Site Name Fighting Hills
Aboriginal Place Name
Language Group Nundadjali
Colony PPD
Present State/Territory VIC
Police District Portland
Latitude -37.497
Longitude 141.424
Date 8 Mar 1840
Attack Time day
Victims Aboriginal People
Victims Killed 41
Victims Killed Notes Killed: M>41 according to Ab - 25 Ab killed according to Whyte; according to shepherds 30-80; neighbour George Robertson claimed 51; William Whyte killed 2 Ab. F; Probable:M F; Possible: M>61 F; Wounded: unspecified number
Attackers Colonisers
Attackers Killed 0
Attackers Killed Notes Killed:M F;Wounded: MDaniel Turner - spear to the thigh; one of the Whytes GSW to the cheek.
Transport Foot
Motive Reprisal
Weapons Used Firearms, Shotguns
Narrative According to Jan Critchett (1990, p. 127) and Ian Clark (1995, p. 145), on 8 March 1840, within a few weeks of the five Whyte brothers occupying Koonongwootong station on Koroit Creek, 6.5 kilometres north of present day Coleraine, in February 1840, they gathered a party of nine men armed with double-barrelled guns, comprising the five Whyte brothers on horseback and four convict shepherds on foot, including Daniel Turner, William Gillespie and Benjamin Turner, and ‘hunted down’ the Aborigines in the area, killing at least 40 of them on the grounds that some ‘had made off with 127 sheep’. ‘The massacre took place at the Hummocks,… a unique rocky outcrop dissected by a narrow gorge of the Wando River’ (Clark 1995, p. 145).
Assistant Protector Sievwright was 9.5 kilometres from the scene and quickly heard about the massacre from Aboriginal survivors who told him that 41 of their clan had been killed (Orton Papers, 12 January 1841). According to Clark, realising that the massacre could not be covered up, John Whyte decided to ride to Melbourne and make a personal report to Superintendent La Trobe (Clark 1995, pp. 145, 147). En route, on 23 March, he called in at Glenormiston Station near Terang and told squatter Neil Black his version of the events. According to Black, Whyte said that 25 Aborigines had been killed (Journal of Neil Black 1840).
In April, ‘the sole Aboriginal survivor of the massacre, Long Yarra or “Lanky Bill”, was killed by George MacNamara, one of Francis Henty’s hut keepers at Merino Downs’ (Clark 1995, p. 146).
When Sievwright, arrived at the Whytes’ station in May to take depositions from the attackers, according to missionary Joseph Orton, he was surprised to find that the Whyte brothers and their shepherds freely admitted what had happened and that there was little variation in their accounts of the slaughter, except in their estimates of the number killed – between 30 and 80 (Orton Papers 12 January 1841). A neighbouring squatter, George Robertson, who moved into the area three days after the massacre, stated in 1853 that 51 Aborigines were killed. “Fifty sheep, stolen and killed by the Aborigines lay with as many bodies of Aboriginal people after the massacre. The bodies of the sheep and men lay all around, almost an equal number of each – the bones of the men and the sheep lay mingled together bleaching in the sun at the Fighting Hills” (Robertson to La Trobe, 26 September 1853, cited in Bride [1898] 1983, p. 16).
In Melbourne, the Crown Prosecutor, James Croke, after examining the depositions of Daniel Turner, William Gillespie and Benjamin Wardle, considered that the Aborigines appeared to have been the aggressors in originally stealing the sheep and that William Whyte had killed two Aborigines only after a spear was thrown at him and John Whyte ‘stated that no less than 200 spears were thrown and not less than 30 Aborigines were killed’ (Whyte cited in Clark 1995, p. 149). Croke concluded that he could not accept the perpetrators’ depositions on the grounds that they were self-incriminating and that in the absence of independent witnesses, he could not charge the men with anything (Clark 1995, p.149).
Sources Journal of Neil Black 23 March 1840, VPRS 19-21; Reverend Joseph Orton Papers 1840-42, ML A1715; Bride [1898] 1983; Critchett 1990; Clark 1995. (Sources PDF)
Corroboration Rating ***