Site Name Convincing Ground, Portland Bay
Aboriginal Place Name
Language Group Dhauwurd wurrung
Colony PPD
Present State/Territory VIC
Police District Portland
Latitude -38.275
Longitude 141.662
Date Between 1 Mar 1833 and 31 Mar 1834
Attack Time day
Victims Aboriginal People
Victims Killed 20
Victims Killed Notes Killed: M 20, F; Probable: M F; Possible: M F; Wounded: M F
Attackers Colonisers: whalers
Attackers Killed 0
Attackers Killed Notes
Transport Foot
Motive Reprisal
Weapons Used Firearms
Narrative Massacre of Kilcarer gundidj (Dhanwurd wurrung speakers) by a group of whalers in reprisal for taking a whale at Convincing Ground north of Allestree, between March 1833 and March 1834. Chief Protector GA Robinson first heard of the massacre from settler Edward Henty, magistrate James Blair and surveyor James Tyers, during his first visit to Portland on 16 May 1841. Henty said: ‘suppose two or three years ago a whale broke from moorings and went on shore. And the blacks went to get it off, when they were attack (sic) by the natives who drove them off. [Henty] said the [whalers] were so enraged that they went to the head station for the firearms and returned to the whales, when the natives again attack (sic) them. And the whalers then let fly, to use his expression, right and left upon the natives. He said the natives did not go away but got behind trees and threw spears and stones. They, however, did not much molest them after that’ (GA Robinson Journal 16 May 1841, in Clark 1998b, p.211).
The following day Robinson visited the Convincing Ground site and recorded the following observations: ‘Now, the cause of this fight, if such an unequal can be so designated, firearms [are] certain death against spears, was occasioned by the whalers going to get the whalebone from the fish which the natives considered theirs and which it had been so for 1000 years previous, they of course resisted the aggression on the part of the white men. It was the first year of the fishery, and the whalers having used their guns beat them off and hence the spot the Convincing Ground. That was because they [the whalers] convinced them [the natives] of their mistake and which, but for their firearms, they perhaps could not have done’ (GA Robinson Journal 17 May 1841, in Clark 1998b, p.214).
Ten months later, on 23 March 1842, Robinson met 30 Aboriginal people from at least five clans in the region at Captain Alexander Campbell’s station at Merri River near Port Fairy. According to Clark, ‘[p]resumably these people informed him of the Convincing Ground massacre, for Robinson noted in his journal for that day that it was eight or nine years earlier that the collisions took place’ and that in 1841, there were only two survivors, both young men whom he named (Clark 1995, p.19).
In the official report to Superintendent La Trobe of his 1841 journey into Western Victoria, Robinson mentioned the massacre: ‘Among the remarkable places on the coast, is the ‘Convincing Ground’, originating in a severe conflict which took place a few years previous between the Aborigines and Whalers on which occasion a large number of the former were slain. The circumstances are that a whale had come on shore and the Natives who feed on the carcase claimed it was their own. The whalers said they would ‘convince them’ and had recourse to firearms. On this spot a fishery is now established’ (Robinson in Clark 1995, p.19).
In 2005, historian Michael Connor contested Clark’s account of the massacre and the origins of the name ‘Convincing Ground’ (Connor 2005, pp.140-155). He made three key claims: that Robinson first heard of the story of the massacre as ‘an after-dinner story of violence which he then embroidered on’ (Connor 2005, p.140); that Robinson relied on second hand accounts and never interviewed any witnesses to the massacre; and that the name ‘Convincing Ground’ was coined by Major Mitchell when he visited in 1836, that is, at least two years after the alleged massacre took place (Connor 2005 pp.140-142).
Clark responded to the claims in 2011. He pointed out that Robinson was an experienced massacre investigator and cited as an example, his extensive investigation of the Cape Grim massacre in Tasmania. Following Edward Henty’s account of the Convincing Ground massacre, Robinson visited the site and over several months, sought corroborating evidence from Aboriginal people and settlers, and summarised his findings in the report to Superintendent La Trobe in 1842. Finally, Clark pointed out that the name ‘Convincing Ground’ was first used by Edward Henty in his diary of 17 September 1835, several months before Mitchell arrived at Portland Bay (Clark 2011, p.94). Clark concluded that the massacre probably took place in the whaling season between March 1833 and March 1834, that is, at least seven months before the Henty brothers arrived at Portland Bay (Clark 2011, 95).
Sources Clark 1995; Clark 1998b; Connor 2005; Clark 2011. (Sources PDF)
Corroboration Rating ***