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Aboriginal Australian matriarch, Dolly Dalrymple Johnson (b. circa 1808, d. 1864), was in foster care as a child.

Dolly Dalrymple was born in the Furneaux Islands, a group of around one hundred islands in the Bass Strait between Victoria and Tasmania. Her mother was Woretemoeteyenner (circa 1797-1847), a Trawlwoolway woman from Cape Portland who was either given to George Briggs, a seal hunter from England and Dolly’s father by Woretemoeteyenner, or was kidnapped by him. Woretemoeteyenner had five children with Briggs, but he sold her to another sealer before abducting another Aboriginal woman for himself.

Dolly and her sisters were taken and raised by European couples, while Dolly’s brother, John, was looked after by James Munro, a convict who had settled on Preservation Island around 1820 and who also worked as a sealer.

Dolly’s foster parents were Bridget and Jacob Mountgarrett (circa 1773-1828).

Jacob Mountgarret qualified as a surgeon in London in 1798 and travelled to Australia as surgeon on the HMS Glatton. On arrival in NSW in March 1803, Mountgarrett was immediately appointed as surgeon to the proposed new settlement at Risdon Cove on the River Derwent in Tasmania. One of Mountgarret’s tasks was to pack up Aboriginal remains and send them to NSW where they were shipped on to England as museum artifacts. Mountgarret later took up an appointment as surgeon of the Port Dalrymple settlement at the mouth of the Tamar River, approximately 40 km to the north-west of what is now known as Launceston.

Dolly was baptised Dolly Dalrymple Mountgarret Briggs by her foster parents in 1814. She was taught to read and write, and to keep house. She also worked on the Moungarret farm.

Around 1825, Dolly left the Mountgarret home (one story is this was after she was shot by Mountgarret) and moved in with convict stockman, Thomas Johnson (1801-1867)—after, some sources say, having relationships with two other stockmen with whom she had a daughter from each—who was working at Dairy Plains, approximately 68 kilometres southwest of Launceston. Thomas Johnson had been transported to Tasmania in 1824.

In 1831, Dolly and Thomas received permission from Governor George Arthur to marry. Governor Arthur was impressed by Dolly’s stand against hostile local Aboriginals protesting against Dolly bringing a mixed-race child into a camp where her mother was staying. Dolly was also granted land in response to her heroism; she was the first Aboriginal person in Tasmania to whom land was granted.

Dolly and Thomas married in 1831 and had thirteen children.

In 1841, and with Thomas Johnson having finished a seven-year term in prison for stealing wheat, Dolly Dalrymple gained permission for her mother, Woretemoeteyenner, to live with the family. The family then moved to the Mersey River region in 1845 where they became significant landowners.

The family home, Sherwood Hall, was built on 202 hectares of land and the Johnsons became owners of a timber business, the Alfred Colliery coal mine, and two hotels—the sixteen room Native Youth Inn at Sherwood (which later became the Sherwood Inn) and the Dalrymple Inn at Ballahoo. Johnson also built a hall that was used as a schoolroom, church, and for other public functions. By 1858, Dolly and Thomas also owned a flour mill, several shops, twenty-one houses, and much land.

Dolly Dalrymple died in 1864 at the age of fifty-six; she was survived by her husband and ten children. Thomas remarried in 1865 but died in December 1867.


Dyer, Alan. “(33) Thomas Johnson & Dolly Dalrymple.” Alan Dyer OAM, 23 October 2019. 

McFarlane, Ian. “Dalrymple, Dolly (1808-1864).” Australian Dictionary of Biography (2005).

Mead, Isabella. “Mountgarrett, Jacob (1773-1828).” Australian Dictionary of Biography, vol. 2 (1967).

“Johnson, Thomas (1805-1867).” People Australia.  

Raabus, Carol. “Bridging the cultural divide with Dolly Dalrymple.” ABC Local, 23 March 2011.

Raabus, Carol. “The tale of a sealer woman: Woretemoeteyenner.” ABC Local, 18 March 2011.

Valentine, Barbara. “Munro, James (1779-1845).” Australian Dictionary of Biography (2005).

Walter, Maggie. “Woretemoeteyenner.” The Companion to Tasmanian History.