The View From Mount Clarence

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

In Search of Ngurabirding – Part 3



In our search for Ngurabirding we are building  background to the arrival of his father, Ticket-of-leave man John Maher, in the Albany area during 1854. Maher took up work as a farm labourer or shepherd on one of the Spencer sheep runs closer to Mount Barker, north of the main settlement. Last post we looked at settlement along the Hay River, which runs west and north of the town, by the family of Sir Richard and Lady Spencer. This post we keep one eye on the Spencer family while looking at the uptake of land on the other river which has its source close to Mount Barker, but which empties into the sea just east of the Sound. The Kalgan.


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Attracted by the hills that lay about its general path, there were various forays and excursions up the old French River from the outset. Major Lockyer even attempted to overland  to the Swan River following its northward course during his three month stay into the new year of 1827. But it wasn’t until four years later when the Kalgan‘s source was located about 40 miles upstream, near to the historic location of Kendenup.

Moorilup  was first set eyes upon in a European context by the settlement’s original non-military leader, Dr Alexander Collie, late in April 1831. Collie, who was only 18 months at the Sound, was led on this particular expedition by Mokare, charismatic front-man of the King Ya-nup.  Mokare and his brothers were very closely associated with each of the key European figures at the Albany settlement as they came and went, transferring their allegiance and friendship in an apparently seamless fashion until death took them over.

Collie was the last European leader Mokare would know.


We crossed the channel and proceeded. . .  through a generally open forest country. . . . . .  to the river again, at a place called Moor-illup, much frequented by the natives of King George’s Sound and Will tribe. . .  Here Mokare expected to find some of his neighbours, the Wills, whose place of resort this. . .  is.. .


Not only at Moor-illup, but at every pond of the river where we stopped, the traces of man, beast, and bird, are strongly marked; and the great numbers of kangaroo, and several emu, not to mention a fair proportion of ducks, cockatoos, pigeons, etc. seen daily at this place, shew that both the hunter and sportsman would find abundant amusement, and the settler no slight acquisition to his larder.

Above: Collie’s journal records his initial impression of Moorilup. From  Journals of Several Expeditions made in Western Australia during the Years 1829, 1830, 1831 and 1832. Edited by Joseph Cross.


Rotoff-Family_019_proc_sm-620x388Above: Farmland at docile Moorilup today. Image courtesy Kirsten Sivya at Photographica


It’s worth pulling out a smaller part of that extract and reading it again.

. . . traces of man, beast, and bird, are strongly marked; and the great numbers of kangaroo, and several emu, not to mention a fair proportion of ducks, cockatoos, pigeons, &c. seen daily at this place, shew that both the hunter and sportsman would find abundant amusement, and the settler no slight acquisition to his larder.

Not only was Moorilup attractive settling country, it was very clearly prime hunting ground for the Wills Aborigines. On initial reading it appears it is a shared location, that Moorilup was a friendly place for both the Albany and Mount Barker Aborigines, and to an extent it was, but wider and closer reading shows all was not agreeable as Dr Collie suggests.

In all of the text’s concerning the time of Mokare, and there are enough to gain a very decent picture of what was happening,  conflict between the King Ya-nup and the worrisome Wills tribe of the north is conspicuous. There were many incidents of anger and conflict between the Albany Aborigines themselves as well as between the King Ya-nup and those living in the neighbouring kalas, so much so in fact that it came to preoccupy the Europeans. Almost all of those who wrote about their time at the Sound tried to make sense of it. Dr Nind, who was at the settlement for three years, eventually concluded that the fighting was constant and complex but appeared not to be between the neighbouring tribes per se but between various families and individuals.

In any case, within two months of leading Collie to Morrilup, Mokare was dead.

Collie’s legacy at Albany is strong and the fact he requested to be and was buried in the same grave as Mokare when he (Collie) passed away more than four years later, is highly symbolic of early relations at Albany. Indeed, it is fundamental to application of the term Friendly Frontier. But the pair only knew each other between March 7th and June 26th, 1831, when Mokare, aged just 30, died from illness.

It’s generally accepted Collie foresaw the breakdown of those seamless early relations and wanted to assert his allegiance to the spirit of co-operation and mutual benefit which the settlement was founded on. That the surviving Aborigines agreed to the joint interment, as far apart as the deaths were, says a lot about how they viewed those relations as well.

That Surveyor Roe, a close friend of Collie’s and executor of his will,  decided it was inappropriate and had the body exhumed and removed to the Anglican cemetery a mile away, is also highly symbolic, only in opposite fashion. Those two acts, in a nutshell, reflect the establishment and breakdown of European/Aboriginal relations along the South Coast.

This political point is important and I’m including it as opportunity to recognise the fusion of relations between the two leadership groups based at the Sound.

But as we know, those leadership groups were influenced by entirely separate forces.

From the Settler perspective, the 1832 abolition of the land grant system  had been so pressing in the mind of Governor Stirling during he and Surveyor Roe’s visit to the Sound over the summer following the laying of Collie’s eyes on Moorilup, he included in the 100, 000 acre Hay River grant to himself a portion of it as well. Surveyor Roe was not to be denied either. However, because Stirling chose the Hay over the Kalgan, the spoils of Moorilup fell most largely to the bullish settler George Cheyne.

Cheyne was entitled to and offered 19,000 acres at Moorilup on the basis of what he had invested in the colony up to 1832 and, as there was nothing worth taking-up closer to Albany (as Stirling had already acquired the Hay) he accepted; presumably on the basis the land would soon become salable and he’d profit accordingly. Interestingly, documents suggest Cheyne quickly traded 4,000 of these Moorilup acres with John  Laurence Morley in a multi-faceted deal which saw him acquire a portion of high ground at Lower Kalgan (Candyup) which Morley held, some or all of which Cheyne may have on-sold to Patrick Taylor three or four years later.

In any case, Cheyne’s hoped for quick turn around blew out to seven years, during which time he appears to have visited the area once, though he failed to make the required improvements necessary to keep the grant. Strictly speaking he should have lost it, or part of it, but when the opportunity to sell finally came – in the form of an English sea captain by the name of John Hassell – it was permitted. (See George Cheyne and the Quest for Cape Riche)

Hassell, a major figure with regard to South Coast pastoral development, is central to settlement at  Moorilup  (his property known first as Kindenup, later Kendenup) and to widespread land leasing and ownership across the area which occurred in the wake of his arrival.


Moorilup Locations - Hillman 1840Above: Cut from Alfred Hillman’s July 1840 Survey of the Moorilup District. By the time the survey was carried out Cheyne and Morley had sold what became Plantagenet Location 27 to Captain John Hassell. Historical survey charts are available on-line at the searchable SRO Digital Object Listing.


Hassell made preliminary arrangements to buy the Cheyne and Morley grants after meeting with Sir Richard Spencer in 1838 when he was en-route to England after a long stint skippering trading vessels out of Van Diemen’s Land. (See  Captain John Hassell and the Fate of the Brig Belinda.)

Hassell was sold the prospect of Moorilup by Spencer (successor to Collie as leading official) whose motivations to bring new settlers into the area was paramount. As Spencer sized up Hassell’s intent he directed the future settler’s interest there. This is because Spencer’s own ambitions were set on the Hay River and, knowing the land at Moorilup was claimed but still unimproved and for sale, saw that it was clearly the best option.

Returning the following year Hassell made the purchases and quickly set off again to buy live-stock from New South Wales.

Not only was Cheyne liberated by his cash sale to Hassell, Spencer will have been rubbing his hands together at the taxes soon to be drawn and the expansion he surely must have sensed was to follow.

What Spencer didn’t know during 1839, was that he was close to suffering a brain hemorrhage.

When Hassell arrived back at the Sound in the chartered brig China very early in March 1840, not only was the leading official Sir Richard Spencer dead but his 15 year-old son Horatio had been killed by a branch which had fallen onto the hut built under a large tree at the Upper Hay, Ongrup sheep run (see Part 2).

Following the death of the argumentative Sir Richard, army Captain George Grey was appointed to succeed him. Grey arrived at Albany in August and on November 2nd, having never met the Spencer’s before, married seventeen year-old Eliza Lucy, Sir Richard’s youngest daughter. Five months after that, just a week or so after the return of John Hassell, the couple left the Sound never to return.

Now, also at the same time as the Grey’s were preparing to depart and Hassell was anchoring in the harbour, so too were three other ships loaded with livestock.

Feelings must have been mixed and strong at the little settlement by the shore at this time of human departure and unprecedented capital gain.


Eyre, Hassell, Belches Stock - June 1840Above: Edward John Eyre had two ships on charter, Minerva and Cleveland; Belches and Hugh McDonald  look to have brought sheep in at the same time, possibly on a ship belonging to Thomas Lyall Symers, Caledonia (see The Supporting Cast), which also carried stock of his own;  very close to the same time, John Hassell arrived in his charter China. Clipping from The West Australian Journal: 21 March 1840


With four fully loaded ships out on the water, it was all action at the port. In the processes of checking the China’s manifest and administering Customs duties, Hassell, his charter’s captain, Mr Phillips,  as well as John Morley and Sir Richard’s eldest son, Hugh Seymour Spencer, along with several other seamen, were making their way to shore in the vessel’s lighter. At the very same time Symers’ vessell Caledonia was sailing out for Adelaide, carrying the recently wedded George Grey and Eliza Spencer as passengers ultimately bound for London. While in the small boat, as many from the larger ships looked on, something happened and it capsized.

Morley and Spencer drowned.

According to Cleve Hassell in The Hassell’s of Albany (1972), Captain Hassell and Captain Phillips struggled to stay afloat, in the end only just surviving what was ‘a very close call‘.

The European community at Albany must have been wondering at the chaos. Morley aside, how could such bad luck be heaped on Lady Spencer and her family?  From the time they had taken up outside the immediate settlement environs, things had gone against them, to the point where some must have been thinking the laws of fortune were being tampered with.

Shellam, in Shaking Hands on the Fringe, devotes an entire chapter to the King Ya-nup’s deadly quarrels with their northern neighbours, the Wills, and how this played out among the settler community.  As she makes her way she becomes conscious of some other possible force being active and comments on what she notices in the subject’s body of work.

 Nind wrote on. . .  supernatural belief in his report: if a man be killed by accident, by falling from a tree, drowned in the sea, or any other way, the friends of the deceased will impute his death to some Mulgarradock (Medicine Man) of an adverse tribe, and kill an individual belonging to it in retaliation.


Nind’s departure predated the Spencer tragedies by seven years, but over that time a string of deaths relating to settlement north of the Sound, within both racial camps based at Albany, had occurred.


UT0112850Above: Aboriginal law and Aboriginal magic were matters the early settlers in colonial Australia didn’t embrace. The cultures were so opposing neither side were able to comprehend the other. Ultimately, group organisation and superior technology won the day on behalf of settlement, but not without sometimes mysterious consequence.


Perhaps the near drowning incident spurred Captain Hassell on over the long term. Certainly, he maintained a high-energy, aggressive approach in the face of many obstacles for the next twenty-five years, reaping the financial benefits over the following two decades after that.

Before we consider Hassell’s influence on pastoralism though, we should look more closely at Mokare’s relationship with the Mount Barker Aborigines during the lead-up to 1840. This is because all was not as well as it might have been presented to Captain Hassell, who was aware of but not familiar with Aboriginal relations at Albany, despite the sequence of unfortunate events.

First,  there had long been a feud between the family of Mokare, whose kala King George’s Sound was, and factions of the Wills tribe. As mentioned, this is well documented in most of the texts concerning the era of early settlement. The tensions between Mokare’s group and the Wills tribe go beyond the very frequent mentions of conflict in Barker’s journals (in particular) and indicate there was much more at play than mere agitation and disturbance caused largely by jealousies over women. Shellam  (Pg 105) referenced  Barker, Browne, Chauncy and Nind when commenting on this.

Barker made frequent references to such spearings and associated violence in the Aboriginal world between the King Ya-nup and their feared enemies who Barker recorded as the ‘Wills people.’ The Wills people were not perpetual enemies of the King ya-nup. They also formed an essential part of their close social network and shared a kinship system.  Many Wills people visited the settlement throughout the year and were met without hostility. Barker knew some of them who had come in and shaken hands with him. Not all Wills people were seen as enemies during the periods of violence, as Nind explained in his report; ‘their wars appear to be more between individuals and families than between tribes or districts.’ Several observers recorded that the northern neighbours were more formidable than any other neighboring group in the south west and were believed by the coastal southerners to possess supernatural powers.


Second; the trade in kangaroo skins was strong for most of the 1830s. While it was stronger again in the 1840s, many shooting parties set out from Albany roaming the Hay and Kalgan River catchments, killing in the same unrestrained fashion which characterised the coastal seal slaughter of the 1820s. (See Campbell Taylor and the Cape Arid Connection – Part 3). Skinning where the animals fell and leaving the carcasses to rot, or their dogs to rip to shreds, certain Aborigines whose territory it was will have been more disturbed by the actions of these shooters than others, and the impact shouldn’t be underestimated.

Third, remember too that Spencer had not just been running sheep but was growing food as well (grain, vegetables and fruit) at the lower Hay River run and that the value of these, to the settlers, was inestimable given remote Albany’s not infrequent shortages of cultivated food. Spencer’s mantraps employed at Strawberry Hill to keep away the pilfering hands of whoever, were almost certainly in use at the Hay River as well.

In conjunction with this, the sudden high-volume stocking of Moorilup over the winter of 1840, and the demands Hassell placed on that stock to provide him with quick returns, impacted the Mount Barker Aborigines (the so-called Wills tribe) in a way we’re going to try and determine as precisely as possible. Suffice to say, around 1910 when Daisy Bates was hard at work in the South West, she came to conclude that there were no Mount Barker Aborigines, just a mix of castes ‘living as whites’, which she decided she (and therefore we) didn’t need to know about.

(In context, she also maintained there were only two Menang left at the same time. Nebinyan, who she found at Katanning, and Norngern, who was old and frail, at Albany.)

So, the original Mount Barker group, or some of them, we now believe were related to the family of Mokare and Nakinah at Albany through Norngern/Tommy King’s mother Marinilch. Marinilch’s birth place is given as Yuerlap  (Bates; between Albany and Mount Barker) and Wurangatup (Bates; Norngern genealogy), otherwise St Werburgh’s, home to the Spencer in-law George Egerton-Warburton from 1842.

These locations, and the one ‘higher up’, known as Ongrup, were what Spencer called the only three watering sites on a fifteen mile stretch of the river, and toward which he displayed a distinct sense of want.  Obviously, Spencer saw the value of the land in terms of his farming needs and set about acquiring them through the administrative terms of the new colony as soon as he realised his sheep were dying down at the coast.

But it appears Spencer had a second administrative process to go through as well. One he probably had a decent sense of, but could never properly comprehend nor therefore negotiate.

The upper Hay River, while part of Mokare’s range, was not Mokare’s kala.  The upper Hay and Kalgan Rivers were not Mokare’s rightful place of living, merely a place of welcome so long as he abided by the strict and aggressively managed rules of  Aboriginal movement and engagement. When taking up land on the Hay River sites Spencer may have been closer to gaining security from Mokare’s Albany family whose relatives held tenure there, than by taking up where there were no links at all.

Is this why Stirling took his grant on the Hay and why Spencer, when he arrived, also opted for the Hay?

Once again, Bob Howard’s Noongar Resistance Along the South Coast adds context.

Noongar resistance along the south coast to the spread of colonial settlement follows a pattern that is, in retrospect, evident in the record from the earliest days of colonization. Wadjelas (white men) were cautiously evaluated as they moved into new country, an initial test was how they responded to an offer of guidance through local territory[44]. The consequences of cattle and sheep on native pasture and their kangaroo herds were clear from the beginning to both sides.


The Noongar would demonstrate both their numbers and authority to the newcomers, a late afternoon or evening visit usually timed to occur when the men (and their guns) were absent and only women or servants were around was made. At the same time raids leading to the destruction of sheep or stores in significant quantities occurred.


When Mokare and Nakinah died their leadership transferred down to their younger brothers Waiternet and Yallipoli, and/or across to the family of Coolbun, of whom there is only one mention after the time of Alexander Collie. This is how it was.  By the time Spencer arrived in 1833, there was a most reduced leadership amongst the King Ya-nup, largely due to sickness, leading to more tenuous links back upriver to the outlying areas.

Were the old woman and those three starving children Spencer found attached to the old farm when he first got there, that link?

With the death of 15 year-old Tatan at Strawberry Hill at some point in 1836 (speared, see Part 2), Spencer will have realised the struggle to keep the peace was getting tougher all the time.  Note: There was also the recorded death of Aboriginal woman Purnature, who was or had been under the employ of Lady Spencer, being fatally speared in March 1847. (Green; Aborigines of the Albany Region; 1989.)

If I’m on the correct train of thinking here, next in line as far as the Albany Aborigine’s rightful leadership was concerned looks to have been Norngern/Tommy King, who at that point would have been about twelve or thirteen years old.

Looking at it this way we begin to get a picture of what was really happening at Albany with regard to European-Aboriginal relations as well as intra-Aboriginal relations.

Spencer will have known of the importance the early European leaders at the Sound placed on friendship with Mokare and his family. Nind, Wakefield, Barker and Collie all relied heavily on it and Stirling will have briefed him in depth. Spencer was late to this, Mokare being two years gone by the time he arrived, but what’s important here is that Alexander Collie, who left Albany in 1833, returned in 1835 en-route to England.  Collie got off the ship at Albany knowing his health was deteriorating and died in the house of George Cheyne in November that year. During the time Collie was dying at Albany Spencer will have sat with him.  Given that prior to his death Collie requested and was granted permission to be buried alongside Mokare, who was by that time more than four years in the grave, it is impossible to imagine Collie not impressing upon Spencer the importance of maintaining the very strongest of relations with Mokare’s people.


Mokare DeSainsonAbove: Sketched images of (left) Mokare’s youngest brother, Yallipoli; (upper right) Mokare’s father Patyet; and (lower right) Mokare himself. From Louis de Sainson. Image courtesy National Gallery of Australia.


Now, as we saw in Part 2, the early Mount Barker Aborigines had observed the incursion of the Spencers at Ongerup, about twelve miles south and west of Moorilup, and by the time Hassell took up there had already displayed their anger toward it. On multiple occasions in fact. They did this by spearing stock either at Ongrup or lower down the Hay toward Narrikup (Yuerlup/Yowlup?) forcing Spencer to establish a security detail in the area from 1838.

I don’t think this military posting was to a fixed location, certainly after Hassell established anyway, rather it would appear to have been a roaming presence of soldiers between the main base at  Narrikup (where those all important crops were cultivated)  and Spencer’s ‘three sheep runs.’ There were only ten soldiers in all based at Albany (see F. Bird’s At the Beginning series) which put pressure on Spencer as to how they were best employed.

Also, we need to remember that Spencer reprimanded and removed his son-in-law, Arthur Trimmer, from the area at some point near to or during 1838 for being ‘foolishly provocative’ with regard to the Aborigines.

Staying with that for a moment, remember that Trimmer had come down from the York District (Ballardong Country) where there had been nothing but hostility since his arrival at the Swan River in 1831. Trimmer’s Avon Valley experiences would not have been anything like that of the Spencers at Albany. As we have seen, the indications are that Spencer’s choice of Hay River locations, while taken up on account of the water and grass thereabouts, were known to be the living places of Aborigines closely related to those he knew at Albany. It’s far too much of a coincidence for Spencer not to have understood this and during his time at Albany must have realised he had to work the situation politically. Trimmer, on the other hand -given his drinking, apparent mental state and what looks to have happened- applied a militant, aggressive, authoritarian stance that was not at all well met. Neither by the Aborigines nor Sir Richard himself.

Murray Arnold looked in to these hostilities and Spencer’s reaction to them in A Journey Travelled, noting that in February 1839. . .

Spencer wrote to the Colonial Secretary at Perth claiming that if the military detachment at the Hay River was withdrawn, the sheep and farmers would have to be withdrawn also as the Aborigines had become ‘numerous and daring’ and had repeatedly threatened his employees’ lives.


Reinforcement, if it was needed, that Aboriginal-European relations broke down more or less as soon as the settler presence moved beyond the security of Mokare’s kala.


Moorilup - Collie -1831-2 Roe Map 1833Above: The paths of Dr Collie’s two main Kalgan River excursions, along with Ensign Dale’s trek to the Stirling Ranges over the period 1831/2. The explorations were always made in the company of at least one King Ya-nup,  a key member of Albany town’s original Noongar group.  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.



Now, Ensign George Egerton-Warburton (see Part 2) and Hassell arrived within three or four months of each other. Given Warburton’s security role and Hassell being by far the largest investor in farming the settlement had yet seen, it’s not too difficult to imagine an immediate relationship was established between them. Also, let’s not forget, Joseph Strelly Harris had been the first to drive sheep north of the Hay and Kalgan in November 1839, and that Edward John Eyre had passed through in March 1840 driving a thousand ewes to York, and that Peter Belches and Hugh McDonald had also brought in around 500 sheep, as had Thomas Lyell Symers later in the same year, all of whom had decided to graze at Kojonup. (McDonald was a squatter and therefore the extent of his pastoral presence isn’t registered, although he is known to have been at both the Hay River in 1839 and at Kojonup (briefly) from 1840. See Arnold; A Journey Travelled, Pg 189)

Let’s bare in mind too that the Kojonup Barracks, which we discussed in Quartermaine Country, was documented from around the time of the Hay River stock spearings in 1838 and that from mid-to-late 1840 the newly arrived George Warburton ‘was expected to visit’ his commands both there and at Mount Barker. Warburton will therefore have been made aware of the various hostilities Spencer had come up against, although not from Spencer himself as the stroke had ended his life close to a year previous.

Note: Prior to 1844/5, the Kojonup Barracks looks to have been no more than a hut first established by Lieutenant Armstrong of the 21st Regiment sometime after a visit there in July 1836. In what was the first attempt at marking out the Perth -Albany Road, Armstrong accompanied Alfred Hillman, who was under instruction from J.S. Roe, on an expedition to lay out a route from Albany to Kojonup. The 21st Regiment looks to have had a presence at Kojonup during 1838 but when Armstrong died suddenly at the Vasse in September of that year the guard there may not have been maintained. Even though Warburton said he was expected to visit Kojonup (which he did at least once in 1840), there doesn’t seem to be any clear record of the barracks being manned until 1842.


Moorilup - Small Spring - F. Bird P6 - July 1836

Above: The first surveys of the future Albany Highway were made in 1836 by Alfred Hillman and Lieutenant Armstrong. On that expedition the location of Moorilup was given as a small spring E.N.E. from the summit of Mount Barker. Clipping from Part 11 of F.Bird’s historical series on Albany, At The Beginning,  published by the Albany Advertiser in 1926.


30 year-old Ensign Warburton’s impression of the upriver farming opportunity will have been coloured by the extent of the activity. Not the stock spearing incident, which predated his arrival by over two years, but the sudden upturn in pastoral activity and very evident signs of progress.  That and the discovery Sir Richard’s middle daughter, 19 year-old Augusta, was at home at the Old Farm in the company of her mother grieving at the passing of her father and tragic loss of two of her brothers. Her two sisters already married, one having departed the colony. The girl herself sweet and vulnerable and eminently suited all at the same time.

As with the Governor and his last minute grab at the Hay River acreage, Warburton’s emerging vision of his own Hay River opportunity, despite the Kojonup Poison Bush saga coming in to play,  also proved too good to pass up. The question is, did he and his brother-in-law, Edward May Spencer, maintain that intrinsic association between the leaders of settlement at the Sound and the remnants of Mokare’s family?

And if so, as they joined John Hassell in the march of pastoral progress about Mount Barker, who did they bring with them?

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