The struggle for rights 1850 - 1901
Robinson and Gellibrand's travels through Victoria.
Fighting Hills Massacre, 1840
following extract is taken from Ian D. Clark, Scars in the Landscape:
A register of Massacre Sites in Western Victoria, 1803 - 1859, Pages 145
March, 1840, the Whyte brothers, who had arrived in the western district
in 1837, were involved in the massacre of an estimated 30 Aboriginal people,
(although later statements put the number of dead as high as 69). An understanding
of this atrocity is important, in that the Whyte brothers made no attempt
to hide their actions, and in fact reported them to government authorities.
It was well known at the time that as long as European settlers could
claim that their property, (in the instance, sheep) was threatened by
Aboriginal people, they could commit such acts with immunity. It is clear
that to a large extent that settler-society valued its own wealth and
claims to land over the lives of Aboriginal people.
NAME: Fighting Hills
LOCATION: The Hummocks, near Wando Vale
DATE OF INCIDENT: 8 March 1840
ABORIGINES INVOLVED: Konongwootong gundidj clan, Jardwadjali language
INVOLVED: The Whyte brothers and three employees, Daniel Turner, Benjamin
Wardle, and William Gillespie
ABORIGINAL DEATHS: over 40 men, women and children, possibly as many
as 80 people.
Whyte brothers, William, George, Pringle, James and John arrived in Port
Phillip in 1837 and took up land near the Pentland Hills. In 1838 they
travelled west and took up country about Wannon River. They occupied Konongwootong
station on Koroit Creek, 6.5 kilometres north of Coleraine, in February1840.
This massacre was the first of two inflicted on the Konongwootong gundidj
clan by the Whyte brothers. Despite the fact that Assistant Protector
C.W. Sievwright had investigated this massacre, and one of the Whytes had
personally informed the government of its occurrence, no action was taken.
In 1843, a European named Bassett, who lived on Whyte's station, was killed
in revenge for these massacres.
slaughter occurred at the Hummocks near Wando Vale, and became known as
Fighting Hills. The Hummocks is a unique rocky outcrop dissected by the
narrow gorge of the Wando River, and is estimated to be about 150 million
years old. Ironically, in 1849 a stone police station and courthouse was
erected at the Hummocks, replacing an earlier wooden structure. About
this time, the Hummocks is believed to have been surveyed as a site for
a township, however settlement did not proceed and with the subsequent
survey of Casterton in 1852, the court sittings and police presence were
8 march 1840, the Whyte brothers hunted down the Konongwootong gundidj,
some of whom had made off with 127 sheep. In the ensuing clash, the Whytes
admitted killing between 20 and 30 Aborigines, although one of their men
deposed before Sievwright that 'between thirty and forty men, exclusive
of women and children were shot dead, only one escaping out of the whole
tribe'. 'Lanky Bill', the sole survivor, was himself killed the following
month by George McNamara, one of Francis Henty's hut keepers at Merino
Downs, on the Wannon River, near Henty. The numbers killed were far too
great to dismiss this massacre by referring to the local magistrate, or
to hush it up altogether, so John Whyte went personally to Superintendent
CJ La Trobe.
23 March 1840, John Whyte visited Niel Black at Glenormiston station near
Terang, en route to inform La Trobe of the massacre. In his journal
for this day, Black made the following entry.
the evening . . . Mr White [sic] from Portland Bay came to my
house, . . . on his way to inform the Governer of an affray he
had with the natives in which it is said 41 of them has been killed.
About a fortnight ago a large party of them came to one of the
out stations and took from the shepherd 900 breeding ewes. He
immediately acquainted his master of it, and they made preparations
for following their flock next day as too much time had been lost
to be able to come up with them in time that evening. The sheep
were carried away about 3.o.c. that afternoon. Next morning 9
men set out after the blacks, 5 on horse and 4 on foot. When they
travelled about 8 miles they came upon the native encampment.
When Whites [sic] were seen approaching they set up a tremendous
yell, and about 30 drew out in order of battle.
were on the opposite side of the creek, and the first man that
crossed the creek was speared through the calf of the leg and
pinned to the ground. His friends followed him and soon dispatched
the blackfellow. He fell - after having 9 balls lodged in his
body - making signs to his friends to fight. They stood and fought
for an hour but did not hurt or injure any other person, but one
of the Whites has his cheek cut by a ball fired at random by one
of his own party.
Protector of Aborigines was within 6 miles [9.5 kilometres] at
the time the affray took place, and his report (collected among
the natives themselves) is that 41 has been killed, and Mr White
says that he is not aware of more than 25. The bodies were all
removed and put out of sight by the natives - a thing they never
fail to do.I think they will never occasion much trouble in that
whole of the sheep was recovered except 45 which they had slaughtered
and on which they were feasting themselves when first surprised
by the Whites [sic], having first skinned and roasted them.
are several brothers of the Whites, all young men, and they only
went to Portland Bay in January last. They . . . will [n]ever
be troubled with blacks again. They may, however, be obliged to
go to Sydney to stand their trial for murder, but it will be a
mere formality. They must be acquitted.' (Black 1839-40).
property was involved, Whyte had few apprehensions about the outcome of
his interview. At the very worst, he and his brothers would have to stand
trial in Sydney, but that would be a mere formality, as Black expected.
Whyte's confidence was fully justified. Despite discrepancies, the depositions
of his party were accepted, no check was made as to their accuracy and
no trial held. The depositions that Sievwright had argued they were statements
by the principals in the action, not witnesses. On 29 March 1840, Whyte
visited Chief Protector George Robinson at La Trobe's request, and reported
the massacre. He told Robinson he was willing to give £100 per annum towards
feeding the Aborigines, and that other squatters were willing do the same.
recorded, CW Sievwright was in the vicinity of the station and duly investigated
this massacre. The Reverend Joseph Orton cited this massacre in his journal,
dated 12 January 1841, in which he summarised Sievwrights report. Orton
highlighted the fact that the recovery of stolen property did not appear
to be the Whytes principal object, for when their sheep were found, they
did not merely secure them, but they preferred to go on with 'putting
out of the way the blacks'.
On 3 April
1840, La Trobe notified Edward Deas Thomson, the Colonial Secretary in
New South Wales, of various conflicts between Europeans and Aborigines
in the Western District. In this report he referred to the 'Fighting Hills'
massacre as 'a most serious affray'.
the Crown Prosecutor, subsequently examined the depositions collected
by Sievwright in correspondence dated 17 June 1840, and reported that
according to depositions of Daniel Turner, William Gillespie and Benjamin
Wardle, convict servants of the Whytes, that the 'blacks' appeared to
have been the aggressors. The Aborigines had stolen sheep and had made
their own enclosure and were busy skinning and cooking the sheep when
they were found by the Europeans. William Whyte admitted he killed two
Aborigines, but not before a spear had been thrown at him, and John Whyte
stated that no less than 200 spears were thrown and not less than 30 Aborigines
In his 1841
journal, George Robinson discussed the attitudes of settlers in the Portland
Bay area, and the actions of the Whyte brothers need to be seen in context.
settlers as the Bay spoke of the settlers up the country dropping
the natives as coolly as if they were speaking of dropping cows.
Indeed, the doctrine is being promulgated that they are not human,
or hardly so and thereby inculcating the principle that killing
them is no murder.
Pilleau said the settlers encourage their men to shoot the natives
because, thereby, they would the sooner get rid of them. And he
himself seemed inclined to the doctrine. He said, and others have
said - and said it to me - that there would never be peace until
they was extirpated. He admitted they were badly treated and that
for every white man killed 20 blacks were shot. He said that after
Gibson's shepherd was killed a number of them were shot. He said
they did not kill them when many of them were together, lest they
should be known, but singly. He said it could not but be expected
that the natives retaliate.
said that the parties who had killed natives in the way he had
described did it at their peril and if an accomplice gave evidence
against them they would be hanged as sure as they had a neck.
He said it was hard for settlers to have their sheep taken. I
said the law in the case of sheep stealing did not require life.
But the squatters keep on shooting the blacks even under such
circumstances were guilty of murder. (Robinson journals, 27 May
1841 see Clark 1998)
John G Robertson,
who settled on the Wannon River at Wando Vale station in 1840, wrote to
La Trobe on 26 September 1853. In his letter he mentioned the massacre
at Fighting Hills.
days after the Whytes arrived, the natives of this creek [Wando
River], with some others, made up a plan to rob the new comers,
as they had done the Messrs Henty before. They watched an opportunity,
and cut off 50 sheep from Whyte Brothers' flocks, which were soon
missed, and the natives followed; they had taken shelter in an open
plain with a long clump of tea tree, which the Whyte Brothers' party,
seven in number, surrounded, and shot them all but one. Fifty-one
men were killed, and the bones of the men and sheep lay mingled
together bleaching in the sun at the Fighting Hills. It must have
been great relief to me and most of this part, for the females were
mostly chased by men up the Glenelg, and the children followed them.
This I learnt since from themselves. (Robertson, 26 September 1853,
in bride 1983)
On 6 July
1860, the Gippsland Guardian (in Gardner 1983) published the following
account of this massacre under the heading 'Shooting Blackfellows'. The
anonymous author was presumed either Turner, Wardle, or Gillespie. The
names of the squatters are fictitious, however the 'Parks' are pseudonyms
for the Whyte brothers.
said one of them, the elder of the two, 'I can remember when they
used to shoot down the blacks in this colony as you would do kangaroos,
all because they sometimes killed a few sheep. I remember down
in the Port District, when the four Parks and three other men,
I was one of them, shot sixty-nine in one afternoon. The devils
had stolen about 100 sheep and driven them away to the ranges.
When they got them there they broke their legs to prevent them
escaping, and were killing them and eating them at leisure . .
. We all mounted horses, and armed with rifles set off in hot
pursuit. It was early morning when we started, and about the middle
of the day we came up with the black rascals, and a rare chase
we had of it. They set off like mad, about one hundred and fifty
of them, never showing fight in the least. The ranges were so
rocky that we had to dismount and follow them on foot, and after
two or three hours chase we got them beautiful - right between
a crossfire, a steep rock on one side they could not climb, and
rifles on each of the other. Well we prepared them pretty, they
stood up firm and stiff to be shot and we dropped them one by
one. We were expecting to cook the lot of them, when Mr George
. . . fired a shot too high and sent a bullet through one of his
brothers face . . . we all knocked off firing and ran to him.
In an instant the blacks were off, and we were too much engaged
over Tom Park to think of following them . . . We counted sixty-nine
victims, including half a dozen or so that were not quite dead,
but these were put out of their misery with the butt-end. The
blacks carried off a few wounded ones but as we fired at the body
we pretty well spoilt all them as we hit. My word! But they were
rascals among the sheep in them days, they aint so bad now; a
few goes like that soon thin'd em. Why they even killed a shepherd
on Tompkins station only because he wanted one of their lubras;
but the two Tompkins were even with them for that matter, for
they shot down every blackfellow they my for three years after'.
Black 1839-40, VPRS 21; VPRS 19; Orton 1840-42; Fyans 1842 and 1845, Archives
Authority of New South Wales 1846; Trangmur 1956; Massola 1969; Wiltshire
1975; Bride 1983; Gardner 1983; Clark 1988, 1990a, 1998.
Journal, 30 September 1839 - May 1840, typescript copy of original, la
Trobe Library, State library of Victoria, ms 1159 VPRS 21, Coroner's Court
Inquest Files, Public Records Office of Victoria
G.A., 1839-49, Journals, Port Phillip Protectorate, Mitchell Library,
State Library of New South Wales, microfilm copyreel, 424,432,442,443.
VPRS 19 1839 - 51, Superintendent, Port Phillip District, Registered Inward
Correspondence, Public Records Office of Victoria.
1842 and 1845, Itinerary of Forster Fyans, Commissioner of Crown land,
Portland Bay, Includeds half Yearly Returns of Population and Livestock,
July 1842, July 1845, Archives Authority of New South Wales, Sydney, X814.
Authority of New South Wales, Sydney, 1846, Report respecting Collisions
between Aborigines and Police, letter registration 46/5522, series 4/1135.1,4/7153.
E.R., 1956, The Aborigines of Far Western Victoria, the author, Coleraine,
A.S., 1969, Journey into Aboriginal Victoria, Rigby, Adelaide.
J.G., A Peoples' History of Portland and District: William Dutton and
the Sealing and Whaling Industries, Davis and Sons, Portland, Vic. 1975.
G. (ed), 1977a, Jounals of George Augustus Robinson March - May 1841,
Records of the Victoria Archaeological Survey, no 5, Melbourne.
G. (ed), 1980, Jounals of George Augustus Robinson May - August 1841,
Records of the Victoria Archaeological Survey, no 11, Melbourne.
1983 Letters from Victorian Pioneers, 3rd edn, Lloyd O'Neal Pty Ltd, South
Yarra, Vic (1st edition Victorian Government Printer, Melbourne, 1898).
P.D., 1983, Gippland Massacres... the destruction of the Kurnai Tribe
1800-1900, West Gippsland Community Education Centre, Warragul, Vic.
(ed), 1988, The Port Phillip Journals of George Augustus Robinson: 8 March
- 7 April 1842 and 18 March - 29 April 1843, Monash Publications in Geography,
no 34, Clayton, Victoria.
1990, Aboriginal languages and Clans: An historical Atlas of Western and
Central Victoria 1800-1900, Monash Publications in Geography, no 37, Clayton,