Introduction

Origins and Definitions

Colonial frontier massacre is a largely under researched topic in Australia. Most studies of massacre relate to particular incidents, such as Risdon Cove in Tasmania (1804) which remains highly contested even today or at Myall Creek (1838) where all but one of the twelve perpetrators were arrested and brought to trial and seven of them were convicted and hanged.1 Such incidents are considered as unique and overshadow other incidents that are simply lost from sight.

Bruce Elder’s Blood on the Wattle, first published in 1988 began the Australia-wide study of frontier massacre. It ignited such intense interest in the topic that it was reprinted 9 times and is now in its 3rd edition.2 Over the following decades, important regional studies by Geoffrey Blomfield for the Three Rivers region in New South Wales, Patrick Collins for the Maranoa and Tony Roberts for the Gulf Country certainly made the case for the widespread incidence of frontier massacre but none of them offered a definition of frontier massacre or seriously considers its characteristics.3 A similar oversight prevails in the various massacres lists that are available online.4

The first Australian scholars to consider frontier massacre as a phenomenon were Ian D. Clark and Peter D. Gardner in their studies of massacre in Western and Eastern Victoria. Clark was the first to define a colonial frontier massacre as the ‘unnecessary, indiscriminate killing of a number of human beings, as in barbarous warfare or persecution, or for revenge and plunder’.5 However Clark did not offer a minimum number killed to constitute a massacre let alone make a tally of the incidents he recorded. Yet he did consider that the significance of each massacre could be ranked according to their scale, ‘that is the number of Aborigines killed and the extent of the decimation of the local clan; the impact of the massacre on the Aboriginal community and the European community; the extent of oral history coverage of the incident; the extent of documentary evidence available; and the history and backgrounds of the Aborigines and Europeans involved.’6

Gardner in his decades long research on the incidence of frontier massacre in colonial Gippsland, focussed on corroborating the disparate forms of evidence and locating the sites. He found that a code of silence and secrecy were key features of major incidents such as the Warragul Creek massacres of 1843, and reconstructed their components from survivors who spoke out several decades later. He also found that each massacre site had a ‘natural feature that enabled the Aboriginal quarry to be easily trapped by their pursuers’, such as a ‘natural rock amphitheatre’, the ‘confluence of two large steams or rivers’, a ‘peninsula between two inlets’, or a ‘combination of a billabong and a limestone bluff’. He concluded that massacre was one of the ‘normal tools of frontier European society’.7

From their research Clark and Gardner identified the key characteristics of frontier massacre.

The characteristics matched those identified by international massacre scholar, Jacques Semelin.8

Minimum number killed to constitute a colonial frontier massacre

Historians began to seriously consider the question of a minimum number in 2002.

Although each historian deploys a different method to assess the evidence of massacre, their data reveals that in Tasmania, Victoria and Queensland, massacres were a significant component of known Aboriginal casualties on the colonial frontier.

The findings were of no surprise to Aboriginal people who have long argued for the primacy of massacre as a critical factor in their dramatic population decline.14

Definition

Colonial Frontier Massacre: A colonial frontier massacre arises from the indiscriminate killing of six or more undefended people. Why six? The massacre of six undefended Aboriginal people from a hearth group of twenty people is known as a ‘fractal massacre’.15 The sudden loss of more than thirty per cent of a group leaves the survivors vulnerable to further attack, a greatly diminished ability to hunt food, to reproduce the next generation and carry out their ceremonial obligations. In turn they become vulnerable to exotic disease.

Purpose of Digital Map

Guidelines

The following guidelines are used to establish whether a massacre event is to be included in this site. There were many other acts of violence on the colonial frontier during this period but they are not included in the scope of this research.

Method

Data collection

Interrogate the sources for evidence of colonial frontier massacre in each of the four colonies in Eastern Australia to 1872. Sources:

Establish a template for each site

* Required fields are indicated with an asterisk.

FieldDescription
Site Name*The unique name of the site of the massacre. This is not necessarily the same as the official name of the place or nearby location but often is. This name may be what the event has come to be known as, or may have been arbitrarily assigned. The name may be changed if we become aware of a more appropriate name.
Aboriginal Place NameThe name that Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander people give to the place.
Language GroupThe language group of the Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander people involved in the massacre. The names of language groups are from the AIATSIS information at AustLang.
ConsultedHas there been consultation with the community this event relates to?
Colony*The name of the colony in which the event occurred at the time of the event (Colony boundaries may differ from present day state boundaries)
Present State/Territory*The present day state or territory where the event occurred.
Police DistrictThe name of the Police District at the time of the incident. This is a useful regional indicator for historical research.
Coordinates*The geographical coordinates locating the site. This point is imprecise to around 250 metres. It may also be inaccurate to due to the vagueness of historical records. These coordinates are a best estimate.
Latitude*The Latitude of the incident in WGS 84, rounded to 3 decimal places.
Longitude*The Longitude of the incident in WGS 84, rounded to 3 decimal places.
Well Known DateThe most likely date of the incident, where the date can be established. Some dates are too vague to indicate a specific date, such as 'End of winter'.
Date Start*The date when the incident, or spree of incidents commenced. If we cannot be accurate to a day, the start and end date are the range within which the event occured. Eg: if records indicate 'late May' the date range will be 20 May to 31 May.
Date End*The date when the incident, or spree of incidents finished. If we cannot be accurate to a day, the start and end date are the range within which the event occured. Eg: if records indicate 'late May' the date range will be 20 May to 31 May.
Attack TimeThe time of day of the attack: Daybreak, Morning, Midday, Afternoon, Evening, Night
Aboriginal People Killed*The number of Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander people killed in the incident. This is a single number so that it can be used in calculations. Conservative estimates are used. For example, if records indicate 6 to 10 people were killed we use the figure 6. If the event is a massacre of colonists, this number is not the number of people who died in the confrontation. It is the number who died in a prior incident for which this event was carried out in retaliation for.
Aboriginal People Killed NotesIf there is qualifying information about the number. For example, to note ranges of estimates, differences among sources, more detail on the amount wounded or whether they were men, women and/or children.
Colonists Killed*The number of colonial children, women and men killed in the incident. This is a single number so that it can be used in calculations. For the purposes of this site, this includes all non Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people, including settlers, marines, soldiers, police, squatters, townspeople, and so on. If the event is a massacre of Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander people, this number is not the number of people who died in the confrontation. It is the number who died in a prior incident for which this event was carried out in retaliation for.
Colonisists Killed NotesIf there is qualifying information about the number. For example, to note ranges of estimates, differences among sources, more detail on the amount wounded or whether they were men, women and/or children.
Attacker CategoryThe type of attackers, such as marines, native police or settlers.
Attacker DetailsMore detailed information about the attackers where available.
MotiveThe alleged reason for the incident. Some incidents are in retaliation for a previous incident.
Weapons UsedLists the weapons used in the incident.
NotesGeneral information that contributes to an understanding of the incident, yet does not fit into any of the other categories.
NarrativeA narrative of the incident describing the location, the attackers, and those killed.
Sources*Historical sources for this incident. For a glossary of acronyms and full bibliographic reference see the Sources page.
Corroboration Rating* This indicates the level of confidence of the project researcher in the source information.

* Reliable source but more corroboration welcome.
** 2 sources but further corroborating evidence welcome.
*** High quality corroborating evidence drawn from disparate sources.

Check data

Data is checked by historians and a proof reader.

Load data on to digital map

Data is uploaded to the digital map, and information on the site adjusted at regular intervals, with a version number in the footer of each page.

Cartography

The full collection of sites are stored in the common standard datum of WGS84, but are projected in the online map using WGS 84/Pseudo-Mercator (EPSG:3857).

The individual coordinates were collected using a variety of map sources with their associated variety of datums and projections. Points showing massacre sites were located based on research, though sources sometimes only roughly identify a location (eg: 'a few miles north of the river', 'half a day's ride west of town', etc.). In order to protect the sites from desecration, the points have been made purposefully imprecise by rounding coordinates to 3 digits, meaning the point is precise only to around 250m. None the less, the inherent map error in the collection process is negligible as massacres occurred over a broad area, such as a campsite and sometimes involved pursuits. The area over which massacres occured is generally larger than any margin of error in the accuracy and precision of points and areas marked on the map.

The map is deployed using the ESRI ArcGIS Javascript API.

Preliminary findings

Between 1794 and 1872, the map so far records more than 170 massacres of Aboriginal people in Eastern Australia and six recorded massacres of colonists.

Massacres of Aboriginal people were typically carried out by hunting parties of soldiers, armed settlers, mounted police and/or native police with 6 to 40 men in each party, averaging 8-10 men.

The characteristics of massacres varied by time and place:

The weapons used were swords, pistols, muskets, bayonets, carbines, repeating rifles. Poison was used in 5 cases in Victoria and 6 cases in NSW/QLD that we know of.

Aboriginal peoples' weapons were spears, waddies and hatchets.

Preliminary Statistics

The following figures relate to massacres of 6 or more people only and are subject to change as more information becomes available. Other factors affect the history of Aboriginal populations such as disease, loss of land, abduction of children, control of movement, and combined flow on effects to the community. Note that borders of the colonies did not always match the present day states. In particular present day Queensland was part of NSW until 10 December 1859.

For recorded massacres between 1788 and 1872 in eastern colonies of Australia:

Eastern AustraliaVan Diemen's Land (Tasmania)Port Phillip District (Victoria)New South WalesQueensland (from 1859)
Est. Total Massacres18442586816
Est. Aboriginal people killed in massacres359863211011653212
Est. Colonists killed in massacres39071727
Est. Average Aboriginal people killed in a massacre of Aboriginal people20.1015.0519.3225.0515.14
Est. Average Colonists killed in a massacre of Colonists10.2007.008.5013.50

Footnotes

  1. Tardif, P. 2003: John Bowen’s Hobart The Beginnings of European Settlement in Tasmania, Tasmanian Historical Research Association, Hobart; Refshauge, W.F. 2016: The Killing at Risdon Cove, Australian Scholarly Publishing, North Melbourne; Milliss, R. 1992; Waterloo Creek The Australia Day Massacre of 1838, George Gipps and the British conquest of New South Wales, McPhee Gribble, Ringwood Vic.; Tedeschi, M. 2016: Murder at Myall Creek, Simon & Schuster, Sydney.
  2. Elder, B. 1988: Blood on the Wattle Massacres and Maltreatment of Aboriginal Australians since 1788, New Holland Publishers, Sydney. The book has been reprinted 9 times with a 3rd edition in 2003.
  3. Blomfield, G. 1986: Baal Belbora the End of the Dreaming, Alternative Publishing Co-operative Ltd., Sydney Collins, P. 2002: Goodbye Bussamarai The Mandandanji Land War, Southern Queensland 1842-1852, University of Queensland Press, St Lucia, Qld.; Roberts, T. 2005: Frontier Justice A History of the Gulf Country to 1900, University of Queensland Press, St Lucia, Qld.
  4. For online lists of massacres see www.myallcreek.org; www.australianfrontierconflicts.com.au; www.cv.vic.gov.au/stories/aboriginal-culture/indigenous-stories-about-war-and-invasion/massacre-sites/; thestringer.com.au/the-killing- times-2214#; www.australianfrontierconflicts.com.au. For a published list, see The Sydney Friends of Myall Creek and the Friends of Myall Creek Memorial 2017: An unfinished and incomplete compilation of Frontier Conflicts, Wars and Massacres in Australia 1770-1940s, Sydney Friends of Myall Creek, Sydney.
  5. Clark, I.D. 1995: Scars in the Landscape a register of massacre sites in western Victoria, 1803-1859, Australian Institute of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Studies, Canberra; Gardner, P.D. 1993: Gippsland Massacres The Destruction of the Kurnai Tribes, Ngarak Press, Ensay, Vic.
  6. Clark, Scars in the Landscape, p.7.
  7. Gardner, Gippsland Massacres, pp.16-17.
  8. Semelin, J. 2001: ‘In Consideration of Massacre’, Journal of Genocide Research, vol.3, no.3, pp.377-389.
  9. Windschuttle, K. 2002: The Fabrication of Aboriginal History, Volume One Van Diemen’s Land 1803-1847, Macleay Press, Sydney, p.397.
  10. Broome, R. 2003: ‘The statistics of frontier conflict’, in Bain Attwood and S.G. Foster eds., Frontier Conflict The Australian Experience, National Museum of Australia, Canberra, p.94.
  11. Critchett, J. 2003: ‘Encounters in the Western District’ in Bain Attwood and S.G. Foster eds., Frontier Conflict The Australian Experience, National Museum of Australia, Canberra, p.57.
  12. Ryan, L. 2010, ‘Settler Massacres on the Port Phillip Frontier, 1836-1851’, Journal of Australian Studies, vol.43, No.3, p. 263.
  13. Bottoms, T. 2013: Conspiracy of Silence Queensland’s Frontier Killing Times, Allen & Unwin, Sydney, p.11.
  14. Pascoe, B. 2007: Convincing Ground Learning to fall in love with your country, (Canberra: Aboriginal Studies Press, pp.30-39.
  15. For fractal massacre see Mann, B.A. 2013: ‘Fractal massacres in the Old Northwest: the example of the Miamis’, Journal of Genocide Research, Vol.15, No.2, June 2013, p.172.