Trials of the pioneer: Some Aboriginal aggressions [14 January 1933]

[Editor: An article published in The Argus, 14 January 1933.]

Trials of the pioneer.

Some Aboriginal aggressions.

By J. B. Cooper.

When the first pastoralists settled at Port Phillip the aborigines of the Geelong and Portland districts were more hostile in personal aggressions and in sheep stealing than any of the other natives in Victoria. At the time of the Hentys’ settlement at Portland Bay in 1834 the aborigines of that district numbered approximately 3,000. So remote was the Portland district from the Yarra centre of settlement that in 1839 the settlers in it had not multiplied by more than a dozen. In 1840 the revenue from pastoral licences did not exceed £150. Addinson and Murray formed the first station, Dunrobin, on the Glenelg, in January 1840. In 1841-42 the country was opened and occupied by adventurous pastoralists as far outback as Dunrobin. A local census of stock in the Portland district taken in September, 1842, showed 1,336 horses, 22,900 cattle, and 624,460 sheep.

The years 1841-42 were the peak years for murders of settlers and shepherds and for sheep and cattle stealing. South from Mount Eccles was one of the chief resorts of the aborigines. Frequently they speared or stampeded and drove cattle into swamps. In the breakaways cattle often escaped from the natives, and then the animals lost in the bush became wild stock. Upon an original map in the Government Lands office a trigonometrical survey of the Portland district dated May 1843, is a surveyor’s note, written beside the Glenelg, which states, “A herd of wild cattle seen.” A settler at the Glenelg named Evans, who had a cattle station, was murdered two years earlier, and his cattle were stolen, butchered, and lost by the aborigines. Three notorious aborigines, known on the Henty’s whaling beach as cunning ruffians, named Cold Morning, Jupiter and Cocknose led or secretly instigated raiding parties and murderous assaults. Cold Morning was considered by the setttlers to be the most intelligent and powerful native in the district. On one occasion he formed into line of battle 150 natives, in accordance with the stone-age man’s way of warfare, to resist the recapture of 500 stolen sheep. They yelled defiance and threw their spears. The settlers replied with gunshots, and three aborigines were killed. The rest of them abandoning the sheep, ran off into the bush.

On June 9, 1838, seven aborigines with sheep stolen from Yaldwyn’s Station fought a bush duel with their spears against the settlers’ guns. The seven of them were killed. Then the aborigines changed their tactics, and began guerilla warfare. Whyte Bros. in 1840, droving sheep to the district from Melbourne, were harassed day and night. Grass was fired, spears were thrown at drovers and sheep were stolen. The settlers were terrorised from Portland Bay to Merino Downs, from Port Fairy to the Grange, from Glenelg to Geelong, and also as far north-east as Swampy River, near the Ovens River, where on April 10, 1838, a party of 300 aborigines murdered eight men out of 18 of William Pitt Faithfull’s party. The settlers would not leave their home stations or travel except in strongly armed parties.

The silence of the bush.

Eighty-two settlers petitioned Governor Gipps on July 21, 1838, to declare a “black war” or to allow them to form a militia. He replied that the aborigines were subjects of Her Majesty, and there must not be any indiscriminate retaliation. Within four months four shepherds were killed, two seriously wounded, and 3,500 sheep were stolen or destroyed. When a report of an aboriginal raid was made the troopers of Captain Fyans, Geelong; Mr. Blair, police magistrate, Portland; and Captain Dana, with native police troopers, galloped over the country. In 1843 the Border troopers, numbering 17 men, were searching for 10 days for an aboriginal murderer and sheep stealers. During those 10 days, though the Portland district was full of natives, not one was seen by the troopers, so perfect was the natives’ bushcraft of concealment to avoid being questioned. Wild lubras were sometimes captured, held for days, and questioned each day regarding crimes, but they refused to speak. The aborigines kidnapped in August, 1843, Martha Ward, aged two years, the daughter of Benjamin Ward, of the Travellers’ Rest Inn, Arindoovong. Dana’s native police caught two lubras of the suspected tribe and held the women for two days without any information being obtained. The child had been killed at a waterhole camp because the aborigines were tired of hearing her crying.

The tracking and arrest of suspected murderers was very difficult owing to tribal hostility. When aborigines were caught they were shipped in custody from Portland Bay to Melbourne by way of Launceston. In Melbourne they came before Judge Walpole Willis, the first resident judge at Melbourne. He invariably refused to try the aborigine on the ground that the man of the stone age was not of sufficient capacity to understand the nature of the proceedings launched against him. The militant settlers did not agree with this legal view. Perhaps their attitude accounts for the finding of the body of Big Fred, a native of giant-like figure, near the Piccaninny waterholes. He was suspected of having murdered in a station raid a settler named D. Mackenzie at Emu Creek. Captain Fyans had a black boy belonging to the Geelong tribe whom the Colac natives were anxious to kill. The boy, Bon Jon, took a gun and shot the most aggressive Colac native and made his victim’s attractive lubra his own wife. Fyans committed Bon Jon to Melbourne to stand his trial for murder. Judge Willis refused on August 23, 1841, to try Bon Jon on the ground of lack of mental understanding.

Murder by night.

A sleeping camp of aborigines was fired on at night on February 23, 1842 by some unknown persons. In the morning three women named Coonea, Naidoncher, and Connyer and one boy were found dead by the camp fire close to Smith and Osberry’s Station. Governor Gipps offered a reward of £100 for information. Some of the pastoralists wrote to Superintendent Latrobe on April 23 assuring him of their horror. They were James Webster, Claude Forie, Niel Black, Daniel Curdie, G. Roger, J. S. Donald, Charles G. Burchett, Alex. D. Lang, James Kilgour, Armyne Bolden, D. Chisholm, and J. Carmichael. Fourteen months later Governor Gipps was still incensed by the silence in the bush. He said he would not grant any more pastoral licences in the Port Fairy-Portland district until the murderers were discovered. A discredited informer, anxious for the reward, brought a wild charge against some men which resulted in a trial and an acquittal. The circumstances of the murders were never known to the law authorities, but it was believed that the women in the darkness were mistaken for sheep thieves.

A powerful aborigine, Alkapareet, 24 years of age, brother of the chief of the Jarcott tribe, though he himself belonged to the Wharraball tribe, was charged before Judge Willis with having murdered William Codd on April 19, 1840. Codd was James Brock’s overseer at Mount Rouse. Alkapareet, with his face by hidden by a mask of white clay, had led 30 aborigines in an attack on Codd, and his servant Rooney. In the witness-box Rooney, who was severely wounded, identified Alkapareet as the native who had struck Todd. Alkapareet cried from the dock, “No! No! Borak!” Judge Willis was satisfied that he understood the nature of the proceedings. The aborigine was found guilty, and was hanged. From April 23, 1838, to December 31, 1849, 57 aborigines were arrested for various offences, including murder, sheep stealing, and spearing cattle. Only 32 were placed on trial, 23 were found guilty, 5 were executed, 13 were transported, and 6 were imprisoned.

The Argus (Melbourne, Vic.), 14 January 1933, p. 9

Also published in:
Portland Guardian (Portland, Vic.), 2 March 1933, p. 4

Editor’s notes:
lubra = an Aboriginal woman

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