Fremantle Stuff > Early Days: Journal and Proceedings of the Royal Western Australian Historical Society

Early Days: Volume 1, 1927-1931

The Battle of Pinjarra: The official records of the encounter

By J.S. Battye

Litt. D., Public Librarian of Western Australia
(Read before the Society April 29, 1927.)

Battye, J.S. 1927, 'The Battle of Pinjarra: The official records of the encounter', Early Days, vol. 1, part 1: 35-37.


Unfortunately the despatch from Governor Stirling to the Colonial Office, containing the official account of this occurrence, is missing from the duplicate file in the possession of the Public Library Trustees. Neither was there any official report made by Mr. Norcott, who at the time occupied a nominal position as Superintendent of the Natives. Apart, therefore, from any accounts contained in letters or diaries of the period, we are thrown back on the report of the occurrence published in the Perth Gazette, written in all probability by one of those engaged in the encounter.

According to that report the party consisted of Governor Stirling, J. S. Roe, Captain Meares, Seymour Meares, Thomas Peel, Captain Ellis (Superintendent of Police), Mr. Norcott, Surveyor Smythe, five mounted police, eleven soldiers, and Peel’s servant.

On the night of October 27, the party camped at a placed called by the natives Jim Jam, some 10 or 11 miles from the mouth of the Murray, at a place on the river where there was abundant feed for cattle. Early next morning a move was made towards Pinjarra, another resort of the natives, where a site had been reserved for a town and where it was intended to leave the military detachment for the protection of Peel and any future settlers. Crossing the Murray at the ford, the party proceeded for about a quarter of a mile and then


heard sounds of native voices on the left. This being a neighbourhood much frequented by the native tribe, Kalyutes, which had been concerned in all the outrages and murders upon the white settlers in the district, and which had hitherto succeeded in eluding pursuit, the moment was considered favourable for inflicting severe punishment. It may be mentioned that the last exploits of this tribe were the murder of Private Nesbit of the 21st Regiment, and the spearing of a settler, Mr. Barron.

In order to make sure that this was really the offending tribe, Stirling rode forward with Peel and Norcott, both of whom were acquainted with the natives and their language, in the hope of bringing about an interview. Their endeavours to attract attention were, however, lost in the din that was going on, and no answer was returned. Then Captain Ellis, Norcott and the police re-crossed the ford to the left bank of the river, where the natives were camped. As soon as the police, then 200 yards away, were observed, the natives to the number of about 70 showed alarm. The men seized their spears and prepared to resist. Finding that this did not stop the advance, they began to retreat, followed by the police, who, as they rode nearer, quickened their pace and then charged into the midst of the tribe. One man, an old offender, recognised by Norcott, raised his spear, and was promptly shot dead by that officer. As the police were by this time satisfied that they had found the offending tribe, firing continued and was met by spear throwing.

Hearing the shots, the remainder of the party, which had remained on the further bank under the command of Governor Stirling, rushed forward and arrived at the river just as the natives were crossing. Five or six natives rushed up the bank and were immediately fired upon. The natives now found themselves between two fires, and those who were able endeavoured to hide among the rushes or stay in the river, watching a chance to throw their spears. A number of these were picked off and ultimately from 25 to 30, it is said, were left dead on the banks and in the river. The remainder swam out of range or hid themselves securely. Efforts were made not to injure the women and children, but one woman and one child were killed and a second woman shot through the thigh. The remainder were rounded up and kept out of the way till the affray was over. On


finding that the women were spared, many of the men, so the report says, tried to pass themselves off as women, but for obvious reasons without success.

After sufficient punishment had been inflicted, the order was given to cease firing. An examination of the bodies showed that 15 old and desperate offenders, all of whom were recognised, had been killed. Captain Ellis was wounded in the temple by a spear, and one of the constables received a wound in the arm.

The two parties of whites then came together and prepared to withstand a second attack in force. This did not come, and, after consultation, it was agreed that the prisoners should be released and sent back to the tribe with a message 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 number of men would proceed amongst them and destroy every man, woman and child.”

In view of the encounter, it was decided to postpone the establishment of a post at Pinjarra, and, as Captain Ellis was evidently very seriously wounded, the party made all haste back to Mr. Peel’s house at the mouth of the Murray. The Governor, Captain Roe, and the rest of the party, returned to Perth next day, leaving Ellis until his wound improved. He was brought back about a week later, and died at his home near Mt. Eliza, on November 11.

One point in this report was found, on later investigation, to have been greatly exaggerated. Instead of there being 25 to 30 men killed, as well as one woman and several children, the total death roll consisted of 10 men, 3 women, and one child.

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