Site Name Snowy River
Aboriginal Place Name
Language Group Tatungalung or Krauatungulung
Colony PPD
Present State/Territory VIC
Police District Gippsland
Latitude -37.74
Longitude 148.549
Date 16 Dec 1846
Attack Time dawn
Victims Aboriginal People
Victims Killed 15
Victims Killed Notes Killed: M unspecified could be 15 - 23 people F unspecified; Probable: M unspecified F unspecified; Possible: M unspecified F unspecified; Wounded: M F unspecified
Attackers Colonisers: Native Police
Attackers Killed 0
Attackers Killed Notes Killed: M F; Wounded: M F
Transport Horse
Motive Reprisal
Weapons Used Firearms
Narrative A division of Native Police led by William Dana left headquarters at Narre Warren east of Melbourne on November 21, 1846 on patrol to Gippsland, expecting to take three days to reach there. Historian Marie Hansen Fels says that what Dana and his division did in the weeks between leaving Narre Warren and prior to the incident in December is unknown (Fels 1988: 188). But on December 21, Capt. De Villiers, who led another party of Aborigines and some white people, came upon Dana and his detachment of Native Police at the Snowy River at the reed beds in Lake Curlip country between Marlo and Orbost . Dana told de Villiers that he had surrounded several camps of natives, and taken five prisoners, an old man, and old woman, and three children. De Villiers saw adult prisoners in irons, in Dana's camp. Later the Aboriginal guides with de Villiers told him that Dana and his group had shot "some" of the Snowy River people. The next day the two parties separated, Dana and his group retracing their steps to the border police station and de Villiers and his party proceeding up the Snowy River. His suspicions were alerted by the unusual sight of a large area of trampled reed-beds and finding the dead and decomposing body of a very stout Aboriginal male, about 30 years of age. He had two severe wounds to the head and two other wounds, one in the leg and the other in the breast, which the blacks said were gunshot wounds, "done" by the Native Police. Upon his return to the Tambo River three days later, de Villiers heard from Richard Hartnett that local Aborigines had said that Mr Dana's party had shot "some" blacks on the Snowy River. James Warman, who had accompanied de Villiers part of the way, added further information about a carbine that he found, belonging to the Native Police, which was bloodied and broken, with tufts of black hair clinging to it. Corporal Owen Cowan, a border policeman who accompanied Dana and the Native Police, said that on December 19, that he had a hand to hand struggle with the Aborigines, that he was speared in the hand and knocked to the ground and that he had lost his carbine, fired his pistol, then regained his carbine, hit his assailant over the head with it and barely escaped with his life. At the time, the native police was split three ways around the islands and the lake at the mouth of the Snowy River and Cowan only had one trooper with him. They then rushed an Aboriginal camp but retreated under a shower of spears. The following night, December 20, he surrounded another Aboriginal camp and that he came "upon it" at sunrise. He did not say what happened next. Nor does he say whether the entire group of Native Police were involved, although Dana did say that he considered that this was the only way he could determine whether the white woman from Gippsland was with them. Fels is not persuaded that the incident constitutes a massacre because only one Aborigine was recorded killed and that the number "became 'some' as the story was transmitted orally, and a slaughter when it appeared in the newspapers" (Fels 1988: 193, 190). She does admit however that Dana's official report of the incident is now missing. Commissioner Tyers thought Dana did "not act with prudence" and Gipps questioned both his authority for acting as he did and his explanation – which was "not satisfactory"; he acted "with great want of discretion, to say the least of it". Above all Fels appears to have overlooked the fact that a dawn raid on the Aboriginal camp placed the Aborigines in a defenceless position. This is what angered Gipps. According to historian A.G.L. Shaw the number killed was between 15 and 23.
Sources Fels 1988: 188-192; Shaw 1996: 133 (Sources PDF)
Corroboration Rating **