The Aboriginal Mother

The Aboriginal Mother 
by Eliza Hamilton Dunlop
Written1838
First published inThe Australian
CountryAustralia
LanguageEnglish
Subject(s)Myall Creek massacre
Rhyme schemeabcb
Publication date13 December 1838 (1838-12-13)
Lines72

"The Aboriginal Mother" is a poem written by Eliza Hamilton Dunlop, which expresses her lament over the Myall Creek massacre, a mass murder of at least twenty-eight Aboriginal Australians.[1] It was published initially in The Australian on 13 December 1838, several days after seven men were found guilty of the incident but a few days before they were hanged to death. The poem is told in first-person as a mother, whose older child and husband died in the massacre, tries to quiet her baby. It was published in a variety of newspapers and books and after being set to music by Isaac Nathan, it was performed at a concert. The poem was mostly praised by newspapers, but was criticized considerably by the Sydney Herald.

Background and publication

Eliza Hamilton Dunlop moved to New South Wales, Australia in 1838, arriving on 25 February.[2] The Myall Creek Massacre occurred on 10 June 1838, a few months after her arrival. During the incident, at least 28 Aboriginal Australians were murdered by 11 people;[3] several Aboriginal children were decapitated and a three-year-old boy was killed. On 5 December, seven men were found guilty for the crime after a trial; the other four men who were involved with the incident were accused of the massacre but found innocent. On 18 December, the seven men found guilty of the incident were sentenced to death, executed by hanging.[2][4]

Dunlop's poem was first published in The Australian on 13 December 1838, about a week after the seven men were found guilty, but several days before they were hanged.[2][5] Afterwards, it appeared in a number of other publications, including The Australasian Chronicle (16 October 1841),[6] The Sydney Monitor and Commercial Advertiser (27 October 1841),[7] The Aboriginal Mother and Other Poems (1981), The Penguin Book of Australian Ballads (1993), The Oxford Book of Australian Women's Verse (1995), Australian Verse: An Oxford Anthology (1998), An Anthology of Australian Poetry to 1920 (2007), The Puncher & Wattmann Anthology of Australian Poetry (2009), Macquarie PEN Anthology of Australian Literature (2009), and The Penguin Anthology of Australian Poetry (2009).[8] Also, in 1891, a poem "Aboriginal Mother’s Lament" was published in The Daily Examiner. Although the title of the poem was slightly different and the author claimed to be J. C. Laycock, the text of the two poems were almost exactly the same, only having a few minor differences.[9][10] In addition to these publications, a series of poems by Dunlop called "Songs of an Exile," which contained "The Aboriginal Mother" as its fourth poem, appeared in The Australian in 1838,[11] and 1840.[2][8][12]

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