The photograph album of my great-great aunt Rose includes many people whose portraits I had never seen. One of these is of her first cousin George Dana (1849—1872), who died accidentally 150 years ago on the remote Pacific island of Tanna.

George Kinnaird Dana, christened George Jamieson Dana, was born in 1849 in Dandenong, Victoria, fourth of the five children of Henry Dana, commandant of the Native Police, and his wife Sophia Cole Hamilton née Walsh. Henry was the brother of Rose’s mother Charlotte.

In 1852, when George was three years old, his father died of pneumonia, and his mother Sophia moved to Tasmania. In 1854 George’s older brother, William, died in Launceston. Henry’s brother—George’s uncle William—discovered that Sophia and the children were living in poverty and distress, and he arranged to have them provided with food and financial help. [At that time William was a Victoria Police Inspector at Kilmore, sixty kilometres north of Melbourne.]

In 1856, two years after Sophia was rescued by Uncle William, they were married in Launceston. She was 29; he was 30. The family returned to Victoria, and a son was born—half-brother to George. He died in infancy.

In 1860, when George was ten years old, his mother Sophia died of tuberculosis.

For about two years, from 1863 to 1865, George and his brother Augustus attended Mr Morrison’s College in Geelong, later known as Geelong College.

On leaving school George was employed as a clerk in the Bank of Victoria in Melbourne. He appears to have enjoyed football; he played for the South Yarra Football Club [following the code now known as Australian Rules].

About 1867 or 1868 George left the Bank of Victoria with the intention of setting up as a trader in the islands of the South Pacific. Within a year or so he had established a trading firm in the New Hebrides group (present day Vanuatu) in partnership with two young men: James Fraser Bell and William Alister Ross. His partnership with James Bell gave him a share in a small cutter, the Gem 52 tons, and he took up land on the island of Tanna to establish a plantation for the production of copra. [Copra is the dried meat or kernel of the coconut, from which coconut oil is extracted.]

Port Resolution, Tanna, from A year in the New Hebrides, Loyalty Islands, and New Caledonia by F. A. Campbell (1873) opposite page 32 retrieved though archive.org

On 28 July 1871 Bell and Ross were murdered by Tanna tribesmen. Australian newspapers published several reports of this, with the Melbourne Leader and the Geelong Advertiser of 31 August carrying a full account of an inquest held immediately afterwards, with statements from George Dana and several other witnesses, including natives whose reports were taken by translation.

Bell and Ross had been on their way to a plantation owned by a man called Henry Lewin, guided there by a native employee. A group of five tribesmen offered to take over, killed the two young men, and stole their clothes and revolvers. The five murderers were described and named, but nothing more could be done: they were members of a tribe known to be troublesome, and there was no military or police presence to make arrests or undertake a punitive expedition.

On 20 December 1872 George Kinnaird Dana also died tragically, of tetanus, contracted when he accidentally shot himself in the leg.

A traveller passing through, named Frederick Campbell, who in 1873 published an account of his journeys, described George’s death:

Port Resolution, Tana,
December, 1872.
AFTER a stay of two months at Kwamera, I went round by boat to visit Mr. and Mrs. Neilson at Port Resolution. The station here occupies a fine position on the banks overhanging the bay, and commands a very fine view towards the lofty Mount Mirren. The general aspect of the country is much the same as that around Kwamera, only the land is more flat and the forests are more free of underwood. There are two traders’ establishments here, the occupants of them being engaged principally in the manufacture of cobra from cocoanuts and the collection of sulphur. Until lately one of these establishments was in charge of a young man named Dana. He was one of that unfortunate expedition that left Melbourne some years ago to settle upon this island. Two of them—Messrs. Ross and Bell—were killed by the natives ; and now Dana, poor fellow, has met his death here too. Going out one Sunday alone, with his gun, it went off accidentally, inflicting a very bad wound in the leg. He was conveyed home by natives, and Mr. Neilson went down to attend to him. For some days he seemed to be in a fair way of recovery, but then, quite unexpectedly, he took lockjaw, and shortly afterwards died. It was sad to see a young man like that dying alone, on a heathen island, far from his friends and relatives, with no one to care for him except the kind-hearted missionary, near whose station the accident happened to occur.
Mission cottage at Port Resolution from “Nineteen years in Polynesia: missionary life, travels, and researches in the islands of the Pacific” by George Turner (1861) page 133 retrieved through archive.org

An announcement of George Dana’s death was published in the Melbourne Argus just over three months later, on Tuesday 1 April 1873:

DANA.– On the 20th December, 1872, at Port Resolution, Tanna, of an accidental gunshot wound, George Kinnaird Dana, aged 23 years and seven months, the last surviving son of the late Captain H E P Dana.

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