The land that became Rossmoyne in February of 1961 was by the words of the first owner Morgan in 1830 ”only 10% of it is worth walking on.” From that time on, nothing much occurred for more than a century, merely cattle wandering through.
I may say nothing happened in Rossmoyne in a century but maybe the most telling moment in the relationship between the black and white fellas occurred nearby just East of The Bateman’s property or Bull’s Creek at Karel Avenue as named today, I will leave it up to you as you read an engrossing account of events.
The aboriginal people who had lived here for thousands of years were not just rolling over to the white mans ways and the hero of the time for them was Yagan. His story and those of his people unfolds here.
A SERIOUS turn was given to the native troubles in 1833. The continued descent of blacks on the flocks and herds of settlers embittered the one race towards the other, and reprisals became more numerous. The furtive murders committed by either side caused each to be on the alert, but when violence was shown to a white woman some of her countrymen rose their wrath and said they would wage war against the old-time possessors of the soil. Sentiments of humanity had hitherto dominated the white population; they did not forget the splendid, though quiescent reception given them when they first sought to establish themselves in Western Australia. But now, many of the most earnest advocates for a peaceful and charitable treatment of the blacks experienced a revulsion of feeling, and announced that they would severely punish them. They could not long brook (tolerate) these grave attacks on their stock, nor could they calmly listen to the stories of murder which were intermittently noised abroad. The community was so small and so far removed from old associations that the death of any one of them occasioned profound gloom.
But the position was a difficult one. Men embue (inspire) with English sentiments of fair play and respect for the persons of others could not coolly shoot down single blacks; to murder whole parties in cold blood was equally repulsive. The natives would not unite together and in open battle attack the invaders. All that their primitive natures would allow them to do was the covert stealing of stock by small bands or, upon the imagined demands of their laws, the murder of individuals so that their honour and superstition might be satisfied. The whites could not give full rein to their wishes, and the blacks were therefore permitted to openly roam the Swan River bush, and visit the homesteads of settlers and beg for food. So rapidly, it was said were their kangaroos and emus being exterminated that they must have recourse to settlers for the bare necessaries of life. During the scarcity of provisions among the white people in 1832 the usual allowances of flour, &c., were denied the natives, and hence the increased number of instances of thieving. The original fear of white weapons, too, had worn off, and having successfully murdered some men, they more readily murdered others. It was murder on both sides.
The inherent courage of certain native characters was brought out, and they in 1833 gave evidence of bravery and determination which would have done honour to the highest civilisation. No more conspicuous figure, probably, has ever risen among Australian natives than that of Yagan. The son of a chief, he was himself a man of strength and power; was the hope of his people, and inspired fear among the whites, who were wont to term him the “Wallace” of the Australian aborigines. Yagan was a unique specimen of native manhood, intelligence, sagacity (wisdom), and bravery. He was over six feet high, and, one writer says, possessed a dignified bearing. He stood head and shoulders above his fellows, in mind as well as in body, and though a subject of terror to the white people, he yet commanded their admiration. He was the dominating spirit in the sanguinary (bloodshed) native troubles of 1833.
The amicable relationship established with the aborigines at King George’s Sound by Major Lockyer and Captain Barker still continued, and the blacks began to recognise the character and power of the Britishers, and to be affected by their civilisation. Mr. Dale, when returning to Perth in January 1835, took two King George’s Sound natives with him, who were treated with some display of hospitality by the local whites and blacks. Yagan and others of the Swan River tribe expressed the desire to meet the visitors, named Gallypert and Maryat. On the 24th January Messrs. Dale and Smythe took the two men to what was known as Monger’s Lake, where Yagan and ten of his tribe gave them an apparently cordial welcome. A conversation was initiated between them, but owing to a difference in language they had some difficulty in understanding each Other. But they were on mutual ground when some one proposed a trial of individual skill. Gallypert and Yagan took their spears, and one of the white men stuck his walking stick vertically in the ground. Both natives walked some twenty-five paces away, and placing their spears in their throwing-sticks hurled them at the object. The expert Yagan proved the better marksman, for at his first throw he struck down the walking stick. Gallypert was not so successful. Other trials of skill were made, and it was observed that the Swan River men had the advantage in appearance, strength, and aptness over their visitors. Gallypert advised the Swan River men to be peaceful towards the whites, and afterwards described his conversation to an interested listener as thus: “Me wonka (tell) black man—pear white man cow, white man yeep (sheep), white man kill black man; black man no pear (spear) cow, no pear yeep, white man give black man jacket, towlyer, york (shirt), and bikket (biscuit) plenty; black man wonka (say) no pear no more.”
Then Yagan took up the thread of the discourse and recounted to his sable countrymen his experiences during his recent imprisonment at Carnac, and told them how he outwitted his guards. Finally he, as a distinctive act of courtesy and hospitality, seemingly adopted them into his tribe by an exchange of names.
Mrs. Leake, the wife of a prominent settler, entertained the King George’s Sound natives with music on a “grand” piano. They expressed themselves as pleased and grateful, and murmured, “Tank u mem, very pretty.” Not only did they articulate their delight, but danced the kangaroo dance to the accompaniment of the piano. Then, we are told, they “seated themselves in armchairs with the greatest self-complacency, and drank tea.” Shortly afterwards they were taken back to Albany.
The visit of these natives seemed at first to have had a good effect, and for some time numerous Swan River men were daily to be seen in Perth and Fremantle, where they expressed their desire to live on friendly terms and their determination to refrain from injuring settlers’ cattle. Their friendliness was short-lived, and soon they gave vent to that baneful characteristic—the wanton destruction of property. In February colonists on the outskirts of the Swan River settlements suffered severely at their hands. Mr. J. H. Monger had many unfortunate experiences with them at Monger’s Lake, and other persons had stock stolen or killed. On Monday, the 11th of February, the natives deported themselves in a threatening manner to the shepherd of Messrs. Trimmer and Bland, at York. They were spurred on by the vicious chants of a native woman, and the shepherd in self-protection shot the woman. In the same month Jenkins, a private of the 63rd Regiment, was speared by natives at Clarence, a settlement a few miles south of Fremantle. Jenkins was in the act of drawing water from the well near the military barracks in that district, when he heard the approach of many feet. Before he could discover whence the sounds came spears entered his back and shoulder, and to his side and arm. He recovered from his wounds. The motive of this attack probably lay in the fact that Jenkins was one of the guards to the natives who had been imprisoned at Carnac.
Mr. Norcott, a superintendent of the police corps, had a narrow escape in March. While eating biscuits in the presence of Yagan he offered the latter a share. Then, considering he had given the native too much, he endeavoured to take a part away. This roused Yagan’s ire and immediately he pointed his spear at Mr. Norcott, and was only restrained from casting it by the colonists who had gathered round. So dauntless was this man that the Perth Gazette writes:—” The reckless daring of this desperado, who sets his life at a pin’s fee, is being the subject of general observation, and we firmly believe for the most trivial offence, even with a loaded musket at his breast, he would take the life of any man who provoked him.” He was very proud of his escape from Carnac Island, and chucklingly informed different white men how he managed it. On one occasion he even walked up to the door of the gaol at Fremantle, and after exchanging civilities with his late keeper marched off, pointing significantly at the gaol and then at Carnac, which rose plainly before the eye over the bay.
Several suspicious fires occurred in March, and on the third or fourth the house of Mr. Waylen was burnt to the ground. It was supposed that the natives set it alight. While the conflagration proceeded these men danced round it like demoniacs. Several cases of stealing and breaking of windows were announced about the same time. The white people were in a dilemma as to how to act, whether to severely punish the delinquents, or continue their efforts to civilise them and show them the enormity of their actions. The Government had from time to time sworn in magistrates who were required, perhaps more than anything else, to administer the law with regard to natives.
The next appearance of the natives was in a calmer and more pleasant light. On Wednesday, 13th March, at the instigation of Yagan, a corroboree, or native festival, was held in the yard of a settler in Perth. The schooner Ellen had just arrived from King George’s Sound with five more natives, who at their urgent request were conveyed to Swan River; Yagan wished that members of the two tribes should give a joint representation. About dusk they assembled, and, while chanting, chalked each other in strange devices. A crowd of white people, including Lieutenant-Governor Irwin, several ladies, and the fashion of Perth, soon congregated. Then with the utmost fidelity the natives represented the killing of the kangaroo, and gave the necromantic dances which embraced the knocking of noses together, dancing on the knees, and the pulling of each other’s legs. Yagan was master of ceremonies, and acquitted himself, it is said, “with infinite dignity.” At the conclusion of the representation the performers asked for, and were given, permission to sleep in the back yard that night.
Next day a native fray took place in Perth, caused apparently by jealousy. There was some disagreement as to the proprietorship of a native woman, and after bickerings and careful preparations a fight was held. A native named Munday and his wife and another woman were so severely wounded that they were conveyed to the Hospital for treatment. Such a splendid example of affection was shown by Munday to his suffering spouse, the Gazette writes, that “it was worthy of imitation.”
Desultory (no purpose) small crimes were committed by the natives during the next few days, and on the 17th March some of them cruelly speared a horse owned by Mr. Tanner. The feelings of the people were rising, and it was only the humane determination of the Government and of several influential settlers which prevented them visiting their anger on the blacks, even to general slaying. Opinion was still divided, but the majority seemed to advise the sternest means to put down the trouble. Mr. Lyon remained one of the most earnest supporters of the natives, and in an article published under his name in the Perth Gazette of 23rd March, he voices the sentiments of the minority. He states, “The aboriginal inhabitants of this country are a harmless, liberal, kind-hearted race; remarkably simple in all their manners. They not only abstained from all acts of hostility when we took possession, but showed us every kindness in their power. Though we were invaders of their country, and they had therefore a right to treat us as enemies, when any of us lost ourselves in the bush and were thus completely in their power, these noble-minded people shared with us their scanty and precarious meal, suffered us to rest for a night in their camp, and in the morning directed us on our way to headquarters, or some other part of the settlement.”
The many-sidedness of Yagan’s character was being shown, and he seemed to blend boldness and revenge with courtesy and bush hospitality. He was constantly appearing in one or other light, so that even the people who directly and indirectly suffered at his hands could not deny him their respect. A fire took place and, unlike his fellows, Yagan rendered eager assistance in overcoming it. He was willing to show the whites any part of his and his father’s domains and to share with them his meal. But on the other hand he was insolent and unforgiving. On the last day of March he entered the house of an absent settler, and finding the wife at home talked and acted in a violent manner. The woman escaped from the house and ran off towards some neighbours, at which Yagan, to pacify her, called after her, “White woman very good, good-bye.” Then he hurried into the bush, but Captain Ellis, superintendent of native tribes, chased and caught him, and bringing him back, informed him that he would be severely punished if he repeated such actions. Yagan immediately rushed away among the trees and was vainly fired at by congregated soldiers. For some little time he remained in the bush, but soon he cast off fear and walked boldly into Perth.
The natives now carried on war in the settlements not only with the spear, but with the torch as well. They occasionally preyed upon settlers’ stock and set fire to their grass and hay-ricks. Affairs were drawing to a crisis. Towards the end of April, two thoughtless and cruel murders by white people lighted the fire of revenge in the indomitable Yagan. A man from Van Diemen’s Land, employed by Major Nairn, was escorting a cart to the house of Mr. Philipps, on the Canning, along the track which had been cut from Fremantle to the Canning River. He saw unoffending natives on the way, and turning to his companion (so writes Mr. Moore), said, “D—n the rascals, I’ll show you how we treat them in Van Diemen’s Land.” Lifting his gun, he fired and shot one, and that without provocation. A few nights afterwards, a merchant in Fremantle heard suspicious noise in an adjoining store. Rising to discover the cause he observed three natives breaking into the building. The neighbours were aroused, and seizing arms fired upon the thieves, and one, Domjuim, fell, and died three days afterwards. The same stores had been robbed before. These two acts were the incentives which stimulated revenge in the heart of Yagan.
On the morning of the 30th April, a few hours after Domjuim was shot, Yagan, with a party of natives, was seen at Preston Point, near Perth. Yagan appeared to be greatly excited, and “foamed at the mouth and raved like a madman.” He burned under the insult done to his countrymen, and informed the servant of a settler that he was going to the Canning to spear a white man, and (vide Gazette), “fixing his spear in the throwing-stick, he rushed into the bush, followed by his infuriated tribe.”
Three carts owned by Mr. Philipps, laden with provisions, were returning from Bull’s Creek to Mr. Philipps’ farm. Mr. Philipps, with four men, had charge of two of the carts, while the third cart, some distance away, was accompanied by Thomas and John Velvick. Just as Mr. Philipps was leaving Bull’s Creek, about thirty natives appeared, led by the old chief, Midgegooroo, and Yagan, Migo, and Munday. They scrutinised the vehicles and seemed particularly curious concerning the third cart. Midgegeoroo asked how many men were attached to it, and on being told he and his party instantly disappeared in the bush. The Velvicks were in the very cart wherefrom the Tasmanian had incontinently shot at the native a few days before. Strange to say, also, at about the precise point on the road where he had committed this outrage, Yagan and Midgegooroo now surrounded the vehicle said to be ‘two miles beyond Bull’s Creek.’.
Mr. Philipps, while proceeding on his way, heard a noise, and hurriedly riding forward, saw Yagan plunging a spear into the body of one of the Velvicks. Both men were found dead; one had crawled about two hundred yards into the bush before he succumbed. The bodies were horribly mutilated. The natives had picked upon a most convenient site for executing their revenge. The dark forms of many black “boys” arose all round amid a thick bush, and when Mr. Philipps appeared the murderers easily decamped.
Lieutenant-Governor Irwin at once issued a proclamation offering a reward of £30 to any person who would “capture, or aid and assist in capturing, the body of Yagan, dead or alive.” Rewards of £20 each were offered for the bodies, dead or alive, of Midgegooroo and Munday. All three natives were deprived of the protection of British laws.
And now the sentiment of revenge which had burned into Yagan was momentarily transferred to the settlers, and all were imbued with an intense desire to capture this man who treated them so superciliously (distain). Almost every settler was at first willing to go out in search of the chief outlaw, and official and private parties were for some time daily organised to brush up the woods. The first to operate was Lieutenant Carew, who, in charge of a small detachment of the 63rd Regiment, took up a station on the river to intercept Yagan should he wish to join the women and children of his tribe, then on the Perth side of the river. Thenceforth for some months Yagan baffled his pursuers, though he was all the time in the Swan River country, and from his secret lairs watched the search parties which panted for his blood. On May 6 the Government equipped a volunteer party under Lieutenant Carew, accompanied by Captain Ellis, to search for the outlaws. They proceeded to Monger’s Lake, about five miles from Perth, and observed the natives they watched in the bush. Then hiding themselves as much as possible behind the shrubbery they silently stole towards the band, but feathered sentinels of the Australian bush soon warned the blacks of danger. A flock of cockatoos rose with deafening cries and flew, screeching, into the distance. The natives hurried off, and the avengers, after vainly following them for some distance, were compelled to turn back.
Meanwhile, Yagan showed no outward signs of fear. He managed to elude the search parties, and while they scoured the country, he, with intrepid coolness, visited some of the houses of settlers. So well did he understand the character of the English people that he visited only those whom he knew would not molest him. He was one day ferried across the river by a settler, and with three other natives obtained palm nuts and potatoes somewhere on the other side, whereupon he returned to the banks and was ferried back. The four now entered the enclosure of Mr. Hardy, and a son of Mr. Drummond saw the unconcerned Yagan rushing horses to the fence to have the pleasure of seeing them bound over it. The news of his having been seen was soon announced throughout the settlement, and that particular part of the river country was most carefully searched, but no sign of Yagan was observed.
A party of four soldiers and three civilians, headed by Hunt, determined to search high and low for the outlaws, and give them no opportunity of escape. They made towards the Murray River, and soon came upon a native camp. The blacks had noted their approach and sought cover in the bush, where they separated into two parties. Hunt and his men followed one of these, but could not get close enough to shoot or take them prisoners. Each party of natives occasionally lit fires, apparently as signals denoting the course its members were taking. The Europeans followed them between two lakes, from which there was no visible outlet, but all the natives concealed themselves in the rushes and close jungle which completely hid the way. Only one was seen, and as he rose from his hiding posture he poised and hurled his spear, and was levelling another when Hunt raised his gun and brought him to the ground. Fearing an ambush in so suitable a place, Hunt retreated and returned to Perth. It was reported that he shot several other natives on this occasion, but the report was not confirmed.
Other parties went out and scoured the country in every direction, without avail. It was for Yagan that they made their most sedulous excursions, but at the same time they searched for old Midgegooroo and Munday. Eventually on Thursday, 16th May, Captain Ellis and Mr. Hardy, with a small party, went out towards the hills where some of the chief haunts of the natives were. They proceeded on their way in close file, and glanced searchingly through the woods on every side of them. When a few hours’ journey from Perth they caught sight of a native in the bush. This fellow observed not their approach, and Captain Ellis ordered his men to encircle him. The circle was made and quickly contracted, and before the aboriginal knew of their presence, there was no outlet open for his escape. It was the outlaw Midgegooroo, amusing himself in play with his young son, five years old. The old man was apparently unaware that the whites were seeking his life, for he had been hitherto engaged in caring for the women and children of his tribe. As soon as he noticed his dangerous position he tried to break through the line, and wrestled with great vigour. He cried loudly in big desperation for the champion of his tribe, Yagan, but he cried in vain. His spears were soon snapped in twain and, with his little son was taken prisoner.
Midgegooroo had been associated with many depredations of whites and their stock, had been concerned in the murder of Entwistle, and had used violence on different persons. He was now given short shrift. On the 21st May a number of persons congregated in front of the gaol in Perth, and Mr. J. Morgan, a magistrate, read aloud a death warrant. The Lieutenant-Governor, attended by the Council, was present, but the young son had been removed to the Government schooner Ellen, then lying under Garden Island.
Mr. Morgan, a constable, and attendants, went into the gaol to bring out the prisoner, who, on seeing their preparations, yelled and struggled fiercely to escape. He was pinioned and blindfolded, and bound to the outer door of the gaol. A party of the 63rd Regiment volunteered to shoot the condemned man, and at a signal from the Leutenant-Governor advanced, halted six paces away from Midgegooroo, levelled their guns, and fired. The sable warrior fell dead.
The Perth Gazette was pronounced in its remarks on the conduct of some of the people who assembled to witness this death. The editor writes: “The feeling which was generally expressed was that of satisfaction at what had taken place, and in some instances of loud and vehement exultation, which the solemnity of the scene—a fellow being, although a native, launched into eternity—ought to have suppressed.”
It is reported that numbers of natives were shot down about this period by the irritated whites. The more charitable people recognised the sequence of events which led up to these murders by Yagan and Midgegooroo. Advocates for their merciful treatment were not wanting, who pointed out that by taking these lives the aboriginals were merely obeying their law of an eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth. The Government decided that in justice they must protect the lives of natives, and therefore issued a proclamation stating that they were subjects of His Majesty, and received the protection of his laws in Western Australia. The following passage was included in this proclamation, “And whereas the protection of law doth of right belong to all people whatsoever who may come or be found in the territory aforesaid, I do hereby give notice that any person or persons shall be convicted of behaving in a fraudulent, cruel, or felonious manner towards the aboriginal race of inhabitants of this country, such person or persons will be liable to be prosecuted and tried for the offence, as if the same had been committed against any other of His Majesty’s subjects.”
Another murder by natives of a white man took place, and another native, a relative of Midgegooroo, was shot. Then Yagan again appears on the scene. While Mr. G. F. Moore was engaged on his farm on the Swan, near Guildford, he observed a party of northern natives approaching him. He saw among them some friends of his, and, unarmed, at once went forth to meet them. When he had got among the blacks he was surprised to recognise Migo as one of them, and upon scanning the face of the man at his side saw that it was Munday. Looking still closer at the others he was more surprised to behold the outlaw Yagan standing aloof, keenly scrutinising his countenance, and observing his manner of receiving them. Yagan stood some distance from the rest, leaning on his spear in a sullen and morose humour. Moore, pointing to Yagan, asked a native by his side, “What name?” They all replied, “Boogat,” to which Moore answered, “No, Yagan.” The warrior, seeing that he was known, now stepped forward, as if to challenge discussion, and, according to Mr. Moore, said, “Yes, Yagan,—Fremantle white man shoot Domjuim, Yagan brother: shoot black man cutyell (two). Me, Yagan, gyidyill (spear) white man cutyell.”
This was Yagan’s explanation of the crime, and his pleading, according to his law, of its justice. Moore took up the conversation and said, “But Domjuim quiple (steal), white man shoot.” Yagan replied, “Yes, Domjuim quiple, white man shoot black man, black man ‘pear white man.”
Mr. Moore said, “But Domjuim quiple. White man quiple, white man shoot white man. Black man quiple, white man shoot black man.”
Yagan reiterated, “White man shoot Domjuim, Yagan brother; Yagan ‘pear white man far away.”
Mr. Moore pointed out that all white men were brothers, upon which a chorus of blacks cried, “No, no!” He then declared, “Yes, all white men brothers, all same. Black man ‘pear white man, all white man angry, all white man shoot.”
In a more friendly tone, but determined spirit, Yagan asserted, “White man shoot, black man ‘pear.”
Moore now addressed them all and said, “Black man no ‘pear white man; black no quiple; black no ‘pear horse, cow, sheep, pig: white man all same brother; black man plenty corroboree, plenty shake hands.”
Here he advanced with open hands at which all the natives, except the moody outlaw himself, rushed forward and seized them. It was a long argument, and Moore confessed that Yagan was as successful in it as he was. The natives had grouped themselves around the contending parties, and were apparently closely attending to the conference between these representatives of the conflicting races. Then, writes Moore, “Yagan stepped forward, and leaning his left hand on my shoulder, while he gesticulated with the right, delivered a sort of recitative, looking earnestly at my face: I regret that I could not understand it; I thought from the tone and manner that the purport was this:—’You came to our country; you have driven us from our haunts and disturbed us in our occupations. As we walk in our own country we are fired upon by the white men. Why should the white men treat us so?'”
The manner of delivering this statement reminded Moore of a chorus in a Greek tragedy, the other men seemed to be acting in a subordinate character to Yagan. One and all desired eagerly to know the fate of Midgegooroo. Yagan approached and seemingly sought to read Moore’s countenance, and confirmed to searchingly scan it. The question was full of danger to the white man, unprotected as he was, and he gave no direct reply to it. At last Yagan said with extraordinary vehemence of manner, distinctness of utterance, and emphasis of tone, “White man shoot Midgegooroo, Yagan kill three (holding up three fingers).” Moore replied that if Yagan killed a white man, every white man would shoot Yagan.” The warrior “scowled a look of daring defiance, and turned on his heel with an air of ineffable disdain.” He had held, during the greater part of this conference, “a beautifully tapered and exquisitely pointed spear, grasped like a stiletto about fourteen inches from the point, while the shaft lay over his shoulder with a seeming carelessness.” He evidently dreaded treachery, and was on his guard against it; taking care not to let the Europeans press on him too closely, and keeping some of the natives between him and them.
Moore seems to have considered that he would be blamed for not trying to take Yagan prisoner, and he explained that nothing short of an overpowering force, or the perpetration of a cold-blooded, deliberate treachery would have sufficed to take the dangerous outlaw. He published his interview in the Perth Gazette, and expressed his conviction that the natives were determined to act upon the doctrine of taking life for life. They seemed thoroughly satisfied of its propriety, and after the blow of retaliation was struck desired to be as friendly as before. Moore concludes his descriptive article with the caution, “Every one should now be upon his guard. Yagan seems to possess the power of ubiquity. He has declared, and his are not idle threats, that he will take three lives for that of Midgegooroo.”
The wives and children of Mdgegooroo now wandered through the bush in all their pageantry of mourning. About their faces they were marked in white and red streaks—the humble trappings of their woe—in honour of the presumed death of their chief. They asked many questions as to his fate, and were generally told that he and his son were in the prison at Carnac Island, but it seemed to be generally understood what had become of him, and it was even said that Yagan was near Perth when the death sentence was carried out. On the 27th May, Yagan was unwisely informed by a settler of Midgegooroo’s death. When Lieutenant-Governor Irwin heard of this, he immediately strengthened the military throughout the district. The daring native with his primitive weapons caused fear to spread throughout the settlement.
During the second week in June, Yagan, and Weeip, “the chief of the mountain tribe,” visited the farm of a settler who had treated them with kindness. Yagan told the lady of the house the names of those who were present at the death of Midgegooroo. She and her attendants became alarmed, but Yagan quickly assured that they need not be concerned, for he would ‘pear “soldier man.”‘
With unflagging spirit parties continued to go out in quest of the outlaw, and all eagerly watched for the appearance of any bulletins concerning their welfare. Slight depredations were still being made. The accused natives had more than once been seen near Perth, yet so carefully and secretly did they pick their way through the bush, the banksia and blackboys, that none could see them. It is said that Weeip offered to guide some of the avengers to the haunts of Yagan; at any rate he boldly stalked through the streets of Perth, and even joined a search party under Captain Ellis. On another occasion two natives met a young man walking alone along a bush road. They freely informed him that they intended to spear Yagan, and offered, there and then, to lead him to the hiding place of the outlaw. The man was at first delighted, for like many others he was anxious to receive the £30 reward. But when the natives proceeded to a thicket, and apparently wished to draw him into it, he became afraid and went back. The blacks now tried to get away from him, and Weeip, who was one of them, cunningly contrived to get beyond the range of his gun. He then made off. The other native watched an opportunity, and threw his spear at the man, which grazed his breast. Raising his gun, the young fellow aimed at the native, but the weapon missed fire. The native got away, and the white man hurried into Perth and told his story. It was afterwards currently reported that this native was no other than Yagan himself, and some of the aborigines gave credence to the statement. Weeip, who was afterwards questioned as to the young man’s allegation, contradicted its salient points, and asserted that the white was the aggressor, and fired his gun before the native used his spear. To clinch his statement Weeip produced a spear, which bore gun-shot wounds, and then he emphatically declared that had be been near enough he would have speared the fellow. The public appeared as willing to believe Weeip as the white man. His mental capacity and condition were spoken highly of, and in this connection the Perth Gazette of July 6th publishes a plain-spoken eulogism of Weeip’s countrymen. It says, “Those who have not had an opportunity of witnessing the sagacity and acuteness of the aborigines of this country can form no idea of the natural extent of their minds—they are by no means the base, degraded, sanguinary wretches they have ignorantly been designated—they have their many virtues which their roving habits will render it difficult to bring into exercise.”
And now came the circumstances which led to the death of Yagan—the prop of the aborigines. Early in July he was seen at a farm on the Swan, and upon being spoken to ridiculed the idea of being captured. He evidently merely watched and waited his opportunity for retaliation. Two lads named William Keats and James Keats were the instruments of Yagan’s destruction. William was eighteen years old, and James was but thirteen. William had frequently expressed the determination to kill Yagan, apparently for the reward. Others had been afraid to commit this deed, nor would they be guilty of treachery, but William was bold and unaffected by sentiments of honour. His master, Lieutenant Bull, a settler on the Swan, had often advised him to put away the thought. Lieutenant Bull was friendly with the natives, and felt strong sympathy for them. Some little time previously he had taken Weeip and three other natives to Fremantle to see Midgegooroo’s son. The interview was a pathetic one.
Under careful tuition the boy had become cold towards his people, and when Weeip spoke to him he disclaimed all knowledge of the chief, and seemed indifferent as to the fate of his relatives. At this Weeip burst into tears, whereupon the lad, whistling, turned away to play with a companion. This scene caused the Gazette to remark that “savages are not to be won by austerity or severe discipline.”
On Thursday morning the brothers Keats were minding cattle near the house of Mr. Bull. While thus engaged they observed natives going to the house for flour. Yagan was one of them, and the boys induced him to turn aside, and he remained with them nearly all the morning. Both boys carried guns, and William, watching his chance, once endeavoured to shoot the outlaw in cold blood, but his gun stopped at half-cock. Yagan did not observe this act, but after some time, becoming suspicious, he threw down his firebrand and digging stick, and threatened them, but used no violence, and went his way and joined the other natives, who were cooking damper near the river. Some say that the boys were invited to partake of the simple meal.
William cocked his gun and laid it over his arm in an unconcerned manner. With his brother he went among the natives, who were about to make their repast, and pointed the muzzle of the weapon towards Yagan’s head. Almost immediately he pulled the trigger and the “Australian Wallace” fell and died. The natives were thrown into momentary consternation at this deed, but soon they began to fix their spears in the throwing-sticks. James saw one called Heegan in the act of throwing. James shot, and Heegan fell. Then looking round he saw Weeip about to throw, and fired at him but missed. The foolish lads now ran away, James dropping his gun. They took different directions; the natives followed William. He was caught on the river’s bank, and as James was wading the stream he looked back and saw Weeip and three other natives around William driving their spears into his body. The horrified boy of thirteen years old rushed away to obtain assistance, and the natives, fearing immediate punishment, disappeared in the bush. A party of whites was soon on the scene, and found the hacked corpse of William Keats. About three hundred yards away lay the bodies of Yagan and Heegan. The latter was still alive, but moaning pitifully. There was a gaping wound in his head, from which the brains oozed; one of the party “put him out of his misery.” A white settler took the head of Yagan, and flayed that part of his body hearing the wails and scars of his tribe. They were dried and kept for many years as memorials to one of the bravest and most intelligent members of a rapidly disappearing race. Thus ended the story of Yagan. The outlawry of Munday was withdrawn by Government proclamation, and James Keats received the reward, but through the influence of others left the colony in fear of retaliation.
The Gazette of 20th July expressed the opinion that the death of Yagan was caused by “a wild and treacherous act, not the heroic and courageous which some unthinkingly have designated it. The unfortunate youth has suffered for his temerity, and has entailed upon us a stigma which it will be the work of time to eradicate. . . . What a fearful lesson of instruction have we given to the savage! We have taught him by this act to exercise towards us deceit and treachery, which, in him, we have daily reproved; and led him to draw no very favourable conclusions of our moral and physical superiority. We do not remember to have heard of one instance in which the aborigines of this country have abused our confidence when we have encountered them in the bush; we must therefore again deplore an act which it appears to us will annihilate the surest road to perfect amity—mutual confidence. We must remember Yagan was killed after spending the morning in company with the youth who shot him, and when upon the point of taking his frugal repast, a portion of which he would not have withdrawn from the hand that slew him. We are not vindicating the outlaw, but, we maintain, it is revolting to hear this lauded as a meritorious deed. It was a rash and unadvised adventure of youth, which we should regret to see held up by children of larger growth as a laudable example of courage to our rising generation.”
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