Cape Grim massacre

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Cape Grim massacre
Date 10 February 1828 (1828-02-10)
Location Cape Grim, Tasmania, Australia
40°40′27″S 144°41′15″E / 40.67417°S 144.68750°E / -40.67417; 144.68750Coordinates: 40°40′27″S 144°41′15″E / 40.67417°S 144.68750°E / -40.67417; 144.68750
Belligerents
Shepherds of the Van Diemen's Land Company Pennemukeer Aborigines of the North west tribe
Commanders and leaders
Unknown Unknown
Strength
4 Over 30
Casualties and losses
None 30 killed
Cape Grim is located in Tasmania
Cape Grim
Cape Grim (Tasmania)

The Cape Grim massacre occurred on 10 February 1828 in the north-west of Van Diemen's Land, now known as Tasmania, when four shepherds with muskets are alleged to have ambushed over 30 Tasmanian Aborigines from the Pennemukeer band from Cape Grim, killing 30 and throwing their bodies over a 60 metres (200 ft) cliff into the sea. An unknown number were reported to have escaped. The hill where the massacre occurred was then called Victory Hill by the shepherds.[1]

Background[edit]

The frontier conflict in Tasmania between Europeans and Aborigines has been alleged to have been marked by violence, cruelty, and abduction and rape of women, with a gross imbalance in weapons. Jan Roberts said that:

In general, Aboriginal men were shot on sight and the women seized to serve the needs of shepherds and sealers, many of whom took two Aboriginal women each.[2]

However, other historians including Josephine Flood disagree with this assessment:

Abduction and ill-treatment of Aborigines certainly occurred, but the extent of atrocities and 'massacres' has been grossly exaggerated.[3]

In 1826 the Van Diemen's Land Company set up sheep stations at Cape Grim and at Circular Head. When the Peerapper band from West Point revisited Cape Grim in December 1827 they found several shepherds, their huts and many sheep. The shepherds attempted to entice some of the Aboriginal women into a hut with the Aboriginal men strongly objecting resulting in a fight with one shepherd being speared in the thigh[4] and one Aborigine shot dead.[5]

In revenge the tribe drove a flock of sheep over a cliff, spearing 118 of them.[2][6] One contemporary source claims that in February 1828 a Van Diemen's Land company punitive expedition killed twelve Aborigines in response.[7] However, historian Keith Windschuttle argues that the account is dubious and is most likely a distorted rumour which conflates two other events; an incident when the crew of a ship's boat attempted to fire on some Aborigines but were thwarted by wet gunpowder and the conflict between convict shepherds and Aborigines at Cape Grim.[8][9]

Massacre[edit]

According to a report by George Augustus Robinson, on 10 February 1828, four shepherds ambushed the Pennemukeer Aborigines from Cape Grim while they were muttonbirding, killing 30 people.[10] First the shepherds fired upon the families camped on the beach, and then drove those who sought shelter in the rocks up the hill where they were massacred before the shepherds dumped the bodies over the cliff at Suicide Bay—the same cliff that the sheep had been driven over. The shepherds then called this Victory Hill. The Aborigines that escaped the massacre called the white settlers at Cape Grim the nowhummoe or devils and avoided Cape Grim but occasionally plundered isolated huts for provisions.[2][6]

George Augustus Robinson investigated the massacre two years later and gave this account:

On the occasion of the massacre a tribe of natives, consisting of women and children, had come to the [Doughboy] islands. Providence had favoured them with fine weather ... They swam across, leaving their children at the rocks in the care of the elderly people. They had prepared their supply of [mutton]birds, had tied them with grass, had towed them on shore, and the whole tribe was seated round their fires partaking of their hard-earned fare, when down rushed the band of fierce barbarians thirsting for the blood of these unprotected and unoffending people. They fled, leaving their provision. Some rushed into the sea, others scrambled around the cliff and what remained the monsters put to death. Those poor creatures who had sought shelter in the cleft of the rock they forced to the brink of an awful precipice, massacred them all and threw their bodies down the precipice ... I went to the foot of the cliff where the bodies had been thrown down and saw several human bones, some of which I brought with me, and a piece of the bloody cliff. As the tide was flowing I hastened from this Golgotha.[4]

Aftermath[edit]

Historian Ian McFarlane has said that the responsible Magistrate, Edward Curr, a manager of the Van Diemen’s Land Company, disputed the numbers killed, did not initiate an investigation into the massacre, and also did not report the incident to Lieutenant-Governor Arthur.[11] Keith Windschuttle argues that the report of an alleged massacre of Aborigines at the cliffs on Suicide Bay did not emerge until more than two years after the alleged massacre. The incident which Curr had declined to conduct an investigation into was what had been reported to him, an incident near the shepherds' hut during which six Aborigines were reported killed. Curr wrote to the directors of the Van Diemen's Land Company: "Now I have no doubt whatever that our men were fully impressed with the idea that the natives were there only for the purpose of surrounding and attacking them, and with that idea it would be madness for them to wait until the natives shewed their designs by making it too late for one man to escape. I considered these things at the time for I had thought of investigating the case, but I saw first that there was a strong presumption that our men were right, second if wrong it was impossible to convict them, and thirdly that the mere enquiry would induce every man to leave Cape Grim.”[12]

Disasters continued for the north-west tribe with an ambush in February 1828 by sealers who shot one man dead and abducted seven women to Kangaroo Island. In March another ambush by sealers hiding in a cave caught 14 women swimming back to shore after catching shellfish and muttonbirds. The women were herded together, tied up and taken to Kangaroo Island for sexual servitude and slavery.[2]

Lieutenant-Governor Arthur declared martial law on 1 November 1828 allowing roving parties to shoot or capture Aborigines for resettlement.[13]

In 1830 it was estimated there were only 60 Aborigines of the north-west tribe where just 3 years previously the numbers had been estimated at over 500. George Augustus Robinson had been appointed to round up the last survivors of the Aboriginal tribes to take them to a "place of safety" on an island off Tasmania's north coast; however Aborigines in the north-west avoided him. In 1830 at a sealer's camp he found an 18-year-old man called Jack of Cape Grim, whose Aboriginal name was Tunnerminnerwait from the Parperloihener band of Robbins Island, and six abducted women. Robinson threatened the sealers with legal action unless they gave up the Aborigines, and to the Aborigines he promised safety and an eventual return to tribal areas.[2]

On this same trip Robinson investigated the massacre, interviewing two of the shepherds and visiting Victory Hill with one of them. He also interviewed Aboriginal women living with sealers on Robbins Island. Robinson came to the conclusion that about 30 people were massacred at Cape Grim in this incident.[14]

Historical skepticism[edit]

Keith Windschuttle, who visited the alleged massacre site and read the archival documents, argues that the claim that four shepherds could have killed thirty Aborigines at the location is inherently implausible. The muzzle-loading flintlock muskets of the day had a limited effective range of about 73 metres (80 yards) and were slow to reload. Windschuttle argues: “..even a child had time during reloading to run beyond the effective range..” and that such weapons cannot be fired, reloaded and fired again fast enough for four convict shepherds to kill thirty Aborigines at the alleged location before the intended victims either ran or swam out of range or turned on those shooting at them and killed them.

He also argues that Robinson's report that the shepherds forced the Aborigines from the shoreline to the edge of a cliff where they massacred them is inherently implausible given the terrain at the site. To get the Aborigines to the cliff's edge, the shepherds would have had to have climbed, and forced the Aborigines up an ascent so steep that at some points it requires that those making the ascent use their hands to do so. The shepherds would have had to have slung their muskets to make the ascent and once the Aborigines were at the top, they would have been in an area without barriers to prevent them escaping.

He has disputed the number killed by convict shepherds at Cape Grim, arguing that six, killed in a fight near the shepherds' hut, is a more likely number, as described in the reports of Edward Curr, manager of the Van Diemen’s Land Company.[15] Windschuttle believes Robinson exaggerated the number killed.[16] However two other historians Ian McFarlane and Josephine Flood who have also visited the massacre site and read the archival documents, have come to the conclusion that Robinson's account is reasonably accurate.[17]

See also[edit]

References[edit]

  1. ^ N.J.B. Plomley, Friendly Mission: The Tasmanian Journals and Papers of G.A. Robinson 1829–1834, Tasmanian Historical Research Association, 1966, as quoted in Lyndall Ryan pp135-137, The Aboriginal Tasmanians, Allen & Unwin, 1996, ISBN 1-86373-965-3, and also in Jan Roberts, pp3, Jack of Cape Grim, Greenhouse Publications, 1986 ISBN 0-86436-007-X
  2. ^ a b c d e Jan Roberts, pp1-9, Jack of Cape Grim, Greenhouse Publications, 1986 ISBN 0-86436-007-X
  3. ^ Flood, Josephine: The Original Australians: Story of the Aboriginal People, Allen & Unwin, 2006, p 76
  4. ^ a b Josephine Flood, pp82-83 The Original Australians: Story of the Aboriginal People, Allen & Unwin, 2006 ISBN 1-74114-872-3
  5. ^ Inward Despatch No.1. Curr to Directors. 2 January 1828. AOT VDL 5/1. as quoted by Ian McFarlane, Cape Grim Massacre 2006, accessed 26 December 2008
  6. ^ a b Lyndall Ryan, pp135-137, The Aboriginal Tasmanians, Allen & Unwin, 1996, ISBN 1-86373-965-3
  7. ^ R Hare, The Voyage of the Caroline from England to Van Diemen's Land and Batavia, edited Ida Lee, London, 1927, p 41. as quoted by Ian McFarlane, Cape Grim Massacre 2006, accessed 26 December 2008
  8. ^ "Indigenous Issues". Eureka Street. 27 August 2003. Retrieved 7 February 2013. 
  9. ^ "The Sydney Line". The Sydney Line. 27 August 2003. Retrieved 7 February 2013. 
  10. ^ N J B Plomley, Friendly Mission. Hobart, 1966, pp 175, 181, 196; see also Letter from Goldie to Arthur, 18 November 1829, AOT CSO 1/33/7578, pp 116–117. as quoted by Ian McFarlane, Cape Grim Massacre 2006, accessed 26 December 2008
  11. ^ Ian McFarlane, Cape Grim Massacre 2006, accessed 26 December 2008
  12. ^ Windschuttle, Keith, The Fabrication of Aboriginal history, p 265
  13. ^ Ian McFarlane, The Companian to Tasmanian History – Frontier Conflict, 2006. Accessed 27 December 2008
  14. ^ Josephine Flood, pp82-83 The Original Australians: Story of the Aboriginal People, Allen & Unwin, 2006, ISBN 1-74114-872-3. Robinson's account of the massacre from his journal is republished in this book
  15. ^ Windschuttle, Keith, The Fabrication of Aboriginal History, Volume One: Van Diemen's Land 1803–1847, Macleay Press, 2002, pp 249–269
  16. ^ Malcolm Nicholson, Genocide in Tasmania? A Review of Keith Windschuttle’s The Fabrication of Aboriginal History, Volume One, Van Diemen’s Land 1803–1847, Adelaide Institute, 27 August 2003. Accessed 26 December 2008
  17. ^ Flood, Josephine: The Original Australians: Story of the Aboriginal People, Allen & Unwin, 2006, pp 82–83