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
PASSAGES TO THE NORTH-WEST PLAINS P.14
Conflict: July-August 1826 cont.
Threlkeld learnt that 'a Settler' [meaning one of the principal land holders] had caught the man in the act of stealing grain and ordered him hanged as a warning to other Aborigines. Thus the deed was done probably by assigned convicts.
Sergeant Moore and his troopers did not heed Mrs Ogilvie's warning that 'by bringing the prisoners to her place they would arouse the tribe and endanger the lives of her family'. They took 'Ben' and 'Dennis' (and, we presume, 'Billy') away to Newcastle on 16 August 1826, not understanding that this would rid the Kamilaroi of their 'great awe'. Scott and McLeod said the settlers suspected 'Dennis' of having taken part at Grieg's and at Booty (Putty) nine months earlier, but Mrs Ogilvie denied it. The Ogilvies' neighbour, Peter Cunningham, knew 'Ben' very well, and called him 'the principal leader and instigator of all the murders and robberies committed by them [blackfellows] of late on Hunter's River'.
Vengeance arrived 12 days later, at the end of the month, by an ironic coincidence on the very day that Colonial Secretary McLeay wrote to Allman to pass on the Governor's order that Lowe's and Moore's 'tours' be investigated.
Why 12 days before the Aborigines arrived in force at 'Merton'? Probably the local Marowancal community spent the period 16-28 August negotiating with the other Kamilaroi communities for assistance. A large force of perhaps 200 Aborigines ('as she [Mary Ogilvie] supposed above 200') descended on 'Merton' on 28 August. Mary Ogilvie Bundock recalled that 'on looking up we [the Ogilvie children] suddenly saw the whole hill [on the eastern side of 'Merton'] covered with blacks, armed to the teeth, except the king or chief Jerry ... The side of the hill behind the house [was] covered with men, painted and armed for war and coming slowly forward'.
The large war-party, or better: aggrieved mob, was in no sense a group of strangers unknown to the Ogilvie family. The Ogilvies had spent seven months already in Marowancal country, and Captain Foley observed later, referring to 'Billy', 'Jackey Jackey', 'Ben', 'Dennis' and the others, that every one of these [Natives who are domesticated on the very Estates where the outrages have occurred] is perfectly and intimately known by names they have received among the settlers near whom they have dwelt.
The 'upper districts of Hunter's river' were occupied by more than 500 Aborigines in 'three tribes' according to Scott and Macleod. (Or four if we follow Edward Ogilvie.) William Ogilvie is quoted as saying that the 'Merton' area group ('his tribe') assembled, so perhaps Mary Ogilvie's '200' included the Aboriginal women and children of the district. Four x 200 = 800 people, a plausible total for the top third of the Valley.
There are two Jerrys mentioned, Jerry of 'Merton' and Jerry of Muswellbrook ('Jerry of another tribe, who is believed to be the murderer of Mr Forbes' stockman'), so it is possible that Muswellbrook people were present. Indeed it is possible, if the whole '200' were males, that every single grown man and youth from all three, or rather the four, communities of the cismontane Kamilaroi was present, not only from the local Marowancal, but also the other bands named by Edward Ogilvie: the Tooloom-pikilal, Gundical and Pannin-pikilal. If so, the arrest of 'Dennis' and 'Ben' called forth the entire Aboriginal manpower of the whole upper Hunter valley.
The combined force of 200 evidently gathered some distance east of 'Merton' before coming in to the Ogilvies' farm huts. As William Ogilvie told it, they were seeking to kill two men, a soldier and a constable, who had briefly arrested another 'Jerry', the local Big-Man of the 'Merton' district, called 'our chief Jerry' by Mary Ogilvie Bundock.
Although William Ogilvie was not present on the day, his account must be given more weight than that of Threlkeld, who lived near Newcastle:
... the assemblage ... arose ... from his constable [Ogilvie's convict constable] and a soldier of Police [i.e., mounted police trooper] having got among the blacks in disguise under pretence of searching for bushrangers, and seized one of them, named Jerry [i.e., Jerry of 'Merton'], under the supposition of his being Jerry of another Tribe, who is believed to be the murderer of Mr Forbes' stockman; but, having found their mistake, he was liberated; yet his tribe assembled at Mr Ogilvie's with the intention of taking vengeance on the constable and soldier for what they deemed an act of bad faith and hostility ...
Threlkeld on the other hand said the Aborigines meant to seize two constables whom they blamed for aiding Lowe's men in the capture of Tolou and Mirroul. In one account the Aborigines knew that the mounted police had killed 'Jerry' alias 'Jackey Jackey'. In Peter Cunningham's version they said in English: 'Tell sodja [soldiers: i.e., the mounted police] nibba come meddle Massa Ogilvie black[s]'. As Mary Ogilvie Bundock told it, 'the blacks said to the last that if they had found the constable and soldiers they would have murdered them for their treachery'.
Speaking through her son Edward, Mrs Ogilvie offered maize and tobacco, and asked the Kamilaroi to depart from 'Merton' in peace:
Edward [age 12] had learned to speak their language and explained that his mother had told the troopers [Moore's squad of mounted police] that Tolou and Mirroul had had nothing to do with the cattle-killing but they [the troopers] had refused to let them go. They had taken Tolou and Mirroul away in the night and as his father [William Ogilvie] was not there, they [the Ogilvies] had been unable to prevent this.
Jerry himself asked the others not to destroy the house and persuaded them to believe Mrs Ogilvie. The only damage they did was to take some of the Ogilvies' maize. 'To our inexpressible relief', Mary Ogilvie Bundock recalled, 'at last they filed [eastwards] over the hills'.
A number of the Aborigines then went south-east from 'Merton' in the direction of 'Ravensworth'. Most of the 200 people probably returned home to their various countries. Only '11' or '15' men proceeded further east past ‘Ravensworth’ to Captain Robert Lethbridge's farm 'Bridgman', opposite Chilcott's 'Fal Brook', about a kilometre upstream from Glennie's (where a party of the mounted police happened to be lodged).
Arriving armed at 'Bridgman' about noon the following day, 29 August, this band stayed for some hours, accepting the meat offered to them by Charlotte Alcorn, wife of Richard Alcorn, Lethbridge's overseer. Alcorn himself returned at four p.m. with a small party of convict workers (presumably not all of the 10 convicts assigned to ‘Bridgman’.). Three of the Aborigines, 'Ball', 'Murray' and 'Togy', were known as having recently robbed Chilcott's. They attacked when Alcorn ordered them off. A scuffle took place in and around the hut, in which the British were hampered in using their muskets. Two whites were killed, and two severely wounded, one of them Alcorn. He was knocked out by a stone thrown by an Aborigine after their spears had been exhausted. The blackfellows got away with some booty. Word was immediately sent to Glennie's to raise the alarm, but the raiders had already disappeared when the mounted police stationed there came up in pursuit.
That the Aborigines had not initially threatened violence may suggest that they were nursing a personal grievance against Alcorn. Threlkeld heard that the men involved had declared that in attacking the workers at 'Bridgman' they were retaliating for the detention of 'Billy' (Billy no.2) and the shooting of others of their countrymen by the mounted police. As he says, 'two Stockmen have been speared [dead] in retaliation for the 4 natives who were deliberately shot [i.e., by Lowe's men] without any trial or form whatever'. Magistrate Scott, however, claimed that 'the attack, so far as Capt. Lethbridge's men were concerned, was quite unprovoked', adding that 'this same tribe [read: community] is distinct from those which have hitherto been committing the outrages so often reported'. Presumably Scott was drawing a distinction between the Upper Hunter communities and the Patricks Plains community.
The events of late August 1826 were nicely summarised in the joint appeal written to Governor Darling on 4 September by the proprietors Bowman, McIntyre, Ogilvie and others. 'The natives', they complained, 'have lately burnt all the grass [pasture] on the several Farms [ = 'Ravensworth' and 'Bridgman'], killed some of the Men [at 'Bridgman'], have speared several cattle and threatened to destroy the Wheat of the ensuing Harvest'. The Australian commented,
There appears to be a dangerous spirit of molestation gaining ground among the Native Blacks, and we apprehend that vigorous and rigorous movements will prove the most humane and most effective. They are now [a reference to the land holders' appeal] spearing men and cattle and sheep and plundering huts and houses and farms ... Make them atone [demanded the editorialist] for the murders they commit. For every man they murder, hunt them down and drop 10 of them.
Governor Darling was not impressed. In reply he called on the proprietors, most of whom were absentee grandees living in Sydney, to prevent 'irregularities on the part of your own people, which I apprehend is, in many instances, the cause of the disorders committed by the Natives'. This was certainly a fair guess, but incomplete. Threlkeld pointed to the captured Aborigines 'executed' by Lowe's troopers and the arrest of Jerry as the reason for all the trouble:
The whole of the outrages may be traced to this [the 'executions'] and another circumstance [the detention of Jerry]. Many lives will be lost on both sides and the blacks threaten to burn the corn [grain crop] as it ripens.
Peter Cunningham said much the same:
The natives around 'Merton' had remained all along on the most friendly terms with this establishment, but were provoked into hostility by a party of soldiers and constables who wantonly maltreated them.
Lt Lowe meanwhile, in line with the Governor's directions, withdrew from Wallis Plains to Newcastle. Governor Darling took a very dim view of, as he expressed it, “the massacre of prisoners in cold blood”. The decision to recall Lowe was 'deplored by a great many, who consider he kept the blacks in great awe and thus protected the property of the settlers'. After a series of botched inquiries he was eventually brought to trial the next year, but acquitted.
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120. This is a tentative reconstruction following mainly Milliss' presentation of the published and unpublished records from the several official inquiries; some details remain obscure (see Milliss 1992: 57 ff, 62 ff and 66). The published sources are: HRA xii: 625 ff; Threlkeld in Gunson 1974, i: 49, 92, 95; and The Australian, 26.9.1826. One of Threlkeld's informants was Sergeant Moore himself (see 1974: 49 and 95). As Milliss shows, a wall of silence held up the discovery of the facts. Farnham (see above) did not reveal that the mounted police had 'executed' 'Jackey Jackey' on Lowe's orders until prior to Lowe's trial in May 1827.
121. Connor 2002: 65. Primary sources: The Australian, 26.8.1826, quoted by Wood 1972: 117. Threlkeld, who was then visiting Newcastle, saw the two prisoners brought in by Sergeant Moore and two privates (1974: 93).
122. Cunningham 1827, ii: 32 (1966: 195) - probably an exaggeration; Foley's report in HRA xii: 619; and Bundock's memoirs, cited by Wood 1972: 121. The arrest: Threlkeld in Gunson 1974: 93; Milliss 776 n40.
123. Darling's report to London in HRA xii: 574 and HRA xii: 613 ff; Ellen Bundock, Memoirs, quoting her mother's account, in Wood 1972 and Brayshaw 1986; also Bramble 1981: 57. There were two Mrs Bundocks: the Ogilvies' then nine years old daughter who became Mary Ogilvie Bundock (1817-1898), and her daughter Ellen Bundock (see Farwell 1973). 'Hills behind the house': east of the river, split by Denman Gap, including the present-day Ogilvies Hill (468 metres).
124. HRA xii: 617, emphasis added.
125. Scott and Macleod in HRA xii: 612; Ogilvie 1856, and Wood 1972: 137. If there were '200' grown males (males 15+ years), the total population from which they were drawn probably numbered 800 men, women and children of all ages (4 x 200 = 800). This assumes that 50% of the population was under 15 years. Names, numbers and ‘tribal’ affiliations are discussed at length in O’Rourke 1997: 33-35.
126. Cunningham 1966: 199; Ogilvie, quoted by Foley in HRA xii: 618; Bundock Memoirs (Ellen Bundock, quoting her mother Mary Ogilvie Bundock); Wood 1972: 124. As noted by Milliss (1992: 776 n40), two different explanations are given, by the Ogilvies and by Threlkeld. The latter understood that 'the Blacks (the 200) went to Mr Ogilvie('s) and demanded the two (white) men who went out with the Soldiers (mounted police) and shot the Black (at Ravensworth) in order to put them to death as a retaliation for that murder' (Threlkeld ed. Gunson 1974: 93).
127. Bundock, Memoirs (in Wood 1972: 124); Scott and Macleod in HRA xii: 612. Kamilaroi: Ogilvie 1856. Connor 2002: 66 errs in supposing that the son was named Peter and that the language was Wonnarua.
128. John Connor 2002: 66 too confidently assumes they were Wonnarua men. 'Eleven' according to HRA xii: 616; '14 or 15' according to Woodbury's deposition (in HRA xii: 613); the Sydney Gazette 9.9.1826 said that 'four' Aborigines were joined by '10 or 12 more'. Threlkeld mentioned that an employee of his brother in law met '200 natives' at about this time 'on the road to the Hawkesbury'; '... they did not injure him but threatened vengeance against Mr Bowman' (letter to Saxe-Bannister, 4 September 1826 in Gunson 1974: 93). I take it that these may have been the same people, observed perhaps on 28 or 29 August before they dispersed.
129. 10 convicts: Binney 2005: 119. Connor 2002: 66. Primary sources: Woodbury's deposition in HRA xii: 613-614; Darling to London in HRA xii: 574; Sydney Gazette 9.9.1826; also Wood 1972: 128 ff. Threlkeld gives a slightly variant account (in Gunson 1974: 93). He added, writing to Saxe Bannister on 4 September, that 'the Police is out (sic: presumably the local constables), (and) a detachment is forwarded from Newcastle of 9 soldiers (foot-soldiers)'.
130. Threlkeld, letter of 4.9.1826, in Gunson 1974: 213 and 93-94 ; Milliss 1992: 58.
131. Letter to the Governor, 4.9.1826, HRA xii: 576; Milliss 1992: 59. As noted above, wheat was sown in February-May. The letter from Bowman and the others also complained of the recall of Lowe's 'horse patrole'.
132. In Wood 1972: 119.
133. Darling to Bowman, 5 September 1826, HRA xii: 577.
134. Threlkeld, letter of 11.9.1826 (Gunson 1974: 214), and P Cunningham 1827; Wood 1972: 125.
135. The Australian, 26.8.1826; Milliss 1992: 57 ff. “Cold blood”: Darling, quoted in Connor 2002: 67. Lowe was tried before the Chief Justice Sir Francis Forbes, himself the holder of 'Edinglassie'. Lowe's counsel W C Wentworth boldly asked that the lieutenant be commended. This did not really impress the jury, six army officers and one naval lieutenant; they simply found Lowe 'Not Guilty' (see HRA xii: 623 ff; Wood 1972: 132;; Fletcher 1984: 187; Milliss 1992: 68 ff; Kociumbas 1992: 143-144).