Her lithe ladyship, the swarthy spouse of Prince Bungaree … threw a spear seven feet in length, to the distance of 120 yards [metres]
Captain John Norton, 1860
Keith Vincent Smith
Lieutenant John Norton of the British Army 34th Regiment was detached from his regiment to guard the transport ship Baring, carrying 300 male convicts, which anchored at Sydney Cove on 7 September 1815. His caution to ‘All Persons … against giving any credit to the Soldiers of the 34th Regt.’ appeared in The Sydney Gazette on 16 September 1815.
While based at the Military Barracks, a site now occupied by Sydney’s Wynyard Railway Station, Norton was given a demonstration and lessons in throwing the ‘Australian war-spear’ by Cora Gooseberry, wife of the Broken Bay leader Bungaree.
Norton left Sydney for Calcutta on the Baring in November 1816 and was promoted to Captain in 1825.
Stationed in South India, Norton saw tribesmen using blow-pipes. He noticed that the darts they used had a base of pith or spongy wood, which expanded when the pipe was blown, forming a tight seal that prevented air leaks. Norton copied this idea and in 1832 invented a cylindrical bullet with a hollow base, a prototype of the modern bullet.
That same year, 1832, ‘Capt. Norton, late 34th regiment’, donated ‘The Bome-rang, or Magic Stick, of New South Wales’ to the Naval and Military Museum in London, an artefact he no doubt acquired from Karoo or Cora Gooseberry.
John Norton was living near the Rosherville Gardens, on the Thames near Gravesend in Kent in 1860 when he published his memoirs in book titled A List of Captain Norton’s Projectiles, and his Other Naval and Military Inventions.
THE AUSTRALIAN WAR-SPEAR
Norton wrote (page 67):
In the Autumn of 1815, being on military duty at Sidney [sic], New South Wales; I was instructed by the swarthy lady of the native Chief Bungaree, in the art of throwing the Australian war-spear, and I found that when I fully acquired the art, I could throw a light bamboo spear six feet [3 metres] long, to the distance of 170 yards; finding the practice conducive to opening the chest, causing the attitude to be erect, and giving muscle to the sword-arm; I am anxious to introduce the exercise of throwing the spear in the “Bat and Ball,” Cricket Ground, in Gravesend; and shall give three prizes of one pound to the adult who shall first throw his spear to the distance of 150 yards [metres]; ten shillings to the youth who shall first throw his spear to the distance of 70 yards; and five shillings to the boy who shall first throw his spear to the distance of 70 yards. All this is quite practicable. Her lithe ladyship, the swarthy wife of Prince Bungaree, when instructing me in the barrack square, at Sidney, threw a spear seven feet [about 2 metres] in length, to the distance of 120 yards.
In the year 1815 Governor Lachlan Macquarie set up Bungaree and his people at Georges Head (now Mosman) in the hope they would settle and farm the land. He also presented him with a fishing boat and a breastplate or gorget engraved with the words:
Chief of the
John Norton’s spear-throwing sessions with Cora Gooseberry in 1815 mark the earliest description of her frequenting the streets of Sydney, a practice she kept up for many years after Bungaree’s death in 1830.
- See my entry Gooseberry, Cora (1777–1852) in the Australian Dictionary of Biography, online at
Copyright Keith Vincent Smith 2020