Aboriginal Dispossession


1. Politics of Oppression

The native population of Australia suffered under the impact of white civilization: in this they shared the fate of the natives of other European controlled colonies. This was usually the result of neglect of the problem rather than of deliberate government policy. Although the following proclamation specifically restricts the use of arms, nevertheless it was followed by the "Black War" which led ultimately to the extermination of the Aborigines of Tasmania.

By His Excellency Colonel George Arthur, Lieutenant governor of the Island of Van Diemen's Land and its Dependencies                


Whereas, by my proclamation, bearing date the 1st day of November, 1828, reciting, (almost other things), that the black or aboriginal natives of this Island, had for a considerable time carried on a series of indiscriminate attacks upon the persons and property of His Majesty's subjects, and that repeated inroads were daily made by such natives into the settled districts, and that acts of hostility and barbarity, were then committed by them, as well as the more distant stock runs, and in some instances, upon unoffending and defenceless women and children, and that it had become unavoidably necessary, for the suppression of similar enormities, to proclaim Martial Law, in the manner therein hereinafter directed, I, the said Lieutenant Governor, did declare and proclaim, that from the date of that my proclamation, and until the cessation of hostilities, Martial Law was, and should continue to be in force against the said black or aboriginal natives within the several districts of this Island, excepting always the places and portions of this Island in the said proclamation after mentioned, and whereas, the said black or aboriginal natives, or certain of their tribes, have of late manifested, by continued repetitions of the most wanton and sanguinary acts of violence and outrage, an unequivocal determination indiscriminately to destroy the white inhabitant, whenever opportunities are presented to them for doing so; and whereas, by reason of the aforesaid exceptions so contained in the said proclamation, no natives have been hitherto pursued or molested in any of the places or portions of the Island so excepted, from whence they have accordingly of late been accustomed to make repeated incursions upon the settled districts with impurity, or having committed outrages in the settled districts, have escaped into those excepted places, where they remain in security; and whereas, therefore, it hath now become necessary; and because it is scarcely possible to distinguish the particular tribe or tribes by whom such outrages have been in any particular instance committed, to adopt immediately, for the purpose of effecting their capture, of possible, as active and extended system of military operations against all the natives generally throughout the Island, and every portion thereof, whether actually settled or not. Now, therefore, by virtue of the powers and authorities in me in this behalf vested, I the said Lieutenant Governor, do by these presents declare and proclaim, that from and after the date of this my proclamation, and until the cessation of hostilities in this behalf shall be by me hereafter proclaimed and directed, Martial Law is and shall continue to be in force against all the black and aboriginal natives, within every part of this Island (whether exempted from the operation of the said proclamation or not) excepting always such tribe, or individuals of tribes, as there may be reason to suppose are pacifically inclined, and have not been implicated in any such outrages, and for the purposes aforesaid, all soldiers and others His Majesty's subjects, civil and military, are hereby required and commanded to obey and assist their lawful superiors in the execution of such measures as shall from time to tome be in this behalf directed to be taken. but I do, nevertheless, hereby strictly order, enjoin and command, that the actual use of arms be in no case resorted to by firing against any of the natives or otherwise, if they can be other means be captured, that bloodshed by invariably checked as much as possible, and that any tribes or individuals captured or voluntarily surrendering themselves up, be treated with the utmost care and humanity. And all officers, civil and military, and other persons whatsoever, are hereby required to take notice of this my proclamation, and to render obedience and assistance herein accordingly.    

Given under my hand and seal at arms, at the government House, Hobart Town, this first day of October, in the year of our Lord, one thousand eight hundred and thirty.

George Arthur
By command of His Excellency,
J. Burnett

2. Massacre at Myall Creek

Although the worst treatment of Aborigines occurred in Tasmania, there were incidents of equal ferocity elsewhere. The Massacre at Myall Creek was the first occasion on which white murderers were brought to trial for shooting blacks, hence the official evidence is on record.

In detailing the facts of this foul deed I shall endeavour to state them with judicial accuracy. Indeed, it is from the Judge's note and reports of the trial that the statement of the case is given. Early in the month of June, 1838, Mr Hobbs, superintendent, of Mr Dangar's station at Myall Creek, distant about 350 miles in a northern direction from Sydney, left home for a few days. At the time of his departure about forty or fifty black natives were at the station of whom from ten to twelve were women, and about the same number of children, the rest consisted of men of various ages. Whilst there, these natives, who had been on the station for the previous fortnight, had behaved themselves inoffensively. On Mr Hobbs' return, about the middle of the same month, these natives had disappeared, and, in reply to inquiry where they were, he was told by Kilmeister, an assigned servant on the establishment, he "did not know."

Mr Hobbs soon received information which induced him next day to visit a spot distant half a mile from his hut. to this spot his steps were directed by the hovering of eagles, hawks, and other birds of prey in the air. there he discovered the mangled and half-burnt remains of at least twenty-eight native blacks. Amongst these disfigured fragments of mortality, he recognized ten or twelve small heads that he took to be those of children, and a large body, which he believed to be that of one "Daddy" a native black of a remarkably large frame. For the most part the heads were separated from the rest of the bodies, though by what process he could not ascertain, and there were marks of fire upon the disjointed limbs ... It was subsequently ascertained that, of these natives, some had been first shot, some were hewn down with swords and their bodies thrown upon burning logs of wood... On the second trial evidence was adduced which did satisfy a fresh jury that a black aboriginal with the murder of whom the same men were charged, was one of the murdered party. They were convicted, and subsequently executed. 

3. Integration

The personal qualities of the natives did not accord with the hopes of the new masters. here is recorded one use to which it had been hoped the natives might be put.

Light to Palmer

... You wish to know what sort of soldiers the natives would make. I think they would never do, they are quite distinct from any other race. You cannot teach them to make themselves even against all the world, but as to putting them under discipline perhaps one or two out of a hundred might submit but the rest would run off with the muskets and all. they beg and they steal and very often are very saucy - no inducement seems to have the effect of making them inhabit huts.

4. Conscience Aroused

From their earliest contact with the Aborigines the new settlers had been under instruction to deal with them in a humane way. Whilst this advice was ignored by some, flaunted by many, there was always a small chorus of protest which made itself felt concerning the welfare of the native peoples.

Aborigines' Friends' Association

Mr MILNE, pursuant to notice, move -

That this House will on Wednesday, 18th July, resolve itself into a committee of the whole for the purpose of considering the petition of the Aborigines' Friends' Association, and the motion that an address be presented to His Excellency the governor-in-Chief, praying His Excellency to cause a sum of 300l. to be placed on the Estimates for 1860, for the purposes contemplated by that Association."

He would not enter at any very great length into the question, as he had no doubt that it would meet with the attention which it deserved at the hands of hon. members. there could be no two opinions as to the importance of the Association, more especially when they found private gentlemen coming forward, not only disposed to devote their time to the labours of it, but also to assist it with their private funds. (Hear, hear.) When they saw this, he felt sure that they were entitled to the consideration of the government for assistance. (hear.) This was not an ordinary case, it was quite an exceptional case. they had been in the habit of dealing with claims of District councils and Corporate bodies, and measuring the amount to be granted by the amounts which those bodies contributed themselves. It was not so in this case. It must be admitted that the claim in this case was above a special claim, and the grant must be made quite independent of any revenue derivable from other sources. (Hear.) Considerable benefits, it would be allowed, had been derived from the possession of this colony, and great evils had accrued to the aboriginal population. such a motion, he felt sure, would appeal to the better feelings of every hon. member - (hear, hear) - and every one would agree that they should do something to ameliorate the position of the natives. Notice had been taken in one of the newspapers respecting the land upon which the school-house and buildings were erected, and he was happy to inform hon. members that these improvements were all erected on government property, and in their erection everything had been done to secure the advantages of them to the Government on a future day. He would move the motion.

Mr N. BLYTH seconded the motion.

Mr. MOORHOUSE rose with great pleasure to support the motion. He quite agreed in the remark which had been made by the hon. member for Onkaparinga, Mr Milne, that this was not a more ordinary case. It was for a good purpose, and he thought that this sum should be placed upon the Estimates. If ho. members were to look at the history of colonization, they would find that the natives in all cases had been compensated by the British government for lands occupied by the settlers. (Hear.) Ho. members would be aware that when the colony was established it was agreed that a sum equal to 10 per cent of the land fund should be set apart for the benefit of the aborigines. Afterwards, when it was found that the land fund was swelling out to an extent that was perhaps never anticipated, the government merely voted such some as were found to be absolutely necessary from time to time. He would candidly state his belief that had the aborigines of this colony been stronger in number and physically than they now are, the colony might, as was the case in new Zealand, be called upon to pay more for expenses in one day than the amount now asked for. He hoped that because the natives were not physically strong enough to stand up in defence of their rights, the House would have the humanity and dignity to give them their rights. (hear, hear.) He should be sorry indeed to see any hon. member stand up in objection to that motion. (Oh, and hear.) He hoped the House would fairly and candidly deal with that motion. (Hear.)

The COMMISSIONER OF CROWN LANDS had not intended to have said anything on the subject until the House went into Committee. At that time he had hoped that the Government would have been in a position to state that they would be prepared to support the placing of this sum of 300l. on the Estimates. From the many reports which he had seen and heard of, he believed that very great benefits were likely to arise from the mode of operation. (hear.) Fishing was carried on to great advantage, and the natives, he believed, were taught to exercise general habits of industry, which were highly beneficial to them. He should support the motion that the House should go into committee.

Mr McELLISTER has only a few words to say in opposition to the motion. he was very glad at all times, when there was room to do good, to support all motions of this kind. god forbid that he should do anything which would militate against the cause of humanity. He did not, however, see what good could arise by giving 300l. towards this society. All the money would be lavished on buildings and salaries. It was a notorious fact that since the colony was established the aborigines had decreased in number to a fearful extent, and they had not benefited in any way, in morals, or physically, or otherwise. The 300l. would be squandered in salaries and buildings, and the aborigines would receive no benefit from it whatever. He did not positively say he would oppose the motion if it was pressed forward 0 (hear, hear) - but he believed that to give the money would not benefit the natives at all.      

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With the expansion of settlement the colonists began to demand responsible government (section A). This demand was intensified by the social upheaval that followed upon  the discovery of gold Some would see in the Eureka uprising the first demand for popular democracy. Howe3ver, that may be, the myth or tradition of Eureka has become a significant episode in Australian history. In different way, gold affected the whole of society. For example, Melbourne developed rapidly into a typical provincial city, while South Australia, faced by a loss of labour to the gold fields, had to seek solution of its own. As the surface diggings were worked out, and gold production began to fall, disappointment found one expression in aggression against the Chinese.

The significance of the effect of the gold discoveries upon Australian history has been variously interpreted. Its importance cannot be over estimated. Indeed, one Australian historian has seen the influx of new settlers who poured into Australia in search of easy money as the start of "the rush that never ended."


1. Opposition to the Probation system

In the 1840s there was an increase in the demand for self-government. In Tasmania, where the taint of convictism was strongly felt, the existence of the Probation system seemed to many an affront to traditional British liberties.

The Probation System is essentially based on the prosperity of the colony . . . it assumes in all its details the presence and cooperation of a free people, since the ultimate appropriation amongst the settlers of such of its subjects as have passed the primary stages of discipline is one of its fundamental principles, and a condition intertwined with the very probability of its efficiency and success ... by way of summary, then, it may be laid down as an axiom in penal policy, that the interests of Great Britain and h3er penal colony are identical and indivisible. ...  Yet, in the face of this incontrovertible proposition, the interests of the free inhabitants of Tasmania appear to have been regarded, in the complex machinery of the system, as secondary and subordinate ... the labour that might have been applied to works of great public utility and to objects that would have given, in their very nature, every assurance of prospective repayment and ultimate compensation, and, at the same time, extended and multiplied the rich resources of the colony, has not only been denied, but has been perverted to a direct competition with the settlers under every disadvantage to the latter, and in a manner not merely injurious, but ruinous to the colony ...

To the provisions of the system which constitute Van Diemen's Land the sole receptacle of expatriated crime from every corner of the wide dominions of Britain we are strenuously opposed. the influx of prisoners which it necessarily occasions, in enormous and ever increasing disproportion to the free community, threatens, at no remote period - if not the subversion of the free institutions of the colony - at least an extensive amalgamation, till all that it valued, because it is free, is intermingled and lost.

3. Convicts or No Convicts?

While humanitarians in Britain and the rising class of urban dwellers in Australia sought to remove the vestiges of convictism, the squatters attempted to establish themselves as an aristocracy on the basis of convict labour. The conflict within the aspiring democracy was mainly confined to political action. The next two documents illustrate this conflict.

Fitzgerald and convicts
Michie and no convicts?

Such of our readers as were not present at the Parramatta nomination on Thursday, are now enabled to judge for themselves, by means of the full report on the speeches, as to the truth or falsehood, the weight or frivolity, of the charge preferred against Mr Robert Fitzgerald . . . (Mr Fitzgerald was a nominee for the County of Cumberland) . . . the return of Mr Fitzgerald to represent the County of Cumberland would be one of the heaviest misfortunes that could befall the colony. It is now placed beyond all doubt that this wealthy grazier is the staunch advocate of the resumption of convict labour, from motives purely selfish and sordid. He does not blush to acknowledge that, as "a son of the soil" his patriotism is held in strict subserviency to his pocket. He loves his country much; but he loves the silver more. Convimce him that transportation will put nothing into his purse, and he will oppose it as stoutly as any man living; but so long as he thinks an emergency may arise in which the want of convicts would damage his income so long must be on public (!) grounds, refuse to go the whole length with the anti-transportationists. His is a serious case. Having to pay 3000 pounds a year to wages, he cannot afford to be too nice in regard to public morals, when the question is between morals and money. Better that the country should be bespattered with a little infamy - better that its budding virtues should be a little nipped - better that its peace and order should now and then be ruffled by bloody outrage - better that a few thousands, or even tens of thousands, should be added to our expenditure and police and gaols - better that our political growth should be somewhat stunted by the restoration of our old penal restraints - in short, better any thing, rather than that Mr R. F. should not save a shilling or two per score in the shearing of the sheep!

3. "Coriolanus of New South Wales"

To the Editors of the S.M.H.

GENTLEMEN, - Being an elector for the county of Cumberland, I attended a meeting of Mr Michie's friends held at the capital Green Gate Inn, Paddington, on Saturday evening last. The meeting, although called for the purpose of Mr Michie addressing the electors, was also composed of Mr Fitzgerald's friends who seemingly had come for the purpose of routing the enemy on his own territory. Mr Fitzgerald's commander-in-chief, Mr W.C. Wentworth, who, on this occasion, appeared as a bashaw with a tail of three honorable M.C.s, two of whom may be classed as proteges of his, and who probably formed a part of his suit for the purpose of exhibiting to the electors a combination of that learning and patriotism that he found wanting in the person of Mr Mitchie. 

I have frequently had the pleasure of hearing Mr Wentworth speak, but on this occasion I was more than amused to see him appear in the favourite character as the Coriolanus of New South Wales. I have no doubt but that Mr Wentworth has sketched with some care the more famous qualities of the noble Roman, and that they form constituents of that compound which allots him in the eyes of Mr Fitzgerald the appellation of a great man. But as Rome could not submit to the dictatorship of a Coriolanus, much less can the British spirit of New South Wales tolerate the impetuous and oracular spirit of a Wentworth, Mr Wentworth, I admit, possesses great talents but they are not of that dignified order to command the respect of a refined community. He may walk through life in a miniature O'Connell, and, although not so distinguished, may possess the same order of character and genius . . . From Mr W.'s exhibition on Saturday evening, I could not but mark that the days of his greatness had gone by; that he possesses not a mind to keep pace with the progressive character of the age; it seems only formed to act in a vitiated and immoral element, not to purify but to prevent it from going beyond its bounds. Self interest, based on a system of pollution, has been the inspiring motive of his greatest actions. He cannot therefore promote the moral and social happiness of a people, and he need not hope that even with a tail of Fitzgeralds and Martins, reaching from Sydney to Parramatta he will ever be able to make the moral and social health of the people of New South Wales subserve to his own interest.

It would be well for the colony, if Mr Wentworth with his Fitzgeralds and his Martins would withdraw from the arena of public life to where they may be better able than in the council Chamber to mature a little Sodom; they might there at least luxuriate in fancy over the golden years of New South Wales felonry and occasionally from their secret recesses, harass the enemy with a round of small shot, and thus cherish an imaginary, revenge as a substitute for their defeated hopes.

In the meantime let the electors of Cumberland prove themselves a moral people, by placing Mr Michie in that position where he may be enabled to watch and counteract the secret machinations of Mr Wentworth and his tail.

South Head Road,
March 26

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