Early Settlement

Passages to the North West Plains by Michael O'Rourke.
Pages: 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 17 18



Armed Conflict in the Hunter Valley 1825-26 cont.


The Kamilaroi ignored the first small groups of itinerant land selectors. Trouble quickly broke out, however, when the British arrived in large numbers to 'sit down' along the Upper Hunter with their convict workers, sheep and cattle. The Aborigines tolerated some of the farms and stations. but they soon challenged others among the whitefellows. John Pike's farm near Denman for example was raided, it appears, by the very same people with whom William Ogilvie and Peter Cunningham afterwards established a good understanding.
    There are few clues in our sources concerning the Hunter blackfellows' attitudes. With limited source materials, we usually have to deduce or guess the attitudes and motivation of the Kamilaroi in the first year of British occupation, June 1825 to June 1826. It is highly unlikely, however, that the Kamilaroi were innocents who failed to realise the white men were selecting their lands for occupation. The Upper Hunter people would certainly have known many details concerning the British settlements around Sydney, Bathurst and Newcastle and how the colonists had already dispossessed the Aborigines there. On the other hand, the Aborigines probably thought in localised terms, directing their resentment against specific individual settlers and convicts.
    The settlers on several occasions apprehended a general attack by the Aborigines but this seems to have been a case of imagining the worst, as there is little or no evidence that the blackfellows ever wished or hoped to drive out the whitefellows. As it appears, the Kamilaroi attacked certain colonists only when provoked.
     The Sydney Gazette and the Lake Macquarie missionary Lancelot Threlkeld considered that much of the trouble arose from the convict workers abusing Aboriginal women. The white man's food supplies and attractive products, and access across parts of the land also provoked conflict for the British warned off Aboriginal 'trespassers' on 'their' grants, shot at Aborigines who took their supplies, and struck down the husbands of the Aboriginal women they kidnapped or detained. So Peter Cunningham simply refers to 'revenge' in general as the reason for Aboriginal attacks. It is unlikely, therefore, that a 'communication' from the Mudgee people (Wiradjuri-speakers), who visited the Wollombi and Hunter people, can have been the 'first cause' of the hostilities, as the magistrates' report afterwards asserted. Fairly clearly, the Wiradjuri visitors departed before Little and McIntyre set up at 'Invermein' and 'Segenhoe' respectively.
About five incidents during 1825 were listed in the report by the lay ‘magistrates’ (justices of the peace) and Hunter River land holders, Scott and Macleod. Young Robert Scott [c.1799-1844] was master of 4,000 acres at 'Glendon' on Glendon Brook, which enters the Hunter from the north a little downstream from (east of) present-day Singleton. He had served as a justice of the peace since 1824 and was active in pursuing absconding convicts or so-called 'bushrangers' in the lower valley during 1825. Alexander Macleod, 40 years old, held 'Luskintyre', an adjoining farm of 2,000 acres on the northern side of the river opposite present-day Greta. 
    Their report suggests that the first clashes in the upper districts took place in late August and early September 1825, coinciding with the influx of large numbers of convict workers and before the fatal raid on Grieg's farm in October 1825. The following passage presumably refers to August and September, and it may describe incidents during the occupation of the Scone district. The maize in question may have been bags of planting seed, being used in sowing the first crops. It would seem too early for maize plants to be sprouting let alone yielding corn-cobs:

... at Mr Little's and Mr McIntyre's farms ['Invermein' at Scone and 'Blairmore' near Aberdeen] ... the Natives stole the maize, and the proprietors defended it. On one occasion the natives were pursued by Mr John McIntyre from the maize field, when they took up a strong position and rolled down rocks and stones which forced Mr McIntyre and party to retreat. 

The next incidents would appear to have occurred in September, when further supplies were being taken to 'Segenhoe':

Then followed several petty robberies on single individuals while travelling the long and lonely road [ = track] from Dr Bowman's ['Ravensworth'] upwards [i.e., towards Muswellbrook], such as stripping them of their cloathes [sic] and provisions; and McIntyre's dray was robbed by the Natives although one of the two men in charge had a blunderbuss.

Peter McIntyre wrote to Governor Brisbane on 3 September, immediately before departing from Newcastle to occupy the area, expressing confidence that Macqueen's immigrant shepherds would be able to defend themselves. He referred rather grandly to the tents and huts on Macqueen's grant as 'my residence':

Tho' they [Aborigines] have plundered and forcibly robbed several, burned houses and corn [wheat] stacks, and even violated the wife of a respectable settler ..., I have no doubt of being able, with my Highland lads [Scots], to defend my self and property or to run down even those desperadoes who come near my residence at Segenhoe ...


Aborigines, White Proprietors
and Convict Workers

One colonist 'counted' 300 able-bodied Aboriginal men, presumably Darkinung and/or Wonarua speakers, in the neighbourhood of Patricks Plains in the 1820s. This implies a minimum total population of perhaps 1,000 people including women and children. Then there were the cismontane Kamilaroi of the Upper Hunter basin, in three or four communities, who numbered at least 500 people in 1826 (men, women and children).
    Taken together, these figures suggest that the total Aboriginal population of the middle and upper valley - north and west from modern Singleton - was more than 1,500 in 1825. Applying this figure to 14,333 (two-thirds of the size, 21,500 sq km, of the Hunter basin), we obtain 9.5 sq km per person. This is perhaps a thinner population than might be expected (cf 2-3.6 sq km pp for western Victoria: Lourandos 1977, 1997; O’Rourke 1997: 140). Accordingly the true figure was probably more like 2,000 children, women and men.
On the other side, the British in the Hunter Valley in 1825, mostly convict workers, already numbered 1,673 people. Also there were as yet few children and women. The number of whites on the Upper Hunter grew from fewer than 100 people in 1825 to about 400 by 1827. The 'settlers' among them, the employer caste of large proprietors and ex-convict small farmers, numbered about 350 in the whole valley.  The farms were concentrated largely in the Maitland-Newcastle and Wollombi-Singleton segments of the valley. Altogether there were 9,000 sheep (rising to about 20,000 sheep by the end of 1826) and 4,500 head of cattle.  

Counting only the upper districts, in 1826 there were about seven Aborigines (children, women and men) for every one Briton/Irish [2,000 vs. 300]. But the white males in the Hunter Valley overall already effectively outnumbered the black males at the time of the Aboriginal 'revolt' of 1825-1826 - if 'revolt' is the correct word for a few one-sided skirmishes. (We think it isn’t.)

Conflict: October 1825

The first colonists to die at the hands of the Kamilaroi were killed on 28 October 1825 at James Greig's farm 'Martindale' south of present-day Denman. This was nearly exactly six years after Aborigines from the south had led the first white man, John Howe, into the Upper Hunter.
    Greig's 'known aversion to having the Natives about him' was the reason for the attack according to the magistrates. He affronted the Aborigines by refusing to allow them to come on what he regarded as his land. The Aborigines, as Cunningham tells us, were generally fearful to attack the whites, however few in number, if they had muskets. They raided 'Martindale' because it was so isolated. They appear to have been asserting their proprietorial rights, seizing the grain-crops and exercising their right to come and go where they wished, notwithstanding the claims of the colonists. 'I have always considered (Governor Darling told London the following year) that the Natives have been aggrieved by the Stock Men, which, I am satisfied, has alone prevented a good understanding being established with them.''
James Grieg himself was in Sydney, having left his sheep in the charge of his young cousin, Robert Grieg, and a convict worker. The blackfellows killed the two men and plundered the hut of everything useful, but they did not disperse the sheep:
Two other stockmen have been speared (reported The Australian) and a man of Captain Pike's escaped being murdered by the providential arrival of two [white] men who found him struggling with a native for [possession of] a spear.
Four months before William Ogilvie brought his family to 'Merton', just across the river from Pike's, the Aborigines had already alarmed the more remote settlers:
The settlers in the neighbourhood [i.e., from Patricks Plains upstream to Pike's] are in the greatest alarm from their apprehensions that a general attack is contemplated by the natives who for some time past have been pilfering all they possibly could and who are rambling about the country in formidable parties. A military party of 10 men accompanied by some bush constables was instantly despatched by the Commandant at Newcastle, Captain Allman.
Some of the phrases in the source documents may suggest that the Kamilaroi in the north-west and the Darkinung in the south, although normally engaged in feuds, were cooperating against the settlers in 1825-26. To what extent there were actual alliances between the communities, our sources do not reveal. Other remarks in the records show that certain Aborigines helped the British against the Kamilaroi. With hundreds of people on either side, it is perhaps surprising that incidents of aggression were so few and far between. British fears of a 'general attack' were never realised.
    Writing at Lake Macquarie, the missionary Lancelot Threlkeld commented that the raid 'at Patricks Plains' (- in fact, further upstream at 'Martindale') 'was supposed [to have been carried out] by some of the Bathurst tribes'. The magistrates, too, later asserted that a visiting band of Wiradjuri-speaking people from Mudgee, or rather their 'communication' with the Hunter River Aborigines, was the 'first cause' of the troubles on the upper Hunter. But the whitefellows later told the magistrates they suspected Mirroul ('Dennis'), a Kamilaroi man from the Marowancal community, of being involved. The Ogilvie's neighbour, Peter Cunningham, blamed Tolou ('Ben'), a ‘Merton’ district man, as the instigator of all the troubles of 1825-26. So the raiders were almost certainly local Kamilaroi men from the Denman district itself, perhaps Ogilvie's Marowancal, acting on their own initiative. This appears confirmed by the fact that the Aboriginal raiding party also attacked a man at Pike's farm upriver from Greig's.
     Certainly some Mudgee people, fleeing no doubt from the 'Bathurst War' of 1824, did make contact with the Hunter communities early in 1825. It is not quite right, however, for Roger Milliss to say the Aborigines 'were massing'. And to assert, as James Miller and John Connor have, that the Wiradjuri “joined forces” with the Hunter River people, is to go well beyond the evidence. At best, the Wiradjuri from Mudgee may have advised the Hunter blackfellows not to trust the whites. For it is clear from the magistrates' report that the Wiradjuri people did not remain in the Hunter Valley. They departed before the clashes of late 1825-early 1826. The judgement of Captain Foley, the military commander at Newcastle, is more credible:
All those acts of outrage (he told the Governor) have been committed without exception by Natives who are domesticated on the very estates where they occurred and not by the incursions of unknown or wild tribes.
As Peter Cunningham noted, there was a hostile band and a friendly band. The latter, evidently local to the Bulga area ('their old haunts'), 'had nothing to do with the murders although in company with the others [the raiders] after the deeds were done ... .' Or as the magistrates' report put it, the killers fled from Grieg's into the mountains [the modern Wollemi National Park] 'with the Wallumbi blacks':
The same tribe, who committed this murder [at Grieg's], fearful of our vengeance, removed, together with the Wallumbi Natives, into the mountains, and there again [at Putty] they were guilty of another atrocity by murdering one man and lacerating another ...

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91. A report ascribed to a Dr Oldfield stated that 'since 1824 they (the Aborigines) have been generally peaceful, ...till very recently (1826) when a large body, 200 men, at the head of Hunter's River have manifested hostility' (Anonymous: ascribed to Oldfield, in Gunson 1974, ii: 353, 375). As described in the text, the Aborigines made a number of raids against certain farms on both Wollombi Brook and the Hunter during 1825. 

92. Scott and Macleod, report of 3.10.1826 in HRA xii: 610 ff;  Threlkeld 1974: 49; MacDonald in Ridley 1878: 255, 257; Miller 1985: 34 (citing the Sydney Gazette); and Cunningham 1827, ii: 34. 
    Threlkeld (p.49) gives a good account of the expectations of the rest of the community when convicts 'decoyed away' or 'took by violence' Aboriginal women.  Newly arrived in the lower valley, Threlkeld commented, 'It is not at all surprising that (Aboriginal) men are murdered in the Interior when even in the vicinity of a town (Newcastle) they are grossly maltreated by the prisoners (convicts) on account of the Black women'.
    There was a Bora ground at the junction of the Page and Isis Rivers not very far from the 'Segenhoe' huts. Whether interference with it figured in the collisions that followed, we do not know. Rusden, who was a teenager at the time, imagined it could have: 'Think of the defeat of tribal reverence which was brought about when a white man put a station close to one of these secret places and it became a thoroughfare' (quoted in Howitt 1904: 570).

93. The early ‘bushrangers’ were overseas-born, typically escaped convicts and very poor bushmen. See Hampton 1979 on the Hunter Valley. The term was also used of later rural thugs and outlaws, who were free-born Australians usually with good bush skills. The only thing they had in common was the practice of armed robbery.

94. Scott and McLeod HRA xii: 610 ff; Wood 1972: 115. The magistrates said that their report covered only 'the last 10 months' (i.e., 3 December 1825 through 3 October 1826).  In NSW, wheat was sown February-May; maize was planted October-December. Allan Wood rightly queries the chronology of their report, as perhaps too early for a first maize crop to be stolen.

95. McIntyre, letter of 3.9.1825, quoted by Nancy Gray 1975: 7 and Rolls 1981: 66; also Bowman MS (cited by Miller 1985: 265n); Threlkeld in Gunson 1974:

91. Threlkeld commenced missionary work at Reid's Mistake (Lake Macquarie) in 1825.  It is not clear why Gray should characterise the Kamilaroi of Dartbrook Creek and Pages River as 'not warlike people' (unless she was thinking of the ancient Assyrians and Romans ...); the evidence (see in text) shows that they were no less militant than other Aborigines.

96. As explained at the start of this paper, the Darkinung or Daaginyaang held the southern side of the Hunter Valley in the Singleton, Bulga and Broke districts. The Wonarua or Wanaaru-waa held the northern side of the Hunter Valley downstream from Singleton (O’Rourke 1997: 38 ff).

97. O’Rourke 1997: 33 ff.

98. These statistics come from a variety of sources: Peter Cunningham 1827 (1966: 82); Sadleir in VPLC 1838: 46; Perry 1963: 66, 75 and 130, and Milliss 1992: 69. In the 1828 Census, 191 landowners described themselves as resident in the Hunter Valley (Perry 1963: 75) but if one added non-residents the number of holdings would be more like 250. One would expect about one-quarter (about 60) to be located at and above Singleton; if there were five adult males resident at each, we have 300.
     'Two hundred' Aborigines descended on 'Merton' in Bundock's memoirs (see in text later).

99. The Australian 10.11.1825; Scott and Macleod in HRA xii: 610-611; Peter Cunningham 1827, ii: 36 ( = 1966: 197); Jervis 1962: 103; Wood 1972: 113-114; and Milliss 1992: 55. The bodies were found on 28 October by a Mr Forsyth and a Mr Allen. Jervis (1962) errs in stating that James Grieg himself was killed.

100. Darling in HRA xii: 574.

101. The Australian 10.11.1825, quoted by Wood 1972: 113, and Threlkeld 1974: 91, 107; also Cunningham 1966: 197. Connor 2002: 64.

102. Scott and Macleod, HRA xii: 610; Cunningham 1827, ii: 39 (1966: 199), and The Australian (quoted by Allan Wood 1972: 113): 'This same tribe pursued their course until they arrived at Putney (Putty)... '.  Wood nevertheless doubts that they were Kamilaroi.  On his reading, 'Peter Cunningham identified the offenders as Wollombi blacks [Darkinung] by saying that they returned to their old haunts on the Bulga Road after visiting their kinsmen of the Richmond tribe' (1972: 114, citing Cunningham 1966: 197). Milliss too believes the people involved were 'Wonnarua or even Darkinjang (sic)' (1992: 55). Wiradjuri: Connor 2002: 64. 

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