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Reflections from Myall Creek

An etching of the Myall Creek Massacre, published in the Chronicles of Crime, 1841.

NATIONAL: Tracker writer CHRIS MUNRO* revisits one of the worst massacres in Australia’s history, and urges us not to forget our past.

There’s a disturbing theory held by many proponents of Australian history. They believe if you’re moving along the many walking trails, bush roads or traversing reserves and national parks in this country you will be near an Aboriginal massacre site.

It’s a sad fact that there is no official record of Aboriginal massacre sites. There’s no trusted tally of the dead.

Save for 12 white stockmen from the Liverpool Plains region in northern NSW, the names of the countless murderers have never been officially recorded.

Ironically, part of the reason for this historical amnesia is one mass murder on Gamilaraay country. It has been recorded in graphic detail.

At a lonely patch of country, 16 kilometres east of Bingara, 30 Aboriginal women, children and male elders were slaughtered.

It was June 10, 1838 when a mounted squatter, John Fleming, led eleven of his peers onto Myall Creek station.

Their unarmed targets were a group of Wirrayaraay people of the Gamilaraay tribe. They were camping at the station at the request of its owner Henry Dangar.

The group, largely women and children, had been peacefully camped at nearby McIntyre station, as the able bodied men moved about following station work.

As Fleming and his men approached the station buildings, the Wirrayaraay women, camped close by, fled to nearby huts.

They pleaded with station hut keeper George Anderson to protect them. Anderson asked Fleming to declare his intentions.

A member of the group, John Russell, told him they were going to, “take them over the back of the range and frighten them.”
Anderson later gave evidence that one women, and one young child, were left behind at the huts. The reason? The men considered her “good looking.”

During the initial panic, two young boys also managed to escape by hiding in the creek. The remaining Wirrayaraay group were tied-up along a long stretch of rope and led about 800 metres to the west of the station huts.

Over the next two hours the group were brutally hacked to death one by one. Testimony at the trial would later reveal the slaughter was, at times, treated like a game.

The murderers lined up along the balustrades of crudely built stock yards with swords in hand. Their victims were forced to run as far as they could along a slashing line before dropping dead from their wounds.

Babies were beheaded, women, young and old, were brutally tortured and Wirrayaraay elders dismembered.

Fleming and his gang then left Myall Creek in search of the Wirrayaraay men, who they knew where working nearby but they returned two days later and further dismembered their victims and attempted to burn the huge pile of body parts.

Myall Creek station manager William Hobbs discovered the massacre when he returned from a business trip.

He counted 28 victims, by conducting a gruesome tally of severed heads. Hobbs reported the incident to the Governor in Sydney, George Gipps, who ordered an investigation.

Eleven of the twelve stockmen were arrested and charged with murder. Their trials began on November 15, 1838. All were represented by a top legal team provided by a consortium of landowners and pastoralists from the region.

On the advice of a local magistrate, none of the accused gave evidence against the other, a trend that would be repeated and refined in regard to the subsequent massacre of Aboriginal people.

The Chief Justice of New South Wales, James Dowling, took care to inform the jury during the trial that they should recognise the death of an Aboriginal person in the same light as that of a European person.

But after deliberating for only 15 minutes, the jury found all eleven men not guilty. The verdict met with uncontrollable cheering in the court room.

One juror told The Australian newspaper, at that time owned by William Charles Wentworth, what he really thought.

“I look at the Blacks as a set of monkeys and the sooner they are exterminated from the face of the earth, the better. I knew the men were guilty of murder but I would never see a white man hanged for killing a black.”

But the legal battle wasn’t over yet. The gang were remanded in custody and forced to face a second trial over charges relating to the same incident, but only seven of the twelve would eventually face a jury.

George Anderson was a key witness for the prosecution. He gave a detailed account of events. Anderson stressed he wanted no reward for his testimony, only protection. He did not need it.

Seven men were eventually found guilty of murder and sentenced to death by hanging. They were Charles Kilmeister, James Oates, Edward
Foley, John Russell, John Johnstone, William Hawkins and James Parry. Their leader, John Fleming was never caught.

All were executed on December 18, 1838. It was the first and only time white men were hanged for the murder of Aboriginal people. 

This entry was posted in Community, Editor's Pick, History and tagged , ,

4 Comments

  1. Damein Bell
    Posted August 29, 2011 at 7:18 am | Permalink

    .. tragic horrific justice

  2. gregory
    Posted July 16, 2012 at 3:43 pm | Permalink

    the seven hanged were all convicts or ex-convicts no rich men were hanged

  3. Dr John Godfrey
    Posted June 23, 2013 at 2:26 pm | Permalink

    Travelled from Wyong to Myall Creek Memorial to visit the site while living in New South Wales Central Coast for 9 months- indeed very disturbing.

    George Anderson and these Indigenous people are my Australian Heroes

    I Will Remember Them!!!

  4. Bill
    Posted July 31, 2013 at 9:08 am | Permalink

    This article is factually incorrect. Here is an account of a white man hung for the murder of an aboriginal man 18 years before Myall Creek. Why are Historians in Australia so very lazy and openly biased?

    Decisions of the Superior Courts of New South Wales, 1788-1899

    Published by the Division of Law Macquarie University

    [Aborigines, killing of]
    R. v. Kirby
    R. v. Thompson
    Court of Criminal Jurisdiction
    Wylde, J.A., 14 December 1820
    Source: Sydney Gazette, 16 December 1820
    John Kirby and John Thompson were indicted for the wilful murder of Burragong, alias King Jack, a native chief at Newcastle, on the 27th of October; and the first witness called in support of the prosecution:
    Isaac Elliot, a superintendent at that settlement who deposed that the two prisoners charged were employed in the blacksmith’s shop there; that Kirby had been removed thither from hence, two years ago, under sentence of the Criminal Court; and that Thompson was also sent thither, for endeavouring to effect an escape from the Colony; that on the 26th of November they were absent from their work, and he discovered that they had both run from the settlement; which being reported to the Commandant, he immediately dispatched a military party, attended by two constables, in quest of them. In ten minutes after the party had left a black woman arrived with information to deponent of two men being taken up by some natives, who were conducting them into the town: the… party were in consequence recalled from their adopted route and joined by deponent, went out to meet the natives with their prisoners; and shortly met a number of natives (accompanied by the two prisoners), all armed with spears and other weapons, the murdered chief guarding Kirby: both the prisoners very soon descrying deponent and the pursuing party: immediately whereupon the natives set up a yell and shout, and clearly articulated the words “Croppy make big Jack booey” by which was to be comprehended that one of the white men had killed Jack their chief; whom the prisoner Kirby was seen to raise his arm to seize upon, but fell himself from a blow by a waddy.
    Witness further deposed, that no blow was struck by the natives until the murderous act had been committed by the prisoner Kirby. The other prisoner at the bar had only endeavoured to effect his escape, but was secured by one of the constables, as was Kirby also, who had risen, and endeavoured to run off. Deponent saw the deceased in a wounded state, by some sharp instrument, in the belly, and bound him round: had him conveyed into the town; had a search made for the destructive implement, which could not be found. After ten days survival, the deceased went to deponent with an order from the worthy Officer that commands the settlement, to receive a suit of clothing, and then said he was murry bujjery, meaning that he was much recovered; but in five days after, deponent heard that this kind, useful, and intelligent elder had breathed his last. The fatal wound was given on the 27th of October, and he painfully languished till the 7th of November ultimo.
    James Wills, one of the constables who attended the party, corroborated the foregoing evidence; and particularly to the fact that no blow was struck by any native before he saw Kirby stretch out his arm towards the wounded man, and heard the yells and shouts of the natives; and that while in the act of hand-cuffing the two prisoners, the prisoner Kirby expressed his regret at not having killed the deceased outright. He saw the deceased a few days after in the woods, and he then expressed a complaint of much illness, owing to his wound, and in a few days after he was dead.
    The other Constable of the party, Mencelo, corroborated the foregoing testimony.
    Mr Fenton, assistant surgeon of the 48th Regiment, gave testimony of the deceased having been brought into the settlement wounded, and was attended to with every care, in his own quarters; where he would not continue after the third day, though every persuasion was used to detain him, he being desirous of restoring to the expedients practised by themselves in wounded cases. Dr Fenton described the wound to have been received in the abdomen, and extremely dangerous. In five days after he is quieting, he returned, and Dr Fenton dressed his wound, he then appearing in a convalescent state; but he soon after heard of his death. Dr Fenton had no doubt of the death ensuing from an internal mortification in the abdomen, occasioned by the wound proved to have been inflicted by the prisoner John Kirby; against whom a verdict was returned of Wilful Murder; and sentence of Death was immediately pronounced upon him – his body directed to be dissected and anatomized. John Thompson was acquitted.
    Sydney Gazette, 23 December1820
    EXECUTIONS On Monday last [18 December 1820] John Kirby, who was found guilty of the late Criminal Court for murder, was executed pursuant to his sentence.

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