The View From Mount Clarence

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

In Search of Ngurabirding-Part 4(b)

This post is continued from Part 4 (a) previous:
John McKail and George Cheyne: Town, Sea or Land?


albany-to-cape-riche-von-summer-1848Above: John McKail arrived at Albany immediately prior to the 19th Century’s great off-shore whaling boom (1836-1842), a phenomena which should have resulted in much greater migration of moneyed settlers to the area despite world-wide economic recession. But King George’s Sound was already a hard-sell being neither farming country nor flush with Colonial resources and it’s chances were halved again as it was left to languish in the shadow of Sir James Stirling’s beloved but deeply troubled Swan River settlement, Perth. Image:  King Georges Sound to Cape Riche  Survey by F. Von-Summer, 1848.


At Albany, George Cheyne escaped the self-serving clutches of Richard Spencer’s local governance by removing himself eastwards up the coast in order to take advantage of the shipping traffic, but the ex-garrison’s tiny population still improved by way of labouring class and small-time investment level immigrants. After Cheyne, Spencer, Sherratt and Symers, only one other man was persuaded to take a big-time investment plunge at Albany. Captain John Hassell did so from 1839 with the most Machiavellian of land-based assaults, thereby commencing the highly competitive South Coast pastoralist era, subject of the In Search of Ngurabirding sub-series. In the meantime, McKail’s sea-based heritage, modest means and exploitative trader mentality, along with his sizable persona and penchant for social discourse (pub-going), kept him focused on the settlement’s immediate facilities and short to medium-term prospects, the result of which came to serve him well.

During the period 1835-1843 John McKail witnessed first-hand the boom in foreign whaling traffic at the Sound, but he also observed fellow Scots origin settler George Cheyne transfer his interests sixty miles eastwards out to Cape Riche. Cheyne’s move, which influenced his own direct relatives decision to leave the colony altogether, ran simultaneous to the story of the high-profile Henty family extraction which was filling the Swan River Colony’s newspapers at the time. The Henty’s leaving was heavily dispiriting news for settlers all over the West and involved Governor Stirling, in an unsuccessful last ditch attempt to keep them, offering the highly-touted whaling location Doubtful Island Bay along with a substantial tract of land about it as exchange for their unwanted Leschenault swathe.  Whaling was all the talk among the dedicated West Australian settlers to the point Mary Bussell described it that year as a ‘mania’, but yet there wasn’t enough money in the colony to make any difference.  At a time when economic panic was gripping America and Britain,  Albany’s economy was still yet to get going. From a local investment perspective ‘all the talk’ was for the most part all it amounted to and the Henty’s, interested in whaling as they were, left anyway.

McKail’s 1837 lease at DIB was granted subsequent to the Henty’s snubbing of Stirling’s offer while Cheyne eyed off the Cape forty miles closer to town. McKail never whaled and nor did Cheyne, really, they put themselves in place to take advantage of the spin-offs.

(For more on the Henty family  see Love and War – Henry Camfield’s View  -Camfield came to Western Australia with the Hentys- or enquire through the Henty Family tag.)

Spencer arrived at Albany in September 1833, almost two years after Cheyne,  and from December that year they clashed over the payment of Customs charges on imported liquor.  The beginning of a sustained battle of authority. In May 1834, eight months into Spencer’s tenure, the James Pattison, Albany’s most profitable immigrant ship, brought Cheyne’s brother Alexander (an Army Captain) and two of his nephews, sons of his older brother, the surgeon John Cheyne, Lord Lieutenant of Ireland. The boys were George McCartney Cheyne and John Cheyne, the latter arriving with his newly wedded wife and infant son. This was to be the making of the Cheyne dynasty, as far as George was concerned, but as a great deal didn’t readily fall in to place for many others either, within four years the plan had failed and George & Grizel found themselves alone again once more.

At least for the time being.

Albany’s isolation, it’s poor agricultural land and exorbitant costs were a massive drain for those whose preconceptions of the colony were more hopeful than the reality they were able or willing to accept. Cheyne’s brother and namesake nephew resigned their government posts and left for Tasmania after eighteen months, probably encouraged by Spencer when he realised they weren’t going to invest. In the meantime, young John and wife Anna endured the death of their eldest child in 1836 while also bringing in to the world two new-borns in 1835 and 1837 respectively. With that burden its hard to imagine them being able to cope with too much else.

John and Ann Cheyne lived at Lower King on the property taken up by young John Henty in 1832, and then sold on by the family. George bought the 300 acre lot as the Hentys completed their extraction but the stay was not to be a happy one for the installed nephew and his infant family. By 1837 George Cheyne had had enough of Spencer and was squatting out at Cape Riche on his own terms, young John probably involved to some extent with the merchant business in town while attempting to farm at the mouth of the King. But John and Anne decided to move on too and in 1838, after the American whaler Gratitude, under Captain Fisherhad spent the winter off Cape Riche, the couple and their two toddlers took advantage of a ride east.  At New Zealand they transferred back to Sydney.

I should also point out that at this time Cheyne was cash-strapped. All his money was tied up in Albany town and Lower Kalgan (Candyup) properties, investments which netted him 19,000 acres in grants out at Moorilup, which he could afford neither to stock nor improve. Cheyne surely must have been able to generate some kind of income from his property letting and merchant business in town and, I suppose, from his activities out at Cape Riche too, but he had to wait for an opportunity to sell some of his land in order to liberate his finances. This may also have contributed to his brother and nephews deciding to leave when they did.

Cheyne’s opportunity to sell at a profit finally came in 1839, eight years after his initial plunge, with the arrival of John Hassell and his commitment to running sheep at the head of the Kalgan River. Hassell’s purchase not only determined Cheyne’s ownership of the Cape Riche holding but gave impetus to other potential pursuits as well, including prospecting for gold and cutting and trading Sandalwood. It shoud be made clear at this point though that Cheyne himself does not ever look to have been enticed by the business of pastoralsim beyond running a few hundred sheep at Cape Riche. Those sheep, it appears, more valued for slaughtering than growing wool.

(Visit The Cheyne Family Website for sources and added detail)


Above: Bonzle Maps view of the Lower King River and Point Henty. Once the primitive realm of the Henty and Cheyne families, the northern shores of Oyster Harbour also became home to the Taylor and Symers families at Candyup (though the Taylors only temporarily), then to the sons of John McKail as well.

Prior to 1840, all of this may have cautioned McKail (and Curtis) against getting too heavily involved too quickly. After all, Albany was just one of Curtis’s multiple places of interest and  (as we now know) McKail’s own means were modest and his time probably taken up running the victualling store and warehouse.

Note: Deptford Shipyards were attached to the main victualling depot for the Royal Navy and McKail may well have gained experience in this department while earning his apprenticeship. Victuallers supplied ships with food, drink and materials necessary for long periods at sea and familiarity with it would have made McKail an attractive employee prospect for Curtis. McKail’s 1839 marriage certificate to Henrietta Jenkins describes him as a victualler.

Albany’s movers and shakers of the time were seriously dynamic and far more in favour with Governor Stirling than McKail, but they were also older and richer. McKail was only 28 when he came to Albany. Spencer, at the same time, was in his mid 50s. Sherratt was in his early 50s, Cheyne in his mid 40s and Peter Belches and John Hassell in their late 30s. Patrick Taylor was a contemporary at 28 and John Morley was in his early 30s, but like McKail these two weren’t farmers either. McKail was a Londoner with a naval family background, much more exposed to trading than working the land.

McKail’s 1835 arrival at Albany would have been overshadowed by the marginally earlier appearance of the much-moneyed Captain Thomas Lyell Symers and his ship the Caledonia,  but the effect this high-rolling, hard-drinking man had on the place would not have been lost on him. Symers bought up big and used his vessel to supply the settlement with much needed goods, livestock and materials, all of which boosted the fledgling economy and gave confidence to others to come and settle, including the McKenzie family, John Hassell and also, very probably, George Egerton-Warburton.

But in order to take-off commercially Albany needed more, much more, and no matter how hard Spencer worked, the attraction of Western Australia’s South Coast failed to net more than a just a few of the necessary dozen or so heavy-weights it needed. From a development point of view, Albany required something special, some kind of winning draw. That draw should have been whaling but no individual knew enough about it, nor were they rich enough or committed enough to build the infrastructure. Equally, Stirling’s government was never going to make big investments anywhere but at the Swan. The other option was inland pasture and the business of growing wool, which did, to an extent, work. But in a cataclysmic case of adding insult to injury, this was already on the verge of suffering the mother of all setbacks.

Between 1836 and 1840 Symers was a major figure in Albany but he also had other interests and needs. This caused his ship to be redirected to India for a few years, after which it was damaged trying to ride out a storm at Fremantle. Symers’ story is a hard luck one. Prior to 1840 he was an unstoppable force and his presence would almost certainly have attracted other important players. From 1840 onwards though, nothing went right.

For McKail, from the same point in time, the opposite is true. Curtis ended his coastal trading enterprise and went whaling off Rottnest Island instead, a point which coincides with McKail’s official purchase of The Ship Inn; what now looks to be his first sole investment in the town and from which he appears to have grown and grown.

While Symers’ Caledonia was out of service the small band leading Albany’s fledgling business community will have realised how precarious their position was. King George’s Sound was isolated and badly needed a regular supply line with the outside world, one that was dedicated to building the local economy. As much by way of personal representation and promotion as by feed. Curtis’s coastal trader had contributed by way of supplying food and drink, but his profits were redirected to Perth and when John Hassell finally did arrive, rather than seek to aid development his plan was to corner the market and make a killing by driving prices up.

Development at Albany just couldn’t get going and the import/export business largely came to comprise what the whalers could offer. Essentially, an exchange of clothing, preserved foods, liquor and tobacco for fresh food, firewood and kangaroo and seal skins. From about 1840, a beginning interest in Sandalwood too. But not much more. With competition between merchants, the trade in property slow and construction projects at the best of times limited, other than filling glasses and selling bottles down at the Ship Inn, McKail didn’t have that much to get excited about.

Further suggestion McKail was financially tethered, at least for a number of years after his arrival, can be seen through the lure of the pastoral opportunity he chose not to engage with.

From 1839, a point at which prices for Australian wool in England virtually collapsed, Kojonup became the hot fancy of those who still believed the industry was the way forward, and a signifcant group led by Symers, Belches and Sherratt’s son-in-law, Hugh McDonald, drove stock that far. Symers added to his flocks with management contracts and a hasty purchase from Edward John Eyre who, persuaded by an open letter of invitation written by George Grey and published in the South Australian press, came through from there with 1500 head in March 1840. Symers bought, even though Eyre’s stock was said to be infected with scab and in miserable condition.

McKail probably met Eyre, who was younger than him (only 24 at the time) but failed to buy-in to the livestock opportunity the soon-to-be-famous overlander was seeking to exploit. It might have been hard for McKail to resist, but once again neither he nor Curtis were men of the land. Curtis was a sailor and his business was trading, wholesaling and retailing through his stores, while McKail looks not to have wanted to spend too much time away from the booming social scene at Albany. By 1840 there was a ship a week paying harbour fees at King George’s Sound, most of them packed with lusty, thirsty whaling crews.

Luckily for McKail he didn’t invest.  As if things couldn’t get any worse for the reputation of the crippled colony, hyped-up Kojonup (and Albany by association) quickly became a dirty word. In 1840, the winter-flowering Gastrolobium bilobum, commonly known as Heart Leaf Poison, an otherwise harmless shrub to unsuspecting sheep men, wiped out their entire inland stock holding, including half of Eyre’s remaining  ewes which he was driving on to York. Pastoralist circles across Australia quickly caught wind of it and that was that. It was an unmitigated disaster. Along with the thousands of animals and all they will have contributed to the region’s slowly expanding wealth, went every ounce of interest the South Coast had garnered across the Australian colonies and internationally since the Spencers had taken over.

Seven years of toil routed in a single episode.

Hassell survived but Symers, who was already embroiled in other financially damaging circumstances involving his shipping business, never recovered.  McKail however, restrained and perhaps even chomping at the bit, must have counted his blessings.

McKenzie the Hotelier and McKail the School Teacher.


It wasn’t until 1843, by which time McKail was father to two baby girls, that he involved himself in another venture. That year he went into business with Hugh McKenzie (1800-1854), another ship’s captain with yet another fantastic story to tell. McKenzie and his family had arrived from Caledonia in 1840 and for a couple of years occupied a low profile existence as the captain, it would appear, let Digory Geake’s unfavourably located Albany Hotel while making various trading voyages to the eastern colonies in a ship that may have been known as the Blue Nose. From 1843 McKail’s Ship Inn at lot B15 was redeveloped and a new The Ship Inn, run by Captain Hugh and his family, came into being.

Note: The story of the McKenzie family is heroic and deserves its own separate post which I may get around to at some stage, even if only to try and sort out the confusion of who was who within it. The genealogy of the McKenzie family at Albany is confused. Various people have offered interpretations over the years but none are complete, nor do they correlate with the town’s archives which are probably confused themselves.

As it is apt to keep pointing out, the early 40s was the height of the French American off-shore whaling boom, a phenomen which ended due to the global recession even more quickly than it emerged. During its reign however, there was plenty of business to be had along the waterfront by way of offering food, drink and accommodation both to ship’s leading hands and their ‘scum’ crews. This was also the period when local mariners, led by John Bailey Pavey, began linking to the pelagic whalers by basing themselves on-shore and using their smaller boats to scavenge and process the waste. The genuine beginnings of a local industry. Some of the men working in these crews were Albany and Two People’s Bay Aborigines. The practise, called tonguing, coincided with the establishment of seasonal shore-based whaling stations between Torbay and Cape Arid, also significantly contributed to by a whaling master known as John Thomas  (Thomas River, Cape Arid) who was progressively migrating from the east coast by this means. (Read J.J. Sale; Pioneer Whalers and Settlers). Most of these men will have frequented the Ship Inn.

Albany Mariners - Spencer Census 1836

Left: A cut from Sir Richard Spencer’s handwritten 1836 settler census at Albany in which he groups the mariners Robert Brainston, James Thatcher, John Bootts, William Tunce/Jance?,  John Beedon and James (Black Jack) Anderson. Others on the census but listed elsewhere include Soloman Aspinall, John William Andrews (aka John Bailey Pavey) and Robert Gamble. There were 160 names on the list of which 14 were given as mariners, seamen or boat owners.

Hugh McKenzie was also a man of the sea and his business at Albany was closely linked to it. Recognising the potential of McKail’s site the pair appear to have developed it, constructing a dedicated building which looks to be the one circled in the photo below. The inner workings of the deal aren’t clear but McKail held title to the property until after McKenzie had died, eventually selling it to one of McKenzie’s sons or nephews (also called Hugh) in 1857. (Note: Captain Hugh McKenzie passed away in 1854)

When McKail and McKenzie began discussing the Ship Inn they look to have formed some kind of partnership where, I reckon, McKail leased McKenzie the land while the buildings and pub business were co-owned. In any case, from 1843 it is the name Hugh McKenzie which is tied to the Ship Inn establishment while McKail took a back seat raising his family and then, by way of free time, taking up a couple of less challenging civic positions.

Ship Inn - Photo from Dowson - markedAbove: The Ship Inn came to be located immediately below the old government buildings (shown here pre-2nd phase in 1881) on the west side of the new Town Jetty (not commenced until 1862). This photo, cropped from a panorama made by H.J. Sivyer in 1881 and published in John Dowson’s Old Albany  photograph book, pg 57, shows the rear of the Ship Inn in a run-down state.

Now, we know from records that Albany’s dubious sealing fraternity were using the Ship Inn as their place of refreshment. Bob Gamble had assaulted Mary Ann Earle at the Ship Inn during November 1836 after she accused him of cohabiting with Black Jack Anderson’s wife, Dorothea Newell, and we know that just a matter of months later Anderson was dead, Gamble sheepishly returning from a stint up the coast to tell acting magistrate Patrick Taylor what might have happened.  See Bob Gamble, John Bailey Pavey and Black Jack Anderson for the full story.

From the time he became involved with the Ship Inn, McKail came to know the renegade sealing fraternity. Anthony Curtis became a whaler about this time too, operating from Rottnest Island, so there’s clear compatibility between his association with McKail and with McKail’s 1836/7 association with the Sherrat/Lovett enterprise at Doubtful Island Bay. But Bob Gamble is closely associated with the Doubtful Islands too and it may even have been that McKail subcontracted Gamble to be the on-site presence there during Sherratt’s two year campaign (which may also help account for that irksome low oil yield.) Bob Gamble’s Aboriginal son Robert Jnr, who we’ll discuss later, was killed in a spearing incident near Jerramungup in August 1859. Robert Jnr was known locally as Doubtful Island Bob, indicating his likely upbringing in the bay area over a significant period.

For a moment we should once again consider the life of Eliza Nowen, Bob Gamble’s defacto Aboriginal wife who was stolen from the Mornington Peninsula and brought out West by him, quite possibly as part of a sealing crew led by Black Jack Anderson. Eliza was said never to have left the islands and come ashore. According to the Albany Historical Society’s Breaksea Island Bible, which records the births of Gamble’s children, Robert Gamble Jnr alias Doubtful Island Bob was born in 1837. Exactly the time of the Sherratt/Lovett/McKail Doubtful Island campaign.

Moving on, we know from Campbell Beer’s enlightening ‘John Bailey Pavey‘, held at the Albany Library, this rogue mariner group comprised the criminal fringe at the Sound, but while these labouring-class men may have been devious and even deadly in their means, they weren’t the only ones.

Government was the absolute authority at the time and those given paid positions within it were expected to exercise their duties without fail, doing so in the knowledge taxes funded their wages. But taxes were high, especially on imported items such as liquor and tobacco, making smuggling a temptation difficult to resist.

Captain Hugh McKenzie did as McKail had and in November 1844 acquired an undeclared consignment of brandy from a French whaler called Courier. Something went awry in the deal-making and subsequently the Captain of the Courier burst into the Ship Inn at five in the morning, threatening McKenzie with a pistol. Not knowing what was happening, McKenzie’s wife went howling into the street after a shot was fired and made up to the barracks for help. Lawrence Mooney, Albany’s police constable since James Dunne’s demise around 1840, took control. (Mooney was formerly with Baker’s 21st Regiment, discharged with him in July 1840). In any event, McKenzie managed to pacify the French and they went back to their ship only to return to settle the matter later in the day with three boatloads of men. There was a stand-off on the beach after Mooney hastily recruited 18 locals, arming them as special constables and preventing the angry mob from entering the pub. A deal, somehow, was struck and officially the French captain was fined £5 and allowed leave.

Reading between the lines, the consignment had been confiscated and McKenzie, at risk of being gaoled for smuggling, had denied any association and refused to pay the French off, leaving the captain of the Courier smarting on all fronts. (Perth Inquirer 6 Nov 1844)


The First School for Aboriginal Children


The sealing fraternity who so regularly frequented the Ship Inn kept with them, either in the town or on the islands nearby, a number of eastern Aboriginal women to whom they had fathered multiple children. As above, Bob Gamble was partnered to Eliza Nowen, one of three Westernport women from the Mornington Peninsula said to be living on Bald Island in 1839. (Bald Island is near Two People’s Bay and was another, closer to Albany, off-shore base of Gamble’s.) The other women were named by William Nairne Clarke as Julia Morgan (several children) and  Mary (2 children), who I suspect were the surviving women kept by Black Jack Anderson prior to his death. John Bailey Pavey and John Harris, a (part) Maori sealer and consort of Pavey’s, also kept eastern women. Pavey’s love was Fanny Bryan while Harris’s was a Palawah woman by the name of Towser. Harris had multiple children with Towser, some of whom we will pick up on in due course. Fanny Bryan, who Pavey stole from Flinders Island in South Australia, was already a mother when he took her and while he seems to have displayed degrees of lasting loyalty toward her doesn’t appear to have fathered her any children.

These children, as I casually refer to them, led extraordinarily difficult lives. Being of native and lowest class European descent, not to mention bearing criminal association, they were always going to struggle to adapt and find acceptance. But this was only part of the problem. The children were dark-skinned and Aboriginal in appearance, though not Noongar. In and around the town of Albany, where multi-culturalism among the working class was established and mixed-race children, even at that early stage, were far from a new phenomena, their origins will have been to a large part inconsequential. Outside, however, where Noongar adherence to traditional custom was still rigid, acceptance will have been much harder to come by. For this reason, or partially because of it, they took such protective measures as disguising their origins, claiming to be from Polynesia or Mauritius for example, rather than of local Noongar descent.

I’ll go in to that a little more later on, suffice to say Eliza Nowen did not stay on the islands for no good reason and her son, Doubtful Island Bob, did not make it past his 23rd year.

And here we gain insight to the nature of the deprived upcoming generations during this time. The sealers brought their own line of indigenous descent children who came to live in the town while their fathers roamed the coast and their mothers lived mostly contained lives on the islands. Descendants of Bob Gamble and Eliza Nowen say Eliza never came onto the mainland, ever. Towser is an identity known through the records only, while her children’s lives, though difficult to precisely decipher, nonetheless illustrate the exploitation, abuse, disregard and genuine danger they had to contend with.

In these pages I’m bound to stay as close to the truth as the available information permits, but we have seen time and again the hardship and cruelty that existed during the colonial era and a mere grasp on what continues to happen across the globe today doesn’t make it difficult to imagine the level of risk these kids were at. Fortunately, for some, there were compassionate eyes at Albany that fell on them and for all the selective misdoing evangelical Christianity wrought on the Aborigines, there was also kindness and it did do some good.

Nonetheless, that kindness also looks like it came with a politico-legal agenda attached.

Captain George Grey, who took over as the town’s administrator when Spencer died in the winter of 1839, only stayed nine months but during that stint finalised his well documented theory that Aboriginal children should be separated from their parents and brought up as whites. This, he said, had to occur when they were very young as it gave their civilisation its only chance. They should be brought up as servants in white homes, he said, schooled in domestic skills, hygiene methods and in reading, writing and arithmetic. At the same time as he was setting this theory out, Grey felt it necessary to warn the Colonial Secretary about the sealers at Albany, their eastern Aboriginal women and many children born on the islands.

 “this half caste breed, reared under circumstances which must eventually render them the most lawless and worthless characters, stand a fair chance of inheriting in right of birth thereon, the various Archipelagos on this Coast.”


John Randall Philips is of particular relevence to these pages because he not only spent seven full years as Resident Magistrate at Albany  (Sept 1840 till Dec 1847) but two as  Sub-Protector of Aborigines at the end of the decade (1850-52). During his tenure as R.M. Phillips took steps to commence a school for Aboriginal children. McKail, in 1843, the same year he leased out the Ship Inn to Hugh McKenzie (and, coincidentally, the same year those 18 Aborigines died of winter flu), had time on his hands and took up the role, presumably because no one else would, but also in typically belligerent fashion, only on the condition he was appointed Post Master as well.

Now, bear in mind it was at Phillips’s property, Maddington Farm, on the Canning River in April 1833 that the Velnick brothers had been murdered by Midgegooroo, Yagan and Munday. Phillips may not necessarily have known McKail during that time but given the high profile nature of McKail’s effigy burning stunt and later expulsion from Perth it’s impossible to think Phillips didn’t know about the shooting of Gogalee. Yet McKail was appointed to both positions.

There’s no record of where the school was located but the fact it was established at public cost does say something about attitudes and willingness towards helping the integration process. The school ran for around three years, during which McKail collected his rent and dual salaries, but it wasn’t a success. Homes could only be found for three children and attendance was inconsistent. Phillips closed the school in April 1846, notably just as an ordinance had been passed by the colonial government to regulate temporary occupation of crown lands, including offshore islands.

Just as the school was costly and unsuccessful, neither any longer was it serving legal or political purposes.

For more detail on this read  Relics of the Sealing Trade in Campbell Taylor and the Cape Arid Connection – Part 1 and To Educate and Christianise in Part 2 of the same set.

Mabo Wordle

Above: This Wordcloud of the legislation behind the historic 1982 Mabo native title case looks like it could apply to the part Aboriginal children of the sealers who were born on the islands off the South Coast during the first half of the 19th Century. Could the descendants of Bob Gamble and Eliza Nowen be legally entitled to ownership of the Doubtful Bay Islands? Image courtesy of Creative Spirits website.


Lindol Emerges As Cheyne Grows Strong Again


In the meantime, out at Cape Riche, Cheyne was still able to imagine a future for himself. He had no choice, I suppose, as everything he had was sunk in to his decision to take up way down on the colony’s uneasily measured South Coast. But then again, Cheyne did not position himself there for no good reason.

From 1835 Cheyne had identified Cape Riche as a place of promise, staving off determined application for the site by one of Roe’s Assistant Surveyors at the time, Henry Ommaney, by way of political leverage. From 1837 Cheyne was based there, at least on a part-time basis, as it was from Cape Riche that he and Captain Coffin of the American whaler Charles Wright deviously deterred Thomas Sherratt from his shore-based efforts at Doubtful Island Bay (yet another assault on the much-bullied Sherratt) and it was from Cape Riche, in 1838, that Cheyne’s nephew John departed the colony. It seems to me that from at least 1837 Cheyne squatted at Cape Riche over the winter months providing victuals and possibly even labour for the foreign whalers fishing in the various bays east of Albany. It wasn’t until 1842 when he took up official ownership of the land and not until 1845 when he registered a ten-ton boat he called Grace, and not until 1850 when official documents recorded the extent of his farming practice there, but it is certainly evident that Cheyne used the location well enough to maintain an unofficial hold over it until Hassell’s purchase of Moorilup freed up his cash reserves in 1839 and the complicated colonial documentation completing the transaction finally came through three years later.

As for whether or not Cheyne went whaling himself, the question remains. Merle Bignell in Fruit of the Country (Pg 60) says Cheyne’s boat Grace secured ‘many tons of oil’ but she provides no supporting evidence while Martin Gibbs in his seminal study The Shore Whalers of Western Australia makes no such claim, stating that apart from the 1836 and 1837 ventures I’ve already mentioned, there was no domestic whaling enterprises active along the South Coast between 1838 and 1841 at all, and that nothing else of a shore based whaling nature occurred at Cape Riche until the 1860s. Of course it’s possible Cheyne worked the winter seasons by way of clandestine activity but it is much more likely he avoided clashing with the ship based whalers (his customers) and instead supported them through supply of victuals and perhaps, on a very limited basis, labour too.

In any case, we know by 1842 when Andrew Moir arrived, Cheyne was running sheep at Cape Riche. This is evidenced through Revett Bland’s visit to his house late that year after Cheyne complained of losing more than 100 sheep to theft. Bland cited three Aborigines who had been banished from Albany as the culprits, the best known of them being Lindol. These three Aborigines (Minigule and Handy being the others) were those that took the life of the boy Cardid (alias Billy) in a so-called payback killing in Albany during January 1842, which I mentioned in  Part (a) of this post.  That these three men found themselves at Cape Riche later that year indicates they either had relative connections in the area or that (less likely) they were hired by a whaler at Albany (a claim which Chauncy in Aborigines of Victoria supports) and then absconded at the Cape, perhaps stealing the sheep in order to curry favour with the Aborigines they met in the area.

These things are hard to know for sure.

What we can say, however, is that Lindol as both whaler and traveller was a very significant figure at Albany during this time. Lindol went to Adelaide with Eyre and Wiley in 1840 where he served time in the South Australian Mounted Police (apparently under Eyre’s supervision) and then, when George Grey arrived in Adelaide as Governor in May 1841, was employed as Grey’s orderly. This very likely reflects Grey’s prior knowledge of Lindol at Albany. Lindol was cited in Revett Bland’s 1842 list of natives at Albany (taken late in 1842) and was awaiting trial in 1844 for the Cardid killing, but the charges were dropped after Magistrate Phillips decided the method by which he was charged was not legal; that being, no coroner was present at the inquest after the boy Cardid’s death, thereby suggesting once again that Phillips knew who among the Albany Aborigines to protect. (Green: Aborigines of the Albany Region.) I could find no mention of Lindol being charged or imprisoned for the sheep thefts at Cape Riche so it may have been that Bland dropped the case after the sheep were found and returned.

Lindol features prominently in the letters of the mysterious J.R. Phillips who at one point around 1850, in a letter to the Colonial Secretary’s Office, desires him very strongly to be appointed as Native Constable on (comparatively) expensive terms set out by Lindol himself. Phillips also describes him as ‘Governor Lindol’, leader of the Albany Aborigines by way of ‘governing’, or at least influencing, their behaviour. Lindol appears to have been a capable whaler, earning a £13.00 lay in 1849 or 1850 while working at the entrance of Princess Royal Harbour for a shore-based venture established and run by James Daniells. Lindol used his pay to fund a large party for all the Albany Aborigines, not the first according to Phillips and on the occasion he mentions specifically names Constable Samuel Piggott as attending to the organsiaton of food and accoutrements as to minimise the intake of spirits which, based on prior experience, inevitably led to fights. In any case, during the winter whaling season Lindol led the Aboriginal whalers of the Albany district in a way that conformed to the hopes and wishes of the settlement leadership, in fact (according to Phillips) Lindol would arrest members of his own cultural group for offences within their own system of law as much as for the European system and consulted Phillips on appropriate punishments. From this we can see how the business of whaling interested certain of the Aborigines and how they were willing to bend to settler ways in order not only to acquire the benefits but to establish and further a reputation in order that they could continue.

Shore-based whaling took a significant step forward as a local industry from around 1842 when John Bailey Pavey (aka James Andrews) used his boat the Vulcan to begin the practise of tonguing out at Two People’s Bay.  We know Sherratt and Lovett whaled at Doubtful Island Bay during 1836 and 1837 and from 1837 Cheyne was working with ship-based operations from Cape Riche, and that from 1836 to 1842 the number of visiting pelagic whalers spiked dramatically, but what’s important here is how whaling drew more Aborigines toward the coast during the Winter/Spring months as whale meat served a nutritious and abundant source of easily attained food. This in all likelihood led to greater numbers of Aborigines wanting to join the operations and is another example of how traditional Aboriginal practises were interupted by settlement activities. It was also probably  the source of much tension between the inland and coastal groups and would comes as no surprise if it turned out to be the source of the inland accusation that the King George’s Sound Aborigines had ‘become all the same as whites.’

Phillips was delighted with the leadership shown by Lindol and referenced him as evidence of the improvement Albany’s Aborigines were making in becoming more civilised. What he didn’t realise sufficiently, however, was that whaling suited Lindol and his select associates, benefitting them in multiple ways, but only for as long as those benefits were sustained. As soon as the whaling season was over there was nothing else to sufficiently inspire the Aborigines to deviate from their deeply rooted ways. This schism is vivid illustration of the tragedy besetting the traditional Aborigines of the South Coast. Sourcing food was fundamental to the hunter gatherer existence. When the pursuit of acquiring that food was altered as dramatically as it was, first by the arrival of the military at Albany and then by permament settlement, the nature of Aboriginal existence at these places was equally fundamentally changed.  Sourcing food went from everyday traditional practice to whatever means possible, much of it chanelled through settler installations. Employment of all and any form was crucial, along with what the newcomer’s considered common theft. Outside of the settled districts, of course, influence was negligible and it was perceived corruption in the eyes of the more isolated groups which gave rise to so much tension.

So Lindol had achieved prominance among Albany’s officials by the end of the decade and was regularly being written about by Mr Phillips.  In 1851, Lindol was acting for the King George Sound Aborigines against Willmen tribesmen at Kendenup, and Koreng or Willmen Aborigines at Jerramungup as well.  This was during a time  we’ll look a little more closely at further on as there is clear indictaion that by 1850, when Lindol’s leadership at Albany was at its peak, the King George Aborigines were being pressed by outsiders to come fight on the grounds they had ‘become all the same as white men.’ This conflict was perhaps no more than a continuation of the familial disputes fought by Mokare twenty years earlier, but by the end of the 1840s, still thee or four years prior to the influx of convict labour, tensions were as high as ever and the battle was being fought on a wide front with heads at Mount Barker,  east all the way to Jerramungup, and south to the coast again at Cape Riche.

In many respects Lindol’s carreer parallels that of Bobby Roberts, otherwise believed to be Cape Riche Bobby, a study of whom called Bobby Roberts: Intermediary and outlaw of Western Australia’s south coast,  was recently published by Clint Bracknell. Cape Riche Bobby doesn’t come into colonial reckoning until late in 1848 when Surveyor Roe carried out the last of his many explorations of lower Western Australia. With advancements in technology, talk of a railway and the arrival of steamships in Australian waters, the search for coal had taken on genuine importance. Reports of coal seams along the South Coast brought Roe down and he combined that search with one for pastures inland and eastwards along the coast over the Christmas/New Year period of 1848/9. Cape Riche Bobby became Roe’s guide and Roe’s multiple mentions of him in his journals of that expedition tell us much more not only about him but of the shared language and kinship links between the coastal Shell People as far as at least Cape Arid.

Cape Riche Bobby (whose home fire was actually at Doubtful Island Bay, 40 miles east) was introduced to Roe by George Cheyne at Cape Riche, something which reflects Bobby’s standing with Cheyne at the time. But things were to change. After successfully serving Roe as guide, in fact showing him the pastures at the head of the Gairdner River (Jeer-a-mung-up) which John Hassell rapidly claimed and stocked (Bracknell claiming Bobby left Roe to tell Hassell directly what Roe was about to report to the entire colony), and a short period acting as Native Policeman at Albany, Cape Riche Bobby turned outlaw, joining the resistance and acting against settlement (Hassell specifically). It was at this time that Lindol took up as Native Constable for Phillips and went out on one occasion with the express purpose of executing a warrant against Cape Riche Bobby (Phillips Letter Books 1851). It is also at this time when Cheyne, having lost patience with the unreliable nature of the Aborigines in his area decided to retire back to Albany, but not before promoting the idea of a native cull.

Bracknell’s academic piece makes much of the conflicted nature of Cape Riche Bobby, who after turning outlaw, being incarcerated at Rottnest Island then returned to his home area in 1853, once again joined with the settlers and took up a paid position as Native Constable which he looks to have maintained for many years afterwards. Perhaps up until the 1880’s.

In any case, during 1852 Lindol had a son who was given in to Annesfield, the second school for Aboriginal children at Albany, this one run by Anne and Henry Camfield. Recorded as being 6 years old in 1858, Andrew Lindahl was described by Assistant Surveyor Chauncy as the son of a local chief. In 1851 Lindol was also mentioned as living in an incestuous relationship with a fifteen year old girl, which the child Andrew Lindhal, who doesnt appear in any records after 1858, may have been the product of.

There will have been many Aborigines of great standing that we will never get to know of but together with Mokare, Manyat, Nebinyan, Wiley, Norngern, Notuman, Cape Riche Bobby and a handful of others, Lindol (who was perhaps closely related to Wiley/Wylie) was no everyday Noongar.

That Lindol was thought by R.H. Bland to be the ‘principal native concerned‘ with the 1842 robbery of ‘upwards of 100 sheep‘ from George Cheyne along with Cheyne’s suggestion of a native cull nearly ten years later, brings into question his reputation among the Aborigines. If Lindol was in fact one of the leading Albany tribesmen of the post-Mokare era and with some influence well east of there, then his actions warrant more than just summary analysis.

George Cheyne was publicly chastised by Spencer for taking the law into his hands after being out at Two Peoples Bay in 1837. Cheyne used whips to discipline some Aborigines who had stayed too long in his house in Albany when he wasn’t there. Lindol may have been one of, or known these men well. Also, from 1850 Cheyne employed the use of strichnine to control the presence of wild dogs and crows about his Cape Riche property and as mentioned in 1851 actually wrote to the Colonial Secretary suggesting ‘eight to ten‘ Aborigines ‘be secured or shot‘ in order to ‘suitably intimidate‘ all others. The strichnine inference being that the crows he was seeking to poison were not of the avian kind. (See Weaver: Martime resource exploitation in southwest Australia prior to 1901, Edith Cowen University thesis 1997 and Bignell, Fruit of the Country, Pg 65)

So Cheyne was not a man to be trifled with. Not at all. By the early 1840s Spencer had died, leaving his sons to pick up the financial mess he had encumbered himself with, Patrick Taylor was battling depression in the face of his being robbed by his financial agent back in Britain and was going nowhere fast, Digory Geake the original hotelier had gone broke after suffering a stroke and the tragic loss of his daughter soon after arrival, John Morley had drowned, T.B. Sherratt was slowly being driven insane by survivalist competition out to sucker him dry, and Symers of course was bellowing blue murder in the face of his mounting losses. But there was Cheyne, alone and isolated sixty miles from anywhere, clinging like a periwinkle to the strorm-washed rocks of the coast. Another Alpha male, but unlike Black Jack Anderson, a survivor as well.

From the moment his nephew John set sail with his wife and young family from Cape Riche in the Spring of 1838, George Cheyne probably went to work on a second essential recruitment campaign. Given any of his remaining relatives were unlikely to buy into the prospect of life in Western Australia, he concentrated on his wife’s much smaller family, all of whom were still living amongst the now burgeoning collieries of Fifeshire, just across the Forth waters from Edinburgh.

Grizel Melville was the youngest of three sisters. Her nearest, Elizabeth, was older by two years. The oldest, Margaret, was two years ahead again. Fifteen years before Grizel’s own marriage to George, Elizabeth had tied the knot with a coal miner from the same area as the husband of Margaret. John Moir and Robert Muir, respectively, of Scoonie, Fifeshire, were of a different social class to the well-to-do Cheyne’s but their children, the oldest of which was only ten years younger than Cheyne himself, were accustomed to the toil of hard work and the danger of labouring underground.

At last economically unshackled, Cheyne began selling the families of his inlaws an alternative to the mines and local trades by proposing five year indentureships at his (soon-to-be) blossoming port.

In 1842, 24 year-old Andrew Moir came bravely alone and two years after that 42 year-old Andrew Muir strolled down the gangplank with wife and six children in trail. Both served out their time at Cape Riche assisting Cheyne develop the farm, servicing whalers and also tapping in to the business of trading Sandalwood.

Sandalwood boomed as an export product from around 1840 but was mostly sourced southwards from York toward Katanning up until 1846 when a route down the Pallinup (Salt) River was opened up and trading shifted from the controlled ports of Fremantle and (to a far lesser extent) Albany, to the unregistered, unmonitored base of George Cheyne at Cape Riche. That Cheyne left Cape Riche in the early 1850s, having built himself a mansion (Norman House) on Stirling Terrace in Albany and without having to sell anything, indicates his money was largely made. I would suggest, as much through the illicit cutting and trading of Sandalwood out of Cape Riche between 1846 and 1850 as victualing whalers and other shipping from 1837. Cheyne was in semi-retirment in Albany from 1852 and left for England with Grizel in 1860, never to return.

Well before this though, back in 1849 after Andrew Muir and his family bid farewell to Uncle George and set out on their own, Cheyne had recognised the potential of Andrew Moir’s brother Alex (nine years junior) through the exchange of family letters. George went to work again, proposing passages and indentureships for the apparent prodigy and his brother George. Alexander and George Moir were persuaded and in becoming so laid it out for the entire Moir family to consider the prospect as well. And so all but one of the remaining Moir siblings came to Albany, as did parents John Moir and Elizabeth Melville (Grizel’s sister), arriving in 1850.  Eldest brother John Moir Jnr, eventually came too but not untill the end of 1850s.

In the meantime, under circumstances very difficult to work out, Cheyne also recruited the grandson of his older sister Cecilia. This was William Henry Graham, a boy only of about ten years of age when he arrived in 1852.

During the 1840s, while the Spencers were reeling from their family tragedies -though still making property gains upriver- George Egerton-Warburton was marrying-in and staking claim to his own properties on the Upper Hay and Frankland. At the same time as Symers was going broke and Hassell was weathering the poison-bush storm up at the newly named Kendenup, the family of Andrew Muir served out its time under Cheyne and branched into its own line of pastoral gain by tapping first into the Upper Hay, then westwards to the fertile lands of the Blackwood. The Muirs left Cheyne’s employ as title was uncertain and it probably looked as if it had fallen to Andrew Moir who had successfully gained the hand of Emily Trimmer whom the Cheynes had adopted in the wake of her father’s drowning in the Swan River back in 1836 (See Part 2 – The Hay River Brigade), and there were still more Moirs to come. Many more.

Thus, by 1860, Cheyne had colonised Cape Riche with the families of the Melville sisters and much of the pastoral expansion in that great arching swathe up the Hay River from Albany, up the Frankland from Mount Barker, along the Gordon from Yerriminup to Eticup and Borden, then down the Pallinup all the way back to the coast between Cape Riche and Doubtful Island Bay, became to be very much influenced by their presence.

There is much still to explain, the conquering of the poison-bush and how the business of shipping Sandalwood opened up John McKail’s merchant business to limits well beyond his little waterfront pub could ever muster, but we begin to see now how the wider families of Sir Richard Spencer, George Cheyne, Captain John Hassell and the still emerging John McKail burgeoned in power while much of the rest of  Australia, and the world for that matter, slowly emerged from one of the all-time great economic depressions.

10 responses to “In Search of Ngurabirding-Part 4(b)”

  1. Richard D Wilkinson Avatar
    Richard D Wilkinson

    Very nice documentation of WA history. My mother is a direct descendant of John Mckail and grew up in Albany, WA. My Aunt Cecily Mckail in a Family history referred to much of the same documentation you provided. My Great Uncle Hal Mckail was the headmaster of Perth Boys School. My grandfather Denzil Mckail and his brothers fought in Galipolis and were honoured on Mt Clarence. Local Author David Bird took my family there in 1999 while on a visit to WA.

    1. Avatar

      Glad you found it worthwhile Richard. So much more to Albany’s history than what is generally known. Best wishes..

  2. Lee-Anne Avatar

    Hi, I am interested in any further information on John Harris, his Palawa woman Towser and their children, if you have any or can suggest where I might find it. Our family genealogy suggests we are descendants of Ebenezer Harris and Nylangood (spelling?). It appears on the provided tree that Ebenezer and Towser had a daughter Fanny. My sisters and I have been unable to find the connections with our family and Ebenezer. This document is the second I have found that links Towser to John Harris. I wonder if John and Ebenezer are one and the same person, or if John and Ebenezer are related and that has caused the confusion, or if someone just gave the wrong name either accidently or deliberately. Any information or advise you could provide would be much appreciated.

    1.  Avatar

      Hi Lee-Anne, your mention of John Harris as Ebeneezer is new to me. I will have a look around and see if I can find out anymore, suffice to say the story of John Harris and Towser and that of their daughter Fanny Harris, is quite well known. If you make contact with me at I will provide you what supporting documents I have. Best wishes, Ciaran

  3. Sharon Avatar

    Hi Ciaran
    I too am looking for information on on John Harris and Towser and that of their daughter Fanny Harris, my grandfather is ones of Fanny’s sons. Thank you.

    1. Avatar

      Working on it Sharon. It takes time but if you check-in from time to time and go to the “unpublished drafts” page on the banner tab, you’ll be first to see what’s evolving. Best wishes…

    2. Sophie Avatar

      Hi Sharon, I am also a descendant of Fanny Harris and Towser.
      Have you been able to find any more information? particulary on Towser? I have quiet a bit of info on Fanny if you need/want.


  4. Sophie Avatar

    Hi Ciaran,

    Looks like you’ve had a few requests for any info on the Towser/Harris line.
    I am a descendant of Fanny Harris/Mason and Towser. If you have any further insight or info on Towser can you please let me know, thanks so much 🙂

    1. Avatar

      Apologies for the delay here Sophie, I thought I had responded earlier. I’m about to tackle the subject of the sealers and their abducted wives, so hopefully will have something new to add to the story of Towser. Is a few weeks away yet though. Best wishes…

      1. Sophie Avatar

        Thanks Ciaran! I’ve just read most of the Gamble, Pavey and Black Jack Anderson piece, absolutely incredible information also getting excited about hearing more info about the Palawan women and hopefully shed some more light on Towser.
        This is like a goldmine for a lot of people so I really appreciate the time and effort you put into this.

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