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Robert John Sholl

Summary of a talk given by Rob Smith to RWAHS, 17 August 2022:
Robert John Sholl was sent in early 1865 as Resident Magistrate to Camden Harbour, an attempt by Victorian colonists to carve out a large pastoral area in the Kimberley. Poorly informed, led and prepared the majority of the approximately 100 settlers had left or were leaving when Sholl, his son Trevarton and a party of enrolled pensioners, police and labourers arrived in early 1865. Sholl's report sealed the fate of this scheme, but he was left there until October 1865. Finally they were relocated to a scattered settlement in the Pilbara based around the waterhole on the Harding River that became Roebourne.
Sholl and his son Trevarton wrote their own journals and being well-educated and intellectually and scientifically curious individuals, they give us an interesting look at life on this colonial frontier. Trevarton's death on the ship Emma left a hole in Sholl. However, he continued to write lengthy reports to the Colonial Secretary Bailee, and eventually returned to his journal.
In early 1868 a policeman, his Swan River assistant and two pearlers were killed by a large group of Aborigines. Sholl sent out a punitive expedition and the actions of this party have been much discussed aid debated from that day to this. Sholl is our main contemporary witness, and I will explore how European settlement led to this outburst of violence, describing the experiences of the settlers, the Indigenous population, and Sholl himself through his writings.
Rob Smith is a graduate of UWA with a BA (History) and Grad Dip in Arts (Ancient History). For the last two years he has been transcribing the correspondence of Robert John Sholl from his time as Resident Magistrate of the North District 1865-82.

Battye 1924:
The possibility of a permanent settlement being effected induced Governor Hampton to appoint various officials to exercise control within [the] confines [of Camden Harbour]. R.J. Sholl was appointed Resident Magistrate, with his son [Trevarton] as clerk; and, in addition, a surveyor, a surgeon, a customs officer, and three policemen. Sholl reached his sphere of duty early in 1865, and his report of the condition of affairs was anything but complimentary to the Camden Harbour Association. The members of the Association who were on the spot were, he considered, a good type of individual, but they lacked all knowledge of bushcraft and of management. There was no leader, no arrangement of the stores or settlement, with the result that every man was doing as he pleased, and the provisions were left lying on the beach at the mercy of the sun, wind, and tides. The sheep which might have been saved were neglected through ignorance, and no attempt made to shield them from the tropical heat or the tropical rains. As to the country itself, Sholl considered it to be very deceptive; while it appeared to be excellently grassed and in every way suitable for pastoral purposes, it really consisted of a series of rocky knolls, so covered with verdure that the stony nature was hidden. The great extent of fertile country seen from Mount Lookover, he said, "consisted mainly of grass-covered stones."
Convinced that the venture had no chance of succeeding, the Governor instructed the Resident Magistrate to assist those remaining to get away if they could not provide funds for their own passages. In this way numbers were removed to Fremantle or eastern ports. Some, however, desirous of making further efforts, petitioned for permission to exchange their land for selections in the Nickol Bay district, and as a result something like 300,000 acres of additional country was added to that already selected in this area.

References and Links

Battye, J.S. 1924, Western Australia: A History from its Discovery to the Inauguration of the Commonwealth, Clarendon Press, Oxford.

Birman, Wendy 1976, bio in ADB.

Garry Gillard | New: 29 May, 2021 | Now: 17 August, 2022