Origins and Definitions
Colonial frontier massacre is a largely under researched topic in Australia. Most studies 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 many others that are simply lost from sight.
Bruce Elder’s Blood on the Wattle, first published in 1988 began the Australia-wide study of frontier massacres with 26 identified incidents. The book ignited such intense interest 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 in Queensland, Tony Roberts for the Gulf Country, Gordon Reid and Peter and Jay Read for the Northern Territory, Robert Foster, Rick Hosking and Amanda Nettelbeck for South Australia, and the pioneering work of Gil Andrew and Neville Green for Western Australia, along with Judith Monticone’s Australia wide study of frontier violence, certainly made the case for the widespread frontier massacres but none of them offered a definition of massacre let alone seriously considered 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 frontier violence 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 he 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 focused 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 in Gippsland. Nevertheless he was able to reconstruct each component of this terrible event from accounts of two survivors who spoke out several decades later and from his deep knowledge of the terrain where the events took place. 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 studies Clark and Gardner identified the key characteristics of frontier massacre.
- Usually takes place in response to the Aboriginal killing of a white person, usually a male who had abducted and sexually abused an Aboriginal woman, or the alleged Aboriginal theft of colonial property such as livestock which had occupied Aboriginal hunting grounds.
- Planned rather than a spontaneous event.
- Intention is to destroy or eradicate the victims or force them to submission.
- Assassins and victims usually know each other.
- Takes place in secret.
- Code of silence in the aftermath, makes detection extremely difficult.
- Witnesses, assassins and survivors sometimes acknowledge the massacre long after the event when fear of arrest or reprisal from the assassins is no longer an issue.
The characteristics matched those identified by international massacre scholar, Jacques Semelin in 2001.8
Minimum number killed to constitute a colonial frontier massacre
Historians began to seriously consider the question of a minimum number in 2002.
- 2002: Keith Windschuttle: 5.9
- 2003: Richard Broome: 5.10
- 2003: Jan Critchett: 8.11
- 2010: Lyndall Ryan: 6.12
- 2013: Timothy Bottoms: 5.13
Although each historian deploys a different method to assess the evidence of massacre, their data reveals that in Queensland, Tasmania and Victoria, frontier massacres were a significant component of known Aboriginal casualties on the frontiers of each jurisdiction.
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
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 hearth group leaves the survivors vulnerable to further attack, a greatly diminished ability to hunt food, or to reproduce the next generation or carry out ceremonial obligations to kin and country. In their diminished state, they also become vulnerable to exotic disease.
Purpose of Digital Map
- Identify the site of every known frontier massacre in Australia that can be verified with corroborating evidence.
- Devise a coherent methodology to interrogate the evidence of massacre.
- Identify the regions where frontier massacres were prevalent.
- Estimate the number of frontier massacres and the number of casualties.
The following guidelines are used to establish whether a massacre event is to be included in the map. There were many other acts of violence on the colonial frontier during this period but they are not included in the scope of this project.
Data collection and interrogation of the sources for corroboration
- Australian Newspapers on Trove.
- British Newspapers
- Newspapers from other British Colonies
- British Parliamentary Papers.
- Select Committee Reports and Votes and Proceedings from Colonial Parliaments.
- Historical Records of Australia.
- Historical Records of New South Wales.
- Historical Records of Victoria.
- Government Archival sources: governors’ dispatches, reports from magistrates, leaders of military and police parties, Native Police, Protectors of Aborigines, Surveyors’ reports.
- Explorers’ journals.
- Shipping logs.
- Settler memoirs, biographies, correspondence and diaries.
- Papers from the Australian Agricultural Company and Van Diemen’s Land Company.
- Missionary correspondence, diaries and reports.
- Visual accounts in paintings and drawings.
- Travel books and guides.
- Aboriginal accounts, oral and visual.
- Archaeological reports.
- Anthropology reports.
- Articles in scholarly and local history journals.
- Local, community, regional, state and national histories.
- Personal Communication.
- Judgements by Aboriginal Land Commissioners under the Aboriginal Land Rights (Northern Territory) Act.
- Native title submissions
Establish a template for each site
* Required fields are indicated with an asterisk.
|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 Name||The name that Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander people give to the place.|
|Language Group||The 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.|
|Consulted||Has 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 District or Pastoral District||The name of the Police District or Pastoral District at the time of the incident. Both are useful regional indicators 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 Date||The 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*||The date when the incident, or series of incidents commenced. If we cannot be accurate to a day, the start and end date are the range within which the event occurred. Eg: if records indicate 'late May' the date range will be 20 May to 31 May.|
|Attack Time||The 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.|
|Aboriginal People Killed Notes||If 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.|
|Non-Aboriginal People 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, as well as Malay fishermen and Chinese labourers and miners. 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.|
|Non-Aboriginal People Killed Notes||If 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 Category||The type of attackers, such as marines, native police or settlers.|
|Attacker Details||More detailed information about the attackers where available.|
|Motive||The alleged reason for the massacre. Some massacres were in retaliation for a previous incident.|
|Weapons Used||Lists the weapons used in the incident.|
|Notes||General information that contributes to an understanding of the incident, yet does not fit into any of the other categories.|
|Narrative||A 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.
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.
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 data 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, and respect for the wishes of Aboriginal communities to observe the site as a place of mourning, 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 frontier massacres occurred over a broad area, such as a number of campsites and sometimes involved pursuits. The area over which massacres took place is generally larger than any margin of error in the accuracy and precision of points and areas marked on the map.
Massacres of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander 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:
- Tasmania (Van Diemen’s Land) 1804-1834: soldiers, police, armed settlers, shepherds and stock-keepers on foot – night.
- Victoria (Port Phillip District) 1836-1859: mounted police, native police, armed settlers and stockmen on horseback – day and night.
- New South Wales 1794-1826: soldiers, police, armed settlers on foot – day and night.
- New South Wales 1827-1900: mounted police, native police, armed settlers on horseback – day.
- Queensland 1859-1910: native police, armed settlers on horseback – day and night.
- South Australia 1836-1911: mounted police, armed and mounted settlers, stockmen, Aboriginal trackers- day and night.
- Northern Territory 1861 -1930: mounted police, armed and mounted settlers, stockmen, Aboriginal trackers – day and night.
The weapons used were swords, pistols, muskets, bayonets, carbines, repeating rifles and strychnine poison.
Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples' weapons were spears, waddies and hatchets.
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 and Torres Strait Islander 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 and Northern Territory has been part of several states.
For recorded massacres between 1788 and 1930 in Central and Eastern Australia:
|Central & Eastern Australia||Van Diemen's Land (Tasmania)||Port Phillip District (Victoria)||New South Wales||Queensland (from 1859)||South Australia||Northern Territory (incomplete)|
|Est. Total Massacres||252||42||54||82||36*||27*||6*|
|Est. Aboriginal people killed in massacres||6213||632||1054||2422||1077*||708*||255*|
|Est. Colonists killed in massacres||80||0||7||36||41*||40*||0*|
|Est. Average Aboriginal people killed in a massacre of Aboriginal people||25.67||15.05||19.89||31.05||32.64*||28.32*||42.50*|
|Est. Average Colonists killed in a massacre of Colonists||11.27||0||7.00||9.00||13.67*||13.33*||0*|
* While all data may corrected and added to, counts with an asterisk are still being researched it is anticipated there are many more sites than here indicated.
- 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; Lydon J and Ryan L 2018, Remembering Myall Creek, NewSouth Press, Sydney.
- Elder, B 1988:, Blood on the Wattle Massacres and Maltreatment of Aboriginal Australians since 1788, Child & Associates, Sydney. The book has been reprinted 9 times. See Elder, B 2003, Blood on the Wattle Massacres and Maltreatment of Aboriginal Australians since 1788, 3rd edition, New Holland, Sydney.
- 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, Brisbane; Roberts, T. 2005: Frontier Justice A History of the Gulf Country to 1900, University of Queensland Press, Brisbane; Reid, G 1990, A Picnic with the Natives; Aboriginal- European Relations in the Northern Territory to 1910, Melbourne University Press, Melbourne; Read P and Read J, 1991, Long time olden time: Aboriginal accounts of Northern Territory History, Institute for Aboriginal Development, Alice Springs; Foster, R, Hosking R, and Nettelbeck A, 2001, Wakefield Press, Adelaide; Andrew, G 1977, ‘Aborigines, Settlers and Police in the Kimberley, 1887-1905’, Studies in Western Australian History, vol.1, pp.1-30; Green, N 1979, ‘Aboriginal and Settler Conflict in Western Australia, 1826-1852’, The Push from the Bush: A Bulletin of Social History devoted to the year 1838, No. 6, 1979, pp.69-94; Monticone, J, 1999, Healing the Land: A closer look at the needs of the Australian reconciliation n movement, 2 vols. Healing the Land publishing, Canberra, 1999.
- 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.
- 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.
- Clark, Scars in the Landscape, p.7.
- Gardner, Gippsland Massacres, pp.16-17.
- Semelin, J. 2001: ‘In Consideration of Massacre’, Journal of Genocide Research, vol.3, no.3, pp.377-389.
- Windschuttle, K. 2002: The Fabrication of Aboriginal History, Volume One Van Diemen’s Land 1803-1847, Macleay Press, Sydney, p.397.
- 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.
- 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.
- Ryan, L. 2010, ‘Settler Massacres on the Port Phillip Frontier, 1836-1851’, Journal of Australian Studies, vol.43, No.3, p. 263.
- Bottoms, T. 2013: Conspiracy of Silence Queensland’s Frontier Killing Times, Allen & Unwin, Sydney, p.11.
- Pascoe, B. 2007: Convincing Ground Learning to fall in love with your country, (Canberra: Aboriginal Studies Press, pp.30-39.
- 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.