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

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PASSAGES TO THE NORTH-WEST PLAINS P.15

Conflict: September-October 1826

The local officials acted before the Governor in Sydney had time to issue orders to the military at Newcastle.
    First, on 30 August, the magistrates Scott and Macleod met at Glennie's farm to interview the survivors among Lethbridge's men. The following day Scott himself led out a punitive expedition numbering 14 men, This included 'some of his people [ = convict workers] and some volunteers with three [or five] soldiers of the Mounted Police' with 'one of his own blacks' as principal guide. There were three further Aborigines in the party:

Two days after this [the attack on Lethbridge's] a party was formed [= 31 August] consisting of a magistrate [Scott], five military, four Europeans [sic: convict workers] and four friendly blacks, who came up with the murderers on the third day [1 September 1826] when a skirmish took place and one European was speared through the face, and it is supposed that two of the murderers were killed and some more wounded, as reported by a black woman who was taken prisoner.

Contradicting Scott's claim that only 'two' of the pursued blackfellows were killed, The Australian said that 18 Aborigines died. Scott's party overtook and fired on the Kamilaroi towards evening as they kindled their fires at a camp '20 miles or more [35 kilometres] from Lethbridge's', probably somewhere on the Upper Hunter (if we are correct in supposing them to be Kamilaroi). The Aborigines held their ground, and, as the whites retired behind trees to reload, made dexterous use of their spears. At length, however, the Kamilaroi broke and fled, leaving 18 men dead.  
     In a late response to the letter that Bowman, McIntyre, Ogilvie and other proprietors had written to the Governor requesting additional protection, Captain Foley was ordered up the valley on 8 September. It was not yet known in Sydney that Scott had gone after the offending Aborigines. The Governor, wrongly picturing the Aborigines as a disciplined squadron waiting in formation, ordered via his Military Secretary that Foley:

make use of any of the Natives whom you may be enabled to employ in communicating with those who are assembled, and call on them immediately to deliver up the murderers, making it a condition of General Pardon to the others, who must further be required immediately to disperse. If this be refused, you will take such steps as may appear most likely, on the spot, to seize the 11 (sic) men alluded to [those who had attacked Lethbridge's men] and disperse the general Body by force of arms.

L E Threlkeld commented rather dramatically that '... war has commenced and still continues against the Aboriginals of this land. Yesterday [10 September 1826] a party of 40 soldiers were ordered to the interior [the upper Hunter valley] but only 18 could be spared. Three families have suffered by the blacks ... (and) the blacks threaten to burn the corn [wheat] as it ripens'. The Governor's order proved superfluous because Scott had already acted on his own initiative. It remained only for Allman, Scott himself, and another magistrate, Edward Close, to meet at Scott's estate ‘Glendon’ on 13 September to interview Lowe and his men about Lowe's earlier work.
 
     Foley's men found nothing left to be done when they arrived. '[T]he remainder of the Tribe' (said Foley), fleeing first from Lowe's mounted police and then from Scott's private enterprise, 'has fled far into the Interior'. As a safeguard, however, he posted a number of his soldiers to different parts of the upper Hunter. Seven infantrymen and Moore's squad of mounted police were stationed in the Singleton-'Ravensworth' district (at Glennie's, Chilcott's and Bowman's), three foot-soldiers at 'Merton', two across the river at 'Pickering' (Pike's), and five upstream at 'Segenhoe'.
     But the force of arms was no longer necessary. Foley wrote to Governor Darling reporting that 'they [sc. the tribe who assembled at Mr Ogilvie's] are still in the neighbourhood, but perfectly quiet'. Indeed the Captain was able to report 'the perfect tranquillity of the country from Wallis's Plains [Maitland] to Mr Ogilvie's [Denman], a distance of nearly 80 miles [125 km]'. Relying on this, Governor Darling judged that 'no apprehension can be entertained of the Natives as a body'. He wrote to London that he had resisted the repeated urging of his Attorney-General, Saxe Bannister, from 4 through 22 September, to declare martial law as Governor Brisbane had done two years earlier. Darling scornfully remarked that Bannister 'would declare Martial Law against a few naked Savages who, however treacherous, would not face a Corporal's Guard'.
    In October Darling directed that the soldiers should do no more than stand ready to defend the English farmers. 'The soldiers (he informed Foley) who are stationed with the settlers may be ordered not to act offensively ..., and may be withdrawn as soon as the apprehension of a renewal of attack on the part of the Natives is removed'.
    The Hunter Valley 'war' was over.
    Peter Cunningham, writing in London the following year, drew a moral of a kind:

... it has ever been observed that the various tribes of savages have always one time or another essayed a trial of strength with the whites and, when once fairly satisfied of their inferior power, live ever afterwards in perfect harmony with them.

By 1826 the colonists had established a line of mixed farms and cattle stations as far as the Liverpool Ranges, the boundary of Oxley’s Liverpool Plains. 
    The first settlers to send stock and stockmen across the ranges and into the north-west interior were Otto Baldwin, the erstwhile trekker Benjamin Singleton, and William Nowland, in 1826-27. They and their men set up temporary outposts in the upper Mooki Valley.
    Also in 1826, William Cox’s men took stock from Mudgee and went west around the outer end of the Liverpool Ranges. They set up an out-station in the basin of Coxs Creek. Hence the name.
   But we end our tale here, leaving the reader to seek elsewhere for the story after 1826.
 
EARLY MEETINGS BETWEEN ABORIGINES AND BRITISH (Appendix)
 
This appendix brings together summary notes on the first observations of blackfellows and early meetings between the Kamilaroi and the colonists. The fact that no blackfellows were seen does not mean that a district was uninhabited. Nor should we draw any quick conclusion about the severity of the smallpox epidemic of the early 1830s. The Aborigines after all may well have been hiding from the whitefellows.
 
For a fuller discussion of these meetings, the reader is referred to my red book (Raw Possum 1995) and my yellow book (Kamilaroi Lands 1997). The references are given there.

[1] The Valley of Coxs Creek,
east of the Warrumbungles:

Oxley, winter 1818:Three ‘native fires’ were seen in the valley of Garrawilla Creek, but ‘few signs’ of Aborigines where the exploring party crossed Coxs Creek.
 
Cunningham,
in 1825
after a flood:A deserted Aboriginal settlement between Mullaley and Boggabri, and elsewhere a group of gunyas. The only people met were ‘one group of native women and children and seven males’. Smoke at several points along the Namoi around Boggabri.
Cunningham,
autumn 1827:
Smoke in the direction of Coxs Creek.
1829:‘Nombi’ the first run formed, in about 1829, followed by ‘Bone Creek’ and ‘Premer’ in about 1830.
1830-31:Smallpox.
1831:George Clarke raided ‘Nombi’. When he was pursued by the mounted police, ‘the blacks mustered in great force [in a failed attempt] to rescue him’, evidently in the Mullaley area.
Forbes, autumn 1832:No mention of any local Aborigines.

 [2] The Mooki or Conadilly River:

Winter-spring 1818:Oxley crossed the river south-east of present-day Curlewis; no indication of the presence of blackfellows. Smoke from native fires seen at a distance, ie. in the direction of Gunnedah-Carroll-Tamworth.
Early summer 1824:(Dangar was ambushed high on the Liverpool Range south-east of Willow Tree by ‘150’ blackfellows, who were described as ‘Bathurst natives’.)
1826-27:Squatters formed sheep runs on the upper tributaries.
1827-28:Battles at ‘Yarramanbah’, involving ‘200’ Aborigines, and ‘Borambil’, involving perhaps ‘500’ Aborigines (numbers probably exaggerated).
1830-31:The great smallpox epidemic.
1831:Led by Clarke, the Boggabri blackfellows raided ‘Yarramanbah’.

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SOURCES:

136: The findings of their inquiries, from which we have quoted at length, can be found in the official papers (HRA xii). There are further contemporary accounts in the colonial newspapers.

137. Scott and Macleod, HRA xii: 612, emphasis added. Connor 2002: 66.
138. Foley to de la Condamine in HRA xii: 617; Wood 1972: 130; Milliss 1985 and 1992.  The Australian also said that Scott's punitive expedition comprised 16 rather than 14 men.  Milliss 1992: 58 thinks, in view of the 'confused' dates in various reports, that there may have been two separate encounters. This seems unlikely. It is not possible to deduce the location of the collision with any certainty. Near Muswellbrook or near Denman are possible guesses (from Fal Brook to Muswellbrook is about 30 km as the crow flies; and from Fal Brook to Denman about 40 km).

139. McLeay to Allman and de la Condamine to Allman and Foley (6,7, and 8 September), in HRA xii: 574, 615-616 and 624; Threlkeld (in Wood 1972: 120) and despatches of Governor Darling (in Wood 1972: 130); Connnor 2002: 67. Darling considered the magistrates' report unsatisfactory and reprimanded them for failing to uncover the full facts, especially in relation to Lt Lowe. The Acting Attorney-General, Moore, was sent to the Hunter the following year and found at first that no one was prepared to testify against Lowe (see Sydney Gazette 11.5.1827 and HRA xiii: 179 ff, 399 ff).

140. Total 18 infantry. It is not clear how many troopers ('a small detachment') were with Moore.

141. Foley to de la Condamine, 22.9.1826, in HRA xii: 617; Darling in HRA xii: 445 and 574 ff; Wood 1972: 130; Fletcher 1984: 186; Connor 2002: 67. Bannister's role as (failed) adviser to Darling is discussed at length by Milliss 1992: 60-62.

142. There was a further incident in 1826 which, presumably, must be dated after the Scott battle or massacre. A dog barking at some Aborigines alarmed a group of five white men repairing fences on 'Ravensworth'. The colonists seized their muskets and fired on the passing Aborigines; one was wounded. Allan Wood (1972: 130, commenting on HRA xii: 612) considers that the magistrates misinterpreted this as another Aboriginal raid. Milliss interprets this incident as a definite 'attack' - '(the whites) shot their way out of trouble, again miraculously wounding only one of their assailants' (1992: 58). His word 'miraculously' may be meant to indicate that the magistrates' report ought not to be believed.  It is well to remember, however, that 19th century muskets were unreliable weapons.  Thereafter several confused accounts concerning new Aboriginal 'outrages' in The Australian and Sydney Gazette in 1827 (24.3 and 19.10.1827) seem likewise to have been unfounded; the Gazette of 19.10.1827 reproduced a story which The Australian had already disavowed as spurious (see Wood 1972: 134). In the former incident (Gazette 24.3) a group of shepherds employed on E G Cory's Paterson River estate (north of Maitland) killed '12' Aborigines who assertedly had threatened them with spears; the Gazette seems to imply that the clash was provoked by the Aborigines' dogs interfering with the sheep.

143. But not the post-mortem. On Darling's dissatisfaction with Scott and Macleod's report, and the series of further inquiries he launched, see Milliss 1992: 63 ff.

144. Cunningham 1827, ii: 35 (1966: 197).

145. Primary sources: Gardner 1854, I:3; Nowland 1861. Secondary: Campbell 1922; Carter 1974; Rolls 1981; and Milliss 1992. Convict stockmen from William Lawson's run on the Talbragar reportedly reached low and extensive plains to the north-west in November 1825; and they discovered a range called by the Aborigines Waranbungie (the modern Warrumbungles) (Jervis 1962: 378).

 

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