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 as the name of the Twofold Bay Aboriginal people.

Copyright Keith Vincent Smith