Site NameBarrow Creek (2)
This massacre is part of a group of massacres
Aboriginal Place NameJemelke
Language GroupKaititja, Anmatyerre, Warumungu, Alyawarra, Warlpiri
Present State/TerritoryNT
Colony/State/Territory at the timeSA
Police DistrictAlice Springs
DateBetween 22 Feb 1874 and 10 Apr 1874
Attack TimeDay
VictimsAboriginal People
Victim DescriptionsAboriginal
Victims Killed50
Victims Killed NotesOfficially 11. Later accounts from eyewitnesses and/or those in positions to know range from 50 to about 90 at Skull Creek alone.
Attacker DescriptionsGovernment Official(s), Mounted Police
Attackers Killed2
Attackers Killed NotesStationmaster James Laurence Oliver Stapleton & Linesman John Franks, both ‘killed by natives’ at the Barrow Creek Overland Telegraph Station. Attacked 22 Feb 1874. Franks died 22/2 and Stapleton on 23/2.
Weapons UsedFirearm(s)
NarrativeAfter the killing of Stapleton and Franks by Kaititja men in retaliation for Overland Telegraph workers abducting Aboriginal women, over the next six weeks, Police Trooper Gason and co. ‘...with assistance from a constable from The Peak and staff from the Barrow Creek and Tennant Creek Telegraph Stations... carried out four punitive expeditions against Aboriginal people between Taylor Creek and Central Mount Stuart’ (Barrow Creek Telegraph Station Heritage Assessment Report 1995, p 10). The Barrow Creek Massacre cost 100 Aboriginal lives. However, this number varies between sources (some say that, although 11 were officially recognised as killed, a higher death toll is likely and others say that ‘the number of Aboriginal lives taken in reprisal for the station attack was between 50 and 90, possibly higher’ (Nettelbeck & Foster 2007, p 7; Bell 1983, p 63). One man put the figure at about 90 at Skull Creek alone (Reid 1990, pp 64-65). Kimber (1991, p 6) noted that ‘MJ O'Reilly, who "got to know a member of this tribe" in c 1919, understood from the Aborigines that the telegraph station had greatly offended them because it had been built "on one of the tribe's most sacred spots"’. Still later, TGH Strehlow, as a result of discussions with Aboriginal people in the region, suggested that ‘white men of bad character’, not of the telegraph station staff, had abducted young Aboriginal women and raped them; in retaliation the Aborigines attacked the white men available to them rather than the actual criminals’ (Strehlow cited in Kimber 1991, p 6). ‘As old-timer Alec Ross related many years later, the response was swift: “They sent out messages on the wires everywhere, and the police and parties of men came up from The Tennant and The Alice and from lots of other places. And I can tell you, they did some pretty serious shooting too – taught the blacks a lesson they’ve never forgotten…and for quite a few more months blacks would get shot in twos and threes in the whole of this district. The blacks had needed a good lesson and they got it right in the neck; they never attacked another white man along the Line after that”’ (Ross cited in Bradley 2019, p 9).
SourcesBCHAR 1995; South Australian Register, June 25, 1874 ; The Stringer ; Nettelbeck & Foster 2007; Centralian Advocate, September 5, 2017 ; Bell 1983, p 53; Wilson 2000, pp 270-71; Reid 1990, pp 62-65; Mulvaney 2003, pp 44-51; Hartwig 1965, pp 265-276; Kimber 1991; Bradley 2019; Roberts 2005, p 113-114; Daly, 1887, pp 225-226; NTTG September 12, 1874, p. 3>; SA Gazette No 29 of 1874, pp 1335-37. (Sources PDF)
Corroboration Rating***