King plate

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Bungaree, A Native Chief of N.S. Wales painted by Augustus Earle

King plates (also called breastplates) were a form of regalia used in pre-Federation Australia by white colonial authorities to recognise local Aboriginal leaders. The plates were metallic crescent-shaped plaques worn around the neck by important Aborigines.

Aboriginal people did not traditionally have kings or chiefs. They lived in small clan groups with several elders—certain older men and perhaps women—who consulted with each other on decisions for the group. By appointing kings of tribes, and granting them king plates, the white colonial powers went against the more collegiate grain of traditional Aboriginal culture.

Brief history[edit]

In the 19th century, king plates were given by numerous communities in various Australian States to esteemed Aboriginal men (there is a lack of information suggesting that these plaques were presented to women, although the men's wives were often referred to as Queen), who were usually elders of their particular tribal or kinship group. The plates were presented to perceived 'chiefs', courageous men and to faithful servants.[1] There have been suggestions that the presentation of king plates also had a great deal to do with whether or not the recipient was seen as useful or respected by the white Australian community of the area in question.

The plates were far less regal than a European monarch's crown jewels, consisting of a material composition of industrial metals such as brass or iron rather than the gold or silver that many leaders are more familiar with. A typical format of inscripting the king plates was to write the Aborigine's name across the upper part of the plate's face, with the title "King of ______" beneath, preceded by the year of presentation. Some particularly distinguished Aboriginal characters are said to have ironically had the royal seal of Queen Victoria engraved somewhere on the plate to add an extra air of prestige.

The practice of presenting respected Aboriginal leaders with king plates declined in the post-Federation years,[2] becoming virtually unheard of by the end of the 1930s. This could be attributed to shifts in racial relations in different parts of Australia, amongst other possible explanations.

Aboriginal king plate holders[edit]

Many of the 'Indigenous kings' have fallen into obscurity and while there is hope of recovering more of the country's historical figures, many are sure to remain unknown to present and future generations. However, since there remains a fair amount of reliable historical data from the 19th Century and early 20th century, it is possible to learn about some of these Aboriginal figures, who were presented with king plates.

New South Wales[edit]

Brass breast plate presented to the Aboriginal leader Coborn Jackey of the Burrowmunditory tribe by the squatter James White. The artifact is held in the museum at Young.

Coburn Jackey - Chief of Burrowmunditroy was a Koori Aborigine of the Wiradjuri people in New South Wales. He was presented with his king plate in the 1800s by James White - one of the first European settlers in the region. The two men were good friends and Jackey provided the pioneering White with much assistance in their time together.

Umbarra - King of Bermagui, also known as King Merriman. A leader of the Yuin people of the Bermagui area. He was reported to be able to tell the future through a black duck.

Billy Moore - the famous Tweed Aboriginal. This kingplate was found in 1920 under a log in Bray’s Scrub at Kynumboon, Murwillumbah, New South Wales.[3]

Bungaree (Bungary) - a native chief of New South Wales. His portrait wearing the kingplate was painted by artist Augustus Earle (1793 - 1838).


Jagar - King of Barron was a North Queensland Aborigine of the Yirriganydji people. He was presented with his King plate in 1898.[4]

George of Saxby Downs with his wife at Barambah Aboriginal Settlement, 1909

George of Saxby Downs was photographed at the Barambah Aboriginal Settlement in 1909 wearing his kingplate.[5]

King Dick of Boondie

King Dick of Boondie was the chief of the Palparara tribe of western Queensland in the Winton-Windorah area, near Julia Creek.

Bilin Bilin - King of Logan and Pimpama was known to roam through the area that is now Logan City, Queensland. He was presented his king plate in 1875. He was the leader of the Yugambeh people and held this position from the mid 19th Century to the very early years of the 20th Century. He was very well respected by Aborigines and European settlers alike.[6]

Minippi - King of Tingalpa was a one-time companion to Bilin Bilin, who died when the two were returning from a trip to Brisbane. He is buried near the suburb of Waterford West, but the exact location is unknown.

Billy - King of the Albert was an Aboriginal leader in the South of Queensland. Little is known about his historical identity, although he was a contemporary of Bilin Bilin and Minippi and may have played a significant part in the Indigenous history of the Gold Coast.

Nobby, not known if he received a king plate, but was described by a white Australian living in Bundaberg as "the King of the Blacks in this district."[7]

Brady, an aboriginal man with a king plate who died at the Bribie Island Mission Station in 1892 and was buried on the beach by the mission's schoolmaster.[8]


Dick-a-Dick, member of the 1868 Australian Aboriginal cricket team to tour England, was awarded a King plate by local white authorities.

Western Australia[edit]

Warrandy - King of Geraldton, also known as "King Billy" was one of Western Australia's Aboriginal leaders to be presented with a king plate.


  1. ^ National Museum of Australia, Aboriginal Breastplates, Australian Government, archived from the original on 5 September 2015 
  2. ^ National Museum of Australia, List of breastplates, Australian Government, archived from the original on 14 June 2015 
  3. ^ "Kingplate / breastplate; Unknown; 1900-1920; S0776-98 - Tweed Regional Museum on eHive". eHive. Retrieved 2016-01-25. 
  4. ^ Information on the current whereabouts and historical adventures of Jagar's king plate is at
  5. ^ Unidentified (1909), George of Saxby Downs with his wife at Barambah Aboriginal Settlement, 1909, John Oxley Library, State Library of Queensland, retrieved 25 January 2016 
  6. ^ Reference to Bilin Bilin can be found in most sources dealing with Logan's indigenous history e.g.;
  7. ^ "Indexes to correspondence relating to Aborigines and Torres Strait Islanders in the records of the Colonial Secretary’s Office and the Home Secretary’s Office, 1887-1896"
  8. ^ "Indexes to correspondence relating to Aborigines and Torres Strait Islanders in the records of the Colonial Secretary’s Office and the Home Secretary’s Office, 1887-1896"

External links[edit]

Media related to King plate at Wikimedia Commons