BUNGAREE: The wrong skull?

Bungaree, late chief of the Broken Bay Tribe, NS Wales,
William Henry Fernyhough, c.1816
Mitchell Library, State Library of NSW, Sydney

Keith Vincent Smith

After extensive further research I believe that the remains of the famous Broken Bay Aboriginal voyager ‘King’ Bungaree still lie undisturbed in an unmarked wooden coffin at Rose Bay in Sydney, New South Wales, where he was interred in November 1830 next to his first wife Matora.

A notice in the Sydney Morning Herald of 8 November 1857 titled ‘Donations to the Australian Museum, during November 1857’ included the ‘skull of “King Bungaree,”’ an aboriginal of New South Wales’.

When I first read this entry in 2010, I immediately assumed that the cranium must have been that of  Bungaree, the first Australian to circumnavigate the continent when he sailed with Matthew Flinders on HMS Investigator in 1802-3.

I was not aware of this ‘donation’ by the Honourable Randolph John Want, a member of the Legislative Council of New South Wales and a Trustee of the Australian  Museum, when I wrote my biography ‘King Bungaree’, published in 1992 by Kangaroo Press, Kenthurst, New South Wales.

In that book’s Epilogue I quoted the brief obituary from the Gazette of 27 November 1830, which said Bungaree had died at Garden Island and would be ‘interred at Rose Bay, beside the remains of his late Queen’. Bungaree and his first wife Matora were buried together in a wooden coffin from the Sydney Lumber Yard.

At that time a spokesman for the Australian Museum assured me that ‘the Museum has no record of receiving the skull and certainly does not have it in its collection’.

In 2011 I added this note to my contribution to ‘The Story of Bob Waterer and his Family (1803-2010)’, a book edited by Nan Bosler.

If Bungaree’s skull was lodged in the museum in 1857 it would mean that his body had been dug up from the grave in which he was buried 27 years earlier at Rose Bay and decapitated.

I suggested that it was possible that the skull might perhaps be that of Bungaree’s eldest son Bowen Bungaree, who had died in Sydney, aged 56 in 1853, or of his second son Toby (also Joe or  Tobin) who seems to have died in Sydney in 1842.

My story citing ‘King’ Bungaree was picked up in a long article in the Australian Daily Mail, published on 4 March 2019, titled ‘The untold story of King Bungaree’

See: <https://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-6689845/The-untold-story-Aboriginal-explorer-King-Bungaree-mystery-missing-skull.html>

The clues for this reconsideration are in the SMH statement. A close reading of Want’s donation infers that the skull he gave to the Australian Museum was that of John Bungaree, an Aboriginal youth well known in Sydney, but not related to Bungaree.

I believe that John Bungaree’s skull was obtained by Want, who had recently returned to Sydney from the Burnett River area in north-west New South Wales (now in the state of Queensland).

As a child John Bungaree, born about 1829 into the Kamilaroi clan at the Namoi River, was taken from there and fostered by Stephen Coxen.

[See my profile of John Bungaree’s life online at The Dictionary of Sydney:


At the age of 23 John Bungaree joined the Native Police. In January 1854, the year of his death, John Bungaree and two other Native Police troopers were attacked by hostile local Aborigines at Port Curtis, now Gladstone, Queensland. He was severely wounded when hit on the head by nulla nulla.

When he died on 24 July 1854 John Bungaree was buried at Traylon, a police depot on the Burnett River, some six miles north of the present town of Eidsvold. While in the area Want had the opportunity to buy the skull of John Bungaree or to have it unearthed.


Woollahra (sic) House Gatekeepers Lodge, 1871
(Now Rose Bay Police Station)
Journal of the Royal Australian Historic Society, vol 37, part 4, page 220

Skull in a box

Two boys playing on the beach at Rose Bay in Sydney one Saturday afternoon in October 1919 stumbled upon a wooden box half buried in the sand. ‘Inside was a human skull lying face upwards quite discoloured and mouldy with age’, the Evening News (Monday 13 October 1919) reported under the heading ‘Skull in a Box’.

The boys quickly shut the box and ran with it to Rose Bay Police Station.

It was taken to the Morgue, where the Government Medical Officer, Dr. Arthur Palmer, examined the skull and said that in his opinion it was that of an Aboriginal adult.

Several exhibits were stolen from The Australian Museum in Sydney during the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. The Evening News reporter stressed that ‘It is thought that the head may possibly be an old exhibit of some sort, as it appeared to have been packed neatly in the box and was very old and decayed’.

After a diligent search Adam Joseph, known for his active role in the Bennelong Putney Project, which influenced the New South Wales government to acquire Bennelong’s grave site at Kissing Point (now Putney), has obtained the original handwritten pencil report of the boys’ discovery, first lodged at Rose Bay Police Station, ‘Woollahra’ and now in the NSW State Archives.

State Archives Collection (NRS 1788 Registers of Bodies received [Sydney City Coroner] [3/2230]) obtained by Adam Joseph.


This human skull minus the lower jaw was found in a wooden box above high water mark on the beach Rose Bay Woolahra at the rear of D. Herrick Knowles residence about 4.30 PM on the 11th instant by two school boys named Alick Cunningham, “Mungo” Dover Street Rose Bay and Douglas Dunn “Glenora” Spencer Street Rose Bay they took it home and their parents told them to take it to the Police Station at Rose Bay which was done at about 10.30 AM this date 12 Oct.

Mathew O’Reilly, Constable, No. 10 Station.

Dr. Herrick Knowles was a Rose Bay and Macquarie Street medical doctor involved with the Red Cross.

Bungaree, the Broken Bay leader, was buried in 1830 near the present Rose Bay Police Station, originally built as the gatehouse of Daniel Cooper’s later mansion Woollahra House, demolished in 1929. In Smith’s Weekly ‘Bye the Way’ column headed ‘King Boongarie’ on 1 November 1909 a correspondent using the nom-de-plume ‘A.G.F’ wrote:

The finding at Rose Bay (Sydney) recently of the remains of an aborigine enclosed in a box reminds me that in this locality King Boongarie [Bungaree] was buried … The Sydney “Gazette” of 27/11/’30, noting the death of this famous aborigine, says: “He expired on Wednesday last, at Garden Island, and he will be interred at Rose Bay, beside the remains of his late Queen.” It would be singular if the remains recently found were those of Boongarie or his wife.—A.G.F.

As I wrote in King Bungaree (Kangaroo Press, 1992:167):

On the eastern side of Port Jackson below Bellevue Hill, there is a small bay with a narrow sandy beach fringed by a scrappy, untidy park running down a deep slope … The foreshores of Rose Bay are crowded with yachts and boats at anchor. The high bluff of Georges Head can be seen in the distance past Shark Island. Somewhere in this greenery next to the shimmering harbour is the unmarked final resting place of King Bungaree.


Copyright Keith Vincent Smith 2022


Keith Vincent Smith

See the Kamay Spears

Three of some forty fishing spears taken by Joseph Banks and Lieutenant James Cook at Kamay (Botany Bay) in 1770 will be on display at the Chau Chak Wing Museum at the University of Sydney until 10 July 2022.

See details online at


Alas, the spears will not be staying here in Australia, but will fly back to their Keeper Nicholas Thomas at Cambridge UK.

Keith Vincent Smith 2022


Vista de la Colonia Inglesa de Sydney en la Nueva Gales Meridional.
[View of Sydney Cove from the North-West, April 1793]
Fernando Brambilla (1763-1834)
George 111, Kings Topographical Collection, K.Top.124 Supp.43.
British Library, London

Keith Vincent Smith

The Spanish and Italian voyagers in the corvettes Descuvierta (Discovery) and Atrevida (Intrepid), commanded by Don Alexandro Malaspina, anchored in Warrane (Sydney Cove) at noon on 13 March 1793. This five year long  scientific survey of the Pacific Ocean and South America was funded by the Spanish government.

The two ships and their crews spent one month in the Sydney area, leaving on 12 April 1793 after making repairs and replenishing wood and water.

Acting governor Major Francis Grose gave Malaspina’s officers permission to set up an observatory. They ‘chose the cove on which a small brick hut had been built for Bennillong by Governor Phillip, making use of the hut to secure their (astronomical) instruments,’ wrote Acting Judge Advocate David Collins.

[David Collins, An Account of the English Colony in New South Wales, vol. 1, London 1798: 275]

The small fired brick hut built by Arthur Phillip, first Governor of the colony of New South Wales, for the Wangal go-between Woollarawarre Bennelong, is glimpsed at top left in Fernando Brambilla’s ‘Vista’, just beneath the vessel with billowing sails coming up the harbour. The Aboriginal group at bottom left are copied from a drawing by the convict artist Thomas Watling, employed by Surgeon John White, who befriended the European visitors.

Above the group of people at right we see the road (now Bridge Street) leading up the hill to Governor Phillip’s house. The Museum of Sydney is built on the site.

At that time Bennelong and his young companion Yemmerrawanne, bound for England with Governor Phillip, were at sea on the ship Atlantic, some two months away from landfall at Falmouth in Cornwall.

In 1790 Fernando Brambilla, principal artist in the Malaspina expedition, born in Italy, had worked as a set designer and scenery painter at La Scala, Milan. He sailed in Atrevida,  joining the expedition at Acapulco in Mexico with his friend Juan Ravenet. After the voyage Brambilla became court painter to the Spanish king Charles 1V.

Malaspina, (1754-1810), an Italian from Tuscany, had secret instructions to report on the English convict settlement at Port Jackson. He asked Brambilla to prepare this and a second landscape of Sydney which were presented to Grose, who sent the two works and an image of Parramatta to King George 111 in England on the convict ship ship Kitty, which reached the Cove of Cork on 5 February 1794.  The Indian ink originals are now in the Buckingham Palace Collection of Queen Elizabeth 11.

Nueva Holande: Cabeza de un habitant, 1793
[New Holland: Head of a Native]
Juan Ravenet (c1766–1821)
Mitchell Library, State Library of New South Wales, Sydney

Malaspina’s second artist Juan (Giovanni) Ravenet, who sailed in Discubierta as a figure painter, was born in Parma, Italy and studied art at the Fine Arts Academy, where his father taught engraving. In Sydney he sketched settlers, convicts and Aboriginal people. As historian Robert J. King remarks: ‘The portraits made by the artist, Juan Ravenet, are among the best representations ever made of the Eora of the period.’

While in Port Jackson Ravenet drew this fine portrait sketch of an Aboriginal boy whose identity is unknown. He represents a group of young ‘orphans’ adopted by settlers and given English names and clothing. Some of these youths embraced a life at sea on English sailing ships, but there are no existing images of Bundle (Bondel), Tristan Maamby or Tom Rowley, who were 10 or 12 years old at that time, nor of James Bath, who was about 15.

[See Keith Vincent Smith, MARI NAWI: Aboriginal Odysseys, Rosenberg Publishing, Dural, NSW, 2010]


Malaspina was intrigued by the numbers of Aboriginal men and women mingling with the settlers in Sydney Town and by the convict colony itself, just five years after its establishment and three years since the peaceful ‘coming-in’ of the Eora, brokered by Governor Phillip and Bennelong. 

He writes bluntly in ‘Examen politico de las colonias inglesas en el mar Pacifici’:

We have seen gathered and cared for with the greatest kindness, several Boys and Girls. Others, both men and women, although entirely naked and disgustingly dirty, have been admitted to the same Room where we were eating, and have been regaled with one or other dainty from the same Table. At times we have heard entire Families salute us with several shouts in English; at times in the principal Streets of the Colony itself they have danced and sung almost the whole night around a campfire, without anyone molesting them … the young adults at times suddenly quit the house where they are being fed, and the clothing which covers them …

In spite of their simplicity they live happily: ordinarily one comes across them dancing. Alike in this to the Guineans, they express the sensuality of their desires in their songs and attitudes. The vibration of their knees, the vigorous rubbing of the most sensitive parts, and the other movements of each sex, with the ardour which may be observed in their features, are other such unequivocal signs of what they express. Their abode is on the beaches and in the Woods …

Malaspina describes the nawi (stringybark canoes) and techniques used  by the coastal women when fishing in them.

Two or three yards of the bark of a tree scarcely an inch thick, folded at the ends to make a concave figure, is a Boat sufficient for three women, one of whom occupies herself with baling out the water which enters continually, while the others row with small paddles, with shells or merely with their hands. A fire which is placed on sand moves to and from among the women, and their skins which are proof against the elements are also incombustable. Hooks formed from the lip of a seashell, and gaffs made solely of wood are their gear for getting fish, which they devour scarcely warmed on the embers, as if they are always hungry, and put in their insatiable bellies whatever they come across—Bread, a Cob of Maize, and even a tallow candle are delicious foods, but nothing equals a Biscuit dipped in salty water, which is the most agreeable to them: they know it by the name ‘Berriguet’, not being able to pronounce its English name.

[Malaspina, in extracts from ‘Examen politico de las colonias inglesas en el mar Pacifici’ 1793; MS318, Museo Naval, Madrid, translated by Robert J. King  in Secret History of the Convict Colony, 1986:106; 148]

Una Mujer de la Nueva Olanda, 1793
Juan Ravenet (1766-1821)
Museo Naval, Madrid

Sure enough, Ravenet sketches the ‘Mujer’ (woman) I identified as the wife of the Kameygal headman Maroot the elder in my article published by John Ogden of Cyclops Press in his surf-oriented history saltwater people of the fatal shore – Sydney’s southern beaches, 2017. She holds in her hand such a ship’s biscuit.

Malaspina noted: ‘In some [‘Natives’] the hair was ornamented with Kangaroo teeth shells &c fastened to it  …I saw several with my own eyes ornamented in this manner’.

After he gave Maroot the elder a glass of brandy when he met him at Botany Bay five years later in 1798 Benjamin Bowen Carter, the American surgeon on the ship Ann and Hope from Rhode Island recorded: ‘Several other canoes came off, in one was a woman and a child at her breast. They all asked for biscuit, and promised fish in return, but never brought them.’ Carter gave them bread and meat and obtained a short vocabulary in return.

[Benjamin Bowen Carter, A journal of a voyage from Providence to Canton in the Ship Ann and Hope, Rhode Island Historical Society, Providence, Reel PMB 769, frames 83-4]

Borador del Revivimiento de los Oficiales en baie Botanica
[Reception of Spanish officers in Botany Bay: Governor’s House baie Botanica]
Juan Ravenet (c1766–1821)
Pen, ink and wash
Museo de América, Madrid (Colección Bauzá) No 2354
Reproduced from Tim McCormick, First Views of Australia 1788-1825,
A history of early Sydney, Longueville Publications, David Ell Press, Chippendale, 1987, page 49

At top left, Ravenet includes a naked Aboriginal man and child among the crowd of English gentlemen in cocked hats at a reception held for the Spanish visitors. At left below is an unfinished sketch of a woman. Sydney antiquarian bookseller Tim McCormick suggests the tall top-hatted figure in the foreground might be Major Grose.

It is always a pleasure and a privilege to leaf through the pages of early images (184 in full colour) and commentary in McCormick’s authoritative ‘First Views’, published in a limited edition of 2000 copies.

View of Parramatta from near Rose Hill, April 1793
Fernando Brambilla (1763-1834)
Pen, ink and grey wash
BL.K. Top 124 (supplement), 44                                                                                                                 British Library, London

On 5 April 1793 Don Luis Neé, botanist on board Atrevida, went by boat along the Parramatta River and reported at length on the buildings, orchards, gardens, soil and natural vegetation he saw.

On the way he jumped ashore at Kissing Point (now Putney) where, he said, the ‘industrial colonists’ were growing maize, ‘and every kind of greens and vegetable, such as kidney beans, peas, cabbages, lettuces, endives, melons, potatoes, turnips’.

‘I had hardly touched ground when I found two tetragonias and various other oraches, all edible, as I pointed out to the colonists’. These Indigenous plants are related to Warrigal greens (Tetragonis expansa), at first called ‘Botany Bay Greens’ or ‘New Zealand Spinach,’ which still grow in the area where Bennelong is buried.

Each house in the one-street township of Parramatta pictured by Brambilla, had a garden, where cabbages, pumpkins, turnips and potatoes were raised. ‘They also cultivate tomatoes’, wrote Neé in his diary.

On 6 April 1793 José de Bustamate Y Guerra and other Spanish officers, with David Collins, Surgeon John White, Captain George Johnston and Lieutenant Prentice were rowed up the river in two ship’s boats to Parramatta. They reached the ‘New Grounds’ or Toongabbie. Malaspina was told the name meant ‘place of handing over,’ while the botanist Thaddáus Haenke, who corresponded with Joseph Banks, recorded its Aboriginal placename as Thungabe. In 1808 mariner Nicolas Pateshall wrote it as Toon-gabbe.

Borador del Dibujo de Baia Botanica, 1793
[Outline of the sketch of Botany Bay]
Juan Ravenet (1766-1821)
Cat 747 Museo Naval, Madrid

When Descubierta’s tender was sent from Port Jackson to Kamay (Botany Bay) to take soundings to establish the astronomical location of Sydney Cove, Ravenet seized the opportunity, trekking overland, wrote David Collins ‘in order to have a better chance of finding some natives and to draw them with their weapons and in their native dress.’

They were escorted along the muru or Aboriginal pathway by Marine Lieutenant George Johnston and Lieutenant John Prentice and met the ship’s tender on the north shore of Botany Bay. The resulting field sketch, now in the Museo Naval in Madrid, captures this meeting with a group of Aboriginal men, women and children on the north shore of Botany Bay.

Based on the Spanish soundings and the shadows cast by the figures in the tableau, Robert J. King suggests that the tender had returned to Yarra Bay from off Towra or Pinnacle Point near Kurnell.

The Spanish ships were outside the Sydney Heads by 10 o’clock on the morning of 11 April 1793.

Photocopy of the missing artwork
Juan Ravenet, date unknown
Medium unknown
Size 68 x 38 cm
Whereabouts unknown


In February 1958 a photostat of a large finished drawing of Ravenet’s ‘Borador’ sketch of Australian Aborigines at Kamay (Baia Botanica or Botany Bay) was offered, through the British Embassy in Caracas, Venezuela, to The Australian Museum in Sydney.

It showed the above scene and the same Indigenous people, now fleshed out. The museum forwarded the work to the Mitchell Library at the State Library of New South Wales. From the photostat it is not possible to know the medium used. A hole, absent in the original, can be seen at left, where a young boy previously stood next to an elder throwing a spear with a womera (throwing stick).

Somehow this version of Ravenet’s sketch, a significant document in Australian history, had survived the intervening years. The owner said in a letter that ‘it was found in France by one of my grandfathers, who bought it [a] long time ago.’ It had been left by his aunt, who died unmarried in 1940.

The Library, then administered by State Librarian John W. Metcalf (1901-1982), offered the seller less than half the asking price of $US500 and returned it to the owner in South America.

Its whereabouts are now unknown. Today it would make a wonderful addition to the Mitchell Library’s extensive collection.

[Much of this article is based on the expert scholarship of Robert J. King. See ‘Eora and English at Port Jackson: A Spanish view’, Aboriginal History, vol 10, 1986, pages 47-58.

View online in TROVE at <https://webarchive.nla.gov.au/awa/20190412132558/https://press-files.anu.edu.au/downloads/press/p71821/pdf/book.pdf>]

[‘Examen politico de las colonias inglesas en el mar Pacifici’ 1793. MS318, Museo Naval, Madrid. – R. J. King – Secret History of the Convict Colony, 1986:106; 148]

Copyright Keith Vincent Smith 2022



Boon-ga-ree Aboriginal of New St Wales 1819
who accompanied me on my first voyage to the N W coast
Phillip Parker King
Album of Sketches and Engravings, 1802-93
Mitchell Library, Sydney

Keith Vincent Smith

Bungaree, Boongaree or Bongaree (c1775-1830), the Garigal leader born at Broken Bay, practiced the Aboriginal technique now called ‘cultural burning’. 

Before sailing with Captain Phillip Parker King to west and northern Australia, Bungaree was seen in September 1817 burning the bush at Burroggy (Bradley’s Head), near the Georges Heights Farm at Mosman granted to him in 1815 by Governor Lachlan Macquarie. 

Masters mate of the cutter Mermaid, John Septimus Roe, wrote in his private journal:

— For the present grand illumination we are indebted to Bongaree Chief of the Broken Bay Tribe of Natives, who with some of the neighbouring Tribe are burning the bushes to hunt out the Kangaroos which resort there in tolerable numbers. On issuing from the burning woods they are struck with slender spears about 9 or 10 feet long pointed and barbed with bone or hard wood, or are hunted down by strong dogs of the greyhound species trained for the purpose.


[George Caley, Diary of a journey to Picton Lakes, MS C112 / CY Reel 1324, Mitchell Library, Sydney – Reflections 101:40]

Sir Joseph Banks’s botany collector in New South Wales George Caley unexpectedly met Kanabaygal and his mountain people at Stonequarry Creek,  near the Cowpastures in 1804 [pages 20-21][15 February 1804 – on his way to Picton Lakes] . He wrote:

I had not gone scarcely a mile before I heard the noise of a native using his Mogo [mugu]. Now I was struck with the fidelity and accuracy of my map. I hallowed, and ere long was answered; and shortly after a native came running to me and called me by name. He informed me there was a large party Walbunga* a little ways of[f] …

Caley was told by Gogy, an Aboriginal man, that walbunga meant “catching kangaroos by setting the place on fire, and by [‘the blacks’] placing themselves in the direction the animal is forced to pass and by throwing spears at it as it passes along.”

Copyright Keith Vincent Smith 2022


Four lines from Adam Joseph who was at La Perouse today:

Today Aunty Noeline Timbery announced that the Gweagal spears would be coming to Sydney for the first time in 251 years.

As I waited for the annual meeting of Two Cultures event to begin, I ‘discovered’ Warrigal greens growing at the landing site. As it was when Cook, Banks, et al ate it with stingray.

See: Nadine Silva, ‘The three spears taken from the Gweagal people by Captain Cook and his crew in 1770 are set to be returned from UK’s Cambridge University to Kamay-Botany Bay’ – NITV News, 30 April 3021.

Keith Vincent Smith 2021


Lady Jane Dundas,
1 October 1804
‘Mackenzie’ engraver, after John Hoppner (1758-1810)
NGP D15694
National Portrait Gallery, London

Keith Vincent Smith

In 1792 Henry Dundas succeeded Thomas Townshend, Lord Sydney, as Secretary of State for Home Affairs. He is currently being criticised in Britain for delaying moves to abolish the slave trade in the British Parliament. On 2 April 1792 Dundas had urged the ‘gradual’ abolition of slavery.

While in London during 1793 the Aboriginal leader Woollarawarree Bennelong and his young Wangal kinsman Yemmerrawanne were hospitably received at the home of Lord and Lady Dundas, probably at their ‘country’ house at Wimbeldon.

Henry Dundas, (1742-1811), a Scot, became 1st Viscount Melville. His statue stands atop a tall column in Edinburgh. Dundas was 1st Lord of the Admiralty May 1804-May 1805. It was Dundas who presented Governor Arthur Phillip (but not Bennelong & Yemmerrawanne) to King George III on 24 May  1793 after his return to England.

Dundas and his second wife, born Lady Jane Hope, daughter of the 2nd Earl of Hopetoun, who married that year, hobnobbed with the prominent anti-slavery campaigner William Wilberforce.

In June 1793, Wilberforce dined with Dundas and afterwards wrote in his journal ‘the conversation on natives of New South Wales, duels, etc.’

Bennelong admired the beautiful Lady Dundas, who he remembered with affection after his return to New South Wales in 1795. He often asked to drink her health when he visited the French voyager Pierre Bernard Milius at Sydney Cove in early 1802. Milius wrote that ‘Benadou’ [Bennelong] ‘drank the health of Lady Dundas and would have drunk to the health of all English ladies’.

Writing in 1805, John Turnbull, author of A Voyage Round the World, who met Bennelong in Port Jackson (Sydney), observed: ‘The names of Lady Sydney, and Lady Jane Dundas, are often in his mouth, and he appears justly grateful for the favours received from these his fair patronesses.’

John Charles Cox, ‘The Parish Registers of England’, Methuen, London 1910, page 47


Keith Vincent Smith

It was the fashion in high society in Georgian London to have a little ‘black boy’ as a servant. Lord Sydney was sent such a boy as a present from the West Indies.

His name was Thomas West, recorded in the Chislehurst, Kent, Baptismal Records on 20 January 1788 – about the same time the British convoy of eleven ships called the  ‘First Fleet’ arrived with their convict cargo at Kamay (Botany Bay).

The boy was described as ‘a negro of about 6 years of age, who had been sent over as a present to Lord Sydney from Governor Orde of Dominica’. Sir John Orde (1751-1824) was the British Governor of Dominica 1783-1793.

I wrote in an earlier post that ‘Nothing further is known about Thomas West’s life in England’. Not so.

In May 1793, about the time Bennelong and Yemmerrawanne arrived in London with Arthur Phillip, Governor of New South Wales, one Thomas West, ‘a thirteen year old Black pauper’, was caught in the act of stealing a silver spoon in Lord Sydney’s home, Frognal House in Kent.

Lord Sydney soon arranged to have the boy placed in the care of the Royal Philanthropic School, founded in 1788 and then at Southwark in London. He was admitted on 27 May 1793. By that time the two Aboriginal travellers from New Holland, dressed in the current society fashion, were lodging at the home of William Waterhouse in Mayfair.


The school’s committee was told that ‘This boy stole a silver spoon from the Steward’s Room [at Frognal] and half a guinea from one of the servants and is a very cunning artful boy.’

After passing the examination for entry, Thomas was first sent to a tailor. Over the next ten years he was ‘placed’ several more times.  Finally, Thomas, by then aged 16, was released in 1798 as a servant to a Mr. Squires, a “Mealman” (dealer in milled meal or flour) in Hertford.

Thanks to Sean Canty who researched this fascinating information in 2020.

For further information see the entry in ‘Exploring Surrey’s Past’ online at https://www.exploringsurreyspast.org.uk/themes/subjects/black_history/thomas-west/

Lord Sydney died at Frognal on 30 June 1800.

Copyright Keith Vincent Smith 2021


Keith Vincent Smith 2020

Mr Waterhouse endeavouring to break the spear after Govr Phillips was wounded by Wil-le-me-ring where the Whale was cast on shore at Manly Cove, 1790
‘Port Jackson Painter’
Watling Drawing – no 24
Natural History Museum, London

7 September 1790. 

As Bennelong began to introduce him to the governor, Willemering, the Garigal garadji (clever man) from Broken Bay, north of Sydney, stepped back suddenly and hurled a spear with great force. The wooden barb struck the governor’s right shoulder near the collarbone and came out 8 centimetres lower, close to his backbone.

Lured by the gift of garuma (blubber) sent by his former captive Bennelong, Governor Arthur Phillip was rowed from South Head to meet him at Kayeemy (Manly Cove), where some 200 Aboriginal people were feasting on the carcass of a stranded whale. 

In retrospect this seems appropriate, because, following orders from Phillip, Lieutenant William Bradley and his boat crew from HMS Sirius had lured Bennelong (a Wangal from the Parramatta River) and Colebee, (a Gadigal from eastern Sydney Harbour) by holding up two large fish when they seized and captured them at Manly on 25 November 1789.

In Dancing with Strangers (Text Publishing, Melbourne, 2003), Inga Clendinnen characterised the spearing as ‘an iconic moment in Australian history’, referring to the ‘slim wooden spearhead which pierced the governor’s flesh’. Adam Hochschild in his review of her book in The New York Times (4 July 2005), put it bluntly as ‘throwing a wooden spear right through his body.

In ‘Notes on Sources’, (Dancing with Strangers, 2003:303), Clendinnen writes:

‘Consider also Keith Vincent Smith’s interesting hypothesis in his Bennelong: The Coming In of the Eora … While Smith constructs his narrative of the spearing from discordant sources, he recognises that the spearing was masterminded by Baneelon [Bennelong], arguing that the motive was a personal payback.’

James Boyce in Inga Clendinnen Selected Writings, La Trobe University Press, 2021, has a different reading, claiming that:

‘A celebrated example of Clendinnen’s unrivalled ethnographic skill was the new interpretation she gave to one of the best-known incidents of this period, the spearing of Governor Arthur Phillip at Manly Cove. The paradoxical fact that violence led to a degree of rapprochement is explained by the possibility that it was intended to be a ritual punishment of the governor, in which he would endure “a single spear-throw in penance for his and his people’s many offences’. I covered these two points in Bennelong (2001).

In his acclaimed biography Governor Arthur Phillip: Sailor Mercenary Governor Spy (hardie grant Melbourne 2013) Michael Pembroke interrogates the spearing of Phillip and what he characterises as Bennelong’s ‘pre-mediated act of retribution’. Pembroke, a writer, historian, naturalist and former Supreme Court judge , writes:

‘The shaft of the spear was not less than twelve feet long. Its head was a single wooden barb without any jagged bone or broken oyster shell fixed to it. Bennelong was in the throng and may have been responsible for what occurred. For it was he who laid the spear in front of the assailant, pointing to him and calling his name. The assailant was between twenty and 30 yards from where Phillip stood. With considerable dexterity, he flicked the spear upwards with his foot, fixed it to his throwing stick and threw it violently towards Phillip.’

Dr. Grace Karskens in The Colony: A history of early Sydney (Allen & Unwin, 2009) observed:

‘Reading ethnographically, W.E.H. Stanner, Keith Vincent Smith and Inga Clendinnen make sense of the spearing from the Eora perspective. They argue that what Phillip underwent was ritual punishment for his crime—as the Eora saw them—and perhaps also for the crimes of his people.’

W.E.H. Stanner, author of the classic analysis ‘White Man got no Dreaming: The history of Indifference Thus Begins’ ( ABC Radio Boyer Lectures, 1979:184), was the first to question the deeper motives for the attack, which early historians had regarded as ‘simply the act of a frightened man’, which he considered improbable. One possible grievance that might have been expressed, Stanner suggested, was ‘by Bennelong, his relatives and friends’.

‘Perhaps, Stanner continued, ‘Phillip’s worst mistake was to shout words intended to mean ‘bad! bad!’, which was more an accusation than an appeal or warning. And had he stood still, instead of advancing, Wileemarin might not have thrown. To his credit, he allowed no retaliation, and harboured no resentment.’

Writing in 1989 anthropologist Isabel McBryde in Guests of the Governor (1989:15) suspected power plays ‘within the local Aboriginal society involving interaction with the European community’. A closer anthropological analysis, she thought, ‘could well be rewarding’.  

‘What really happened at the whale feast?’ I asked – and replied (Chapter 8 in Bennelong, 2001:58) :

Looking at the historical evidence, it becomes clear from a close reading of [Henry] Waterhouse’s eyewitness account that Bennelong was the mastermind behind this violation. Bennelong chose the time and place by asking Phillip to come to see him at Manly Cove. Bennelong and Colby [Colebee] directed the movements of the armed men who encircled Phillip. Bennelong handled the unusually long barbed wooden spear (which he refused to give to Phillip) and put it  on the ground. This was the spear that Willemering picked up and threw at Phillip.

… A spear wound would be sufficient to satisfy Bennelong’s grievances. Atonement was necessary before he could resume a friendly dialogue once more with Phillip.

After many years of studying historical ritual revenge combats in the Sydney area after its occupation I have come to realise that the outcome of such paybacks was to ‘restore the order of the Aboriginal world’. 

In hindsight there is no puzzle that Bennelong and Phillip together brought about the peaceful ‘coming in’ of the Eora to mingle with the new occupants of their Country.


Nobody would have known better than Arthur Phillip that the spearhead that pierced through his body was barbed and made of wood. He is quoted in the third person narrative of his section in John Hunter’s An historical journal of the transactions at Port Jackson and Norfolk Island … London, 1793:462 as saying:

‘In the course of this interview, they had stopped near a spear which was lying on the grass, and which Bannelong took up; it was longer than common, and appeared to be a very curious one, being barbed and pointed with hard wood …’

In 1998, Christies, the London auction house, offered for sale a metal blade, 7 cm long and 0.6 cm wide, with an accompanying label (‘in late nineteenth-century hand’) reading: ‘Spearhead – taken out of Govr. Phillips shoulder by Captain Henry Waterhouse – NSW’

In the same lot was a 14-page notebook, which included Lieutenant Henry Waterhouse’s description of the incident in which Governor Arthur Phillip was speared at Manly Cove in September 1790. The Mitchell Library, State Library of New South Wales, purchased the notebook, while the spearhead was sold to a private collector, or collectors. Its custodians are now Louise and Rob Waterhouse of the Waterhouse horse racing family.

The item, described as a ‘Metal blade used as a spear head’, was displayed in 2006 in the State Library of New South Wales exhibition Eora: Mapping Aboriginal Sydney, 1790-1850. As co-curator, with Anthony Bourke, I wrote the following caption:

This was diplomatic. I knew that this metal blade could not have been removed from Phillip’s shoulder because it was never there. The spear that struck the governor had a wooden shaft and a barbed wooden point, as Henry Waterhouse and other eyewitnesses stated, which was removed from Phillip’s shoulder by Surgeon William Balmain. Principal surgeon John White had left Manly that morning in a hunting party bound for Broken Bay.

The auctioned blade is consistent with the description of a ‘short spear that had been pointed with a knife’ which Phillip exchanged with the Burramattagal (Parramatta clan) elder Maugoran in return for an iron hatchet and some fish at Kirribilli on 17 September 1790. 

‘Governor Phillip was so well recovered of his wound, as to be able to go on a boat on the 17th, to the place where Bannelong and his wife then resided: he found nine natives on the spot, who informed him that Bannelong was out fishing; the native girl [Boorong] was in the boat, and her father being among the natives, a hatchet and some fish were given him; in return for which he gave the governor a short spear that had been pointed with a knife, which the natives now used when they could procure one, in preference to the shell.’

[Arthur Phillip in John Hunter, An Historical Journal of the Transactions at Port Jackson and Norfolk Island … John Stockdale, London, 1793:467]

By using a knife blade as the point of a spear, Maugoran had incorporated an English artefact into an Eora one, which he now returned. There were other similar spears, because Phillip said that Aboriginal men liked to use a knife to point their spears ‘when they could procure one, in preference to the shell’.

Both Bennelong and Colebee had been given English knives at the Manly Cove whale feast in September 1790. As the Eora often exchanged weapons and other goods among themselves, it is likely that one of these knives was used by Maugoran to make the hybrid spear. 

In his prize-winning work Ochre and Rust: Artefacts and Encounters on Australian Frontiers (Wakefield Press, Kent Town, SA, 2007:43), South Australian curator and historian Philip Jones writes: ‘The historian Keith Smith has interpreted the spearing as ‘a ritual punishment against Governor Arthur Phillip, instigated and organised by Bennelong as a payback for his abduction and capture in 1789.’

At the whale feast Bennelong constantly asked to be given English metal hatchets. Jones makes a case that the spearing was caused by the fact that Phillip did not have any hatchets with him. 

Maugoran’s metal spearhead, writes Jones, ‘had the form of a European bone-handled dinner-knife blade, with a narrow tang providing an ideal means of hafting into a wooden spear-shaft. ‘ He notes that ‘a Waterhouse descendant’ paid ‘more than $AU170,000 (greatly exceeding the estimate of $AU20-30,000) to acquire the relic.’ [Source: Christies Exploration and Travel Catalogue, 8 April 1998, lot 132, p.117-119, Christie’s, London]

In What Are The Odds: The Bill Waterhouse Story (Knopf-Random House, North Sydney, 2009:473), the late William Stanley (‘Bill’) Waterhouse, a former barrister and controversal racing bookmaker, who claimed descent from Henry Waterhouse, stated that he and his family had  ‘ … tracked down and acquired Henry’s [‘Henry Waterhouse’s] journal, featuring his description of Captain Phillip’s spearing, along with the original spearhead, which turned out to be a simple penknife blade.’ Bill Waterhouse died in November 2019 aged 97.

So Maugoran’s ‘simple penknife blade’ – which did not wound Governor Arthur Phillip – made its return journey to Sydney. 

When Christie’s auctioned a handwritten letter from Henry Waterhouse to Lord Sydney, dated 20 August 1797, Bill Waterhouse’s daughter Louise and her husband Guenther Raedler flew to London to obtain the manuscript at a cost of £23,000 [‘Odds’ 474]. 

Between 2011 and 2013, the metal blade was exhibited in the Landmarks Gallery at the National Museum of Australia and featured on the internet in a link to the Museum Game with the misleading caption ‘Spearhead – taken out of Govr. Phillips shoulder by Capt. Henry Waterhouse – NSW’. The image had been removed from the Internet by 1 October 2013. 


Tracing the provenance of these and several other images and manuscripts now in Australian libraries has been interesting – even leading to a connection with the President of the Royal Society in London, Sir Joseph Banks. 

The vendors who put these historical items up for sale at Christie’s were members of the Pownall family, whose connection to William and Henry Waterhouse dates to 13 June 1816, when John George Henry Pownall (1792-1880) married Amelia Sophia Waterhouse in Bloomsbury. 

Spring Grove House, Isleworth

JG Pownall, usually called Henry, was a magistrate and later chairman of the Middlesex Quarter Sessions. Amelia was the daughter and ultimate heir of William Waterhouse, a page to Henry Frederick, Duke of Cumberland. Amelia’s wealthy cousin Mrs. Anne Fish owned the two homes in which the Pownalls lived, at 63 Russell Square, Bloomsbury and Spring Grove House, Isleworth near Heston in the Borough of Hounslow, which she bequeathed to Henry Pownall on her death in 1834.

Henry Waterhouse’s sister Amelia, third daughter of William Waterhouse, died in 1860 and was buried in Heston. In 1861 Henry was living at 63 Russell Square. He died there on 8 April 1880 and was buried in Heston with his wife.

Spring Grove, not far from Kew Gardens, had been the country estate of Sir Joseph Banks, who leased it from 1779 from Elisha Biscoe Jnr, before obtaining the freehold for £6000 in 1806. In March 1779 Banks, aged 36, married Dorothea Hugessen, a wealthy heiress aged 21. He developed a splendid garden over 49 acres (19.8 hectares) and raised Spanish merino sheep at Spring Grove, where he died in June 1820 and was buried at St. Leonard’s Church, Heston.

Lady Banks inherited the property, which she left on her death in 1828 to her nephew Sir Edward Knatchbull, who sold it to Mrs. Fish, also a widow.

Banalong [Bennelong] and
Yuremany [Yemmerrawanne c.1793
W.W. [William Waterhouse]Pen and ink wash
Acquired 1964
Dixson Library, State Library of NSW, Sydney

Though obviously drawn by an amateur, the tiny portrait of ‘Banalong’ deftly captures Bennelong’s rather serious likeness in simple ink and wash. He is  clean-shaven and wearing his new tailored frock coat, ruffled shirt, neck stock (a kind of cravat) and spotted waistcoat. It can therefore be dated to May 1793 when he first received these clothes in London. It was acquired by the State Library of New South Wales in 1964 from JGG Pownall.

The sketch, drawn from life, is the prototype of the familiar engraving of Ben-nil-long [Bennelong] by James Neagle, first published in David Collins’s An Account of the English Colony in New South Wales (London, 1798), from which some following images of him were derived.

Under the drawing, in the bottom right-hand corner, we see the slightly smudged signature ‘WW’, confirming that the artist was William Waterhouse. A handwritten note on the reverse states (wrongly) that Bennelong was brought from New South Wales by Henry Waterhouse and Governor John Hunter, when, in fact, these two naval officers took Bennelong back to Sydney from England aboard HMS Reliance in 1795. 

The little drawing of ‘Banalong’ and the unsigned profile silhouette of ‘Yuremany’ (Yemmerrawanne) were preserved by the Pownall family for more than a century with Henry Waterhouse’s letters to his father William. It is fascinating to think that these treasures might have been stored at some period in Banks’s former country retreat.

I mention the spearing of Governor Phillip while talking about Bennelong’s life with Wendy Harmer on ABC Radio in 2017. Catch it online at


George Bass
from a miniature
in the possession of
Mr. Pownall, Solicitor, Russell Square
DL PXX 71-36, Dixson Library
State Library of NSW, Sydney


Henry Waterhouse was a witness when his eldest sister Elizabeth Waterhouse married his shipmate on HMS Reliance, surgeon and navigator George Bass, on 8 October 1800 at St. James’s Piccadilly. Bass became the owner of the 140-ton brig Venus, which sailed from Portsmouth on 9 January 1801.

After a trading voyage to Tahiti, the ship returned to Port Jackson with a cargo of pork and salt. Bass sailed again from Sydney on 5 February 1803, this time bound for Chile, then a Spanish possession, for salt meat and live cattle for the New South Wales colony.

Neither Bass, nor the Venus, were ever seen again. 

Henry Pownall, who had married Henry Waterhouse’s sister Amelia, took an active part in the search for his missing brother-in-law, aged 32 when he disappeared.

Among a number of papers in the possession of Mr. Pownall, solicitor, of Russell Square, London, is the following statement, also printed in Historical Records of New South Wales, Volume 111, Hunter 1796-1799, F.M. Bladen (ed.), Charles Potter, Government Printer, Sydney, 1895:312-333 from a manuscript ‘in possession of the Honourable P. G. King’.

“London, May 10th, 1811.   
In or about the year 1803, a brig named the Harrington, Captain William Campbell, master, arrived at Port Jackson from the coast of Peru, and brought intelligence that the Venus had been taken by the Spaniards that Mr. G. Bass and Mr. Scott, mate, had, together with the crew, been sent either to the mines or further inland. A Spanish gentleman with whom Captain Campbell was trading told him that Mr. Bass was taken when landing in his boat, and that the vessel was seized afterwards. Captain Campbell had been to Quito, to Valparaiso, and to Valdivia; but it is uncertain at which of those places the affair happened.”

Endorsed upon the back of the foregoing statement is the following memorandum in another hand:—
“Lieut’t Fitzmaurice was at Valparaiso and St. Jago de Chili in the months of September and October, 1808, and at Lima from November following till April of the next year. The whole of the British prisoners remaining in the Vice-Royalties of Peru and Chili, and the Provinces of Conception, were released, and sent to Europe.

“If such a person had been taken at Valdivia, he would have been sent to one of the abovementioned places.
“A person of the name of Bass, as well as I can recollect, I heard of being in Lima, five or six years before I went there.

The following letter, the original of which is in the Record Office in London, throws some light on the probable fate of this unfortunate navigator:—

“Liverpool, New South Wales, 10th December, 1817.

“I have just heard a report that Mr. Bass is alive yet in South America. A captn. of a vessel belonging to this port, trading among the islands to the east, fell in with a whaler, and the captn. informed he had seen such a person, and described the person of Mr. Bass. The captn. of a vessel out of this port knowing Mr. Bass well, he is of a belief, the description that the master of the whaler gives of him, it’s certainly Mr. Bass—being a doctor too—which is still a stronger reason.
I am, &c.,      THOS. MOORE. 


See K.M. Bowden, Bass, George (1771-1803) in the Australian Dictionary of Biography. 
Ernest Scott, ‘The fate of George Bass’ in The Life of Captain Matthew Flinders, R.N., Angus & Robertson, Sydney, 1914: 145-156.
Keith Vincent Smith, ‘A few words from William Dawes and Charles Bass’, National Library of Australia News No. 9, June 2008, reprinted in Language on this blog.
In The Letters of George & Elizabeth Bass (Allen & Unwin, Crows Nest, NSW, 2009), Miriam Estensen lays bare through their personal letters the heartbreaking agony Elizabeth Bass (nee Waterhouse) suffers when her husband of three months disappears.

Copyright Keith Vincent Smith 2022


Keith Vincent Smith

Based on the evidence of surviving First Fleet journals and vocabularies, the Indigenous people of Port Jackson (now Sydney Harbour), the Pacific coast and the Parramatta River, whatever their clan, referred to themselves in whole or in part as Eora (yura).

This word clearly meant ‘people’ in some sense, but whether it was the name for the whole of the inhabitants of the Sydney district is uncertain.

The curious British officers might have asked, but not one of them recorded a collective name for these people or for the language. I am always careful therefore to state that the language of coastal Sydney was that spoken by the Aboriginal people who called each other by that name.

In his published vocabulary (1798) Judge Advocate David Collins listed ‘Eo-ora – The name common for the natives’ and, questioning Bennelong, Collins remarked in the Appendix of his Account of the English Colony in New South Wales: ‘I then asked him where the black men (or Eora) came from?’

The clever linguist William Dawes recorded ‘Eoora  – – – Men, or people’ and coined his own version: ‘eoras’, noting ‘Yenmaou mullnaoul naabaou eéora’, which means, he wrote, ‘In plain English: I will go tomorrow morning to see the people (before spoken of).’ He quotes a young Aboriginal girl called Wåriwear: ‘Nabaouwi ngalia naba eora widadwara’ – – – ‘The eoras shall see us drink [sulphur].’ 

In two further entries Dawes credits his principal informant, a fifteen year old girl named Patyegarang, saying ‘He gave pork (and) bread to the eoras’ and ‘The eoras gave fish to him.’   

In his journal Philip Gidley King gives ‘Eo-ra — Men, or People’, while ‘Eo-ra (or) E-o-rah’ is the translation for ‘People’ in the vocabulary kept by Governor Phillip and his aides. ‘Yo-ra. A number of people’ occurs in the vocabulary enlarged by Captain John Hunter (1793).

Daniel Southwell recorded ‘People — E-o-rah’. Similarly, about 1805 Musquito and Bulldog, the two Aboriginal convicts sent to Norfolk Island by Governor Philip Gidley King, told the Reverend Henry Fulton that ‘Yea-warrah’ meant ‘black men’.

In a letter to Dr. William Farr, physician at the Royal Naval Hospital, Plymouth in 1791, Captain of Marines James Campbell described the Indigenous people as ‘Ioras / Natives’.

The anonymous compiler of a list of ‘Aboriginal names and meanings’ in the journal Science of Man (Sydney, 1908) stated: ‘Ea-ora—Name of tribe inhabiting the Sydney District’.

In the 1930s, Eora was adopted by Dr Frederick David McCarthy, curator of anthropology at the Australian Museum, Sydney, who drew on wordlists published in the journal Science of Man.  In New South Wales Aboriginal Place Names and Euphonious Words, with their Meanings (3rd edition 1943), McCarthy gave ‘EORA: Black fellows of Sydney District’.

Quoting McCarthy as his authority, Norman B. Tindale (1974) wrote in Aboriginal Tribes of Australia that ‘The name Eora is accepted for the tribal group around Port Jackson.’ Tindale adopted Eora to replace the ‘hordal term Kamaraigal used in my post 1940 work’.

Copyright Keith Vincent Smith 2022


Banalong, c.1793
W.W. [William Waterhouse]
Pen and ink wash
DGB 10, f.13, Dixson Library, Sydney

Keith Vincent Smith

Two Australian Aboriginal men are leaving their country. They are the first to cross 10,000 miles of ocean to the other side of the world in a sailing ship. It will be an epic journey, taking six months to reach England, evading ‘ice islands’ in the pre-Antarctic, rounding Cape Horn, stopping for three weeks at Rio de Janeiro in Brazil and confronting Neptune, God of the Sea, at the Equator.

On 10 December 1792, Woollarawarre Bennelong and his young kinsman Yemmerrawanne board the 422-ton capacity convict transport Atlantic, moored at the Governor’s Wharf on the eastern side of Warrane (Sydney Cove).

Atlantic, a Third Fleet timber vessel, built in Wales in 1784, is ‘ship-rigged’, with three masts and square sails, apart from the mizzen or third mast. Her master is Archibald Armstrong, naval agent Lieutenant Richard Bowen and surgeon James Thompson.

The two Aboriginal men, who are said to be ‘much attached’ to Governor Arthur Phillip, embark ‘voluntarily and cheerfully’, says Lieutenant David Collins, withstanding ‘the united distress of their wives, and the dismal lamentations of their friends, to accompany him to England, a place they well knew was at a great distance from them’. 

They soon pass the brick house the governor had built for Bennelong on the eastern point at Dubuwagulye (now Bennelong Point) and leave Warrane.

Arthur Phillip, returning home from five years of solitary leadership as the first Governor of New South Wales, takes with him a portfolio of watercolour drawings of nondescript plants and animals and portraits of the Indigenous ‘savages’.

Aboriginal spears, shields and fishing tackle, specimens of timber, plants, animals and birds, four live and nervous kanguroo and some howling dingos have been loaded on board. A week earlier, Lieutenant John Poulden had marched the returning marine detachment on board as fires swept through the heights of The Rocks on the western side of the cove.

Officers and oarsmen in small boats shout ‘Huzza’ as the ship slips her ropes from the jetty. They give three farewell cheers for Governor Phillip, but the Reverend Mr. Johnson’s boat is staved in when it rams the side of the ship.

By English reckoning, Atlantic clears the Port Jackson Heads at 9 o’clock on the morning of 11 December 1792.

Wind fills the sails. From the Look Out Post high on South Head, the Indigenous burial ground of Wollara, keen eyes still sight the sails at midday. The Eora detect a white speck on the horizon well into the afternoon.

Bennelong and Yemmerrawanne have sailed out of the Eora world into a new Dreaming.

John Easty
Extract from his journal for ‘Sattaday March the 8th 1788’
[SAFE/DLSPENCER 374, Dixson Library, State Library of NSW, Sydney]

In this extract from his journal, John Easty, a private of marines, who sailed to New South Wales on board the First Fleet transport  Scarborough, records his own punishment for ‘bringing a feameale Convict into Camp’, for which, on 12 March 1788, he received ‘150 Lachess’ of the cat o’ nine tails.

Two weeks out from Sydney the ship’s passengers celebrate the festive season.

‘Tuesday Decbr 25 this being Christmas day, His Excellency the Govr gave Evry mess in the Ship a joint of fresh pork and some punkin [pumpkin] and ½ pint of Rum to Each man,’ writes Marine Private John Easty. Neither handwriting nor spelling come easily to Easty, who torturously pens his ‘memarandom’ throughout the voyage.

For the first time in their lives Bennelong and Yemmerrawanne catch sight of rocky snow-covered peaks as they approach the cold southern ocean. Battered by gales, squalls and strong winds, Atlantic sails by shimmering blue-streaked icebergs on New Year’s Day, 1 January 1793. Easty writes:

… this Morning att 4 oclock a very Heavy Squall att ½ past 5 Saw ae large Rock of Ice to the Southerd very high very Cold Heavey weather all day Shiped Several very heavey Seas duren the day att Night at ½ past 9 Saw a very Large Iland of Ice’ …

While forced to avoid ‘a great many Ilands of Ice’ in the days that follow, the ship makes rapid progress, running 4500 miles in one month to 8 January 1793.

Nine days later Private Easty sights the ‘west part of the Iland of Terry dele fugo [Tierra del Fuego], very high mountainous Rockey barren place although in the Midts of Summer yet the land was Covred with Snow’.

On 17 January the ship rounds the menacing Cape Horn at the extremity of South America and enters its namesake, the Atlantic Ocean. Next day Phillip allows every man on board half a pint of spirits and issues a joint of fresh pork to each mess to celebrate the Queen’s birthday.

The Atlantic passes the mountainous ‘States’ or Staten Island (Isla de los Estados). Here be penguins, seals and seagulls.

‘Very pleasant this Iland’ writes Easty on Sunday 20 January 1793. Sailing in clear weather, crew and passengers see the hillocks and green patches of the ‘faulkland Iland’.

On Sunday 3 February 1793, John Easty (and, no doubt, Bennelong and Yemmerrawanne), sailing with Governor Arthur Phillip on the Atlantic, spot a ship which, writes Easty, proves to be the whaler ‘favouret of Nanticket in amearicca’, that is the Favourite of Nantucket, Massachusetts, North America.

Favourite gives them an account of British ships from Port Jackson ‘being all well on the Cost of Parru [Peru] in August Last’[ 1792]. The vessels  are SalamanderWilliam and Ann and Mary Ann, which in July and August 1791 left Port Jackson after delivering their convict cargo to become whalers and sealers in New Zealand waters.

Two week’s earlier Favourite spoke Captain William Raven on the Enderby & Co whaler Britannia near the River Plate who told them he had ‘Landed 12 men with the 2nd mate to Secure Seales Skins and furs against the time of the Return of the Ship to New South Wailes’ [sic].

The River Plate, or ‘River of Silver’, is in the South Atlantic, between Argentina and Uruguay.

‘They were of a sweet nature, obliging to those who asked of them their dances and other strange gestures; and they had great facility in pronouncing Portuguese.’


Until recently it was not known that Bennelong and Yemmerrawanne went ashore when Atlantic reached the port of Rio de Janiero. Their activities there were recorded months later in the Gazeta de Lisboa, published in Lisbon, Portugal, on ’27 Julho de 1793’.

This version is from the compilation Noticias de Portugal e Brazil, 1751-1800:

Written from Rio Janeiro on February 6th that Atlantic, Captain Bowen, arrived with the happiest voyage from the port of Jackson in the new South Wales, having made his way across the Pacific Sea, rounding Cape Horne, and then arrived at Rio de Janeiro, all in the brief 58 days. The ship carried Arthur Filippe [sic], the first Governor of that remote colony; this celebrated officer, (well known for having served in the Portuguese Navy) among the many curiosities of animals and collections of the products of Nature, also brought two men from that new country, well proportioned, and in colour similar to the blacks, but with less curly hair. They were of a sweet nature, obliging to those who asked of them their dances and other strange gestures; and they had great facility in pronouncing Portuguese. The ship sails on March 3.

The Atlantic anchors on Thursday 7 February 1793 (Ship’s time) in the vast harbour of Rio de Janeiro. Easty writes: ‘… att 4 Saw the Land the Easterd of Riojanaro att 10 made the mouth of that harbour att 2 oclock Came to anchor Near this town.’

Arthur Phillip is no stranger to Rio de Janeiro. As the despatch mentions, he was commissioned as a Captain in the Portuguese Navy, a British ally, from mid 1775 to mid 1778. Phillip visited Rio again as commander of the eleven ships of the so-called ‘First Fleet’, bringing convicts to Australia in 1787.

Looking around them Bennelong and Yemmerrawanne see the magnificent harbour they must have compared to their own, the overshadowing Sugar Loaf, the Viceroy’s Palace and the Carmelite Convent bordering the grand square, hear the church bells, see the carriages of the colonists, black African slaves from the sugar plantations and freed and runaway slaves dancing their own fandangos.

On 24 February Captain James Colnett, commander of the 374-ton merchant sloop Rattler, owned by the whaling firm Enderby & Sons, finds ‘Captain Phillips’ aboard the Atlantic anchored in Rio and comes on board with a letter for Sir Phillip Stephens at the Admiralty in London.

Colnett, who sailed as a midshipman on Captain James Cook’s second voyage on HMS Resolution in 1772, has been released from the Royal Navy on a mission to survey whaling grounds in the South Pacific. He writes, in A Voyage to the South Atlantic and round Cape Horn (London, 1798):

Perhaps, if invited, the two Aboriginal voyagers taste that rare delicacy, turtle soup. Hearing from Colnett of renewed trouble between France and England, Phillip purchases guns to strengthen the ship’s defences.

The passengers are back on board on 4 March and the Atlantic puts out from Rio three days later.

7 March 1793. Third Mate Samuel Brown, aged 40, dies of ‘dropsy’. Surgeon James Thompson reads his burial ceremony.   Easty remarks ‘… this day Saw Some dolphin and flying fish’.

1 April 1793. New and unfamiliar stars appear in the sky as the ship sails north. Unfamiliar to Easty, but surely more so for the two Wangal voyagers.

… this Night the Evining Star and the 7 Stars whare intermixed a circumstance as I Never saw in my Life in any Part of the world before’ writes Easty on ‘Munday … April the 1st 1793’


Bennelong and Yemmerrawanne are startled witnesses at the Crossing of the Line ritual at the Equator on Wednesday 3 April, a cloudy day. In this grotesque ritual, green young sailors are ducked in the ocean or shaved with rusty irons by drunken old tars decked out as mermaids in seaweed petticoats. Officers and gentlemen avoid the ordeal by paying a ransom in cash or liquor.

In Easty’s opinion, ‘the 2 Natives Thoucht [thought]’ the figure of Neptune really was ‘a man who Lived in the Sea’.

On the evening of 5 April 1793, Marine private Robert Thompson, aged 38, from Belfast in Northern Ireland, is missed. Easty records his fate: ‘att 9 some people on bord heard Something fall into the water … it was Concluded that he Uenfortuneatly derounded unperceived …’

The following Monday Thompson’s belongings, estimated to be worth £ 10.10, are allotted to Lieutenant Poulden ‘to be taken to the division the articels Consisted of 1 Coat 2 Jackets 2 Wascoats 2 Breaches 1 Hat Hee had 3 Sutes of Cloaths …’

On Friday 12 April Atlantic meets a Portuguese ship bound for Brazil. ‘She gave an account of war between Great Britain and france’, writes Easty, ‘and that the King of france was beheaded the 21 of Janry that war was declared the 22nd’.


Atlantic sails north, through ‘Gales of wind’ lasting four days, from Tuesday 16 April until Friday 19, when heavy seas prevail. On 20 April the ship crosses the Tropic of Cancer and on ‘Munday 22 Cleare with Light Breases … this day the Govr Gave Evry Marines 2 lb of fresh pork …’

They suffer ‘Hard Gales and Rain again on Sunday April 28 and ‘Hard Rain all day and hard Gales of wind’ the next day.

As the ship approaches the Scilly Islands off the Cornish coast on the morning of 18 May a French ship fires ‘three Guns att us’. The sails are quickly raised and the English colours are hoisted. Another shot is fired by the pursuing French vessel that afternoon, but the Atlantic outruns the pirate.

William Dawes, Book B 1791:4.1-2
Vocabulary of the language of N.S. Wales in the neighbourhood of Sydney, MS 4165(b)
School of Oriental and African Studies, London

Patyegarang and other Aboriginal informants of Lieutenant William Dawes  in Sydney had coined  their own name for the foreign country that Bennelong and Yemmerrawanne were at last about to visit.

Captain Watkin Tench [1793, page 292] recorded its meaning:
“But the appellation by which they generally distinguished us was that of Béreewolgal, meaning men come from afar”, while the Governor’s Vocabulary [Book C 1791:9.8] gives it as “Berewal A great distance off.”

After a voyage of almost six months, Atlantic makes landfall at six o’clock on Sunday evening, 19 May 1793. They have reached the safe haven of Falmouth Harbour, protected by the massive Pendennis Castle, built high on a cliff in 1544 by Henry VIII to face an earlier French threat.

At 7 o’clock next morning, writes Easty, ‘His Excellency Arthur Phillip went on shore and the 2 Natives and Mr. Alley to Proceed on thare way to London.’ Richard Alley had served as surgeon on the convict transport ships Lady Juliana and Royal Admiral.

Sea-weary, Bennelong and Yemmerrawanne briefly feel solid earth under their feet before mounting the horse-drawn carriage that will take them to London. Perhaps, as they set off, they glimpse the sails of the 64-gun warship HMS Agamemnon, commanded by the young Captain Horatio Nelson, who reports for orders in Falmouth that day.

After tossing and pitching on a ship for six months with flapping sails and creaking timbers on ridges and valleys of white-flecked waves, through roaring gales, howling winds and sudden silent calms, they are jolting through the Cornish countryside to the clatter of horses’ hooves on the cobbled road.

On the ocean the two men from the Antipodes watched swooping seabirds, flying fish and dolphins at play. Now they peer through misty rain at thatched cottages, grazing sheep and fat cows in green fields dotted with yellow gorse.

Stonehenge 1740
William Stukeley

Packet ships bring despatches and letters from Europe to Falmouth, which are carried by rapid mail coach to London. The ‘Great Coach Road’ runs east through Launceston, Bodmin, Truro, Bath, Wells and Taunton. Perhaps, where the road passes close by, Bennelong and Yemmerrawanne glimpse the ancient standing stone circles at Stonehenge on Salisbury Plain near the River Avon.

Soaked by a hailstorm as he walks alone on the plain just two months later the poet William Wordsworth, takes shelter from a storm in the ruins at night and imagines:

A single Briton in wolf-skin vest,
With shield and stone-axe, stride across the Wold;
the voice of spears was heard, the rattling spear
Shaken by arms of mighty bone …

Eventually, the tired Wangal men reach the outskirts of London, capital of the far-reaching British Empire, where fields give way to smoky chimneys. Bennelong and Yemmerrawanne are confronted with The City, a crowded metropolis with a population in 1793 of one million in an island with only nine million inhabitants.

Its narrow-fronted brown and red brick Georgian houses and terraces, straight streets and ordered squares have been laid out over the ruins of the devastating Great Fire of 1666. The poor still live in unhealthy hovels and lodgings in narrow courts and alleys and frequent ramshackle public houses. Churches and their spires crown the skyline, dominated by the huge dome of Sir Christopher Wren’s St. Paul’s Cathedral.

The heart of London, its great water highway, the serpentine River Thames, fringed by warehouses, wharves and shipyards, is crowded with small river boats carrying goods, passengers and horses.

Three bridges span the Thames: London Bridge, built in the twelfth century (repaired in the 1760s), the handsome Westminster Bridge, made of Portland stone (1730-50), and Blackfriars Bridge (1760-9), which has opened the way to South London. The Fleet Ditch, once a stinking sewer of sludge running into the Thames at Blackfriars, has been filled in to make space for the arcades of the Fleet Market.

[With thanks to Private John Easty, whose original journal is in Sydney’s Dixson Library, State Library of New South Wales, Sydney]

Copyright Keith Vincent Smith 2020


18 MAY


Arabanoo, captured on the orders of Governor Arthur Phillip on 30 December 1788, nursed the Aboriginal children Nanbarry and Boorong when they contracted smallpox, but caught the disease himself.

He died and was buried at Warrane (Sydney Cove) on 18 May 1789.
There are no known images of Arabanoo.

Yuremany [Yemmerrawanne]
Silhouette on paper
Artist unknown, no date
B10 f.14, Dixson Galleries, State Library of NSW, Sydney


He was only 19. Bennelong’s young Wangal kinsman Yemmerrawanne, Yuremany or Yemmerrawanyea Kebbara, who accompanied him to England, died of a lung infection on 18 May 1794 and was buried in the parish cemetery at Eltham, Kent. 

[Thanks to my friend Adam Joseph for reminding me of this sad anniversary]

Keith Vincent Smith 2020


Keith Vincent Smith

19 APRIL 1770

This was the foggy Thursday, 250 years ago, that HM Bark Endeavour, commanded by Lieutenant James Cook, sighted the east coast of the the land the British called New Holland.

The ship left New Zealand on 1 April 1770 and sailed west until they glimpsed the southern point of land at first called Cape Hicks, renamed Point Everard by Commander John Lort Stokes of HMS Beagle in 1843, but today once again recognised as Point Hicks.

In his journal Cook wrote:  “I have named it Point Hicks, because Lieutenant Hicks was the first who discovered this Land.”

Sydney Parkinson, the young Scots artist on board recorded   ” … nothing worthy of note occurred till the 19th, in the morning, and then  we  discovered the land of New Holland.”

An inscription at the back of the bronze statue of Cook by Thomas Woolner in Sydney’s Hyde Park, unveiled in September 1879, reads
                     “Discovered This Territory, 1770”.

That was 250 years ago, but Cook was 65,000 years too late to ‘discover’ Australia.

Parkinson recounted the first words spoken to the foreigners by the Indigenous people at Kamay (Botany Bay):
“They threatened us … often crying to us, Warra warra wai”,  meaning ‘begone’ or ‘go away’.

On board the ship were two influential figures: Joseph Banks, the rich amateur botanist and later, Sir Joseph, President of the Royal Society in London and Mario Matra, a British loyalist from North America, both of whom were influential in urging the British Parliament to establish a convict settlement in New South Wales.

The COVID 19 pandemic has closed galleries and libraries throughout the country and caused the postponement or cancellation of several major exhibitions dedicated to James Cook and the arrival of HMB Endeavour at Botany Bay in 1770.

It has shipwrecked the bizarre concept of the “Encounters 2020” celebration, costing $6.7 million, to celebrate the anniversary with the voyage of a replica Endeavour circumnavigating Australian, which James Cook did not make. It was Matthew Flinders (with Bungaree) who first circumnavigated our island continent.   

There will be plenty of information about this following the anniversary of the Endeavour’s arrival at Botany Bay on 29 April 2020.

I will not be writing further about it. See my articles on the Electronic British Library Journal:

Tupaia’s Sketchbook online at https://www.bl.uk/eblj/2005articles/article10.html

Confronting Cook online at:


Check out the stunning animated story Eight Days and Nights at Kamay (Botany Bay), posted on Facebook by the National Museum of Australia, Canberra (currently temporarily closed).

Online at https://www.facebook.com/nationalmuseumofaustralia/videos/434543877410799/?v=434543877410799


29 April 2020

On this 250th anniversary of James Cook’s landing at Kamay (Botany Bay) Ray Ingrey,  deputy chairperson of La Perouse Local Aboriginal Land Council, has clarified the Dharawal meaning of ‘Warra Warra’, the first words heard by the foreigners as they landed.

He told ABC Radio:
“Warra is a root word for either white or dead in our language  … Over time, because of outsiders trying to tell our story for us, it’s just being translated into different parts as ‘go away’.
“If you are outside our community and trying to look in, you will think it means ‘go away’ but for us it means ‘you’re all dead’,” he said.

See my entry WARRA WARRA WAI for 26 April 2019, which records that  ‘Warra Warra’ was the warning to foreign outsiders at several first encounters throughout Australia:  On the east coast at Botany Bay, and Warang (Sydney Cove) and as far away as the present Oyster Bay in Tasmania and Fremantle in Western Australia.

Copyright Keith Vincent Smith 2020