Daily Archives: March 14, 2009

Some figures

The other day I was reading through the Votes and Proceedings of the Legislative Council for the 1840s (as one does) , and looking at the Statistical Returns for 1834-43, which were printed in June 1844.

There I found a table of the official figures of whites killed by Aborigines, and conversely, Aborigines killed by whites for the district of Port Phillip.  These are, of course, the ridgy-didge “official” figures- the sort that Keith Windschuttle in his Fabrication of Aboriginal History upheld-  with all that entails.


1836 2
1838 12 10 + 1 +1
1839 3
1840 11
1841 6 + 2 The two were murdered by the Van Diemen’s Land blacks
1842 4
1843 1
1844 1

Total: 40


1836 1
1838 16
1839 8
1840 67 30 by the Whyte Brothers- rests on Aboriginal evidence. 10 in Grampians by Messrs Wedge, depends partly on Aboriginal evidence
1841 10 Based on statements by Aborigines
1842 6 4 at Smith and Osbrey’s station – great investigation and 3 persons tried and acquitted
1843 3 In one event at Mr Rickett’s
1844 2


I’m surprised that the figures are so low on the white side.  Given the heightened anxiety and dread expressed by settlers on the frontier, I’m surprised that there are not more white deaths.  However, many attacks involved property loss- particularly the hacking and killing of sheep- and given that stock (rather than the ownership of land) formed the basis of wealth in this pastoral squatting society, these attacks were property crimes that struck at the heart of the settlers’ financial viability.   The low figures on the aboriginal side are more to be expected. The figures for black deaths had to be corroborated by white evidence.  There was little to be gained in reporting an aboriginal death.  If  an aboriginal was  “said to be” killed, on aboriginal evidence only, then it was not counted.  You’ll note the qualification of  “based on statements by Aborigines” in the third column.

The statistics for whites killed show that overwhelmingly these deaths occured among hutkeepers, shepherds and servants.  These men were isolated, often far from the homestead (such as it was),  far from surveillance and likewise far from assistance.  They were also often assigned servants or ex-convicts.  Only four of the 40 were designated as “Mr —“, and only one was categorized as a settler.

The large spike in both white and native deaths in 1838 was because of the six-hour pitched battle that took place on Faithful’s station near Benalla, in retaliation for the massacre of 10-14 of Faithful’s workers (the official figure shows 10; Faithful claims 14).  I quoted Faithful’s description of the retaliatory battle  in my post on Letters from Victorian Pioneers.

I find it interesting that the Whyte brothers are named so openly here, and in the Letters from Victorian Pioneers.    The aboriginal deaths in 1840 around Whyte’s station in Coleraine came to be known as the Fighting Hills Massacre.  The Whyte brothers reported the attack themselves.  No charges were ever laid.

The trial of the men charged with the aboriginal deaths at Smith and Osbrey’s station occurred right at the point when Judge Willis was dismissed as Resident Judge.  The murders had occurred in February 1842 and a 50 pound reward was offered, later increased to 100 pounds with a free pardon and a free passage to England if the informant was a transported convict.  Nothing was heard, until a transported ‘bush carpenter’ employed at the station reported a number of men for the murder in May 1843.  Three men- Hill, Beswicke and Betts were committed to trial and it was, in fact, this case that Judge Willis was hearing when the court was interrupted by the serving of the Executive Order for Willis’ amoval.  Justice Jeffcott, who was Judge Willis’ replacement, took over the trial and the men were acquitted.  Gipps privately wrote to La Trobe that if he had been on the jury, he would have committed at least two of the three men, but Jeffcott was “not dissatisfied with the verdict”.


Richard Broome Aboriginal Australians pp.40-48

A. G. L. Shaw The History of the Port Phillip District p.  114,130,138

Paul R Mullaly Crime in the Port Phillip District p.290-297

Museum Victoria: Encounters  http://museumvictoria.com.au/encounters/journeys/Robinson/Fighting_Hills.htm

Bride Letters from Victorian Pioneers

Votes and Proceedings of the NSW Legislative Council