Myall Creek massacre

Recolouration of Myall Creek Massacre scene lithograph - "Australian Aborigines Slaughtered by Convicts, by Phiz, The Book of Remarkable Trials, 1840; Chronicles of Crime V. II, 1841." produced for a Gamilaraay Surviving Descendants community project

The Myall Creek massacre at Myall Creek near the Gwydir River, in the central New South Wales district of Namoi, involved the brutal killing of at least twenty-eight unarmed Indigenous Australians by eleven colonists on 10 June 1838 at the Myall Creek near Bingara, Murchison County, in northern New South Wales.[1][2] After two trials, seven of the eleven colonists were found guilty of murder and hanged.[2]

Description of the massacre

A group of eleven stockmen, consisting of assigned convicts and former convicts, led by John Henry Fleming, who was from Mungie Bundie Run near Moree, arrived at Henry Dangar's Myall Creek station in New England on 9 June 1838. They rode up to the station huts beside which were camped a group of approximately thirty-five Aboriginal people. They were part of the Wirrayaraay (alternative spelling: Weraerai) group who belonged to the Kamilaroi people. They had been camped at the station for a few weeks after being invited by one of the convict stockmen, Charles Kilmeister (or Kilminister), to come to their station for their safety and protection from the gangs of marauding stockmen who were roaming the district slaughtering any Aboriginal people they could find.[3] These Aboriginal people had previously been camped peacefully at McIntyre's station for a few months. They were therefore well known to the whites. Most of them had been given European names such as Daddy, King Sandy, Joey, Martha and Charley. Some of the children spoke a certain amount of English. When the stockmen rode into their camp they fled into the convict's hut pleading for protection.[4][5]

When asked by the station hut keeper, George Anderson, what they were going to do with the Aboriginal people, John Russell said they were going to "take them over the back of the range and frighten them". The stockmen then entered the hut, tied them to a long tether rope and led them away. They took them to a gully on the side of the ridge about 800 metres to the west of the station huts. There they slaughtered them all except for one woman whom they kept with them for the next couple of days. The approximately 28 people they murdered were largely women, children and old men. Ten younger men were away on a neighbouring station cutting bark. Most of the people were slaughtered with swords as George Anderson, who refused to join the massacre, clearly heard there were just two shots. Unlike Anderson, Charles Kilmeister joined the slaughter.[4]

Testimony was later given at trial that the children had been beheaded while the men and women were forced to run as far as they could between the stockyard fence and a line of sword-wielding stockmen who hacked at them as they passed. After the massacre, Fleming and his gang rode off looking to kill the remainder of the group, who they knew had gone to the neighbouring station. They failed to find the other Aboriginal people as they had returned to Myall that night and left after being warned the killers would be returning. On the party's return to Myall two days later, they dismembered and burnt the bodies before resuming the search for the remaining people.[6] The ten people had gone to MacIntyre's station near Inverell, 40 kilometres to the east, where between 30 and 40 Aboriginal people were reportedly murdered with their bodies being cast onto a large fire. Many suspect this massacre was also committed by the same stockmen. After several days of heavy drinking the party dispersed.[4][7]

When the manager of the station, William Hobbs, returned several days later and discovered the bodies, counting up to twenty-eight of them (as they were beheaded and dismembered he had difficulty determining the exact number) he decided to report the incident but Kilmeister initially talked him out of it. Hobbs discussed it with a neighbouring station overseer, Thomas Foster, who told squatter Frederick Foot who rode to Sydney to report it to the new Governor, George Gipps. Supported by the Attorney General, John Plunkett, Gipps ordered Police Magistrate Edward Denny Day at Muswellbrook to investigate the massacre.[4]

They carried out a thorough investigation despite the bodies having been removed from the massacre site where only a few bone fragments remained. He arrested eleven of the twelve perpetrators. The only one to escape was the only free man involved, the leader, John Fleming. Anderson was crucial in identifying the arrested men. He had initially refused to name the men involved but after finding out that the massacre had been planned more than a week earlier to coincide with the absence of Hobbs he agreed to identify the killers to the magistrate.[4]

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