Site NameCalder Range
This massacre is part of a group of massacres
Aboriginal Place NameUnclear
Language GroupMangarrayi
Present State/TerritoryNT
Colony/State/Territory at the timeSA
Police DistrictNo police district at that time.
Date29 Aug 1875
Attack TimeDay
VictimsAboriginal People
Victim Descriptions
Victims Killed40
Victims Killed Notes
Attacker DescriptionsGovernment Official(s)
Attackers Killed0
Attackers Killed Notes
Weapons UsedPistol(s), Rifle(s)
NarrativeSee also Mt McMinn, Crescent Lagoon, Harris Lagoon and Mole Hill massacres. A range of sources (see below) provide details of this massacre. Following the killing of Charles Johnston at Roper Bar in the NT by Mangarrayi on 29 June 1875, two reprisal parties comprising 20 men assembled at Roper Bar on 2 August and, between 5 August and 4 September, conducted a series of massacres at Aboriginal camps in the region. On 29 August 1875, a party on foot attacked an Aboriginal camp on the north side of the Roper River under Calder Range. It is estimated that 40 people were shot. Roberts (2009, np) takes up the story: “As a consequence, Aboriginals along the length of the river were slaughtered by a massive party of police and civilians for four weeks solid in August 1875. Although the orders came from Inspector Paul Foelsche, the government’s attack dog in Darwin, an operation of such size and cost, with a blaze of publicity, would have required approval from the government of Premier Sir James Penn Boucaut. Foelsche issued these cryptic, but sinister, instructions: “I cannot give you orders to shoot all natives you come across, but circumstances may occur for which I cannot provide definite instructions”. Roper River blacks had to be “punished”. Foelsche wanted to go with them, but it was a large party, he said, with “too many tale-tellers”. He boasted in a letter to a friend, John Lewis, that he had sent his second-in-command, Corporal George Montagu down to the Roper to “have a picnic with the natives”. Even the normally enthusiastic Northern Territory Times was sickened by “the indiscriminate ‘hunting’ of the natives there”, adding “there ought to be a show of reason in the measure of vengeance dealt out to them”. Seven days earlier, the paper’s response to the death of a prospector in Arnhem Land had not been so mild: “Shoot those you cannot get at and hang those that you do catch on the nearest tree as an example to the rest” (2009, np). Wilson (2008 pp 221-222) noted that ‘This was Foelsche being duplicitous. Unwilling to commit his real instructions to writing he was suggesting to Montagu that he kill any Aboriginal people he found’.
SourcesNTTG September 18, 1875, ; NTTGDecember 4, 1875, p 2 ; NTTG December 25, 1875, p 2 ; Wilson, 2000, pp 221-222; Roberts 2009, pp 115-124; Roper River Police Station Heritage Assessment Report 2015, pp 9-11; Toohey, Roper Bar Land Claim Report 1982, p 3; Austin 1992 HSNT, p 15-16. (Sources PDF)
Corroboration Rating***