The Bathurst Massacres

A Native Chief of Bathurst
by John Lewin

(Most of this information is taken from "Six Australian Battlefields", by Al Grassby and Marj Hill, published by Angus and Robertson in 1988

The people of this region were the proud nation of the Wiradjuri. After the crossing of the Blue Mountains in 1813 the war moved into their territory. The Wiradjuri initially withdrew and observed the Europeans. However soon as in other areas tension grew as the rapid settlement of the area with cattle and sheep destroyed food supplies and limited access to water supplies. There were many incidents of Aboriginal women being raped and subsequent conflicts arising.

Fighting began on an organised scale early in 1822, when an important leader of the Wiradjuri named Windradyne was captured by British soldiers.

During 1823 there was a series of raids carried out by the Wiradjuri war party, determined to drive the squatters of their land. They would raid, kill or drive off the guards, scatter and spear the livestock, in order to intimidate the invaders and force them to retreat. In most cases these raids targeted known enemeis who had killed, raped or robbed Wiradjuri people.

The intention of the Wiradjuri can be seen by contrasting two incidents during these series of raids. In one incident Windradyne and his warriors spared the station called Brucedale where a man called Henry Suttor lived who had been friendly and respectful to the Wiradjuri. The other was the raid on the station of Millah Murrah near Wattle Flat in May 1824. The station had been built by Samuel Terry on the site of a sacred bora ground, to which the Wiradjuri were then denied access. In this raid three armed station hands were killed and the war party occupied the complex for three days. They destroyed everything that had been built on the bora ground. One response by the English was to use arsenic to poison food left for the war parties and to poison water supplies, causing many agonising deaths.

The British brought troops from Sydney to reinforce those from Penrith and Bathurst. Early in June 1824, the troops of the 2nd Somerst Regiment moved out from Bathurst to confront Windradyne and his warriors. They found instead three women who were killed on the spot. In another incident three women and a young boy were shot by a party of soldiers and settlers despite their cries for mercy and their bodies thrown in a nearby waterhole.

The Wiradjuri were now carrying out raids to the south and south west of Bathurst at O'Connell Plains and Brisbane Valley. Extra soldiers were deployed from Sydney and the armed parties began to take a toll on the Wiradjuri. In a dozen successful raids between late May and mid June 1824, it was estimated twenty Englishmen were killed and and estimated sixty to seventy Wiradjuri were killed.

It was at this point that Governor Brisbane declared martial law in the country "West of Mount York", which effectively gave the soldiers and settlers the right to indiscrimiately kill any Aboriginal people they came across. James Morriset the commandant at Bathurst sent out groups of soldiers in different directions on "search and kill" operations. No warnings were given, no prisoners taken, and women and children were killed along with warriors. This policy of massacre was brutally carried out. One incident which occrred in the Capertee district north east of Bathurst, where a refugee camp for women and children had been set up. They were offered food and as they came to get it where shot by concealed soldiers. The whole group of thirty was killed.

On the Turon River north of Wattle Flats troops drove a party of women and children with a few accompanying warriors into Bells Falls Gorge, where they were systematically shot. The same tactics was used in a gorge near the headwaters of Clear Creek. In the two killing local estimates
put Wiradjuri casualties in the hundreds. The Battle of Bathurst began on the10th September, 1824 with an attack by a Wiradjuri war party on a station on the Cudgegogn River, they drove off the cattle before being pursued by the station hands. The station hands were chased back by a large war party and three Wiradjuri men were shot. The following day the station hands returned to find the war parties camp deserted as they were burying their warriors, however most of the weapons left in the cmap were destroyed.

As the Wiradjuri returned the station hands fired on them killing sixteen and wounding many more. The Wiradjuri retreated, their party greatly weakened. On the 18th September troops moved out from Bathurst in the culmination of what was called an "exterminating war". For ten days they decimated the Wiradjuri people and campsites. They surrounded and sytematically shot groups, driving sometimes entire clans into gorges and cutting them down. As families of warriors tried to regroup in the valleys of the Capertee country they were slaughtered. On the 28th of September the troops returned to Bathurst, where Morriset held a victory dinner in the barracks. The following day they set out again and continued the killing for two more months. It is estimated in the book "Six Australian Battlefields" by Al Grassby and Marji Hill, that one third of the entire population of Bathurst, perhaps more than 1000 men, women and children, perished. The great leader Windradyne accepted peace with honour and led his warriors into Parrammatta on the 28th December, 1824.

(Most of this information is taken from "Six Australian Battlefields", by Al Grassby and Marj Hill, published by Angus and Robertson in 1988