Friday 9 October 2009

History Bites: The Jardines at the Mitchell River 1864

CairnsBlog brings you our weekly column, History Bites, a series of historical vignettes, pertinent to our unique and special region.

Produced by
Dr Timothy Bottoms, a published and widely respected historian based in Cairns, North Queensland. He has spent ten years researching and writing City of the South Pacific, A History of Cairns.

History Bites is a series of unique and easily readable pieces for
CairnsBlog readers.
Dr Bottoms is a specialist in Aboriginal and North Queensland history and has wide experience in writing, producing and presenting radio documentaries and music biographies.

From May 1864 the Jardine brothers and their party of eight drove a herd of cattle from Rockhampton up the west coast of Cape York to join their father in the newly established Somerset at the tip of the peninsula.

Over the ten months that the expedition took they were responsible for killing at least forty-two Aboriginal men.

Their violent aggression resulted in what Aboriginal people of Kowanyama recall as the ‘Massacre of the Mitchell River’, which the brothers grandly portrayed as a ‘battle’ [Byerley, 1867]. Nine ‘natives’ were killed north of the Nassau River on December 16, 1864.

Over 31 were killed when the Jardines came across a gathering of some 70 to 80 men, probably on the Alice River, and quite likely participating in ceremony:
  • “The natives at first stood up courageously, but…they got huddled in a heap, in, and at the margin of the water, when ten carbines poured volley after volley into them from all directions, killing and wounding with every shot with very little return…”

    Fifty-nine rounds were expended, so that it is not inconceivable that more men were killed or died from their wounds [18 December 1864].

On December 28, 1864, on the Kendall Creek ‘some’ may conservatively equate with two men being killed.

The irony is that they are described as having “paid for their gratuitious [sic] attack” when the Jardines acknowledge that it was the whites who advanced on the Aboriginal men “who waited for the whites, close to a mangrove scrub, till they [the whites] got within sixty yards of them, when they began throwing spears.

They were answered with Terry’s breech-loaders…” David Day has even suggested that: “The party shot perhaps as many as 72 Aborigines in 11 separate incidents without incurring a single casualty themselves.” [Day, 1997:169]

Today there are big gaps in the genealogies of the clans of the top end groups - Okunjen, Uwkangand and Olkol as well as visiting neighbouring clans (including amongst others, the Awbakhn & Oyaan, Kokomenjena [Yir Yiront] and Kokobera), whose territory it was that the Jardines trespassed upon.

No comments: