‘BOTANY BAY KOLBI’
Keith Vincent Smith
Wárungin, Wángubile Kólbi was the son of Mety, headman of a family group of Gweagal (Fire Clan), based on the south shore of Kamay (Botany Bay).
He was known to the English colonists as ‘Botany Bay Kolbi’, having exchanged names with Colebee the Cadigal, who they called ‘Cadi Coleby’. David Collins explained: ‘The natives themselves, when distinguishing between this man and another of the same name at Botany Bay, always styled him Cad-i Cole-be; Cad-i being the name of his district’.
After a battle with his enemy Mety, the Wangal leader Woollarawarree Bennelong abducted Wárungin’s ngarángaliang or younger sister, Mety’s daughter Kurúbarabúla or Go-roo-bar-roo-bool-lo (‘Two Firesticks’), from Botany Bay in November 1790. She became Bennelong’s third wife and therefore Wárungin was his brother-in-law.
According to William Dawes, Wárungin Kolbi was aged about 28 in 1791 while his wife, with a string of names: Karangarang, Wadigabú Murianang Kurut Kurut, was about 25 years old. [Book B 1791:45.4-6]. It is likely that she had exchanged names with Bennelong’s sister Carangarang.
On 13 November 1791 Lieutenant William Dawes trekked from Sydney Cove to Botany Bay accompanied by his friend Captain Watkin Tench and three Aboriginal guides: Kolbi (probably the Gadigal, Cadi Colebee), Tarabílong (Terribilong), a Kameygal and Beriwáni (Bereewan), a Boorooberongal man Cadi Colebee had met in April that year on an expedition to the Hawkesbury River, who became his ally.
In his journal, Sergeant James Scott wrote:
Port Jackson – July – Sunday 17th 
Lt. Daws. [sic] & party made an Excurtion
to. Georges.River &.c.—
Dawes had previously, but reluctantly, gone to Botany Bay in December 1790. At first he refused to join the punitive expedition commanded by Captain Watkin Tench ordered by Governor Phillip to capture the Bijigal garadji (doctor or clever man) Pemulwuy, who had speared his game shooter John McEntire (McIntire).
McEntire, who admitted he had once fired at Aboriginal people, died suddenly on 20 January 1791.
After a talk with chaplain Reverend Richard Johnson, Dawes agreed to go, but then changed his mind. Threatened with a court-martial by the governor, he told Phillip he was ‘sorry he had been persuaded to comply with the order’.
His refusal, wrote South Australian curator and historian Philip Jones in Ochre and Rust [Wakefield Press, 2007: 342] ‘may represent the first documented act of conscience in defence of Aboriginal interests’.
At Botany Bay the English troops met Cadi Colebee, who told them Pemulwuy had fled to the south and, said Tench, ‘eat, drank and slept with us, from ten o’clock until past noon’.
In his account Tench nowhere mentions using firearms. According to David Collins, however, the marines fired on Aboriginal people they saw ‘at the head of Botany Bay, but without doing them an injury’.
But the handwritten caption to the portrait by the unknown ‘Port Jackson Painter’, now in the Natural History Museum in London, refutes this view, stating ‘Native named Ben-nel.long As painted when angry after Botany Bay Colebee was wounded’ and points to another incident concerning Warugin Kolbi that was not recorded by the First Fleet authors.
Private John Easty provides some intriguing detail.
The Morning of the 24 [December] … we went Down the Beach for abought 3 miles whaare we Saw Several of the natives by thier fires.
This might refer to another art work by the ‘Port Jackson Painter’, which seems to provide a pictorial sequel to the wounding of Botany Bay Kolbi. The watercolour is captioned ‘Mr. White, Harris & Laing with a party of Soldiers visiting Botany Bay Colebee at that Place when wounded.’
It shows the three English surgeons standing in a group of Aboriginal men and women who recline around their campfire by the sea, with a detachment of armed redcoats in the background. At right, one Aboriginal man sits apart on a log, holding a spear. Written under the log in pencil is the word ‘Colebee’, probably denoting Cadi Colebee.
As Dr. Grace Karskens points out in The Colony [Allen & Unwin, Crows Nest NSW, 2009, page 396] Surgeon White, the tall figure, is nudging an Aboriginal person with his musket . That person, a woman, is nursing a man lying on the ground, who might be the wounded Wángubile Kólbi. A child peeks out behind the couple.
There is a problem here, because Surgeon’s Mate Edward Laing arrived in Sydney long after this incident, on 14 February 1792 aboard the convict transport Pitt, bringing Major Francis Grose, commandant of the New South Wales Corps. It makes me suspect that the artist, whoever he was, might have painted this incident later, perhaps while returning to England by ship.
The ‘Port Jackson Painter’, or whoever wrote the caption to this image, possibly substituted Laing’s name for surgeon’s mate John Lowes, who certainly took part in the punitive expedition. Watkin Tench wrote on Tuesday 14 December 1790:
At four o’clock in the morning … we marched … the detachment consisted besides myself, of captain Hill of the New South Wales corps, lieutenants Poulden and Dawes, of the marines, Mr Worgan and Mr Lowes, surgeons, three sergeants, three corporals, and forty private soldiers.
Lowes returned to England in 27 March 1791 on the chartered Dutch vessel Waaksamheid, bound for Batavia (Jakarta). Also on board were Arthur Phillip’s aide Henry Waterhouse, his game shooter Henry Hacking, Captain John Hunter, Lieutenant William Bradley, Surgeon George Worgan, the artist and midshipman George Raper, midshipman Daniel Southwell, Ship’s master James Keltie and crew members of the crew of HMS Sirius, which had been wrecked at Norfolk Island.
Henry (‘Harry’) Waterhouse was charged with Phillip’s gift of ‘a Squirrel [possum] and parrot’, sent to Lady Chatham, Mary Elizabeth Townshend, daughter of Lord Sydney and wife of John Pitt, second Earl of Chatham. The ship reached Portsmouth in April 1792.
A GWEAGAL FAMILY
Probably through the good offices of Cadi Kolbi, William Dawes identified and recorded his family of ‘Gwíagals’ [men] and ‘Gwíagaliangs’ [women] living on the south shore of Botany Bay
Kuíbal aged ———– 16 Karangarang, Wadigabú
Menamináng ————12 Murianang Kurut Kurut
Kólbi (or) } (this lady is wife to } 25
Warungín, Wangubílyi}28 Warungín, W. Kólbi) }
Kólbi } Kurúbarabúla ———17
Yálowe —————— 35
Dawes had been awaiting the departure of HMS Gorgon from Sydney Cove to England which was delayed until the arrival of Major Robert Ross from Norfolk Island. With Tench, Ross and other members of the First Fleet marine corps, Dawes boarded the ship, which sailed from Sydney more than a month later, on 18 December 1791, arriving at Portsmouth on 18 June 1792.
[See Keith Vincent Smith, ‘Death of a Game Shooter’, Chapter 12 in Bennelong, Kangaroo Press / Simon & Schuster, East Roseville, 2001, pages 81-90]
Dawes had applied to stay another three years in New South Wales. ‘Left to himself, I wonder if he would every have left,’ asked Inga Clendinnen. ‘His departure cost us access to the local language as it was spoken at the time of contact. It possibly cost us a brilliant ethnography …’
[Dancing with Strangers, Text Publishing, Melbourne, 2003, page 157]
His close friend Captain Watkin Tench wrote that Dawes had ‘advanced his researches beyond the reach of competition’.
‘Mr. Dawes knows something of the language of N.S. Wales’, wrote the anti-slavery philanthropist William Wilberforce to Henry Dundas in August 1794, when he recommended Dawes as the head of a school to educate both Aboriginal people and convicts in New South Wales. Dawes never returned.
THE LOST SOLDIER
In John Hunter’s An Historical Journal of the Transactions at Port Jackson … (London, 1793, page 532), Governor Arthur Phillip tells the story of a soldier lost in the bush who was rescued by Wárungin, Wángubile Kólbi.
A soldier of the New South Wales corps, going from Parramatta with some of his comrades for the purpose of procuring sweet tea [Smilax glycyphylla], left them to go after a pattegorong [kangaroo], and lost himself in the woods. After roving about for some time, he saw a number of the natives, who fled on seeing his gun, except one that had frequently visited the settlement, and was known by the name of Botany-Bay Colebe. This man joined the soldier, and was followed by one of his companions. The soldier, to gain their good-will, and in hopes of inducing them to shew him the way to Parramatta, offered them some of his cloaths, which were not accepted. He made them understand where he wanted to go, but they were on the point of leaving him till he offered his gun, which the native, who was known at the settlement, took, and then conducted him to Sydney, making him understand that Parramatta was a great way off.
When they drew near Sydney, Colebe returned the soldier his gun, and, bidding him tell Beanah (the governor) that he was Botany-Bay Colebe, he left him, without even taking what the soldier had first offered him as a present.
Copyright Keith Vincent Smith 2019