Bennelong's grave site found in Sydney's suburb 'Putney'


Kidnapping of Bennelong

Eamonn Duff Sydney Morning Herald March 20, 2011

Woollarawarre Bennelong is immortalised in every school history book recounting the early years of white settlement in Australia. James Squire, meanwhile, is an ex-convict brewer whose name has recently gained popular currency as a commercial beer brand.

What most people wouldn't realise is that in the early 19th century, these two were the best of mates. In fact, the history books will soon be rewritten to include the fact that it was this unlikely friendship that has ultimately led to one of the most significant historical finds of the past century.

When Bennelong's remarkable life ended on January 2, 1813, not only did he die on James Squire's farm along the banks of the Parramatta River - he was buried in the brewer's orchard.

Bennelong Grave Site

While the grave disappeared beneath generations of urban sprawl, The Sun-Herald can reveal there is sufficient historical evidence about Squire's acreage and Bennelong's final resting place for environmental scientist Peter Mitchell and surveying experts to finally locate the sacred site, 198 years on.

Before Bennelong met Squire or any other white man, he had been a senior member of the Wangal tribe, who called themselves the Eora, meaning "the people".

But on November 25, 1789, almost two years after the landing of the First Fleet, his life would change forever. Tracking a shoal of fish in Manly Bay, Bennelong and fellow tribesman Colby were captured by colonists, bundled into a waiting long boat and taken to the settlement of Sydney.

The kidnapping was conducted under the orders of Governor Arthur Phillip as part of a plan to learn more about the Aboriginal people, their language, customs and cultures.

In his journal account titled The Settlement at Port Jackson, First Fleet marine Watkin Tench described Bennelong "to be about 26 years old, of good stature and stoutly made with a bold intrepid countenance which bespoke defiance and revenge".

Colby escaped within a week but intrigued by all the attention, Bennelong stayed. He proved to be a swift learner and in no time was communicating in reasonable English and adopting what must have seemed like a bizarre series of traditions, including formal dining etiquette. In turn, he taught the settlers the ways of his people.

After six months, however, it seems Bennelong was yearning for his old life. Early one morning, he fled the governor's house and returned to the Eora. But fascinated, perhaps, by this strange world he'd witnessed, he maintained contact.

He organised for the governor to visit him at Manly in September 1790, but the outcome was Phillip was ambushed and speared in the shoulder.

It has always been suggested that the attack may have been prompted by Bennelong as payback for his kidnapping.

Either way, further bloodshed was avoided after Phillip was finally convinced that the incident was the result of a misunderstanding.

From then on, historians agree, a close, genuine friendship developed between these two figures. In October 1790, the Eora arrived at the colonial settlement of Sydney under an agreement which ushered in a new era of peace. No more kidnappings. No more ambush attacks.

Thanks to Bennelong's intermediary skills, the two vastly different cultures would now live, communicate and trade as one.

For Bennelong, it was arguably his greatest achievement. It strengthened his standing among his own clan and it brought him new-found respect among the colonists - who in modern-day terms practically handed him the keys to Sydney.

Bennelong was now dining with the fleet's elite. Captain Phillip, meanwhile, had a brick dwelling built for him at Tubowgule, now known as Bennelong Point, the site of the Sydney Opera House.

The two men also exchanged names - Bennelong was known as "Governor" while Phillip became "Woollarawarre", and later "beanga" meaning "father".

But in December 1792, after five years as governor, Phillip decided to return to England. Much to Bennelong's delight, he was invited to sail too. The pair apparently arrived in London to much fanfare, their unique bond celebrated as proof that two people from such contrasting backgrounds could exist in harmony.

But as Dr Kate Fullagar points out in her 2009 Aboriginal history study Bennelong in Britain, historians these days are deeply divided about Bennelong's trip to Britain. She states: "They split between those who claim it was an instance of patronising celebration and those who declare it was more an example of gross exploitation."

Certainly, most available literature portrays Bennelong as a man in his element, a holidaying stranger who indulged in all the trappings London's high society could offer.

He grew accustomed to wearing ruffled lace shirts and fancy waistcoats typical of the period. While there is also some debate about whether or not he met George III, he certainly sat in on several parliamentary debates. He was said to have dined "as elegantly as the Englishmen, bowed, toasted, paid the ladies compliments and loved wine". Unfortunately, the demon drink would eventually prove to be his undoing.

After growing increasingly ill and homesick, Bennelong farewelled his old friend Phillip and in September 1795, alongside the colony's new governor, Captain Hunter, he returned to Australia.

Once home, alcoholism consumed him and he ended up being shunned not just by his original tribe, but by his adopted one.

Exiled from both communities, he moved to the north side of the Paramatta River, between Kissing Point and Parramatta where, according to written evidence, he became a leader of a hundred-strong local clan.

In the same year that Bennelong returned from Britain, Squire arrived on the same side of the Parramatta River after being handed a 30-acre (12-hectare) land grant.

In the years that followed, the canny brewer purchased further plots from struggling farmers. By 1806, he had amassed more than 1000 acres on which he grew hops and established the first brewery.

While there is no evidence to explain how Bennelong and Squire first met, historians summise that Bennelong regularly "wandered" on to the brewer's property and that over time, the pair became such good friends he later lived on the land.

Bennelong eventually died at the farm on January 2, 1813 - some say after a short illness, others say after drowning in a vat.

Either way, the brewer insisted on burying his dear friend personally and later erected a plaque in his honour. The Reverend Charles Wilton, minister of the parish of the Field of Mars, wrote at the time: "He lies interred, between his wife and another chief (Nanbarry), amidst the orange trees of the garden."

A few days later, Bennelong's obituary in the Sydney Gazette was far from flattering, stating: "His propensity for drunkenness was inordinate and when in that state he was insolent, menacing and overbearing." A contributor for the newspaper wrote the tribesman had been "much addicted to spirit drinking and for the last five months of his life was seldom sober".

While Bennelong has rested in peace, the world above has continued to develop.

An archived photograph taken of Squire's property circa 1900 is said to show "the known grave site of Bennelong", with a Mitchell librarian having noted on the back: "Very near the righthand corner was the black man's grave, a slightly raised mound covered with old bricks made in Squire's time."

The unmarked site was allegedly found again in 1927 by Charles Watson, a descendant of Squire, who was told by his mother about a black man's grave underneath a tennis court that had been built behind the brewer's old house.

In the decades that followed roads were laid down, further clouding Bennelong's location. In 1970, a local elderly man who had visited the site in 1927 with Watson insisted the grave was now part of a suburban allotment on the intersection of two streets in Putney.

Today, a memorial plaque sits in Cleves Park, Putney, to mark the approximate area where he is believed to be buried. After almost two centuries, the speculation is finally over.