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Virtual Sourcebook for Aboriginal Studies in the Hunter Region Guide: Port Stephens

Sourcebook for Aboriginal studies : 1820-1829

(Aboriginal of N.S.Wales )

[From entries in the Index to the Australian Agricultural Company Despatches Archives Location A6472(xvii) Transcribed by Gionni di Gravio]

4th Feb 1826
Mr. Dawson states that he derived great assistance from them in the First Settlement (formation of) at Port Stephens. (B81)

"We have hitherto found the Natives very friendly and useful at Port Stephens as Guides, Fishermen and Messengers, and in assisting to procure Bark for constructing Huts. I do not contemplate any mischief from them so long as they are kindly treated, and to this my attention shall be especially directed - particularly as regards the conduct of the convicts that may be employed on the Grant.

At the extremity of the proposed Grant between Port Stephens and Port Macquarie the Natives are more savage and numerous if we may judge from the stories and appearance of the convicts who escape across the country from there to Port Stephens. The few that arrive alive are usually stripped and speared in some parts of the body by the Natives, one instance of which I saw in a Man who came across naked and speared through both legs last week to Port Stephens."

[Report from Mr Robert Dawson to The Governor and Deputy Governor of the Australian Agricultural Company Sydney February 4th 1826]

24th April 1826
Mr. Dawson states that he derived great assistance from them in the First Settlement (formation of) at Port Stephens. (B129)

";I cannot omit to state how much assistance I have derived from the Natives who are very friendly and were anxious to make themselves agreeable to us. Without them our own people could not have had Huts on their arrival. Their assistance was also most acceptable and valuable in landing and stowing the stores; cutting down and carrying Poles (?) and other burthens procuring Bark removing obstructions of wood and stones and many other things we could not have got done without them. Provided they are not ill treated by the Convicts I have no fear of their enmity and I shall do everything in my power to protect them and secure the friendly intercourse which at present subsists between us.

As soon as various matters which engaged my attention admitted of it I made short excursions daily into the country behind the settlement for the purpose of ascertaining the nature of the country and quantity of the sheep walks which I previously knew existed, but to what extent in the immediate vicinity of the Port I had not been able accurately to ascertain. Between this Harbour and a branch of the Karner called by the Natives the Kund are about [9] miles in extent as well as on the Banks of the River the Hills in general are moderately elevated, lightly timbered and grassy, forming in any opinion excellent sheep walks, and for the most part accessible without the necessity of falling much timber."

[From Mr Dawson's Report of Proceedings at Pt Stephens to 24th April 1826]

15th Sept. 1826
The Col. (Committee) informed the Directors that one Black was shot accidentally by a man named "Byron", he was committed for Trial to appease the Tribe but was acquitted. (B163)

";This is a difficulty the recurrence of which it will be necessary to devise some mode of obviating the appointment of a Military Officer to command the guard with a Commission of the Peace seems the readiest mode of effecting it, but we fear there will be an unwillingness on the part of the Colonial Govt. to such an arrangement. In the return of punishments which is attached of a man named Byron for Shooting a Native inserted. This was done merely as a matter of form to appease the other Natives, as the circumstance was quite accidental. Byron was on his arrival in Sydney immediately discharged by the Attorney General. As it would have been imprudent to send him back to Port Stephens he is now employed as a Messenger."

[J.W. Macarthur and J. Bowman to The Governor and Deputy Governor of the Australian Agricultural Company, Sydney New South Wales 15th September 1826]

12th November 1826
They are fearful when they approach Strange Tribes who are always hostile to Native Strangers from feelings of jealousy. (B223) In the vicinity of an area named by Robert Dawson as "George's Valley"

"Our Natives saw some traces of their wild brethren of the woods here, and betrayed strong symptoms of fear. This is always the case when they approach strange tribes who they allege are always hostile to native strangers from a feeling of jealousy, natural I believe to all Savages. Nothing but the protection which they felt in their muskets and the influence which I possessed over them prevented their immediate flight at this time. Kangaroos were seen here in abundance."

[From Robert Dawson's Journal of a Journey performed in the Bath in search of the Australian Agricultural Company's Grant near Port Stephens. 10th November 1826 to 23rd November 1826.]

13th November 1826
Mr. Dawson's Account of the Natives he came in contact with at Davis" Hills (B224 - B226)

"As soon as we had passed over Davis’ Hills, a considerable tract of County over which the fire had recently spread, presented itself. It was rather thickly wooded and of inferior quality to that which we had before seen, between it and the Stroud. The fire had evidently been occasioned by the Natives whose foot steps were tracked over the burnt ground by our sable friends with intense interest and who appeared much alarmed at the idea of coming in contact with them. On a sudden they stopped and crouched, like to many setters pointing at their game and calling out softly and with extraordinary animation ‘Black fellow Massa!! Black fellow Massa!!’ I immediately saw a party of about 20 Natives a short distance in front of us, squatted round a fire, over which they appeared to be roasting their food. As I was alone with my Black friends at some distance ahead of our party, I made signs for them to halt, lest the strangers should run off through fear before I could approach them. The two Blacks who were with me reluctantly consented to advance behind my horse till they saw no signs of opposition from the tribe; and then they came forward with their muskets, holding up their hands in token of Peace talking at the same time loudly in their own language which was answered in the same tone by the Strangers.

Having approached within 30 yards they had [oenly] took an alarm and ran to a tree near the fire where their spears had been arranged, and placed themselves in a warlike attitude pointing their spears at me, as if intending to throw immediately. I ordered my friends to fire upon them, if they thought they intended to hurt us and instantly cocked my pistols to do the same.

On calling out hastily to them in a threatening tone in their own language they suddenly threw down their spears and ran off to a Bush close by, where they concealed themselves except two who approached us in a friendly attitude.

I immediately advanced to meet them, we shook hands cordially and I gave them such things as I knew were most valuable to them, particularly Tomahawks. They presented some of their roasted kangaroo to my two black friends who seemed to enjoy the repast and also the conversation which was long and apparently an interesting one. I did everything in my power to induce the runaways to return, but they would not, altho'; ordered and sent for repeatedly by the other two. I learned afterwards that they had intended to spear me from some alarm arising out of a misunderstanding in the signs between our men and them, in approaching them, and that the threat of shooting them at the moment had created too powerful an impression on their minds to trust to me afterwards.

As we shall soon settle this part of the country and shall frequently come in contact with these Natives I have no doubt of being able to conciliate them particularly as the two friendly ones shewed good wile and promised to visit me at Port Stephens to which they were invited and promised protection by my black companions. Our whole party at length approached which excited intense curiosity in the Strangers who examined them minutely, particularly the Horses at which they appeared greatly surprised. I played them a tune on the Flute at parting, and I have no doubt that an impression favourable to us had been created amongst them.

After leaving the Natives we passed over a fine grassy forest Country of low hills backed by high ranges on the right ...;"

[From Robert Dawson's Journal of a Journey performed in the Bath in search of the Australian Agricultural Company's Grant near Port Stephens. 10th November 1826 to 23rd November 1826.]

30th April 1827
Mr. Dawson reports that the women about Port Stephens are employed in picking the seeds of extraneous matter out of the wool to be shipped for England and cost of picking to the company 2/7 pts (B263, B363 and B532.)

"Fortunately however, we have in the Native Black Women the means of remeding the evil complained of. They have been employed under [Miltalls] superintendence for the last two or three months in picking out the seeds and other extraneous substances introduced into the wool and they have performed the work so successfully as to give us reason to hope that the little delay that has occurred and the trifling cost of a small quantity of Biscuit Flour, or Tobacco, will be the only inconvenience in the end that will be sustained."

[From the Report from R. Dawson Esq. addressed to the Colonial Committee dated 30th April 1827]

4th August 1827
Mr. Dawson reports that the women about Port Stephens are employed in picking the seeds of extraneous matter out of the wool to be shipped for England and cost of picking to the company 2/7 pts (B263, B363 and B532.)

"Mr Stall has been confined by lameness for the last Month, which has retarded the picking breaking of the wool now on hand. But as the Native Women have never deserted their employment under him, it will be completed in good time to be sent home with the ensuing [ewes] clip, and I have no idea that it can be got ready sooner. The process of picking is tedious beyond conception"

[Report from Mr. Dawson to J. Strettell Brickwood, Esq. Sydney 4th August 1827]

30th Nov 1827
Col. Dumaresq appeared before the Directors and informed them that he considered W. Dawson's treatment of them most excellent about 600 around him (A408)

"That Mr Dawson's treatment of the Native is mostly excellent, that there were about 600 around him, that they come down in tribes - that he does not appear to apprehend depredation from them - they have not taken even a cob of corn. -; that he does not constrain them in any way - that he endeavours to create wants among them; their labour is useful in various ways - Nearly 60 of the women were employed in picking leaves etc out of the Company's Wool about to be sent home - they row in Boats, and they peel bark for buildings. This bark is not found in all situations - it is fetched 17 miles by the Native Blacks to the principal settlement, the remuneration is very trifling, consisting often of a handful of corn, or a bit of Tobacco, but he gives nothing to them without an equivalence in labour. His influence over them is very great and has enabled him to bring together in harmony hostile tribes.

[From Information given by Lt. Col. Dumaresq Friday, the 30 Novr. 1827.]

1st Dec 1827
Mr. Dawson reports that those around Port Stephens continue peaceful and useful. (B447)

"It affords me great pleasure to bear testimony once more to the good conduct of the Company's Indented Servants at this Establishment, almost with an exception and also to the peaceful demeanour and continued usefulness of the Native Tribes near Port Stephens. The instance of hostile conduct before mentioned from the Tribe in the Neighbourhood of River Manning has no reference to the Natives in general upon the Grant. I have no doubt that they will be as easily conciliated upon experiencing kind treatment, as others have been, as soon as that quarter of the Grant shall have been partially occupied, and then while neighbours better known.”

7th December 1827
Acc(ount) of the Exploring Party to the Manning River under Mr Alexander. McLeod Jnr was speared near that River by a hostile Tribe. (B435)

"After he had proceeded a few miles into the interior, on his way to Stroud from the River, he met with a hostile Tribe of Natives, who speared one of his men through the face, and obliged him instantly to return, and proceed by a known route to Port Macquarie, in order to save the life of the man, which appeared in imminent danger. Having reached that place, and witnessed the recovery of his man, through the Medical Assistance of the Hospital at Port Macquarie he applied to the Commandant for assistance on his return home by the intended line to Port Stephens."

[From Mr Dawson’s Report to the Committee, Port Stephens 7th Dec. 1827]

8th Jan 1828
Mr. Js Macarthur requires from Mr Dawson a Return of the amount of sundry issues made to the Blacks (B457)

"18th Ditto Ditto of sundry issues to the Natives."

[From Mr James Macarthur to Mr Dawson Port Stephens 8th January 1828.]

13th March 1828
Mr. James Macarthur states that his enquiry of the 8th Jany on this head is quite un noticed by Mr. Dawson he, however, thinks that great unnecessary expense is incurred in Issues to them. Most disgraceful familiarities countenanced and encouraged by Mr. Dawson. (B530 and B531)

";With respect to the issues to Natives, I am of opinion that much expense is thus needlessly incurred, for the purpose either of indulging a whimsical vanity on the part of Mr Dawson, or of keeping up a delusion in the eyes of the British Public. I would by all means recommend the treatment of the Natives with kindness and with generosity, but there are bounds which cannot be overstepped without evil consequences, and I consider that at Port Stephens these bounds have been far exceeded, both in the presents which have been made to them, and in the disgusting familiarity in which they are countenanced and encouraged.

"Whilst upon this subject I think it right to mention that in one of the Books in the Office at Port Stephens, I noticed a Statement that the picking of wool, last Autumn, by Native Women, cost the company 2/7" [ in pencil "Shamefull!!! More than the value of it. Dm]

[From the Report of Mr James Macarthur to the Committee of Management, Parramatta, 13th March 1828]

29th April 1828
The Colonial Committee are requested in a letter from N.S.W. Col. Govt. to furnish a Return of the number and description of those on the Comp's Grant. (B907)

"A Macleay Esq to the Committee of Management.
The Committee of the Australian Agricultural Company.
Colonial Secretary's Office
Sydney 29th April 1828.


I am directed by His Excellency the Governor to request you will have the goodness to procure and transmit to me, at as early an opportunity as you may find convenient, the best Information in your power as to the following particulars, regarding the Aborigines in the District of Land, selected for the Australian Agricultural Company.

1st Names of the different Tribes
2nd Their usual places of Resort
3rd Number of Men Women and Children distinguishing the numbers, belonging to the different Tribes.
4th The number employed in the service of the Company (Men and Women separately)
I have the honor to be Gentlement etc etc
(Signed)Alex. McLeay."

10th May 1828
Mr. James Macarthur states to the Directors that the disordered Native Women have been removed and the intercourse between Native Women and Convicts disallowed and other arrangements made to effect a diminution of the Venereal Disease. (B873-B874, see also B855-B856 26th May 1828 below)

"General Order No.12
The Indented Free Servants, Prisoners and other persons in the employment of the Company are required to abstain in future from visiting the Native Black Camps. All persons who may presume to disobey this order will be punished with the utmost severity the Law will admit. The Free People by Fine and Imprisonment, the Prisoners by Corporal punishment and reduction of the usual Indulgences. Native Constable are appointed who will be stationed at the Black Camps to apprehend any person who may be found within its Boundaries, and it is hoped that the Principal Officers of the Establishment will set an example to the Inferior Servants, and exert themselves to check a disgraceful and pernicious intercourse between the two sexes, which has already proceeded to a length of almost entirely putting a stop to the further increase of the Native Population, and has made no inconsiderable number of the Prisoners incapable of Labour.

By order of the Hon. John Macarthur
(Signed) J.E. Ebsworth
Port Stephens 10th May 1828."

17th May 1828
Mr. Bowman states that this disease (i.e. Venereal Disease) had been contracted to a great extent by the convicts having had connection with the Native Women (B823)

"I cannot conclude without remarking a circumstance which came to my knowledge on examining the Medical Reports kept by the Surgeon of the Establishment. From the 23rd January last to the 30th of April, 68 of the convict servants have contracted a disease by intercourse with native women, which deprived the Company of their Services while they were under medical treatment for longer or shorter periods. This when contrasted with Mr Dawson's Reports of the progress he was making in civilising the Natives may assist in removing the delusion he has attempted to keep up.”

[ From Mr Bowman's Report on the State of the Company's Affairs at Port Stephens. Sydney 17th May 1828.]

26th May 1828
Venereal Disease contracted by the Company';s servants in consequence of their having intercourse with the Native Women. (B832)

"The Venereal Affections have been contracted by all the patients, from their intercourse with the Native Women, and are increasing rapidly among the prisoners,"

26th May 1828
Mr. James Macarthur states that he has been called upon by the Coll Govt. to report upon the State and condition of the Blacks on the Estates - thinks they may be made very useful in the preservation of Flocks at distant stations. He restorded the most influential use among them from Banishment impeded upon him by W. Dawson. (B855)

"Paragraph 86
I have been called upon by the Government to report upon the state and condition of Native Population: upon this subject I am convinced many erroneous opinions exist: my own are fixed - but before I venture t avow them in an official form, I have deemed it necessary to call upon the best qualified of your servants to state their opinion upon the same subject; when I am in possession of their Reports, it is my intention to transmit them to the Committee, accompanied by my own remarks, that they may be enabled to convey all the information so obtained to the Government."

[from Despatch from Mr Macarthur to the Governors and Directors of the Australian Agricultural Company, London. 26th May 1828.]

26th May 1828
Mr. James Macarthur states to the Directors that the disordered Native Women have been removed and the intercourse between Native Women and Convicts disallowed and other arrangements made to effect a diminution of the Venereal Disease. (B855-B856 see also B873-B874 10th May 1828 above)

"Paragraph 89
The most influential Natives over a widely extended district has lately been restored from a state of banishment imposed upon him by Mr Dawson:- he and his associates have become as much attached as, I think, savages possibly can be. The immediate effect has been the removal of all the disordine Native women - and the prevention of open intercourse between their women and the convicts.

Paragraph 90
As a preliminary measure, this has done much; and as Dr Nisbet proposes to examine the whole of the convicts at stated periods, it may be hoped that a speedy diminution (a total eradication we cannot expect) of the pest will insue, which has incapacitated so many of our men from labour, and that has totally checked the increase of the Native population.

Paragraph 91
Judging from present appearances, the Natives, who reside amongst us, may soon become the surest means of protection to your advanced stations, and the least expensive instruments, by whom your convict servants may be watched and restrained."

[from Despatch from Mr Macarthur to the Governors and Directors of the Australian Agricultural Company, London. 26th May 1828.]

May 1828?
Dr Nisbet reports that those not attached to the Settlement are in a state of great wretchedness, many labouring under the effects of a baneful disease. Those attached to the Company have made some advancement towards civilisation and have a clean and orderly appearance. He thinks that not much dependence can be placed upon them - The Black Constables only useful for specific purposes. B905-B906.

"7. What do you consider the State of the Natives not attached to this Settlement?

My short residence in this part of the Country will prevent me from giving any thing like a satisfactory reply to this question, having seen only very few of them however in a state of apparent wretchedness, with many labouring under the effect of a baneful disease, and thus bearing evident marks of its destructive malignity.

8. The present State of those attached to the Company and (9) their advancement in civilisation.

Compared with the subjects of the preceding query, they seem to have made considerable progress- they have artificial wants and have lessened the means of satisfying them by labor, and there is a decided improvement in regard of personal cleanliness, and I certainly was much gratified by their clean and orderly appearance last Sunday at Service.

10. The present effect of the recent prohibition to Convicts to enter the Native Camps.

This appears to have been founded in good policy, as it must prevent those quarrels with the Natives, which have so frequently occurred. While by rendering intercourse more guarded, it will lessen the propagation of the disease, which causes now so large an addition to our sick list. I think the proof exists, as few very recent cases of the disease come under my care.

11. How far do the Natives appear deserving of confidence?

Since you have created artificial wants, and while you have the means of gratifying them, I think that some dependence may be placed on the Natives. But I am afraid that the love of change, which forms so strong a feature in their character will ever prevent them acquiring as many wants as to become dependant on the European without which no certain reliance can be placed. Some trifling circumstance may arise which will dissolve the connexion on the past, however strongly it may appear cemented.

12. What may be the operation of the appointment of Native constables, as a measure of general Police?

I conceive it defective, on account of their ignorance of our language and customs, also their dislike to anything that requires constant attention, or a fixed residence. But I equally think, that for a specific purpose, such as the tracing of stolen property, or the apprehending of runaway Prisoners, their services would be of great value.

13. The expense and their utility compared with Convict Constables?

This is a point on which I cannot venture to give a decided opinion, they, bothe Convict and Native, can be made available in the manner in which I have limited them, the one in general, and the other in particular occasions, but experience alone can shew whether, or not the Native Constable will perform services, equivalent to the small allowance which he is satisfied with, compared with what is received by the Convict Constable."

[From Dr Alexander Nesbit's Report on the State of the Hospitals at Carrabein and Stroud [May 1828?]