represent the Chagossian diaspora as part of Conifa – the Confederation of Independent Football Associations.

“I was inspired to start a football team after two friends of mine gave me some advice on how it can benefit my campaign.” said Mrs Jean.

“So after long consideration we started the Chagos Football Association. Now since we created the team many other countries know about the Chagossian struggle.”

The Chagos Islands are an archipelago in the Indian Ocean, administered as part of the British Indian Ocean Territory.

The islanders were brutally deported during the 1970s so that the United States could built an enormous military base in exchange for discounted Polaris nuclear technology. Over 100 pets are said to have been gassed during the expulsion, to prevent Chagossians from returning to them.

The islanders have since struggled to maintain their identity and to fight for their return. Many have settled in Crawley, West Sussex. Despite living in the UK, Chagossians are often denied citizenship by the British Government, and the British public remain largely unaware of the issue.

Chagossians are hoping that initiatives like the national football team will gain attention and garner public support.

The Chagos FA first played in 2013, against the Principality of Sealand. Since then they have played against sides such as Somaliland, Tamil Eelam, Panjab and Barawa. Chagos even participated in the 2016 Conifa World Cup in Abkhazia.

Chagos enter the field alongside their opponents – Bruce Grobbelaar’s Matabeleland

Funding has been a long-standing issue for the organisation. The precursor to the Chagos FA, the Union Chagossiene de Football, were forced to fold in 2012.

Mrs Jean said: “we have many difficulties, we don’t have a specific place to train also we don’t have a sponsor. We have made lots of applications to have a sponsor but these have been in vain.”

Conifa has gained a lot of publicity in recent years as a mode for which ethnic groups, identities, and other groups otherwise unable to join Fifa can compete and raise their profile. Despite the assortment of identities within Conifa, the Chagossians are a rarity, as alongside the Rohingya FA they form one of the few participants unable to return to the country they are representing.

The chance to come together and be represented can however be taken as a welcome positive after decades of persecution.

Vice-Chair of the UK Chagos Support Association Stefan Donnelly said: “It’s an amazing chance for young people, most of whom have never been to the Chagos Islands, to connect with their heritage.

As a direct result of the brutal deportations of the 1960s & 1970s, many of these young people have had hugely difficult lives. The Chagos Islands National Football Team gives them a chance to show their pride in what remains an incredibly committed, close knit and proud community.”

Chagos are next scheduled to play in Surrey in April 2019.

Read more about the depopulation of the Chagos Islands here.

Hong Kong vs China: Political Tensions On and Off the Football Field

The animosity surrounding Hong Kong’s autonomy from China has been encroaching onto the football pitch at both club and international level in recent years.

Matches between the two at international level, Hong Kong Premier League ties, and AFC Champions League fixtures are increasingly becoming geopolitical flash points.

Despite transferring from British to Chinese control in 1997, Hong Kong has been allowed to maintain its own sports teams under the “one nation, two systems” principle.

The sides have been drawn in the same group for World Cup qualification on three occasions, all of which have proven controversial.

Hong Kong famously defeated China 2-1 in Beijing during qualification for the 1986 World Cup – effectively ending China’s hopes of reaching the finals.

The Chinese fans at the Workers’ Stadium rioted, preventing Hong Kong supporters from leaving the ground.

Drawn together once again for 2006 World Cup qualification, China’s manager Bora Milutinovic offend Hong Kong fans by saying: “How can China play Hong Kong? Hong Kong is China. They are the same country.”

The 2014 Umbrella Revolution gave extra political significance to 2015 fixtures between the two during 2018 World Cup qualification.

The Umbrella Revolution saw tens of thousands of Hong Kongers protesting Chinese encroachment upon the semi-autonomous region’s democratic system.

The Chinese Football Association (CFA) consistently labelled their opponents “Hong Kong, China” in the build up to the 2015 qualifier- flying in the face of Hong Kong’s autonomy.

The CFA were also accused of racism for issuing posters highlighting the Hong Kong team’s multi-ethnic background, saying: “Black skin, yellow skin, and white skin. Best to be on our guard against such a multi-layered team!”

At the qualifier at Hong Kong’s Mong Kok stadium China’s fans waved red Communist flags and sang Communist songs.

Hong Kong’s fans chanted “we are Hong Kong” and displayed signs reading “Hong Kong is not China”, while booing their shared anthem – March of the Volunteers.

Booing of the anthem by Hong Kong fans continued during subsequent matches against Cambodia, Bhutan, and Malaysia, prompting the Chinese government to pass laws restricting anti-anthem protests.

China and Hong Kong’s political tensions have also become manifest in club football.

During an AFC Champions League fixture between Hong Kong’s Eastern Sports Club and China’s Guangzhou Evergrande at Mong Kok violent scenes more commonly seen in European football caught the world’s attention.

During the game Guangzhou fans unveiled a banner reading: “Annihilate British Dogs, Extinguish Hong Kong Independence Poison.”

Eastern fans attempted to storm the away end, and were only restrained by the significant police presence.

Similar scenes have however not yet occurred in any Hong Kong Premier League fixtures despite Guangzhou-based R&F entering the competition in 2016.

This has largely been achieved by R&F – a satellite of Chinese Super League side Guangzhou R&F – depicting themselves as a Hong Kong club.

Vice President Hwang Shenghua said in 2016: “In the long run, our target is to become a club with roots in Hong Kong and produce players for the Hong Kong national team.”

So far R&F have stuck to their word; 16 of the current first-team squad are Hong Kong nationals.

This approach has worked for now, but may not apply if the league is suddenly flooded by Chinese teams all professing to be loyal to Hong Kong.

This is a distinct possibility as outgoing Hong Kong FA CEO Mark Sutcliffe believes the incorporation of more non-Hong Kong sides into the HK Premier League is essential for its survival.

“I think they should look at the options for the future of a professional league, which might mean going to 12 teams, having six from Hong Kong and six from outside Hong Kong” said Mr Sutcliffe.

“There was a lot of resistance to [R&F] at first and I can understand why, but its working reasonably well now. If you could have a league in Hong Kong between teams from Macau, Chinese Taipei, Guangzhou, Shenzhen and expand it so there’s more interest, thats one option.

“Another option might be to look at putting in a couple of teams playing in China.”

If Mr Sutcliffe’s thoughts are an indication of the direction of domestic football in Hong Kong, do not be surprised to see evidence of Hong Kong and China’s growing political tensions during a Hong Kong Premier League fixture in the near future.

Source for cover photo: Reuters/Bobby Yip

Before Salisbury: A Look at Russian Linked Deaths in the UK

The diplomatic war in which the UK and Russia were embroiled just two months ago seems to have been lost in the fog of the 2018 World Cup. Around the time in which Harry Maguire’s header against Sweden had English fans thinking of nothing but vindaloo and vandalising an IKEA, news emerged that Dawn Sturgess and Charlie Rowley of Salisbury had fallen ill with symptoms of Novichok poisoning. While UK newspaper front pages focused on Gareth Southgate’s waistcoat, anti-Russian sentiment in the country had faded, despite the tense period of ambassador-expulsions which had preceded the tournament. Former Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson had even compared the Russian World Cup to Nazi Germany’s 1936 Olympics. This perhaps isn’t so surprising, given that it fits neatly within a trend of Russian-linked UK deaths, all of which have served as the news story of the month before interest in the case, is lost. Below, we detail some of the more bizarre of those incidents.


Alexander Litvinenko – November 2006

Alexander Litvinenko was a successful FSB Lieutenant Colonel and vocal opponent of Russian state corruption. Arrested in 1998 while investigating plots to assassinate media tycoon Boris Berezovsky, Litvinenko soon became an active opponent of Russian authority.

Upon his release from prison in 1999, he released Russia: Terror from Within, which claimed that FSB agents had been involved in a terror-attack on Russian apartment blocks used as a pretext for the Russian invasion of Chechnya.

Having moved to the UK for security, Litvinenko became a British citizen in 2006. Understood to have been on the payroll of both MI6 and fellow exile Berezovsky, Litvinenko remained a vocal opponent of Putin’s Russia. He had been investigating Spanish links to the Russian Mafia as well as the murder of Anna Politkovskaya when he reported extreme ill-health.

It is almost certain that Litvinenko had been administered a radioactive compound called polonium-210 via tea. The prime suspect is Andrei Lugovoi, who he had been in contact with regarding the Spanish investigations. Litvinenko is said to have blamed Putin for everything while on his deathbed.

Gareth Williams – August 2010

Gareth Williams was a cipher expert working for the Secret Intelligence Service when he was found dead inside a North Face sports bag. After failing to turn up to work for several days, colleagues had alerted the authorities, and police entered his Pimlico flat to find Williams dead in his bathroom. The bag had been locked from the outside, and the key placed under his body.

Despite it being summer, the flat’s heating was on, hastening Williams’ decomposition. The investigation into Williams’ death was hindered by mistakes including the accidental contamination of the crime scene by forensics, as well as the failure to report his absence sooner.

While it was determined that the likely cause of death was murder, namely because it is generally considered impossible that Williams could have locked himself into the bag from the outside, there has never been a definite verdict on the matter. There was no sign of forced entry at the flat, nor any second-party DNA around the body. Williams’ family maintain that the true findings of the investigation have been withheld from the public.

A child mathematics prodigy from Anglesey, Williams had been recruited by Government Communications Headquarters (GCHQ) while studying at Cambridge University. Success at GCHQ led to his recruitment by MI6, as well as co-operation with the US National Security Agency and the FBI. A known recluse, Williams was understood to have resented the London-lifestyle and wished to return to the countryside to pursue his hobbies of walking and cycling.

The Russian link to the Williams case came in 2015, when former KGB Major Boris Karpichkov claimed Russian hitmen had been ordered to assassinate the Welsh agent. Karpichkov claimed that Williams had befriended a Russian mole within GCHQ, and a third party had tried to recruit him for the Russian intelligence services. Williams reluctance led to attempted blackmail.

Rumours had persisted surrounding Williams’ sexuality prior to his death, including his apparent ownership of substantial amounts of female clothing, to the extent that some claimed that his death may have been part of a bondage-type sex act. These claims have never been substantiated. Karpichkov claimed that Williams was drugged while on a night out, and then photographed explicitly. Threats to circulate the images should he not comply led Williams to threaten to expose the Russian GCHQ mole. The Russians, according to Karpichkov’s claims, decided this wasn’t acceptable and dispatched of Williams via the insertion of an untraceable poison into the ear.

Alexander Perepilichnyy– November 2012

Alexander Perepilichnyy was a Russian financier, found dead in Weybridge, Surrey after going out jogging. Pereplichnyy had moved to the UK in 2009, and was understood to have been in contact with western authorities regarding the theft of over $200 million from the Russian Treasury through investment fund Hermitage Capital Management. Documents handed to Swiss authorities are understood to have revealed the involvement of senior Russian officials in the fraud scandal.

Despite having no significant health problems at the time of his death, Perepilichnyy’s collapse was considered a mystery. This persisted until 2014, when an autopsy encountered Gelsemium, a rare Chinese poison nicknamed ‘Heartbreak Grass’ and known to trigger cardiac arrest, within his stomach. Surrey Police have maintained that no toxin was identified on the body.

Boris Berezovsky –  March 2013

The death of Boris Berezovsky, billionaire media tycoon and former confidant of Boris Yeltsin, is perhaps the most high profile of all Russia-linked deaths on British soil. Berezovsky was a successful Jewish business, and had made his fortune importing and selling second hand German cars. His wealth and influence expanded through the purchasing of shares in Aeroflot, as well as gaining control of Russian Channel One.

Control of Channel One was achieved thanks to a close partnership with Boris Yeltsin, to whom he would contribute £140 million toward a successful 1996 re-election campaign. Berezovsky was then made Deputy Secretary of the Chechen Republic, overseeing the economic reconstruction of the region following the Chechen Wars.

Despite initially helping to fund Unity, Vladimir Putin’s original parliamentary base, Berezovsky and the new president quickly fell out. After going into opposition, Putin ordered investigations into Berezosky’s estate. Berezovsky was also accused of plotting to murder the Mayor of Moscow, Yuri Luzkhov.

In 2000, the oligarch fled to the UK where he was granted political asylum. This led to a freeze in UK-Russia relations, which had been successfully thawing in the optimistic period following the collapse of the Soviet Union. While in the UK Berezovsky orchestrated a network of anti-Putin exiles including Alexander Litvinenko, as well as Akhmed Zakayev, a former Chechen rebel leader.

In 2010 Berezosky lost a High Court battle against Roman Abramovich over ownership of the Sibneft Oil Company. Abramovich and Berezovsky had founded the company together, and the latter sought £3 billion. In March 2013 Berezosky was found hanging in his ex-wife’s Berkshire mansion. The case was declared an open verdict. He had allegedly owed the UK taxman £46 million upon his death.

Scot Young – December 2014

Scotsman Scot Young was found impaled on railings below his fourth floor Pimlico flat. A successful property developer, Young is understood to have been worth around £4 billion. Ties to Russia are understood to have began when Young invested heavily in the failed ‘Project Moscow’, a planned redevelopment of a large industrial area of the Russian capital.

Young was widely reported on in the tabloids owing to a high-profile divorce case, during which he had claimed to have lost a significant amount of money. An investigation prompted by his ex-wife found that he had significant assets hidden in Panama-based firms. Russian involvement in the Young case is tenuous aside from the Project Moscow affair, as well as an apparent link to Boris Berezovsky.

Nikolai Glushkov – March 2018

Nikolai Glushkov was a vocal critic of Vladimir Putin, and close associate of Boris Berexovsky. A former businessman, Glushkov had served as deputy director for state-owned Russian airline Aeroflot.

After openly criticising Putin, as well as claiming that Aeroflot was being used as a “cash cow” for the Russian secret services, Glushkov was imprisoned on money laundering charges. He was granted political asylum by the UK in 2010, and remained critical of the Putin regime. Moscow brought charges of stealing over $100 million from Aeroflot while director of the company against Glushkov, and had him convicted in absentia. Britain refused to extradite him.

He had been due in court over a $99 million compensation claim by Aeroflot on the day he was found dead at his house in New Malden. The death was initially branded unexplained, however subsequent autopsies have claimed that the body showed clear signs of strangulation.

Sergei & Yulia Skripal/Dawn Sturgess & Charlie Rowley – March/July 2018

In March 2018, former Russian military intelligence colonel Sergei Skripal and his daughter Yulia were found unconscious on a bench in Salisbury. Tests revealed that both had been poisoned with a military-grade nerve agent developed by the Soviet Union known as Novichok.

The British Government quickly and directly blamed Russia for the attack, sending a number of Russian Ambassadors home and convincing a number of western nations to do the same. The Kremlin denied any involvement, but requested access to the Skripals.

The attack seems to have been one too many Moscow-linked attacks on British soil for Downing Street. While the British had previously been keen to allow similar incidents to fade into obscurity, a string of high-profile political attacks upon Russia followed the breaking of the story. This included former Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson comparing Russia’s hosting of the 2018 World Cup to Nazi Germany’s hosting of the 1938 Summer Olympics. Despite British conviction of Russian guilt the source of the poisoning has not been clarified, nor have details of direct Russian involvement.

Sergei Skripal was a former Russian military intelligence colonel and British double agent. Sentenced to 13 years for spying in 2006, Sergei was part of a 2010 swap deal which saw Russian trade western spies for members of the Illegals Program spy ring, including Anna Chapman.

Having settled in Salisbury, he remained active in training western countries and potential NATO allies in Russian spying techniques. Russian involvement therefore makes sense, although despite traces of the nerve agent being found at a pub, restaurant, and Skripal’s house, no clear link has been established. Both of the Skripal’s eventually recovered.

The case was given fresh impetus in July 2018, when Dawn Sturgess and Charlie Rowley of Salisbury fell ill with Novichok poisoning. It is thought the couple had come into contact with the discarded Novichok vessel. Dawn Sturgess eventually passed away.



It’s hard to tell the extent to which the Kremlin is directly responsible for all the curious deaths listed above. While there is clear evidence of Russian involvement in affairs overseas, particularly when involving exiled Russians, all powerful nations operate out of their borders to an extent. Russia has been portrayed as the enemy within western media for over half-a-century. Despite the Cold War officially ending nearly thirty years ago, Russia remains the Ivan Drago to the west’s Rocky. While the nation which Churchill famously called an enigma is perhaps an easy scapegoat for unexplained deaths in western nations, he also claimed that the key to that enigma was the nation’s self-interest. Would engineering the deaths of men like Berezovsky, Litvinenko, and Williams serve this interest? Given that as of July 2018, Putin is the Russian state, and it could be argued the actions of these men threatened the cult of Putin, it is not hard to see how the cases could be linked back to the man in the Kremlin.











Il Grande Torino – A National Tragedy at the Basilica of Superga

Torino FC are a club still in mourning. Known internationally for being ‘the other’ Turin side owing to the success of their neighbours, footballing giants Juventus, many Italians will tell you that the best side ever produced in the city donned the maroon of Il Toro. The Great Torino, or Il Grande Torino, of the 1940s are one of the most acclaimed sides in European football history. Emerging with the country still under the grips of fascism, this outstanding Torino side came to symbolise a new Italy, uniting a divided nation in awe during a period of dominance which would see them win five Scudetti in a row. Torino players featured heavily in the Italian national sides of the late 1940s, who were tipped by many as favourites to retain their title at the 1950 World Cup in Brazil. This made the tragedy at the Basilica of Superga in 1949 all the more profound, for when the team’s aircraft collided with a wall on the outskirts of Turin, so many were denied their main source of optimism in the bleak post-war era. 300,000 lined the streets for a public funeral during an outpouring of grief unprecedented in European sport and one from which Torino have never fully been able to recover.

While they had enjoyed brief success as inaugural winners of the Copa Italia, pre-1939 Torino were far from outstanding. This was to change in 1939, when local industrialist and former Torino player Ferruccio Novo became club owner. As President Novo remodelled Torino, with the club’s structure and tactics heavily influenced by Herbert Chapman’s Arsenal. Ernest Ebstein was employed as Technical Director, and Englishman Leslie Lievesley employed as Coach. Despite Italy’s June 1940 entrance into the Second World War Calcio did not initially cease in the country, such was Mussolini’s confidence in a rapid victory. As such, Novo’s project proceeded uninterrupted, with players avoiding draft into military service by registering as workers in essential industries, notably within Turin’s FIAT factory.  The first evidence of this substantial financial backing came in 1941 as players such as Guglielmo Gabetto and Felice Borel were purchased from rivals Juventus at the start of a league campaign which would see the side finish in 2nd place. The real foundations of success were not laid however until July 1942, when Valentino Mazzola signed from Venezia. Mazzola is heralded by some as the greatest Italian footballer of all time, and would score 118 goals in 195 for the club during its greatest period of success.

Valentino Mazzola.

Led by the talismanic Mazzola, Torino won their first Scudetto at the end of the 1942/43 season. The emergence of this dominant side was disrupted by the reality of global conflict as the 1943/44 and 44/45 Serie A tournaments were cancelled. The Allies had invaded ‘the soft underbelly of Europe’ in 1943 and the nation was in a virtual state of civil war. Bombing of infrastructure prevented regular transport or communication, while fierce German resistance at the Gothic Line, a network of defensive fortifications, effectively separated the north of the country from the south.  This division was prevalent within football once the war was over, as the 45/46 league system was divided between the north and south, with the top four teams from each playing in a final table. Torino had started the campaign with the purchase of goalkeeper Valerio Bacigalupo from Savona, who would go on to become an icon of Il Toro. Despite the strange composition of the league system, Torino won the 45/46 Serie A, beating local rivals Juve by one point. Midfielder Danilo Martelli signed at the start of the 46/47 campaign, which was won by ten points with Mazzola as top goal scorer. The 47/48 Serie A was even more impressiv, as the club won the league by 16 points – back when a win was worth just two points – scoring 125 goals.  Such was the team’s dominance that during a 1947 friendly against a strong Hungary team, all ten Italian outfield players played for Torino. The side was a national phenomenon, gaining the nickname Il Grande Torino ‘The Great Torino’, with Mazzola and co providing much needed entertainment to a nation uprooted by fascism.

While not as dominant during the 48/49 season, Torino were still the nation’s outstanding team, and were four points ahead of 2nd place Inter Milan with four games to go when they travelled to Lisbon for a friendly. Almost the entire club had travelled to take part in the benefit match – lost four goals to three – for Benfica and Portugal Captain Francisco Ferriera.  The only notable exceptions were Sauro Toma, who was suffering from an injured knee, reserve goalkeeper Renato Gandolfi, and President Ferruccio Novo, who had a case of influenza. While returning to Turin, the aircraft Torino were travelling in is understood to have suffered with a malfunctioning altimeter. As a result, the pilot was much lower than he believed upon descending, and the plane crashed into a wall at the back of the Superga Basilica in the outskirts of Turin. There were no survivors. Such was the shock of the tragedy that Italian Parliament was suspended, and 300,000 people lined the streets of Turin in mourning. Torino were declared Italian champions, their 5th scudetto in a row, with the remaining fixtures played by the youth team.

While Ferruccio Novo tried to replicate his late, legendary team, frantic recruitment could not replicate the outstanding quality of the Great Torino. The team finished 6th during the 49/50 season, with rivals Juve claiming the Scudetto. In 1950 an Italian national team formerly so dependent on Torino for its players travelled to Brazil for the World Cup. With the memory of Superga still fresh, the team travelled two weeks by boat rather than using air transport. The Italians were knocked out in the group stages following a 3-2 loss to Sweden and a 2-0 win over Paraguay, with new Torino signing Carapellese scoring in both games. The remainder of the 1950s saw a slow decline, with Il Toro relegated to Serie B in 1959. The ecstasy of a Copa Italia win in 1967 was cruelly punctured by the death of star player Gigi Meroni, the maroon butterfly, who was killed while crossing the road. The depression following the club briefly subsided in 1976 when the club won its only post-Superga Scudetto, edging Juventus by two points. Relegation in 88/89, a UEFA Cup Final loss to Ajax and relegation again in 99/00 preceded bankruptcy in 2005, after which Torino Calcio were dissolved and reformed as Torino FC.

The Superga Disaster robbed the world of a truly incredible football team. Aside from the club president and two injured players, Il Grande Torino were effectively wiped from existence at a time when they were dominating the national league and establishing themselves as a European giant. While the 1958 Munich Air Disaster tragically ended the lives of a number of sublimely talented footballers, the foundations of Manchester United remained, and were built upon leading to European Cup glory in 1968. The affect upon Torino was arguably more profound, as they were left with no such foundations, and a nation was denied a source of much needed pride in the bleak post-war era. Robbed of these foundations, the club has never been able to replicate the successes of the 1940’s, while neighbouring Juventus have gone on to become giants of world football. Despite nearly 70 years passing, the memory of Il Grande Torino and thoughts of what could have been, not just for Torino but for the landscape of Italian and European football, continue to define the club.

Cover Photo and body image: http://storiedicalcio.altervista.org

You’re not West Ham anymore: The death of an identity

The end of the 2017/18 Premier League season marks two years since West Ham United left their historic home in Upton Park. The seemingly constant state of crisis the club has been in since moving into the former Olympic Stadium has been a much documented, much criticised part of the Hammer’s subsequent two seasons. The disconnect between the board and the fans, highlighted by recurring protests both physical and online, seems to only be widening as memories of the Boleyn Ground fade. While on the surface this seems like a fanbase wrongly ungrateful for a taxpayer funded 60,000 seater stadium, the resentment much of the Hammers faithful have stretches beyond even the realms of the beautiful game.

When Upton Park was sold to property developers for £35,000,000, it saw the severing of a cultural connection between many and a vastly changed area of East London. The majority of West Ham’s core support live in Essex and Kent, the children or grandchildren of East Enders removed from their traditional heartland during slum clearances and the New Housing projects of the post-war era. During this process, a traditional London working-class culture was removed to the towns and suburbs of the Home Counties to make room for the gentrified middle-class culture East London is famous for today. For many of these expatriate East Enders, the fortnightly visit to Upton Park was more like a pilgrimage to an ancestral homeland rather than just the attending of a football match. Green Street, Queens Market, Ken’s Café, The Boleyn Tavern, Nathan’s Pie and Mash, the entire matchday experience was an intrinsic link to a traditional Cockney culture, one which came ‘home’ every time West Ham played at The Boleyn. The experience at Stratford City could be no further away for that which Upton Park represented to so many.

Rather than travelling down the archetypical East End thoroughfare, Green Street, fans are now herded towards the stadium by disinterested staff in high-vis amongst Missguided and Primark shoppers in the Westfield Shopping Centre. Instead of Queen’s Market one walks past a Hugo Boss and an Urban Outfitters. Instead of Percy Ingle, fans eat at restaurants owned by Jamie Oliver and Gary Neville. The whole Stratford City complex could really be anywhere in the world, and fans get no sense of traditional London culture in the build-up to the match. Once past the maze of Mr Pretzel and Bubble Tea stands, London Stadium approaches. While the underlying problems with the current ‘home’ experience are largely not a product of the stadium itself as opposed to where it is, there are some issues which only fuel fans contempt and views that the board assume mass naivety.

West Ham legend Bobby Moore takes a rest at Upton Park.

London Stadium is an athletics stadium poorly adapted for footballing purposes. The running-track is covered by an oh-so-obviously temporary set of ‘retractable seats’ held together with cable ties. The exposed track is then covered with a shockingly green felt carpet that looks like it was bought hooky by a punter at Queen’s Market. The exterior decorative cladding is tied onto the stadium frame and looks ready to be taken down at a moment’s notice. While the views from the stands are not as bad as have been made out, the cavernous bowl-shape and resultant echoing makes chanting in unison difficult, save for small groups and random bursts of clapping more commonly seen at England games or a Little Mix concert. This isn’t aided by the pockets of empty seats throughout the stadium, a result of season tickets having been sold by the club to fans of football rather than fans of West Ham. Cheap season ticket prices and a need to fill the stadium led to those with the money buying a seat at the London Stadium as a non-partisan mode for watching Premier League football. These are more inclined to come and watch the top six than show up for a Monday night game against Stoke, although they’d have missed a cracking Andy Carroll volley during the latter.

Compare this to the Boleyn Ground, which despite significant redevelopment retained much of its historic character and reputation as a ‘proper’ football stadium throughout its entire history. Despite enduring rotten seasons involving relegation, Avram Grant, and Emmanuel Pogatetz, West Ham were famous for their atmosphere and self-depricating terrace chants. This was best observed during floodlit night matches, with the three tower blocks and fans on garage roofs on Priory Road really making it feel like the East End had stopped to watch West Ham play. Yes this could sometimes turn nasty, with the 2009 ‘Upton Park Riot’ during a cup match against arch-rivals Millwall vindicating an often unjustified associated between the club’s fans and football violence, however for most matchday was all about loving Upton Park. The place was home, and for now London Stadium feels like a three-star hotel room.

It is likely that things will improve at the stadium itself, with there being a strong possibility that West Ham will eventually buy the stadium, given that Birmingham will have a purpose-built athletics stadium for the Commonwealth Games in 2022. However, the crisis at the club runs much deeper than the stadium. The Nathan family, owners of a pie and mash shop on Barking Road, announced this week that they are to close after 80 years in West Ham’s heartland. The shop depended upon it’s fortnightly visit from expatriate Cockneys for its livelihood, and the demolition of Upton Park heralded the end for that family’s business. It is likely that many more formerly match-day dependent businesses, such as Ken’s Café and the various local pubs, will close in the near future. This is symbolic of what the West Ham move has meant for so many Hammer’s fans; the loss of a culture, a history, an identity. It is hard to see how the connections people had to Upton Park could ever be replicated in the sprawling glass metropolis in Stratford, and that is something that will loom over the club for the foreseeable future.


Cover and Body Photo – http://www.dailymail.co.uk/sport/football/article-3581963/Farewell-Upton-Park


Landlocked in Latin America: Bolivia’s Fight to Regain A Coastline

The Bolivian Navy boasts around 5,000 sailors. In some indexes it ranks 13th in the world in terms of commissioned naval craft, between the military powers of Turkey and South Korea. Día del Mar, or ‘Day of the Sea’, is held annually on the 23rd of March and is one of Bolivia’s largest national celebrations. Such a fixation with the sea may seem bizarre for a country without a coastline, however Bolivia was not always landlocked, and this was rather the result of territorial losses during a late nineteenth-century war. The reclamation of the nation’s lost coastal lands remain a key political issue, as well as a defining principle of Bolivian national identity.  Continue reading Landlocked in Latin America: Bolivia’s Fight to Regain A Coastline

Frontline Gibraltar: The Evacuation of the Rock

Gibraltar is a thriving British Overseas Territory, situated at the gateway to the Mediterranean. The local population are a blend of Maltese, British, Moroccan, Genoese, Jewish and Spanish cultures, and speak a distinctive dialect known as Llanito. A successful democracy, Gibraltarians enjoy some of the lowest unemployment figures in the world, with infrastructure supported by bunkering and an booming online gambling industry. Students study at universities primarily within the UK, for free, with much of their living expenses subsidised by the local government. An extensive government housing programme means very few Gibraltarians are homeless. This acute social awareness within Gibraltarian politics and democracy has not evolved as organically throughout the peninsula’s extensive history as it might be assumed. The importance of individual and community rights within Gibraltarian culture can be traced directly to the Second World War, when the territory was almost entirely depopulated by the British to make way for military fortification. The experiences of the evacuated population, who were ferried between three continents throughout the conflict, form the bedrock of modern Gibraltarian culture and politics.

Quick Facts Gibraltar

Having been invaded by the Moors in the Fourteenth Century, surrendered to the British in 1704, and besieged by the Spanish and French in 1782, Gibraltar is no stranger to military conflict. In all of these instances the civilian population endured, with the siege of 1782 on record as the longest in British military history. Gibraltarians were relatively unaffected during the First World War, but the all-encompassing nature of the Second World War did not overlook La Roca. The involvement of Fascist Italy in the conflict meant that the Mediterranean, and control of it, was a key aspect of British strategic policy. This was exacerbated following the Italian invasion of British territory in North Africa. The need for a military staging post in the area led to a declaration by the British in June 1940, that all women, children, and elderly of Gibraltar were to be evacuated to French Morocco. The British assessed that the presence of a civilian population would impede the productivity of the base, which was to be expanded for use by the RAF and Royal Navy. Therefore, without significant deliberation, 13,500 Gibraltarians were escorted onto boats away from their homeland.

The situation in Morocco soon became untenable. The French territories in North Africa came under the control of the Vichy regime, who collaborated with the Nazis, following French surrender in May 1940. The evacuated Gibraltarians were now living in enemy territory. This situation turned hostile following an often documented incident at Mers-el-Kebir, where the British sunk the French Fleet to prevent its use by the Axis powers. The evacuees were forced out of Casablanca as a result, and were herded by rifle-wielding French soldiers onto British ships not equipped with provisions for a large civilian population. Return to Gibraltar was impossible as fortification of the territory was in full swing; the Gibraltar Defence Force were formed, an airfield constructed, and the Rock of Gibraltar itself extensively fortified, with miles of tunnels, hospitals, power stations, and barracks built inside. A return of the civilian population would risk the compromising of this extensive strategic development.

As such, despite protests from the fatigued evacuees, the transports navigated the Atlantic war-zone to Britain. Had the transports been attacked, one British Admiral claimed it would have been the worst maritime disaster in history. Most evacuated Gibraltarians remained in London throughout the war, where they would endure the worst of The Blitz within houses rendered empty by occupants who themselves had fled to safer locations in the British countryside. Luckier were those sent to Madeira, who enjoyed a relatively peaceful war. Many more were sent to Jamaica, where they inhabited a camp now comprising part of the University of the West Indies. Exposure to the English language and the western world would profoundly impact the evacuees. Pre-war, the Spanish language was used in education, and also within the most popular newspaper of the day – ‘El Capense’. Western exposure, as well as participation in Britain’s war, led to the distinct anglicisation of Gibraltarian culture visible today.

Gib Searchlights
The Rock of Gibraltar, lit by British searchlights during WWII

The success of the 1942 Allied invasion of North Africa negated any realistic possibility of invasion or attack of Gibraltar. This prompted calls from evacuees and those locals who had remained for repatriation. The civilian population was still regarded as a potential nuisance by the British. Gibraltar retained its strategic importance, and Britain saw its dominance of Mediterranean commerce and the associated Suez Canal zone as a lynch-pin in its post-war cling to great power status. Moreover, many homes had been demolished to facilitate militarisation, and an extensive homelessness crisis was feared should the evacuees return too soon. As such, the return was delayed. Many were moved to camps outside of Belfast, within which conditions were said to be appalling. Over 6,000 evacuees remained within camps such as these by the war’s end, with the last Gibraltarian returning home in 1951.

This denial of basic human rights and exodus from their families and homeland led to a heightening of the Gibraltarian social consciousness. Along this vein, the Association for Advancement of Civil Rights was established by Joshua Hassan and Albert Risso. The AACR called for improved working conditions, access to healthcare, and improved working conditions under the slogan ‘with Britain, not under Britain’. It is no coincidence that the rise to prominence of the AACR coincided with the rise of Attlee’s Labour Party in Britain, who were elected on a manifesto broadly comparable to that proposed for Gibraltar. Gibraltarians returning from London had been exposed to the grievances of the British working class and could see these issues reflected within their own society. These demands continue to form the basis of modern Gibraltarian politics, with access to free education, healthcare, and government housing dominating the demands of the territory’s inhabitants. This focus on basic rights forms one of two key components of Gibraltarian culture, alongside the commitment to partnership with Britain. This was perhaps best demonstrated in 2002, when 98% of voters rejected the principle of shared sovereignty with Spain. While the changes in Gibraltarian society may have evolved organically given time, the experiences of the evacuees accelerated the process. Gibraltar is the way it is today because of the territory’s unique wartime experience.

J G Middleton and B Bagu


  • Constantine, S., Community and Identity: The Making of Modern Gibraltar Since 1704
  • Finlayson, T.J., Gibraltar and the Spanish Shadow
  • Finlayson, T.J., The Fortress Came First: The Story of the Civilian Population of Gibraltar during the Second World War
  • Gingell, J., ed Beiso, D, We Thank God and England
  • Jackson, W.G.F., and Cantos, F.J., From Fortress to Democracy: The Political Biography of Sir Joshua Hassan
  • Photos; Cover Photo: www.gbc.gi/news/75th-anniversary-wwii-evacuation-be-commemorated-next-month; The Rock Image: WikiCommons

Chagos: Refugees of the Special Relationship


In November 2016, a community of people based in Crawley, West Sussex, travelled to Whitehall in order to protest a government decision which would have extend the now fifty year exile from their homeland. Almost unheard of within the country they now predominantly reside, Chagossians are a people without a home. Hailing from a group of islands in the geographical centre of the Indian Ocean, they are the enduring reminder of a 1966 land-grab, whereby the British government authorised the expulsion of the inhabitants of the Diego Garcia island group in order to facilitate the construction of an enormous US military base. Their story ever since has been one of abuse, neglect, and an overriding fight for preservation and recognition.

Quick Facts Chagos

The political decisions behind the expulsion of the native Chagos Islanders were heavily influenced by the decline of empire, the Cold War, and late twentieth century US hegemony. Throughout the 1960s, as the winds of change swept through the old world order and colonialism gave way in the face of rising worldwide national consciousness, the need for the west to preserve some sort of military presence east of Suez was stark. This was exacerbated by the perceived threat of both the Soviet Union and a rising China. To counteract this, the ‘island chain strategy’ was developed. The strategy perceived the containment of communist expansion via the fortification of islands throughout the Pacific and Indian Oceans. To this end, prior to the UK’s granting of Mauritian independence, the US requested that the Chagos Archipelago be annexed, reconstituted as a separate colony labelled the British Indian Ocean Territory, and leased to the United States Navy. The British, assuming their junior role in the special relationship with vigour, accepted. The decision would anger the newly independent Mauritian government. The UN immediately passed a resolution which condemned the detachment. Protests were ignored and the resident islanders, the Chagossians, were removed to prevent any resistance to the military presence.

The Chagossians can trace their roots back to East African slave labourers transported to islands by the French. The defeat of France during the Napoleonic Wars saw the islands handed over to the British, who imported labourers from India. Over generations, the peoples on the island integrated and a distinct Chagossian culture emerged. The islanders persisted on the islands for generations, uninterrupted until men in distant lands decided their slice of paradise was a prime location for a military base. These same men decided that the presence of the islanders would inhibit the functionality of that island base. In order to facilitate their expulsion, the British government endeavoured to deface the Chagossian culture and any generational attachment to the islands. This came despite the fact that the islands had been populated around the same time the white man arrived in Australia, and in similar circumstances. To claim the Chagossians have no rights or connection to the islands is also to deny such rights to those populating the Falklands – rights which Britain went to war to protect in the 1980s.

After a blockade of imported goods, as well as intimidation by UK and US military personnel, the Chagossians were compelled to leave to the neighbouring Seychelles and Mauritius. UK aid packages were far from adequate, and islanders often lived as refugees in conditions of abject poverty. More recently, lacklustre efforts have been made by the government to provide islanders with British passports, and many have settled in Crawley, where an exiled community has emerged. Many Chagossians remain separated from family members as a result of complex British citizenship laws. This does not mean however that a reversal of the expulsion has been likely, and any concessions are rather an admittance of guilt. A guilt which has always been overridden by the dependence of the UK upon its cousins in Washington.

Public pressure has come close to trumping realpolitik in the past. In 2000 the British High Court judged the eviction of Chagossians as illegal. While this decision was celebrated amongst campaigners, it proved inconsequential. The government used a Royal Prerogative to reverse the decision, using an obscure law  to bypass Parliament in a manner very rarely seen within 21st century British politics. While Foreign Secretary in 2010, David Miliband created a Marine Protected Area around the archipelago. Leaked memos subsequently revealed that this was heavily influenced by the need to undermine the repatriation campaign. The practicality of such a reserve was immediately called into question, and the decision gathered criticism from high profile members of the Green Party and Greenpeace.

Heading into 2016 there was hope, as the US lease over the islands was up for renewal. Under Obama, the US had often hinted at its desire to step back from its extensive overseas commitments. Moreover, the return of the islanders would have reflected well upon the Conservative government, both within the eyes of the British public and the international community. However, in November 2016 the Government announced that the US lease would be extended by twenty years, and all requests for the islander’s return were rejected. Some suggested that Chagossians could live on the islands and support the US military presence, supplanting the Filipino workers imported to conduct low-level maintenance tasks. Standing in the way of this however is the reality that native populations often hinder operations at a number of the 909 overseas facilities administered as part of the US military empire. Local grievances have limited the effectiveness of bases in the Philippines, Japan, and Turkey. As such, Chagossian exile suits American military aims in the Indian Ocean perfectly. The islanders fight on.

One of the main problems facing the islanders, particularly following the November 2016 decision, is the lack of publicity that the struggle gets within the mainstream media. Significant public pressure might be the key to precipitating a reversal of the British Government’s decision, however exposure is needed in order to achieve this. This is well known by the exiles, who endeavour through social media, protests and other mediums to promote their cause. The participation of a Chagos Islands Football Team within the 2016 Confederation of Independent Football Associations (Conifa) World Cup in Abkhazia, Georgia, is testament to this. While the Chagossians were knocked out in the group stages, their real success was the raising of the island’s profile and with it their struggle to return home. The islanders undoubtedly face a significant challenge, as the special relationship shows no signs of strain, even with Donald Trump in the White House. Wider public pressure remains the key to their return to paradise.


The Extinction of the Aboriginal Tasmanians

There is little in British colonial history that casts as dark a shadow as what some have labelled the Aboriginal Tasmanian genocide. At the time of British settlement in 1803 there were an estimated four to seven thousand Indigenous Tasmanians, by 1847 there were just 147. While some mixed-race communities endured, the last full-blooded Tasmanian, Truganini, died in Hobart in 1876.

Intense debate has raged amongst historians over how the demise of the Tasmanian people should be defined. Niall Ferguson calls it ‘one of the most shocking of all the chapters in the history of the British Empire’, and states that it truly warrants labelling as genocide. Others, such as Henry Reynolds, argue that demographic decline was due to losses sustained in conflict with the colonists, rather than a direct policy of genocide on the part of the government. More controversially, some outright deny the culpability of the colonial government. Keith Windschuttles’ infamous work The Fabrication of Aboriginal History challenges the general view. Windschuttle argues that Aboriginal society collapsed due to susceptibility to disease and its cultural mistreatment of women, perhaps overlooking the fact that Tasmanian culture had endured for around ten thousand years in isolation.

How could it transpire that a country championing liberty and the abolition of slavery could oversee the extinction of an entire peoples? The Tasmanian population, which had survived ten-thousand years in isolation, would cease to exist after just seventy-three years of colonial settlement.

Quick Facts Truganini

The colonial history of Tasmania was from its beginning synonymous with brutality. Originally a distant outpost administered from Sydney, the island became home to Australia’s most hardened convicts. Penal settlements such as Macquarie Harbour were said to have been some of the harshest in the Empire. Struggles with the Aboriginal population started almost immediately following the arrival of the British in 1803. Various initial confrontations with native communities culminated in a skirmish at the Risdon Cove penal settlement in May 1804, when two Aboriginal men were killed by soldiers.

Initial skirmishes ushered in a period from which horrific stories of indigenous butchery at the hands of sealers, escaped convicts and bushrangers permeate. Accounts tell of native men being hunted for sport, and used as live targets during firing practices. Bushrangers were said to use indigenous men as a food source for their hounds. There are tales of sealers capturing Aboriginal women and chaining them in captivity as sex-slaves, as well as an infamous account of a wife being made to wear the decapitated head of her husband in a bag around her neck. Such encounters served to stiffen Aboriginal resistance as they began an early form of guerrilla warfare against the settlers during what became known as the ‘Black Wars.’

‘The Last Muster of Tasmanian Aborigines at Risdon’ by British landscape artist John Glover. The paiting shows the last indigenous community in the Risdon area, immediately prior to their deportation to Flinders Island. http://nationalunitygovernment.org

In 1825 George Arthur became Lieutenant-Governor as Van Diemen’s Land achieved independence from Sydney. He began working with an established Committee for Aboriginal Affairs in an attempt to remedy the quickly worsening situation. In October 1831 the Committee wrote to Arthur listing ‘Atrocities committed by the Natives since the 19th of March 1830.’ The three-page-long list includes an account during which, on the 28th of September 1830, a Mr G. Scott’s house was ‘attacked by a mob of natives, they speared one man and killed another, the body of whom they threw into the river.’

There had, since 1828, been measures in place to displace the natives from their traditional lands in order to facilitate the expansion of the British settlements. Arthur came to the conclusion that resettlement of the indigenous population to one of Tasmania’s outlying islands was the best option, and felt justified in doing so. The Committee wrote that:

‘what to some may appear the removal of these unfortunate beings from their native land cannot appear harsh; as men, as Christians they can have but one feeling, that of compassion towards their benighted fellow-creatures; and it is the persuasion that such measures alone will have the effect of preventing the calamities which His Majesty’s subjects have for so long a period suffered, and of preventing the entire destruction of the Aborigines themselves.’

This account clearly demonstrates that, forty-five years before Truganini’s death, the British were conscious of the fact that the Tasmanian peoples were at risk of extinction.

Great Island (soon to become Flinders Island) was chosen by the Committee as a suitable location, owing to its inaccessibi. Arthur considered that ‘escape is quite impossible, as is kidnapping by sealers…there is plenty of game, it is possible that the natives may also here pine to return to their native land, but it is imagined that the amusement of hunting would occupy their minds.’ So it transpired that the last home of a homogeneous Tasmanian community was what Robert Hughes called ‘a benign concentration camp’ on Flinders Island. A ten-thousand-year-old culture was sacrificed to accommodate settlers who had arrived just under thirty years ago.

The remaining Aboriginal communities in Van Diemen’s Land still had to be persuaded, or forced, to ‘come-in’ and resettle. The Black Line military campaign, during which armed men sought out any resistant indigenous communities, has been interpreted by some as an attempt at extermination comparable to the Nazi Einsatzgruppen. George Augustus Robinson, a missionary dubbed the ‘evangelical pied piper’ by Robert Hughes, was successful in ‘bringing-in’ some of the most resistant groups. By January 1832 Arthur had written to London that ‘the most sanguinary of the tribes, under the chiefs “Montpeilliatter” and “Tonger Longter”, who have always acted in unison, have at length been conciliated by the friendly mission under Mr.Robinson.’ While official government papers portray this roundup as a reluctant policy carried out with Aboriginal interests in mind, many of the settlers saw it as a license to kill, and violence persisted.

In 1835, the last of the Tasmanians were resettled. On Flinders Island, disease and distress led to rapid population decline, and by 1847 the 47 who remained were resettled in Hobart. Truganini, the last full-blooded Aboriginal Tasmanian, died in 1876. Tasmanian remains became sought-after scientific property as their numbers fell, and were utilised in a number of eugenic studies. The body of the last Tasmanian male, William Lanne, was exhumed for study, while Truganini was displayed in the Hobart Museum until 1947.

Benjamin Madley calls Tasmania ‘probably the most terrifying place in the British Empire a white person could live’, and the settlers focused unapologetically on their own safety and protection of their livelihoods. British practice and policy had failed to provide this protection, and settlers were compelled to take their security into their own hands. This proved catastrophic for the Tasmanian population. Policy also failed, to a much more severe degree, to protect the Tasmanians, who by the time of George Arthur’s plans for resettlement had been galvanised in resistance to a force they felt was intent on the invasion of their land and the eradication of their people. As the extent of the problem revealed itself, attempts at solution were made in desperation, not to save the Tasmanian people as such but rather the reputation of the Empire. The solution would fail, and the memory of Tasmania served to erode any conceptions of the British Imperial benevolence.

The British reaction to this decimation in practice was fuelled largely by a complete misinterpretation of indigenous cultures with regards to connection to ancestral lands, as well as a prevalent sense of inferiority as determined by the imperial racial hierarchy. Moreover, the need from the British to gain from the colony – originally in terms of establishing successful penal settlements, and then to cultivate a self-sustaining white-outpost within the expanding British Empire – vastly outweighed the need for contemporary authorities to accommodate the original inhabitants of that land. What is perhaps most telling in the story is an ambivalence towards the horrors which indigenous Tasmanians were enduring. The overriding fact is that as long as the colony thrived, the British regarded Aboriginal plight as a matter of fact, and, overwhelmingly, simply did not care.


  • Niall Ferguson, Empire: How Britain Made the Modern World
  • Jared Diamond, ‘Ten Thousand Years of Solitude’
  • Robert Hughes, The Fatal Shore
  • Benjamin Madley, ‘From Terror to Genocide: Britain’s Tasmanian Penal Colony and Australia’s History Wars’
  • Runko Rashidi, ‘Black War: The Destruction of the Tasmanian Aborigines’
  • Henry Reynolds, Fate of a Free People: A radical re-examination of the Tasmanian Wars
  • Keith Windschuttle, The Fabrication of Aboriginal History
  • Wiltshire and Swindon History Centre (WSHC), Papers, BB/51, fol. 157, List of Atrocities committed by the Natives since the 19th of March 1830, October 1831
  • WSHC, Papers, BB/51, fol. 160, Extracts from the MINUTE of the Aborigines Committee, 28th September 1831
  • WSHC, Papers, BB/51, fol. 162, Copy of a Despatch from Lieutenant-Governor Arthur to Viscount Goderich, 7th January 1832
  • Photos; Cover Image: http://nla.gov.au/; John Glover Painting: http://nationalunitygovernment.org