I have included Tedbury’s attacks on farms around George’s River and Powell’s228 farm at Canterbury as they have some relevance to events on the Hawkesbury and they support my contention that Aboriginal numbers on the Sydney Plain were slipping.
May, 1809: Flood
A flood peak of 14.63 metres was recorded at Windsor.
The following account of the 1809 flood, which peaked at 14.47 metres, is of interest in that four of the nine people on the roof of Samuel Terry’s farm were Asian and two Aboriginal, pointing again to the presence of Aboriginal people on the farms as well as the close links to the Asian mainland through the East India Company.
‘at the farm of Mr S. Terry nine persons viz Cooley, of Toongabbie; Munsey of Hawkesbury; Hodges, servant to a gentleman of Sydney; Mahomed an Asiatic, his wife And two children, and two blackmen – had endeavoured to secure themselves on the top of the barn which fell in about 5 on Monday evening; but as there were no other resource left, they continued upon the roof for about two hours after, when the wife of Mahomed fell through the thatch with one of her children in her arms and was no more seen. Cooley endeavouring to save the other child, which clung to Mahomed, the father, slipped off with the infant, and in like manner disappeared; as did Munsey also. Mahomed and the two black men saved themselves in trees, and Hodges swimming about in the dark at length got into the stream, by which he was carried between 5 and 6 miles before any impediment opposed his rapid course; when happily he found safety among the branches of a tree.’229
Sunday, 1st of October, 1809
Tedbury recommenced hostilities in late 1809. What caused the fighting, which was confined to the George’s River area is unclear.
‘On Tuesday last a number of natives assembled about the farm of Mr. Bond, at Georges River, and behaved in a very outrageous manner. They manifested an inclination to plunder, but were prevented by the determination that was shewn to resist them. They threw several spears, one of which grazed the ear of Mr. F. Meredith, who assisted in the defence of the place, which it was at length found necessary to abandon. Tedbury is said to have been one of the assailants.’230
9th - 12th of October, 1809
The following account of Aboriginal attacks is noteworthy for several reasons. The ambush of the horseman was a masterful use of surprise and seizing his stirrup was the first step in a classic move to dismount a mounted opponent. The fact that three horsemen later combined to pursue the assailants pointed to a new phase in warfare between Aboriginal people and settlers.
Tedbury’s attack on Edward Powell, who had been found guilty of the murders of Little Jemmy and Little George in 1799 may or may not have been fortuitous. In the attack Powell lost 34 sheep. Two of the sheep were found being cooked in an oven, which had been covered to conceal any smoke. The carcasses of twenty three others were found in a camp half a mile from the oven. Their wool had been singed off indicating that they too were destined for the oven. These details point to the difficulties Aboriginal people had in finding shelter away from white people and the impact of settlement on traditional food sources. As Tedbury and his men were now armed with muskets and several runaway whites were with him, the nature of warfare had changed. However, apart from alarming settlers this was to have no affect. The numbers had turned.
‘On Sunday last Mr. Davis, on his return from Parramatta was near the Half-way House surprised by the entreaties of a woman in distress to come to her assistance. He accordingly stopped his horse, at the time observing two armed natives at hand, one of whom immediately advanced upon him, and directed him to alight; but shewing a determination to resist the command, they rushed upon him, and he in order to intimidate them discharged a pistol; whereupon three others who had not before shewn themselves joined the assailants, and in plain English abused and threatened him, one of them seizing him by the right foot, and getting a fast hold of his stirrup; which fortunately snapped short, whereupon he galloped off, several spears being thrown at him which fortunately missed. By Mr. Davis', prompt information and personal assistance the poor woman was shortly after rescued from their hands, but not before she had been robbed of a bundle containing tea, sugar, and other articles of comfort or necessity, with which they made off. Mr. Davis afterwards being joined by two other horse travellers, saw the same banditti several times, but could not approach near enough to distinguish who they actually were. On Tuesday last three foot passengers were pursued a considerable distance on the Parramatta road by a gang of natives, who frequently called to them, and by alternate threats and promises endeavoured to prevail on them to stop; but their eloquence failed of its proposed end, and the travellers got safe away. The same day a numerous banditti fell upon a flock of sheep the property of Mr. Edward Powell, between his house on the Parramatta road and Canterbury, and drove off 43 head 9 of which afterwards got away from them, and rejoined the flock. - They were soon afterwards pursued and traced as far as Cook's River, which is about two miles and a half from the place where the sheep were driven from; but a heavy rain setting in, the pursuers lost their track. On Wednesday forenoon Mr. Powell attended by four other persons, discovered a fire at which two of his sheep were roasting; several natives attending, who immediately ran towards their encampment, as it afterwards proved, to give the alarm. This was about half a mile distant, whereat 23 carcases more were found, with the wool singed off, but all in a putrid state. Eleven others the robbers got clear away, so that the loss sustained by Mr. Powell amounts to 34 fine sheep. In addition to the above heavy loss, three large pigs, belonging to Mr. Powell, were on Friday killed by a native dog, which was shot with his head in the belly of the last he killed; and in so mangled a condition were the carcases (sic) as to be wholly unfit for use.
The mode in which the cookery of the sheep was performed was as follows :- A large hole was dug in the ground, in which a fire was kindled, and when the wood was reduced to charcoal, the carcases were quartered and laid upon it, then covered over with the bark of the tea tree, and the whole arched over to confine the smoke as much as possible, in order to avoid discovery; and all reports agree, that Tedbury, the son of Pemulwoy, is the chief director of the mischiefs. The above atrocities are for the most part confined to the hordes about George's River- They have several muskets, and what is no less to be dreaded, several desperate offenders who from a preferment to idleness have deserted to the woods are suspected to have joined them.’231 Land grants on the Hawkesbury at this time were characterised by a decreasing number of grants and increased acreage in those grants that were made. Thus in 1809 at Richmond Hill there were 28 grants made totalling 3750 acres, made up of two grants totalling 800 acres in July, four grants totalling 290 acres in November and 22 grants totalling 2660 acres in December. Downstream at Mulgrave eleven grants totalling 1311 acres were made in 1809. One grant of 120 acres was made in April, two grants totalling 42 acres were made in May, two grants each of 200 acres were made in August, one grant of thirty acres was made in November and in December there were five grants totalling 1311 acres. The difference between Mulgrave and Richmond Hill reflected the availability of land. Mulgrave was largely settled by 1809.
The technology of war changed in 1809. The settler’s worst fear, gun-armed Aboriginal people had come true. However, due to insufficient numbers they were never to be more than nuisance value. The use of horses by settlers to pursue Aboriginal people was, however, of far greater significance. For the first time settlers were able to match and surpass the mobility of Aboriginal people.