Keith Vincent Smith
Boatswain Maroot (Merute, Mahroot, Young Mirout) was born about 1790 at the Cooks River (Gumannan) on the north shore of Botany Bay. He would become a sailor, sealer, whaler and boatsteerer aboard English ships.
From his success with a petition to Governor Lachlan Macquarie for compensation after being marooned on the windswept sub-Antarctic Macquarie Island in 1811, Maroot learned to negotiate with the English authorities who had appropriated his country.
Many years later, by sheer persistence and frequent visits to the office of Governor Sir Richard Bourke, Boatswain was granted a 10-acre lease on the north shore of Kamay (Botany Bay).
In September 1845, when he was said to be 49 years of age, Boatswain Maroot appeared before the Select Committee on the Conditions of the Aborigines at the Legislative Council in Macquarie Street Sydney. In the evidence he gave in reply to questions from Dr. John Dunmore Lang and others he spoke about his life, his family, his Gameygal (Kameygal) Country and movements of Aboriginal people since the coming of the British.
Boatswain Maroot was the son of Maroot the elder (c1773-1817), clan head of the Gamegal or Kameygal, who occupied the north shore of Kamay (Botany Bay). See http://dictionaryofsydney.org/entry/maroot_the_elder for an account of his life.
Although he was never initiated, Boatswain Maroot took his part in the frequent ritual revenge combats fought in the streets of Sydney. In one battle ‘Young Mirouth’ received a ‘knock-down blow‘ from ‘Bidgywidgy’ (Bidgee Bidgee). Maroot struck back at Bidgee Bidgee, inflicting a gaping wound. The two warriors lay bleeding on the ground, ‘shields, spears and heads … fractured in their turn’, the Sydney Gazette reported on 13 January 1805.
On 10 January 1806 ‘two well known natives, MUSQUITO and young MIROUT’ were involved in an ‘obstinate fracas’ outside the Military Barracks in George Street (now Wynyard Station, Sydney) after Musquito, while drunk, wounded a boy named Pigeon (Warroba) with a tomahawk. ‘They came repeatedly to close quarters with the waddy and never separated without inflicting severe wounds on each other’, according to the Sydney Gazette (12 January 1806). ‘Mirout’ cooly exposed himself to attack until Musquito (another Kameygal) knocked him down and split his head open with a crushing blow. That night Pigeon’s relatives took their vengeance and ambushed Musquito outside the General Hospital at The Rocks, spearing him in the chest. Musquito named his attacker as Ploge, also called Blueitt, a Gweagal from the south shore of Botany Bay, brother of Potter or Potta.
In 1845 ‘Boatswain Mahroot’ gave some explanations for these payback rituals, which were not always between different clans, to the Select Committee.
Used the black fellows of your tribe to fight with fight with Liverpool black fellows?
They used to formerly.
What used they to fight about?
Some about spearing a man, and about the women, and all these things. They used to turn out alI I used to see about the Race Course here [Hyde Park].
Used the black fellows to be killed?
No, they used to dig their spears into one another; I have seen plenty of it.
Were many killed?
No, I did not see none of them killed.
MAROONED ON MACQUARIE ISLAND
Boatswain Maroot’s first recorded ocean voyage was on a sealing vessel that, he claimed, abandoned him for two years on the remote and desolate Macquarie Island, midway between Tasmania and Antarctica. The ship, belonging to Kable and Underwood, was the second Sydney Cove, which left Port Jackson in July 1809 on an extended voyage, dropping sealing gangs on the New Zealand coast and whaleboats and whaling gangs at Norfolk Island.
Merute’s Petition, 9 October 1811
Colonial Secretary Papers
Minutes and Proceedings
Bench of Magistrates
County of Cumberland
Reel 658; SZ773 – unpaginated
State Records New South Wales, Sydney
Months after food rations ran out, Maroot and two European sealers stowed away on the 150-ton brig Concord, which reached Sydney on 4 October 1811. The ship’s master, Captain Garbutt, had been sent to re-supply work gangs stationed at Macquarie Island. The sealers there were said to be in ‘a deplorable condition for the want of food and other necessaries’.
Eight days after his return to Sydney, ‘Merute’ (Boatswain Maroot) addressed a petition to Governor Lachlan Macquarie claiming a breach of verbal contract. The governor referred his complaint to the Bench of Magistrates. The following petition to his Excellency the Governor, presented by one Merute a Native of this Territory was referred to this Court and ordered to be read.
“Sir, My name is Merute an Inhabitant and Native of this Country. I agreed verbally for plenty of money and Clothes and can obtain nothing. Is this an Encouragement to us?
Two years in the employ of Mr. Jas. Underwood at Macquarie Island and did double duty to a White man—” .
Sydney, October 9th 1811—
The document continues:
 Mr. Underwood, being called in reply says that he knows nothing of the man—that he never was in his employ, nor has ever appealed to him. But he believed he was left at Macquarie Island more than two years ago—in the Sydney Cove of which Messrs. Ball and Banks are owners & Captain MacLaren master—that he understands that Petitioner stowed away there in the Concord and came up in that vessel about ten days ago. The Sydney Cove again sailed from this Port about a fortnight ago for Macquarie Island with Supplies intending to fill there with Skins & oil & to return to this Port—she must return here for want of provisions. Merute says that he and two Europeans left the Island for want of Provisions.
Mr. Underwood says that he is Agent for the Ship but that the owners are Bankrupt—that he has not the account of Slops furnished to Petitioner— The petitioner says he has had some Slops.
 Mr. Underwood now consents to give Petitioner ten Pounds half to be paid in money & half in Goods—on Condition of Petitioner giving him a discharge of all claims upon the Ship—
To this the Petitioner now consents—& the Court are of opinion that the same is reasonable.—
[Signed] Ellis Bent Alexander Riley William Broughton Simeon Lord
It seems unlikely that Boatswain Maroot was cast away on Macquarie Island for as long as two years because its location was not officially known before July 1810. Whatever the length of time, Macquarie Island was a cruel climate for an Aboriginal man from Botany Bay. There were no land-dwelling animals to provide food and when his rations ran out Boatswain was forced to live on seals, salty penguins and mutton birds. It was cold and windy and high cliffs made fishing difficult.
‘I went out whaling on five or six voyages’, Boatswain Maroot told Dr. John Dunmore Lang in 1845, saying it was ‘dirty work, and hard work’. He received £20 or £30 per voyage and spent it when he returned. ‘I went along with the sailors and we threw it away all together’ he said. ‘In the public houses?’ asked Dr. Lang. ‘Yes, and then go for more again as soon as ever that was out’, he replied.
After his return to Sydney Boatswain Maroot left his father and mother and went to live at the home of David Allan and his family, where he learned to speak English. He could not read or write and ran away ‘two or three times’. In his evidence to the Select Committee in 1845 he was asked:
When did you first learn to speak English?
When I first joined the English. I left my father and mother and went to live with the English.
With whom did you live?
With Commissary Allen [sic]
David Allan (1780-1852) first came to Sydney on the ship Fortune in June 1813 and was Deputy Commissary General from 1813 to 1819. His property covered most of the present Sydney suburb of Woolloomooloo.
THE RUSSIANS AT KIRRIBILLI
In 1820 Pavel Mikhailov, an an academically trained artist attached to the Russian expedition to the icy Antarctic seas commanded by Captain Fabian von Bellingshausen, painted watercolour portraits of several Aboriginal people camped with the Broken Bay leader Bungaree and his family at Kirribilli on the north shore of Port Jackson.
Among them were ‘Movat’ (Mowat or Maroot) and Salmanda ( Salamander). Did Mikhailov realise, when he looked at Boatswain Maroot, that he was meeting one of the first people – certainly the first Australian Aboriginal man – to set foot on the previously uninhabited Macquarie Island?
It is one of the ironies of history that later that year Mikhailov sketched the first known illustration of Macquarie Island, the original of a lithograph by Ivan Fridrits, which appeared in Bellingshausen’s account of his voyages published in St. Petersburg in 1830. In 1804 Salamander, who took his name from the whaling ship of the same name, had sailed with Henry Hacking to Sullivan Bay (Port Phillip, Victoria) and later to the Derwent River (Hobart).
Boatswain’s next seagoing adventures were on board the brig Mercury commanded by Captain John Edwards, on voyages hunting sperm wales. On 8 February 1822 a Claims and Demands notice appeared in the Sydney Gazette:
Included in the ship’s muster on 19 February 1822 were Boatswain, ‘Bulgabraa’ (Bolgobrough), Jem (Creek Jemmy or Nurragingy) and ‘Tommy’, described as ‘Black Natives inserted in Ship at 1/160th share’.
The Mercury left Sydney Cove on 22 February 1822 and returned with 30 tons of oil in late October after being dismasted in a heavy gale. Boatswain sailed soon after with Bulgabra, ‘Tommy’ and ‘William’ (Bolgobrough’s brother Willamannan) and again on 6 August 1823 with ‘Bulgabra’, bound for the Bay of Islands in New Zealand.
While whaling at Otago in New Zealand, John Perrett Wilkie, who later settled at Daardine Station on the Darling Downs (now Queensland), promoted Boatswain to the position of Boatsteerer and paid him ‘the same as a white man’. In February 1828 Wilkie sailed to New Zealand on the schooner Adventure. Boatsteerers were trusted and skilled seamen who took up the position of harpooner when a whale was sighted. [JP Wilkie, ALS to Henry Hughes, 25 October 1852, DOC 14, Dixson Library, Sydney]
Home from the sea, the enterprising Boatswain settled down once more in Gameygal Country. He built two slab timber huts on the north shore of Botany Bay near a creek and used his boat to make a living as a fisherman. He obtained clothes from the ‘white fellows’ by catching fish, which another man took to Sydney by cart. At one time ‘a good while ago’ he said in 1845, he made £4 to £6 per week by fishing, which he spent on clothing, meat, flour and sugar. He grew cabbages and pumpkins until cows knocked down the garden fence. Boatswain built more huts on his land but now ‘hardly got four shillings a week, from rentals’.
BOATSWAIN’s 10 ACRES
In July 2002 I located the survey map of the 10-acre lease granted to Boatswain Maroot by Governor Bourke at the former State Records office in George Street North at The Rocks and with it the original Governor’s Minute, marked ‘Immediate, written in (now fading) sepia ink and initialled by Bourke.
[Governor’s Minutes 1832 Ledger, Minute No. 1836, 17 April 1832, Col. Sec. Archives, Governor’s Minutes 1832, 4/996, State Records NSW, Sydney.
Boatswain Maroot, an aboriginal Native has called at the office repeatedly respecting some Land at Botany, promised to him, as he says, by the Governor, and on which he has two Huts.
He has been referred to this office as well as that of the Surveyor General several times, for an answer to his application or rather for an order to take possession.
Nothing is known here respecting him.
I submit that if it is intended to gr[ant] any thing of this kind it should only be a Lease.
The Native Maroot applied to me thru’ the Private Secretary to obtain a small allotment at Botany Bay on which he had erected a Hut stating that he wished to have a fixed Residence and could support himself by fishing and selling fish.
It is very desirable from every motive of Justice Humanity and Policy to fix these poor people in some certain line of life according to the structure of European civilized society and the smallest indication even in one solitary instance of a desire on the part of a Native to assume industrious habits and a Trade or Calling ought to be carefully encouraged.
Request the Surveyor-General to send a Person from his Department to ascertain the spot at Botany Bay which Maroot wishes to have and if it be vacant to mark out any number of Acres not exceeding the usual quotum of a small Settler’s grant, say 40A [acres], and to chart it in the office in Maroot’s name. Let him then be informed that he may take possession, but it will not be necessary to give him a written document as care will be taken that he is not disturbed, and he would probably lose the document.
Maroot has not been very clear in describing what quantity of Land he wants. If a building allotment will satisfy him let him have no more for the present. I hope Mr. [Taylor?] will see that this is arranged to the satisfaction of this poor Native.
April 17 1832
The map shows Boatswain Maroot’s lease, situated on the swampy Botany Bay shoreline close to Bumborah Point, just below Bunnerong, a parcel of land belonging to John Brown and another marked ‘Crain’s’ [John Crane], close to a creek running into the bay. In 1856 Samuel Bennett referred to ‘Bumbera, half a mile north of La Perouse’. The Indigenous placename referred to a bombora or swell of water caused by submerged rocks.
John Neathway Brown, an army veteran, was granted 100 acres with a northern boundary bordered by the Cooks River and Sheas Creek. The New South Wales Calendar and General Post Office Directory (1832) said the Sydney to Botany Road (formerly an Aboriginal muru or pathway) crossed ‘at about six miles [from Sydney], a fine running brook of water, near MR. BROWN’S farm’. This was later named Bunnerong Road and the ‘brook’ Bunnerong Creek.
John Crane, who owned 10 acres, was an ex-convict, pardoned in 1826, who became a shoemaker and leather seller in Prince Street, Sydney.
Questioned by the Select Committee in 1845 Boatswain Maroot was asked:
Have you got land at Botany?
General Bourke gave it to me.
Do you understand that it belongs to you for yourself and your children after you, and that nobody can take it away.
This was not a fact, as Governor Bourke stipulated that Boatswain Maroot’s 10 acres was strictly a lease. About the time the governor ratified his grant, Maroot met the Swiss missionary, Reverend Johann Handt, who described him as ‘a civilized man, and by profession a sailor’. Maroot told Handt there were only four left of the ‘Botany Bay Tribe’. Handt said Maroot had forgotten much of his own language. ‘I did not see him since that time’, Handt wrote on 23 April 1832, ‘and suppose therefore that he has gone to sea again.’
‘Mahroot’ (Boatswain Maroot) told the Select Committee he had little knowledge of spiritual matters and had not lost a tooth, the outward sign that a boy had been made a man by initiation. He said he had no brothers, but three sisters by another father and the same mother who were born at Botany and who spoke the same language. He recalled a ‘tribe’ numbering about 400 people when he was a child. But in 1845 there were only seven ‘half-castes’ at Botany Bay who spoke his language, one boy about seven years old and the rest girls. One or two Aboriginal women lived with white men.
Unlike the many spurious reports in the colonial press of Aboriginal men or women said to be ‘the last of their tribe’, Boatswain Maroot, by his own admission, was the last remaining male of the original Kameygal. He had a wife but they had no children. By 1845, he said, the ‘Liverpool Aborigines’ (Cobragal), with whom his people often fought, met his Country at Cooks River. They spoke a different language, as did the Five Islands (Illawarra) people from the south of Botany Bay whose language was Dharawal.
When blankets, bread and beef were distributed to the ‘remnant of the Sydney Aborigines’ on the Queen’s Birthday, 24 May 1849, Boatswain gave a speech ‘at some length; in his native language’ and proposed a toast in bull (watered-down rum) to Queen Victoria and the Governor.
William Augustus Miles, an amateur anthropologist and Commissioner of Police in Sydney, visited Botany and wrote about Boatswain Maroot in an essay published in the Journal of the Ethnological Society in London in 1854 (vol. 111, pages 1-50).
Only one remains of the numerous tribe mentioned by Captain Cook when he explored Botany Bay. This last of his tribe is much attached to the scenes of his younger days. His name is Maoroo. He is the son of the former chief, and feels much his own desolate condition. I was walking on the bright sands of Botany soon after sunrise, when he suddenly appeared from the skirting thickets, and coming up to me (for we were not new acquaintances)— “This is all my country,” said he, making a large sweep with his extended arm. “Nice country: my father chief long time ago; now I chief. Water all pretty — sun make it light. When I little fellow, plenty black fellow, plenty gin, plenty picaninny, great corrobaree [sic], plenty fight! Eh! All gone now,” and, pointing his fore finger to the earth, “All gone! only me left to walk about.”
… all black-fellow gone! all this my country! pretty place Botany!
Little pickaninny, I run about here. Plenty black-fellow then; corobbory; great fight; all canoe about. Only me left now …
In his book Rambles and Observations in New South Wales (London 1849) Joseph Phipps Townsend recalled his meeting with Boatswain Maroot.
In New South Wales there is one, and one only, of the Botany Bay tribe remaining. He is very fond of the Bay, very intelligent, and has a ten-acre piece of ground and some “white-fellow” tenants.
“Well mitter [Mr.] said he to a friend of mine [W.A. Miles], in a half musing tone, “all black-fellow gone! all this my country! pretty place Botany! Little pickaninny, I run about here. Plenty black-fellow then; corobbory; great fight; all canoe about. Only me left now, Mitter—. Poor gin mine tumble down, (die). All gone! Bury her like a lady, Mitter—; all put in coffin, English fashion. I feel lump in throat when I talk about her; but,—I buried her all very genteel, Mitter—.”
Boatswain Maroot spent the last years of his life in a gunyah (gonye) or bark shelter in the grounds of the Sir Joseph Banks Hotel at Banksmeadow, Botany, where he died on 31 January 1850. He was buried in the garden near the beach. This was a long-established Aboriginal burying ground.
In June 1913 Leslie Skinner found human bones in a crumbling wooden box ‘well up on the shore’ behind the Sir Joseph Banks Hotel [Sydney Sun 10 June 1913]. In a letter to the Evening News (12 June 1913) Mr. M. Newland of Leichhardt in Sydney remembered seeing an Aboriginal burial there many years earlier (about 1873).
My brother owned and resided at “Wyalong”, a property adjacent to Sir Joseph Banks’ Hotel, and abutting on the beach. One day the aboriginals who camped nearby, asked permission to bury one of their number at the end of my brother’s property, near the beach, as it was a recognised burying ground of the blacks. Of course permission was given, but their sorrow was held sacred, and no one intruded, although I, with others, watched the ceremony from the house some distance away. I have no doubt that the human bones found recently are those of aboriginals buried many years ago.
In December 1913 three men found another Aboriginal skeleton protruding from the sand while swimming on the eastern side of the Sir Joseph Banks Pleasure Grounds.
Based on ‘BOATSWAIN MAROOT’S LEASE’ IN ‘EORA CLANS: A HISTORY OF INDIGENOUS SOCIAL ORGANISATION IN COASTAL SYDNEY, 1770-1890, MA THESIS, MACQUARIE UNIVERSITY, SYDNEY, 2004 and ‘Boatswain Maroot in the sub-Antarctic’ in Keith Vincent Smith, MARI NAWI: Aboriginal Odysseys, Rosenberg, Dural, 2010
Copyright Keith Vincent Smith 2017-2020