The View From Mount Clarence

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

The Gun

Originally Posted 4 July 2014:


Double Barrel Shot Gun 1841

Above: A double-barrel, break action, breech loading shotgun with innovative Pinfire mechanism first patented in France during 1846. Probably the type of gun Edward John Eyre sent Wylie two years later to commemorate their famous walk of 1841. Unattributed photograph from the public domain.

During the winter of 1848, a week after Reverened Wollaston arrived at Albany to find the roof of the church still not on, the ship Arpentuer arrived into Princess Royal Harbour bearing a parcel for the local native, Wylie.  Though the package was wrapped, its contents were easily recognisable.


Story six in the OUTDONE collection is called The Gun. It’s about the Reverend John Ramsden Wollaston who was appointed to the Chaplaincy of King Georges Sound on a cobbled and uncertain salary of £100 per year in February 1848, soon after Henry Camfield wrote to the Colonial Secretary at Perth in his new capacity as R.M. at Albany advising a £90 tender put forward by John McKail to roof the long-awaited St John’s Church in lower York Street had been accepted.

When Wollaston and his family finally got off the colonial schooner on Saturday, July 8th, the church walls had still not been closed off, but the reverend was very happy to have been installed with his family in a cottage next door.

July 1848, was fourteen years after Patrick Taylor had stated to Mary Bussell aboard the James Pattison, despite his live cargo of prize cashmere goats having perished below, that he would personally support a clergyman to the tune of £200 per annum, either at Albany or Augusta. By the time Wollaston arrived, Taylor was cash-strapped and living in a small cottage on the harbour foreshore with five children, his wife and his wife’s sister; his dream Glen Candy house falling into ruin twelve miles out-of-town.

But The Gun is not about Patrick Taylor. . .

The Gun is about Wollaston discovering the local celebrity Savage, Wylie, who he has heard a great deal about, having been sent a hunting rifle in the post. Wollaston, who is preoccupied with getting the roof on in time for the Bishop of Adelaide’s planned arrival in October, while having to deal at the same time with local residents vying for the forward-most pews, decides to approach the local sub-protector of Aborigines, John Randal Philips, on the subject as he is concerned the gun might fall in to the wrong hands and become a danger.

There is no record of that exchange, I simply invented it in order to facilitate the story. Remember, while I try to be as accurate as possible in portraying actual events and the lives of actual people, OUTDONE is a collection of historical fiction tales. Licence is essential to the process.

Wollaston was described by the West Australian born Historian Geoffrey Bolton as diffident and pessimistic. Bolton says he worked with humility and without personal ambition, but nonetheless undertook his grassroots clerical and missionary duties with both zeal and devoted perseverance. He says that Wollaston worked steadily toward the realisation of a West Australian bishopric which he only just failed to witness, the bishopric coming into being, largely because of his work, just after his death on May 3rd 1856. This eulogy of Wollaston helped create an image for me of a man who had an inner vision, who held a deep belief in the value of his work, but yet found the personalities of many he came into contact with manipulative and overpowering.  His main battle was to win the support and confidence of the settlers so that they attended service in good number and gave toward the wealth of the Anglican church so that it could extend its influence, but mostly what he got was excuses and bickering, an effective lack of commitment that he felt the consequence of his own under-powered nature. Ironically, this was a thing that drove him to work ever harder, until, eventually, he died of a cerebral hemorrhage brought on by exhaustion.

To me, Wollaston sounded like a character who could draw sympathy, at least mine anyway. So I read on and thought some more, realising after a while that he was not necessarily tolerant. Wollaston was only that as far as his lack of influence permitted. He named in his diary many parishioners whose moral conduct fell short of his expectations and he complained of their lack of commitment. He was frustrated by Nonconformists and publicly challenged the Catholic community, pitting them as unworthy opponents to the superior Anglican faction. Wollaston held ideas about educating Aboriginal children too, away from the behavioural habits of their parents and away from their cultural heritage. Like George Grey, who earlier campaigned for a strategy to save the Savages through forced education, Wollaston believed it was essential to bring the children into the fold of the new European society as early and as completely as possible, dismissing native spirituality and lore as secondary to their well being. I’ll go into Wollaston’s Albany School for Aboriginal Children collaboration with Ann and Henry Camfield in a later post but as far as The Gun is concerned I wanted to explore the trepidation  I imagined he’d have at Wylie’s ownership of a dangerous weapon. Especially in light of his (Wollaston’s) experience at the Vasse River.

Wollaston - John RamsdenOpposite: John Ramsden Wollaston, mild-mannered, fair-haired Archdeacon of the West.

Supporting characters in The Gun are George Cheyne’s wife, Grizel (or Grace as she was also known), the ever-present Peter Belches, Wollaston’s son Henry, and Wylie himself. Also, cameo style, Stephen Knight, original member of the long-standing Knight family of Albany, who played a significant role in getting the church roof into place.

There are a couple of publicly available images of  J.R. Wollaston which gave me a decent idea of what he looked like. Useful for any writer, his features are distinctive. He reminds me of a neighbour of mine who is also tall, lean, capped with very fair hair and has an ecclesiastical manner about him; quiet, understated, but assured and dedicated. If he’s reading, yes Cecil, I mean you.

Wollaston met Wylie and got to know something of him, as he met and got to know something of most of the prominent Aboriginal characters around town at that time. I felt there was a mild infatuation on Wollaston’s part with regard to Wylie and probably conflicting feelings about what was appropriate for him to accept from a Black with such status (Wollaston used the term Black to describe individual or specific natives, which was common in the day). John Wollaston’s journal, dated Thursday, July 27th, 1848, reads;

” There is another native here (of this tribe) “Waylie”, who, with two others accompanied Lieut Eyre & his overeer in that venturous overland journey, from Adelaide to K.G. Sound; – during a temporary division of the party the two other natives murdered the Overseer. – & would have destroyed Eyre also, had not “Waylie” continued faithful & stood by him & enabled him to reach this Settlement; after great sufferings and being reduced to last extremity. – “Waylie” is justly made much of in consequence – is a fine specimen of the savage – with however mild and pleasing countenance of great intelligence.

Mr Eyre sent him a new double-barreled gun the other day by way of the ‘Arpenteur’ from Adelaide, of which he seems very proud. – I wish more could be done to civilize and Xtianise  (Christianise) these natives. “



Wylie - old engravingWylie’s celebrity star was clearly still ascendant in 1848, at least in Wollaston’s mind.

Opposite: Wylie. Robert Neill’s 1841 sketch of the native hero  returned.

Eyre and Wylie had returned to much celebration seven years earlier and it made me think, again, about what actually happened out there on that windswept plateau after Joey and Yarry accidentally, or otherwise, killed Baxter. Ever since re-acquainting myself with this story my own infatuation with it has grown. Baxter was loyal to Eyre but a reknown drunk and Eyre was an obdurate ultra-disciplined task master. The group had fractured once prior to Baxter’s death and Wylie had been part of it, leaving the group to make their own way but returning penitent after a while to rejoin. The group had been traipsing the waterless outback for months but how much the boys knew about where Eyre was leading them isn’t known. We don’t know what or how much Eyre told them. When Joey and Yarry decided to chance it alone again tensions were obviously at breaking point. They had food and water, in decent store actually, but Eyre gave out only the bare minimum. The boys were starving, felt perhaps they’re were getting less than the white men, that they may have been deemed expendable.

The incident occurred, Baxter was mortally wounded and Wylie was faced with an instant dilemma the ramifications of which I can feel this very moment while addressing the subject once more. What did he do? Baxter was lying in a pool of blood with a great hole in his chest, Eyre the sole white man remaining; all the food and water Wylie wanted was at his disposal if he sided with his contemporaries. But then, if he did would Eyre come after them with his gun and hunt them down? Probably yes, which meant they’d have to shoot him as well. Could he do that? And then, if they did manage to kill Eyre, what direction did they take? The boys would want to go back the way they came, towards their home. But Wylie was Noongar, he was Menang, from the west, the other way.

What we know is that Wylie sided with Eyre and that according to Eyre’s journal Joey and Yarry circled them for a while whistling and wailing at Wylie to come join them and that Eyre eventually decided to confront them and  that afterwards, after nothing happened during the confrontation, they went away and were never seen or heard from again.

Did Eyre shoot and kill Joey and Yarry?

He says no, maintained no for the rest of his life.

In Kim Scott’s most recent novel, That Deadman Dance, he explores what might have happened, echoing the doubts that still exist as to the truth.


” I’ve put my hands away Chaine (Eyre) said, looking down.  His arms were folded awkwardly behind him. How can I shake hands with a rifle? Put it away and let us shake hands again, and travel together. We are all under God’s eye. . .

James (Joey), unarmed, turned to his brother. Their eyes went to one another, as if to discuss, and in that split second Chaine pulled his pistols from where they were tucked in to his belt and shot James. Jeffrey (Yarry) lifted the barrel, and pulled the trigger but no shot came. Just a click. The jammed barrel.

Chaine shot him too. “


Chauncy Noongar men of KGS - WYLIE (103x190)


I wondered did Wollaston, as much of Australia at the time must also have, think Eyre had got rid of the two boys so that they could make their way without fear of ambush? Did Eyre make a pact with Wylie never to reveal the truth? Did Eyre send gifts and repeated requests to the Governor for compensation for Wylie so that Wylie didn’t forget their agreement? Was the gift of the gun part of that cover up?
In the story, I set about creating a scenario where Wollaston and Wylie could meet.  I used what I saw as Wollaston’s infatuation to try and explore his suspicions about what really happened out there. I imagined Wollaston using his Church, his superior religion to try and persuade Wylie to tell him the truth.




” There was a natural silence and the reverend looked about his church. The windows glowed in the gloomy winter light. ‘Do you know what this is?’ he asked.


‘Church,’ said Wylie. ‘Spirity sort of place.’


Reverend Wollaston nodded peacefully. ‘What happened out there, Wylie,’ he said. ‘With Baxter and the boys ?’


Wylie’s dark eyes fixed on his and the reverend recognised the gravity of his question.


‘What makes you want to know, Revren?’


‘I’ve always held the question, Wylie. Since I first read about it.’


‘Just went wrong,’ said the native.


‘Weren’t you tempted to stay with Joey and Yarry?’


‘Nearly did.’




‘Wasn’t right.’ Wylie paused, then said. ‘Too dangerous. They thought I’d go with them, but you know. . .’


‘And when you didn’t?’


‘They got pretty mad, Revren. Kept trying. Eyre got fed up then and went out to them.’




Wylie paused again, looked the reverend directly in the eye.‘They went.’






Wollaston lifted his cap and ran a hand through his hair, tucking that still unruly wing of it behind his ear. ‘Wylie, do you know what confession is?’


The native engaged the reverend’s eyes again, locked him to them.


‘You can tell me,’ said the reverend. ‘Get rid of that weight.’


Wylie said nothing.


‘The Lord forgives, Wylie. You just have to say it.’ “


In parts I’m very happy with The Gun. I think it addresses important questions about that singular historical event, that it helps highlight the symbolic importance of it, the idea that Noongar and white man sided together for their common good and came through. Call me soft, but there’s hope in that.

The Gun, however, isn’t just a re-examination of what might have happened on the night of 29th April, 1841,  it’s an examination of Wollaston’s diffident, pessimistic character; how he lived one way with the big personalities of the era, another way in his private thoughts and another again in his journal (which he always intended to be kept as public record). I wanted to explore his private thoughts and feelings and the winter period in which the story is set gave me good opportunity to use the weather as aid to mood.

Southern Ocean at Albany - Katrina Bartley

Above: The Weather. Drenching light is one thing but wall-to-wall sunshine is fickle and faithless at Albany’s  Sharp Point – Torndirrup National Park. Photo, Katrina Bartley Photography:

In the first paragraph on the first page in the very first story of Tim Winton’s outstanding 2004 collection, The Turning, he reminded me of what it was like living in Albany as a kid.

” Week after week an endless misting drizzle wafts in from the sea. It beads in our hair and hangs from the tips of our noses while we trudge around town in the vain hope of scaring up some action. The Southern sky presses down and the beaches and bays turn the colour of dirty tin.”


One of my abiding childhood memories is that despondent wave of resignation you’d get when travelling back from Perth during the school holidays. The sky all around would be blue and it’d be hot, or at least warm and sunny, until you got to Mount Barker where the horizon darkened, thickened into a mass of dull grey cloud, and you knew you were home.

The Gun opens;

” It was wet. Clouds rubbed the sky like filthy rags and the wind that dragged them in was thick and cold. The harbour lost its distinction, shrivelled, and the settlement took on the look of an abandoned camp.”


Throughout the OUTDONE stories, from pre-settlement shipping shelter to disparaged turn-of-the -century railway depot and port, Albany’s locality along the south coast plays a lead role and it was important to paint the place as a character, to try and catch it in all its guises. Not just to point out the slow development of the roads and buildings, but to try and give sound and scent to the place, to feel the sun and the wind and to see the colours, even if on some days there just wasn’t any.
Shadows over the bay

Above: ” The elevated view allowed him to see through the channel at the harbour entrance and he looked out. Everything was grey; the sea and its foaming caps, the headland, the beaches, even the groves on the other side of the harbour where the logs had been felled.” Photo unattributed. Public domain image



Point King - 2

Above: Photo Courtesy Shawn Hayward – VBI Photography

 ‘Come down, Rare-vrend,’ said Belches. ‘Have some tea. You ken stay, can’t you?’

The reverend negotiated the bridle path that led to the house, bracing himself for more Scottish hospitality. ‘Hello, Peter,’ he said, realising it was the smallness of the man’s face that exaggerated his hair. ‘Not the best of weather.’


‘There’s little enough between winter and summer here,’ said Belches. ‘You should be happy with that.’


‘Well, if you put it like that, Peter. I meant the wet and cold, today.’


‘Sure it rains here all the time, Rare-vrend. The natives call it Kinjarling. Place of Rain. And they’d know now, wouldn’t they?’



Robes of Rain

Above:Photo Courtesy Marshall Elias – 2009  Unknown Location

” A heavy-bellied cloud over the far shore sagged, its insides falling in long black robes. The reverend felt his awareness shift and his voice cut through the more intimate sounds of the table; the tinkling of china, the placement of spoons on the linen covered oak.‘Winter,’ he said. “


South Coast Storm

Above: Photo courtesy Jordan Cantelo – Severe Weather  Blog


” The moaning wind lunged and a great grey curtain leaned in from the south, smothering everything in its path. His neck chilled with the splatter on the back of it and  he raised his eyes to the heavens thinking of the imploding cloud he had seen from Belches’ window. How the rain fell like the robes of Jesus, and he thought of The Saviour standing like that, looking like rain, with his arms out and his palms open, as if there were nothing he could do but that, stand there and offer some kind of hope.


The slanting torrent gathered in the rutted channels of York Street, beginning its tumbling run down that wretched excuse for a road. His thoughts moved to his family, how they sometimes seemed an attempt on his own behalf to thin his presence. A thing he had created in order to dilute his sense of self, to distract the eyes of the watchers, to give him his own hope but from another quarter. And he wondered, yet again, what he had done in bringing them all to this crude and miserable place.”



Wylie Swan River Colony Scene (2) (401x550)

Above: Wylie in a bush setting with his contemporaries and  gun, probably 1849. Painting by Hardan Sidney Melville, State Library of Victoria


POSTSCRIPT:  21/8/14
It looks as if Joey and Yarry did successfully leave Eyre and Wylie as there is mention ofYarry/Yarri/Yaree in later news articles. He is famed, in fact, at Gundagai for rescuing 49 settlers trapped by Murrumbidgee flood waters in June 1852. Sadly, three months later he looks to have been involved in the murder of  his women Black Sally McLeod. It is thought Sally left him and he killed her in the wake of that decision. An article from the Goulburn Herald tells of the report. Scroll down to the bottom of the article if you exit to read it.

One response to “The Gun”

  1. Twigg Avatar

    Your work is very impressive

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