Last updated

Midgegooroo (died 22 May 1833) was an Aboriginal Australian elder [1] [2] of the Nyungar nation, who played a key role in Aboriginal resistance to white settlement in the area of Perth, Western Australia. Everything documented about Midgegooroo (variously spelled in the record as "Midgeegaroo", "Midgegarew", "Midgegoorong", Midgegoroo", Midjegoorong", "Midjigoroo", "Midgigeroo", Midjigeroo", "Migegaroo", "Migegaroom", "Migegooroo", "Midgecarro", "Widgegooroo") is mediated through the eyes of the colonisers, some of whom, notably G.F. Moore, Robert Menli Lyon and Francis Armstrong, derived their information from discussions with contemporary Noongar people, in particular the son of Midgegooroo, Yagan. Largely due to his exploits in opposing colonisation and his relationship with Lyon and Moore, Yagan has a much sharper historical profile than his father. Midgegooroo was executed by firing squad and without trial under the authority of Lieutenant Governor Frederick Irwin in 1833.


Early life

Nothing is known of Midgegooroo's life prior to the arrival of white settlers in 1829. At that time, Midgegooroo was the leader of his home country, Beeliar, which stretched from the Indian Ocean to the Canning River, south of the Swan River. Robert Menli Lyon reported that the northernmost land in Beeliar adjoined "Melville Water and the Canning", [3] and was bordered "by the mountains on the east; by the sea on the west; and by a line, due east, from Mangles Bay, on the south". Midgegooroo's main camp ("headquarters") was a place known as "Mendyarrup, situated somewhere in Gaudoo", suggesting that it was in the vicinity of Blackwall Reach and Point Walter. [4] [5] However, Midgegooroo's family had some rights to use resources on a large part of what is now metropolitan Perth, and were able to move freely about an even larger area, presumably due to kinship ties with neighbours. For example, he was seen on some occasions as far afield as near Lake Monger and the Helena River.

In 1830, Midgegooroo was reported to be an older man, short in stature with long hair and a "remarkable bump" on his forehead, a physical description repeated on occasions over the next two and a half years, including in a deposition presented in evidence before his execution. [6] Midgegooroo appears to have remained aloof from the colonists. There is evidence that he occasionally engaged in friendly communications with some local farmers, including Erin Entwhistle, a man he speared in 1831. [7] Unlike some of the other named Aboriginal people of the region, including Yagan, Weeip and Yellagonga, Midgegooroo does not appear to have ever performed casual labour for colonists in any capacity, and continued to move around Beeliar with his wives and children. He was described as consistently hostile to the presence of Europeans on his country; "a dangerous and furious ruffian". [8] He had at least two wives, the older described as "rather tall and wanting her front teeth", the younger of whom was named Ganiup, and at least four sons, Yagan, Narral, Billy and Willim, and at least one brother. [9] He appears to have spent much of his time "taking care of the women and children of the tribe". [10]

Conflicts with white settlers

Early relationships between Noongar and colonists at the Swan River colony have been documented by Neville Green and Bevan Carter. [11] Both document a story in which Aboriginals of the Swan and Canning River areas consistently demonstrated their opposition to colonisation, initially manifested by shouted warnings and aggressive postures, but increasingly by hostility and violence. Lieutenant Governor Sir James Stirling, in his proclamation of the colony in June 1829, warned that Aboriginal people were protected by British laws and any colonist convicted of "behaving in a fraudulent, cruel or felonious Manner towards the Aborigines of the Country" would be dealt with "as if the same had been committed against any other of His Majesty's subjects". [12] Nonetheless, the first ten years of colonisation witnessed a significant level of violence in which a number of Europeans and Aboriginal people lost their lives. The actual death toll is unknown, but Carter in particular argues that the numbers of Aboriginal dead far exceeded the losses in the European community.

It took some time before Swan River colonisers in the first four years of the settlement began to record the names of the Aboriginals of the Swan River region, but it is highly likely that Midgegooroo would have been one of those who observed the first British explorations in 1827 and the subsequent establishment in June 1829 of the port of Fremantle, the capital at Perth, satellite settlements at Guildford and further inland at York, and the network of small farms around the area. His first appearance in the colonial record may have been in May 1830 when an old man, tentatively identified by Sylvia Hallam and Lois Tilbrook as Midgegooroo, was found and beaten by a military detachment plucking two turkeys which had been stolen from a farm on the Canning River. The next day, a group of eight Aboriginal men, including "Dencil" attacked a farm near Kelmscott and injured a settler named J.R. Phillips "with whom they had always been friendly". [13] If Hallam and Tilbrook are correct and the old man was indeed Midgegooroo, he would quite early have been subjected to European violence in retaliation for actions he did not fully comprehend.

In December 1830, Midgegooroo was camping by Lake Monger when two white labourers who were passing by stopped to shake hands with a group of Aboriginal women. When the two men returned later that day, Midgegooroo scared them off by threatening to spear one of them.

In about February 1831, Midgegooroo was reported to have come to Lionel Samson's store in Fremantle and was given biscuits by a servant James Lacey. "Midgegooroo was not satisfied, I was obliged to put him out of the store by force. As I was in the act of shutting the door he threw a spear at me through the open space of the door-way; it lodged in the opposite side. I went out of the store with a pickaxe in my hand to drive him out of the yard – he retreated when he saw me, and as I supposed he was going away, I threw down the pickaxe – he ran towards it, picked it up, and was in the act of throwing it at me, upon which I ran away, he then threw the pickaxe down the well." [14]

A few weeks later, Midgegooroo was involved in an incident that came to play a crucial part in his eventual execution. In apparent retaliation for the killing of an Aboriginal man in the act of taking potatoes and a fowl from the farm of Archibald Butler near Point Walter, Midgegooroo and Yagan attacked Butler's homestead and killed a servant Erin Entwhistle, whose son Ralph, then aged about ten, gave a deposition identifying Midgegooroo as the principal offender: "They thrust spears through the wattle wall of the house – my father was ill at the time – he went out and was instantly speared. I saw the tall native called Yagan throw the first spear – which entered my father's breast, and another native Midgegooroo threw the second spear, which brought my father to the ground. I am quite sure the native now in Perth jail is the very same who threw the second spear at my father – I know him by the remarkable Bump on his forehead – and I had full time to mark him on the day of the Murder, for when my father fell, I and my brother ran into the inner room, and hid ourselves beneath the bed-stead. Midgegooroo came in and pulled all the clothes and bedding off the bed-stead, but there was a sack tied to the bottom of it, which he could not pull off, and by which we were still hid from him. I saw an old women rather tall and wanting her front teeth and who I have since been told by Midgegooroo himself is his wife, break my father's legs, and cut his head to pieces with an axe – Munday was one of the natives who attacked the house, but I did not see him throw a spear. My father had always been kind to Midgegooroo's tribe, and on good terms with them." [15]

In May 1833, colonist Charles Bourne recalled having sat on a jury inquiring into the death of Entwhistle which heard the evidence of Ralph Entwhistle and his younger brother. "The description they gave so fully convinced the Jury that Midgegooroo was one of the principle perpetrators of the murder, that the Coroner, at their request, promised to recommend to the Government to proclaim him and the whole tribe outlaws." [16]

Charles Bourne figured again in the story when, in about May 1832, Midgegooroo and his wife attempted to break into their house in Fremantle. "My wife told me", he recalled, "that they had thrown two spears at her, and I saw the spears laying on the floor. Their violence was such that my wife was obliged to take a sword to them." [17] Later he was reported as having tried to take provisions from Thomas Hunt at his sawpit on the Canning River. Finally, he was reported as having set his dingos on a settler's pigs.

A police constable Thomas Hunt reported that he had known Midgegooroo for three years: "When I lived on the opposite side of the river [on the Canning River] he and his wife used frequently to visit my residence. He was always present when they attempted to plunder and acted either as the spy or the instigator. He has come to my tent door, and pointed to any provisions which might be hanging up and openly thrust in some other of his tribe to take them away. I have frequently been obliged to make a show of hostility before he would desist. He has also set two native dogs at my pigs, which they have followed to the very door of my tent. He and his tribe have repeatedly robbed me whilst I was working at a saw pit on the Canning, and on those occasions I have watched him, and distinctly observed that he acted as a spy, and gave warnings when we approached. I have heard almost every person who has known him, speak of him as a dangerous and furious ruffian." [18]

In May 1832, Yagan was arrested for the murder of William Gaze on the Canning River, an incident that lead to his declaration as an outlaw, imprisonment on Carnac Island with Lyon, and subsequent escape. In March 1833, a number of Noongar men from King George's Sound visited Perth at the instigation of the Government. This was the second visit of King George's Sound people that year, apparently for the purpose of encouraging "amicable relationships on the Swan like those at the Sound". [19] Yagan and ten of his countrymen had met the first visitors at Lake Monger and, when the next group arrived, he was keen to present a corroboree for them in Perth before an "overflowing audience", which included the Lieutenant Governor Frederick Irwin. [20] Yagan acted as "master of ceremonies, and acquitted himself with infinite dignity and grace". [21] Although Yagan's group was referred to as "Midgegooroo's group", it is unclear whether the old man also attended.

In April 1833, an incident occurred in Fremantle that led directly to the declaration of Midgegooroo and Yagan as outlaws. A group of Aboriginal people, including a classificatory brother of Yagan named Domjun, broke into stores occupied by Mr. Downing. William Chidlow, who lived nearby: "… perceived two or three natives in the act of breaking into the stores; he aroused some of his neighbours and each being armed, they surprized the natives in the fact [sic.], Chidlow fired and Domjum fell; the guns of the persons who accompanied Chidlow were discharged at the natives, as they fled; and there is every reason took effect, but did not prove fatal. Domjum was conveyed to the jail where he received medical attendance; the ball lodged in his head, and although the brains were exuding from the cavity, he lingered for three days before he expired." [22] The next morning, Yagan and a number of others crossed the Swan River near Preston Point and told Mr. Weavell's servant that they were going to the Canning River to "spear 'white man', and fixing his spear into a throwing stick, he rushed into the bush, followed by his infuriated tribe". [23] At noon, Yagan, Midgegooroo, Munday, Migo and "about 30 Natives", who "appeared to be friendly", encountered Mr. Phillips and four other white men, including Thomas and John Velvick, who were employed as farm labourers at the entrance of Bull's Creek on the Canning River. The white men were loading a quantity of provisions for Phillips' farm at Maddington, onto carts when Midgegooroo inquired about the number of men in the first cart which had already left the scene. [24] According to a witness, Thomas Yule: "There were about thirty natives present, amongst whom I saw Yagan, Midgegooroo, Migo, and Munday. Their conduct was perfectly friendly. They appeared very anxious to know how many persons were to accompany the carts and the direction they were going. A few potatoes were given to them which they had roasted and eaten. When the carts were loaded and departed, the Natives went off in almost a parallel direction. I saw two of them pick up spears at a distance of about one hundred yards from Flaherty's stores; I separated from Mr Phillips and came on to Fremantle." [25]

Frederick Irwin described the episode in his dispatch to the Secretary of State for Colonies: "They left the place at the same time with the carts, and in a parallel, tho' distant line. The foremost cart had proceeded four miles and was in advance of the rest a quarter of a Mile, when the Natives suddenly surrounded it and murdered with circumstances of great barbarity, the two Drivers named John and Thomas Velvick, whose cries brought up the proprietor of the Cart Mr Phillips of the Canning, who arrived in time to recognize distinctly a Native of great notoriety throughout the settlement named Yagan, while the latter was in the act of repeatedly thrusting his spear into the body of one of the deceased. The surprise appears to have been so complete that the deceased had no time to take hold of their muskets which were in the cart. The fortunate and distinct recognition of the native above mentioned by Mr Phillips, a gentleman of unquestionable character, satisfactorily identified the tribe actually committing the murder, with that of which the native shot at Fremantle was a member, and the movements of which have above been traced from Fremantle to the vicinity of the scene of the murders. The Head or leader of this tribe, an elderly man well known by the name of Midgegooroo, is father of the above-mentioned Yagan, and the native killed at Fremantle, and has long borne a bad character as the repeated perpetrator of several acts of bloodshed and robbery. He, Yagan, and another of the tribe named Munday (remarkable even during the friendly visits of his tribe to Perth for his sullen behaviour and ungovernable temper) were recognized by several credible witnesses as being present, and making the enquiries before alluded to, before the loading of the Carts at Bull's Creek." [26]

According to his account, Irwin immediately conferred with his Executive Council "to take such steps for a prompt and summary retaliation, as the means at my disposal admitted". A proclamation was issued and published in the Perth Gazette offering a reward of 30 pounds for the capture "dead or alive" of Yagan, and 20 pounds of "Midgigooroo" and Munday. The proclamation declared Yagan, Midgegooroo and Munday to be outlaws "deprived of the protection of British laws, and I do hereby authorize and command all and every His Majesty's subjects residents in any part of this colony to capture, or aid or assist in capturing the body of the said 'Egan' DEAD OR ALIVE, and to produce the said body forthwith before the nearest Justice of the Peace." [27] Frederick Irwin rationalized his actions to the Secretary of State in the following terms: This pecuniary stimulus has had the hoped for effect, by bringing forward some efficient volunteers among the Settlers whose ----- and occupations have necessarily given them a more intimate knowledge of the haunts of the natives in the neighbourhood of the settled district than is possessed by the Military, but no volunteers have received permission to act unless headed by a Magistrate or a Constable. Parties of the Military have also been in constant movement, traversing the bush is such directions as reports or conjecture rendered most likely to lead to a discovery of the lurking place of the offending tribes. These parties have all received express instructions to attempt the lives of no other than the three outlaws, unless hostility on the part of others of the tribe should render it necessary in self defense. I am happy to say these measures have already been attended with considerable effect. The whole of this hostile tribe have been harassed by the constant succession of parties sent against them, and in some instances have been hotly pursued to a considerable distance in different directions. [28]

Capture and execution

By the time Irwin's dispatch had been received in London, Midgegooroo had been captured and executed. Despite his efforts to convince his superiors that his actions were justified, Irwin was criticized by the Secretary of State, who would have preferred a sentence of imprisonment, believing that execution would do little to improve relationships between the Aboroginals and the colonists. [29] But as Irwin intended, the search for Midgegooroo, Yagan and Munday proceeded quickly as the military and private settlers combed the region. One volunteer party led by a colonist named Thomas Hunt (according to G.F. Moore, "a most appropriate name" who had previously been a constable in London [30] ) headed south "in the direction of the Murray" and came across a number of "native huts" not far from the south shore of the Swan. They "routed" the Aboriginal people there, and pursued a group south, shooting and killing one man who was believed to be the brother of Midgegooroo and according to Moore, bringing his ears home "as a token". [31] According to the Perth Gazette, throughout the period immediately after the proclamation, Midgegooroo remained near the property of the Drummonds on the Helena River "employed as he usually had been of late in taking care of the women and children of the tribe" and clearly unaware of his outlaw status and his impending doom. [32] On Thursday 16 May, a military party led by Captain Ellis, acting on information that Midgegooroo was in the area, joined forces with a number of civilians, including Thomas Hardey and J. Hancock. After camping overnight, the next morning they came across Midgegooroo and his young son: The old man finding a retreat impossible, became desperate; Jeffers, a private of the 63rd … rushed forward and seized him by the hair, Captain Ellis seized his spears and broke them in his hand, he still retained the barbed ends, with which he struck at Jeffers repeatedly; the alarm he created by crying out for Yagan, and the apprehensions of his escaping, required the exercise of the greatest firmness on the part of Captain Ellis to accomplish his being brought in alive. The capture of this man as effected in a masterly manner, and redounds highly to the credit of Captain Ellis. … Midgegooroo in his dungeon presents a most pitiable object. [33] In the same issue, the Perth Gazette went on to invite citizens to "forward the ends of justice" by coming forward with their evidence of Midgegooroo's wrongdoings, indicative of the close relationship between the early colonial media, the Government and the nascent system of justice. The Perth Gazette constitutes one of the principle records of the events over the next few days, and it is difficult to be definite about the chronological sequence between Midgegooroo's capture on 17 May and execution on the 22nd. It appears likely that Irwin spent the period weighing up his alternatives, consulting with the Executive Council as well as men such as G.F. Moore who, as well as being a private colonist, held the official post of Commissioner of the Civil Court. On Monday 20 May, Moore records a meeting with Irwin and hints that his personal view was that Midgegooroo should be transported but there was a strong public sentiment that he should be executed; "there is a great puzzle to know what to do with him. The populace cry loudly for his blood, but it is a hard thing to shoot him in cold blood. There is a strong intention of sending him into perpetual banishment in some out of the way place." [34] Irwin told the Secretary of State he had conducted a "patient examination" and had received statements from "several credible witnesses", twelve-year-old Ralph Entwhistle, John Staunton of the 63rd Regiment of Foot, Charles Bourne, constable Thomas Hunt, James Lacey, Thomas Yule (sworn before Magistrates at Fremantle) and John Ellis. Each gave brief details of Midgegooroo's alleged crimes, and identified the prisoner as the same man. Irwin reported that he gave "much anxious consideration" to Midgegooroo's punishment: "The experiment of confinement, which had been tried to some extent in the case of the three Natives whose transportation to Carnac Island and ultimate escape I have reported to your Lordship in a former dispatch appeared to have produced no good effect on the subjects of that trial, and the age of the prisoner in question apparently exceeding fifty years, forbad any sanguine hopes from such an experiment in his case." [35]

There was no trial, even in the sense of an informal hearing. Midgegooroo was clearly not allowed the opportunity to give evidence or defend himself and indeed it is probable that he did not understand what was being alleged.

By 22 May, Irwin had made up his mind: "With the unanimous advice of the Council, I therefore decided on his execution as the only sure mode of securing the Colony from an enemy, who was doubly dangerous from his apparently implacable hostility and from his influence as an acknowledged Chief. The latter circumstance being also calculated to render his death a more striking example." The Perth Gazette recorded the execution as follows: "In the absence of a Sherriff, the warrant was directed to the Magistrates of the District of Perth, the duty therefore devolved upon J. Morgan Esq., as Government Resident, who immediately proceeded to carry the sentence into execution. The death warrant was read aloud to the persons assembled who immediately afterwards went inside the Jail, with the Constables and the necessary attendants, to prepare the Prisoner for his fate. Midgegooroo, on seeing that preparations were making [sic.] to punish him, yelled and struggled most violently to escape. These efforts availed him little, in less than five minutes he was pinioned and blindfolded, and bound to the outer door of the Jail. The Resident then reported to his Honor the Lieutenant Governor (who was on the spot accompanied by the Members of the Council), that all was prepared, - the warrant being declared final – he turned around and gave the signal to the party of the 63rd [which had volunteered] to advance and halt at 6 paces, - they then fired – and Midgegooroo fell. – The whole arrangement and execution after the death warrant had been handed over to the Civil Authorities, did not occupy half an hour." [36]

Irwin reported simply: "He was accordingly shot, in front of the jail at Perth on the 22 Ultimo." [37] Moore also recorded the execution although it is not clear whether he was a witness: "The native Midgegoroo, after being fully identified as being a principal in 3 murders at least, was fastened to the gaol door & fired on by a Military party, receiving 3 balls in his head, one in his body." [38] According to the Perth Gazette, the execution was witnessed by a "great number of persons … although the Execution was sudden and the hour unknown". "The feeling which was generally expressed was that of satisfaction at what had taken place, and in some instances loud and vehement exaltation, which the solemnity of the scene, - a fellow human being – although a native – launched into eternity – ought to have suppressed." [39]

The aftermath It appears from the extant record that, while there was a crowd in attendance at the execution, few if any Aboriginal people were present. The boy who was captured along with Midgegooroo, who was identified as his son "Billy" (later referred to also as "young Midgegooroo") was estimated to be between five and eight years old. He was removed "out of sound and hearing of what was to happen to his father and has since been forwarded to the Government Schooner, Ellen, now lying off Garden Island, with particular instructions from the Magistrates to ensure him every protection and kind treatment". [40] Irwin informed the Secretary of State that "the child has been kept in ignorance of his father's fate, and it is my present intention to retain him in confinement, and by kind treatment I am in hope from his tender age he may be so inured to civilized habits as to make it improbable he will revert to a barbarous life when grown up". [41] The Noongar population appears to have remained unaware of Midgegooroo's fate, possibly to ensure that the news would not reach the feared Yagan. Four days after the execution, G.F. Moore recorded an encounter with Yagan near his homestead when he arrived with Munday, Migo and seven others, possibly with the aim of finding out from Moore what had happened to his father. Moore, caught by surprise, decided to conceal the truth from Yagan, whereupon Yagan told him that if Midgegooroo's life was taken, he would retaliate by killing three white men. Six days later, it appears that news of the killing had still not penetrated the Noongar community for, when Moore was visited on 2 June by Weeip, Yagan's son Narral, and some women, they asked him again about Midgegooroo and his young son. [42] Moore again concealed the execution but assured them that his son "would come back again by & bye". [43] Two days later, Moore recorded that thefts of sheep and goats continued on the Canning River, and expressed his despair at the prospects for a people in whom he felt "a very great interest": "These things are very dispiriting. I fear it must come to an act of extermination between us at last if we cannot graze our flocks in safety." [44] It was not until 11 July that the colonists succeeded in killing Yagan, his death at the hands of sixteen-year-old James Keats on the Upper Swan, who duly collected his reward and left the colony. [45]

The Perth Gazette recorded its satisfaction at the deaths and believed that most of the citizenry supported the ruthless actions of the Government. Midgegooroo's execution, it claimed, met with "general satisfaction … his name has long rung in our ears, associated with every enormity committed by the natives; we therefore join cordially in commending this prompt and decisive measure". [46] On the other hand, it is clear that a number of colonists were unhappy with the actions of the government. Robert Lyon, who published his account of the period in 1839 after he had left the colony, wrote that while the killing of Midgegooroo and Yagan was "applauded by a certain class", they were "far from being universally approved. Many were silent, but some of the most respectable of the settlers loudly expressed their disapprobation." [47] There was criticism also from other Australian colonies about the execution of Midgegooroo. The Hobart Town Review of 20 August 1833 was full of vitriol for Irwin's actions: "It is hard to conceive any offence on the part of the poor unfortunate wretch that could justify the putting him to death, even in the open field, but to slay him in cool blood to us appears a cruel murder without palliation." [48]

Irwin, however, was convinced that his actions were merited. Writing in England about two years after the events of 1833, he asserted that "these acts of justice so completely succeeded in their object of intimidating the natives on the Swan and Canning Rivers that recent accounts from the colony represent the shepherds and others in the habit of going about the country, as having for a considerable laid aside their usual precaution of carrying firearms, so peaceable had the conduct of those tribes become." [49]

Shortly after the death of Yagan, the Perth Gazette expressed hope that the Aboriginal people of the Swan and Canning Rivers would stop harassing colonists. At the same time, the way in which Yagan met his death was "revolting to our feelings to hear this lauded as a meritorious deed". "What a fearful lesson of instruction have we given the savage!" the newspaper lamented. [50] Munday approached the Lieutenant Governor seeking to make peace, and his outlaw status was annulled. [51] Remarking on the apparent desire of Aboriginal visitors to the Perth town area to "renew the friendly understanding", the newspaper nevertheless warned that "they ought … never to be out of the sight of some authorized persons, who should have the power of controlling the conduct of individuals towards them, at the same time as they protect the public from any aggression on the part of the natives." [52] Early in September 1833, Munday and Migo were taken by a young colonist named Francis Armstrong, later to be appointed to manage a ration depot at Mt. Eliza, to meet the Lieutenant Governor. With Armstrong acting as interpreter, Migo and Munday told the Lieutenant Governor that they "wished to come to an amicable treaty with us, and were desirous to know whether the white people would shoot any more of their black people". "Being assured that they would not, they proceeded to give the names of all the black men of the tribes in this immediate neighbourhood who had been killed with a description of where they were shot and the persons who had shot them. The number amounted to sixteen, killed, and nearly twice as many wounded; indeed it is supposed that few have escaped uninjured. The accuracy with which they mark out the persons who have been implicated in these attacks, should serve as a caution to the public in regulating their conduct towards them. … After all the names of the dead were given, they intimated that they were still afraid that, before long, more would be added to the number, but being assured again that it would not be the case, unless they "quippled", committed theft, they said then no more white men would be speared. They seemed perfectly aware that it was our intention to shoot them if they "quippled"; they argued however that it was opposed to their laws, - which as banishment from the tribe, or spearing through the leg. The death of Domjun at Fremantle, who was shot in the act of carrying away a bag of flour, they say was not merited, that the punishment was too severe for the offence; and further, that it was wrong to endanger the lives of others for the act of one, - two of his companions having been severely wounded. They say that only one life would have been taken for this occurrence, had they not met with the Velvicks at the Canning, who had previously behaved ill towards them: the attempt which was made at the Canning to break their spears, it seems, increased their irritation." [53]

Migo and Munday went on to describe the arrest of Midgegooroo: "They were not far off, and heard his cries; the party who took him were all known to them, and they followed them to within a very short distance of Perth; they evince some anxiety now to be made acquainted with the names of the soldiers who shot him, and still continue their enquiries about the son; both of which questions it is prudent to avoid answering, notwithstanding their proferred amnesty. Midgegooroo's wives, when they had ascertained that he was captured, scratched and disfigured themselves, - a usual practice among them - , and when his death was fully ascertained, Yellowgonga and Dommera fought a duel for the one, and Munday took the other." The Lieutenant Governor proposed that a meeting of all the Swan and Canning people should be held, but Munday and Migo told him this would have to wait until the "yellow season", December, January and February when the banksias flowered. After the meeting, Migo and Munday were seen "in earnest conversation with members of their tribe, communicating, it was supposed, the results of the interview". [54] A day later, the newspaper reported that a large "corrobara" was held in Perth, but that it had been interrupted by "some blackguards throwing a bucket of water over them". It also reported that a few days previously, a white woman had taken some wood "from under a tree, which it had occupied Munday some time to cut. As it was not intended for her, he called to her to put it down, she however persisted in carrying it off, he threw his saw down and was soon on the ground after her. He appeared terribly enraged; the female gave him some bread and he was pacified. The town would have been up in arms if Munday had speared the female, but there can be no question that she as richly deserved punishment as Domjum merited his fate." [55]

Thus, the Aboriginal people of the Swan and Canning were able for the first time to put their side of the story before the government, and even the Gazette, which had been unrelenting in its calls for harsh punishment, conceded that they might have a point and that justice, Swan River Colony style, was at best inconsistent. Munday and Migo argued forcefully that their people had been extremely badly treated. Even in the context of the early nineteenth century, death was an extreme penalty for the theft of flour and biscuits. Their people had consistently been roughly treated, but their story had been left untold. The rough treatment at the hands of people such as the Velvicks had been left out of the discourse of "native barbarity", and the dispositions about the role of Midgegooroo, Yagan and Munday in their deaths failed to mention that, on that day at Bull's Creek, the colonists had tried to seize and break their spears.

The colonial government and the colonists of Perth, however, had no intention of sharing their new possessions with the Aboriginals, who were henceforth to be dependent on government rations dispensed from ration points. Thus began the long and inexorable history of the dispossession of Western Australian Aboriginal people from their lands and the loss of their freedoms of movement. In Perth, the ruthless killing of Midgegooroo and Yagan certainly shocked the people of the Swan and Canning but, far from improving relationships between coloniser and colonized, violence and robbery continued for some years in the region and further afield. [56] Aboriginal people of the Murray River felt the full force of colonial fury just over a year after Munday and Migo had expressed their desire for a treaty, when a large number of their people were massacred in a combined action near Pinjarra in October 1834. As the Western Australian frontier spread over the vast land area of the colony, other Aboriginal people were to experience much the same pattern of dispossession, death, incarceration and government repression.

Midgegooroo's land rights passed to his son Yagan, then to his other son Narral. Munday assumed responsibility for his older wife, and his younger wife Ganiup became the wife of a Noongar named Dommera.


By June 2008, the Department of Environment and Conservation, Conservation Commission and the Geographic Names Committee approved the renaming of the Canning National Park to Midgegooroo National Park. [57]

See also


  1. "Yagan". Kaartdijin Noongar. South West Aboriginal Land & Sea Council. Retrieved 26 April 2016.
  2. "Stolen Generations". Kaartdijin Noongar. South West Aboriginal Land & Sea Council. Retrieved 26 April 2016.
  3. Perth Gazette, 23 March 1833; 13 April 1833
  4. Robert Menli Lyon may have acquired most of this information from Yagan rather than Midgegooroo. In 1832, Lyon had intervened on behalf of Yagan and two of his countrymen, Domera and Ningina who had been captured and awaited sentence for spearing a colonist William Gaze in June. Lyon persuaded Lieutenant-Governor Frederick Irwin to allow him to accompany the three prisoners to Carnac Island to "acquire a knowledge of their language and prevent that frightful state of things in which the deliberate shedding of blood will involve the settlement". For a month, Lyon and the three Aboriginal men were alone on the island, during which time they taught him about the language and society of the people of the Swan River region, including the names of places.Bevan Carter Nyungah Land, p. 33
  5. Perth Gazette 23 March 1833; 13 April 1833
  6. CSR 27.123 – 7
  7. Perth Gazette, 25 May 1833
  8. Perth Gazette, 25 May 1833
  9. Perth Gazette, 25 May 1833. G. F. Moore comments that Yagan may in fact have been the biological son of Midgegooroo's brother, although as an uncle he would likely have been considered his classificatory father.
  10. Perth Gazette, 25 May 1833
  11. Neville Green 1984 Broken Spears: Aboriginals and Europeans in the southwest of Australia, Focus, Perth; Bevan Carter c. 2005, Nyungah Land: Records of Invasion and Theft of Aboriginal Land on the San River, 1829 – 1850, Black History Series, Perth. See also Neville Green 1981 "Aborigines and white settlers in the nineteenth century" in A New History of Western Australia, University of Western Australia Press, Nedlands.
  12. Pamela Staham-Drewe 2003, Governor Stirling: Admiral and Founding Governor of Western Australia, University of Western Australia Press, Nedlands, pp. 136 – 137.
  13. Hallam and Tilbrook, p. 62
  14. Perth Gazette, 25 May 1833
  15. Perth Gazette, 25 May 1833
  16. Perth Gazette, 25 May 1833
  17. Perth Gazette, 25 May 1833
  18. Perth Gazette, 25 May 1833
  19. Hallam and Tilbrook, p. 334. See also Tiffany Shellam's detailed account of this episode in 2009 Shaking Hands on the Fringe, University of WA Press.
  20. Stirling was absent from the colony at this time, in England.
  21. Perth Gazette, 16 May 1833
  22. Perth Gazette, 4 May 1833
  23. Perth Gazette, 4 May 1833
  24. Perth Gazette, 4 May 1833
  25. Perth Gazette, 4 May 1833
  26. Australian Joint Microfilm Project, Dispatch from F.C. Irwin to Secretary of State for Colonies, 1 June 1833.
  27. Perth Gazette, 4 May 1833
  28. Dispatch from F.C. Irwin to Secretary of State for Colonies, 1 June 1833
  29. Simon Adams 2009 The Unforgiving Rope: Murder and hanging on Australia's Western frontier, UWAP, Nedlands, pp. 13 - 14
  30. Cameron, p. 237
  31. Perth Gazette, 18 May 1833; Cameron, p. 232.
  32. Hallam and Tilbrook, pp. 210 - 211
  33. Perth Gazette, 18 May 1833
  34. Cameron, p. 233
  35. Dispatch from F.C. Irwin to Secretary of State for Colonies, 1 June 1833
  36. Perth Gazette, Perth Gazette, 25 May 1833
  37. Dispatch from F.C. Irwin to Secretary of State for Colonies, June 1st 1833
  38. Cameron, p. 233
  39. Perth Gazette 25 May 1833
  40. Perth Gazette 25 May 1833
  41. Dispatch from F.C. Irwin to Secretary of State for Colonies, 1 June 1833
  42. Hallam and Tilbrook consider that Naral was more likely to have been Yagan's brother.
  43. Cameron, p. 238
  44. Cameron, pp. 238 - 239
  45. This story has been documented by Green (pp. 87 – 88), Carter (pp. 95 – 96), and Hallam and Tilbrook (p. 338)
  46. Perth Gazette, 25 May 1833
  47. 1839, An appeal to the World on behalf of the younger branch of the family of Shem, J. Spilsbury and J. M'Rachern, Sydney.
  48. Hobart Town Review, 20 August 1833
  49. F.C. Irwin 1835, The State and Position of Western Australia, commonly called the Swan River Settlement, London, p. 25
  50. Perth Gazette, 20 July 1833
  51. Perth Gazette, 27 July 1833
  52. Perth Gazette, 10 August 1833
  53. Perth Gazette, 7 September 1833
  54. Perth Gazette, 7 September 1833
  55. Perth Gazette, 7 September 1833
  56. There are a large number of references to support these statements in addition to the works of Green and Carter. These include Biskup (1973), Bropho (1986), Gribble (1987), Haebich (1988), Hawke and Gallagher (1989), Green (1995), Pedersen and Woorenmurra (1995), Reynolds (1998), Jebb (2002), and Auty (2005).
  57. Pamphlet Parks of the Perth Hills - Whats in a name?issues by the Perth Hills District of DEC in June 2008 - Midgegooroo's family had customary land usage rights over a large area of what is now southern metropolitan Perth

Related Research Articles

Noongar an Indigenous Australian people who live in the south-west corner of Western Australia, from Geraldton on the west coast to Esperance on the south coast

The Noongar are Aboriginal Australian peoples who live in the south-west corner of Western Australia, from Geraldton on the west coast to Esperance on the south coast. Noongar country is the land occupied by 14 different groups: Amangu, Ballardong, Yued, Kaneang, Koreng, Mineng, Njakinjaki, Njunga, Pibelmen, Pindjarup, Wardandi, Whadjuk, Wiilman and Wudjari.

Yagan Noongar warrior

Yagan was an Aboriginal Australian warrior from the Noongar people. He played a key part in early resistance to British colonial settlement and rule in the area surrounding what is now Perth, Western Australia. Yagan was pursued by the local authorities after he killed Erin Entwhistle, a servant of farmer Archibald Butler. It was an act of retaliation after Thomas Smedley, another of Butler's servants, shot at a group of Noongar people stealing potatoes and fowls, killing one of them. The government offered a bounty for Yagan's capture, dead or alive, and a young settler, William Keats, shot and killed him. Yagan's execution figures in Australian history as a symbol of the unjust and sometimes brutal treatment of the indigenous peoples of Australia by colonial settlers. He is considered a hero by the Noongar.

Risdon Cove cove near Hobart, Tasmania, Australia

Risdon Cove is a cove located on the east bank of the Derwent River, approximately 7 kilometres (4 mi) north of Hobart, Tasmania. It was the site of the first British settlement in Van Diemen's Land, now Tasmania, the smallest Australian state. The cove was named by John Hayes, who mapped the river in the ship Duke of Clarence in 1794, after his second officer William Bellamy Risdon.

Frederick Irwin British military officer

Lieutenant-Colonel Frederick Chidley Irwin, KH was acting Governor of Western Australia from 1847 to 1848.

Robert Menli Lyon was a pioneering Western Australian settler who became one of the earliest outspoken advocates for Indigenous Australian rights and welfare in the colony. He published the first information on the Aboriginal language of the Perth area.

George Fletcher Moore politician, public servant, diarist

George Fletcher Moore was a prominent early settler in colonial Western Australia, and "one [of] the key figures in early Western Australia's ruling elite". He conducted a number of exploring expeditions; was responsible for one of the earliest published records of the language of the Australian Aborigines of the Perth area; and was the author of Diary of Ten Years Eventful Life of an Early Settler in Western Australia.

La Grange expedition 1865 search operation in Western Australia

The La Grange expedition was a search expedition carried out in the vicinity of Lagrange Bay in the Kimberley region of Western Australia in 1865. Led by Maitland Brown, the expedition searched for three settlers who had failed to return from an earlier exploring expedition. The three men were eventually found dead, having been speared and clubbed to death in their sleep by Indigenous Australians. A number of Indigenous people were subsequently killed by members of the expedition in a controversial incident that is often now referred to as the "La Grange Massacre", although the fairness of this term remains a matter of some debate.

Robert Dale explorer

Lieutenant Robert Dale was the first European explorer to cross the Darling Range in Western Australia.

The Beeliar people are a clan or group of Indigenous Australians belonging to the Noongar tribal people of the South West region of Western Australia. Robert Lyon referred to the Beeliar people as one of the five groups of the Perth metropolitan area, but it is now thought that they may have been a family subgroup of a larger group, which Daisy Bates refers to as "Beelgar". When British settlers arrived to establish the Swan River Colony in 1829, there were about 60 Beeliar people, including Midgegooroo and Yagan. The Beeliar group no longer exists, and although some present-day Noongars trace their ancestry to Yagan, they identify as Noongars rather than Beeliar.

Lake Monger lake in Western Australia

Lake Monger is a large urban wetland on the Swan Coastal Plain in suburban Perth, Western Australia nestled between the suburbs of Leederville, Wembley and Glendalough.


The Bindjareb, Binjareb, Pindjarup or Pinjareb are an indigenous Noongar people that occupy part of the South West of Western Australia.


Whadjuk, alternatively Witjari, are a Noongar people of the Western Australian region of the Perth bioregion of the Swan Coastal Plain.

South Perth, Western Australia Suburb of Perth, Western Australia

South Perth is a residential suburb of Perth, Western Australia that adjoins the southern shore of Perth Water on the Swan River; it is 3 kilometres (2 mi) south of the central business district. The suburb adjoins two major arterial roads—Canning Highway and the Kwinana Freeway, and is within the City of South Perth local government area.

John Drummond (Australian settler) explorer of Western Australia

John Nicol Drummond (1816–1906) was an early settler in Western Australia. He became the colony's first Inspector of Native Police, and helped to explore the Champion Bay district before becoming one of the district's pioneer pastoralists.

William Mitchell (missionary) missionary, born 1803

William Mitchell was a Church of England priest who was the second ordained person, after The Rev Louis Giustiniani to provide religious services in the Swan Valley area of the Swan River Colony. He worked in the Swan Parish for over 20 years before moving to Perth to take up a position working with convicts and prisoners in the Perth Gaol in Beaufort Street.

The Pinjarra massacre, also known as the Battle of Pinjarra, is an attack that occurred in 1834 at Pinjarra, Western Australia on an uncertain number of Binjareb Noongar people by a detachment of 25 soldiers, police and settlers led by Governor James Stirling. Stirling estimated the Binjareb present numbered "about 60 or 70" and John Roe, who also participated, at about 70–80, which roughly agree with an estimate of 70 by an unidentified eyewitness.

Calyute, also known as Kalyute, Galyute or Wongir, was an Indigenous Australian resistance leader who was involved in a number of reprisal attacks with white settlers and members of other tribes in the early days of the Swan River Colony, in Western Australia. He was a member of the Pindjarup people from around the Murray River area south of Perth. Calyute's family included two brothers, Woodan and Yanmar, two wives, Mindup and Yamup, and two sons, Ninia and Monang.

This is a timeline of Aboriginal history of Western Australia.

William Nairne Clark (1804–1854) was a public notary and publisher, active at the Swan River Colony and Tasmanian settlements founded in Australia.

John Henry Monger Snr arrived in Western Australia as an assisted migrant in 1829. After a short period running a mill at what became Lake Monger, he established a hotel and store in York and went on to become one of the richest men in the colony.


Select bibliography

Published books and articles

Contemporary newspapers