The View From Mount Clarence

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

Love and War – Henry Camfield’s View

Originally Published  28 May 2014:

lovers, the -William Powell Frith- (424x500)Above: Henry Camfield spent ten years roaming the Swan River, Van Diemen’s Land and New South Wales looking for love. When he found it, it came in the form of an orphan girl, Annie Breeze, but there were to be no children of their own. Painting; The Lovers, by Willliam Powell Frith.


As I set about constructing each of these posts I’m reminded by the content that I’m writing about a band of settlers who are known. What it feels like I’m doing is reinforcing the influence of an already established group. It’s a struggle to deal with that until I remember that in our white post-colonial world recorded history is all there is. You can only review the evidence. So, The View’s look back can only ever be about revising what’s already known while trying to find something recorded that hasn’t been added or discussed yet.


Luckily, the history of Albany and the South Coast hasn’t been all that comprehensively written up. Luckily, also, that in 2014 the internet resource offers so much more by way of searchable information. The Taylor family background, now that it’s been tied together, is new to the collective understanding of where Patrick Taylor was coming from when he arrived at Albany way back then. When looked at in the context of his association with the Bussell family of ‘Cattle Chosen’ it not only helps to tell the story of settlement across the lower South West but informs the story of the colonial Taylor family as Patrick and Mary’s children grow into adults out at Candyup.

I wondered about Patrick’s wife, Mary, and how she was a Bussell. This is because the Bussells hold a controversial place in the history of the Augusta/Margaret River/Bussleton quadrant. They didn’t settle peacefully, as we shall now see, and I wondered how Patrick related to what he and Mary witnessed at the Vasse while they were there and how it played out in their lives at Candyup.

An interesting view of this can be seen through the experiences of one of Patrick Taylor’s very few friends, the good Christian, Henry Camfield.


Burr's Wood, one of the Camfield estates near Tunbridge Wells, Kent. Henry Camfield named his 1000 acre Swan River grant 'Burswood', after it.
Burr’s Wood, one of the Camfield estates near Tunbridge Wells, Kent. Henry Camfield named his 1000 acre Swan River grant ‘Burswood’, after it.


Henry Camfield came out to the Swan River with the Henty brothers in 1829 aboard the Caroline, a ship the Henty family chartered and stuffed with investment produce the value of which entitled them, under Stirling’s original grant scheme, to over 84,000 acres. The Henty’s were a family of  seven sons; bankers, legal professionals and farmers who had decided to emigrate to Australia. Stirling’s land incentive at the Swan brought them to the west but they sized it up over a period and decided the land wasn’t good enough, so left. The Henty story is one of the most significant of the early Southern Australian settlers and should be read.

The Camfields were known to the Henty’s back in England and Henry knew some of the brothers. The families were south-easterners, from the neighbouring counties of Sussex and Kent. Henry’s youngest sister, Matilda, later married one of the Henty brothers, William.

There was big money in the Camfield family for a time. They had two estates, Groombridge Place and Burr’s Wood, both historic mansions. I don’t know how much Henry had but his position in the family meant most if it didn’t come to him when his father, William, died. Nonetheless, it would appear Henry  Camfield was well-educated and very well-connected, if a little short (by comparison) on capital.

Henry Camfield (aged 29) brought out two indentured men (with their families) and enough investment material  to be granted 5500 acres, 1000 of which he took up along the Swan River east of Perth, calling it Burswood. The area was a low-lying peninsula leading to a ridge and steep sandy hill with scrubland beyond.  The land was difficult to farm and  his initial crops failed. Camfield and his workers experienced the worst of the early deprivation and along with the Henty’s and many others his confidence in the colony waned.

Burswood was made an island by the cutting of a canal before 1841. Until that time it formed a continuous tract comprising the Camfield grant.


Leaving Burswood to his workers, Camfield used his time to explore what he could of the colony, going with Ensign Dale (Roe’s assistant surveyor who sketched the Panoramic View of King George’s Sound) out to the Avon Valley and beyond in 1830, then (probably) to Albany in 1831 when the Hentys decided to try their luck down on the South Coast. After that, because the Henty’s saw no future in the sand, salty water and harsh scrub of Western Australia, he went with them to Tasmania and from there to Portland Bay, then part of New South Wales. Henty’s restlessness had more to do with a need for company than anything else. He was on his own and didn’t fancy it much.

The Henty’s were a big family with influence, wealth and personal belief. Their agenda was to succeed, which, because they were used to working and forcing outcomes, they eventually did. Henry Camfield though, was more like Patrick Taylor. His family were Gentry and the Gentry did not work. The Gentry owned land and got others to collect the rent for it. The Camfield’s at one time look to have been fabulously wealthy but Henry’s father was probably the last in line, leaving Henry and his siblings facing a life in the colonies on a comparatively meagre income.

This partially explains why Henry wandered, leaving his indentured labour to toil at Burswood in an effort to shape the land into some kind of productive entity. He didn’t abandon his workers though, he wrote many letters from Burswood describing the harshness of their conditions and of his own experience battling them. One excerpt reads;

“We are told we shall get our subsistence by the sweat of our brow, but I  never read we shall SWEAT, strive to get on honestly & STARVE … how many have suffered out here; many more may, perhaps, myself amongst the number.”


Henry left Perth periodically, when the boredom, frustration and isolation became too much.Henty Thistle 1834

Camfield roamed between Van Diemen’s Land and Sydney in 1834, actually landing at Portland (a well-known whaling and sealing location) with Edward Henty on the Thistle in November that year, helping to commence the first permanent settlement on the northern shores of Bass Straight. He was back at Albany at the end of the following year when Stephen Henty took Roe and the Albany settlers out to Doubtful Island Bay, perhaps interested in the potential of whaling there. Then, a couple of years after that he was with the Bussells down at the Vasse.

Opposite: In November, 1834, during his restless years, Henry Camfield landed at Portland Bay with Edward Henty.  Portland became the first permanent settlement in what is now the state of  Victoria. Map cut from Royal Geographical Society Journal, published 1838

Donald Garden, in; Albany, A Panorama of the Sound from 1827, says Camfield was looking for love.

“. . .  Henry Camfield (1799-1872), a companion of the Henty family who had arrived with them at the Swan in October 1829. . .  shared in the Henty’s exploits in early Swan River, and in their disillusion. . .  spending. . . the time until 1839 wandering between the colonies and settling in none. Much of Camfield’s restlessness appears to have been caused by loneliness. In his early years he relied heavily on letters from his family in England. He seems to have had a great need for the love and affection of a woman, and unsuccessfully pursued a number of young ladies.”


One of the ladies Camfield unsuccessfully pursued was Frances Bussell; Mary’s sister, Fanny.  Henry was at ‘Cattle Chosen’ in 1837 or 1838 (it isn’t exactly clear), when John Garrett Bussell was back in England having his heart-broken by Sophie Hayward and having to find someone else to marry, while his brothers allowed relations with the Wardandi Noongars of the Vasse to slip into a state of war.

Remember, Patrick moved around a great deal in 1837. He walked to Perth with the Harris/Hillman expedition which included Kartrull (Jack Handsome) as guide in February (Harris describing the value of Kojonup’s grasslands for the first time) then (apparently) went across to the Vasse to propose to Mary. He looks like he was in the Augusta/Vasse River/Leschenault area until at least June, from the evidence possibly in the company of another Albany native, William, who may also have been on the Harris/Hillman expedition, and who by newspaper account, under the charge of Mr Taylor, was ‘much attached’. (If you go to this Trove link, scroll three quarters of the way down through the ‘natives’ section.)

Importantly, Patrick then went to Perth with William  (we’ll see why directly below) and was on his way back to the Vasse in the Champion in July when, besieged by foul weather the schooner put in at Garden Island. Here, William was murdered, apparently by two other natives on the ship, one a Wardandi from the Vasse and the other, a  Bindjareb from the Murray River. Patrick spent two days searching for William’s body but it was never found. According to the Perth Gazette of 22nd July that year, William’s murder was later confessed to by either the Wardandi or Bindjareb man. The two questions here, of course, are (a) why did Patrick go to Perth with three natives, each from different tribes; and (b) why did the northern most two turn on William and kill him?

West Coast Arrowsmith Map 1843Above: The West Coast strip between the Swan and Vasse Rivers was a hostile place in the 1830’s. Settlers preferred to travel by the colonial schooner, Champion, than go overland through Aboriginal country. By moving to the Vasse the Bussells had entered northern Wardandi territory where relations with the Bindjareb  (Pinjarrah people) were closer than at Augusta. When John Bussell left for England  in 1837 his hot-headed brothers Charles and Lenox took less considered actions which dragged the ‘Cattle Chosen’ settlement into war. The period immediately prior to Patrick Taylor’s marriage to Mary Bussell, when both were at the Vasse River, was fraught with killing. The war continued until 1841 when Patrick, by then broke, sought respite with Mary’s family. The birth of their first three children occurred between 1838 and 1841.


The trouble started at the Vasse soon after the Bussell’s established there. Between 1834 and 1835 the family were still in the process of extricating themselves from Augusta and the brothers were living between the two places. The women were at ‘Cattle Chosen’. Gaywal and his three sons were the Wardandi Vasse protagonists, increasingly frustrated by the new presence

The following diary entries detail what happened.

April 1834, from Bessie. They (the natives) broke into the store the other day and stole and wasted three hundredweight of flour. The sergeant‘s wife was the first to descry their black forms whitened with “bumla” (flour) retreating into the woods to enjoy a delicious meal. One of the soldiers was immediately despatched from the Spring to Augusta to inform Charles (Bussell), and to get leave from John (Bussell) as magistrate to fire upon them.


18th October 1835. Natives broke windows ‘ — an irritating piece of mischief, windows being hard to come by.


26th September 1835. ‘Natives stole an axe and were fired upon.’


In an undated, incomplete letter in 1835, Charles Bussell wrote, in reference to the Pinjarrah attack launched by Stirling a year previous;

 ‘I aver that no one circumstance of whatsoever description, throughout the whole colony, has been productive of greater benefit. The most powerful and most successfully insolent tribe in the then peopled settlement, received a shock which never has and never will be erased from their memory!’


The effect of  Pinjarrah appears to have calmed relations at the Vasse but by 1837, when John had left for England and others were in Perth and Leschenault, things started to go wrong.  Patrick may have been with Charles and Lenox Bussell on the Leschenault excursion. The thinking is that the Aborigines were resentful over what had happened at Pinjarrah but saw that the settlement at Augusta was slowly being abandoned (not only the Bussell’s left, most of the other supporting familes moved to the Vasse as well), and with the numbers weakened at ‘Cattle Chosen’, Gaywal thought they may be on the verge of reclaiming their land. Gaining confidence, the Wardandi began raiding the potatoes. The King George’s Sound native, William, referred to in the following excerpts is Patrick’s engaged guide/servant William from Albany.

16th April, 1837, Bessie in the House Diary; ‘The natives detected stealing damper.’


Friday 21st April (the occasion Bessie’s nerves were shredded); ‘They nearly drive me out of my mind. I am obliged to stand about and watch them, and when I am able to return to my lawful labours I find myself thoroughly tired. Then evening comes when we used to enjoy ourselves. The noise they make puts conversation out of the question. They throw the tea over the tables that have been taken all possible pains with in the morning, and wilga (ochre body paint) all they come near. To me now it seems sacrilege to breathe the name of a native in an hour of rest, it is so fraught with fatigue, fear and anxiety.’

Sunday 30th April; On the Sunday ‘old Gaywal attempted to spear William, for turning him out of the pen. He fired (his spear) at him, but did not harm him‘. William‘s agitation had not subsided at dinner, when he capsized the tea-tray and broke two cups and saucers.


Two months pass without incident during which Patrick and William are still at ‘Cattle Chosen’. The following is taken verbatim from Shann’s, Cattle Chosen. Bessie Bussell is writing;  

On 23rd June, however, a calf of the Chapmans was missing, and on the 27th, when Len was out searching for it, ‘Nungandung and Boobingroot peached, and said Gaywal and Kenny had speared it.‘ Next day ‘Boobingroot and Nungandung were detailed to lead the way to the culprits. Nungandung escaped and B. brought the two Chapmans, Alfred, the Corporal, Moloney and Dawson to Yulijoogarup. Kenny and Jim ran off and escaped, but 9 were killed and two wounded. No one in the house looks or speaks like themselves.’


Nine killed and two wounded.

On July 15th the report in the Perth Gazette that a King George’s Sound native had met with an accident on Garden Island (a few weeks back) appeared.  Patrick and two other natives were making their way back to the Vasse on the colonial schooner when ‘the accident’ happened. Had Patrick brought the natives to Perth to make a deposition to the authorities about what had just taken place at the Vasse? Had he gone to make a case for intervention before things went really very wrong indeed? And whose side was he on? Let’s not forget, Mary was his fiancé. The Busells were to become his in-laws.

We don’t know if Patrick went back to the Vasse after William’s murder. He could have. Siblings, Vernon, Mary and Fanny went to Perth ahead of the wedding, probably around early to mid-August. Relevant ‘Cattle Chosen’ diary entries pick up again from mid July;

Thursday 13th July, 1837: ‘No natives came to mind the cows. Heard great shouting on the estuary, and at about twelve o‘clock the Chapmans fired two guns, which were preceded by a terrible scream, heard alone by Mamma. Everyone immediately armed themselves. When they arrived they found that Dawson had been speared in the arm, and that they had thrown another spear at Mrs. Dawson. They think it most prudent to leave their house, and come under our protection, and have taken possession of our servant’s cottage.’


Saturday 15th. The party returned, their scheme unsuccessful. Alfred is laid up with boils. Indeed everyone seems knocking up from anxiety. A party of 6 went to Wanerup by moonlight.


Monday 17th. Charles, Dr. Green, Dawson, the two Corporals, and McFarlaine went off early escorted by Dr. Miligan, to find Gaywal and sons. They succeeded in finding the track and caught 3 kangaroos. One might almost as well be campaigning. We live now in a council of war. Dawson and Alfred have been walking sentinel all day.


Sunday 30th July. After two hours‘ absence, they returned amidst crowds of natives. I fear more women were slain than men. All our little party returned safely. All was intended to be right, so I hope this skirmish will turn out for the best. Three women, one man, one boy are known to be dead, but more are supposed to be dying.’


Wednesday, 2nd August. ‘Made 17 lbs. butter. Vernon and Alfred went down to the estuary, and saw that the natives had been afraid to return and bury their dead. So they left their cows and came home for spades to perform this last office for them. They were joined by many others who participated in their feelings, and when they had dug the graves, they spread grass at the bottom, lowered the bodies down, and sprinkled grass over them. They threw in the dirt and laid the sods carefully over like an English grave.’


Three weeks later Frances Bussell wrote her letter of approbation to Patrick and sent it by Aboriginal courier to Perth. The Taylor/Bussell wedding went ahead in Fremantle the following month after which Patrick and Mary, no doubt hugely relieved, made for the calm of good old Albany.

In the thick of all this, Henry Camfield’s eye had fallen on Fanny Bussell and when she returned from her post-wedding stint with the Taylors at Glen Candy he went down to the Vasse, as he put it, ‘to make love‘. What he found when he got there was not pleasant.

Later he wrote to the Hentys at Portland about it. The following is taken from Marnie Bassett’s 1953; The Hentys


“About a year before I went down the natives speared a cow belonging to a neighbour of my friends, it was thought proper to punish them for it, three were shot, I saw their graves. The natives some time after this came to a third party and speared a man in the arm, surrounded his house and purposed no doubt murdering his wife and children. Now understand, the first human blood in this district was spilled by whites; three blacks were killed and as yet no whites; this is how it stood when I went down, when the natives were troublesome again, stealing potatoes and flour, caught in fact with the latter but suffered to run away. I was for having them caught and treated according to law, but my friends were for more summary proceedings, the end of it a spring gun was set for several nights – at last a man was shot in the act of opening a door to steal bread. A party went off to scour the bush, I alone buried the dead, before it was light. The next morning prisoners were brought in, and one, endeavouring to make his escape was shot; before this second one was done to death I had made up my mind to walk to Augusta, 60 miles, did so, and brought up the Government Resident, Captain Molloy. Previous to this I think my friends had put down my NOT shooting natives to cowardice, not principle: They were pleased afterwards with my part of the proceedings but Taylor (Patrick) tells me my fair friend writes that, ‘I look on her brothers as being guilty of blood,’ They think they are justified, they must protect themselves, they must not starve. So you see, we do not agree about the natives, nor did I think it a good time to make love.”


Henry’s comments tally loosely with the events described in the Bussell diaries and also with those in Gil Hardwick’s paper on John Molloy, the Resident Magistrate based at Augusta whose responsibility the Vasse area was. His comments are made more in reference to his thoughts on the summary killing of natives than trying to explain exactly what happened. Nonetheless, the memory of what he experienced, as detailed above and despite the lack of dates, may add to the list of known killings.

George Layman's headstone at the Vasse.
George Layman’s headstone at the Vasse.

Henry was clearly not impressed with the Bussells, and moved on.

Conflict at the Vasse subsided for a period but came to a head in 1841 with the spearing of George Layman by Gaywal. Captain Molloy, restrained for so long by his presence at Augusta (60 miles south) and by Governor Hutt’s (fortunately) restrictive policy, took matters into his own hands and led a posse against the Wardandi leader. The numbers killed in the pursuit of Gaywal are disputed to this day, anywhere from 7 to 300 or more. Gil Hardwick’s paper, above, gives a good account. Whatever the reality, Patrick, Mary and their infant children were all at ‘Cattle Chosen’ during this second reign of terror, sheltering from Patrick’s financial collapse.


The Taylor’s experience at ‘Cattle Chosen’ was to influence their own lives and interaction with the Aborigines of Albany, specifically those of Oyster Harbour and the south coast leading east towards Two People’s Bay.


In August of 1838 the ship Shepherd arrived at Fremantle bearing the Reverend William Mitchell and his family whose missionary job it was to settle at Guildford and act for the parishioners there. Accompanying the Mitchell’s was their governess, 34 old year orphan-girl Anne Breeze. Mitchell set about his work and opened a school at which Anne Breeze assisted. In due course Henry, whose second and larger grant was on the nearby Helena River, met the Mitchells and their governess teacher. His search was over and the two were married in 1840.

Camfield, now in his 40’s, was compelled to take on a more respectable role in society and took up Public Service. He was appointed Collector of Colonial Revenue in 1842, became Postmaster General at Perth in 1845, Government Resident (Magistrate) at Albany in 1848, then Departmental Treasurer at  Albany in 1854 before being made a Justice of the Peace in 1856.

At King George’s Sound  from 1848 he renewed his friendship with Patrick Taylor and also with the newly appointed clergyman, the town’s very first Reverend, John R Wollaston. Camfield and Taylor were close friends until Camfield’s death in 1872 but Patrick refused to be part of a three man team, shunning Wollaston’s attempts to get him to come in to church.

During his time as Government Resident at Albany, Henry advocated the use of Aborigines to be appointed as Police Constables and also, in association with Wollaston and his wife Anne, commenced Annsfield, the Albany school for Aboriginal children.

A statue of Henry Camfield is located in Burswood Park surrounding the entertainment complex at Perth today.

The statue of Henry Camfield representing his toiling at Burswood from 1829.
The statue of Henry Camfield representing his toiling at Burswood from 1829.

POSTSCRIPT 02/10/2014
While viewing some old passenger lists recently I discovered a Miss Camfield travelling out of Albany to Adelaide in the company of a Mrs Gillam and two children (probably William Jenkins Gillam’s wife Louisa Lines and her two children) and a Miss Keyser. The Miss Keyser would probably have been one of the sisters of Alice Keyser who married the oldest of  the Dunn boys of Woodburn, Porongurups, William, that same year.  According to records there was a Louisa Jane Williams Camfield born March 1862 in Albany. This Louisa may have been adopted by Henry and Anne Camfield in the wake of the death of her parents, both of which look to have occurred in the 1860’s.

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