My original post on the Pinjarra Massacre of 28 October 1834, sometimes mendaciously called the Battle of Pinjarra, was ‘Following My Review of That Deadman Dance’ on 6 June 2015 (here). I have now updated it to include more material from the time. The image above is a segment of a stunning piece of work, not attributed to any artist that I can see, advertising the Pinjarra Massacre Memorial: Touring Exhibition, May 2015 (here).
For the information of non West Australians, Pinjarra is about 80 km south of Perth and inland of Mandurah and the Peel Estuary. The Bindjareb, the original inhabitants of that region, are one of 14 language groups making up the Noongar nation of south-western WA.
The Pinjarra Massacre was the result of an ambush of the Bindjareb people by a force of 25 armed men led by Governor Stirling. The stated intention was to quell unrest arising from the recent expansion of white settlement. The result was one dead on the British side and at least 20 dead on the Bindjareb side. Chris Owen, author of Every Mother’s Son is Guilty (review coming) speculates in an article in the Guardian of 18 Nov. 2019 that the Bindjareb death toll may have been as high as 80 (here).
A newspaper report of the time (below) states that Stirling’s party faced 70 men armed with spears who retreated to the river and mostly attempted to hide
Those who were sufficiently hardy or desperate to expose themselves on the offensive, or to attempt breaking through the assailants, were soon cleared off, and the remainder were gradually picked out of their concealment by the cross fire from both banks, until between 25 and 30 were left dead on the field and in the river. (The Western Australian Journal, Sat. 1 Nov. 1834)
Some ‘battle’! Bindjareb Park (here) memorializes the dead.
The following letter, by Associate Professor Simon Forrest, Curtin University Elder in Residence, appeared in the West Australian of 1 June 2015. As you will see, he is responding to an earlier letter:
“The story of the events on October 28, 1834, near what is now the town of Pinjarra has historically been referred to as the Battle of Pinjarra.
The letter by Alex Munro (21/5) says the modern day reference to the battle as a “massacre” is historically incorrect. The battle, he says, occurred because of an attack on settlers in the Swan River Colony and the burning of the flour mill at South Perth, now the Old Mill.
His letter faithfully keeps to the non-Aboriginal version of events. Any efficient analysis of John Septimus Roe’s journal of the punitive expedition will, together with research around the historical events leading up to the battle or massacre, question Mr Munro’s viewpoint.
Although the South Perth mill is part of the story, it was not burnt by Noongar, as implied by Mr Munro. The Aboriginal leader, Calyute, and his men did raid the mill to take flour that was normally given to them but because of a not so good season of crops in Guildford, flour was rationed and the first to miss out was the Noongar.
Also contrary to what Mr Munro states as an attack by Noongar on the colony is not so.
Governor James Stirling was certainly concerned about a possible alliance of the local Noongar groups that may have led to an attack on the colony but it never eventuated.
One of his reasons to travel to the Pinjarra area was to try to stop the Bindjareb people (this is where Pinjarra gets its name) joining such an alliance.
The West Australian of the time listed 21 Noongar who were killed, including women and one child. If the conflict at Pinjarra on that fateful day was a battle, a battle normally takes place between armies of warring men, but this was not the case.
Also, if it was a battle, the armed conflict between the two groups of men may have taken possibly five minutes because Noongar men were only armed with spears.
Roe’s journal states the conflict started at around 8am and the killing of Bindjareb people continued until around 10am. The use of the word “battle” becomes questionable and a word like “massacre”, particularly from a Noongar perspective, challenges the view of the perpetrators.
It is also interesting to note that Stirling endeavoured to keep his expedition secretive. Only he and Roe left Perth on horseback, so Noongar spies would not get information about an armed expedition.
On the way to Peel’s place in modern day Mandurah, Stirling arranged reinforcements to his expedition at points along the way. When the expedition left Peel’s place the expedition now numbered 24, comprising five civilians (including Roe) and 19 mounted police and soldiers (including Stirling).
On that fateful morning Stirling’s group surrounded the Bindjareb Noongar on three sides. The initial skirmish that started with one of the two smaller groups of Stirling’s men and the Bindjareb men led to the rest of the Bindjareb retreating in the direction of the Stirling-led larger group hiding behind a hill, as stated in Roe’s journal: “On approaching an abrupt rising ground, the rest of the party halted out of sight”.
Stirling’s group opened fire as the Bindjareb tried to escape towards the river.
This event has been well researched by Noongar scholars and non-Aboriginal scholars. I take many people to Pinjarra and follow Stirling’s exact route and talk about the events of the day in a spirit of reconciliation, an acknowledgement of our shared history.
The “Battle of Pinjarra” was certainly not a battle, and it may not have been a massacre. But we know the leader of the Swan River Colony led a secretive, punitive expedition to attack a group of Bindjareb people, living and camping on their land, as they had done for many thousands of years.
The Bindjareb retaliated against Stirling’s punitive force, fighting for their freedom, land, culture and way of life.”
ENCOUNTER WITH THE NATIVES IN THE PINJARRA DISTRICT, ON THE BANKS OF THE MURRAY.
The party consisted of His Excellency Sir James Stirling, Mr. Roe, Capt. Meares and his son Seymour, Mr. Peel, Capt. Ellis, Mr. Norcott, with 5 of the Mounted Police (one sick), Mr. Surveyor Smythe, one soldier to lead a pack-horse, Mr. Peel’s servant, Corporals 2, privates 8, of H. M.’s 21st Regt. – to leave at Pinjarra. In number 25.
On the night of the 27th of October, the party bivouacked at a place called by the natives “Jim jam,” about 10 or 11 miles in a direct line E.N.E. from the mouths of the Murray, where is abundance of most luxuriant feed for cattle, at a broad and deep reach of the river flowing to the N.W., and at this time perfectly fresh. After an early breakfast, the whole encampment was in motion at ten minutes before six the next morning, steering south-eastward for ” Pinjärra,” another place of resort for the natives of the district, and situated a little below the first ford across the river, where it was intended to establish a town on a site reserved for the purpose, and to leave half the party, including the military, for the protection of Mr. Peel and such other settlers as that gentleman might induce to resort thither.
Crossing the ford, where the river had an average depth of 2½ feet, and was running about 1½ miles an hour to the north, an easterly course was taken for the purpose of looking at the adjoining country; — but the party had not proceeded more than a quarter of a mile over an undulating surface of the richest description, covered with nutritious food for cattle, when the voices of many natives were heard on the left.
This being a neighbourhood much frequented by the native tribe of Kalyute, which had long been in the almost unchecked commission of numerous outrages and atrocious murders on the white people resident in the district, and which had hitherto succeeded in eluding the pursuit of the parties that had been searching for them since their treacherous murder of private Nesbitt of the 21st Regt., and spearing Mr. Barron only a very few weeks ago, the moment was considered propitiously favorable for punishing the perpetrators of such and other diabolical acts of a similar nature, should this prove to be the offending tribe.
For the purpose of ascertaining that point, His Excellency rode forward a couple of hundred yards with Messrs. Peel and Norcott, who were acquainted both with the persons of the natives and with their language, and commenced calling out and talking to them for the purpose of bringing on an interview. Their own noise was, however, so loud and clamorous, that all other sounds appeared lost on them, or as mere echoes. No answer being returned, Capt. Ellis in charge of the Mounted Police, with Mr. Norcott his assistant, and the remaining available men of his party, amounting to three in number, were despatched across the ford again to the left bank where the natives were posted, to bring on the interview required.
The instant the police were observed approaching at about 200 yards distance, the natives, to the number of about 70, started on their feet, the men seized their numerous and recently made spears, and shewed a formidable front; but finding their visitors still approached, they seemed to feel unable to stand a charge and sullenly retreated, gradually quickening their pace until the word “forward” from the leader of the gallant little party brought the horsemen in about half a minute dashing into the midst of them, the same moment having discovered the well known features of some of the most atrocious offenders of the obnoxious tribe. One of these, celebrated for his audacity and outrage, was the first to be recognised, at the distance of 5 or 6 yards from Mr Norcott, who knew him well, and immediately called out “these are the fellows we want, for here’s the old rascal Nöonarr;” on which the savage turned round and cried, with peculiar ferocity and emphasis, “Yes, Nöonarr, me,” and was in the act of hurling his spear at Norcott in token of requital for the recognition, when the latter shot him dead.
The identity of the tribe being now clearly established, and the natives turning to assail their pursuers, the firing continued, and was returned by the former with spears as they retreated to the river. The first shot, and the loud shouts and yells of the natives, were sufficient signal to the party who had halted a quarter of a mile above, who immediately followed Sir James Stirling at full speed and arrived opposite Capt Ellis’s party just as some of the natives had crossed and others were in the river.
It was just the critical moment for them. Five or six rushed up the right bank, but were utterly confounded at meeting a second party of assailants, who immediately drove back those who escaped the firing. Being thus exposed to a cross fire, and having no time to rally their forces, they adopted the alternative of taking to the river, and secreting themselves amongst the roots and branches and holes on its banks, or by immersing themselves with the face only uncovered, and ready with a spear under water to take advantage of any one who approached within reach.
Those who were sufficiently hardy or desperate to expose themselves on the offensive, or to attempt breaking through the assailants, were soon cleared off, and the remainder were gradually picked out of their concealment by the cross fire from both banks, until between 25 and 30 were left dead on the field and in the river.
The others had either escaped up and down the river, or had secreted themselves too closely to be discovered except in the persons of eight women and some children, who emerged from their hiding-places (where in fact the poor creatures were not concealed) on being assured of personal safety, and were detained prisoners until the termination of the fray. It is however very probable that more men were killed in the river, and floated down with the stream.
Notwithstanding the care which was taken not to injure the women during the skirmish, it cannot appear surprising that one and several children were killed, and one woman amongst the prisoners had received a ball through the thigh. On finding the women were spared, and understanding the orders repeatedly issued to that effect, many of the men cried out they were of the other sex, but evidence to the contrary was too strong to admit the plea. As it appeared by this time that sufficient punishment had been inflicted on this warlike and sanguinary tribe by the destruction of about half its male population, and amongst whom were recognised, on personal examination, 15 very old and desperate offenders, the bugle sounded to cease firing, and the divided party reassembled at the ford, where the baggage had been left in charge of four soldiers, who were also to maintain the post.
Here Capt. Ellis had arrived, badly wounded in the right temple, by a spear at 3 or 4 yards distance, which knocked him off his horse; and P. Heffron, a constable of the Police, had received a bad spear wound above the right elbow. No surgical aid being at hand, it was not without some little difficulty the spear was extracted, and it then proved to be barbed to the distance of five inches from the point.
Having re-crossed the river in good order, with the baggage on three horses, the whole party formed a junction on the left bank, fully expecting the natives would return in stronger force, but in this were disappointed. After a consultation over the prisoners, it was resolved to set them free, for the purpose of fully explaining to the remnant of the tribe the cause of the chastisement which had been inflicted, and to bear a message to the effect that “if they again offered to spear white men or their cattle, or to revenge in any way the punishment which had just been inflicted on them for their numerous murders and outrages, four times the present number of men would proceed amongst them and destroy every man, woman and child.” This was perfectly understood by the captives, and they were glad to depart – even under such an assurance ; – nor did several of their number, who were the widows, mothers and daughters of notorious offenders shot that day, evince any stronger feeling on the occasion than what arose out of their anxiety to keep themselves warm.
The severe but well-merited chastisement which had thus been inflicted, upon this troublesome people, who had rendered themselves equally the bullies of all the tribes around and the dread of the settler, made it very evident that the post which it had been in contemplation to establish on the very spot could not with, common prudence be thought of until a little time should develop the consequences likely to arise from the encounter.
Under these circumstances, and as Capt. Ellis was displaying alarming symptoms of torpor and delirium, accompanied by great weakness and continued flow of blood from his wound, it was considered desirable to return to Mr. Peel’s establishment at the mouth of the Murray Estuary with as little delay as possible. The party accordingly started at ten o’clock on their return, came out on the shore of the estuary at the distance of ten miles west, and in ten miles more arrived at Mr. Peel’s station at 4 o’clock on the same afternoon, by fording the several mouths of the Murray, about which the traces of natives were both numerous and very recent.
Captain Ellis was supported in his saddle during greatest part of the homeward journey by a man riding on either side of him, and became quite delirious. Having been copiously bled by Corporal Malone of the 21st, surgical assistance was sent for express from Fremantle, and at 4 o’clock next morning, when His Excellency and the Surveyor-General mounted on their return to Perth, both the wounded men were doing very well.
Thus terminates, for the present, an affair which is calculated to produce very beneficial effects on a complete nest of hornets, which had rendered themselves the pest of the surrounding country, and whose murders of Mackenzie, Budge, Wood, Nesbitt and some others, besides their almost successful attempts on the lives of Jenkins, Barron, Layman, &c, have thus fallen heavily on their own heads, – leaving as the only subject of regret that Kalyute and some other similar characters were, according to the accounts of the women, absent in another part of the country; being most probably in the vicinity of the settlement, where so many traces had been observed.
It would be an act of injustice to close this short narrative of the proceedings of the day without testifying to the efficient services and manly bearing of the handful of Police who commenced the attack, led on as they were in so able and spirited a manner by Capt Ellis and Mr.Norcott ; nor can less be said of the detachment of H. M.’s 21st Regt. and the Civilians who were present on the occasion, – all of whom, being fully impressed with the justice and necessity of the measure, contributed their utmost to achieve the result. It were presumptuous to do more than merely allude to the personal conduct of His Excellency Sir James Stirling throughout the whole business, whose promptness and decision in carrying into effect what his energetic mind as rapidly conceived, led to his rendering this affair of an hour as complete and masterly a manoeuvre on a small scale as could well be accomplished.
The Natives of the Perth district and the neighbourhood of the Swan, who have for the last few days visited us, doubt the account of the numbers killed, but generally evince a satisfaction that the atrocities of the Murray tribe, to which they have all been exposed, have met with this merited chastisement. Their expressions of gratification are, however, mingled with suspicion of our good intentions towards them ; and their commendation of the act is not unfrequently followed by the inquiry ‘Now, now, white man Swan River man babin’ (friend ),
Nov. 2019: Massacre Map updated to include WA (here)
The ‘Battle’ of Pinjarra, Pinjarra WA, 1834 (here)
Wardandi Massacre, Wonnerup/Lake Mininup WA, 1841 (here)
Cocanarup (Kukenarup) Massacre, Cocanarup Station, Ravensthorpe WA, 1880s (here)
Kimberley Massacres, 1886-1924 (here)
also in WA:
Flying Foam Massacre, in the Pilbara, 1868 (here)
Forrest River massacres, 1926 (Wiki here)