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 background to the encounter'

By Jane Elizabeth Grose

[Compiled from conversation with writer’s mother, Mrs. John Thomas, who lived at “Redcliffe,” near Pinjarra, during the period under review, and from the diary of her grandfather, Mr. Joseph Cooper]
(Read before the Society April 29, 1927.)

Grose, Jane Elizabeth 1927, 'The Battle of Pinjarra: The background to the encounter', Early Days, vol. 1, part 1: 30-35.


Messrs. Peel, Hall, and Captain Byrne, late of the Rifle Brigade, were the chief settlers on the Murray in the 1830s. They were settled a few miles inland. A few other grantees lived on their selections, principally because of the hostile and determined character of the Murray River natives. These three gentlemen were making great improvements. Mr. Hall was showing singular firmness in visiting among the blacks away from the other settlers. He mingled with the natives and


spent days in the bush alone with them; he acquired a knowledge of their habits and language and with their aid he conducted large fishing operations.

The pioneer, Mr. Thomas Peel, had during these years been in great tribulation. His labour was not applied to the best advantage; his servants were dissatisfied and caused him constant trouble; and he was in great need of ready money. He had been compelled to sell off part of his stock to obtain capital to go on with and he sold at half the original purchase money. By his indentures with his servants he was bound to pay them daily wages, generally three shillings per day. Like many others he invested most of his capital in stores and live stock, leaving him with very little for current expenses to tide him through the development period to a self-supporting stage. Hence, he suffered keenly and he early found it convenient to allow his people to work for other settlers, with the reservation that he could recall them when he chose. He arranged that if any servant desired to be discharged from his indentures he would relieve him upon payment of the passage money to Swan River. This opportunity was availed of by some servants, but with the remainder he still had his difficulties. Law was often resorted to, and several of his people were imprisoned for breaches of their indentures. Among the large number introduced was a splendid class of experienced men, and in this regard Mr. Peel conferred salutary benefits on the colony. Not only did he suffer as already described, but he lost considerably on his stores and his live stock by the natives.

The Governor (Sir James Stirling) more than once repaired to Mr. Peel’s grant to improve matters. In 1834 he went down to choose a more convenient site for headquarters than Mr. Peel’s original station. Pinjarra was his choice, and there he determined to establish a town. Mr. Peel made extensive improvements considering the obstacles he had to level, and it was deemed regrettable that one who had been such a primary instrument in establishing the colony and had introduced so much capital and so many people within its boundaries should be placed in such a position. Despite impediments he had sufficiently improved his grant of 250,000 acres as to obtain


the fee simple in 1834, and he immediately offered 100,000 to a projected company for 2/6 per acre, but a bargain was not made.

The agreeable respite from native attacks which lasted for some months after the death of Yagan was rudely broken in 1834. Weeip, the chief of the mountain tribe, was not their chief leader, and, notwithstanding his barbaric subservience to native law, he was so intelligent as to grasp something of the light in which Europeans looked upon murder and robbery. With such daring did these blacks carry out their depredations that the whites could not tell where the blow would next fall. One day it was on the Swan River, the next it was on the Murray River, miles away. They did not appear to know themselves.

In February, 1834, the campaign was resumed on the Swan. An opportunity occurred for spearing the white man’s stock and they yielded to the temptation. They speared and killed the pigs of one settler, and the sheep of another. Moreover, a few days later, when the shepherd of Mr. Brockman attempted to keep them away from his flock, they threw spears at him, but did no harm. Other irritating tactics developed and areas of of settled country were fired by them and caused great loss to pastoralists. Their presence became a constant menace and a spirit of opposition again arose among the Europeans.

Woodcutters at Rockingham and Clarence and in the immediate Swan River country so feared native spears that some of their number watched on the rising ground in the forest while others felled and prepared the timber for market.

About the middle of March the natives became more daring, the colonists more uneasy and the Government puzzled as to what should be done. It was not humane to disperse them by bloodshed, nor could sufficient of them be cast into prison. Some of the settlers advocated the wholesale removal of them to one of the islands.

Late in the month, Goodyak was caught stealing from a Guildford store and was taken into Perth. Goodyak was bound and given a dozen lashes and promised more if he committed the offence again. These were


Murray River natives. In April, a number of natives went to the house of Mr. Burges and stole nineteen bushels of wheat. Yeedamira was taken prisoner and secured in the soldiers’ barracks nearby at the Canning. In a very short time he tried to get out and Dennis Larkins, a soldier, shot at and killed him.

Mr. Norcott (Superintendent of Natives) was foolishly convinced that the lesson taught would hold them in fear. He rode among the settlers on the Swan and told them this, but he had hardly completed his journey before the blow of retaliation fell.

Weeip and his companions went to the barracks where Larkins was on duty and appeared to be friendly.

He talked with the soldiers, shook hands and took his leave. The soldiers were now off their guard and at a signal from Weeip a shower of spears was thrown at them. Larkins was leaning against the wall, and one spear penetrated his body with such force that it struck the wadi behind him and rebounded out of the wound. Larkins fell dead and a woman and child near had a narrow escape. An inquest was held on the body and a verdict of murder was returned against Weeip. He was outlawed and £20 was offered for him, dead or alive, for he it was who threw the fatal spear.

Captain Ellis (Superintendent of Police), and his police corps penetrated the surrounding country in search of offenders. They seized several and inflicted whippings, but they could not come upon Weeip, Yagan’s friend. He was such an intelligent native and his crimes seemed so excusable, that some of the settlers did not wish to place him in the hands of the police.

The scene of bloodshed was now centred on the Murray River. The tribe on the Murray were called the Kalyutes. They were a fine body of men. So strongly did these blacks press upon the whites on the Murray that it was seriously proposed to abandon settlement in the district. The first attack, in 1834, was made on two selectors, Budge and Morrell. The former was killed and the other severely wounded. The soldiers’ barracks was on the Murray, above the Dandalup River, but so dangerous and fierce did the natives become that it was removed nearer the seaboard to Mandurah.


(Here Mrs. Grose gives an account of the murder of Nesbit, etc., similar to that found in Mrs. Ilbery’s paper).

The Battle of Pinjarra eventuated from these incidents. While the Swan River natives were quiet, Captain Ellis decided to take a body of police to the Murray to apprehend these cruel murderers. He left Perth in October and Sir James Stirling, the Governor, also went to the Murray on business connected with Mr. Thomas Peel. The destruction of European lives and property by the treacherous tribe of Kalyutes placed the authorities under the painful but urgent necessity of meting out severe punishment.

Upon arrival in the Pinjarra district an expedition was organised. It was composed of Sir James Stirling, Lieutenant Roe, Captain Meares and his son, Captain Ellis, Mr. Thomas Peel, Mr. Norcott, Surveyor Smythe, Mr. Peel’s servant, five mounted police, Mr. Fred Peel, a soldier to lead a pack horse, two corporals and eight privates of His Majesty’s 21st Regiment. On the night of the 27th October, the party bivouacked at a place called Jim Jam, about six miles from the Murray mouth. An abundance of luxurious green grass grew upon this reach of the river and great trees provided shelter for the wanderers. Sir James was made comfortable at the home of Mr. Joseph Cooper, “Redcliffe,” about three miles higher up the river.

(Here follows an account of the battle, substantially the same as that given by Mrs. Ilbery, with the addition of the following incident) :—

The first shot fired by the party led by Captain Ellis, and the shouts and yells of the natives supplied a signal to Sir James, who rode forward at full speed, followed by the soldiers. At that moment Mr. Norcott saw a native ship a spear to throw. He called, “To your right Sir James,” and he shot the native dead. They were on the opposite side of the river. All were well armed. It was a critical moment for the blacks. Some of them were in the river and others were scrambling up the right bank. They were utterly confounded when they saw the second party before them.

Only the faces of the natives could be seen peering out of the water, where they had taken refuge. The whites opened fire. About 80 blacks were killed and the


bodies of many of the dead floated down the river. A bugle then blew to cease fire, after which the native women and children were gathered together and Sir James Stirling warned them that similar punishment would come to blacks in the future if any more whites were killed or molested.

About 50 natives were buried in one great hole, which was afterwards located in Mr. Oakley’s field beside Captain’s Fawcett’s property at Pinjarra Park. Upon that spot fruit trees were planted and I remember as a girl gathering pears from one of these trees.

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