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© Michael O'Rourke Passages to the NW Plains 1







Incorporating an extended discussion of the armed

conflict between Aborigines, settlers and police in the
Hunter Valley, 1825-26.

mjor (at) velocitynet (dot)

Canberra, Australia
December 2009

Introduction 3
Aboriginal Alliance Networks 3
Oxley’s Liverpool Plains 8
Overland to the Hunter River 17
To Mudgee and the Liverpool Plains 20
Colonisation of the Upper Hunter Valley 23
Into the Liverpool Plains 28
Occupation of the Upper Hunter 33
Conflict: October 1825 40
Conflict: May-June 1826 44
Conflict: July-August 1826 45
Conflict: September-October 1826 51
Sequels 54
© Michael O'Rourke Passages to the NW Plains 2

… they may rather be likened to a lake, interspersed with islands

clothed with wood; or in other words they form one great vast
plain, in which are insulated woody spots … [from a hill] we could
see, even to the horizon, immense plains of the greatest verdure
without a tree upon them. … I have never seen aught like them, and
can only compare them to the boundless savannahs or pampas of

- W H Breton 1833: 104, 106, describing the south-east quadrant

of the Liverpool Plains.

The first colonists were told that the Commeroy [Gamil’raay]

would come down from the North and sweep them away ...

- William Ridley 1873: 291.

Much has been said of our dispossessing the blacks of their land,
but this did not inflame their minds against Europeans, [as]
generally speaking they were glad of settlers residing amongst
them, for the sake of obtaining bread, tea, sugar, rum, tobacco and
clothing, which were procurable, in exchange for game, going on
messages, for postage departments in the bush, and various other
employments for which they were admirably adapted.

- L E Threlkeld. 1

... the Governor [Ralph Darling] is afraid the people in England

will laugh at him for declaring war against the blacks.

- Robert Scott, 1826. 2

1In his Australian Papers, ed. Gunson 1974: 57.

2Scott, letter to his sister, 22 September 1826, quoted in Milliss 1992: 60. The Governor had
actually told London that the Hunter Valley Aborigines were 'a few naked Savages who,
however treacherous, would not face a Corporal's Guard' (Darling to Hay, 11 September,
HRA xii: 575).
© Michael O'Rourke Passages to the NW Plains 3


This paper brings together the doings of Aborigines, colonial explorers (who often
used Aboriginal guides), the colonial landholders, and convict workers.
It also brings together river catchments. For the local historians, quite unlike the
first colonists, often seem hemmed in by dividing ranges. I almost ignore both the
Liverpool Range and the Dividing Range proper so as to be able to range across the
Mudgee region, into the north-west plains, and up through the Hunter basin. But in
doing so I describe both the approach to, and the crossing over of, the key mountain
passes: Pandoras Pass in the west and the Murrurundi Pass [Nowlands Gap] in the

Among other things, I explain that much of the Liverpool Plains was naturally
treeless and that most of the rest was open woodland. The extensive wheat farming
that began at the end of the 19th Century did not, in this part [repeat: in this part] of
New South Wales (NSW), require massive forests to be cleared. Such forest (thick
scrub) as there was could usually be worked around. There was some tree-clearing
but it was not massive. 2

I also examine why so few Aborigines seem to have lived on the rich Liverpool
Plains; and whether the clashes between Aborigines and colonists in the middle and
upper Hunter Valley in 1825-26 really constituted a “general rising” by the
The examination here of the Hunter River troubles is a more extensive and detailed
than the short account in John Connor’s Australian Frontier Wars (2002). I have
ventured to correct several mistakes of his. I also show that the term ‘war’ is rather
overblown. I hasten to add that Frontier Wars overall is a very clear, comprehensive,
useful and accurate account. It is especially pertinent as a reminder that, as well as
civilians, the military and police were active on the frontier before 1830.
The secondary literature on the process of exploration is fairly strong, and I have
relied mainly on it. In a couple of cases, however, I have gone to the primary sources.
First, the fine details of Cunningham’s 1825 trip down Coxs Greek almost to
Boggabri are published here for the first time, taken from his manuscript journal. (I
felt obliged to look closely this episode, as his party were the first to visit the Tambar
Springs district, where I had the privilege to be raised [1951-68]. Cf Catullus LXIII:
patria o mei creatrix, patria o mea genetrix, ego quam miser relinquens ...) Second,
the ‘Hunter Valley War’ of 1825-26, which I first examined in the 1990s before Mr
Connor’s book appeared. The primary sources are easily consulted, or most of them,
having been printed in the great reference text Australian Historical Records

Aboriginal Alliance Networks

The Aboriginal peoples of the Murray-Darling basin originally belonged to a number

of ‘culture blocs’ or ‘alliance networks’. The largest and best known are the
Kamilaroi [Gamilaraay or Gamil’raay: pronounced “gumm-ill-rye”] in the central-
north, and the Wiradjuri [correctly: Wirraadhurraay] in the central-south, each with

1The modrrn practice is not to use apostrophes in place-names.

2NB: I do not deny that many trees were removed. If one compares a satellite map, eg
Google Map, of the region, one can easily see large cleared areas that on Lang’s map (2008)
show as woodland. Cf Lunt et al. 2006: 9: “we suggest that [only] 1–3 billion large trees have
been cleared from the Murray–Darling Basin, rather than the 6.3 billion large trees suggested
by Walker et al. (1993)”.
© Michael O'Rourke Passages to the NW Plains 4

originally 10,000 or more members. Cf below: map of the grassy woodlands of


There were many local independent communities or tribelets (“local groups”).
Each consisted of several hundred people.
If originally 10,000 people spoke the Gamilaraay tongue, then there may have been
as many as 20-30 such communities (before the smallpox pandemic of 1829-32). 2

Alternatively, using the archaeologist Harry Lourandos’ ‘magic figure’ of 40-60

persons per ‘band’, we may envisage a pre-contact population of 10,000 Gamil’raay-

speakers as divided seasonally into some 200 bands.

As well as the inland Liverpool Plains, the Gamilaraay-speaking people held

effectively the whole of the Upper Hunter Valley and probably both sides of its major
tributary the Goulburn River, or the northern side at least. The topographical centre of
what we might call the ‘Lesser’ or cismontane Kamilaroi lands lay at present-day
Denman, near the Hunter-Goulburn junction. Thus the ranges, which of course were
easily crossed on foot, did not constitute any linguistic or cultural boundary.
The latter-day authors, N B Tindale and those who have been misled by him such
as James Miller and Helen Brayshaw, are quite mistaken in believing that the
‘Geawe-gal’ group lived in the Upper Hunter Valley. The same error occurs in The
Encyclopaedia of Aboriginal Australia (ed. Horton, 1994). The fact is that all our best
sources—from the earliest explorer Howe in 1819 and the early tourist Breton in the
1830s, to Ridley’s and A W Howitt’s informants later in the 19th century—
recognised Kamilaroi as the language used upstream from Singleton. As Ridley said,
it was the language of the Hunter “for 70 or 80 [120 km] miles below Murrurundi”. It
is abundantly clear from these sources that Geawe-gal was just one of several middle
and lower Hunter Valley dialects. 4

The Gamilaraay language extended east to about Singleton. The exact point where
Gamil’raay met the Hunter basin languages, Geawe-gal, Wanarua and Darkinyung, is
not known with certainty. Possibly the junction of Wollombi Brook with the Hunter
River immediately upstream from Singleton formed the meeting point. Or perhaps
more likely, the meeting point was higher up: at or west of Jerrys Plains. The name
‘Gamil’raay’, as we shall see later in this paper, when it is recorded for the very first

1 Wiradjuri: Originally the name was pronounced like ‘wirr-RAHD-thoo-RYE’, with stress
on the long syllables (Donaldson 1984). Hale 1845 offers the spelling Wiradurei. The
spelling ‘Wiradjuri’ is common today, with its English-influenced pronunciation ‘w’RADJ-a-
Ten thousand people: see the population data in Milliss 1992 Chapter One and O’Rourke
1997. The figure of 10,000 should be taken as indicative. Much depends on the severity of
the several smallpox epidemics (discussed by Campbell: see next). It would not be wrong,
however, to imagine a regional population of even 20,000 in 1790.
2 On smallpox, see Judy Campbell, Invisible Invaders 2002. It appears there were two
pandemics: one in 1785-95 and another in 1825-35.
George Clarke, an eye-witness, told Mair that "one in six" people (only 17%) died on the
middle Namoi in 1830-31 (quoted by Mair, in Campbell 2002: 140). As Campbell argues,
this was probably an under-estimate. She proposes that overall about half the entire
Aboriginal population had died, directly or indirectly, from smallpox by 1840, and in some
regions up to 60%. This was the compound effect of several epidemics and would include
indirect effects, i.e. people starving who were too weak to hunt and gather (2002: 150, 222-
3 Lourandos, Aboriginal spatial organisation 1977.
4 Tindale 1974, Miller 1985 and Brayshaw 1986 versus Howe 1819, Breton 1834, Ridley
1875 and Howitt 1904. Below Murrurundi: Ridley 1855 (1864): 444.
© Michael O'Rourke Passages to the NW Plains 5

time, is securely linked to Doyles Creek, a creek enters the Hunter River just west of
Jerrys Plains.5

In the Warrumbungle Mountains, and at Dubbo and Wellington, the language was
Wirraadhurraay, or, as it is more commonly spelt, “Wiradjuri”. Wayilwan or
“Weilwun”, a variety of Ngiyambaa, was spoken further NW, beyond Gilgandra. The
distinctive Wayilwan suffix -bone (-buwan) is well known, if not quite famous: as in
Gulargambone, Quambone and Terembone. 6

James Günther, the Wellington Valley missionary, and his fellow proselytiser
William Ridley said that Wiradjuri was used on that section of the Castlereagh River
nearest Wellington, while a variant of Kamilaroi called Ko- inburri (i.e.
Guyinbaraay), was spoken on the section of the Castlereagh nearest the Liverpool
This is confirmed by an examination of place-names. On and around the upper
stretch of the Castlereagh we find the Gamilaraay names Ulamambri, Piambra and
Uarbry (suffix –m+baraay). This indicates that the boundary between Gamilaraay-
Guyinbaraay and Wiradjuri lay in the eastern Warrumbungles, on or west of the early
curve of the upper Castlereagh. Other place-names, for example Dandry and
Tenandra, have the Wiradjuri suffix -dhurraay. This would suggest that the
Warrumbungle mountains themselves, or at least their western sector, belonged to
Wiradjuri-speaking groups. 7

In short, the boundary between Kamilaroi and Wiradjuri fell approximately along a
line drawn from Coonabarabran to Coolah.

It is obscure whether the Upper Goulburn River community (the “Cassilis tribe”)
spoke Gamilaraay or Wiradjuri: probably the former.
Based on Naseby’s line (in Howitt 1904) and Rusden’s statements (quoted below),
we would expect them to have been Gamilaraay-speakers. And indeed several
obviously Gamilaraay-language place-names are mentioned in the early court case R
v Walker (1836). On the other hand, George Suttor in 1826 grouped the
Nandowey/Cassilis people with the Wiradjuri-speakers of Mudgee, perhaps – but not
necessarily - implying that they spoke that language. 8

5 See O’Rourke 1997 for an extended discussion.

6 Williams Grammar 1980, and earlier, Honery in Ridley MSS 1871-73; Ridley 1873b: 259
and 1875: 47, 119; and Ridley 1878. Also Mathews in several papers, e.g. 1895b. The
Wangaaybuwan variant of Ngiyambaa differed markedly from Gamilaraay, having only 36%
total vocabulary in common (Austin et al. 1980: 172 ff). Presumably the Wayilwan variant
was likewise only distantly related to Gamilaraay.
7 Most place-names in the Coolah-Cassilis region have the Gamilaraay suffix +bri/+aroy, for
instance Paiambra near Binnaway; Bullaroy trig point, west of Coolah; Vinegaroi Road,
north-east of Uarbry; and Uarbry itself. But there are also several names with the -ong [-
aang] and -therie [-dhurraay] endings of Wiradjuri, namely Bong Bong Creek, south-west of
Coolah; and Merotherie crossing, south-west of Uarbry.
Frank Bucknell greatly simplified in telling Howitt that “between the Bogan and the
Kamilaroi boundary, which runs north-westward from Wonabarabra (sic: misprint for
Coonabarabran!) to the junction of the Peel River (sic: actually Namoi) and the Darling (sic:
Barwon), the language is a mixture of Kamilaroi and Wiradjuri” (in Howitt 1904: 58).
See further the discussion and maps in O’Rourke 1997, citing Günther 1892; Ridley 1875:
119; also Quinn 1958 (and see the map of early stations in Pickette & Campbell 1984).
8 O’Rourke 1997, citing ‘Colo’ [George Suttor] in The Australian 25.8.1826; also in The
Australian 14.10.1826. Forbes in 1833 (see in McLachlan 1981) referred to the tribelet
(band) of the upper Goulburn River as ‘the blacks belonging to the Nandowa Plains’. This
was no doubt the same as ‘Nandowey’ plain in the Talbragar headwaters near Cassilis, first
© Michael O'Rourke Passages to the NW Plains 6

Rusden wrote of a Gamilaraay group living on the Talbragar River who may have
been the same as the ‘Cassilis tribe’:

“They [the Geawe-gal of the central Hunter Valley] were always in dread of
war with the Kamilaroi who followed down [intruded] from the heads of the
Hunter [?and ] across from the Talbragar to the Nunmurra [sic: Munmurra]

waters ...” (the Munmurra River being the watercourse on which modern
Cassilis is located).

This seems to imply that Gamilaraay-speakers held the Goulburn Valley or at least its
northern tributaries. And if we turn to a modern map, we find several place-names in
the upper Talbragar-Goulburn Valley bearing the familiar Gamilaraay suffix “bri” or
- baraay, namely Uarbry, Collaroy and Gundebri. This serves to confirm Rusden’s
Rusden also said that “a section of the Kamilaroi occupied the upper sources of the
waters flowing into the Hunter River and those which form the heads of the Goulburn
River, for instance the Munmurra Creek”. He implies - but he does not state it
explicitly - that Kamilaroi was spoken on the Hunter River at least as far downstream
as Mussel Brook (the tributary stream at modern Muswellbrook). As he says, the
Kamilaroi “even made raids as far as Jerrys Plains [upstream from Singleton]”. 10

It would appear therefore that Kamilaroi-speaking communities held not only both
sides of the Upper Hunter but also the region north of the Goulburn River, i.e. the
north-west quadrant of the Hunter basin.
Blanket distribution records show that in 1833, at the end of the smallpox
pandemic, 111 Aborigines (80 adults and 31 children) survived in the greater Cassilis
district. As late as 1843 the ‘tribe of Munmurra’ numbered at least 94 people. Those
receiving blankets included one man, Nedabri, whose name incorporates once again
the distinctive –bri or - baraay suffix of Gamilaraay.11

In the middle-lower Hunter valley, the language or dialect or band names were
Darkinung (?Daaginyaang), Wanneroo (?Wanaruwa) and Geawe-gal (?
Gayaway+n+gal). 12

Darkinung was the language spoken on the southern side of the Hunter from Jerrys
Plains to Maitland and along Wollombi Brook, at Putty, and on the Macdonald and
Colo Rivers. According to Mathews (1897) the NW extremity of their country was
Jerrys Plains, upsream from Singleton, where it bordered that of the Kamilaroi. In the
south, it apparently extended almost to the Hawkesbury.
Wanneroo or Wannerawa or Wonnahruah, as it is variously spelt by the 19th
Century writers, seems to have been the language spoken on the northern side of the
lower-middle Hunter, namely in the Glendon Brook region (opposite modern
Branxton) and north to the Mt Royal Range. It may have extended from Singleton
east to beyond Maitland, possibly (but probably not) taking in the Paterson River.

occupied by employees of the Cox family in c. 1825 (cf also Wood 1972: 228 and Rolls
1981: 64).
9 ‘And’ vs ‘the’: Rusden’s words are quoted slightly differently in 1880 and 1904.
10 Rusden in Fison and Howitt Kamilaroi and Kurnai 1880: 279; and Naseby and Rusden in
Howitt 1904: 57, 84, emphasis added.
11 Brayshaw 1986: 58; Distribution of Blankets, SRNSW [State Records of NSW] 4/1133.3.
By 1896, the Aboriginal population of Cassilis consisted of just one lone individual (APB
report, in Votes & Proceedings of the NSW Parliament, VPLA 1897 vol 8 p.883).
12 The sources are discussed at length in O’Rourke 1997.
© Michael O'Rourke Passages to the NW Plains 7

As we noted earlier, some writers have mistakenly placed the Geawe-gal group in
the Upper Hunter Valley. In fact the key sources, G W Rusden (1819-1903) and Mrs
Rankin, are very clear about the group’s country being centred on Glendon Brook in
the lower-middle part of the Valley. Rusden lived at Maitland in the period 1834-41,
from age 15 to 22, and learned to speak the local language. Thus he is likely to have
known what he was talking about.
If we follow Rankin, the Geawe-gal held the region north of the Hunter from near
Muswellbrook east towards Maitland. Rusden’s account is broadly consistent with
this; he clearly indicates that their territory did not include Muswellbrook, Maitland
or the Paterson River (east of Maitland), although they did share a language with the
Maitland people. If this is correct, there were at least two dialects: that of Glendon
Brook and that of Maitland. Quite possibly they were part of a wider group of dialects
that included the costal speech-form Kattang [Gadhang] used by the Worimi
[Warrimay] people. Becky Johnson, b.1858, a Kattang-speaking woman of Tea
Gardens (Port Stephens) told W J Enright that the language of the Singleton people
(we read this as: at and downstream from Singleton) was similar to Worimi-Kattang. 13

The other name Wanneroo covered an area effectively identical with the area
covered by the name Geawe-gal. We must therefore consider what kinds of names
they were. Taking Geawe-gal first, the suffix –gal is a people-marker. It occurs in
many languages in central-eastern Australia in such cognate forms as -galu, -giyalu,
-giyalung etc. Ash et al. (2003) call it the diminutive plural suffix, literally “little
ones+many”, meaning ‘group of people or mob’ (‘band’ in my vocabulary). Compare
‘Gundical’ [gundhi+gal], which Edward Ogilvie (1814-1896), son of the first settler
at ‘Merton’ near Denman, gave as the name of one of the four bands or ‘tribelets’ of
the Upper Hunter Kamilaroi.
In Wanneroo, the word for ‘no’ was “keawai” (Hale 1846: 526) or “geawe”
(Rusden) or “kae-one” (Curr vol II; Fawcett 1898). This is perhaps to be rendered as
gay(a)way. Thus Geawe-gal meant ‘those who say gayaway for ‘no’”. Here again we
have a very familiar structure, for Aborigines in this part of Australia commonly
selected the word for ‘no’ to name the form of speech spoken by their neighbours.
The speech of the Upper Hunter and Liverpool Plains, for example, was called
‘gamil-having’ or Gamilaraay: gamil ‘no’ + araay ‘having’.
We have no meaning for ‘Wanneroo’; but it is discussed in the sources as if it were
a regional language. It would appear that ‘Wanneroo’ and ’Geawe-gal’ had the same
denotation, but the latter connoted a set of people. The two or more bands who spoke
Wanneroo, including those at Glendon Brook and Maitland, doubtless had their own
narrower names for themselves and their dialects. Unfortunately I am not aware that
they have survived in the records. Cherchez-y qui peut! – ‘she who can should seek
this out!’.

13 Enright 1933: 161.

© Michael O'Rourke Passages to the NW Plains 8

Above: Map of east-central NSW.

The two key passes into the Liverpool Plains were Pandoras Pass near Coolah
(middle-left on the map) and Doughboy Hollow immediately north of Murrurundi
(centre). In 1825, Allan Cunningham travelled past Merriwa and Cassilis, through
Pandoras Pass into the Liverpool Plains, and along the valley of Coxs Creek past
Premer, Tambar Springs and Mullaley (upper left on the map).

Oxley’s Liverpool Plains

The first white men to reach the Liverpool Plains were the 16-man exploring party
led by the colony’s surveyor-general John Oxley in 1818. Nearly all walked; while
they had eight horses, most of them were pack horses. 1

Travelling NNW from Bathurst, they followed the Macquarie River past Dubbo and
Warren until it disappeared into “an ocean of reeds” (the Macquarie marshes).
Blocked in that direction, Oxley's party turned north-east on 6 July to discover the
Castlereagh River. There they turned due east, that being the shortest route to the

Having passed north of the Warrumbungle Ranges, Oxley had his first glimpse,
probably from the top of a tree, of the great expanse of the Liverpool Plains (the
name he chose) on 24 August. This was just to the west of the present-day Oxley

1 See Crampton 2008 for carefully researched biographical details of all members of the
expedition. Party of 16 men: Crampton pp. 15-16 and 55. Horses: p.54.
2 See the summary in Rolls 1981: 3 ff.
3 From a tree: as deduced by John Whitehead (2004). Whitehead has painstakingly traced,
mapped and photographed Oxley’s route in exquisite detail. We recommend his book very
© Michael O'Rourke Passages to the NW Plains 9

Highway north-east of Coonabarabran. His “lofty chain of forest hills” included

today’s Mt Talbareeya and Mt Nombi.
It should be noted here that in the early 1800s, odd as we may find it, the term
“forest” meant open woodland, and a “plain” meant any area, whether flat or not, that
was totally or mostly devoid of trees. Thus “forest hills” meant ‘grassy hills with

some trees’, and not that they were necessarily dense. We will italicise some of the
words in Oxley’s account, to underline that the region was and is dominated by
grassland and woodland, with true forest in the modern sense limited to some hilly
points and the main ranges. 5

The party camped on 25 August near today’s Garrawilla Spring, south-west of

Mullaley. The view from a nearby hill the next day revealed “hills, dales and plains
of the richest description … bounded to the east by fine hills, beyond which were
seen elevated mountains” [the latter probably Melville Range on the other side of the
Liverpool Plains, near Tamworth]. They were still on the western side of Coxs Creek
north of Mt Nombi. As we know from other sources, they had reached the western
edge of a great stretch of naturally treeless country that extends on both side of Coxs

Creek south of Mullaley:

4 This usage derived from England where unenclosed woodland was called ‘forest land’ from
the Latin foris, “outside”. See for example: (i.) Brayshaw’s discussion 1986: 15, citing
Breton 1833: 58. Breton noted that thickly wooded land, impenetrable brush, was called
“scrub” (1833: 130). (ii.) Mitchell, 1839 I, 71-72, emphasis added: “A 'forest' means, in New
South Wales, an open wood with grass. The common 'brush' or 'scrub' consists of trees and
saplings, where little grass is to be found." (as a footnote to 8 January 1832: commenting on
the vegetation south of the middle Gwydir River, SE of Moree). (iii.) “Forest land is such as
abounds with grass – the grass is the determining character and not the trees”: Governor
King, quoted in Rolls 1981: 36. (iv) Lang, 1852: 93 refers to our scrub or forest as “thick
brush”, to be distinguished from “forest land”, through which a traveller can ride at a rapid
trot or canter in any direction. (v.) Atkinson 1826: 14.
Today, the technical definition of “woodland” is where the crowns of trees cover from
10% to 47% of the ground area: Walker, J. & Hopkins, M.S. (1990): Vegetation. Australian
soil and land survey field handbook (ed. by R.C. McDonald, R.F. Isbell, J.G. Speight, J.
Walker and M.S. Hopkins), pp. 44–67. Inkata Press.
5 Before European settlement, grassy box woodlands covered millions of hectares between
southern Queensland and northern Victoria, above all on the inland slopes. Suzanne Prober’s
writing may be consulted on this. There are only remnants where the under-strorey has
survived unmodified, e.g. at sites at Currabubula and Wallabadah.
The woodlands were made up of a number of different eucalypt species, including Yellow
Box (Eucalyptus melliodora), Grey Box (Eucalyptus microcarpa), and White Box
(Eucalyptus alba), with an understorey of Kangaroo Grass, Snow Grass, Wallaby Grasses and
abundant wild flowers such as Yam Daisies and Chocolate Lilies.
The reader is also referred to Lunt et al. 2006. for a fascinating discussion of whether there
is more or less tree cover today than at time of settlement. Regional variations in pre-
settlement canopy cover are discussed by Fensham & Holman, 1998.
6 This is essentially the result of the type of soil, or at least soil type is the key factor. When
the terrain is flat and the soils fine-textured, water is not retained below grass-root level. But
periodic droughts are also important, along with deep cracking of the soil. Trees commonly
do not grow on ‘vertosols’ or cracking clays. More technically, ‘vertosols’ are ‘clay soils
with shrink/swell properties that display strong cracks when dry and have slickensides and/or
lenticular structural aggregates at depth’ (see details in Lang 2008: 411-13). Garrawilla: I
have noted but not consulted this paper: Bean, J.M. & Whalley, R.D.B. (2002): Native
grasslands on non-arable slopes of the Garrawillie Creek sub-catchment, western Liverpool
Plains, New SouthWales, Rangeland Journal, 23, 119-147.
© Michael O'Rourke Passages to the NW Plains 10

In this great valley [Garrawilla Creek] were numerous low hills and plains,
thinly studded with timber, and watered by the stream down the banks of which
we had travelled. From its eastern side these low hills gradually rise to a loftier
elevation but were still thinly timbered and covered with grass. To the ESE and
south-east [meaning the view towards Goran Lake], clear plains extended to the
foot of very lofty hills at a medium distance of from 25 to 40 miles [around 50
km]. … from their vast extent, they may as a whole be properly denominated
plains, yet their surfaces were slightly broken into gentle eminences with
occasional clumps and lines of timber” (26 August). 7

There were signs of a recent small flood or fresh in one of the lesser creeks that ran
into Garrawilla Creek, and there was much wildlife: “These valleys and hills abound
with kangaroos, and on the plains numbers of emus were seen. We seemed to be once
more on the land of plenty”. This region was a “beautiful and fertile country”
compared to the scrubby country (“miserable harassing deserts”) that lay behind them
and through which they had struggled for six weeks. The word “deserts” of course
simply meant dry wasteland, not sand. Oxley and his men saw the Plains at their best:
after recent good rain and light flooding and in the cooler half of the year.
In this district the soils vary with slope position, from relatively light textured and
shallow on rubble to heavy brown to black clays on flats and valley floors. The open
woodland and extensive grasslands feature slender rat’s tail grass (Sporobolus
elongatus) with early spring grass (Eriochloa psuedo-acrotricha) on rubble slopes,
and spear grasses (Austrostipa sp.) and Bothriochloa sp. at lower levels on heavier

There were also Aborigines present: “Three native fires were seen in Lushington’s
Valley [Garrawilla Creek] but the whole of the country [west of Cox Creek] appears
to be very thinly inhabited; a few wandering families making up the total of its

7 Oxley 1820. His published journal contains an entry for every day; we shall therefore not
cite the pages tediously at every turn, but simply mention the date and the locality. Treeless:
see the excellent discussion, and map, in Lang 2008.
8 Namoi CMA 2009.
© Michael O'Rourke Passages to the NW Plains 11

Above: The grassy box woodlands of NSW. In the first map, the empty blob two-
thirds up is the naturally treeless Liverpool Plains. The second map indicates where
woodland has survived with the under-storey undisturbed (so little because of sheep
and cattle); it must not be read as a loss of trees (cf. Lunt et al. 2006). It simply
shows where other grasses or shrubs have ousted the original species.

* * *

Beginning with Oxley himself, it has puzzled everyone that the Aboriginal population
of so fertile a region should appear so sparse. Setting aside the three smokes seen
west of Garrawilla, not a single Aborigine was met or seen, and there was no smoke
from any camp fires, in the eight days that his party took to cross the 90+ kilometres
of the Liverpool Plains from near Mullaley to Tamworth.
We need not doubt that there were bands living and hunting on the Liverpool
Plains. This is certain from contemporary and later references. For example, in 1825,
Cunningham found a hamlet-like group of huts, and he surprised a small band, on the
lower part of Coxs Creek. And Aborigines are mentioned in the reminiscences of the
first settlers to occupy the Warrah, Quipolly and Quirindi districts in 1826-29.
William Nowland was “given no peace” by the Aborigines for there first three years
he was in the Warrah district (1826/27-28/29). In 1829 MacDonald and Single's men
occupied a run on the eastern side of the Mooki River calling it Cooipooli ['Quipolly':
?guya+baa+li: fish+domain/many+source/diminutive: where there are many fish],
and John 'Jock' Allen went soon thereafter to occupy a run later called ‘Conadilly’
[guna+dhi+li: ?shit+meat-totem-kin+ablative/source: place of ancestral shit] on the
left or western bank of the Mooki near Caroona (Walhallow), immediately west of
Quirindi. The Kamilaroi were regarded as still “troublesome”, as Allan Wood
remarks, so MacDonald and Single's men and Allen built their huts “close together”.
And Lieutenant Steele of the mounted piece mentioned ‘the Mocai on Liverpool
© Michael O'Rourke Passages to the NW Plains 12

Plains blacks’, i.e. the Aborigines of the Mooki River, in a dispatch in 1833 (after the
smallpox pandemic). There were “100” Aborigines living at Quirindi as late as 1844. 9

The great smallpox pandemic of 1830-32 can be cited to explain the paucity of
meetings with Aborigines after about 1830 (see the list of early encounters in the
Appendix to this paper). Judy Campbell (2002) has argued that smallpox swept away
at least a third (probably more than that) of the whole native population of inland
NSW. I will repeat the point for emphasis: at least a whole third, perhaps half,
perished in the early 1830s. 10

In the case of the south-west section of the Plains, around Premer and Tambar
Springs, Allan Cunningham imagined (I think wrongly) that all or part of the reason
for a sparse population was the Bathurst-Mudgee pogroms of 1824-25. He supposed
(see later in this paper) that the posses of soldiers and settlers scouring the region
would have gone north over (through) the Liverpool Range. But there is no direct
evidence for this hypothesis. Indeed, such evidence as we do have counts against it.
The “sweeps” around Mudgee in 1824 were carried by four distinct parties of
armed white men accompanied by Aboriginal guides. The party that went north in the
direction of the Liverpool Plains on 17 September 1824 was led by Major James
Morisset. It consisted of an army officer (Morisset), two or three mounted civilians,
one or two Aboriginal guides and (marching on foot:) about 10 infantrymen (“Red
Coats”) from the 40th Regiment. (Morisset himself rode of course.) They travelled for
ten days, i.e. five days out and five days back. Now trained foot-soldiers can march
for about around 20 km a day. Thus if they travelled in a straight line, without any
‘sideways’ sweeps, they could gone for some 100 km. That would have taken them
barely as far as Pandora’s Pass. The only reasonable conclusion is that they scoured
only on the Mudgee side and did not go into the Liverpool Plains. None of the four
parties killed any Aborigines and indeed only one party even saw an Aborigine. (It
was the perceived uselessness of infantry that led the colonial authorities to give the
soldiers horses: this was the origin of the Mounted Police of NSW.) 11

The following month, October 1824, as will be related below, some “150”
Aborigines, possibly all men, attacked Henry Dangar’s exploring party near the top of
the Liverpool Range, west of Murrurundi. They wounded one of the party with a

9 Milliss 1992: 76 (Nowland). Telfer ed. Millis pp. 56, 58-59; also Wood 1972: 228. See
further: Bingle, Reminiscences of Bygone Days (cited by Wood 1972: 223-225); also
Government Gazette 19.9.1848 (p 1240); Nowland 1861; and Mahaffey 1982: 104 ff. Steele:
Letters 2.5, 17.7, 29.7 and 4.10. 1833 to the Colonial Secretary from Williams, Darley and
Steele, State Records of NSW, file 4/2199.1, Letters Naval and Military.
10 Campbell 1983, 1985 and 2002.
Clarke said "one in six" (only 17%) died in the Namoi Valley (quoted by Mair, in
Campbell 2002: 140). As Campbell argues, this was probably a conservative figure. She
proposes that overall about half the entire Aboriginal population died directly or indirectly
from smallpox in the half-century to 1840, and in some regions up to 60%. This was the
compound effect of several epidemics and included the indirect effects, i.e. people starving
when they were rendered too weak to hunt and gather (Campbell 2002: 150, 222-24).
Early NSW was in no way unique. As Butlin 1982: 22 notes, smallpox caused ‘kill rates’
of 50 to 60 percent of the population across large areas in North America. On smallpox in
southern Africa and more generally throughout the Americas, see Johnson 1991: 277; also S
Aronson & L Newman, Smallpox in the Americas, 1492-1815: Contagion and Controversy
(Providence, Rhode Island, 2002).
11 Morisset’s party: Connor 2002: 59. Marching rates: 12-15 miles [19-24 km] per day for
British infantry, Palestine and Western Front, in WW1: D Winter, Death’s Men, London
1978: 70-74; also army manual for Palestine: Lt Col Gunter, The Officer’s Field Note and
Sketch Book, London 1915.
© Michael O'Rourke Passages to the NW Plains 13

separ. Quite possibly, although in Kamilaroi country, they were Wiradjuri, hiding
from the wrath of the Whiteman.

The explanations sketched above cannot be applied to 1818. Thus we must consider
other possibilities. Basically there are two: (1) that the Aborigines hid themselves and
watched Oxley’s men pass by; and/or (2) that, for some economic or social reason,
the presumably dense population of the plains was not residing there when Oxley’s
party passed though in August, in the cooler half of the year.
That the Aborigines hid themselves is possible, even likely. We see this happening
around Boggabri when a later surveyor-general, Thomas Mitchell, travelled through
that area in the summer of 1831-32 (details in O’Rourke 1995). But in that case the
Aborigines were long since familiar with the Whiteman and had good reason to be
wary. That was not so in 1818.
It is by no means certain that the Aborigines were hiding and watching. As we
will see later in this paper, Allan Cunningham’s party in May 1825 unwittingly
surprised a group of some 15 Gamilaraay people on Cox’s Creek upstream from
Boggabri. If Aborigines were always watchful, how could this happen? We must
deduce that they were not always watchful.
There is limited information about seasonal patterns of movement in the Murray-
Darling basin. We do know, however, that the major watercourses formed the centre-
lines of local territories. On the slopes and ‘nearer’ plains—the eastern third of the
basin—each community’s land covered a median of some 4-5,000 sq km. This may
be envisaged as 60 km of river or creek-line with a hinterland extending for 30 km on
either side of the watercourse. More specifically, using the oral traditions built into
the Ewing Papers [O’Rourke 2005], which deal with the wider Gunnedah region, we
can deduce that a communal territory was perhaps as small as 50 by 50 kilometres ( =
2,500 square kilometres) and was not usually larger than 85 by 85 kilometres ( =
7,225 square kilometres). The territory of the ‘Gunnedah people’—to call them by
the name of the main river camping point in their country—was possibly around
5,500 sq km, and probably took in some of Coxs Creek (i.e. beyond Mullaley) and
the lower Mooki River (possibly to Breeza). 12

In the warmer half of the year it seems that large ‘super-bands’ of several hundred
people came together on one stretch of their major watercourse to exploit the fish,
yabbies and mussels. Fish net-traps, often very large, were made from the fibre of
kurrajong bark. The early settler Bucknell remarked that a single net-haul sometimes
yielded enough fish to feed a group of 40 people for one day. Short excursions away

from the rivers and major creeks gave them access to ‘woodland foods’ such as
possums and honey, while the women in particular would also gather plant foods. A
very important food was grass-seed, ground on grindstones and cooked in the form of
tiny loaves or cakes. It was collected and threshed as a communal effort.
In the cooler half of the year it seems that the communities separated into ‘hearth-
groups’ (one to two families: 10 people or fewer) and travelled into the back-country
to allow the men to hunt land mammals and the bigger birds, i.e. kangaroos,
wallabies, possums, emus, bustards, and so on. Again the women would collect lesser

12 O’Rourke Lands 1997: 139-41, citing the primary sources such as Mayne and Ridley etc
etc; and O’Rourke Sung for Generations 2005: 272. Map at 2005: 14. For comparison, Keen
2004: 113 posits an average of only about 2,000 sq km [45 x 45 km] for the six or seven
“countries” making up the lands of the Yuwaaliyaay (Narran River: NW of Walgett).
13 Mitchell 1839: 100; Greenway 1910: 15; and Bucknell 1933: 34.
© Michael O'Rourke Passages to the NW Plains 14

animals, e.g. bandicoots, lizards and snakes, and plant foods, yams and roots
including the famous yam daisy, Microseris lanceolata. 14

For convenience, we will posit that the Gunnedah community or “super-band” had
500 members in the period before the smallpox pandemic (see the discussion in
O’Rourke 1995: 136-38). If they have separated into small groups, we have about 50
‘hearth-groups’ averaging 10 people each, or about 100 bands averaging 50 people
each. For comparison, Cunningham in May 1825 (cool season) surprised a group of
about 15 people. By contrast, he estimated that some 80 people could be
accommodated in a scattered set of Aboriginal huts that his party found on the lower
stretch of Cox Creek in May 1825 (see later in this paper). But he judged that these
dwellings had been constructed several months earlier, in high summer.
Noting that more than half of the territory of the ‘Gunnedah people’ lay south of
the Namoi, we will posit that over 300 people dispersed onto the plains in the cooler
half of the year. Continuing our thought experiment, we imagine that 100 were still
residing in bands (two bands of 50), while 200 had broken into hearth-groups (20
‘families’ each of 10). In this scenario there were, at any one time, Aborigines at just
22 sites or localities on plains that extend 50 km x 50 km. Noting that there are few
perennial creeks on the plains, they may not have resided in the hinterland, but only
visited the plains on day-trips. That is to say, they may well have been camped along
the large watercourses: say 10 groups along Coxs Creek and 11 groups along the
To sum up, we can say that if one had wanted to meet an Aboriginal band, the best
place to go, especially in the warmer half of the year, was down a watercourse, above
all to where a major tributary joined a river. This is precisely where Oxley’s party did
not go. It may have been just happenstance that, by travelling ‘transversely’ across
the back country, they did not come upon even one hearth-group. One would expect,
however, that they would have seen smoke from at least one Aboriginal camp. That
they didn’t is quite puzzling. This leads to another guess: perhaps there were no
Aborigines on the plains because they had all briefly travelled away to a Bora
(Buurra, the inter-communal religious and marriage-making festival ). But this of

course is no more than a guess.

* * *

Back to our explorers in 1818. Their camp on 26 August lay just eight km east of the
“fine stream of water” today called Coxs Creek, a major tributary of the Namoi,
which they duly discovered on the morning of 27 August. This was south of today’s

The three main branches of these immense plains were clearly visible to the east
by SSE, and north-east. Of the extent of the two former [in the direction of
Quirindi] we could only judge from the lofty bounding chains of hills in those
quarters [presumably the Melville Range near Werris Creek], and which we
could not estimate to be nearer than from 45 to 50 miles [75 km]. Hardwicke’s
14 The primary and secondary literature is discussed in O’Rourke, Kamilaroi Lands, 1997:
148 ff; also by Keen 2004. It is not clear where grass-seed fitted into this seasonal pattern,
except that Allen (1974: 313) reports that Panicum species (Native Millet) yields seeds
between December and March. Perhaps foraging trips were made away from the river camps,
specifically to collect the seeds? Communal gathering and threshing: see in Parker 1905.
Yam daisies: see notes by Suzanne Prober and Kevin Thiele at
15 O’Rourke 1995: 181 ff.
© Michael O'Rourke Passages to the NW Plains 15

Range [the Nandewars] bounded these to the north-east, with many intervening
beautiful hills and valleys [the view to Boggabri and Gunnedah and the
Nandewar Range behind]. … Chains and ridges of low forest [lightly wooded]
hills which gradually rise from the horizontal are scattered over these plains
and stand for the most part detached like islands, varying the scenery in a most
picturesque manner … (27 August).

From Coxs Creek, they proceeded east and camped beneath a hill that Oxley called
View Hill, today’s Dimberoy Hill (west of Goran State Forest). The treeless grassland
extended some 10 km beyond Coxs Creek before giving way, east of present-day Pine
Ridge, to open woodland. There seems to have been no Aboriginal population: “we
have seen few signs [of them] in this neighbourhood”, presumably meaning some
foot-prints or walking tracks. But in the course of the day they saw hundreds of
kangaroos and emus (27 August). 16

At View Hill, Oxley’s deputy George Evans made the famous sketch that
constitutes our earliest image of the Liverpool Plains. The view is to the west,
showing the various mountains behind their line of travel, the most prominent being
Mt Mullaley [590 metres]. Although exaggerated vertically, and looking too cone-
like, the various mountains are easily recognised. Of special interest is the open look

of the country, with concentrations of trees showing only as lines and clumps in an
otherwise mostly treeless expanse. As we know from other sources, the vegetation of
the open grasslands was, or is, plains grass (Austrostipa aristiglumis), Panicum spp.

including native millet, windmill grass (Chloris truncata) and blue grass
(Dichanthium sericeum) on black earths with occasional myall (Acacia pendula),
white box (Eucalyptus albens), yellow box (Eucalyptus melliodora), bimble box
(Eucalyptus populnea) and wilga (Geijera parviflora). River red gums (Eucalyptus
camaldulensis) are found along the streams such as Coxs Creek. 19

Continuing NNE through “a fine open forest country” [woodland], the party
crossed the line of the Wandobah Road at a point between Goran State Forest and
Wondoba [sic] State Forest (probably the “forest hills” noted by Oxley). In general,
the country here was “by no means thickly timbered”. The later 19th centiry rexords
reviewed by Lang (2008) confirm that the area around Curlewis was open woodland.
While still west of Curlewis, “we saw the great plains [Breeza Plains] which

extend along the line of our course and are separated from us by a rich open country
of hill and dale, distant four or five miles. A branch from these plains led to the
north-east across our course [i.e. the view across the Mooki or Conadilly River
towards Carroll] …” (28 August). The records reviewed by Lang again show a great
stretch of treeless plains along the Mooki floodplain from above Breeza down to

The Namoi catchment west of Tamworth is generally flat, a fact disguised for
car-travellers along the New England Highway by the prominence in the near west of
the small Melville Range with its landmark peak, Mt Duri (pronounced dyoo-rye or

16 Whitehead 2004: 224 ff. Open woodland: Lang 2008.

17 See the recent photograph matched with Evans’ sketch in Whitehead 2004: 231.
18 Lang 2008 argues that Austrostipa species were not dominant before 1850, the main
grasses at that time being Native Oatgrass = “tall oatgrass”, “kangaroo grass” (Themeda
avenacea), Silky Browntop (Eulaia aurea) and Curly Mitchell Grass (Astrebla lappacea).
19 Namoi CMA 2009.
20 Ridley 1875: 27 (also Ash et al.) say the name was “biridja”, meaning ‘place of fleas’.
© Michael O'Rourke Passages to the NW Plains 16

The flattest segment is the Mooki-Namoi segment running from Breeza through
Gunnedah and on to Boggabri. Indeed fully 85% of Gunnedah Shire has land slopes
of less than three degrees. But, because of this, the 15% that is hilly country appears
prominent: the “sweeping plains” of Dorothea Mackellar's famous phrase. 21

On 29 August Oxley’s route took him past the site of what is now the village of
Curlewis. Seeing an “extensive flat”—the Breeza Plains—ahead of them, they
decided, in case there was no water on the treeless plain, to go only a short way, and
camped some four km east of Curlewis, as John Whitehead (2004) has measured it.
“The horizontal level of the whole appeared to warrant the supposition that at some
(perhaps not distant) period these vast plains formed chains of inland lakes which the
washings from the hills have now nearly filled up”. This was an interesting
observation, as a local Aboriginal creation myth (or so I read it) has the plains
originally covered with water and being drained (no doubt by Higher Powers). 22

After a rest day on 30 August, they commenced the journey again on the 31st.
They had travelled only about 10 km when they came upon “a considerable stream”,
the Mooki or Conadilly River, another main tributary of the Namoi, that runs on to
Gunnedah. Here the plains are, at least today, dominated by plains grass (Austrostipa
aristiglumis) and couch (Sporobolus mitchelli); with river red gum (Eucalyptus
camaldulensis), river oak (Casuarina cunninghamiana) and rough-barked apple
(Angophora floribunda) along the Mooki itself. 23

The relative abundance of the various grass species seems to have changed since the
1800s (discussion in Lang 2008). William Telfer junior wrote thus of the wild
grassland of the Liverpool Plains in the era before paddocks were fenced off:

In 1858 I saw grass on those plains [Breeza Plains around ‘Long Point’ station]
10 feet [over three metres] high, -which you don't see [these] days [after 1900] -
now the country has been fenced in and overstocked - of the wild oaten variety
- and a few inches from the ground. In the middle of this forest of long grass
were wild carrots, crowsfoot [sic: crowfoot] and a splendid lot of herbage of all
descriptions of the most fattening kind. 24

Grass seed from “native millet”, Panicum species, was a major food source in inland
NSW. As we have said, Panicum and other seeds were ground on a stone mill and
cooked in the form of tiny loaves or cakes. But meat, especially possum, and river
foods including fish were at least as important; also yams and roots. Thus it is quite
wrong for Idriess in his Red Chief to say that the Kamilaroi depended “largely” on

But back to Oxley. At the Mooki there were again signs of a recent light flood or
fresh. “The abundance of game such as emus and kangaroos, and of wild ducks on the
stream, was wonderful”. And here for the first time since they had entered the
Liverpool Plains, they saw evidence, albeit distant evidence, of a substantial

21 Less than three degrees in slope: (accessed 2009).

22 Telfer, ed. Miliss p.54.
23 Ibid.
24 Telfer 1980: 128, emphasis added. The tall grass was Native Oatgrass (Themeda avenacea)
(Lang 2008).
25 See O’Rourke 1997 pp. 150-54, citing Greenway, Ridley, Dunbar, Allen and McBryde.
Greenway 1910: 16; and Bucknell 1933: 35. Also Tindale 1974: 98 ff, 104-106.
© Michael O'Rourke Passages to the NW Plains 17

Aboriginal population: “A great many smokes, arising from the fires of the natives
were seen to the north-east and north”, i.e. along the stretch of the Peel River below
Tamworth and around its junction with the Namoi River in the Carroll district east of
Having crossed the Mooki, they passed through “a very fine open forest flat”
(north-west of our Piallaway). Again the 19th century records reveal that this was
open woodland. They camped at the foot of the hills that border the Melville Range.
The high point in these hills is today’s Thunderbolts Mountain, named for the
bushranger of the 1860s (Fred Ward, ‘Captain Thunderbolt’) who used it as a hide-
out. Looking east from this peak, they could see from the thick haze that a further
river (today’s Peel River) lay ahead. “To the south-east, south and south-west
[towards respectively Goonoo Goonoo, Werris Creek and Breeza] our view extended
over that vast tract of level champaign [open] country intermingled with hills
sometimes rising into lofty peaks, as has already been described” (31 August). This
was the upper section of the great treelesss plain that ran on to Gunnedah.
Next they passed through the Melville Range via a pass known today as the Oaky
Greek Gap and then made a “gentle” descent into the Peel Valley west of Tamworth. 26

They made camp only a few kilometres out from the gap, or still about 18 km WNW
of Tamworth (1 September). Here “the valleys [watercourses] and levels [were]
excellent”. As we know from other soruces, the vegetation of this region included
river oak (Casuarina cunninghamiana) in higher sectors of the channels, merging
with river red gum (Eucalyptus camaldulensis) as the floodplain widens. Rough-
barked apple (Angophora floribunda) and yellow box (Eucalyptus melliodora) are
found on the floodplain. 27

They reached the Peel River (the name chosen by Oxley) a little downstream from
the nub of our Tamworth. More specifically this was at Byamee, NE of the suburb of
Oxley Vale. As Thomas Mitchell later reported, it was two miles (three km) below
the site where ‘Wallamoul’ station was later situated, i.e. below the Tangaratta Creek-
Peel River junction. 28

In 1818 the Peel was “a deep and rapid stream”, too deep to be forded: “the largest
interior river, with the exception of the Macquarie and Castlereagh, which we had yet
seen.” Accordingly they made a rough bridge by felling trees across a narrow part:
their supplies and equipment were carried across the bridge and the horses were
swum across.
Once across they made camp on the eastern bank. Platypus and turtles were seen
but no fish could be caught. Oxley was very impressed. The Peel Valley was “well
watered; the grass was most luxuriant; the timber good and not thick; in short no
place in the world can afford more advantages to the industrious settler than this
extensive vale” (2 September).
The expedition pressed on into New England, but that takes us away from our
region of interest. So we will leave Oxley at Tamworth and move to the Hunter

Overland to the Hunter River

26 Whitehead 2004: 244-46. He emphasises that some earlier writers placed the line of travel
though the Melvilles as running north of Thunderbolts Mountain; he shows that the route ran
to the south of it, which is to say: on the same latitude as Tamworth.
27 Namoi CMA 2009.
28 Mitchell 1839: 33: photograph from 1918 reproduced in O’Rourke 1995.
© Michael O'Rourke Passages to the NW Plains 18

Newcastle (“the Coal River settlement”) during Governor Macquarie's time was a
penal settlement in the north reached only by sea. There was still no overland route
from Sydney. 1

The first overland journey northwards was made from Windsor (NW of Sydney)
by the boat-builder and mineralogist William Parr, in November 1817. It is not clear
how far he ventured. He may well have reached today’s Doyles Creek, a tributary of
the Hunter between present-day Denman and Singleton. With fire and smoke
everywhere, Parr found that there was little feed for his horses, and seeing that
Aborigines had ‘set fire to all the ridges round about’, both in front and in his rear
(probably a defensive measure), he decided to abandon the attempt. 2

Benjamin Singleton, 30 years old, who had accompanied Parr for a part of the way
in 1817, made a second journey in 1818 accompained by three white men an an
unnamed Aborigine. He penetrated beyond Pootie (Putty as it now is) but turned back
before reaching the Hunter, which Aborigines told him lay to the north-east, two
days’ walk away. 3

John Howe, chief constable at Windsor, led the third and first officially sanctioned
expedition in 1819. Howe left Windsor on 24 October 1819 with a party of five white
men and two Aboriginals, hoping to discover a trafficable route from the Hawkesbury
to the Hunter River. It was common knowledge that convicts escaping from the Coal
River settlement (Newcastle) made their way overland to the Hawkesbury, but no
through road or even a track had yet been established.
The area traversed by Howe’s party is today’s Wollemi National Park. Having
reached Puttee [modern Putty] on 30 October, and blocked, as Howe noted in his
journal, by 'rocks, lagoons & creeks that were impassible', he sent one of his
Aboriginal guides, Myles, to find the local people. Ahead lay the heavily forested
country around the upper tributaries of the Macdonald River, which traverse the
eastern reaches of present-day Wollemi National Park. Howes Valley, named for him,
is located NE of Putty at the very top of the Macdonald. Continuing northwards, after
two more days hard riding they reached the Hunter at Doyles Creek or Coomery Roy
Creek. This was the area to the west of modern Jerrys Plains, closer to present-day
Denman than to Singleton.
Howe's journal on 4 November 1819, before they descended to the main river,
contains probably our first record of the name Kamilaroi or Gamilaraay:

... a very heavy fog ENE, which the natives [the man and two boys] say is
Coomery Roy [Gamilaraay] & more farther a great way, & which
appears very extensive, being seen so far as the eye can reach ... . 4

1 Wood 1972: 6; Kociumbas 1992: 151. Port Macquarie, founded in 1821, gradually replaced
Newcastle as a punishment centre, the latter declining into a semi-penal, semi-free town by
about 1830.
2 The words of the 19th century participants are quoted in italics throughout, to distinguish
them from commentary by later writers. Parr's journal (MS 2/3623, State Records of NSW
[State archives]), quoted in Foster 1985: 131 and Brayshaw 1986: 21. Commentary in
Waterson and Parsons' introduction to Howe's diary (1989: xi) and Prineas & Gold 1997:
155. Parr had accompanied Oxley, Evans and Allan Cunningham along the Lachlan River
earlier in the same year (McMinn 1970: 18 ff).
3 Prineas & Gold 1997: 156. Mahaffey 1985 has published the text of Singleton’s journal.
4 Howe 4.11.1819 (1989: 9), also quoted by Campbell 1929: 238; Wood 1972: 10; and
Brayshaw 1986: 38. The first-ever contact between the Gamilaraay and white men probably
took place some years before. According to Huntington, an “affray” (battle) took place
between a large force of Aborigines and British cedar getters who had penetrated “70 miles”
[110 km] up the Hunter River. This seems a very long way to go in boats, but if correct it
© Michael O'Rourke Passages to the NW Plains 19

Gamilaraay, rendered in English form as Coomery Roy, Comeroi, Coomilary Roy,

Comnaroy and so on, was used afterwards as the name of the district on the northern
side of the Hunter River from the Wollombi Brook junction (west of Singleton) to the
Goulburn River junction. Howe desbribed it thus: “. . . a fine country thinly timbered,
and for the last hour many acres without a tree on it. One spot, I think, exceeds and
50 acres with not 20 trees on it, and very fine” (5 November, emphasis added).
Governor Macquarie asked Howe to go north again in February 1820. The
expedition comprised 13 white men and two native guides. Ben Singleton was one of
the white men, with others whose names would later feature among the squatters
beyond the Dividing Range: George Loder jnr, Andrew Loder, Thomas Dargin,
Philip Thorley and Daniel Phillips.
From Putty Creek the Aboriginal guides Myles and Mullaboy took our colonists to
Howes Valley once more, and thence to Cockfighter’s Creek, which is the modern
Wollombi Brook where it enters the Hunter. Reaching the nearby area of present-day
Singleton on St Patricks Day [17 March], Howe gave it the name St Patricks Plains.
Heading further downstream, they came upon convict cedar-getters and the small
British settlement at Wallace's Plains [sic: 'Wallis Plains', our West Maitland], thus
confirming at last that the river discovered in 1819 really was the Hunter. 5

A year later, on 21 March 1821, Macquarie promised John Howe a grant of 700
acres [280 hectares] as a reward for this discovery. Ben Singleton, the Loder brothers,
and Dargin too were promised grants, and it was Singleton who took the first cattle
up to Patricks Plains, in October 1821. Howe's men occupied his grant a little later, in
early 1823. So began the 'white invasion' of Kamilaroi country, or at least its


means the whites rowed perhaps as far as present-day Muswellbrook. If so the Aborigines in
question were probably Gamilaraay-speakers. - H. W. H. Huntington, "History of Newcastle
and the Northern District no.45", Newcastle Morning Herald, 11 January 1898.
5 Jervis 1945; Wood 1972: 14. Cockfighter’s Creek: named for one of Howe’s horses.
‘Wallis Plains’: named for James Wallis, Commandant at Newcastle.
6 Wood 1972: 31.
© Michael O'Rourke Passages to the NW Plains 20

To Mudgee and the Liverpool Plains

William Lawson (1774-1850), as every Australian school-child used to know, with

Blaxland and Wentworth, found a route almost across the Blue Mountains from
Sydney in 1813. They sighted the western slopes but did not descend. (It was George
Evans who marked out the rest of the route to Bathurst in 1815.) It is less well known
that Lawson was a leader in opening, or ‘invading’, the country north from Bathurst,
past Mudgee, allowing cattlemen to reach the edge of Gamilaraay country east of the
Warrumbungles. In this region he is less well known as an explorer than Allan
Cunningham, who came after him to discover the famous Pandoras Pass.

The first colonist to enter the country above Bathurst was James Blackman, the young
superintendent of convicts and district constable at Bathurst since 1819. He blazed a
line to the Cudgegong River in 1821.
With three companions, Blackman (aged about 29) explored a route from Bathurst
to the Cudgegong River. He went through Aaron's Pass, named after his Aboriginal
servant and guide, followed the Cudgegong for about 40 km, and came to the
Burrundulla Swamps, but did not reach the major Aboriginal camp-site at Mudgee. 1

William Lawson, now aged 47, was the recently appointed Government
Commandant at Bathurst. With Blackman he followed Blackman’s route further out
to Muggie [Mudgee] later the same year.
Lawson made further exploratory trips north of Mudgee in 1822, accompanied
once again by Blackman and guided as before by local Aborigines. In January 1822
he explored the Talbragar River which runs WSW from near Cassilis to Dubbo. He
found the Goulburn River, which runs east to the Hunter, on 30 November 1822.
(Pursuing their different botanies—pastoralist vs. scientist—he and Allan
Cunningham literally crossed paths on one occasion.) In 1823 Lawson even crossed

1 Bernard Greaves, ‘James Blackman’ in Australian Dictionary of Biography, online (2009)

© Michael O'Rourke Passages to the NW Plains 21

briefly over the Liverpool Range near modern Coolah, several months before the
botanist-explorer Allan Cunningham would discover and name ‘Pandoras Pass’. 2

Cunningham proceeded north from Bathurst in the autumn of 1823, with five men
and five pack-horses (the party travelled on foot), and proceeded into the upper
Goulburn valley (6 May), crossing it eastwards as far as modern Scone on the upper
Hunter before turning back westwards. He mentions that the headwaters of the
Goulburn featured a tall species of Danthonia or oatgrass.
On the first, eastward leg, they briefly went to the top of the Liverpool Range near
Mt Moan. They were able to look out northward onto Oxley’s Liverpool Plains. The
treeless plains were covered by brown grass that shone in the autumn sun like the
sands of a desert. A few detached mounds and conical peaks were here and there
picturesquely dotted over the open country. This was the region west of Willow Tree
and Quirindi, specifically the view past Blackville to ‘Windy’, where we know there
was a vast stretch of treeless country that extended for about 40 km. When he saw the
same region again on a later journey, in 1827, Cunningham thought the rolling grass
plains resembled the ocean. The detached mounds and isolated ridges with which they
were studded were like groups of islands. 3

Encouraged by this glimpse of the north-west plains, Cunningham decided not to

return immediately to Bathurst but to look for a pass in the north-west. This meant
putting himself and his men on reduced rations. After crossing the Talbragar River,
some difficult travelling eventually brought them to an easy pass into the Liverpool
Plains north-east of present-day Coolah on 9 June 1823. It is located just west of
today’s Coolah Tops National Park. Our botanist named it Pandoras Pass because he
found it, like Hope, at the bottom of the box, i.e. when he had given up everything
except hope. 4

Their supplies being nearly exhausted there was no option of crossing through the
pass. Turning back, they learnt that the northernmost pastoral run was Lawson’s
outstation ‘Talbragar Hut’ on the Coolaburragundy River SW of Coolah; they spent
the night of 11 June 1823 there. As we will seen below, it was 1825 before

Cunningham would return and cross through to the northern plains.

Meanwhile further exploration in the Hunter Valley was taken up by the local
government surveyor, 28 years old Henry Dangar:

2 Lee 1925: 500 ff; Jervis 1954; extracts from Lawson’s journal for January 1822 have been
published in Cameron & Job’s book (1993: 56). Crossed paths: McMinn 1970: 55.
Coolah: Lawson's of course was the second party to enter the Liverpool Plains, the first
being that of John Oxley and George Evans, from the west, in 1818.
3 Lee 1925; McMinn 1970: 57. Treeless: Breton 1833 and Lang 2008: 410. Also this: State
Records of NSW [archives]: 2 May 1823, Cunningham’s meeting with Aborigine who had
encountered Lawson on previous expedition (Journal Reel 6035; SZ15 p.17).
Breton 1833: 101 descended onto the plains, coming down from Mt Oxley. His party rode
the last 10 miles (15 km) to Blaxland’s station ‘Kickerbell’ (Gircobill) on the Mooki
(“Mochi”) across a flat (Yarramanba plain) that had neither tree nor shrub. The grass was two
feet high and there were many “buttercups”, probably Yam Daisies.
4 McMinn 1970: 50, with map. In Greek myth, Pandora was the first woman. She opened a
jar (pithos), in modern accounts referred to as "Pandora's box", releasing all the evils of
mankind, leaving only Hope inside once she had closed it again.
After Oxley [1818: published 1820], Cunningham in 1823 was one of the first to record
how the Aborigines’ of the interior buried their dead: see his unpublished journal entry, 9
May 1823, noting a “burial mound of Aborigines” (SRNSW: Reel 6035; SZ15 pp 34, 122).
5 Cameron and Job p.57.
© Michael O'Rourke Passages to the NW Plains 22

In July 1824 [Dangar] named Fal and Foy Brooks, in August explored the
present sites of Muswellbrook, Aberdeen and Scone, crossed the Hunter and
discovered and named Kingdon Ponds and Dartbrook. Soon afterwards he
arranged an expedition to ascertain “the nature and point of junction of the
stream from the westward” which he had observed on his earlier journey up
the Hunter. Accompanied by John Richards and two servants, Williamson and
Allen, Dangar discovered in October 1824 the confluence [near present-day
Denman] of the Goulburn and Hunter Rivers, explored Dartbrook to its head
where Allan Cunningham had crossed it in 1823, named Lamorran Brook
(Wybong) and briefly crossed the Liverpool Range to the plains beyond. 6

On their way up from Dart Brook, well to the west of Murrurundi, Dangar’s party
was ambushed near the top of the Range by as many as “150” Aborigines, all
“warriors” according to Roger Milliss. One of Dangar’s men was wounded, not
fatally, by a spear in the head. “Some shots” were fired in response, but “without
effect”. For three hours the whitefellows halted and kept guard. Eventually they
abandoned their pack-horse (wounded or dead) with most of their provisions and all
of their cooking utensils, and pressed on over the range by a very steep pass and
down to the plains via the northward-flowing Macdonalds Creek. 7

Although this was Kamilaroi country, Dangar supposed (probably correctly) that
they were ‘Bathurst natives’, i.e. Wiradjuri-speakers from the Bathurst-Mudgee
region. Local people would have been living in small groups. One would guess—one
can only guess—that they were refugees from the Mudgee region who had taken
shelter in the ranges during the Bathurst-Mudgee “war” of 1824. We noted earlier
that posses of soldiers and settlers had ‘scoured’ the area around Mudgee as recently
as September 1824. One would also guess the “150” included women and children as
well as men.

The highest farm in the valley in October 1824 when Dangar came back from his
expedition to the Liverpool Plains was Dr James Bowman's property 'Ravensworth',
south-east of our Liddell Power Station. A little later, at its peak, the holding would
cover 12,000 acres (4,856 ha: 7 x 7 km). 8

6 Nancy Gray, ‘Dangar’ in Australian Dictionary of Biography, online (2009) at
7 An account supplied by Dangar was published in The Australian, 23.12.1824. Detailed
discussion in Carter 1974; briefly mentioned by Rolls 1981: 61 and Milliss 1992: 76.
8 ADB, ‘James Bowman’.
© Michael O'Rourke Passages to the NW Plains 23

Colonisation of the Upper Hunter Valley

The first British settlers along the Upper Hunter River arrived in dribs and drabs.
Some were individual entrepreneurs acting for themselves while others were the
agents of absentee employers.
The applicant would select a piece of land, or rather a whole district, and apply to
the Governor for a grant. Indifferent to the Aborigines, the grantee or his agent then
returned to the frontier, usually accompanied by ‘assigned’ convicts, to take up
occupation. 1

He might bring up his assigned convicts and sheep or cattle before he received the
Governor's authorisation, but more commonly this was done afterwards. The ex- 2

naval lieutenant William Ogilvie, for example. chose 'Merton', opposite modern
Denman, on a walking trip (!) with the ex-naval surgeon Peter Cunningham in April

1 “Assignment” vs “ticket of leave”: Convicts were were put to work on arrival in NSW,
either providing labour for public works such as roadmaking, or through assignment to an
individual for whom they would work. Both free settlers and emancipists (ex-convicts) were
commonly assigned convicts as servants, farm labourers, etc. A ticket of leave was a parole
document. Once granted to him or her, a convict was free to seek employment within a
specified district but could not leave the district without the permission of the government or
the district's resident magistrate. Each change of employer or district was recorded on the
ticket. A convict who observed the conditions of his ticket-of-leave until the completion of
one half of his sentence was entitled to a conditional pardon, which removed all restrictions
except the right to leave the colony.
2 Wood, Dawn in the Valley 1972: 53-55. I rely heavily on Allan Wood's and Roger Milliss'
work throughout this paper.
© Michael O'Rourke Passages to the NW Plains 24

1825. (Cunningham was aged 36.) Ogilvie occupied his grant some time later that
year leaving his family in Newcastle until his assigned convicts had finished building
a family house. Captain Francis Allman too, the Government Commandant at
Newcastle, in March 1825 received a grant opposite present-day Muswellbrook which
he called 'Overton'.
Other colonists staked out claims beyond 'Muscle Brook' [Muswellbrook] up to
present-day Aberdeen. Peter McIntyre 'apportioned' 'Segenhoe' on Pages River, north-
east of latter-day Aberdeen, for his employer T P Macqueen in May 1825, occupying
it later that year; and a further 2,000 acres for himself which became 'Blairmore', on
Dartbrook Creek opposite modern Aberdeen. 'Segenhoe' and 'Blairmore' were not
established, however, as going concerns until 1826-27. 3


The advancing line of British farms ran in two directions from Patricks Plains
[modern Singleton]: (1) upstream or north-west along the river towards Denman, and
(2) NNW towards the area of modern Liddell Power Station, whee the New England
Highway now runs.
As we have seen, the highest farm in the valley in October 1824 when Henry
Dangar came back from his first expedition to the Liverpool Plains was Dr George
3 Muswellbrook: named for its river mussels. Wood 1972: 42 ff, 87 and 102 ff; Gray 1975.
Muswellbrook (originally 'Muscle Brook') was so called on account of its freshwater mussels.
A number of the first settlers in the Upper Hunter such as Peter McIntyre (1783-1842),
William Ogilvie and Peter Cunningham (1789-1864) have become well-known; their names
can be found in nearly every book on early New South Wales. In this paper we shall also
recognise some of the lesser names among the ‘invaders’, such as James Greig and John
© Michael O'Rourke Passages to the NW Plains 25

Bowman's property 'Ravensworth', south-east of our Liddell Power Station, which is

to say: nearer Singleton than Muswellbrook. Probably Bowman's overseer and
convict workers had established the farm in about September, because the Governor's
Secretary issued the order for his land grant in August 1824. 4

4 Wood 1972: 45, 62. Power station: Lake Liddell, a late 20th century artefact, of course did
not exist in 1824. Several other grants made at this time - to Blaxland, Grieg, Arndell, Mills,
Carter and Cavenagh - remained orders on paper for some months; their men did not take up
their masters' drays, cattle and sheep until later.
© Michael O'Rourke Passages to the NW Plains 26

Above: Landholdings beyond Singleton; east of Jerrys Plains. Notice James

Bowman’s ‘Ravensworth’ top-centre and George Bowman’s holdings, centre.


Box I.
© Michael O'Rourke Passages to the NW Plains 27

Sudden Intrusion

The British pegged out nearly the whole of the Upper Hunter River in the
space of one brief year. In the words of the local historian Allan Wood,
“within a year of Henry Dangar's first venture into this valley [1824-25],
except for one disputed tract, all river frontage lands as far as 'Segenhoe'
[near Aberdeen] and all the lower bottoms of branching vales to the same
distance, had either been granted, sold, reserved for sale or [offered in]
conditional free grant to individuals or reserved for the Corporation or
Management of [future] Churches and Schools. ... There was a scramble
for all the river lands from present Muswellbrook to the confluence of
Hunter's and Page's Rivers [south of Murrurundi], and claims in the area
above Aberdeen were not sorted out until July 1825.” 5

For our purposes, however, the process of land grants, on which Allan
Wood concentrates, is less relevant than the dates that the grantees sent
their men to occupy the country. We shall therefore trace the
establishment of the first farms and stations in that first year, October
1824 - October 1825, before the Kamilaroi (Gamil’raay) killed their first


The 'Coomery Roy' of John Howe's Aboriginal guides - the area upstream from
Patricks Plains - was occupied in late 1824 or early 1825. There, once more, an
explorer was to find settlers located further out than he may have expected. The
botanist Allan Cunningham (no relation to Peter) was proceeding up the Hunter on a
second trip to the Goulburn River in April 1825. He and his men were still short of
the Goulburn junction when they came upon a line of blazed trees that led to the farm
of George Blaxland. This was the estate later named 'Wollun Hills', then 'the most
distant land possessed and occupied [by colonists] on Hunter's River'. Blaxland's men
had sited their huts just a little east of where, in the same month, Ogilvie would
choose his land. See map below.

5 Wood 1972: 72-73. Perry's First Frontier (1963: 68) has a map of Hunter Valley land
grants to 1825. Many grants, however, remained unoccupied for months or even years.
6 Allan Cunningham, quoted by Wood 1972; also Peter Cunningham 1827, i: 157 (1966: 82).
Peter Cunningham's book, written in London immediately after the 'Hunter War' (described
later in the text), gives an excellently vivid picture of conditions on the frontier.
© Michael O'Rourke Passages to the NW Plains 28

Above: The Hunter River form Denman (left) to Jerrys Plains (right). Note Peter
Cunningham’s farm at the Goulburn-Hunter junction (far left) and Blaxland’s
‘Wollen’ [Wollum Hills] at the junction of Doyles Creek (centre).

Accompanied by his three assigned servants, Allan Cunningham continued through

the Goulburn Valley to Pandoras Pass, which he had visited two years before. A map
based on his manuscript, can be found in Lee's book Early Explorers (1925). 'We
have met with no natives (he wrote, while on the lower Goulburn), altho' their recent
marks on the trees and fired country show they have traversed the forest [woodland ] 7

a few days past' (16 April 1825). 8

“In all our journey we have seen no natives, [but] their late marks on the trees are
proof of their existence in and having passed thro the forests of the neighbourhood,
and it is more than probable they have seen us and have studiously avoided us” (25
The Merriwa region as Cunningham would have seen it was described thus in the
early 1830s by the young gentleman tourist W H Breton: “Many hundreds of acres
have not a single tree upon them, and thousands more are so thinly sprinkled with
timber, that there is not the slightest occasion for the axe”. 9

Into the Liverpool Plains

Cunningham's party pushed on past present-day Merriwa and Cassilis, and from 29
May to 1 June rested at Lawson’s outstation “Talabraga” [modern spelling
Talbragar]. They then crossed through Pandoras Pass and entered the Liverpool

7 As explained earlier, what we now call woodland - open country with a few trees - was
commonly called 'forest' in the early 19th century (as for example in Howe's 1819 diary and
Mitchell 1839).
8 Cunningham in Lee 1925: 540 f and quoted in Brayshaw 1986: 54. See also McMinn
1970: 67 ff; Lansdowne Press 1971, ii: 522 ff.
9 W H Breton 1833: 96, emphasis added.
1 Journal, State Records of NSW, Reel 6035; SZ22 pp.28-35.
© Michael O'Rourke Passages to the NW Plains 29

Plains. Their first camp on the plains was 'about seven miles' [11 km] out from
Pandoras Pass, near present-day Bundella.
On 4 May 1825 the expedition encountered Oxley's 'Bowen's Rivulet', the modern
Coxs Creek, which 'meandered along the western edge of the plain' in the direction
present-day Premer.
As we know from later records, this stretch of Coxs Creek and Bundella Creek,
from Bundella past Premer almost to Tambar Springs, was one great expanse of
naturally treeless plain (but with thick woodland to the west of Premer). In 1825 the
recent heavy rain had rendered many parts boggy, and their progress slow. There was
no smoke from any Aboriginal fires to be seen, but the foot-tracks of the blackfellows
('feet impressions of natives in the plains') indicated that a band had passed westwards
'many days' previously. 2

Cunningham set a course NNW in the direction of Premer and Tambar Springs on
5 May, evidently following generally the course of the left bank of Coxs Creek.
Heavy rain began to fall again and for two days they made little progress, being
further delayed by the injuries borne by some of the men from earlier accidents.
Having passed Premer (as it now is), they camped somewhere near Tambar Springs
on 8 May. 3

Cunningham was surprised at the 'totally unpeopled state of the tract we have
hitherto traversed'. This must not be read too literally; he meant only that no smoke
or Aboriginal tracks had been seen since about Bundella:

We have seen no natives, altho' we have observed their marks, some of

recent date, on the trees - but no smokes have been noticed until this
morning (8 May 1825). 4

This fact of a very thinly populated country is probably to be explained by

considering the --- [illegible] results to the Aborigines of last year's
scouring of the country by the settlers and soldiers between Mudgee and
these parts, the effects of which have probably been --- [?removed] far ---
[illegible] around, and it is vet likely any few natives that exist in these
regions have seen us and our horses from the hills [? perhaps today’s
Weaners Retreat, east of Tambar Springs on the right side of Coxs Creek]
and have studiously avoided us altogether. 5

Travelling forward on 9 May, the botanist and his party soon saw the 'striking feature'
of Mullaley Mountain (590 metres) lying ahead (a 'detached round mountain'), and
they set their direction towards it. The area north of Tambar Springs is described as
'alluvial wooded land'. As we know from later records, the woodland extended as far
as the halfway point between Tambar Springs and Mullaley, where it again opened
onto treeless plain. Some of the trees had been barked, either for huts or canoes, about

2 Cunningham, Journal, 3-4 May 1825 (AO Reel 6035, SZ17). Cited hereafter simply by
the date of the journal entry (AC = Allan Cunningham). Brief summary in McMinn 1070:
67. Treeless: Lang 2008. Folowing the left bank: Cuniahams had-dwan app in redpcyed in
Ida Lee’s book.
3 AC made two estimates of the latitude: 31o 22' 03" S (= south-east of Tambar Springs:
perhaps where the upper tributaries of Coxs Creek – the Bomera, Coxs and Bundella Creeks -
converge) and 31o 21' 40" S (= very near Tambar Springs itself).
4 The smoke rose at a distance of “about 40” miles [65 km] to the north-east, i.e. from
approximately the area of modern Gunnedah [actually 55 km away].
5 AC, Journal, 8 May. 'Scouring' = the Bathurst-Mudgee ‘War’ of 1824.
© Michael O'Rourke Passages to the NW Plains 30

three months earlier. He reports eight distinct grasses, among which Danthonia
gigantea (giant oatgrass, resembling wheat in the ear) was the most striking.
The lesser creeks running into Coxs Creek were flooded and the main watercourse
was too deep and rapid to be forded so they continued along its left or western bank
until at length they entered Oxley's 'Lushington Valley', which is our Garrawilla
Valley. A further detached rocky hill was seen, probably the modern Mt Baloola (270
metres), as they approached Mullaley Mountain ('all alone on the plains') on 11 May.
Far to the WSW, which is to say: looking back broadly along the line of the present-
day Oxley Highway from Gunnedah to Coonabarabran, they could see Oxley's
'Arbuthnot Ranges' (the Warrumbungles) about 80 km distant. 6

Having reached and climbed Mullaley Mountain, Cunningham proceeded into what
he called 'Camden Valley', the basin of Oxley's 'Yorke Rivulet', which is our Coxs
Creek below its junction with Garrawilla Creek. He remarked, not knowing he was
about to find a village-like group of huts, that the region was apparently wholly
uninhabited or perhaps rarely visited. This meant only that no tracks or Aboriginal
fires had been seen, perhaps because the local people had not yet returned to the
floodplains from higher ground after the recent great flood.
The present-day Kerringle State Forest, on the western side of Coxs Creek and
west from Emerald Hill, lies about midway between Mullaley and Boggabri. There
was open woodland along the left or western side of Coxs Creek, while on the eastern
side there was a treeless plain. In the woodland on Kerringle’s eastern outskirts,
somewhere near the present ‘Ghoolendaadi’ station, and no doubt within walking
distance of the Creek, 'many trees had been barked by the Aborigines to construct
their huts, which were strewed thro' the forest [woodland] to the number of 14 in no
[?] order or [?] village-like disposition'. This statement, partly illegible, seems to
suggest that the 14 huts ('these conical habitations') were not grouped together but
widely distributed. If not literally a village, then the settlement was certainly semi-
permanent, for some of the huts were large enough to accommodate a family of six,
as Cunningham supposed, no doubt constructed as shelter against the rain.
As it appears, the larger huts had a square bark-floor base ('irregular square form')
with 'forked stakes' supporting a conical bark roof. Originally built four to six months
before, in high summer, they had been abandoned for some time, perhaps several
weeks, as new grass had already grown up through the bark floors from the soil
beneath. Signs of wading could be seen in the deep mire surrounding the huts,
perhaps implying that the Aborigines had left the area only when forced out by the
rising floodwaters. Some blackfellows were still in the area, or were perhaps ready to
return to the low-lying land, for a thick column of smoke was seen rising from a ridge
some 20 km ahead, probably from the hills near modern Boggabri. 7

As the expedition approached Boggabri on 15 May, they entered a swampy plain

approximately west of a landmark Cunningham dubbed 'Dunlop's Table Hill', our Mt
Binalong, 521 metres. This was afterwards the north-east boundary of the 220 square
mile [570 sq km: 24 x 24 km] station 'Ghoolendaadi'.
The horses were thin and weak so Cunningham decided to rest for a day while he
examined the botany and geology. He rode across to Mt Binalong, leaving his men to
go hunting. Unknown to them an Aboriginal band was foraging nearby, the nearest of
the group being a number of women and children ('a native family including
children'). Several of the children, attracted by the distant sound of the hunting guns,
came up to the expedition's camp. Amazed and then alarmed when they saw the tents,
6 9-11 May.
7 14 May. Latitude 30o 49' 54" = about 18 kilometres from Mullaley and 10 kilometres from
© Michael O'Rourke Passages to the NW Plains 31

they fled back to their mothers, and all ran off presumably to where their menfolk
Cunningham regarded Aborigines as generally harmless, or rather, without hostile
intentions, but nevertheless ordered his men to prime their pistols as a precaution.
There was no further sign of the Aborigines, however, except for fires later in the day
some 30 km off (i.e., probably at modern Gunnedah). 8

The expedition proceeded further on, reaching perhaps as close as five kilometres
from the Coxs Creek-Namoi junction at Boggabri. Here again they found a number of
dwellings. They were evidently of temporary design, for Cunningham called them
'gunyas' rather than 'huts'.
The dwellings belonged presumably to the Aboriginal band just now encountered:

The natives had been, in the last rains [four or five months earlier],
housed under their bark gunyas near the spot - now perfectly dry and
hard - on which we erected our tents, it appearing evident from the
remains of their fire, and the effects of the heavy rain had left around it,
that the season was exceedingly wet when these savages --- [illegible: ?
decamped] from this ground. 9

Cunningham now decided to turn back. He imagined the whole region was made up
of marshes (“a perfect quagmire”), not realising that this was just a very wet year, and
not knowing that a major watercourse lay close ahead.
On 18 May, before crossing to the right or eastern bank of Coxs Creek, they found
trees with hatchet marks (—whether carvings, toe-holds or bark excisions
Cunningham did not say) executed with iron tomahawks, imported no doubt from the
Hunter Valley. All previous hatchet work at various points along Coxs Creek had
been done with the stone ‘mogo’ (mugu, ‘hatchet’, a pidgin word borrowed from the
language of Sydney). This suggests that trade in the Whiteman's goods was less
advanced from the direction of Mudgee. 10

It will be recalled that Cunningham’s method was to walk, accompanied by pack

horses. The outward journey from Pandoras Pass across the boggy country had taken
two weeks (3-17 May 1825). The return trip, however, undertaken over ground now
hardening, was achieved in just one week (18-24 May). The distance is about 110 km,
so they had done some eight km per day (or a little more) in the water-logged
conditions versus about 16 km per day over the drying or dried mud. (This is
approximate: there was some down-time on the outward leg, when one of the
convicts fell ill.)
To all appearances, then, the western Liverpool Plains, the basin of Coxs Creek,
remained hardly less sparsely populated than when John Oxley crossed from west to
east in 1818 (see Box II).

'It is curious', wrote Cunningham, 'that I should have met only one small
group of native women and children and seven males [ = evidently a reference
to the encounter of 15 May] who were prowling about in quest of the scanty
subsistence in grubs and kangaroos and opossums afforded by the
surrounding country, and from the boundary heights [Pandoras Pass] only
perceived two distinct smokes of the Aborigines'.

8 15 May.
9 17 May. Also very short summary in Ida Lee’s book.
1018 May.
© Michael O'Rourke Passages to the NW Plains 32

As noted, he guessed that the 'scouring of the country by the settlers and soldiers'
during the 'Bathurst war' of 1824 explained the near absence of blackfellows from the
Liverpool Plains and around Mudgee. It is possible however that they had withdrawn
from the valley of Coxs Creek and the plains between Coxs Creek and the Mooki
River on account of the flood; presumably most could have remained in the hills
pending the dissipation of the residual floodwaters, which Cunningham found were
still up to 30 centimetres [one foot] deep beyond Mullaley. 11



'A Few Wandering Families'

As we noted earlier, Oxley’s exploring party emerged from rough

country on 26 August onto the flat country towards Coxs Creek, where
they found the grass recovering, 'having been burnt early in the year'.
'Three native fires were seen in Lushington's valley [Garrawilla Creek]
but the whole of this part of the country appears to be thinly
populated; a few wandering families making up the total of its
population.' No Aborigines were seen hunting the game which
abounded between Coxs Creek and modern Curlewis. Nor did Oxley
remark seeing any further smoke until he crossed the Mooki River. On
31 August 1818 smoke was seen a long way off, evidently from
Aboriginal campfires along the Peel. 12


Henry Dangar too revisited the Upper Hunter Valley during 1825. It was he who
discovered the easy pass at Murrurundi later rediscovered and pioneered (1827) by
William Nowland. Hence ‘Nowland’s Gap’. Proceeding via Kingdon Ponds, Dangar
and his party went through the Murrurundi pass (Doughboy Hollow) to Kankool and
then east along the northern side of the Range to Hanging Rock, and thence direct to
the coast. They arrived barely alive.13

After Blaxland, the next to take up land grants on the middle Hunter above Jerrys
Plains were Captain John Pike and James Grieg, in mid 1825. They were for some
time the only resident white proprietors. Pike formed 'Pickering', upstream on the
Hunter from modern Denman, in about June 1825; Grieg set up his farm at about the
same time, just below the Hunter-Goulburn junction, on a stream called Grieg's
Creek, now Martindale Creek, at the northern edge of our Wollemi National Park. 14

11 Cunningham, Letters to Col Sec 8-28 May 1825 (AO Reel 6035, SZ17, 84-85), and quoted
in Lansdowne Press 1971, ii: 523.
12 Oxley 1820: 277, 280.
13 Milliss 1992: 74; also Atchison 1973: 47-48; Carter 1974; and Rolls 1981. Not knowing of
the Murrurundi Pass, Cunningham in 1827 had to cross the Liverpool Range by climbing it:
past a shoulder of Towarri Mountain going out, and past Mt Parry coming back (see in
McMinn 1970).
14 ‘Martindale’ and ‘Dalswinton’ [named for Peter Cunningham’s birthplace in Scotland] are
on opposite sides of the Hunter at its junction with the Goulburn south of Denman:
Martindale is on the southern bank; Dalswinton on the northern bank nearer Denman.
© Michael O'Rourke Passages to the NW Plains 33

The latter's young cousin and a convict workman would become, later that year, the
first victims of the Kamilaroi. 15

Occupation of the Upper Hunter

The next move by the colonists was from 'Ravensworth' north-west to the main
stretch of Upper Hunter River itself, where the Forbes brothers took up their grant
'Edinglassie' [Muswellbrook] and Francis Little his grant 'Invermein' [Scone].
William Dangar's 'Turanville', on Kingdon Ponds on the western side of the upper
Hunter, and 'Segenhoe', also occupied during 1825, brought the number of British
outposts to four by the end of the year.
'Edinglassie' [modern-day South Muswellbrook] was pegged out in April 1825.
George Forbes moved in, with his men and his brother's sheep and cattle, in about
June 1825, while Ogilvie and Peter Cunningham were still touring the lower river-
lands on foot. Allan Wood suggests Francis Little and his partner Francis Gibbes may
have arranged for their convict workers to occupy 'Invermein' shortly before the
boundaries of their grants were measured, that is, in about June 1825. The first
written evidence of the occupation of the Scone area, as Nancy Gray has pointed out,
is a letter written by Little on 29 June from 'Holdsworthy Downs' (as the British first
called the district). A third squatter Carlyle sent his men to join Little's at 'Invermein'
a little later, in about November. 1

The colonial government made many more grants during 1825, to Cyrus Doyle,
Dixon, and others in whom we have no interest. The next important event for our
purposes is the occupation of 'Segenhoe' near modern Aberdeen in September 1825,
immediately before the first fatal Aboriginal raid. Many readers will know the district
as the site of Glenbawn Dam and, from the mid 1800s, the estate of Patrick White's

Governor Brisbane directed his Colonial Secretary not to permit any individual to
purchase more than 4,000 acres, and a family was limited to 5,000 acres. Peter
McIntyre, however, chose 'Segenhoe' following exceptional orders from London that
20,000 acres should be promised to a Scottish member of Parliament, Thomas Potter
Macqueen. The size of the grant shows the weight of Macqueen's influence in
London. In metric measurement, 20,000 acres is 8,100 hectares (31 square miles, or
nine by nine kilometres), a small run by the later standards of the semi-arid interior
but a huge estate in 1825. As we will see, McIntyre's Scots shepherds and English
convicts found trouble with the Kamilaroi almost as soon as they arrived.

15 Peter Cunningham 1827, i: 155 (1966: 81); Wood 1972: 67-68. According to Wood,
Greig took some stock to the (lower) Hunter in January 1825, proceeding upstream
'subsequently'; William Ogilvie and his family arrived to become his neighbours in February
1826. The other grantees allocated land at the same time as Pike and Grieg - Bell, Anderson,
Allman, Peter Cunningham and Ogilvie - did not take up their grants until rather in 1826.
1 Wood 1972: 72, 73, 99; Gray 1975: 15 and 41. The Surveyor-General himself, John Oxley,
went to the upper river in April 1825 to measure the 2,000 acres (8,100 ha) of 'Edinglassie' .
The estate was located on what is now the southern side of Muswellbrook township. George
Forbes managed 'Edinglassie' while his brother Chief Justice Francis Forbes' gave his time to
his official duties.
2 The White family are descended from James White, flock master for the Australian
Agricultural Company, who arrived in NSW in 1826. His sons purchased 'Beltrees' from W
C Wentworth in 1853.
© Michael O'Rourke Passages to the NW Plains 34

Above: The Hunter River runs down through ‘Segenhoe’ to join Dart Brook.

Macqueen sent a ship to Sydney in charge of his agent Peter McIntyre and various
assistants, including McIntyre's brother John and the overseers Alexander Campbell
and Donald McLaughlin. With them came about 20 Scottish families of shepherds
and artisans contracted to work for Macqueen for seven years. They were lodged in
Sydney. McIntyre proceeded to the Hunter Valley, where, assisted by Henry Dangar,
he scouted for good land from May through August 1825. He chose initially 10,000
acres on Pages River, and led six assigned convicts with six months' supplies to
occupy the site in September 1825. The Scots families, or a portion of them, and all
of Macqueen's livestock had arrived at 'Segenhoe' by April 1826. There were still
only seven or eight establishments on the far upper river: those of Gibbes, Carlyle,
Little, Macqueen, Dangar and 'several young Scotchmen' including the McIntyre

The colonists formed routes and tracks to service their farms and stations: it is too
early to speak of roads.
Glennie's estate 'Dulwich', north-east of Singleton, served as a supply depot for
surveyors and others on government rations. Other travellers would camp and rest
nearby at the Fal Brook ford [Glennies Creek: just before ‘Ravensworth’]. There was

3 Peter Cunningham 1827 (1966: 82); Wood 1972: 87 ff; Gray 1975: 29; Walker in ADB.
Peter McIntyre held authority to occupy 32,000 acres in all, including grants for Macqueen,
himself and his brother John. Not all of the 20 families ended up at 'Segenhoe', some staying
in Sydney or Newcastle. Cunningham's 'young Scotchmen', the McIntyres, Campbell and
McLaughlin, would become the leaders in the push into the interior, particularly New
England in the 1830s.
© Michael O'Rourke Passages to the NW Plains 35

a bridle track that ran west and south from Glennie's, but no dray track directly
connected Patricks Plains with 'Pickering' in the west.
To get their supplies to the upper districts, the colonists followed a dray route
north-west, passing through 'Ravensworth' via the western side of our Lake Liddell
Power Station, where the New England Highway now goes, to Muscle Creek
[Muswellbrook]. Having reached Muscle Creek, the whitefellows would turn back

down the Hunter (south-west) to get to the Denman district. For instance, in February
1826, William Ogilvie brought his family to ‘Merton’ where hitherto he’d lived as a
bachelor. The Ogilvies followed first the track made by Captain Pike's drays, then the
track north-west made by the 'Segenhoe' party, until they arrived at Muscle Creek.
Next they went 'across' [= turned west] to 'Edinglassie' and down the river [south-
west] to 'Merton'. As the Ogilvies' friend and neighbour Peter Cunningham explained:

You enter ['Twickenham Meadows', as the British called the district] first
upon Edinglassie, the property of Mr George Forbes, brother of our
amiable Chief Justice, who possesses many thousands of acres here which
he is stocking with fine-woolled sheep. To the right [i.e., on the western
bank of the upper river] is Captain Dickson's [Dixon's] farm and on the
left in succession [i.e., down the river] the farms of Messrs Carter, Mills
and Ogilvie. 5

Henry Dangar, who was first to see it, described the country around Muswellbrook

Some parts are without timber, and others have no more than enhances,
rather than detracts from, their value, with an inexhausible soil, and a
natural herbiage, but little inferior to the most improved English
meadows. Such is the character of the meadows on this part of the river. 6



Armed Conflict in the Hunter Valley 1825-26

[for details, see in the text]

1825, ca June: Establishment of ‘Pickering’ farm (Pike’s) and

Greig’s (both near Denman), and
‘Edinglassie’(Muswellbrook) and ‘Invermein’
1825, August- (Scone).
Several incidents of Aboriginal 'plunder' etc,
evidently in the greater Singleton area (Patricks
Plains - 'Ravensworth') as noted in McIntyre's letter

4 Roads were still lacking even near Newcastle and Windsor. A 'bridle-road' ran from
Newcastle inland to Wallis Plains (Maitland). A 'rugged bridle-path' linked Windsor with
Patricks Plains (Cunningham 1966: 75). It was not until 1829-30 that these routes were made
into proper roads (Foster 1985: 132).
5 Peter Cunningham 1827, i: 155 (1966: 81); Wood 1972: 108.
6 Dangar 1828: 43.
© Michael O'Rourke Passages to the NW Plains 36

of 3.9.1825.

1825, Establishment of ‘Segenhoe’ and “Blairmore” (near

September: Aberdeen).

Late 1825: (1) Aborigines took seed or unripe ‘corn’

[wheat and other grains]7 from one or more of the
new establishments on the Upper Hunter. The
Australian later mentioned 'rambling parties' and
widespread 'pilfering'.
(2) Establishment of ‘Merton’ (near Denman).

1825, 28-c.30 Blackfellows raided Grieg's and Pike's huts in the

October: modern Denman area; two whites were killed and
two wounded. This band, or another, then killed one
colonist and wounded another near Putty.

1825, October- Soldiers from Richmond and from Newcastle

early pursued the band who had attacked at Putty. It is not
November: clear whether the troops killed or wounded any

Total for 1825, According to the 1826 report by the magistrates

about five Scott and Macleod.

1826, May or Aborigines took ‘corn’ [grain] being grown at

June: 'Invermein' [Scone] and 'Segenhoe' [Aberdeen]. It
appears there were also some cases of cattle-

1826, June: Local blackfellows wounded a shepherd at

'Edinglassie' and killed a hut-keeper at
'Ravensworth'. This prompted the first tour of the
upper districts by Lowe's mounted police. A man
called 'Billy' was captured at 'Edinglassie' by the
local settlers and handed over to Lowe.

1826, July- Aborigines attempted to 'plunder' Chilcott's Fal

August: Brook farm [near Singleton], and wounded two
whitefellows at 'Ravensworth'. They or another band
also killed some cattle at about this time. Lowe's
mounted police were called out, arriving at
'Ravensworth' a day later.

1826, July - 16 The mounted police captured a number of Aborigines

August: at or near Scone ('Invermein'), Muswellbrook
('Edinglassie'), Denman ('Merton'), 'Ravensworth'
and Singleton (Glennie's), several of whom they

1826, August: Soldiers and constables 'wantonly maltreated' the

blackfellows 'around 'Merton'. This included the brief
arrest of 'chief Jerry'. Tolou and Mirroul were
7 In the early 1800s ‘corn’ meant cereal crops, especially wheat and barley. What we call corn
today was ‘maize’.
© Michael O'Rourke Passages to the NW Plains 37

removed to Newcastle by the mounted police.

1826, 28-29 '200' Aborigines visited 'Merton' in response. A

August: band of '11' or '15' men then proceeded via
'Ravensworth' to the Fal Brook area, where they
killed two and wounded two colonists. They or other
Aborigines also burnt 'all the grass' [pasture] at
'several' farms.

1826, 31 Magistrate Scott's punitive expedition: '18'

August - 1 blackfellows were killed.

Total for 1826, According to the magistrates.

more than 10
major and



The Kamilaroi ignored the first small groups of itinerant land selectors. Trouble
quickly broke out, however, when the British arrived in large numbers to 'sit down'
along the Upper Hunter with their convict workers, sheep and cattle. The Aborigines
tolerated some of the farms and stations. but they soon challenged others among the
whitefellows. John Pike's farm near Denman for example was raided, it appears, by
the very same people with whom William Ogilvie and Peter Cunningham afterwards
established a good understanding. 8

There are few clues in our sources concerning the Hunter blackfellows' attitudes.
With limited source materials, we usually have to deduce or guess the attitudes and
motivation of the Kamilaroi in the first year of British occupation, June 1825 to June
1826. It is highly unlikely, however, that the Kamilaroi were innocents who failed to
realise the white men were selecting their lands for occupation. The Upper Hunter
people would certainly have known many details concerning the British settlements
around Sydney, Bathurst and Newcastle and how the colonists had already
dispossessed the Aborigines there. On the other hand, the Aborigines probably
thought in localised terms, directing their resentment against specific individual
settlers and convicts.
The settlers on several occasions apprehended a general attack by the Aborigines
but this seems to have been a case of imagining the worst, as there is little or no
evidence that the blackfellows ever wished or hoped to drive out the whitefellows. As
it appears, the Kamilaroi attacked certain colonists only when provoked.
The Sydney Gazette and the Lake Macquarie missionary Lancelot Threlkeld
considered that much of the trouble arose from the convict workers abusing
Aboriginal women. The white man's food supplies and attractive products, and access
8 A report ascribed to a Dr Oldfield stated that 'since 1824 they (the Aborigines) have been
generally peaceful, ...till very recently (1826) when a large body, 200 men, at the head of
Hunter's River have manifested hostility' (Anonymous: ascribed to Oldfield, in Gunson 1974,
ii: 353, 375). As described in the text, the Aborigines made a number of raids against certain
farms on both Wollombi Brook and the Hunter during 1825.
© Michael O'Rourke Passages to the NW Plains 38

across parts of the land also provoked conflict for the British warned off Aboriginal
'trespassers' on 'their' grants, shot at Aborigines who took their supplies, and struck
down the husbands of the Aboriginal women they kidnapped or detained. So Peter
Cunningham simply refers to 'revenge' in general as the reason for Aboriginal attacks.
It is unlikely, therefore, that a 'communication' from the Mudgee people (Wiradjuri-
speakers), who visited the Wollombi and Hunter people, can have been the 'first
cause' of the hostilities, as the magistrates' report afterwards asserted. Fairly clearly,
the Wiradjuri visitors departed before Little and McIntyre set up at 'Invermein' and
'Segenhoe' respectively. 9

About five incidents during 1825 were listed in the report by the lay ‘magistrates’
(justices of the peace) and Hunter River land holders, Scott and Macleod. Young
Robert Scott [c.1799-1844] was master of 4,000 acres at 'Glendon' on Glendon
Brook, which enters the Hunter from the north a little downstream from (east of)
present-day Singleton. He had served as a justice of the peace since 1824 and was
active in pursuing absconding convicts or so-called 'bushrangers' in the lower valley

during 1825. Alexander Macleod, 40 years old, held 'Luskintyre', an adjoining farm
of 2,000 acres on the northern side of the river opposite present-day Greta.
Their report suggests that the first clashes in the upper districts took place in late
August and early September 1825, coinciding with the influx of large numbers of
convict workers and before the fatal raid on Grieg's farm in October 1825. The
following passage presumably refers to August and September, and it may describe
incidents during the occupation of the Scone district. The maize in question may have
been bags of planting seed, being used in sowing the first crops. It would seem too
early for maize plants to be sprouting let alone yielding corn-cobs:

... at Mr Little's and Mr McIntyre's farms ['Invermein' at Scone and

'Blairmore' near Aberdeen] ... the Natives stole the maize, and the
proprietors defended it. On one occasion the natives were pursued by Mr
John McIntyre from the maize field, when they took up a strong position
and rolled down rocks and stones which forced Mr McIntyre and party to

The next incidents would appear to have occurred in September, when further
supplies were being taken to 'Segenhoe':

9 Scott and Macleod, report of 3.10.1826 in HRA xii: 610 ff; Threlkeld 1974: 49;
MacDonald in Ridley 1878: 255, 257; Miller 1985: 34 (citing the Sydney Gazette); and
Cunningham 1827, ii: 34.
Threlkeld (p.49) gives a good account of the expectations of the rest of the community
when convicts 'decoyed away' or 'took by violence' Aboriginal women. Newly arrived in the
lower valley, Threlkeld commented, 'It is not at all surprising that (Aboriginal) men are
murdered in the Interior when even in the vicinity of a town (Newcastle) they are grossly
maltreated by the prisoners (convicts) on account of the Black women'.
There was a Bora ground at the junction of the Page and Isis Rivers not very far from the
'Segenhoe' huts. Whether interference with it figured in the collisions that followed, we do
not know. Rusden, who was a teenager at the time, imagined it could have: 'Think of the
defeat of tribal reverence which was brought about when a white man put a station close to
one of these secret places and it became a thoroughfare' (quoted in Howitt 1904: 570).
10 The early ‘bushrangers’ were overseas-born, typically escaped convicts and very poor
bushmen. See Hampton 1979 on the Hunter Valley. The term was also used of later rural
thugs and outlaws, who were free-born Australians usually with good bush skills. The only
thing they had in common was the practice of armed robbery.
© Michael O'Rourke Passages to the NW Plains 39

Then followed several petty robberies on single individuals while

travelling the long and lonely road [ = track] from Dr Bowman's
['Ravensworth'] upwards [i.e., towards Muswellbrook], such as stripping
them of their cloathes [sic] and provisions; and McIntyre's dray was
robbed by the Natives although one of the two men in charge had a
blunderbuss. 11

Peter McIntyre wrote to Governor Brisbane on 3 September, immediately before

departing from Newcastle to occupy the area, expressing confidence that Macqueen's
immigrant shepherds would be able to defend themselves. He referred rather grandly
to the tents and huts on Macqueen's grant as 'my residence':

Tho' they [Aborigines] have plundered and forcibly robbed several,

burned houses and corn [wheat] stacks, and even violated the wife of a
respectable settler ..., I have no doubt of being able, with my Highland
lads [Scots], to defend my self and property or to run down even those
desperadoes who come near my residence at Segenhoe ... 12



Aborigines, White Proprietors

and Convict Workers

One colonist 'counted' 300 able-bodied Aboriginal men, presumably

Darkinung and/or Wonarua speakers, in the neighbourhood of Patricks
Plains in the 1820s. This implies a minimum total population of perhaps

1,000 people including women and children. Then there were the
cismontane Kamilaroi of the Upper Hunter basin, in three or four
communities, who numbered at least 500 people in 1826 (men, women
and children). 14

11 Scott and McLeod HRA xii: 610 ff; Wood 1972: 115. The magistrates said that their
report covered only 'the last 10 months' (i.e., 3 December 1825 through 3 October 1826). In
NSW, wheat was sown February-May; maize was planted October-December. Allan Wood
rightly queries the chronology of their report, as perhaps too early for a first maize crop to be
12 McIntyre, letter of 3.9.1825, quoted by Nancy Gray 1975: 7 and Rolls 1981: 66; also
Bowman MS (cited by Miller 1985: 265n); Threlkeld in Gunson 1974: 91. Threlkeld
commenced missionary work at Reid's Mistake (Lake Macquarie) in 1825. It is not clear
why Gray should characterise the Kamilaroi of Dartbrook Creek and Pages River as 'not
warlike people' (unless she was thinking of the ancient Assyrians and Romans ...); the
evidence (see in text) shows that they were no less militant than other Aborigines.
13 As explained at the start of this paper, the Darkinung or Daaginyaang held the southern
side of the Hunter Valley in the Singleton, Bulga and Broke districts. The Wonarua or
Wanaaru-waa held the northern side of the Hunter Valley downstream from Singleton
(O’Rourke 1997: 38 ff).
14 O’Rourke 1997: 33 ff.
© Michael O'Rourke Passages to the NW Plains 40

Taken together, these figures suggest that the total Aboriginal

population of the middle and upper valley - north and west from modern
Singleton - was more than 1,500 in 1825. Applying this figure to 14,333
(two-thirds of the size, 21,500 sq km, of the Hunter basin), we obtain 9.5
sq km per person. This is perhaps a thinner population than might be
expected (cf 2-3.6 sq km pp for western Victoria: Lourandos 1977, 1997;
O’Rourke 1997: 140). Accordingly the true figure was probably more like
2,000 children, women and men.
On the other side, the British in the Hunter Valley in 1825, mostly
convict workers, already numbered 1,673 people. Also there were as yet
few children and women. The number of whites on the Upper Hunter
grew from fewer than 100 people in 1825 to about 400 by 1827. The
'settlers' among them, the employer caste of large proprietors and ex-
convict small farmers, numbered about 350 in the whole valley. The
farms were concentrated largely in the Maitland-Newcastle and
Wollombi-Singleton segments of the valley. Altogether there were 9,000
sheep (rising to about 20,000 sheep by the end of 1826) and 4,500 head of

Counting only the upper districts, in 1826 there were about seven
Aborigines (children, women and men) for every one Briton/Irish [2,000
vs. 300]. But the white males in the Hunter Valley overall already
effectively outnumbered the black males at the time of the Aboriginal
'revolt' of 1825-1826 - if 'revolt' is the correct word for a few one-sided
skirmishes. (We think it isn’t.)


Conflict: October 1825

The first colonists to die at the hands of the Kamilaroi were killed on 28 October
1825 at James Greig's farm 'Martindale' south of present-day Denman. This was
nearly exactly six years after Aborigines from the south had led the first white man,
John Howe, into the Upper Hunter.
Greig's 'known aversion to having the Natives about him' was the reason for the
attack according to the magistrates. He affronted the Aborigines by refusing to allow
them to come on what he regarded as his land. The Aborigines, as Cunningham tells
us, were generally fearful to attack the whites, however few in number, if they had
muskets. They raided 'Martindale' because it was so isolated. They appear to have

been asserting their proprietorial rights, seizing the grain-crops and exercising their
right to come and go where they wished, notwithstanding the claims of the colonists.
15 These statistics come from a variety of sources: Peter Cunningham 1827 (1966: 82);
Sadleir in VPLC 1838: 46; Perry 1963: 66, 75 and 130, and Milliss 1992: 69. In the 1828
Census, 191 landowners described themselves as resident in the Hunter Valley (Perry 1963:
75) but if one added non-residents the number of holdings would be more like 250. One
would expect about one-quarter (about 60) to be located at and above Singleton; if there were
five adult males resident at each, we have 300.
'Two hundred' Aborigines descended on 'Merton' in Bundock's memoirs (see in text later).
1 The Australian 10.11.1825; Scott and Macleod in HRA xii: 610-611; Peter Cunningham
1827, ii: 36 ( = 1966: 197); Jervis 1962: 103; Wood 1972: 113-114; and Milliss 1992: 55.
The bodies were found on 28 October by a Mr Forsyth and a Mr Allen. Jervis (1962) errs in
stating that James Grieg himself was killed.
© Michael O'Rourke Passages to the NW Plains 41

'I have always considered (Governor Darling told London the following year) that
the Natives have been aggrieved by the Stock Men, which, I am satisfied, has alone
prevented a good understanding being established with them.'' 2

James Grieg himself was in Sydney, having left his sheep in the charge of his
young cousin, Robert Grieg, and a convict worker. The blackfellows killed the two
men and plundered the hut of everything useful, but they did not disperse the sheep:

Two other stockmen have been speared (reported The Australian) and a
man of Captain Pike's escaped being murdered by the providential
arrival of two [white] men who found him struggling with a native for
[possession of] a spear.

Four months before William Ogilvie brought his family to 'Merton', just across the
river from Pike's, the Aborigines had already alarmed the more remote settlers:

The settlers in the neighbourhood [i.e., from Patricks Plains upstream to

Pike's] are in the greatest alarm from their apprehensions that a general
attack is contemplated by the natives who for some time past have been
pilfering all they possibly could and who are rambling about the country
in formidable parties. A military party of 10 men accompanied by some
bush constables was instantly despatched by the Commandant at
Newcastle, Captain Allman. 3

Some of the phrases in the source documents may suggest that the Kamilaroi in the
north-west and the Darkinung in the south, although normally engaged in feuds, were
cooperating against the settlers in 1825-26. To what extent there were actual alliances
between the communities, our sources do not reveal. Other remarks in the records
show that certain Aborigines helped the British against the Kamilaroi. With hundreds
of people on either side, it is perhaps surprising that incidents of aggression were so
few and far between. British fears of a 'general attack' were never realised.
Writing at Lake Macquarie, the missionary Lancelot Threlkeld commented that the
raid 'at Patricks Plains' (- in fact, further upstream at 'Martindale') 'was supposed [to
have been carried out] by some of the Bathurst tribes'. The magistrates, too, later
asserted that a visiting band of Wiradjuri-speaking people from Mudgee, or rather
their 'communication' with the Hunter River Aborigines, was the 'first cause' of the
troubles on the upper Hunter. But the whitefellows later told the magistrates they
suspected Mirroul ('Dennis'), a Kamilaroi man from the Marowancal community, of
being involved. The Ogilvie's neighbour, Peter Cunningham, blamed Tolou ('Ben'), a
‘Merton’ district man, as the instigator of all the troubles of 1825-26. So the raiders

were almost certainly local Kamilaroi men from the Denman district itself, perhaps
Ogilvie's Marowancal, acting on their own initiative. This appears confirmed by the
2 Darling in HRA xii: 574.
3 The Australian 10.11.1825, quoted by Wood 1972: 113, and Threlkeld 1974: 91, 107; also
Cunningham 1966: 197. Connor 2002: 64.
4 Scott and Macleod, HRA xii: 610; Cunningham 1827, ii: 39 (1966: 199), and The
Australian (quoted by Allan Wood 1972: 113): 'This same tribe pursued their course until
they arrived at Putney (Putty)... '. Wood nevertheless doubts that they were Kamilaroi. On
his reading, 'Peter Cunningham identified the offenders as Wollombi blacks [Darkinung] by
saying that they returned to their old haunts on the Bulga Road after visiting their kinsmen of
the Richmond tribe' (1972: 114, citing Cunningham 1966: 197). Milliss too believes the
people involved were 'Wonnarua or even Darkinjang (sic)' (1992: 55). Wiradjuri: Connor
2002: 64.
© Michael O'Rourke Passages to the NW Plains 42

fact that the Aboriginal raiding party also attacked a man at Pike's farm upriver from
Certainly some Mudgee people, fleeing no doubt from the 'Bathurst War' of 1824,
did make contact with the Hunter communities early in 1825. It is not quite right,
however, for Roger Milliss to say the Aborigines 'were massing'. And to assert, as
James Miller and John Connor have, that the Wiradjuri “joined forces” with the
Hunter River people, is to go well beyond the evidence. At best, the Wiradjuri from
Mudgee may have advised the Hunter blackfellows not to trust the whites. For it is
clear from the magistrates' report that the Wiradjuri people did not remain in the
Hunter Valley. They departed before the clashes of late 1825-early 1826. The
judgement of Captain Foley, the military commander at Newcastle, is more credible:

All those acts of outrage (he told the Governor) have been committed
without exception by Natives who are domesticated on the very estates
where they occurred and not by the incursions of unknown or wild tribes. 5

As Peter Cunningham noted, there was a hostile band and a friendly band. The latter,
evidently local to the Bulga area ('their old haunts'), 'had nothing to do with the
murders although in company with the others [the raiders] after the deeds were
done ... .' Or as the magistrates' report put it, the killers fled from Grieg's into the
mountains [the modern Wollemi National Park] 'with the Wallumbi blacks':

The same tribe, who committed this murder [at Grieg's], fearful of our
vengeance, removed, together with the Wallumbi Natives, into the
mountains, and there again [at Putty] they were guilty of another atrocity
by murdering one man and lacerating another ...

Proceeding through the mountains (the present-day Wollemi National Park), the first-
mentioned hostile group went down Wollombi Brook. There, says Cunningham, they
'chased several mounted settlers on the Bulgar [sic] Road and visited a stock hut
inhabited by three free men at Putty to whom several of them were known' - the
significant point being that they knew each other, for Aborigines killing white men
rarely killed strangers. The grievances were personal.
On this occasion, the Aboriginal women distracted the white men with an English
song. Then their men struck, killing one of the Englishmen and wounding another.
The third Englishman escaped south to Richmond to give the alarm. Foot-soldiers
from Windsor then pursued and attacked the second-mentioned friendly band in error.
A further detachment of foot-soldiers was sent from Newcastle to the Upper Hunter.
'Several Natives, who were known, and others who were suspected to have been
concerned in the murders and robberies were apprehended; some of whom got away
unperceived and others were fired upon while running away but no shots took effect.' 6

5 Foley in HRA xii: 617 (August 1826), emphasis added. Cf the magistrates' report (HRA
xii: 610 f), and Darling's comments to London (HRA xii: 575 and 609-610). See also
Threlkeld (Gunson 1974); James Miller 1985: 34-36; Milliss 1985 and 1992: 61.
Regrettably, Miller's and Milliss' simplifications have been adopted by university historians,
eg Jan Kociumbas. The latter writes of the asserted 'combined resistance of the Wonarua and
Wiradjuri people' (Kociumbas 1992: 143). In fact, the upper Hunter valley belonged to the
Kamilaroi (see earlier in this paper).
6 Foot-soldiers: The new Mounted Police—regular soldiers serving as frontier police—did
not reach Maitland until February 1826 (Connor 2002: 62; also this paper, below). The
Australian 10.11.1825; Scott and Macleod, HRA xii: 611; Cunningham 1827, ii: 38 ff,
emphasis added; Wood 1972: 114; Milliss 1992: 55. The affiliation of the Aborigines
© Michael O'Rourke Passages to the NW Plains 43

William Ogilvie, as we have said, took his family up the valley to his 6,000 acre
[24 sq km: nearly 5 km x 5 km] selection 'Merton' in February 1826. Pike's farm
'Pickering', near present-day Denman, lay across the river. The Ogilvies, especially
one of their sons, Edward, opened very friendly relations with the local Kamilaroi
community, the Marowancal. Peter Cunningham, lodging with the Ogilvies for
several months, helped in establishing a good understanding, using scisssors and
mirrors. He amicably cut hair and handed around a looking-glass or two. The
Kamilaroi were keen to have their hair cropped with so efficient an instrument as
scissors, and mirrors were a wonder. More importantly, probably, William Ogilvie,

as the resident justice of the peace, exercised close supervision of the convicts
assigned to him and his neighbours. There was to be no more trouble for some
months. 8



Mounted Police and Foot Soldiers

The new Governor Ralph Darling [1825-31] had to deal with two
major challenges to British law and order: from groups of escaped
convicts called 'bushrangers', and from hostile Aborigines. The convict
bushrangers posed the more serious threat. A 'constant stream' of men
was absconding from private service, road-gangs and watch-houses.
They were generally more determined or desperate than any unfriendly
Aborigines, and, whenever they seized horses, much more mobile. 9

Shortly before Darling arrived in the colony, Acting Governor

Stewart had created two mounted police patrols, recruited from among
veteran soldiers. Called police, in reality they were mounted infantry,
armed with carbines (short-barrel muskets). One patrol was posted to
Bathurst; the other, under Lieutenant Nathaniel Lowe of the 40th
Regiment, was sent to the Hunter Valley. Lowe and his 12 men arrived
at Maitland ('Wallis Plains') in February 1826.
Governor Darling strengthened the mounted police and made full
use of his foot troops, sending to the outlying districts those infantry
who could be spared from Sydney. To lessen the likelihood of white
men becoming bushrangers, the Governor also ordered that convicts
were to be supervised more closely. He tightened the system of passes

attacked by the Windsor troops is not clear in the main source (HRA).
7 Cunningham 1827 (1966: 201). Ogilvie and Cunningham, with their assigned convicts,
were living at 'Merton' as bachelors while the Ogilvie family house was being constructed.
Setting out from Newcastle in January 1826, Mary Ogilvie and the children were delayed by
floods for several weeks at Maitland (Wood 1972: 102). Wood supposes that the 'two settlers'
who found Greig's men dead at 'Martindale' in October 1825 were 'Grieg's nearest neighbours
Ogilvie and (Peter) Cunningham (1972; 109, 111). This is an error (as earlier noted).
8 Milliss 1992: 55 writes of 'the valley' being 'in turmoil' for 'several months' (i.e., late 1825 -
early 1826), with 'hostilities' reaching 'a peak' in June 1826. None of the sources I have
consulted, however, lists any fatal clashes between the attack on Greig's men (October 1825)
and the killing of a shepherd at 'Edinglassie' (June 1826).
9 Bramble 1981: 70-72.
© Michael O'Rourke Passages to the NW Plains 44

used by ticket of leave men when moving from one district to

another. 10


Conflict: May-June 1826

The magistrates Scott and McLeod counted about 10 minor ‘collisions’ during 1826.
They supplied few details, and most of the incidents have to be dated and located
more precisely using other sources. Foot soldiers from Newcastle would be used
again, but the burden of reprisals against the Aborigines now fell to the newly formed
mounted police and the settlers themselves.
Certain blackfellows, probably from the local Kamilaroi, took ‘corn’ [grain] being
grown at 'Invermein' and 'Segenhoe', either for a second time or perhaps for the first
time, in about May or June 1826. These estates were still in the process of being
consolidated, and presumably the whites were more annoyed than alarmed. Other
Aborigines at the same time were gaining a share in the strangers' providence by
helping some of the whitefellows with their harvests:

Proceeding up to my farm on Hunter's River (writes Peter Cunningham),

I chanced to stop for the night at the house of a gentleman during the
maize-harvest, in the pulling and carrying of which about 50 blacks were
busied, all of whom he was rewarding with cauldrons of boiled pumpkin
for supper ... .1

The first really serious incidents in 1826 occurred at 'Edinglassie' and 'Ravensworth'.
The Kamilaroi (as we take it they were) speared and wounded a shepherd and killed
one of George Forbes' valuable merino sheep at 'Edinglassie' in June. Forbes' men
captured one of the raiders, known as 'Billy', and despatched him to Newcastle.
Evidently his kinsmen planned to retaliate, for Threlkeld heard even as early as 8
August that 'a great many blacks were coming from the mountains [presumably the
Liverpool Ranges or Mt Royal Range] to burn all the houses of the whites, . . . - such
is the conversation of the Blacks in the mountains in consequence of the black man
[i.e., Billy] being confined in jail at Newcastle'. 2

Next an armed party of Aboriginal men arrived at an out-station on 'Ravensworth'

in a hostile mood. 'Ravensworth', it will be remembered, was already nearly two years
old as a farm. Peter Cunningham noted that 'extensive buildings for packing and

10 Major challenges: Fletcher 1984: 180-182; see also Austin 1980; and Wood 1972: 103.
'Constant stream': Kociumbas 1992: 167. Maitland: Connor 2002: 62.
1 Cunningham 1827 (1966: 193) - probably on a farm near Singleton, and probably to be
dated to mid 1826. As noted above, maize was planted in October-December. If a first crop
was planted in 1825 the green kernels would have been available for the taking in, say,
January-March 1826; they would have been ripe by mid 1826. Fourteen convicts were
employed on Cunningham's estate 'Dalswinton'. Mills were built with convict labour at
'Segenhoe' in 1826, even before permanent farm buildings. Peter McIntyre, while still
manager for Macqueen at ‘Segenhoe’, was seeking - in vain at first - to extend his personal
holdings. He applied unsuccessfully to the Governor for the whole of the left bank of the
Hunter River above Muswellbrook.
2 Threlkeld to Saxe Bannister, 8.8.1826 (in Gunson 1974: 92). William Ridley seems to have
heard of these threats as remembered many years later: 'The first colonists (i.e., in the Hunter
Valley) (he wrote) were told that the Commeroy would come down from the north and sweep
them away' (1873: 291).
© Michael O'Rourke Passages to the NW Plains 45

sorting wool are erected here, Mr [sic: Dr] Bowman's flocks being numerous'. The
armed party, which included a Big Man called 'Jerry', alias 'Jackey Jackey', killed a
convict watchman in his hut while the other shepherds were out with the sheep. As
Captain Allman, the Commandant at Newcastle, explained, 'the unfortunate man was
murdered by one of the Natives who was in the habit of frequently visiting his hut
assisting him in plaiting straw etc' . Once again the victim was well known to his

These attacks rather surprised Commandant Allman, himself the holder of a grant
opposite Muswellbrook, because 'the Natives to my personal knowledge are very
inoffensive'. Other British land holders were less complacent. As The Australian
reported, most of the settler class went about armed, accompanied by foreign
Aborigines who had undertaken to track the 'hostile blacks' and help their patrons
drive the enemy communities out of the neighbourhood. 4

Allman sent Lieutenant Nathaniel Lowe from Wallis Plains (present-day Maitland)
with his horse-soldiers. 'The mounted police now arrived and were called into action
in consequence of an attack by the natives on Mr John Forbes' station [‘Edinglassie’
at Muswellbrook] when one of his men was speared in the shoulder...' Lowe left his
sergeant, Lewis Moore, and four troopers on patrol. Although they failed to arrest the
men who had raided 'Ravensworth', the presence of Moore's squad seems to have
awed the Kamilaroi. Lowe reported to Allman that there was no need to send any foot
soldiers from Newcastle, and all violence by the Aborigines ceased from late June
until early July.5

Conflict: July-August 1826

Lt Lowe's mounted police were even more active after two further incidents at Fal
Brook and 'Ravensworth' in late July-early August.
A party of blackfellows ('the same Natives' as in June) attacked James Chilcott's
farm at Falbrook [Fal Brook, NE of Singleton] and attempted forcibly to plunder the
house. A man the British knew as 'Cato' struggled with Chilcott for a gun, and a clash
ensued in which the blacks were driven off. The magistrates Scott and McLeod
described this raid dramatically as a 'general engagement' with 'a body of blacks'.
They did not specify, however, the number of Aborigines involved. Chilcott's men
drove off the Aborigines, 'the white people only firing at their legs'. The resident
magistrate, William Ogilvie, declined Allman's offer of foot soldiers from Newcastle
so it cannot have been a serious engagement. Probably the 'party of natives' was no
more than a handful.
Next 'a Body of Blacks' attacked and severely wounded two white men fencing at
'Ravensworth', one of whom suffered seven spear thrusts. 'The latter event (said the
magistrates) appears to have been occasioned by the circumstances of one of their
tribe, who had been taken up [seized] for some offence, having been confined for a
day or two on Mr Bowman's farm, which it is supposed had induced them to think
that Mr Bowman's people [his convict workers] had been concerned in apprehending

3 Allman: report of 27 June, in HRA xii: 621, emphasis added; Wood 1972: 118, citing The
Australian 26.8.1826. Buildings: Cunningham 1827, i: 153. There were at least two, and
possibly three, different men nicknamed 'Jerry'. One of the surviving Jerrys was still issuing
threats against 'a well known and respectable settler' the following year.
4 id.
5 Scott and Macleod; Allman to de la Condamine 27 June and 18 July, in HRA xii: 620 ff;
Milliss 1992: 55.
© Michael O'Rourke Passages to the NW Plains 46

their comrade.' (In passing, it should be noted that Dr James Bowman held

‘Ravensworth’ on the Muswellbrook side of our Singleton, while Mr George

Bowman snr held ‘Archerfield’ on the south side of the Hunter at its junction with Fal
Brook, downstream from Singleton.)
Because 'Ravensworth' lay near the frontier between three languages, Wonarua,
Darkinung and Kamilaroi, it is not possible to identify definitely the community or
communities to which the Aboriginal raiders belonged. Scott and McLeod stated

expressly that 'the disturbances are confined to the upper districts of Hunter's River',
which was Kamilaroi country. This argues against James Miller's characterisation of
the conflict as 'the Wonarua uprising of 1826'. Threlkeld noted that 'Mrs Ogilvie's
blacks' - the Marowancal Kamilaroi around Denman - aided the 'soldiers' [meaning
Lowe's troopers]. But Lowe's men also arrested two of the young men from 'Merton',
Dennis and Ben. Possibly some of the Kamilaroi remained friendly, while others had

become hostile, reflecting no doubt good relations with some of the British and feuds
with others.
The attack on the 'Ravensworth' fencers brought the mounted police to the scene.
Sergeant Moore arrived 'the next day' and 'came up to the [local] tribe'.
Unfortunately, the exact sequence of events, and the number of Aborigines 'executed',
remains obscure. The relevant passage in the magistrates' report reads thus:

... the party of Mounted Police ... succeeded in taking one of the Natives,
who murdered Dr Bowman's watchman, who was shot [ = 'Jackey Jackey',
shot at Maitland]. Shortly after, several more Natives were taken by the
Police, three of whom were shot [probably 'Cato', 'Cabon' and 'Boss'] ...
About the same time, two more Blacks ['Dennis and 'Ben'], suspected of
being concerned in the murders at Mr Grieg's and at Booty [Putty], were
apprehended and lodged in Newcastle Gaol; one [i.e., Dennis] has since
been liberated.

According to Roger Milliss, 'Jackey Jackey', alias 'Commandant', alias 'Jerry', the man
accused of killing Bowman's watchman, was arrested in early August and taken to
Wallis Plains (Maitland). The local bush constable at McIntyre’s, Thomas Farnham
arrested him at Little's estate 'Invermein' [Scone], took him down river and handed
him over to Sgt Moore at Wallis Plains. Alternatively, he may have been taken at or
near 'Ravensworth' itself. 'Jackey Jackey' reached Wallis Plains alive, only to be shot
there without trial on Lowe's personal orders. 4

1 Scott and Macleod in HRA xii: 661; Darling's report to London HRA xii: 574; Wood 1972:
116; Threlkeld 1974: 93; Milliss 1985 and 1992: 55. Cato is a Latin name, applied no doubt
by a settler with a Classical education. Cato the Younger (M Porcius Cato) (died 46 BC) was
a Stoic philosopher. Threlkeld interviewed one of the wounded men from 'Ravensworth' in
hospital at Newcastle on 21 August.
2 As explained earlier in this paper, the Darkinung or Daaginyaang held the southern side of
the Hunter Valley in the Singleton, Bulga and Broke districts. The Wonarua or Wanaaru-waa
held the northern side of the Hunter Valley downstream from Singleton (O’Rourke 1997: 38
3 Magistrates' report, 3 June 1826, in Governor's despatches and HRA xii: 612, emphasis
added; Miller 1985: 35 and map; Milliss 1992: 55. Milliss calls the descent on 'Merton'
(described later in the text) as “something like the general rising the whites ... feared”.
4 Connor 2002: 64. Primary sources: Allman 18 July 1826 (in Wood 1972: 116); Threlkeld,
memorandum of 24.7.1826 and letter of 4.9.1826 (Gunson 1974: 92-93 and 213), Macleay
to Allman 28 September in HRA xii: 624, and Wood 1972. Milliss 1992: 67 and 68 cites
testimony by constable Farnham and another eye-witness, Salisbury. Farnham was the
© Michael O'Rourke Passages to the NW Plains 47

Lowe then rode back up the valley, as Threlkeld puts it, 'in pursuit of two other
Blacks', namely 'Dennis' and 'Ben'. According to Milliss, Moore's squad captured five
more men - Cabon, Billy (not the earlier Billy of 'Edinglassie'), Dennis, Boss, and
Cato - on or after 12 August, the date Moore gave for his arrival at Glennies' farm
'Dulwich' at Patricks Plains [Singleton]. These six, 'Jackey Jackey' and the others,
were accused of participating in the raids on Chilcott's and Bowman's. Mirroul,
nicknamed 'Dennis', belonged to the Kamilaroi community of the Denman ['Merton']
district. Presumably he and a seventh suspect, Tolou, called 'Ben' by the Ogilvies,
were arrested at 'Merton'. They were 'taken about to the different places, where
depredations had been committed, and identified [ie, by the shepherds and
labourers].' This would have included McIntyre’s farm ‘Blairmore’ near our
Aberdeen, mentioned by The Monitor as subject of an act of depredation. 5

Three of the captured Aborigines - Cato, Cabon and Boss, as it appears - were shot
on or about 15 August, allegedly while attempting to escape. Cato first of all was
captured and shot dead, it seems, at or near Glennie's farm. The body of a second
man, either Cabon or Boss, was 'hung up by the Men [convict workers] on the Farm
[i.e., 'Ravensworth'] as a terror to the other Blacks'. The fate of the third man is not
clear, except that he too was shot. The others - Dennis and Ben, and presumably the
second Billy too - survived their journey under escort to the Wallis Plains lock-up. 6

In what looks to have been a quite distinct case, a further Aboriginal man,
identified as one who had raided 'Ravensworth', was found hanged from a tree in the
back country ('in the forest'). The troopers denied this execution was their work.
Threlkeld learnt that 'a Settler' [meaning one of the principal land holders] had caught
the man in the act of stealing grain and ordered him hanged as a warning to other
Aborigines. Thus the deed was done probably by assigned convicts. 7

Sergeant Moore and his troopers did not heed Mrs Ogilvie's warning that 'by
bringing the prisoners to her place they would arouse the tribe and endanger the
lives of her family'. They took 'Ben' and 'Dennis' (and, we presume, 'Billy') away to
Newcastle on 16 August 1826, not understanding that this would rid the Kamilaroi of
their 'great awe'. Scott and McLeod said the settlers suspected 'Dennis' of having

taken part at Grieg's and at Booty (Putty) nine months earlier, but Mrs Ogilvie denied
it. The Ogilvies' neighbour, Peter Cunningham, knew 'Ben' very well, and called him

convict constable at McIntyre's. It would appear that Farnham, although stationed at

McIntyre's, captured 'Jackey Jackey' at ‘Invermein’. Or rather (see court transcript R v Lowe),
Dr Little “apprehended” him and placed himn in Fanham’s charge, who took him to
Newscatle and gave him over to the Mounted Police. The Sydney Gazette, 21 May 1827
gives his alias as “Jerry’; the name “Jeffery” used at Lowe’s trial seems to be a mistake.
5 Depositions by Glennie, Larnach and Moore in HRA xii: 625-626 (Milliss loc cit.), and
Threlkeld 1974: 93. The Monitor, 1 September 1826.
6 Ibid. Connor 2002: 64.
7 This is a tentative reconstruction following mainly Milliss' presentation of the published
and unpublished records from the several official inquiries; some details remain obscure (see
Milliss 1992: 57 ff, 62 ff and 66). The published sources are: HRA xii: 625 ff; Threlkeld in
Gunson 1974, i: 49, 92, 95; and The Australian, 26.9.1826. One of Threlkeld's informants
was Sergeant Moore himself (see 1974: 49 and 95). As Milliss shows, a wall of silence held
up the discovery of the facts. Farnham (see above) did not reveal that the mounted police had
'executed' 'Jackey Jackey' on Lowe's orders until prior to Lowe's trial in May 1827.
8 Connor 2002: 65. Primary sources: The Australian, 26.8.1826, quoted by Wood 1972: 117.
Threlkeld, who was then visiting Newcastle, saw the two prisoners brought in by Sergeant
Moore and two privates (1974: 93).
© Michael O'Rourke Passages to the NW Plains 48

'the principal leader and instigator of all the murders and robberies committed by
them [blackfellows] of late on Hunter's River'. 9

Vengeance arrived 12 days later, at the end of the month, by an ironic coincidence
on the very day that Colonial Secretary McLeay wrote to Allman to pass on the
Governor's order that Lowe's and Moore's 'tours' be investigated.
Why 12 days before the Aborigines arrived in force at 'Merton'? Probably the local
Marowancal community spent the period 16-28 August negotiating with the other
Kamilaroi communities for assistance. A large force of perhaps 200 Aborigines ('as
she [Mary Ogilvie] supposed above 200') descended on 'Merton' on 28 August. Mary
Ogilvie Bundock recalled that 'on looking up we [the Ogilvie children] suddenly saw
the whole hill [on the eastern side of 'Merton'] covered with blacks, armed to the
teeth, except the king or chief Jerry ... The side of the hill behind the house [was]
covered with men, painted and armed for war and coming slowly forward'. 10

The large war-party, or better: aggrieved mob, was in no sense a group of strangers
unknown to the Ogilvie family. The Ogilvies had spent seven months already in
Marowancal country, and Captain Foley observed later, referring to 'Billy', 'Jackey
Jackey', 'Ben', 'Dennis' and the others, that

every one of these [Natives who are domesticated on the very Estates
where the outrages have occurred] is perfectly and intimately known by
names they have received among the settlers near whom they have dwelt. 11

The 'upper districts of Hunter's river' were occupied by more than 500 Aborigines in
'three tribes' according to Scott and Macleod. (Or four if we follow Edward Ogilvie.)
William Ogilvie is quoted as saying that the 'Merton' area group ('his tribe')
assembled, so perhaps Mary Ogilvie's '200' included the Aboriginal women and
children of the district. Four x 200 = 800 people, a plausible total for the top third of
the Valley.
There are two Jerrys mentioned, Jerry of 'Merton' and Jerry of Muswellbrook
('Jerry of another tribe, who is believed to be the murderer of Mr Forbes' stockman'),
so it is possible that Muswellbrook people were present. Indeed it is possible, if the
whole '200' were males, that every single grown man and youth from all three, or
rather the four, communities of the cismontane Kamilaroi was present, not only from
the local Marowancal, but also the other bands named by Edward Ogilvie: the
Tooloom-pikilal, Gundical and Pannin-pikilal. If so, the arrest of 'Dennis' and 'Ben'
called forth the entire Aboriginal manpower of the whole upper Hunter valley. 12

9 Cunningham 1827, ii: 32 (1966: 195) - probably an exaggeration; Foley's report in HRA
xii: 619; and Bundock's memoirs, cited by Wood 1972: 121. The arrest: Threlkeld in Gunson
1974: 93; Milliss 776 n40.
10 Darling's report to London in HRA xii: 574 and HRA xii: 613 ff; Ellen Bundock,
Memoirs, quoting her mother's account, in Wood 1972 and Brayshaw 1986; also Bramble
1981: 57. There were two Mrs Bundocks: the Ogilvies' then nine years old daughter who
became Mary Ogilvie Bundock (1817-1898), and her daughter Ellen Bundock (see Farwell
1973). 'Hills behind the house': east of the river, split by Denman Gap, including the present-
day Ogilvies Hill (468 metres).
11 HRA xii: 617, emphasis added.
12 Scott and Macleod in HRA xii: 612; Ogilvie 1856, and Wood 1972: 137. If there were
'200' grown males (males 15+ years), the total population from which they were drawn
probably numbered 800 men, women and children of all ages (4 x 200 = 800). This assumes
that 50% of the population was under 15 years. Names, numbers and ‘tribal’ affiliations are
discussed at length in O’Rourke 1997: 33-35.
© Michael O'Rourke Passages to the NW Plains 49

The combined force of 200 evidently gathered some distance east of 'Merton'
before coming in to the Ogilvies' farm huts. As William Ogilvie told it, they were
seeking to kill two men, a soldier and a constable, who had briefly arrested another
'Jerry', the local Big-Man of the 'Merton' district, called 'our chief Jerry' by Mary
Ogilvie Bundock.
Although William Ogilvie was not present on the day, his account must be given
more weight than that of Threlkeld, who lived near Newcastle:

... the assemblage ... arose ... from his constable [Ogilvie's convict
constable] and a soldier of Police [i.e., mounted police trooper] having
got among the blacks in disguise under pretence of searching for
bushrangers, and seized one of them, named Jerry [i.e., Jerry of 'Merton'],
under the supposition of his being Jerry of another Tribe, who is believed
to be the murderer of Mr Forbes' stockman; but, having found their
mistake, he was liberated; yet his tribe assembled at Mr Ogilvie's with the
intention of taking vengeance on the constable and soldier for what they
deemed an act of bad faith and hostility ...

Threlkeld on the other hand said the Aborigines meant to seize two constables whom
they blamed for aiding Lowe's men in the capture of Tolou and Mirroul. In one
account the Aborigines knew that the mounted police had killed 'Jerry' alias 'Jackey
Jackey'. In Peter Cunningham's version they said in English: 'Tell sodja [soldiers: i.e.,
the mounted police] nibba come meddle Massa Ogilvie black[s]'. As Mary Ogilvie
Bundock told it, 'the blacks said to the last that if they had found the constable and
soldiers they would have murdered them for their treachery'. 13

Speaking through her son Edward, Mrs Ogilvie offered maize and tobacco, and
asked the Kamilaroi to depart from 'Merton' in peace:

Edward [age 12] had learned to speak their language and explained that
his mother had told the troopers [Moore's squad of mounted police] that
Tolou and Mirroul had had nothing to do with the cattle-killing but they
[the troopers] had refused to let them go. They had taken Tolou and
Mirroul away in the night and as his father [William Ogilvie] was not
there, they [the Ogilvies] had been unable to prevent this.

Jerry himself asked the others not to destroy the house and persuaded them to believe
Mrs Ogilvie. The only damage they did was to take some of the Ogilvies' maize. 'To
our inexpressible relief', Mary Ogilvie Bundock recalled, 'at last they filed
[eastwards] over the hills'.

A number of the Aborigines then went south-east from 'Merton' in the direction of
'Ravensworth'. Most of the 200 people probably returned home to their various

13 Cunningham 1966: 199; Ogilvie, quoted by Foley in HRA xii: 618; Bundock Memoirs
(Ellen Bundock, quoting her mother Mary Ogilvie Bundock); Wood 1972: 124. As noted by
Milliss (1992: 776 n40), two different explanations are given, by the Ogilvies and by
Threlkeld. The latter understood that 'the Blacks (the 200) went to Mr Ogilvie('s) and
demanded the two (white) men who went out with the Soldiers (mounted police) and shot the
Black (at Ravensworth) in order to put them to death as a retaliation for that murder'
(Threlkeld ed. Gunson 1974: 93).
14 Bundock, Memoirs (in Wood 1972: 124); Scott and Macleod in HRA xii: 612. Kamilaroi:
Ogilvie 1856. Connor 2002: 66 errs in supposing that the son was named Peter and that the
language was Wonnarua.
© Michael O'Rourke Passages to the NW Plains 50

countries. Only '11' or '15' men proceeded further east past ‘Ravensworth’ to Captain

Robert Lethbridge's farm 'Bridgman', opposite Chilcott's 'Fal Brook', about a

kilometre upstream from Glennie's (where a party of the mounted police happened to
be lodged).
Arriving armed at 'Bridgman' about noon the following day, 29 August, this band
stayed for some hours, accepting the meat offered to them by Charlotte Alcorn, wife
of Richard Alcorn, Lethbridge's overseer. Alcorn himself returned at four p.m. with a
small party of convict workers (presumably not all of the 10 convicts assigned to
‘Bridgman’.). Three of the Aborigines, 'Ball', 'Murray' and 'Togy', were known as
having recently robbed Chilcott's. They attacked when Alcorn ordered them off. A
scuffle took place in and around the hut, in which the British were hampered in using
their muskets. Two whites were killed, and two severely wounded, one of them
Alcorn. He was knocked out by a stone thrown by an Aborigine after their spears had
been exhausted. The blackfellows got away with some booty. Word was immediately
sent to Glennie's to raise the alarm, but the raiders had already disappeared when the
mounted police stationed there came up in pursuit. 16

That the Aborigines had not initially threatened violence may suggest that they
were nursing a personal grievance against Alcorn. Threlkeld heard that the men
involved had declared that in attacking the workers at 'Bridgman' they were
retaliating for the detention of 'Billy' (Billy no.2) and the shooting of others of their
countrymen by the mounted police. As he says, 'two Stockmen have been speared
[dead] in retaliation for the 4 natives who were deliberately shot [i.e., by Lowe's
men] without any trial or form whatever'. Magistrate Scott, however, claimed that
'the attack, so far as Capt. Lethbridge's men were concerned, was quite unprovoked',
adding that 'this same tribe [read: community] is distinct from those which have
hitherto been committing the outrages so often reported'. Presumably Scott was
drawing a distinction between the Upper Hunter communities and the Patricks Plains
community. 17

The events of late August 1826 were nicely summarised in the joint appeal
written to Governor Darling on 4 September by the proprietors Bowman, McIntyre,
Ogilvie and others. 'The natives', they complained, 'have lately burnt all the grass
[pasture] on the several Farms [ = 'Ravensworth' and 'Bridgman'], killed some of the
Men [at 'Bridgman'], have speared several cattle and threatened to destroy the Wheat
of the ensuing Harvest'. The Australian commented,

15 John Connor 2002: 66 too confidently assumes they were Wonnarua men. 'Eleven'
according to HRA xii: 616; '14 or 15' according to Woodbury's deposition (in HRA xii: 613);
the Sydney Gazette 9.9.1826 said that 'four' Aborigines were joined by '10 or 12 more'.
Threlkeld mentioned that an employee of his brother in law met '200 natives' at about this
time 'on the road to the Hawkesbury'; '... they did not injure him but threatened vengeance
against Mr Bowman' (letter to Saxe-Bannister, 4 September 1826 in Gunson 1974: 93). I
take it that these may have been the same people, observed perhaps on 28 or 29 August
before they dispersed.
16 10 convicts: Binney 2005: 119. Connor 2002: 66. Primary sources: Woodbury's deposition
in HRA xii: 613-614; Darling to London in HRA xii: 574; Sydney Gazette 9.9.1826; also
Wood 1972: 128 ff. Threlkeld gives a slightly variant account (in Gunson 1974: 93). He
added, writing to Saxe Bannister on 4 September, that 'the Police is out (sic: presumably the
local constables), (and) a detachment is forwarded from Newcastle of 9 soldiers (foot-
17 Threlkeld, letter of 4.9.1826, in Gunson 1974: 213 and 93-94 ; Milliss 1992: 58.
18 Letter to the Governor, 4.9.1826, HRA xii: 576; Milliss 1992: 59. As noted above, wheat
was sown in February-May. The letter from Bowman and the others also complained of the
recall of Lowe's 'horse patrole'.
© Michael O'Rourke Passages to the NW Plains 51

There appears to be a dangerous spirit of molestation gaining ground

among the Native Blacks, and we apprehend that vigorous and rigorous
movements will prove the most humane and most effective. They are now
[a reference to the land holders' appeal] spearing men and cattle and
sheep and plundering huts and houses and farms ... Make them atone
[demanded the editorialist] for the murders they commit. For every man
they murder, hunt them down and drop 10 of them. 19

Governor Darling was not impressed. In reply he called on the proprietors, most of
whom were absentee grandees living in Sydney, to prevent 'irregularities on the part
of your own people, which I apprehend is, in many instances, the cause of the
disorders committed by the Natives'. This was certainly a fair guess, but incomplete.

Threlkeld pointed to the captured Aborigines 'executed' by Lowe's troopers and the
arrest of Jerry as the reason for all the trouble:

The whole of the outrages may be traced to this [the 'executions'] and
another circumstance [the detention of Jerry]. Many lives will be lost on
both sides and the blacks threaten to burn the corn [grain crop] as it

Peter Cunningham said much the same:

The natives around 'Merton' had remained all along on the most friendly
terms with this establishment, but were provoked into hostility by a party
of soldiers and constables who wantonly maltreated them. 21

Lt Lowe meanwhile, in line with the Governor's directions, withdrew from Wallis
Plains to Newcastle. Governor Darling took a very dim view of, as he expressed it,
“the massacre of prisoners in cold blood”. The decision to recall Lowe was 'deplored
by a great many, who consider he kept the blacks in great awe and thus protected the
property of the settlers'. After a series of botched inquiries he was eventually brought
to trial the next year, but acquitted.

Conflict: September-October 1826

The local officials acted before the Governor in Sydney had time to issue orders to
the military at Newcastle.
First, on 30 August, the magistrates Scott and Macleod met at Glennie's farm to
interview the survivors among Lethbridge's men. The following day Scott himself

19 In Wood 1972: 119.

20 Darling to Bowman, 5 September 1826, HRA xii: 577.
21 Threlkeld, letter of 11.9.1826 (Gunson 1974: 214), and P Cunningham 1827; Wood 1972:
22 The Australian, 26.8.1826; Milliss 1992: 57 ff. “Cold blood”: Darling, quoted in Connor
2002: 67. Lowe was tried before the Chief Justice Sir Francis Forbes, himself the holder of
'Edinglassie'. Lowe's counsel W C Wentworth boldly asked that the lieutenant be
commended. This did not really impress the jury, six army officers and one naval lieutenant;
they simply found Lowe 'Not Guilty' (see HRA xii: 623 ff; Wood 1972: 132;; Fletcher 1984:
187; Milliss 1992: 68 ff; Kociumbas 1992: 143-144).
1 The findings of their inquiries, from which we have quoted at length, can be found in the
official papers (HRA xii). There are further contemporary accounts in the colonial
© Michael O'Rourke Passages to the NW Plains 52

led out a punitive expedition numbering 14 men, This included 'some of his people
[ = convict workers] and some volunteers with three [or five] soldiers of the Mounted
Police' with 'one of his own blacks' as principal guide. There were three further
Aborigines in the party:

Two days after this [the attack on Lethbridge's] a party was formed [=
31 August] consisting of a magistrate [Scott], five military, four
Europeans [sic: convict workers] and four friendly blacks, who came
up with the murderers on the third day [1 September 1826] when a
skirmish took place and one European was speared through the face,
and it is supposed that two of the murderers were killed and some
more wounded, as reported by a black woman who was taken
prisoner. 2

Contradicting Scott's claim that only 'two' of the pursued blackfellows were killed,
The Australian said that 18 Aborigines died. Scott's party overtook and fired on the
Kamilaroi towards evening as they kindled their fires at a camp '20 miles or more [35
kilometres] from Lethbridge's', probably somewhere on the Upper Hunter (if we are
correct in supposing them to be Kamilaroi). The Aborigines held their ground, and, as
the whites retired behind trees to reload, made dexterous use of their spears. At
length, however, the Kamilaroi broke and fled, leaving 18 men dead. 3

In a late response to the letter that Bowman, McIntyre, Ogilvie and other
proprietors had written to the Governor requesting additional protection, Captain
Foley was ordered up the valley on 8 September. It was not yet known in Sydney that
Scott had gone after the offending Aborigines. The Governor, wrongly picturing the
Aborigines as a disciplined squadron waiting in formation, ordered via his Military
Secretary that Foley:

make use of any of the Natives whom you may be enabled to employ in
communicating with those who are assembled, and call on them
immediately to deliver up the murderers, making it a condition of General
Pardon to the others, who must further be required immediately to
disperse. If this be refused, you will take such steps as may appear most
likely, on the spot, to seize the 11 (sic) men alluded to [those who had
attacked Lethbridge's men] and disperse the general Body by force of

L E Threlkeld commented rather dramatically that '... war has commenced and still
continues against the Aboriginals of this land. Yesterday [10 September 1826] a
party of 40 soldiers were ordered to the interior [the upper Hunter valley] but only 18
could be spared. Three families have suffered by the blacks ... (and) the blacks
threaten to burn the corn [wheat] as it ripens'. The Governor's order proved
superfluous because Scott had already acted on his own initiative. It remained only
2 Scott and Macleod, HRA xii: 612, emphasis added. Connor 2002: 66.
3 Foley to de la Condamine in HRA xii: 617; Wood 1972: 130; Milliss 1985 and 1992. The
Australian also said that Scott's punitive expedition comprised 16 rather than 14 men.
Milliss 1992: 58 thinks, in view of the 'confused' dates in various reports, that there may have
been two separate encounters. This seems unlikely. It is not possible to deduce the location of
the collision with any certainty. Near Muswellbrook or near Denman are possible guesses
(from Fal Brook to Muswellbrook is about 30 km as the crow flies; and from Fal Brook to
Denman about 40 km).
© Michael O'Rourke Passages to the NW Plains 53

for Allman, Scott himself, and another magistrate, Edward Close, to meet at Scott's
estate ‘Glendon’ on 13 September to interview Lowe and his men about Lowe's
earlier work. 4

Foley's men found nothing left to be done when they arrived. '[T]he remainder of
the Tribe' (said Foley), fleeing first from Lowe's mounted police and then from
Scott's private enterprise, 'has fled far into the Interior'. As a safeguard, however, he
posted a number of his soldiers to different parts of the upper Hunter. Seven
infantrymen and Moore's squad of mounted police were stationed in the
Singleton-'Ravensworth' district (at Glennie's, Chilcott's and Bowman's), three foot-
soldiers at 'Merton', two across the river at 'Pickering' (Pike's), and five upstream at
'Segenhoe'. 5

But the force of arms was no longer necessary. Foley wrote to Governor Darling
reporting that 'they [sc. the tribe who assembled at Mr Ogilvie's] are still in the
neighbourhood, but perfectly quiet'. Indeed the Captain was able to report 'the perfect
tranquillity of the country from Wallis's Plains [Maitland] to Mr Ogilvie's [Denman],
a distance of nearly 80 miles [125 km]'. Relying on this, Governor Darling judged
that 'no apprehension can be entertained of the Natives as a body'. He wrote to
London that he had resisted the repeated urging of his Attorney-General, Saxe
Bannister, from 4 through 22 September, to declare martial law as Governor Brisbane
had done two years earlier. Darling scornfully remarked that Bannister 'would declare
Martial Law against a few naked Savages who, however treacherous, would not face
a Corporal's Guard'. 6

In October Darling directed that the soldiers should do no more than stand ready to
defend the English farmers. 'The soldiers (he informed Foley) who are stationed with
the settlers may be ordered not to act offensively ..., and may be withdrawn as soon
as the apprehension of a renewal of attack on the part of the Natives is removed'. 7

4 McLeay to Allman and de la Condamine to Allman and Foley (6,7, and 8 September), in
HRA xii: 574, 615-616 and 624; Threlkeld (in Wood 1972: 120) and despatches of Governor
Darling (in Wood 1972: 130); Connnor 2002: 67. Darling considered the magistrates' report
unsatisfactory and reprimanded them for failing to uncover the full facts, especially in
relation to Lt Lowe. The Acting Attorney-General, Moore, was sent to the Hunter the
following year and found at first that no one was prepared to testify against Lowe (see
Sydney Gazette 11.5.1827 and HRA xiii: 179 ff, 399 ff).
5 Total 18 infantry. It is not clear how many troopers ('a small detachment') were with
6 Foley to de la Condamine, 22.9.1826, in HRA xii: 617; Darling in HRA xii: 445 and 574
ff; Wood 1972: 130; Fletcher 1984: 186; Connor 2002: 67. Bannister's role as (failed) adviser
to Darling is discussed at length by Milliss 1992: 60-62.
7 There was a further incident in 1826 which, presumably, must be dated after the Scott battle
or massacre. A dog barking at some Aborigines alarmed a group of five white men repairing
fences on 'Ravensworth'. The colonists seized their muskets and fired on the passing
Aborigines; one was wounded. Allan Wood (1972: 130, commenting on HRA xii: 612)
considers that the magistrates misinterpreted this as another Aboriginal raid. Milliss
interprets this incident as a definite 'attack' - '(the whites) shot their way out of trouble, again
miraculously wounding only one of their assailants' (1992: 58). His word 'miraculously' may
be meant to indicate that the magistrates' report ought not to be believed. It is well to
remember, however, that 19th century muskets were unreliable weapons. Thereafter several
confused accounts concerning new Aboriginal 'outrages' in The Australian and Sydney
Gazette in 1827 (24.3 and 19.10.1827) seem likewise to have been unfounded; the Gazette of
19.10.1827 reproduced a story which The Australian had already disavowed as spurious (see
Wood 1972: 134). In the former incident (Gazette 24.3) a group of shepherds employed on E
G Cory's Paterson River estate (north of Maitland) killed '12' Aborigines who assertedly had
threatened them with spears; the Gazette seems to imply that the clash was provoked by the
© Michael O'Rourke Passages to the NW Plains 54

The Hunter Valley 'war' was over. 8

Peter Cunningham, writing in London the following year, drew a moral of a kind:

... it has ever been observed that the various tribes of savages have
always one time or another essayed a trial of strength with the whites
and, when once fairly satisfied of their inferior power, live ever
afterwards in perfect harmony with them. 9


By 1826 the colonists had established a line of mixed farms and cattle stations as far
as the Liverpool Ranges, the boundary of Oxley’s Liverpool Plains.
The first settlers to send stock and stockmen across the ranges and into the north-
west interior were Otto Baldwin, the erstwhile trekker Benjamin Singleton, and
William Nowland, in 1826-27. They and their men set up temporary outposts in the
upper Mooki Valley.
Also in 1826, William Cox’s men took stock from Mudgee and went west around
the outer end of the Liverpool Ranges. They set up an out-station in the basin of Coxs
Creek. Hence the name. 1

But we end our tale here, leaving the reader to seek elsewhere for the story after


This appendix brings together summary notes on the first observations of

blackfellows and early meetings between the Kamilaroi and the colonists. The fact
that no blackfellows were seen does not mean that a district was uninhabited. Nor
should we draw any quick conclusion about the severity of the smallpox epidemic of
the early 1830s. The Aborigines after all may well have been hiding from the

For a fuller discussion of these meetings, the reader is referred to my red book (Raw
Possum 1995) and my yellow book (Kamilaroi Lands 1997). The references are given

[1] The Valley of Coxs Creek,

Aborigines' dogs interfering with the sheep.

8 But not the post-mortem. On Darling's dissatisfaction with Scott and Macleod's report, and
the series of further inquiries he launched, see Milliss 1992: 63 ff.
9 Cunningham 1827, ii: 35 (1966: 197).
1 Primary sources: Gardner 1854, I:3; Nowland 1861. Secondary: Campbell 1922; Carter
1974; Rolls 1981; and Milliss 1992. Convict stockmen from William Lawson's run on the
Talbragar reportedly reached low and extensive plains to the north-west in November 1825;
and they discovered a range called by the Aborigines Waranbungie (the modern
Warrumbungles) (Jervis 1962: 378).
© Michael O'Rourke Passages to the NW Plains 55

east of the Warrumbungles:

Oxley, winter 1818: Three ‘native fires’ were seen in the valley of
Garrawilla Creek, but ‘few signs’ of Aborigines
where the exploring party crossed Coxs Creek.

in 1825
after a flood: A deserted Aboriginal settlement between Mullaley
and Boggabri, and elsewhere a group of gunyas. The
only people met were ‘one group of native women and
children and seven males’. Smoke at several points
along the Namoi around Boggabri.

autumn 1827: Smoke in the direction of Coxs Creek.

1829: ‘Nombi’ the first run formed, in about 1829, followed

by ‘Bone Creek’ and ‘Premer’ in about 1830.

1830-31: Smallpox.

1831: George Clarke raided ‘Nombi’. When he was pursued

by the mounted police, ‘the blacks mustered in great
force [in a failed attempt] to rescue him’, evidently in
the Mullaley area.

Forbes, autumn 1832: No mention of any local Aborigines.

[2] The Mooki or Conadilly River:

Winter-spring 1818: Oxley crossed the river south-east of present-day

Curlewis; no indication of the presence of
blackfellows. Smoke from native fires seen at a
distance, ie. in the direction of Gunnedah-Carroll-

Early summer 1824: (Dangar was ambushed high on the Liverpool Range
south-east of Willow Tree by ‘150’ blackfellows, who
were described as ‘Bathurst natives’.)

1826-27: Squatters formed sheep runs on the upper tributaries.

1827-28: Battles at ‘Yarramanbah’, involving ‘200’ Aborigines,

and ‘Borambil’, involving perhaps ‘500’ Aborigines
(numbers probably exaggerated).

1830-31: The great smallpox epidemic.

1831: Led by Clarke, the Boggabri blackfellows raided

© Michael O'Rourke Passages to the NW Plains 56

late summer 1832: No mention of Aborigines.

Breton, 1832: No blackfellows were met with in the upper Mooki

Valley; he was told the local communities had left the
area temporarily, evidently proceeding to the Namoi
for ‘war against the Never-Never blacks’.

Williams, 1833: Mentioned various ‘tribes’ on the Liverpool Plains,

including one belonging to the ‘Mocai’.

[3] The Peel River at Tamworth:

1818: Oxley crossed about 10 kilometres downstream from
the site of Tamworth; no sign of Aborigines. But
earlier, from a distance, ‘a great many smokes arising
from the fires of the natives’ were seen in the direction
of Gunnedah, Carroll and Attunga.

1831: Brown’s ‘Wollomal’ run was formed in early or mid

1831. Clarke and his Boggabri blackfellows stole
materiel and cattle from Brown.

Mitchell and White,

in the dry summer
of 1831-32: No mention of Aborigines other than a few ‘station
blacks’. Mitchell’s party crossed to the Peel through
the hinterland west of Goonoo Goonoo Creek.

Parry, 1832: A small group near Manilla seemed generally familiar

with the ways of the British.

[4] Somerton on the Peel, and the Peel-Namoi Junction below Keepit Dam:

Oxley, spring 1818: Smoke at about Somerton or Attunga, observed from a


in a season of
drought, winter 1827: Voices only. Paths, hatchet-marks and fireplaces, but
no Aborigines seen.

1830-31: Smallpox. It came up the Namoi from the interior,

reaching the Boggabri region of the middle Namoi in
October 1830 (see details in Campbell 2002).
© Michael O'Rourke Passages to the NW Plains 57

January 1831: Clarke guided the squatters Singleton and Yeomans on

a trek down the Peel almost as far as its junction with
the Namoi.

Mitchell and White,

summer 1831-32: No sign of blackfellows.

Parry, 1832: No mention of Aborigines.

[5] Upper Namoi River and Manilla:

winter 1827: Met up with one hearth-group.

late summer 1832: Several hearth-groups.

1834, Threlkeld: A community of ‘164’ people lived near his son’s

holding in the Barraba district.

[6] The Namoi River at Boggabri:

Cunningham 1825: Smoke at several points.

Summer 1827-28: The escaped convict George Clarke arrived in the

Boggabri district (Barbers Lagoon).
Summer 1830-31
[from October
1830]: Smallpox swept up the Namoi.

Mitchell and White,

summer 1831-32: Found Clarke’s large camp at Barbers Lagoon. No
local people were observed, although the countryside
was on fire on all sides.

Forbes, during a
flood in the autumn
of 1832: A small group observed on the Boggabri side opposite
Barbers Lagoon.

1832-34: Cattle-men occupied the Boggabri-Narrabri region.

[7] Nandewar Mountains:

Winter 1827: The escapee-convicts’ camp at Courada or Guaramei

was probably already in existence. Cunningham found
© Michael O'Rourke Passages to the NW Plains 58

fresh cowpats in Bingara Valley, and a ‘shed’ near


Mitchell and White,

in the dry summer
of 1831-32: Several individual Aborigines were seen and met on
and around upper Maules Creek; for the most part,
however, it would seem that the blackfellows avoided
Mitchell’s large party.

Forbes, 1832: Encountered several individuals and groups while

searching in vain for the Courada camp.

Williams, 1833: Met up with a ‘tribe’ in the western foothills.

1834-40: Escaped convicts active among the Aborigines in the

Nandewars and the surrounding region.

1834-35: Cattle-men entered the Gwydir basin.


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© Michael O'Rourke Passages to the NW Plains 60

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E V (Tim) CRAMPTON, 22008: 60+60260060 [Plus Twenty:]

r60e60m60e60m60b60e60r60i60n60g60 60t60h60e60
60f60o60r60g60o60t60t60e60n60. 60R60e60w60r60i60t60i60n60g60
60A60u60s60t60r60a60l60i60a60n60 60H60i60s60t60o60r60y60: T60h60e60
60u60n60t60o60l60d60 60s60t60o60r60i60e60s60 60o60f60
60J60o60h60n60 60O60x60l60e60y‘s60 60160860160760 60&60
60160860160860 60E60x60p60e60d60i60t60i60o60n60s. E-book, published
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© Michael O'Rourke Passages to the NW Plains 61

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© Michael O'Rourke Passages to the NW Plains 62

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HRA: Historical Records of Australia. Sydney : Library Committee of the

Commonwealth Parliament, 1914-1925, 33 v. A multi-volume series of
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Ion L. IDRIESS, 1953: The Red Chief: as told by the last of his tribe. Sydney : Angus
& Robertson.

James JERVIS, 1954: William Lawson, explorer and pioneer [Mudgee-Goulburn

River region], Journal of the Royal Australian Historical Society, 40 (2), 65-

James JERVIS, 1962: Exploration and settlement of the north-western plains, Journal
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Paul JOHNSON, 1991: The Birth of the Modern: World Society 1815-1830. London:
Weidenfeld and Nicolson.

Richard JOHNSON, 2002: The Search for the Inland Sea: John Oxley, Explorer,
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Ian KEEN, 2004: Aboriginal Society and Economy: Australia at the Threshold of
Colonisation. Melbourne: Oxford University Press. (An excellent account of
the differences among Aboriginal groups across the continent.)

Jan KOCIUMBAS, 1992: 1770-1860: Possessions. The Oxford history of Australia.

Volume 2. Melbourne : Oxford University Press

J D LANG: 1852: An Historical and Statistical Account of New South Wales. Oxford

R D LANG, 2008: ‘Defining the original extent and floristic sequence of the naturally
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Lansdowne Press, 1971: Australia's heritage: the making of a nation. Ist edition.
Sydney: Hamlyn. 14 volumes.

Ida LEE, 1925: Early Australian Explorers. London: Methuen.

Full text available online:
and at
© Michael O'Rourke Passages to the NW Plains 63

Harry LOURANDOS, 1977: Aboriginal spatial organisation and population: south-

west Victoria reconsidered, Archaeology and Physical Anthropology in
Oceania, 12 (3), 202-225.

Harry LOURANDOS, 1997: Continent of Hunter-Gatherers: New Perspectives in

Australian Prehistory. Cambridge UK: Cambridge University Press.

Ian LUNT, Nigel Jones, Peter Spooner and Maree Petrow, 2006: Effects of European
colonization on indigenous ecosystems: post-settlement changes in tree stand
structures in Eucalyptus–Callitris woodlands in central New South Wales,
Australia, Journal of Biogeography 33, 1102–1115.
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Kath MAHAFFEY, 1980/82: Pioneers of the North West Plains. Volume One, 1980;
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Kath MAHAFFEY, 1984: "--and another reapeth" : Benjamin Singleton, pioneer of

the Hawkesbury and Hunter's River, Liverpool Plains and the Macintyre.

R H MATHEWS, 1897: ‘Burbung of the Darkinung Tribes’. Proceedings of the

Royal Society of Victoria 10 (New Series) (1):1-12. Online 2009 at

Jennifer A McKINNON, "Convict Bushrangers in New South Wales, 1824-34". M.A.

thesis, La Trobe University, 1979.

Robin McLACHLAN, 1981: ‘Far from the joyless galte’ [mpoianted polocie partiol
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W G McMINN, 1970: Allan Cunningham, Botanist and Explorer. Melbourne

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James, MILLER [now James Wilson-Miller], 1985: Koori, a will to win : the heroic
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Roger MILLISS, 1980: City on the Peel: a History of Tamworth and District 1818-
1976. Sydney: Reed.

Roger MILLISS, 1992: Waterloo Creek: The Australia Day Massacre of 1838,
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Thomas MITCHELL, 1839: Three Expeditions into the Interior of Eastern Australia,
2 vols; second edition. London: T W Boone. (Vol 1 relates the journey to
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© Michael O'Rourke Passages to the NW Plains 64

The Monitor [Sydney newspaper], 1 Sept 1826. Online at

Namoi CMA [Catchment Managemnst Authority] 2009: Riverine vegatation in the

Namoi baidn, online at

William NOWLAND, 1861: Letter, in Sydney Morning Herald, 23 January.

Edward OGILVIE, 1856: Diary of Travels in three quarters of the globe / by an

Australian settler. London: Saunders and Otley. (Departing overseas, Ogilvie
briefly stopped off at his father’s old property at ‘Merton, where he met a few
surviving Kamilaroi people.)

Michael O’ROURKE, 1995: Raw Possum and Salted Pork: Major Mitchell and the
Kamilaroi Aborigines. Kambah, ACT: the author. (Describes Surveyor-
General Mitchell’s dealings with the Aborigines on his two northern

Michael O’ROURKE, 1997: The Kamilaroi Lands: North-Central NSW in the Early
19th Century. Griffith, ACT: the author. (A full account of the traditional way
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Michael O'ROURKE, 2005: "Sung for Generations": "Old" Joe Bungaree's tales
about Red Kangaroo, an 18th Century Gamilaraay "Big-Man" of the central
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Also published online at

John OXLEY, 1820: Journals of Two Expeditions into the Interior of NSW in 1817
and 1818. London: John Murray.
Online at

Katie [Katherine Langloh] PARKER, 1905: The Euahlayi Tribe: A Study of

Aboriginal Life in Australia. London: Archibald Castle. (“Eu-ah-la-yi” = the
Yuwaaliyaay people of the NSW-Qld border region, NW of Walgett, west of

T M (Thomas) PERRY 1963: Australia's first frontier : the spread of settlement in

New South Wales, 1788-1829. Melbourne University Press.

Peter PRINEAS and Henry GOLD, 1997: Wild places: Wilderness in Eastern New
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Suzanne PROBER & Kevin THIELE, 2004: Floristic patterns along an east-west
gradient in grassy box woodland of Central New South Wales, Cunninghamia
8, 306-325.
© Michael O'Rourke Passages to the NW Plains 65

R v Lowe: Trial transcript at


William RIDLEY, 1855 (1864): Journal of a missionary tour … in the year 1855,
pp.395 ff, in J D Lang, Queensland Australia. London: Edward Stanford

William RIDLEY, 1871-73: Unpublished letters to the Colonial Secretary, State

Records of NSW [archives], file 4.788.2.

William RIDLEY, 1873: Report on Australian languages and traditions, Part I,

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William RIDLEY, 1878: Appendix, in vol 2 of R. BROUGH SMYTH, The

Aborigines of Victoria, Melbourne. Available online at

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D A ROBERTS, H.M. Carey and V. Grieves, Awaba: A Database of Historical

Materials Relating to the Aborigines of the Newcastle-Lake Macquarie
Region, University of Newcastle, 2002. Published online:

Eric, ROLLS, 1981: A Million Wild Acres [history of the Pilliga Scrub]. Page
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(Mrs) T RANKIN, 1901: Aboriagnal gianettess’s grave, Science of Man [Sydney] 4

(5), 81

G W RUSDEN, 1880: The Geawe-gal Tribe, pp. 279-84, in Fisosn and Howitt.
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L E THRELKELD, 1974: Australian Papers, ed N Gunson. Canberra: AIATSIS.

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N B TINDALE, 1974: The Aboriginal Tribes of Australia. Their terrain,

environmental controls, distribution, limits and proper names. Canberra:
Australian National University Press.

“VPLA”: Votes and Proceedings of the (NSW) Legislative Assembly.

© Michael O'Rourke Passages to the NW Plains 66

“VPLC”: Votes an Proceedings … Council.

R. B. WALKER, 'McIntyre, Peter (1783 - 1842)', Australian Dictionary of

Biography, Volume 2, Melbourne University Press, 1967, pp 168-169. Also

G B [George] WHITE, 1832: Journal of … G B White, on expedition with Sir

Thomas Mitchell 1831-23MS no. M-B182, Mitchell Library, Sydney.
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John WHITEHEAD, 2004: Tracking and mapping the Explorers. Volume 2: Oxley
and Evans 1818. Coonabarabran: John Whitehead.

Corinne WILLIAMS, 1980: A Grammar of Yuwaalaraay. Canberra: Pacific

Linguistics B74.

James WILSON-MILLER n.d. [2006]: “Conflict in the Valley: The Triumph of the
Wonnarua”, 11 pages. Published online at (A paper mainly on menaing of the
events of 1826; not an account of those events.)

W A (Allan) WOOD, 1972: Dawn in the Valley. The Story of the Settlement in the
Hunter River Valley to 1833. Sydney: Wentworth Books.