Point Hibbs (2014)


In 2013 the following book was published: Land of the Sleeping Gods: Untold history and mythology of the Tasmanian Aborigines: the writings and drawings of William Jackson Cotton; compiled and introduced by Jane Cooper; with a foreword by Frank Ellis, a prologue by Henry Reynolds and notes by Nick Clements. This book is reconstructed from what is referred to as “The Cotton Papers”, an archive of documents and drawings on the society and culture of the Tasmanian Aborigines compiled by early members of the Cotton family, Quakers and early settlers on Tasmania's east coast, and their friend Dr George Story. According to family tradition the material was gathered from ‘elderly Aborigines who wanted their traditions recorded before they died’. The archive, however, was destroyed in a fire in 1959, but was re-created, from memory, by William Jackson Cotton (1909-1981).

The central claim of “The Cotton Papers” is that a pre-19th century European shipwreck, possibly Portuguese or Spanish, was located at Niblin Point on Point Hibbs, Tasmania. “The Cotton Papers” further claimed that there had been a significant number of survivors of this shipwreck and that they had mixed with the Aboriginal population of the area for some time, producing offspring, before eventually being murdered. The implications of this claim, combined with the other material in the book, if proven to be true, would have profound effects on the existing understanding of Tasmanian Aboriginal history.

In 2014, Detached supported an expedition, led by Greg Jeffreys, to test the claim of a shipwreck, with survivors, at Niblin Point, which would then go some way to supporting the other, somewhat controversial, material in the book.

The search around Niblin Point and the associated headland revealed zero non-Aboriginal artefacts. The search of the beaches between Niblin Point and the mouth of the Spero River found only Aboriginal artefacts and 20th century European artefacts, which contrasts with the north side of Point Hibbs where numerous artefacts from the 19th century or earlier were found. These results indicate that the claim in “The Cotton Papers”, that the shipwreck occurred on Niblin Point, is not correct. In fact the results indicate that there was nothing that indicates survivors from any pre-19th century shipwreck between Niblin Point and the Spero River. The results of this expedition exclude the area from Niblin Point to the Spero River as a location for survivors of the shipwreck. They also cast doubt on the accuracy of the other narrative claims in “The Cotton Papers”.

Expedition Team:

Historian & Archaeologist: Greg Jeffreys

Bush Craft: Peter Gartner

Photography & Film: Johnny Abegg

Forager & Chef: David Moyle

Detached: Penny Clive

Point Hibbs (still)

Point Hibbs (still)