The View From Mount Clarence

A look back at settlement along Western Australia's South Coast

In Search of Ngurabirding – Part 2

The Hay River Brigade


Before we go on with the story of John Maher after the issuing of his Ticket-of-Leave, it’s important to look into what had already taken place at Albany relative to his arrival. This applies to the earliest period of free settlement and the story of the Spencer family, in particular, who first lived at the Old Farm – Strawberry Hill, within Albany, as well as at another farm close to the Hay River about twenty miles away.


Strawberry Hill Farm 001Above: Panoramic view of the Gardens at the Old Farm -Strawberry Hill as it is today. Note the Norfolk Pine standing tall in the rear to the right. Image courtesy


The Hay River  owes its name and original commendations to  Dr Thomas Braidwood Wilson who, while on a  sojourn at King George’s Sound in 1829,  explored its environs in the company of Albany’s best-known military era Aborigine, Mokare. Wilson’s expedition, during which he also named Mount Barker near to the river’s head and Wilson Inlet at its mouth, was facilitated by Captain Collet Barker, last leader of the military establishment at the original  New South Wales settlement. Wilson named Mnt Barker after the Captain.

Barker left copious notes on his interactions with the  Albany Aborigines which were collected and written-up as part of a book called Commandant of Solitude. Tiffany Shellam, in her book Shaking Hands on the Fringe, which has featured strongly throughout these pages, later defined the Albany Aborigines of this era as the King Ya-Nup.

After the birth of the new colony in 1829 and the in wake of the military’s departure two years later, Dr Alexander Collie took up the position as first Government Resident at the new free settlement, moving in to a cottage built at a nearby location commonly referred to as ‘the farm’. The Swan River Colony had assumed control of the ex-garrison’s assets and, valuing the farm, James Stirling immediately gave instruction for a dwelling to be built there. Importantly, Collie also made friends with the King Ya-nup, one of whom – Barker had noted –  was Mokare’s sister Mullet, who ‘lived adjacent.’ (Mulvaney and Green – Commandant of Solitude, Pg. 244)

When James Stirling and John Septimus Roe came down over the summer of 1831/32 -staying with Collie in the farm cottage (which Collie had called Strawberry Hill) – they made an expedition north and west of the settlement in the company of Mokare’s brother, Nakinah, and another well known King Ya-nup Aborigine named Wannewar. Stirling, who knew the system of land grants was soon to be discontinued, subsequently issued himself 100, 000 acres across the middle and upper reaches of the Hay River. The decision was not just based on his visual, but on all the European exploration work already carried out in conjunction with the King-Ya-nup in an area 50 to 60 miles northwards; essentially, a rectangular region bounded by Wilson Inlet and Oyster Harbour on the coast and the Stirling Ranges and the head of the Hay River, west of Mnt Barker.

Clearly, Stirling thought the land grab opportunity too good to pass up.

For more on the time of the military settlement at Albany, including the deaths and shared burial ground of Mokare and Alexander Collie,  see The Garrison Years and Shortly After).


Hay River Area from Roe Map

Above: Immediately north and west of Albany the best grasslands were identified by late 1831 as lying along the Hay River. As the business of granting land was soon to be discontinued, Governor James Stirling quickly issued himself 100, 000 acres, some of which he sold as Location 13 to the incoming  Resident Magistrate at Albany, Sir Richard Spencer, nearly four years later. ImageDiscoveries in Western Australia [cartographic material] : from documents furnished to the Colonial Office by J.S Roe, Esqre. Surv. Genl. 1833. MAP RM 2653. Courtesy of the National Library of Australia.


Barmup is the traditional Minang name for the farm where the garrison soldiers and their convicts first set about growing fruit, vegetables and cereals from 1827. It is at the northern foot of Mount Clarence on the way to Middleton Beach, just a couple of miles from the original settlement on the shores of Princess Royal Harbour.  Barmup had been a King Ya-nup campsite all along,  though only described as such by Barker in his journal of 1830.

(As an aside, the old farm wasn’t cited as being called Barmup by the Albany Aborigines until the 1890s when Ivan Bird commenced restoration works there, which suggests the Minang name may be a later pidgination of ‘farm’, what it was commonly referred to as during the early decades.)

In any case, Stirling, on behalf of the government, eventually sold the much improved Barmup land and buildings to the incoming Resident Magistrate Sir Richard Spencer in 1836 after Spencer and his family had been recruited from England by Stirling.

The Spencer household (comprising 11 family members and an another 11 indentured servants) had moved in on October 1st, 1833, and from that time onward records show they had a constant Aboriginal presence around them. The King Ya-nup of Barmup helped Spencer improve the property before he bought it outright from the government after three years of living there.

Spencer, who had always intended to farm, added a further 1500 acres adjacent to the original, but pressed outwards from Strawberry Hill because of the Gastrolobium poison bush which was killing his prize Merino sheep, 500 of which he had imported from Van Diemen’s Land in 1834.  As chief official in the town, Spencer had first opportunity to supply the commissariat store (which fed the local Red Coat Guard and therefore presented as an obvious source of income) but was also ambitious enough for his large family to want to get on with the business of exploiting the land and exporting its produce. Especially wool. After-all, Spencer had moved out to the Swan River Colony lock-stock-and-barrel, convinced by the opportunity to build not only wealth but a legacy of respect and reputation for his family.

Postscript 25 July 2016: On 13th April, 1835, Spencer sent the remaining 200 of his prize Marino sheep imported from Van Diemen’s Land to a run he had selected on the Hay River. Spencer didn’t officially occupy the Hay until 1837, but his sons and shepherds (with Stirling’s knowledge) squatted both at Ongrup (upper) and Narrikup (referred to at the time as Chorkerup) from 1835, and very busily so.  Spencer had lost 300 of his 500 sheep to coastal poisoning within 18 months of arrival and was desperate to retain what he could. References comes from the diary of Alexander Cheyne held at the Battye Library, cited in T.L. Symers, a 1952 thesis by Rhoda Glover; draft copy in Albany Library, and from the Strawberry Hill Spencer Family Log Book 1836-1838, also held at the Battye Library.


Most of the moneyed settlers thought by working hard and taking every opportunity they could buy and  build or discover and be granted, and then sell and further invest their way to a fortune (the example set by Stirling himself.)  But of course the reality for most was different. For most, the struggle was far greater than they ever imagined and the frustrations it brought were sometimes ruinous. Sir Richard Spencer’s second son, Edward May, whom we shall find a great deal more about as this story unfolds, put a gun to himself in the muniment room at Strawberry Hill in 1869 – the year he turned 50, unmarried and childless – and pulled the trigger.


Strawberry Hill - Hillman 1836

Above: Strawberry Hill and the additional ‘adjacent’ acreage acquired by Sir Richard Spencer. Image cut from  Albany Townsite Plan by Alfred Hillman, March 1836. Available in high resolution from State Records Office Aeon facility here.


Sir Richard left a reputation for being stubborn and short tempered, something heretofore put down to his experience as a Navy officer who saw action and suffered through it. Spencer was the only son of a London merchant who, it would appear, did not bequeath him a great deal. He  was an accomplished, if not heroic, military man and retired from active service in 1817 ranked Captain and decorated twice on a pension awarded on account of injuries sustained. Aged 38, he took up farming on England’s lush south coast baring medical complaints and a significant facial scar.  By the time Stirling approached him, presumably late in 1832 when he reached England, Spencer was in his early to mid-50s and had eight children, the oldest of which was seventeen and, it would appear, already decided that the colonies was where the future lay. Spencer would not have given up his Dorset lifestyle lightly and like many others was probably seduced by the marketing efforts of those already committed. The fundamental attraction of the colonies to most of the moneyed settlers was the opportunity not only to make a great deal more but to provide opportunity for future generations. Thus, to that end,  Spencer sold everything and chartered his own ship, the Brilliant, to get his goods there while he and the family sailed out on the store-ship Buffalo.

When he disembarked at King George’s Sound I can only imagine what he felt. Spencer had taken up a position over two hundred miles from the seat of authority in a place housing no more than 40 non-indigenous persons, that looked attractive from the coast but was by-and-large barren. Compared to the soils of southern  England, Western Australia was a sandy, salty, scrubby wasteland, and when his sheep began to die from eating the local vegetation I suspect Spencer must at times have despised the combination of Stirling’s persuasiveness and his own willingness with a vengeance.

Spencer and his entourage arrived in the early spring of 1833. Stirling was coming behind him in the James Pattison, loaded with new settlers he surely must have promised Spencer he would deliver, and to be fair, he did, but with so little opportunity and such a comparatively harsh agricultural environment to work with, most of them left.  Mary Bussell, who met Patrick Taylor aboard the James Pattison, said as much in December 1835, just eighteen months after arrival. . .

Nearly all the young men who came out with us and settled at the Sound have returned home, disgusted with the barren soil. (Garden: Pg 58.)


It seems likely to me Spencer felt aggrieved, if not cheated, and that now his colonial bed had been laid decided he would do everything in his power to assert his dominance over every-one and every-thing. That attitude appears to have expressed itself in his relations with other settlers and with Stirling’s government in Perth, the records of which show his decision making was biased and his temper explosive but yet his progress solid. Spencer was therefore a dangerous man, on the one hand charming  and enabling when he needed things to be done and on the other brutal and cruel when those things didn’t get done or went against him. Not only the settlers witnessed his character this way, but the Aborigines too. Murray Arnold inserted a paragraph in his notes when reflecting on Spencer’s relations with the King Ya-nup in A Journey Travelled.


Spencer mantraps at Strawberry Hill - Arnold Pg 149Above: Excerpt from Murray Arnold’s thoughtful, A Journey Travelled.


There are multiple references to Spencer and the Aborigines who congregated at Barmup, but an otherwise innocuous one grabbed my attention. In a long letter Spencer wrote to the Colonial Secretary in December 1833, just three months after he’d moved in, he spoke  briefly about giving rations to an elderly Aboriginal widow and three young children who he said were starving. (Arnold; A Journey Travelled: Pg 164.)

I wonder who that old woman and those three young Aboriginal children were? Whatever their identities, the old woman isn’t likely to have been their mother. At earliest,  their grandmother, great-grandmother or an elderly aunt.

Ivan Bird, the Perth architect who bought the ‘Old Farm’ as a ruin in the 1890s,  left behind various records regarding his work and the time he and his wife lived there. Many of these are held at the Albany Library where Bob Howard did much of his research on Southern Noongar history. Amongst those papers Howard found multiple references to a well known old Albany character, one of the King Ya-nup, whose name was Norngern. Norngern was also known as Tommy King. Howard mentions Norngern/Tommy in his combined genealogies (based on Bates).



Informant: Norngern – Age: 85 or 90 – born at Kingilyilling (Albany) or Nguangap – a very well known person in the 19th Century. He claimed that, as a child, he helped Sir Richard Spencer plant the first Norfolk Island Pine at Strawberry Hill Farm in 1833 (Bird) . . .


Looking at Norn’s genealogy, which his life-long friend Nebinyan gave to Bates in 1907/8, his father’s name was Molgan and his mother’s Marinilch.  Nebinyan said  Norn had no sisters and only one brother, but there’s still more than a reasonable chance he was one of those starving kids.  When trying to assess Noongar genealogies it’s important to remember that their world was well defined and clearly ordered, despite the complexities of individual family make-up. The elderly woman described had a singularly important job to do. Subject to traditional beliefs and patterns of behaviour, had they not been looked after by a direct relative, the lives of those children will have been in grave danger.

To bare this out, consider the following excerpt of a letter Hugh Seymour Spencer, Sir Richard’s eldest son, wrote to The Society For Promoting Christian Knowledge, on 18 January 1837.


Hugh Spencer Re Tatan Above: Excerpt from Hugh Seymour Spencer’s  January 1837 letter to  The Society Promoting Christian Knowledge in which he describes the death of the 15 year old boy Taton.


It’s pretty clear the starving children’s mother/s  were no longer around to care for them, and perhaps the young man Taton was one of those mentioned. In another reference from Ivan Bird’s papers, Taton looks to have been working for the Spencer’s nine months previous.


“between the 6th and the 20th April 1836, the following natives were employed by
Sir Richard under the supervision of Mr Horatio William Spencer, in cutting down
trees bushes, etc between Strawberry Hill and Middleton Bay along the proposed
new road:- Captain, Moorva, Totum, Ionine, Midland, Peret, Talikatwally, Oldman,
Warren, Warova. It is quite probably that some if not all these natives were
employed in clearing operations at Strawberry Hill as mentioned by Sir Richard”.


Some of the King Ya-nup named above were recorded elsewhere in the archives.

  • Captain was almost certainly Manyat – who went with Roe to Doubtful Island Bay and also to Perth with Gyalipert to meet Yagan. Manyat also explored with Collie in May 1832 and worked for the Commissariat store where he got the nickname Captain as he dressed in an old red army coat. Manyat worked for Reverend Wollaston for a period when old too.
  • Totum may have been named by Dr Isaac Nind as Taatan and by Collie in his journals as Tatan, son of Dr Uredale, the  Mulgarradock (medicine man). Also described by Spencer’s eldest son, Hugh Seymour, as being speared aged about fifteen. Tatan had gone to the Swan River by ship in the company of Manyat, Gyallipert, Waiter (Mokare and Nakinah’s younger brother), Ionine and Mopey. All key players in the King Ya-nup association with the military and post military years when Alexander Collie was in charge. Alternatively, it’s possible Totum (not Tatan)  might have been Tutinwar, younger brother of Nebinyan.
  • Ionine was also known as Ionan/Eyenan/Ayennan who guided Roe’s party to Moorilup, the Hay and Sleeman rivers in early 1835.
  • Peret was probably the man named multiple times in Barker’s journals as Perityet, Perityat and Perityan
  • Talikatwally was  Toole-cut-wallee (also known as Tulicatwali and Toolingat-Wally) of King George’s Sound. First recorded in 1829, he accompanied Roe on the initial stages of the December 1835 expedition from Albany to York.
  • Warren, may have been Nind’s Woorungoorit.


I think, without documentary evidence, that the elderly woman in charge of the three children may have been Mullet, Mokare and Nakinah’s sister, who Barker noted in 1830 as living adjacent. Why I think this will become more clear as we progress. What I’m interested in doing right now is relating the Spencer family connection to the King Ya-nup which I believe influenced their decision to take up farmland at key locations along the Hay River.

As I’m at pains to make obvious, there’s rarely a high degree of certainty when it comes to matching old Aboriginal names with actual identities because of the incredible number of variables in play, but it’s only logical that the Aborigines in and about the Spencer place when they first occupied the Old Farm were very much part of the leading King Ya-nup families known to the settlers from the very beginning.


Norngern Tommy King

Above: An old postcard featuring Tommy King. Source unknown.


It’s a complex issue, how much Spencer cared for the Aborigines he found at Albany and what he did to help. He will have known of the conflict at the Swan River and of what took place at Pinjarra, and understood how relations at Albany were so much more benign. Of course, he will have been driven by a desire to keep the peace, especially as the Aborigines considerably outnumbered the settlers at the time, and this I think likely dominated his approach, but his and his children’s behaviour does seems to indicate he did not act purely out of a sense of fear.

So it was then that Sir Richard Spencer bought a parcel of land close to the Hay River, a feature being the running stream near a place known as Narrikup. The first 2560 acres was bought in 1835 and when surveyed by Alfred Hillman was listed by Roe’s Survey Dept as Plantagenet Location 13. The second, 400 acres ‘further up’, was bought in 1837 and became known as Ongrup/Ungerup (now Langton vineyard). Spencer detailed his purchases in a letter dated 14th September 1837.

I have purchased 2560 acres from  Sir James Stirling on the banks of the Hay, where my sheep farm is (I have three excellent sheep yards) and different buildings and good garden soil, about two acres. . .  I bought 400 acres further up the the River, where we must establish another sheep farm this summer. . .  There are only three spots of water for fifteen miles above my present farm. I have bought the highest spot and shall endeavor to procure the other two, when I shall command the whole fifteen miles of feed.  At the lower part of my farm a beautiful riverlet runs all summer, with sufficient water to turn a mill where I hope in a few years my boy Edward will build a good substantial farm house and farm buildings.


Patrick Taylor and Peter Belches (see The Supporting Cast) both of whom arrived on the James Pattison, also explored the Hay River in 1835 but decided against buying land there. This may have been because Spencer had already signalled his intention to expand or that, quite simply, the remaining watering sites were too small.

Tragedy visited the Spencers then. Sir Richard died of a stroke, within 48 hours, in July 1839. “Edward and two other of our boys arrived from the Hay River a few hours before he breathed  his last.” One of those two others will have been 15 year-old Horatio who was at the Mnt Barker farm ‘Ongrup‘  four months later when lightening struck the branch of a tree overhanging the hut/house causing it to fall and cave-in the roof. Horatio was inside with another young man by the name of William McKath. Both died at the scene.  This is first mention of Ongrup and Mnt Barker and it would appear to be the 400 acres Spencer had bought ‘further up’ just two years earlier. And as if that were not not enough for poor Lady Spencer, her eldest son Hugh Seymour drowned along with John Morley in the harbour just four months on again. Spencer and Morley were returning from an inspection of the ship China which had been chartered by John Hassell in Tasmania and just arrived into the Sound stuffed with livestock destined for Hassell’s determined pastoral investment just ten miles on from Ongrup, close to the head of the Kalgan River at Kendenup.

Such was the fate of the Spencers.


Caved in Roof - PanoramioAbove: Reminiscent of the accident which befell 14 year-old Horatio Spencer at Ungerup in November 1839.  Image courtesy of GasGas at Panoramio


Now, many of the early settlers who came to Western Australia were either related or known to each other through British society. We’ve seen this time and time again. When Arthur Trimmer joined Stirling and Roe’s overland expedition to Albany in October 1835, by that time his nerves perhaps damaged by his trying experiences at York and his drinking a problem  (see Quartermaine Country), he met both the Spencers and Cheynes. Within six months of that meeting Trimmer was married to Sir Richard’s eldest daughter, 18 year-old Mary Ann.

Trimmer was one of three brothers who came to the Swan River Colony around 1830. One of the brothers, Spencer Trimmer, settled at Bunbury while the other, William, who Trimmer had taken up over 15000 acres with at York, drowned in the Swan River over the New Year of 1835/36. George Cheyne was executor of William Trimmer’s will.  William Trimmer’s orphaned daughter, five year-old Emily, was adopted by George and Grizel Cheyne who had a house and business in Albany as well as growing interests out at Cape Riche (see George Cheyne and the South Coast Fishery and Campbell Taylor and the Cape Arid Connection – Part 1). Twelve years later, Emily Trimmer married Andrew Moir.

Anyway, Arthur Trimmer and Mary Ann Spencer’s first three children were born at York where things were going from bad to worse for poor Arthur as it was during this time (1837) when he was accused of nailing a dead Ballardong Aborigine’s ears to the wall of his house (Arnold: Pg 181). The Trimmers soon after arrived at Albany where the young family was put to work out on the Hay River, either at Location 13, Narrikup, or further up at Ongrup/Ungerup.  But even then things didn’t go right, as once again Murray Arnold explains. . .

Trimmer foolish at Hay RiverAbove: Excerpt from A Journey Travelled by Murray Arnold. Pg 182


This incident of Trimmer being foolishly provocative is likely to be related to incidences of aggression and stock spearing which occurred at the Hay River in 1838 and 1839.


F Bird - 1839 Hay River Spearings 1Above: Excerpt from historical articles by Mrs F Bird, published in the Albany Advertiser between September and November 1926.This cut from Part 16, dated 30 October 1926, relating to the year 1838.


Arthur Trimmer appears infrequently in the Albany town records over the following twenty years. Surprisingly, he was appointed Sub-Protector of Aborigines in 1853, probably because of farming activities he took up at Pootenup in the Gordon River catchment, not far from Eticup where two of his Spencer in-laws were by then well established pastoralists. That he was given that position with his history is hard to fathom, but Trimmer’s record as Sub-Protector isn’t poor. By that time, his relationship with the Indigenous had changed.

We’ll return to the Trimmers in due course but for now we should look at someone else who married into the Spencer family and who also took up on the upper reaches of Hay River.


St Werburgh's chapel and graveyard as it stands today.Above: St Werburgh’s Chapel at Wurangatup on the Hay River, home to the Egerton-Warburton family since 1842


George Edward Egerton-Warburton was an army man, the youngest son in a very old but decreasingly wealthy family from the north-western English county of Cheshire, who decided to forge his own future much the way Sir Richard Spencer first imagined his family doing. George Egerton-Warburton famously built St Werbughs Chapel on the property he called by the same name, on the Hay River close to Mnt Barker, in honor of the old church generations of his family had attended back in the Roman city of Chester, capital of Cheshire County.

30 year-old Ensign Warbuton (later Lieutenant) arrived at Albany on the Runnymeade as part of a detachment of the 51st Regiment who had been deployed at King George’s Sound, in June 1840. The 51st Regiment were replacing the 21st. The men of these regiments were the so-called Red Coats stationed in the colonies by the British Army to support settlement and who drew their rations from the commissariat store. As we saw in Quartermaine Country, Kojonup had been selected as a mail security point along the Perth-Albany route and had been in on-and-off operation since 1838. In a letter to his father in November 1840, Warburton said. . .

I have the command of two posts, Mount Barker and the further Kojonup 100 miles distant, which I am expected to visit. . .


Warburton then acquired Patrick Taylor Cottage in a convoluted deal costing £80.00 (ownership later reverted to Taylor).  By 1841 Warburton had decided to stay and wrote to his father again in April to lay out plans and explain. In that letter he talks about the Symers/Eyre sheep losses caused by poison bush at Kojonup but that he felt the plant was identifiable and therefore avoidable (see Quartermaine Country). In that letter Warburton also makes first mention of the Spencers.

The next on my list is Lady Spencer, the widow of Captain Sir Richard R.N., she lives at a very pretty little farm, about two miles from Albany, has everything about her in English style and has been very kind and civil to me. There is a farm about 30 miles up the country belonging to the Spencers. Lady Spencer has several sons, all mere boys, but one; and three daughters, two are married. One to Mr Grey of the 88th Regiment, who is just made Governor of South Australia and one (tremble as you read) unmarried and “Belle comme le jour”.


Warburton will have met the Trimmers by then too but obviously didn’t feel the need to tell his father about them. The name hardly appears at all in any of the Warburton letters in fact. In any case, in July the following year (1842), Warburton wrote to his father again, this time to tell him he was engaged to Augusta Spencer and that he had fully made up his mind to quit the Service and become a settler in the colony. He said he had already bought cattle and placed them with a settler and that he just bought a Selection Ticket for 160 acres. The wedding took place on 23rd November 1842 at the Old Farm, Strawberry Hill.

Dawn Crabb, who was commissioned by the Egerton-Warburton family to write the story of George’s life and times to mark the centenary of St Werburghs Chapel at Mount Barker in 1974, provides summary detail.

On 29th May, 1843, George was officially promoted to the rank of Lieutenant. He had been assigned to supervise the building of the new Kojonup Barracks in 1844, which was solidly constructed of stone selected on the site, and completed in 1845. The following year, 1846, he retired from the 51st Regiment, which was ordered to India, and concentrated all his energies on his farming enterprise. The land that marked the beginning of St Werburgh’s was land Sir Richard planned to acquire had he lived longer. George bought the first 160 acres from S.Moore and made the final payment of £34 on 1st October 1842, when he also purchased further land, and then held a total of 320 acres along the Hay River.


Warburton, who had a negative opinion of the convicts sent to Australia as a result of his time aboard a convict ship sailing out, was very much against the idea of bringing them to his chosen settlement in the Swan River Colony. He argued strongly against convictism and even threatened to leave, but a solid proportion of those transported to Western Australia were guilty of minor demeanors and hardly of convict nature at all. In the end, more out of want for income and his wife’s desire to live back in town,  Warburton left St Werburgh’s in 1852 to take up a position in charge of the Albany Convict Depot, returning to the river some years later.

In all likelihood he will have met the Irishman John Maher in 1854. He may even have been instrumental in placing Maher in the employ of the Spencers.

George Edward Egerton-Warburton pressed further out from the Hay as his family and sheep flocks grew, taking up large leases at the head of the Gordon and Frankland Rivers near a place known to Aborigines as Yerriminup Hill.  He was extremely determined and successful, building his St Werburgh’s Chapel within 40 years of landing at the Sound. He died in November 1889, aged 79 years, and is buried in the grounds of  his church. Of his twelve children to Augusta Spencer, St Werburgh’s was taken on by his third son, Horace. The eldest,  George Augustus-Grey, went to Yerriminup and second son, Rowland, moved north to the Williams district where he farmed a property he called Rowleystone. Descendants of Horace Egerton Warburton still run St Werburgh’s today.


Spencer Warburton Bonzle MapAbove: Hay River isolation from (Digital Atlas of Australia), featuring sites of the Spencer and Warburton properties held from 1842. Spencer had 3560 acres close to but much of it not actually on the Hay River. It would appear the house was built on the lower reaches of his land at Sleeman Creek where he said there was enough running summer water to power a small mill.


The Hay River was not just the realm of the wider Spencer family. Members of the Cheyne group also found their way there, but not before their stint east of Albany out at Cape Riche. We’ll take up the story of the Hassell, Cheyne and McKail groups as we look at the waterways on that side of Albany and of course the Aborigines whose kalas lay that way too. The point of meeting being Eticup on the Gordon River, focus of the search for Ngurabirding (see Part 1).

Before we do that though, I want to go back to the association between the Spencer group and the King Ya-nup. As the early explorations north and west of King George’s Sound showed, the Albany Aborigine’s, led by brothers Mokare and Nakinah, were at home in the Hay River region. It was part of their kala and they were confident showing the newcomers around it.  Sadly, there were no noted descendants of Mokare and Nakinah at Albany when Daisy Bates made her interviews there 80 odd years later, so there is no clear line of pedigree leading from persons living today to that exact family. It doesn’t mean there isn’t a pedigree, it just means there isn’t any documentary evidence to support it.

Norngern, the little boy who helped Sir Richard plant the Norfolk Pine at the Old Farm, was ascribed the English moniker Tommy King by the settler fraternity. He got the name King from somewhere. It may have been because his birth place was Kingilyiling, which Nebinyan gave to Daisy Bates. It might also be that the original garrison area was callled by Mokare, Nakinah and others of the time as King Ya-nup, thought to be a pidgination of King George. It might also be that he styled himself King of Albany, as Nakinah had been King of the King Ya-nup. In all instances, Norngern/Tommy King was a strong presence around Albany from the time of first settlement until 1907/8, carrying himself as Noongar leader. Among many other noble acts, on the occasion of 1890’s Proclamation Day, he formally petitioned the Governor for compensation for his loss of land.  A statement in which he also claimed his inheritance to the title of Chief.

Nebinyan told Bates Norn’s mother’s name was Marinilch, but she is otherwise anonymous in the records. When I went to the Bates genealogies to look again I noticed on the typed sheets that Marinilch was born at, of was from, Yuerlap and Wurangatup. For clarification, as she often did,  Bates wrote “H. Warburton’s” underneath Wurangatup.  In 1910 this would be Horace Warburton’s place, St Werburgh’s.

Postscript 23 June 16:  Yuerlap, the first place Bates records Marinilch as being from looks to an Upper Hay River sheep run between Mount Barker and Albany.  Bates records Yooarlup as between Albany and Mount Barker in her South-West Place Names and in police records from June 1843, Mounted Policeman John Dawson together with a Native Constable made regular rides to ‘Yowlup, Kindenup and Morilup’ (C.S.R. Vol.119  Folio.67) indicating close proximity to Mount Barker. Yowlup is therefore likely to be an English pidgination of Bates’s Yuerlap.

I think the old woman Spencer rationed in 1833 probably was Mullet, Mokare and Nakinah’s sister, and that she was caring for the children in the unexplained absence of their mother – who may or may not have been away at what later became Warburton’s place – as their grandmother or great aunt.

The Hay River and its environs did not just comprise the kala of the King Ya-nup, but it was central to it. The assisting King Ya-nup and Albany’s original settlers seeking to locate outside of the town, cannot be dissociated. Over time, as social pressures forced relations apart, the emerging mixed-race Aborigines found themselves stranded between the old and new; the new shunning the gifting will of their forefathers, the old unable to adapt, warring and dying away.


Norngern - Bates typed -

Above: Norngern/Tommy King’s lineage in typed fashion as he described it to Daisy Bates around 1910.



Below:  An excellent four minute video on the history of the Old Farm at Strawberry Hill by Laurie Kibblewhite.

5 responses to “In Search of Ngurabirding – Part 2”

  1. Anne Both Avatar
    Anne Both

    interesting reading I am researching a Thomas Gill who is believed to have arrived with Spencer on HMS Buffalo he left WA in 1844 but not before he worked surveying area between Perth and Albany Have you come across any defences to him in your research if so can you steer me in his direction Thanks Anne Both

    1. Avatar

      Hi Anne, I seem to have missed your comment. Apologies. No, I haven’t come across Thomas Gill in any detail, although there is a ring of familiarity about the name. If I do,I will get back to you. Best wishes,

      1. Ciaran Lynch Avatar
        Ciaran Lynch

        Hi Anne, Just re reading here and am happy to report that in the last few weeks I’ve found mention of Thomas Gill. Thomas came out on the Buffalo with the Spencers, possibly with a daughter. I believe he was Northern Irish, then lived in Kildare, outsde Dublin. How he was known to the Spencers I’m not entirely sure, possibly through the Navy. Gill had recently lost his wife and decided to travel to the Australian colonies. Albany historians have confused Thomas Gill with Matthew Gill, who was a NSW convict aboard the Amity when it arrived at King George Sound in December 1826. Mattherw Gill’s 7 year sentence expired at the same time as the NSW garrison was leaving Albany (March 1831) and I believe he stayed behind. Richard Spencer registered the marriage of Mathhew Gill to Mary Newell at Albany in 1834 and it is this which has made people think Thomas Gill was Matthew Gill. But Thomas Gill was a surveyors assistant, what was called a chainer, and he worlked around Albany for a few years before moving to Adelaide where he remarried into the Selby family there. His son from that marriage was also called Thomas Gill and that Thomas Gill went on to become a well known Sth Australian Public Servant of the era.

        In an upcoming post on the Newells and Newhill of Albany I pasted in some links which provide the evidence behind what I’m saying. They are below.

        Hope this reaches you. Best wishes, Ciaran.

  2. Ceinwen Gearon Avatar
    Ceinwen Gearon

    Hi Ciaran

    Have just spent a couple of hours reading your blog. I live in Denmark WA. Thank you so much for describing life in Albany and the surrounds in those early years of settlement. What a huge body of work. I have much more reading to do.

    The publication of Sam Carmody’s article by the ABC has re-invigorated local interest in an alleged massacre of Aboriginal people at Hay River. Do you have any information regarding the possibility of this event?

    Thank you.


    1. Avatar

      Hello Ceinwen, I haven’t come across any evidence or commentary on a massacre at any point immediately west of Albany or along the Hay River at any time across the recorded history. I suspect from the time Sir Richard Spencer arrived the Denmark Aborigines either graduated into Albany or along the waterways inland toward the Blackwood and Frankland Rivers. I don’t have an academically substantiated explanation, but my feeling is the impact of cultural change, largely the elements of economics and health, drove Indigenous families whose kallas were located along the Denmark to Augusta coastal strip into larger or more established population groups located elsewhere. Primarily Albany, Mount Barker and Manjimup. What most people find difficulty in understanding is the effect introduced diseases had upon localised indigenous groups. This effect, which was utterly devastating, can broadly be described as having started in 1801 with the two-week sojourn the Flinders expedition took at King George Sound, made worse by the establishment of a permanent settlement there a quarter century later, and progressively worse thereafter by the prominence of Albany as the South Coast’s administrative base and as Western Australia’s primary port. The amount of sickness arriving via shipping should not be under-estimated. There is clear indication of violence and killing east of Albany from the 1860s, but this is more reflective of cultural differences between the Noongar of the deep South-West and the less tractable, more defensive desert tribes whose behaviour evolved relative to the scarcity of resources. (i.e. take our water and rather than die, we’ll fight.) The path taken by South Coast settlers east of Albany was similar in outcome to the actions taken by the Bussell family at the Vasse River (Busselton), by way of murder (or war, depending on how you want to describe Colonisation), in that the Aboriginal population was significantly reduced, but where-as the degradation displayed by the Bussell family resulted from their isolation, fear and lack of leadership, the Dunn and Dempster approach at Ravensthorpe and Esperance was a game of outright assertion. In my opinion, the Bussell (and associated families) degradation resulted from a breakdown in mental health. They were terrified and became sick with fear, something which drove them toward increasingly degenerate behaviour. Out on the Phillips River, however, and eastwards and inland from there, there ranged a class of settler whose masculine bravado was equal to the psychological challenges they faced. Rather than act out of terror, they set out to dominate, to openly display their power and to establish a new law by way of it. The consequences of failing to abide by that law being severe punishment. i.e. beatings, killings and off-shore imprisonment, all of which were sanctioned by the authorities either directly from Perth or via Albany when policing of the South Coast was headquartered there. In any case, there are no reports or even suggestions of a massacre at Denmark. That there were localised family groups living around Denmark isn’t disputed, we know there were. My feeling is the Aborigines west of Albany were initially drawn toward the town, then when even European Albany could barely stand having their Indigenous among them, (if they hadn’t died from disease or disease hastened by starvation) the Indigenous moved away to re-gather in places they felt safer, or at least more able to live as they wanted to. Generally, the decision as to where would have been dictated by who they knew. These locations were Manjimup, Mount Barker, Katanning and Gnowangerup. So, the short answer is no. There was no massacre at Denmark.

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