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

Lord Sydney died at Frognal on 30 June 1800.

Copyright Keith Vincent Smith 2021


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 2020


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

It happened 230 years ago on 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 2020


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

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


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


View from the Government Domain, Sydney,                                                                                 Charles Rodius (1802-1860)
Pencil drawing, PXA 997f.2
Mitchell Library, Sydney


Keith Vincent Smith

Referring to the decade of the 1840s in Notes on the Aborigines of New South Wales (Sydney 1892, page 7), George Thornton wrote:

An old Sydney aborigine named “Krooi” had his camp at the point known as “Lady Macquarie’s Point,” the N.E. end of the present Botanical Gardens. He used to fish from a small detached rock a few feet distant from the N.E. part of the point. It was known as ”Krooi’s Rock.”

Thornton, sometime mayor of Sydney, was the first chairman of the Aborigines Protection Board.

The Indigenous fishermen at ‘Krooi’s Rock’ wear cut-off trousers, but still prefer to use their pronged fishing spears. I selected the image for the EORA: Mapping Aboriginal Sydney 1770-1850 exhibition which I curated with Anthony (Ace) Bourke at the State Library of new South Wales in 2006.

German-born Charles Rodius worked as a draughtsman and engraver in Paris before being sent to New South Wales for theft. He was assigned, without salary, to the Department of Public Works. Rodius frequented the nearby Domain, where he sketched many Aboriginal people.

Cruwee (Crewey), probably a Kameygal man, claimed to be at Kundal (Kurnell) when HM Bark Endeavour entered Botany Bay on 29 April 1770. He told Obed West: ‘they thought the vessels were floating islands’.

I have often conversed with Cruwee, who was an intelligent fellow … It was very amusing to hear him describe the first impression the blacks had of the vessels, and although very fearful, they were curious and would, with fear and trembling, get behind some tree and peep out at the monsters which had invaded their shores.  

West said Cruwee also pointed out the spot where the French priest  Father le Receveur, from the ill-fated La Perouse expedition, had been buried.

[Edward West Marriot (ed.), Memoirs of Obed West, Sydney, [1882] 1988, pages 42-43]

Judge Advocate David Collins, who recorded ‘Boo-roo-wang — An island’ in his ‘New South Wales’ Vocabulary, added in a footnote: ‘This word they applied to our ships’.

They often Come on board our ship, which they call an Island …
[David Blackburn to his sister Margaret Blackburn, 17 March 1791, Mitchell Library MS S 6937/1/1]

In late December 1808 ‘old Crewey’ threw the first spear in a revenge combat opposite the ‘new Military Barracks’ in George Street, Sydney. The shaft penetrated his opponents’s shield and his hand became ‘rivetted to it’ before ‘two gentlemen of the Faculty’ (probably doctors) relieved it.

Crewey was ‘dreadfully wounded’ when the same opponent then struck him in the head with a sharp, heavy waddy. Another man named Cudgear was struck to the ground by Punmaima and fled, leaving his wife behind.

The Australian, Sydney, announced the death of ‘Crui’ on 16 February 1826, page 4.

One of the oldest of the Aboriginal Natives named Crui lately died. This man is well known by the early settlers.

Copyright Keith Vincent Smith 2020


Jon Rhodes, Cage of Ghosts, Darkwood, NSW, 2018
Price $45
Buy online at

The majority of figures are … probably drawn by eye, and exhibit a considerable amount of ability, being either true to nature, or to some adopted design of a deity or spirit.
William Dugald Campbell, Government Surveyor,
Aboriginal Carvings of Port Jackson and Broken Bay, 1899

Aboriginal culture and spiritual life is most often revealed through history, anthropology and archaeology. In this inspirational book we learn through art and artefacts that survive in the landscape, principally engravings in sandstone, cave paintings and carved and scarred trees.

It is a novel and rewarding approach.

In Cage of Ghosts Jon Rhodes, highly regarded as a photographer, captures, connects and interprets the timeless Indigenous presence through his own eyes, his camera lens and in stories about the pioneer surveyors, anthropologists and historians who obsessively recorded these sites.

It is meticulously researched and compiled, with relevant images, some that crop up in the explicit and sometimes lengthy footnotes, often as absorbing as the text. In one footnote, correspondence by the late Spike Milligan tells us about his efforts to save rock art near Woy Woy, New South Wales, now the Bulgandry figures in Brisbane Waters National Park. 

Jon Rhodes probes the puzzle surrounding the red ochre and white pipeclay painting of Bunjil with his dogs (or dog!) in a granite shelter in the Black Range, near Stawell in central western Victoria, now protected from grafitti by a welded mesh cave. Has one dog been added or moved since the cave became known?

Bunjil, the Eaglehawk, a sky-hero of the Kulin, created mountains, rivers and people before he was swept into the sky with his sons in a whirlwind created when Bellin-bellin the Crow opened his sack. Now Bunjil is Altair, principal star in the constellation Aquila. The Wurunjeri gave the names of Bunjil’s sons to the fingers of the left hand.

I became familiar with Australian rock art and the better known rock engravings in the Sydney area through the works of Fred McCarthy in Australian Rock Art (Australian Museum, Sydney 1967) and Peter Stanbury and John Clegg, A Field Guide to Aboriginal Rock Engravings, (Sydney University Press, 1990).

Jon Rhodes examines sites like Bantry Bay, first seen by First Fleet Surgeon John White in April 1788; Gumbooya Reserve, Allambie Heights, once called ‘Flat Rocks’; regrooved images at Bondi Golf Course, and the sad disappearance of more than 80 art works that once covered the rocks at Willara / Point Piper. He reveals that the last remaining carving – a whale or sunfish – from the Point Piper group is now permanently protected under the immovable floorboards of a garage. See ‘Designs made by the Natives’ – my post for May 16, 2018.

Cage of Ghosts was deservedly winner of the 2019 New South Wales Regional and Community History Prize. The judges remarked:

Cage of Ghosts … is a subtle exploration of the way that thousands of years of Indigenous history are both visible, and hidden, in Australian landscapes. It is a formidably documented study with the power to reshape how we see the places where we live. Jon Rhodes evokes a multilayered country whose meanings have been shaped by the ancient cultures of First Nations peoples, but also by the complex, tragic history of settler colonialism.

Copyright Keith Vincent Smith 2020


Portrait of a New Zealand Man October 1769
Sydney Parkinson (1745-1771) Pen and wash
Add.Ms23920 f55
British Library, London


Keith Vincent Smith

At 2 p.m on 8 October 1769 a 12-year-old cabin boy named Nicholas Young shouts ‘Land’ from the masthead of HM Bark Endeavour. James Cook names it  ‘Young Nick’s Head’. The English ship has reached the north island of the country named New Zealand in 1642 by the Dutch explorer Abel Tasman, who never attempted a landing.

Next morning the ship sails into an open bay and anchors off the mouth of a small river, the Turanganui, near present Gisborne. Cook goes ashore without Tupaia.

The coxswain fires twice over the heads of ‘natives’ who threaten four ship’s boys guarding a yawl. The third shot kills Te Maro, a Ngāti Oneone leader who is probably making a ceremonial challenge which the Europeans think is an attack.

Joseph Banks writes :

The native was shot through the heart. He was a middling-sized man, tattowed on one cheek only in spiral lines very regularly formed. He was covered with a fine cloth of a manufacture totally new to us … His hair was also tied in a knot on the top of his head, but with no feather stuck in it. His complexion was brown, but not very dark.

After his experience in the Polynesian islands Cook intends to barter iron goods for food and water. He takes Tupaia and a troop of red coated armed marines with him when he lands the next day.

The manner in which the New Zealand Warriors defy their Enemies
Richard Godfrey after Sydney Parkinson
Plate 17 in A journal of a voyage to the South Seas, in his Majesty’s ship the Endeavour,
London, 1784

A hostile group of Maori assemble on the far side of the river, heavily armed with lances, spears and pata (stone clubs). They perform a haka, poking out their tongues in defiance. Tupaia calls out in Tahitian and finds that he is able to understand them, as ship’s surgeon William Monkhouse recounts.

We found they understood his language. A long conversation ensued, which seemd to consist on their part of inquirys whence we came, of complaining that we had killed one of their people, and of many expressions of doubt of our friendship – their pronunciation was very guttural, however Tupia understood them …

One brave Maori swims across the river and greets Cook with a hongi (pressing noses). Soon a crowd around the strangers attempt to snatch their weapons and Joseph Banks wounds a man with small shot when he seizes a ‘hanger’ or short sword from astronomer Charles Green. Te Rakau, a powerful chief of the Rongowhakaata, is killed by a musket ball fired by Surgeon Monkhouse, while others are wounded.

Later that day Endeavour crewmen open fire on a waka (canoe), intending to capture the men on board to gain their friendship. Four Māori are killed during this incident and three youths are captured, taken on the ship, fed and given gifts, but later landed ashore.

In the six months it will take to chart the two islands of Aotearoa, Tupaia becomes a vital interpreter and negotiator between the English and the Maori, who revere him as a tohunga or high priest from their ancestral homeland Hawaiki.

HM Bark Endeavour sails out of the bay on Thursday 12 October. Cook names Tūranganui-a-Kiwa ‘Poverty Bay’ because ‘it afforded no one thing we wanted’.

In two days and 14 hours Cook’s crew have shot and killed six Maori warriors and wounded many more. 

Copyright Keith Vincent Smith 2020


Lieutenant William Dawes, c 1830s
Artist unknown
Tasmanian Museum and Art Gallery, Hobart
Lieutenant William Dawes, c 1830s
Artist unknown
Tasmanian Museum and Art Gallery, Hobart
Language notebooks of William Dawes, Sydney Cove, 1790-1791                                     PHOTO: Joy Lai, State Library of New South Wales, Sydney

Keith Vincent Smith

The inspired and inspiring language notebooks compiled by Marine Lieutenant William Dawes have returned to England a second time.

This precious cargo first sailed away with Dawes when he boarded HMS Gorgon, leaving Sydney Cove on 18 December 1791 and arriving at Portsmouth on 18 June 1792.

After a brief visit to Sydney for the Living Language exhibition at the State Library of New South Wales in Sydney,  the notebooks are back at the library of the School of Oriental and African Studies at the University of London.

Dawes himself never returned to Australia. ‘The Aboriginal people’, wrote Indigenous linguist Jakelin Troy, ‘lost one of their most valuable allies and the colony a fine scientist who had hoped to settle there and continue his research’. 

The bright shining stars of the exhibition for me were the two small notebooks in a glass case, dating to 1790-1791. They left Sydney in 1792 and returned briefly in the Living Language exhibition at the State Library of New South Wales.

This major exhibition was  built on years and months of research and consultation with many Aboriginal communities by the library’s Indigenous Engagement (IE) Branch. I was privileged to collaborate with both Ronald Briggs (Gamilaroi), Curator, Research & Discovery and Melissa Jackson (Bundjalung) in two exhibitions at the State Library: EORA in 2006 and MARI NAWI in 2010.

Damien Webb (Palawa), Manager, Indigenous Engagement and Marika Duczynski (Gamilaroi), IE Project Officer, were also involved in the exhibition, which was backed by the State Library of NSW Foundation.

Writing in the  Sydney Morning Herald (14 July 2019), Matt Bungard quoted Melissa Jackson:

Lieutenant Dawes was just really interested in not just the culture, but getting to know the people and their nuances. The notebooks are incredibly important to Aboriginal people because they retain the conversational context which is crucial for contemporary language revival work today.

When they first became widely known, after a lapse of 180 years, these handwritten records of the coastal Sydney Language by William Dawes caused great excitement.

In November 1790, one month after Woollarawarre Bennelong and the friendly Eora  began to frequent the English convict settlement at Warang / Sydney Cove, Dawes, a young marine officer from Portsmouth, took a small notebook and began to write down Indigenous words and  phrases given to him by his informants.

The first book, titled (in another hand) Grammatical forms of the language of N.S. Wales, in the neighbourhood of Sydney is catalogued as MS 4165 (a) in the library of the School of Oriental and African Studies at the University of London.

From internal evidence, Dawes began his second notebook, MS 4165 (b), Vocabulary of the Language of N.S. Wales, in the neighbourhood of Sydney in 1791. It is the only source for what is known about his relationship with his principal informant, an Aboriginal girl named Patyegarang (Grey Kangaroo).

Dawes’s notebooks were located by Australian librarian, later Mitchell Librarian, Phyllis Mander-Jones and included in her publication Manuscripts in the British Isles relating to Australia, New Zealand and the Pacific, ANU Press, Canberra in 1972.T\


Spoken words and sounds jotted down in English handwriting from his informants preserve Dawes’s earwitness account of their unwritten language through encounters, conversations, dialogues and exchanges of knowledge that remain, in the words of historian Paul Carter in The Calling to Come (Museum of Sydney, 1996) ‘a source of revelation’.

The trio of the two Dawes notebooks and a third wordlist kept by Governor Arthur Phillip and his aides, which I call the ‘Governor’s Vocabulary’ (Book C 1791), were soon in the hands of William Marsden (1754-1836), an associate of the influential Joseph Banks. Much later, they passed to the SOAS from Kings College, London.


Dawes often acknowledged his Indigenous informants – in his first book principally Warreweer (who provided names of Indigenous plants), then Bennelong (her brother) and  his second wife Barangaroo. In ‘Book B’ Patyegarang, who knew Dawes for just three months,  is mentioned more than fifty times, but also Colebee, his wife Daringa, a girl  named Gonangoolie, and others.

Dawes’s little language notebooks help to inform much of the ‘back story’ about this group, which fleshes out  and confirms details about their lives not found in First Fleet journals. How much would we know about the Gweagal man Wárungin, Wángubile (‘Botany Bay Colebee’) in the profile that follows without Dawes’s records?

You can see the Dawes Notebooks online at <> See also ‘The Language of Port Jackson’ under the heading Language in this blog.


The three SOAS notebooks were the basis of an accessible dictionary of cross-cultural communication in early Sydney by historian and linguist Jakelin Troy, first published in Canberra in 1993-4 in The Sydney Language.

Her work was the genesis of the revival of the classic language spoken by the Indigenous people who inhabited coastal Sydney.

Professor Troy writes:

The earliest and best records of the Sydney Language document the coastal dialect which was spoken in the immediate vicinity of the first British settlement at Sydney Cove, Port Jackson.

There are wordlists with phonetic translations for body parts, kin terms, language, mythology and ceremony, food, cooking and fire, weapons and artefacts (many illustrated in line drawings by Shirley Troy), water, elements, mammals, reptiles, birds, marine and aquatic life, plants and fruits and insects and spiders.

She points out that this wordlist

… is by no means a complete list of all the words in the Sydney language. It only contains the vocabulary which I was able to recover from the published and unpublished notes of known eighteenth and nineteenth century writers who recorded information about the Sydney Language.  … In spite of the limitations of the wordlist it is a window onto the world of the Aboriginal people of Sydney.

Indeed, these words, sentences and placenames reveal traces of the past, a cultural memory and insight into the way Indigenous people viewed their spiritual and physical life before (and during) European settlement. This includes words they invented to describe the foreign technology, for example na-muru  for a compass, from naa ‘to see’ and muru ‘the way, or a path’.

In September 1994 Dr. James Kohen, later my supervisor at Macquarie University, Sydney, gave me photocopies of these manuscripts taken from microfilm. I still have them, slightly out of focus and held together by rusty paperclips. Dawes’s words opened up new research possibilities. They were the stimulus that would take me through BA, MA and PhD degrees in Indigenous Studies and Anthropology.

The next year I was fortunate to obtain a copy of the first edition of The Sydney Language, which was reissued in June 2019 by the Australian Institute of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Studies (AIATSIS) in Canberra with the help of funds raised by the Australian band, The Preatures.

Copyright Keith Vincent Smith 2020