A drought combined with the inexorable movement downstream of settlement to Portland Head and beyond led to a series of co-ordinated Aboriginal attacks along the Hawkesbury and South Creek in 1804-05 that were almost certainly part of an alliance from Pittwater to the Cow Pastures. This alliance collapsed in 1805 resulting in a peace that lasted for a number of years across much of the Sydney Plain.
A Note on Sources
Governor’s despatches continue to be a major source of information. Governor King’s despatches must be read with caution as he attempted to reconcile outbreaks of Aboriginal resistance in reaction to his massive increase in land grants on the Hawkesbury with his commitment to Lord Hobart’s orders “to conciliate the Goodwill of the Natives”.
A new source, the Sydney Gazette and New South Wales Advertiser appeared in 1803. The Sydney Gazette’s publication was authorised by Governor King and it was essentially a government mouthpiece. Apart from government notices the paper provided information about happenings in the colony.George Howe, assisted by his son Robert was typesetter, printer, journalist and publisher of the paper. George Howe was born in 1769, the son of Thomas Howe, Government Printer on Saint Kitts, a Caribbean island whose economy was built upon slavery and sugar.1The Australian Dictionary of Biography2 records that George Howe was well read and had received a classical eighteenth century education. In 1790 he went to England and worked on the London Times before falling foul of the law and being transported to the colony in 1801. Howe provided an articulate voice for the authorities and settlers upon whom he depended for income. He was emancipated in 1806, but had ongoing problems with defaulting subscribers and the NSW Corps during their insurrection.
Despite being one of our few sources of information on Aboriginal people and the Hawkesbury in this period, the stories in the Gazette must be read carefully. While the author was obviously well read and had a distinctive ironical style, his stories were dependent upon others, highly editorialised, prone to wild leaps into speculative fancy and sometimes plainly and deliberately wrong. Names such as Richmond Hill,Portland Head, and The River, were often used as general rather than specific locations. Tench’s River was probably used instead of the Hawkesbury to disguise the fact that there was conflict around Richmond Hill. South Creek was applied loosely to anywhere along the 64 kilometres of the creek. The two stock-keepers were killed on its headwaters near Cobbitty, not around Windsor. If modern Dural was the valley of Dorell, at the Northern Rocks3thenthe Northern Rocks extended far north of their present location. The farms of Cuddie and Crumbey were on South Creek at modern Llandilo, not at Portland Head. However, this last may have been a deliberate mistake, done to create the impression that the troubles were only downstream. As well the spelling of names was quite inconsistent, e.g., Cuddie/Cuddy and Crumby/Crumbie.
Howe maintained a constant denigration of Aboriginal people, drawing upon Locke, Hume, Montesquieu and others to place Aboriginal people on the lowest level of creation. He used terms such as banditi … on themaraud to stereotype Aboriginal people as criminals rather than individuals fighting for their land and identity. Images of idleness and cannibalism that occasionally resurface in modern racist discourse can be traced back to the Gazette. As well, and more significantly, he utilised John Locke’s chapter on property to provide the authorities with a rationalisation for colonising Aboriginal land.
‘CHAPTER. V., OF PROPERTY.
Sect. 34. God gave the world to men in common; but since he gave it them for their benefit, and the greatest conveniencies of life they were capable to draw from it, it cannot be supposed he meant it should always remain common and uncultivated. He gave it to the use of the industrious and rational, (and labour was to be his title to it;) not to the fancy or covetousness of the quarrelsome and contentious. He that had as good left for his improvement, as was already taken up, needed not complain, ought not to meddle with what was already improved by another's labour: if he did, it is plain he desired the benefit of another's pains, which he had no right to, and not the ground which God had given him in common with others to labour on, and whereof there was as good left, as that already possessed, and more than he knew what to do with, or his industry could reach to.’4 Land Grants, 1788-1809, Edited by R. J. Ryan, Australian Documents Library Pty Ltd, 1974, is an invaluable resource. It is a chronological record of land grants that lists recipients, acreage and districts. However, it must be used with caution. There are cancellations and duplications, which combined with my mathematical limitations, make it difficult to arrive at exact totals. Despite this, it is important in showing the escalation of grants under Governor King. As well, the names of those targeted by Aboriginal warriors were essentially those who received grants in this period.
Settlement came later to the Lower Nepean than it did on the Hawkesbury. Officially the first settlers came to Bardoo Narang in 1794 and Bird’s Eye Corner in 1803. Aiken’s farm, later known as Kearn’s Retreat on the then junction of the Grose, Hawkesbury and Nepean Rivers was for many years the upper limit of settlement. The explanation for this lies in the absence of lagoons on either side of the river between Agnes Banks and Upper Castlereagh.
In 1802 the Coromandel brought a group of free settlers whose settlement around Portland Head in 1803 led to a fresh outbreak of confrontation and conflict. The major source of information about this conflict comes from the Gazette and Governor King’s despatches.
In mid February a group of fifteen convicts escaped from the Castle Hill farm and headed for the Blue Mountains and China. They broke into a number of farms and behaved badly before being caught. That they were all Irish did not escape the eye of the Gazette. The involvement of Aboriginal people in their capture between Richmond Hill and the Mountains showed that Aboriginal people had quite mixed feelings towards runaway convicts. Some they harboured, some they killed, some they ignored, and some, such as these escapees, they turned into the authorities. Two of the prisoners were captured while sleeping near a Aboriginal camp.
‘Eleven more of the desperadoes were secured, by a party of the Military and Constables, between Hawkesbury and the Mountains. Information had been given of their haunt by a body of natives shortly after they had broke into the house of a settler, where they had stopped to grind a quantity of wheat at a steel mill, having previously secured the family, and afterwards stripped the house of all such provision as they could conveniently carry off, together with two stands of arms.’5 ‘M. JOHN JAMIESON deposed, that he went with a party in pursuit of the above delinquents, and that he assisted in apprehending the two prisoners then at the bar, on the 17th of February; that when he approached them they were asleep, near a party of natives.’6
In April 1803 2,265 acres were granted to 18 individuals in Mulgrave district. With the exception of 1795, Governor King granted more land in the Hawkesbury in this one month than had been granted in any year previously.7It is logical to link this increase in settlement with the fighting that was about to erupt on the frontier. The obviousness of this relationship does not appear in his despatches.
7th of May, 1803: Convicts attempt to cross Blue Mountains and reach China.
Whether John Place, John Cox, William Knight and John Phillips, all runaway convicts crossed the Blue Mountains is immaterial to this study.8 For this work the significance of their remarkable but unsuccessful escape-attempt lay in the fact that the lone survivor was rescued “by a man, who, with some of the natives, was in quest of kangaroos”. The fact that the settler was accompanied by Aboriginal people while out hunting kangaroos further supports my contention that relations between settlers and Aboriginal people were complex. As well, 1803 was a year of drought, again supporting my contention that that settlers imposed upon Aboriginal hunting grounds in times of stress.
‘John Place declares, that he, John Cox, William Knight, and John Phillips, all late of the Glatton (prisoners) formed a resolution on the road from Castle-hill to Hawkesbury, to attempt their escape. They formed this determination in consequence of having heard people say on board the Glatton, and while at work at Castle-Hill, that they could get to China, by which means they would obtain their liberty again; being all married men (excepting one) they were very anxious to return to their families. On the seventh of May (three days after their arrival at Hawkesbury) they left Cornwallis-place, resolved to pass the Mountains, and took with them only their Week's Ration, which they received on Saturday and consumed on the Wednesday following; after travelling for seventeen days, in hopes of passing the Mountains, and despairing of accomplishing the object on which they set out, they resolved (if possible) to return. After they had eaten their provisions they found nothing to subsist on but wild-currants sweet - tea leaves, and had been oppressed with hunger for twelve days. Before they set off to return, John Phillips left them to gather some berries and they saw him no more; they heard him call several times, but could render him no assistance, they being so reduced by hunger and concluded he perished. Being asked in what direction they went, Place says, that they travelled the whole of the seventeen days with the sun on their right shoulder, and found great difficulty in ascending some of the Mountains, and also attempted to return by the direction of the sun. After travelling for upwards of Twenty-days, all (except Phillips) reached within five miles of Richmond-Hill, when William Knight, unable to proceed any further, lay down, where Place says he must have died. On the same day Place and Cox made the river above Richmond Hill, and in attempting to cross the Fall the current carried them down. One was carried to one side of the river, and the other to the opposite side, with difficulty pulling themselves ashore by the branches of the trees. Cox had only his shirt and shoes on, Place saw him lain along the bank, where, being very weak, and the night extremely cold, he supposes he died. Place also lay, despairing of life, and was found on the day following by a man, who, with some of the natives, was in quest of kangaroos: he was then too weak to walk alone, but was led by the natives to the nearest hut, where he remained all night; in the morning he was taken to Hawkesbury, and from thence sent to the Hospital at Parramatta.’9
9th of May, 1803
Governor King’s despatch of 9th May, 1803 linked the capture of the fugitive convicts with assistance provided by Aboriginal people. He further linked the Aboriginal assistance to their attachment to the settlers and their satisfaction with Lord Hobart’s decision on the five settlers found guilty of the murder of Little George and Little Jemmy. His despatch is also of interest because of the apparent meeting between magistrates and Aboriginal people to hear Lord Hobart’s response to the buck-passing of the court and Governor. Whether Aboriginal assistance in the capture of the runaways was because of their “attachment to the settlers” is problematical. It is more likely that the runaways were turned in as a means of gaining favour with the authorities. It is highly unlikely that the Aboriginal people who participated in the meeting with Marsden and Arndell were as satisfied as King would have it. All in all, King’s despatch is a masterful example of opportunism, spin and toadying designed to preserve his position.
‘9th May, 1803
Governor King to Lord Hobart
Sydney, New South Wales,
May 9th, 1803 My Lord, The Proclamation10 issued in consequence of Your Lordship’s directions respecting the natives has produced the desired effect, and I hope it will be of long continuance. Being made fully sensible of its meaning, they have undergone an examination before magistrates, whose decision prevented those acts that would doubtless have followed, and with which they were well satisfied. Those about the Hawkesbury are much attached to the settlers, &c., in that quarter, and have been very active and useful in securing some fugitives.’11
May-August, 1803: Hawkesbury land grants
In May 1803, 560 acres were granted to 6 individuals at Mulgrave District.
In June 1803, 1 grant of 200 acres was made on the Hawkesbury.
In July 1803, 1 person received a grant of 140 acres.
In August 1803, 1430 acres were granted to 15 people.
In 1803, 41 grantees received grants on the Hawkesbury totalling 4,595 acres.12
The following passage is typical of the Gazette’s sneering racial superiority and must be read within the context of the Gazette being an arm of government. The influence of such diatribes on public opinion cannot be underestimated. Boneh was a Cooradgee, a clever man, not a chieftain.
‘A visitor from Hawkesbury mentions the death of Boneh, an ancient Native, who we believe was but little known at Sydney. This veteran had for many years past presided with impressive authority over his tribe, from whom he received a species of homage which approached to adoration. In fact the straggling subjects of this sooty Chieftain, have been frequently heard by the Settlers resident nearest the foot of those inaccessible Mountains, to ascribe to him the power of agitating the elements, and of causing floods, rains, &c. &c. a finesse probably constructed purposely to impress us with awe and reverence for being possessed of such extensive qualifications. That the mythology may in some degree owe its existence to similar causes, we shall not argue, but had this inky venerable been known to those imaginary existences, little doubt can be entertained but his complexion would at least have recommended him to a seat in the infernal regions, where, in the course of time, he might have become a compeer with the august Pluto.’13 Despite the problems of veracity the following Gazette story is important because of its reflection of contemporary Enlightenment thinking about the relationship of the polished nations to savages. The author’s phrase, “barbarous usage” placed Aboriginal people at the bottom of the Great Chain of Being and justified the English settlement to the reader.
While the story almost certainly has a factual base; it highly unlikely that anyone would deliberately burn another person to death in response to an incurable injury. Certainly it was not consistent with funerary rituals that were geared to the release of the soul and its reincarnation. If the incident took place as reported, one would have expected salacious descriptions of horrific screams and a struggle to escape the flames, perhaps even a chorus of “Oom chug a lug”. Consideration has to be given to the possibility that the Aboriginal man brought his fate upon himself by bringing a settler to Milkmaid Reach.
The story is also of significance because it illustrates the steady downstream creep of settlement.
‘A circumstance that lately took place at Milkmaid Reach,14 on the Coast between Sydney and Hawkesbury, among A body of Natives, stands, in point of deliberate inhumanity towards a fellow creature, unparalleled save only in the barbarous usages to which these people are habituated. One of their number had climbed a lofty tree in pursuit of a Cockatoo; and as soon as he gained the summit and had secured the bird, unfortunately got entangled in the twigs, and in trying to disentangle himself, lost his hold, & by a tremendous fall bad both a leg and thigh broke. The women at the instant let up a piercing shriek, and the men assembled round him. - The elders examined the fractures minutely, and pronouncing them incurable, hastily commanded the females to retire: then erecting a pile of brush-wood about the body, actually set it on fire, whilst the unhappy creature was alive. As soon as this inhuman yet effectual remedy was administered, the Boatmen who Were spectators of the proceeding, were advised by one of the more friendly natives to get off as quickly as possible, as the fatal event had aroused the indignation of the whole tribe against all white people, to whom the present misfortune was ascribed, as the Cockatoo would not have been climbed for, had not a reward been the known consequence of its capture.’15
The publication of the Gazette saw significant changes in which the way relations between the settlers and Aboriginal people were reported. The editor, Howe, was an educated man and his articles reflected contemporary European thought on the Great Chain of Being. Over the coming years he was to add a growing triumphalism and evangelical fervour to his articles.
Governor King’s despatches increasingly displayed an eagerness to be seen successfully implementing Lord Hobart’s orders “to conciliate the Goodwill of the Natives”. As King rapidly increased the number and size of land grants this became increasingly difficult. King’s affirmation of the strength of Aboriginal affection for the settlers was probably overly optimistic as the events of mid 1804 were to prove.