With an uncharacteristically violent motion, she threw the painting in the wake of the ship. It dipped and rode the air as it fell. Then it smacked into the sea, tearing on impact. It quickly drifted away, face down. When she turned, Sir John was standing behind her, black streaks across his forehead as the wind blew his long greased hairs into writhing question marks.

Another punctuation metaphor — this time in a quote from Wanting, also by Richard Flanagan. The she in the quote above is Lady Jane Franklin, on her way back to England after six years in Tasmania with her husband Sir John Franklin, who had served as lieutenant-governor of Van Diemen’s Land from 1837 to 1843.

painting of young Aboriginal girl in a long red dress

Mathinna (1842) by Thomas Bock. Painting held in the Tasmanian Museum and Art Gallery in Hobart, Australia. Public domain.

Mathinna was the daughter of Towtrer, the chief of the Port Davey tribe, and his wife Wongerneep. The Franklins adopted her some time after they visited Flinders Island, where the remaining Tasmanian Aboriginal people had been resettled by George Augustus Robinson. Mathinna’s naked feet were a source of considerable exasperation to Lady Franklin, who insisted on her wearing shoes. The striking portrait by Thomas Bock that inspired Flanagan shows Mathinna with bare feet, but her feet were only to be hidden again, behind a wooden frame.

When the Franklins returned to England in 1843, they left Mathinna behind. Unfortunately, not much is known about her life. After the Franklins left, she spent some time in an orphanage in Hobart, was then sent back to the Flinders Island settlement, from where she was moved to the Oyster Cove settlement on the mainland of Tasmania with the other remaining Tasmanian Aboriginal people. Unsurprisingly, her story doesn’t end well.

Listen to Richard Flanagan talk about Mathinna.