View at Rose Hill Port Jackson, c1791
Artist unknown
DG SV1A/24
Dixson Galleries
State Library of New South Wales, Sydney

Keith Vincent Smith

Parramatta, 24 kilometres west of Sydney, at first called Rose Hill, was  the second settlement of the colony of New South Wales and its first farming community.

The establishment of a military post at the head of the Parramatta River in November 1788 was a true invasion, undertaken with military planning and support. On 2 November 1788 David Collins in An Account of the English Colony in New South Wales (London, 1798, page 37) noted that

The month of November commenced with the establishment of a settlement at the head of the harbour. On the 2nd, his Excellency the governor went up to the Crescent, with the surveyor-general, two officers, and a small party of marines, to choose the spot, and to mark out the redoubt and other necessary buildings.

The first detachment of marines were commanded by Lieutenant George Johnson and consisted of a sergeant, a corporal and eight private soldiers and a convict. The surveyor was Augustus Alt. The crescent-shaped area, shown in the illustration, can still be seen behind Old Government House in Parramatta Park.

A group of convicts followed the military two days later, wrote Collins,  consisting of

… a party of ten convicts, being people who chiefly understood the business of cutivation, were sent up … and a spot upon rising ground which his excellency [Governor Arthur Phillip] named Rose Hill, in complement of G. Rose Esq. one of the secretaries of the treasury, was ordered to be cleared for the first habitations. The soil at this spot was a stiff clayey nature, free from the rock which every where covered the surface at Sydney Cove, well clothed with timber, and unobstructed by underwood.

‘This description’, as Dr. James Kohen pointed out in Uninvited Guests: An Aboriginal Perspective on Government House and Parramatta Park, a report prepared for the National Trust in August 1999, ‘strongly suggests that the Burramattagal were managing the area by burning it regularly’. We know this now to be the result of Aboriginal ‘firestick farming’, which resulted in areas with ‘trees which are well spaced, with a grassy understory and no brushwood’.

In A complete account of the settlement at Port Jackson, New South Wales (London, 1793, page 5) Captain Watkin Tench gives the date for the settlement as 3 November 1788:

A new settlement named by the governor Rose Hill, 16 miles inland, was established on the 3d of November, the soil here being judged better than around Sydney. A small redoubt was thrown up and a captain’s detachment posted in it, to protect the convicts who were employed to cultivate the ground.

The redoubt, an earthwork fort, was built on the Crescent, overlooking the river and surrounding country.

‘A Nother party Went. Up to Joyne Lieu’t. Johnstone-’, remarked Sergeant of Marines James Scott in his journal (now in the Dixson Library, Sydney) on Friday 7 November.

On Saturday 22 November, Scott wrote

Captt. Campbell. Lt. Sharp & The Remaining. part. of the Detachmt. prosseeded. to Rose Hill. Where there is a Settlement to be Made’.

The same day marine private John Easty wrote in his ‘Memarandom’ (page 107) that this detachment included a corporal, a drummer and 12 privates. He crossed out the name ‘orange cove’ and substituted ‘Rose Hill’.

These two seafaring soldiers had their own eccentric way of spelling and punctuation in their journals, which often contained information not included in official records or First Fleet books published in England.

Captain James Campbell was the officer in charge and Lieutenant James Sharp second in command.

Detail from
A View in Parramatta c1828
Augustus Earle
PXD 265 f3
Mitchell Library, Sydney

The establishment of the military post at Rose Hill forced the relocation of the Burramattagal family of Maugoran and his wife Gooroobera (Firestick), with their children Ballooderry, Boorong and Yerinibe, to Kissing Point (now Putney), about 8 kilometres further east on the river in Wallumedegal territory.

Maugoran and a second wife Tádyera, who William Dawes said had died of dysentery, were the parents of a daughter called Warreeweer Wogul-mi (One Eye) and a son Bidgee Bidgee, who might have been born at The Flats (Homebush Bay) as the literal meaning of Bidgee is ‘River Flats’.

One week after the spearing of Governor Phillip at Manly Cove on 7 September 1790, Lieutenant William Dawes, Chaplain Richard Johnson and Boorong met her father Maugoran with another man (probably Boorodel) who told them the spearman was Wil-ee-ma-rin. Maugoran (from maugro, meaning ‘fish’) had been wounded in a dispute over sharing the whale blubber. He told the surgeon who dressed his wounds that several men had been killed in this battle. Tench (1793, page 61) wrote

These two people inquired kindly how his excellency did, and seemed pleased to hear that he was likely to recover. They said that they were inhabitants of Rose Hill, and expressed great dissatisfaction at the number of white men who had settled in their former territories. In consequence of which declaration, the detachment at that post was reinforced the following day.

When Boorong spoke to her father about a young man at Kay-yee-my (Gayamay or Manly Cove) who wanted to marry her, he ordered her to stay away from the north shore. The Cameragal (Gamaragal), Maugoran warned, were ready to ‘throw spears’ and would attack any white man. 

In his despatches, Phillip gave Maugoran’s words a stronger emphasis: ‘If this man’s information could be depended on, the natives were very angry at so many people being sent to Rose-hill, [Parramatta],’ he wrote, admitting, ‘certain it is that wherever our colonists fix themselves, the natives are obliged to leave that part of the country.’


In April 1789 an outbreak of smallpox swept through the Aboriginal population, killing hundreds of men, women and children, whose bodies were found on the shores around Port Jackson. Maugoran and his family were linked to the English settlement at Sydney Cove by his daughter Boorong, at first wrongly called Abaroo, who was brought in by the Governor’s boat suffering from the contagion.  

Go to the Natural History Museum, London to see a watercolour titled ‘Abbarroo a moobee after Balloderrees funeral’, painted in 1791 by the unknown ‘Port Jackson Painter’. A moobee (mubi) was a mourner at Aboriginal funerals in this period. Boorong is ‘painted up’ with ceremonial feathers and ochre on her shoulders and chest. http://www.nhm.ac.uk/nature-online/art-nature-imaging/collections/first-fleet/art-collection/search.dsml?lastDisp=gall&keyword=635&stype=kword&notes=true&beginIndex=0&desc=true&
Boorong recovered after treatment by Surgeon John White and was placed in the care of the colony’s chaplain Richard Johnson and his wife Mary and lived with them in their hut near the Tank Stream at Sydney Cove. Estimates of her age ranged from 12 to 15.

Watkin Tench called her Bòoron.
Borong or birrong meant ‘star’ in the Sydney Language.

Reverend Richard Johnson

The English colonists at first thought Boorong was an orphan, but in July 1789 she met some of her relations at Manly Cove. On 17 September 1790 Boorong accompanied Governor Phillip to parley with Bennelong (who had escaped in May) at his camp opposite Sydney Cove. There she met her father Maugoran who was given an iron hatchet and some fish. In return Maugoran presented Governor Phillip with a short spear with an English knife blade at its tip, the first record of such an innovation.

On 7 April 1790, the Reverend Richard Johnson wrote to his friend Reverend Henry Fricker in Portsmouth:

Have a Native Girl under My Care. Have had her Now about 11 months—she was brought in here together with three others dreadfully afflicted with the small Pox … Have taken some pains with Abaroo (about 15 years old) to instruct her in reading, and have no reason to complain of her improvement—she can likewise begin to speak a little English, and is useful in several things about our little Hutt.—Have taught her the Lord’s Prayer &c.—and she comes better to understand My endeavours to instruct her respecting a supreme Being &c.

[Rev. Richard Johnson to Rev. Henry Fricker, Port Jackson, New South Wales, 7 April 1790, Safe 1/121/12, CY Reel 1397, Mitchell Library, State Library of New South Wales, Sydney]

‘We are now on a pretty friendly intercourse with the Natives.— Numbers of them are coming into the Camp daily, or rather are in Night and day,’ Rev. Johnson wrote to Fricker in March 1791. ‘This intercourse was principally brought about by means of a little girl [Boorong].’ The chaplain, who was teaching Boorong the Christian religion, continued ‘ For some time this girl made good improvement in her Book, and [I] began to be very partial to her.’

However, after the Eora had come into the settlement ‘in common’ after November 1790, Boorong no longer behaved ‘so well or so complyingly’ and had been ‘off in the woods’ several times. Significantly, Johnson sent Fricker a barrin, the kangaroo or possum fur tassel apron worn by young Eora girls, but discarded when they took a partner. In a box sent by William Dawes to his father at  the Portsmouth shipyards, Johnson also included a small kangaroo skin, fishing lines and shell hooks, presumably obtained from Boorong.

Jacob Nagle, Jacob Nagle his Book
A.D. One Thousand Eight Hundred and Twenty Nine
19 May 1829, Canton, Stark County Ohio’
MLMSS 5954
Mitchell Library, State Library of New South Wales, Sydney

It was Always the govenors Studdy to Cultivate
& Naturelise those Natives as Much as possible
we had One girl [Boorong] the goviner Clothed & kept her
at the hospittle With Docr White as he wished to
find Out their language …

Jacob Nagle was a 24-year-old American able seaman from Philadelphia aboard the First Fleet flagship Sirius. In Sydney he joined the crew of Governor Phillip’s cutter. Nagle compiled his manuscript in 1829 and died in 1841.


There is much more to Boorong’s story. You will have to wait until the publication of Mr. Bennelong to read the rest. However, there is one interesting episode I want to share with you.

HMS Sirius, named for the brightest star in the night sky of the southern hemisphere, and flagship of the convoy of eleven small sailing ships that Australians call ‘The First Fleet’, struck a reef and ran aground at Norfolk Island on 19 March 1790. leaving the convict colony at Sydney with one ship, the 8-gun brig HMS Supply.

Far away at Sydney Cove Boorong, whose name meant ‘star’, had a premonition of this tragedy when she was frightened by a falling star.  David Collins (1798) wrote:

To the shooting of a star they attach a degree of importance; and I once, on an occasion of this kind, saw the girl Boo-roong greatly agitated, and prophesying much evil to befal all the white men and their habitations.

Watkin Tench (1793, pages 184-5) described Boorong’s agitation.

I remember Abaroo [Boorong] running into a room where a company was assembled, and uttering frightful exclamations of impending mischiefs, about to light on her and her countrymen. When questioned on the cause of such agitation, she went to the door, and pointed to the skies, saying, that whenever the stars wore that appearance, misfortunes to the natives always followed. The night was cloudy and the air disturbed by meteors.—I have heard many more of them testify similar apprehension.

In April 1790 Philip Gidley King, a 32-year-old Navy lieutenant, returned for the first time to Sydney from Norfolk Island, where he had commanded since February 1788. In less than two weeks he recorded in his journal his impressions of the vast changes made during his absence. King said Boorong ‘at times is very angry & cannot bear to be thwarted’.

This is a facsimile extract from King’s journal for 9 April 1790:

The Sun, Moon & Stars they call Werè (Bad) The Girl once went into very violent Convulsions at seeing a falling star, & said … every body would be destroyed.*
[At side margin]
* some say
she particularly
alluded to the
Murry Nowey
Sirius —

Murry Nowey or mari nawi of course means ‘big canoe’. This  is an extract from the booklet EORA: A Sydney Vocabulary 1790, published by the State Library of New South Wales, Sydney to coincide with the exhibition EORA: Mapping Aboriginal Sydney, curated by Anthony (Ace) Bourke and myself in 2008.

King’s original, MS C115, in the collection of the Mitchell Library, Sydney, includes the ‘vocabulary of the language which I got from Mr. Collins and Governor Phillip both having been very assiduous in getting words to compose it, which they compare … it is a very Correct Vocabulary’.

Philip Gidley King left Sydney on 17 April 1790 on HMS Supply with despatches from Governor Phillip but did not reach England until December that year. His Sydney Indigenous vocabulary was soon in the hands of linguist and Secretary of the Navy, William Marsden, a friend of Sir Joseph Banks, who wrote: ‘By Lieutenant King, who is just come from Botany Bay, we have the first specimens that have been procured of the language of the natives.’

In 1800 Philip Gidley King succeeded Captain John Hunter and served as third governor of New South Wales until 1806.

• See Keith Vincent Smith, Bennelong among his people, online at http://press-files.anu.edu.au/downloads/press/p74631/pdf/ch0156.pdf

Copyright Keith Vincent Smith 2017


Sad news.

Robert ‘Bob’ Waterer, who found at the age of 81 that he was of Aboriginal descent, has died at the age of 92, at Collaroy on Sydney’s northern beaches.

In the last years of his life he became ‘Uncle Bob’ beloved by his wide family and revered by school children and adults he greeted with his characteristic smiling face and friendly manner.

Bob was able to trace his ancestry back through his great-grandmother Catherine Bens (1838-1920), often called the ‘Queen of Scotland Island’, to Sarah Lewis who lived at Marramarra Creek, a tributary of the Hawkesbury River, and a member of the Broken Bay clan led by the famous Indigenous personality Bungaree.

Biddy is reputed to have been the sister of Bungaree’s eldest son Bowen or Boin and therefore a daughter of Bungaree.

Bob spent those first 81 years in Brookvale near my childhood home at Dee Why where he worked for many years as a baker. At the age of 18 Bob enlisted in the Australian Army at the outbreak of World War Two and became a gunner, serving in Balikpapan, Borneo.

Bob’s life and the history of his relatives and antecedents were captured in The story of Bob Waterer and his family, edited by Nan Bosler and published by the Aboriginal Support Group in 2011, to which I contributed an article about Bungaree.

Vale Bob Waterer.

Keith Vincent Smith


Towwaa, native of Jarvis Bay, New South Wales, 1810
John William Lewin (1770–1819)
PRN PDB9630, British Museum, London

Keith Vincent Smith

A copy of this watercolour portrait of a naked Aboriginal man holding a waddy (club) by the colonial artist John William Lewin was exhibited in EORA: Mapping Aboriginal Sydney 1770-1850 at the State Library of New South Wales in Macquarie Street in 2006, curated jointly by Anthony Bourke and myself.

Many tales have been told to explain the placename Tom Uglys Point, the northern headland of the Georges River at Sylvania south of Sydney.

There are two main versions, that of ‘Tom Huxley’ and ‘Tom Wogul-y’.

In the Town and Country Journal (September 1878) ‘Sydney Cove’ said ‘Tom Wogul-ly’s Point’ was named ‘after a white man – with one leg or arm – who lived there many years ago’. The writer claimed the name was derived from wogle, the word for the numeral ‘one’ in the Sydney Aboriginal language.

‘MJM’ wrote in the St George Call (16 January 1904): ‘Years ago Tom Huxley lived at the point’. Local Aborigines could not pronounce the ‘x’ in his name and at first turned it into ‘Tommy Hugley, but they also found the ‘h’ sound difficult — Tom Ugly was the result.’

However, these and other explanations of the origin of Tom Uglys Point are spurious and can now be put to rest.

The real Tom Ugly was an Aboriginal man from the south coast of New South Wales who later lived, died and was buried under a gibber gunyah (rock shelter) on the point of the Georges River that bears his name.

Hoping to acquire the skeletel remains of an Australian Aborigine for his collection, Dr. Karl Scherzer (1821-1903), an Austrian scientist who visited Sydney on the ship Novara, went to ‘Coggera Cove’ (now Kogarah Bay) on the 1 December 1858, where he met an Aboriginal man named Johnny, described as ‘the last of the Sydney tribe’.

This man was probably Johnny Malone (died 1875), whose mother came from the Cooks River at Botany.

According to Scherzer, the real ‘Tom Ugly’ belied his nickname. He was a fine physical specimen of a man with both legs and arms intact. A translation of Scherzer’s German language journal, now in the Mitchell Library, Sydney, states that ‘Tom Weiry, or Tom Ugly, as the English named him, was a very athletic man, whose skeleton was a real prize for the purposes of comparative anatomy.’

Johnny guided Scherzer to a burial ground in a shell midden, but after much digging unearthed only a few decayed bones from Tom Ugly’s skeleton, which were reburied.

An Aboriginal man called Tom Ugly received government issue blankets at Broulee near Batemans Bay in 1837-43. In August 1844, George Augustus Robinson, at that time the Port Phillip (Melbourne) Protector of Aborigines, recorded Tow.wy.er as the name of the Twofold Bay Aboriginal people.

Copyright Keith Vincent Smith