Site Name Fighting Hills
Aboriginal Place Name
Language Group Nundadjali
Colony PPD
Present State/Territory VIC
Police District
Coordinates (imprecise to approx. 250m) -37.497,141.424,0
Date 8 Mar 1840
Attack Time
Aboriginal People Killed 41
Aboriginal People 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
Non-Aboriginal People Killed 0
Non-Aboriginal People Killed Notes Killed:M F;Wounded: MDaniel Turner - spear to the thigh; one of the Whytes GSW to the cheek.
Attacker Category Settlers and stockmen
Attacker Details Five Whyte brothers (William, George, Pringle, James and John) and stockmen, Daniel Turner, William Gillespie, and Benjamin Wardle.
Motive Reprisal for stock theft
Type Of Motive Reprisal
Weapons Used Firearms / spears
Notes Aboriginal people stole and killed 50 sheep
Narrative In February 1840 the Whyte brothers, William, George, Pringle, James and John, occupied Kononwootong station on Koroit Creek, 6.5 kilometres north of Coleraine. On March 8, 1840, they hunted down the Aborigines in the area, on the grounds that some had made off with 127 sheep. They stayed up late that night, preparing cartridges for their double-barrelled guns. Early the next morning the five Whytes set off on horseback with at least three of their shepherds –Daniel Turner, William Gillespie and Benjamin Wardle – following on foot, the tracks of their sheep to some low hills covered with tea –tree about 10 kilometres away. They tied up their horses, and crept slowly into the trees. Hearing Aboriginal voices, they crawled up to the edge of the clearing on the edge of a creek, where a meal of mutton was being prepared by a large group of Bunganditj [Nundadjali speakers?]. As the white men moved to surround the camp, they were spotted. The women and children fled as the men rushed to grab their weapons. A spear was thrown and the men started firing. Daniel Turner was speared through the thigh, and one of Whytes received an accidental gun-shot wound on the cheek, prompting the other gunmen to become "savage to desperation". According to the Whytes' statements, the Bunganditj [Nundadjali speakers?] tried valiantly to withstand the onslaught, one of them being shot nine times before he finally fell. Dozens more spears were thrown in what the Whyte brothers later described as a battle that lasted more than an hour, but none hit their targets. There was only one Aboriginal survivor, Long Yarra or "Lanky Bill" who was killed a month later by George MacNamara, one of Francis Henty's stock-keepers at Merino Downs, on the Wannon River, near Henty. The Assistant Protector of the Aborigines, C.W. Sievwright was 9.5. kilometres from the scene at the time and quickly heard about it from Aboriginal survivors who told him that 41 of their clan had been killed. Realising that the incident could not be covered up, John Whyte decided to ride to Melbourne and make a personal report to Superintendent La Trobe. En route, on 23 March, he called in at Glenormiston Station near Terang and told the squatter Niel Black his version of the events. Whyte said that 25 Aborigines had been killed. When Sievwright, arrived at the station some weeks later, to take depositions from the perpetrators, 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. A neighbour, squatter George Robertson who moved into the area three days later, stated that 51 Aborigines were killed. Fifty stolen sheep had been killed by the Aborigines, and 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 the sun at the Fighting Hills". In Melbourne, the Crown Prosecutor, James Croke, pointed out that the Aborigines appeared to have been the aggressors in stealing the sheep and that William Whyte had killed two Aborigines only after a spear was thrown at him. Nor could Croke accept the depositions of the other perpetrators, on the grounds that it would incriminate them, and in the absence of independent witnesses, he could not charge the men. Once again the critical evidence of Aboriginal witnesses could not be used.
Sources Journal of Neil Black 23 March 1840, VPRS 19; Orton 1840-2; Fyans 1842 and 1845, SRNSW 1846; Robertson to La Trobe 26 Sept 1853, in Sayers, 1983: Critchett 1990: 127; Clark ID 1995: 145-151.
Corroboration Rating ***