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Midgegooroo (various spellings) was an elder (or perhaps the leader) of the group who lived in the country called Beeliar, south of Derbal Yaragan, the Swan River, and west of the Canning River, Booragoon, to the sea. He was thought to be over 50 when he shot by the colonists 22 May 1833, following an order of acting Governor Irwin, without trial, for the crime of murder, tied to the door of the jail in Pier Street, on the corner with St George's Terrace. The shooters were four 'volunteers' from the 63rd Regiment of Foot: three shot him in the head, one in the body. It was only four years after colonisation that the most significant person in the indigenous community in the Fremantle area was killed by the settlers.
One of his sons was Yagan, who was shot a couple of months later, on 11 July 1833 by colonist William Keats, to gain a monetary reward offered by the government, Yagan having been declared 'outlaw'.
Perth Gazette and Western Australian Journal, 25 May 1833: 84.
In the absence of a Sheriff the warrant was directed to the Magistrates of the district of Perth, the duty therefore devolved upon J. Morgan, Esq., as Government Resident, who immediately proceeded to carry the Sentence into execution.
The death warrant was read aloud to the persons assembled, by the Resident, who immediately afterwards went inside the Jail, with the Constables and the necessary attendants, to prepare the Prisoner for his fate. Midgegooroo, on seeing that preparations were making to punish him, yelled and struggled most violently to escape. These efforts availed him little, in less than five minutes he was pinioned and blindfolded, and bound to the outer door of the Jail. The Resident there reported to His Honor the Lieutenant Governer [sic] (who was on the spot accompanied by the Members of the Council), that all was prepared,—the warrant being declared final—he turned round and gave the signal to the party of the 63[r]d [which had volunteered] to advance and halt at 6 paces, —they then fired—and Midgegooroo fell.—The whole arrangement and execution after the death warrant was handed over to the Civil Authorities, did not occupy half an hour.
A great number of persons were assembled on the occasion, although the Execution was sudden, and the hour unknown. The feeling which was generally expressed was that of satisfaction at what had taken place, and in some instances of loud and vehement exultation, which the solemnity of the scene,—a fellow being—although a native— launched into eternity—ought to have suppressed.
The Boy was removed out of sight and hearing of what was to happen to his father, and has since been forwarded to the Government Schooner, Ellen, now lying under Garden Island, with particular instructions from the Magistrates to ensure to him every protection and kind treatment. PGWAJ.
The West Australian, 29 February 2020
Midgegooroo might just be the right title for a public square in Fremantle, if it is meant to invoke and distil the history of interactions between Aboriginals and everyone else who landed here — or was born here — from 1829 onwards.
The Whadjuk chief's name is a cipher for resentment, misunderstanding and retaliation.
Midgegooroo, the father of the indigenous resistance leader. Yagan, was executed in Perth on May 21, 1833 for his role in the murder of two settlers, Thomas and John Velvick, in an ambush near what is now Bull Creek.
The Fremantle City Council this week baulked at accepting Its administration's advice to rename historic Kings Square as Midgegooroo Place, instead voting to seek public opinion. I can't think of any significant place in WA named after a convicted and executed murderer. But there are plenty carrying the names of soldiers who killed people in the course of warfare.
So this all depends on how you view Midgegooroo’s crimes. It is said that the victors write history and so the record of incidents between colonists and Aboriginals in the early days of the Swan River settlement don't come from an indigenous point of view.
Contemporary newspaper accounts formed the basis of the History of West Australia, published in 1897, the first attempt at a comprehensive appraisal of the colony's formative years.
Festering tensions lingered on both sides after Yagan and Midgegooroo were accused of a reprisal killing after an Aboriginal man was shot for stealing potatoes in 1830, just a year after the colonists arrived.
The History of WA records there had initially been quite good relations, but by 1833 Yagan began to emerge as less accepting of the Europeans than many of the locals they first encountered.
"The son of a chief, he was himself a man of strength and power, was the hope of his people, and inspired fear among the whites,” the history recounts.
“Yagan was a unique specimen of native manhood, intelligence, sagacity, and bravery. He was over six feet high, and, one writer says, possessed a dignified bearing."
Midgegooroo was much shorter, but a prominent bump on his head also made him instantly recognisable around the colony.
'Towards the end of April, two thoughtless and cruel murders by white people lighted the fire of revenge in the indomitable Yagan," the history states.
"A man from Van Diemen's Land employed by Major Nairn, was escorting a cart to the house of Mr Philipps, along the track which had been cut from Fremantle to the Canning River.
"He saw unoffending natives on the way, and turning to his companion, said, ’Damn the rascals, I’ll show you how we treat them in Van Diemen’s Land.' Lifting his gun, he fired and shot one and that without provocation."
A few nights later, a Fremantle merchant discovered his stores being robbed by three Aboriginals and in the ensuing shooting, another of Midgegooroo's sons, Domjum, was killed.
The next day, April 30, 1833, three carts from the Philipps' farm, one of them in which the Tasmanian had been travelling days earlier, were leaving Bull Creek, heading for Canning River.
Midgegooroo and Yagan appeared with 30 warriors, asking questions about the cart which now held the Velvick brothers and had only just departed. Further down the track, at the spot of the earlier shooting, the Aboriginals attacked, leaving untouched Philipps and his four men in the following two carts, but spearing the Velvicks. It was definitely a reprisal, but possibly a case of mistaken identity, although there were bad feelings between the Velvicks and some Aboriginals.
Lieutenant Governor Frederick Irwin immediately offered a £30 reward for Yagan and £20 for Midgegooroo "dead or alive."
On May 16, a search party caught Midgegooroo in the bush war the Helena River, playing with a five-year-old son, apparently oblivious that he was being hunted. Five days later, after Irwin dismissed calls to banish the old man from the colony, Midgegooroo was hauled from his cell, fastened to the door of the Perth jail and shot by four members of the 63rd Regiment, three times in the head and once in the body.
Within two months, Yagan was killed for the reward in the most cowardly way by a 16-year old colonist in the Swan Valley.
What the Aboriginals thought of these events was remarkably recorded in a report in the Perth Gazette on September 7, 1833, after two of the remaining leaders, Munday and Migo, met with Irwin to try to stop the killings.
“They proceeded to give the names of all the black men of the tribes in this immediate neighbourhood who had been killed with a description of where they were shot and the persons who had shot them," the Gazette reported.
"The number amounted to sixteen, killed, and nearly twice as many wounded: indeed it is supposed that few have escaped uninjured."
Munday and Migo explained that killing people for stealing was against their law.
At most it would be punished by banishment or spearing through the leg.
The clash of cultures evident in those accounts is stark.
So where does this debate end? Would indigenous Australians be better off had the British not arrived?
What was the likely trajectory of Aboriginal society left undisturbed? Frankly we'll never know.
The French and the Dutch were sniffing around.
Does their colonial experience In the Pacific and Indonesia promote them as better invaders?
Or would the Germans — who were in New Guinea from the 1880s — or the Japanese after 1910 have been preferable? How have the Papuans gone under Indonesian control?
The bottom line for me is this: if we want to come to terms with our past, Midgegooroo Place has merit. After all, the Barnett government gave us Yagan Square in Perth. But it would be good if everyone understood the past before a decision was made.
Fremantle Herald, 28 February, 2020
Fremantle council has officially kicked off the process to rename Kings Square.
At Wednesday’s monthly meeting the council endorsed a public consultation process to gather potential alternatives and test out those suggested by its reconciliation working group, including Midgegooroo Place.
Fremantle mayor Brad Pettitt revealed this week the reconciliation group wasn’t unanimously supportive of Midgegooroo, with some members preferring Manjaree or Walyalup.
But he said Fremantle Society president John Dowson’s categorisation of the Whadjuk leader as a “cold-blooded murderer” had been discussed and rejected by the group. Dr Pettitt said the group argued Midgegooroo’s involvement in the deaths would not have been categorised as a murder under the Whadjuk Noongar law, as they were payback for the deaths of his kin.
The council also officially adopted the name Walyalup for its new civic centre in Kings Square, with the only opposition coming from new councillor Marija Vujcic who also wanted it to go through a consultation process.
“There was no evidence that the majority of ratepayers and residents had given the councillors the mandate to make such an important and civic-minded decision,” Cr Vujcic said.
Dr Pettitt said St John’s Anglican Church would be one of the first to be consulted about any name change as it owned half of the square.
The church’s rector Patrick King wrote to his parish last week saying he and the church’s wardens had “shared misgivings” about the renaming, but on Thursday he said St John’s would be an appropriate venue for a “conversation”.
The report in the Perth Gazette 7 September 1833, referred to above by Murray
THE NATIVES. INTERESTING INTERVIEW. The natives of Yellowgonga's tribe, to which Yagan's has recently been united, have for some time expressed to Mr. F. Armstrong a wish to appear before the Lieutenant Governor ; in order to gratify them Migo and Munday, had an audience on Wednesday last, which led to the disclosure of some of the most interesting facts, connected with their habits, which have hitherto been elicited. Mr. F. Armstrong, who appears to have acquired a very considerable knowledge of the native language, acted as their interpreter, and the conversation was carried on with a degree of fluency we could scarcely have anticipated. It may not be unimportant to notice, that before they appeared before His Honor, Migo beged for soap and water to wash himself, and Munday made all the preparations his scanty cloak would allow, to present himself decently. At first he started with his spear, but afterwards threw it back to be taken care of by one of his tribe. The Lieutenant Governor first inquired whether they came for themselves or as the representatives of the tribe ; which question was not directly answered—probably from their not comprehending it—but led to an explanation that they wished to come to an amicable treaty with us, and were desirous to know whether the white people would shoot any more of their black people. Being assured that the white people would not, they proceeded to give the names of all the black men of the tribes in this immediate neighbourhood who had been killed, with a description of the places where they were shot, and the persons who shot them. The number amounted to sixteen, killed, and nearly twice as many wounded ; indeed it is supposed, that few have escaped uninjured. The accuracy with which they mark out the persons who have been implicated in these attacks, should serve as a caution to the public in regulating their conduct towards them ; they are represented to us, as nice observers of even the dispositions of the persons they meet in the street,—and will say, where they can do it in confidence, so and so from his looks, does not mean them well ; the consequences of the inflection of an injury upon any of them, they have distinctly given us to understand, will fall upon the offender; we recommend therefore, those who have any regard for themselves, to take this warning. After all the names of the dead were given, they intimated that they were still afraid, before long, more would be added to the number, but being again assured that it would not be the case, unless they "quippled," committed theft, they said then no more white men would be speared. They seemed perfectly aware that it was our intention to shoot them if they "quippled ;" they argued however, that it was opposed to their laws,—which was banishment from the tribe, or spearing through the leg. The death of Domjum at Fremantle, who was shot in the act of carrying away a bag of flour, they say was not merited, that the punishment was too severe for the offence ; and further, that it was wrong to endanger the lives of others for the act of one,—two of his companions having been severely wounded. They say that only one life would have been taken after this occurrence, had they not met with the Velvicks on the Canning, who had previously behaved ill to them : the attempt which was made at Bull's Creek by the white men to break their spears, it seems, increased their irritation. His Honor here proposed, that if they were at any time distressed for food, from casual circumstances, their kangaroo or other resources failing them, they might come into the town, and they would be supplied with provisions ; they described that we had taken possession of their hunting and fishing grounds—and that our dogs had driven the kangaroo "faraway." They privately told Mr. Armstrong, in whom they appear to have the greatest confidence, that they found mutton was a very good substitute. In allusion to what occurred at the death of Yagan, they say that every effort was made to spear the boy Keats who escaped across the river. That afterwards all the black men were frightened, and expected more would be killed, they therefore consulted together and went to attack another tribe, and did kill either one or two. The inference we should draw from this circumstance is, that they are afraid of retaliating upon us ; and suspect their numbers, by being so much reduced, will be rendered unequal to cope with the neighbouring tribes. Hegan, who was shot at the same time with Yagan, they insist upon it, would not have thrown his spear at the boy, he was merely acting on the defensive.—Yagan is represented by them, to have been the principal instigator, and Migo shows a wound which was inflicted by him, on one occasion, when he remonstrated with him, and told him that he was sure to be shot, sooner or later. Yagan was of a most impetuous temper ; it appears to us therefore highly probable that such an occurrence did take place. On the occasion of Midgegooroo's capture, they give us to understand they were not far off, and heard his cries ; the party who took him were all known to them, and they followed them to within a very short distance of Perth ; they evince some anxiety now to be made acquainted with the names of the soldiers who shot him, and still continue their inquiries about the son ; both of which questions it is prudent to avoid answering, notwithstanding their preferred amnesty. Midgegooroo's wives, when they had ascertained that he was captured, scratched and disfigured themselves,—a usual practice amongst them,—and when his death was fully ascertained, Yellowgonga and Dommera, fought a duel for the one, and Munday took the other; but whether he entered the lists for her, or received her by succession, we have not been able to ascertain. It was the wish of the Lieutenant Governor to have it explained to them, that in case of illness or accident, if they would bring in their sick, they would receive medical assistance; it was found however difficult to make them comprehend this, our system being so much opposed to their own. —Hard blows over the forehead, accompanied by bleeding the part affected, and friction, or standing upon the breast, after administering copious drafts of water, appear to be their principal nostrums. To convince them that we were disposed to meet their preferred amnesty in a friendly manner, the Lieutenant Governor directed it to be intimated to them, that we wished the whole of the native tribes in this neighbourhood to assemble at a General Meeting : this they said could not be effected at present, as the tribes were so much dispursed, and not until the yellow season (the bloom of the Banksia,) in December, January, and February. At this time the country is generally fired ; it may be important therefore, in order to check the practice, to endeavour to accomplish a general assembly as soon as practicable. At the same time they gave us to understand, that the tribes we wished to have introduced, were at some distance from us, in a country where they could find an abundance of the female kangaroo, and the female emu, (the female signifying plenty,) and evinced an evident inclination to dissuade us from encouraging a friendly disposition towards the other tribes.—They urged that as we had deprived them of their game, they ought to be the objects of our consideration, and not the distant tribes, who were in possession of their hunting grounds. It is very probable they had another object for endeavouring to deter us from forming an intimacy with them ; which displayed itself in the expression of a wish, that 'white man ' would go into the bush with them, and 'boo' (shoot) black man, or assist them in spearing another tribe. This of course was declined, it may however be taken as a strong motive for their seeking the present interview : their manner too, when they perceived that the by-standers suspected they were practicing some deception, confirmed the opinion of their intentions —they continued to bite their finger nails for some time, whilst the Lieutenant Governor was conversing with the gentlemen around him, and were evidently disconcerted. Such is the character of the Aboriginal race of this country. Some bread was ordered to be divided between them—Munday looked wishfully at the larger half; on receiving each his share, they went off in high spirits, and were been afterwards in earnest conversation with others of their tribe, communicating, as it was supposed, the result of their interview. The natives held a corrobora at Perth, on Thursday evening last, but it was interrupted by some blackguards throwing a bucket of water over them. These are the occurrences which originate an ill-feeling, it is to be hoped therefore that by-standers witnessing such dastardly conduct, will use every exertion to bring the offenders to justice. It was but a few days ago that we noticed a female taking away wood from under a tree, which had occupied Munday some time to cut. As it was not intended for her, he called to her to put it down, she however persisting in carrying it off, he threw his saw down, and was soon on the ground after her. He appeared terribly enraged ; the female gave him some bread, and he was pacified. The town would have been up in arms if Munday had speared the female, but there can be no question she as richly deserved punishment as Domjum merited his fate. Mr. F. Armstrong has shown us some opossum fur, worked up into a ball, similar to a ball of worsted, and equally fine. A stocking of this fur is nearly finished, and when done, will prove as great a curiosity as any they have, presented to us. They would not be able to produce any quantity of the fur manufactured for knitting, but it proves they have considerable ingenuity, which by encouragement and proper direction, might be turned to account.
It used to be thought that Midgegooroo's body was left hanging in public for some days, tho this is no longer thought to be the case. Here's one source for the idea that Midgegooroo's body was allowed to hang in public for some time. It is found in the very first paper published in Early Days, in 1927. It's from the 'Reminiscences of Mrs Edward Shenton' - but they are not exactly her own memories. They are what she remembers being told by her mother. The mother, in her turn, was only a child of about ten years old when Midegooroo was executed. This memory of the memory has him being hanged, which we know he was not: he was shot to death.
These circumstances cast serious doubt on the 'memory' of M's corpse being on display. ... On the other hand, if a child of that age did see a pendulant corpse, one imagines it would etch an indelible memory.
The natives were not always inclined to be friendly. In fact, Midgegooroo, their chief, would never make friends. He was hanged some time later on the corner of the block where the Deanery now stands, because of the diabolical murders of settlers he and his tribe had committed. His body was left hanging on the tree as a warning. As soon as Yagan, his son, became chief of the tribe there was no more trouble with the natives. Yagan was a fine fellow and had always wanted to be friends with the white people.
My mother remembers seeing Midgegooroo hanging on the tree as she passed on her way from Government House, where she went every day to be educated with the Governor, Sir James Stirling’s child.
Shenton, Mrs Edward 1927, 'Reminiscences of Perth 1830-1840', Early Days, vol. 1 part 1: 1-4.
The History of West Australia referred to by Murray above is probably:
Kimberly, W.B. 1897, History of West Australia: A Narrative Of Her Past Together With Biographies Of Her Leading Men, Niven, Melbourne. Available online from Wikisource.
Garry Gillard | New: 10 March, 2018 | Now: 4 November, 2020