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.’


Perhaps we should change the name of the City of Sydney to Bennelong?

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 ‘First Fleet’ ships arrived with their convict cargo at 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.

Nothing further is known about Thomas West’s life in England.

Lord Sydney’s country estate was at Frognal House, Chislehurst, a few miles from the village of Eltham, where Bennelong and Yemmerrawanne were taken to live in 1794 and where Yemmerrawanne sadly died and was buried in 1794.

Lord Sydney died at Frognal on 30 June 1800.

Copyright Keith Vincent Smith 2020


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