Myall Creek massacre letter, 1838
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“We pay our respects and dedicate the Unsettled exhibition to the people and other Beings who keep the law of this land; to the Elders and Traditional Owners of all the knowledges, places, and stories in this exhibition; and to the Ancestors and Old People for their resilience and guidance. We advise that there are some confronting topics addressed in this exhibition, including massacres and genocide. Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples should be advised that there may be images of people who have passed away.”
Laura McBride and Dr Mariko Smith, 2021.
Myall Creek Massacre Letter, 1838
Loan from the State Library of New South Wales
Ink, wax stamp on paper
This letter, written in an economical cross-hatching manner, was written by a Sydney resident to a relative in England.
…By the bye, writing of sentiment, I must not forget to tell you of a circumstance which has agitated the public mind in the Colony lately. You may perhaps see something of it in the newspapers -A quantity of stockmen in the interior having had their masters’ cattle speared by the Native Aborigines were determined on revenging themselves the first opportunity - falling in with a tribe of strange Blacks 30 in number - men, women & children, a tribe they apparently never saw before, totally innocent of the charge, for which they were slaughtered without having given the slightest provocation and unsuspecting by confiding in the protection of one of these wretches were enticed to the huts of the Stockmen, where having bound their hands and having fastened them together, took them into a remote part of the Bush, and then in cold blood murdered every soul of them, after which, they piled them in a heap and burnt their bodies - the remains were however discovered by persons attracted to the spot by seeing birds of prey hovering about in great numbers over the scene of the massacre - information was forwarded to Government - the men were brought to justice tried twice by separate juries and the second time found guilty - Some escaped but the 7 who were tried are all to be hanged on Tuesday 18 inst. ; their trial created an extraordinary sensation in the Colony and will be the subject of gossip for many a long day yet. The Greenacre Murder was nothing to this - “quite a rush light to a mould candle."
I have just returned from seeing the seven men all launched into eternity at the same moment it was an awful sight and has made me feel quite sick – I shall never forget it.
A quantity of stockmen in the interior having had their masters’ cattle speared by the Native Aborigines were determined on revenging themselves the first opportunity – falling in with a tribe of strange Blacks 30 in number – men, women & children, a tribe they apparently never saw before, totally innocent of the charge, for which they were slaughtered without having given the slightest provocation... J.H. Bannatyne, 17th December 1838.
Bannatyne recalls following the trial of 11 colonists accused of murdering 28 Wirrayaraay men, women and children in the 1838 Myall Creek massacre, and also eye-witnessing the execution of seven men.
It was the first time that colonists responsible for a massacre were successfully brought to justice. People today use presentism (“back then it was normal”) when considering these massacres, but this letter shows that the contemporaries of the time also thought that the killing of Aboriginal people on the colonial frontier was very wrong.
Ngiyana winangay ganunga – we remember them.
- State Library of New South Wales, Letter from J. H Bannatyne to Other Windsor Berry Esq. relating to the Myall Creek Massacre, pg 117 December 1838, https://www.sl.nsw.gov.au/collection-items/letter-j-h-bannatyne-other-windsor-berry-esq-relating-myall-creek-massacre-pg-1
- Friends of Myall Creek (2021). The Massacre Story, https://myallcreek.org/the-massacre-story/