Friday 20 November 2009

History Bites: The Green Island Tragedies of 1873

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.

Digirr Dabuuldji [‘Place of Nose Piercing], Gadja (White) name: Green Island.
This was one of the first places to be inhabited by Gadja in this district. The beche-de-mer fishermen used it as a preparation station. It was here that the so-called ‘Green island massacres’ occurred in 1873.
[Source: Historical Society of Cairns] The Green Island Tragedies of 1873

The cutter Good-Will set out from Townsville in March 1873 with three Manbarra men and two women who were ‘induced’ to join the cutter at the Palm Islands. Sub-Inspector Robert Arthur Johnstone’s noted that “the manner of ‘inducing’ the [A]boriginals to join the service is very like the old ‘press-gang’ business -‘You need not unless you like, but you must!’ I will not say it was in this case, but it was so in many others.”

The attack and slaying of William Rose and William White was probably premeditated and robbery may have been a motivating factor. It is thought that resentment had arisen because the Manbarra men were made to sleep on the cutter, while their women stayed ashore with the white men. This arrangement would have been more than sufficient cause for the attack on the fishermen.

Sub-Inspector Johnstone and his Native Mounted Police were instructed to investigate these murders and visited Green Island. They subsequently landed near Bessie Point in east Trinity Inlet, and an attempt to repel their landing by the Gungganydji created a response from the landing party which was described as a “proper warm reception”.

The troopers then took over the camp. Here they found the remains of the Palm Island Manbarra, and their acquisitions from the crew of the Good-Will. Three miles on, east from their first overnight camp they met a large number of people, but “we did not wait for them to attack us, as directly I saw they meant to fight we commenced at 200 yards [182m] range and when they saw the result of our first volley they cleared”. Within two days of landing, the Sub-Inspector and his troopers had managed to have two violent clashes with the Gungganydji, and yet no attempt was made to understand why they might have been hostile (trespassing?).

Within two months Dan Kelly, the sole survivor from the first killings on Green Island, was back with another group of fishermen. His party on the ketch, Eliza, was made up of another four white men and five Cleveland Bay Aboriginal men, three women and two boys. Another vessel the Florence Agnes, had three whites, a Melanesian and two Aboriginal men, one boy and one woman. It was this last group of Bama, who in the early hours of the 11 July 1873, killed the three whites and Melanesian. The reason for the killings was supposed to be that they “had refused to give them bread that night”.

It appears likely that the murderers perished in the turbulent seas that same night while trying to outswim their pursuers. Whatever the actual cause, the incident became the second ‘Green Island Massacre’ and bolstered the colonial mentality for ‘black treachery’

This is an extract from: A History of Cairns – City of the South Pacific 1770-1995, by Dr Timothy Bottoms, PhD, Central Queensland University, 2002, Photo 2.1, p.72.You can contact Dr Bottoms via email. There is more information on his website.

1 comment:

Quien Sabe said...

Whilst there are seldom any comments posted about these articles, I would just like to say how much I appreciate them, and look forward to their appearance. A vignette that informs someone who does not have the time to read every book he would like to.
Keep up the good work.