The View From Mount Clarence

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

Wylie – Who was he?

Originally Published 7 May 2014:

There are many artistic impressions of Wylie and Eyre (usually together), all inspired by their remarkable story of survival. Few, if any of those are accurate portraits. There are sketches, drawings and photographic images of Eyre made during his Colonial career which show us what he looked like, but very few of Wylie. I went in search of images and information that could bring us closer to who this young South Coast Noongar actually was.


Wylie - old engraving


The image above is very probably him as a fifteen or sixteen year old in 1841. I scanned it from the Waterless Horizonsbook which doesn’t provide a source, simply saying it is ‘From an old engraving‘. The image also appears in Eyre’s Journals of Expeditionswhere the drawing is attributed to a J. Neil who illustrated the book. This J. Neil is in fact Robert Neill who was Deputy Assistant Commissary at the Swan River Colony based at Albany and, according to Malcolm Urens in Waterless Horizons (research provided by Robert Stephens), local agent for the Western Australian Bank at Albany, also at the time. This indicates Neill’s image of Wylie, which depicts him as a boy, is genuine and most likely made during the euphoric post-return period of July/August 1841.



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


This second image is by Hardan Sidney Melville, probably made in 1849. It’s part of the Melville collection, ‘Sketches in Australia and the adjacent islands’, at the State Library of Victoria. The descriptive text accompanying the paintingdescribes some clothing worn and identifies the man standing on right to be, “Wylie, who accompanied Mr. Eyre in his desperate overland journey“.

Wylie would be the man holding the gun which means the setting was probably around Albany while Wylie was serving as native constable or simply in possession of the gun which Eyre sent him as a present in 1848. The image doesn’t give much of a clue as to what Wylie looked like but that it features him reflects his celebrity status. You can get a better view of the painting by going direct to the digitised item which is in high resolution complete with powerful zoom. To my reckoning Wylie looks uncomfortable in the presence of his contemporaries. The figure on the right of Wylie is female and possibly his wife, Gelgaran. The white headdress on the men to Wylie’s left are probably cockatoo feathers. Early texts relating to the Albany Aborigines talk of the ‘White Cockatoo’ people who came into the town from the coast to the east. Wylie’s own white headdress may represent a policeman’s or ships captain’s cap.

Postscript 25 April 2016 It has been pointed out to me by Roz Butterworth of Boorloo Boodja that what Wylie is holding is not a gun but a kyle (boomerang) and Meero (throwing stick). On close inspection, I think she’s right. This then calls into question the white head dress Wylie is given. Is it a head dress? It’s very hard to know what Melville intended by it, other than that it differentiates Wylie from the others in the painting.



Chauncy Noongar men of KGS - WYLIE


This image is a cut from Phillip Chauncy’s 1852  Profiles of Aborigines of King George’s Sound. The full image comprises ten individuals, including Wylie’s wife, Gelgaran. That Gelgaran is depicted at all suggests Wylie’s status was still high a decade after the event. Though this is a profile view I can see some similarities between it and the first image. In 1852 Wylie will have been about 27 years old. Seven of the ten persons depicted by Philip Lamonthe Snell Chauncy,  a sketcher, amateur photographer, modeller and surveyor working in the Swan River Colony from 1841 to 1853, spent time in gaol (some at Rottnest Island) for their part in a protest siege they laid on Albany’s food supplies in 1844. The late Bob Howard wrote about this in his 2008 piece Noongar Resistance on the South Coast and I feature it in a later post called Campbell Taylor and the Cape Arid Connection – Part 2.

Chauncy’s sketches are extremely valuable to the process of rebuilding and fixing the identities of Albany’s early colonial-era Aborigines. Some of the seven who were involved with the food thefts of 1844 represent the main, or active, male Noongar characters of the time. It also indicates how relations at that time had changed between the settlers and the Aborigines. See also Campbell Taylor and the Cape Arid Connection – Part 2 for in depth detail.

Chauncy left some impressive Albany town plan sketches from the same period. Go here to view his most comprehensive survey drawing of the town.

I couldn’t find any other probable images of Wylie but there is a short description of him and his life by none other than Neville Green who spoke about him on ABC Radio back in 2009. The audio file is six minutes long and suggests Wylie fell into a  derelict state through alcoholism by the time Chauncy’s sketch was made. Unfortunately, Green uses Mokare’s name instead of Wylie’s a couple of times, but if you spot that then the clip makes sense.

Wylie – A brave explorer – ABC WA – Australian Broadcasting Corporation (ABC)


Postscript 28/10/2015 While reviewing the April 2015 post – Campbell Taylor and the Cape Arid Connection – Part 2  just now, I had a moment of recognition.

The image below left is a cropped version of Chauncy’s original 1852 profile sketch of Wylee (Chauncy’s spelling), taken from his sketchbook; digitised images of which are available on-line here. At the time of this drawing, assuming he was born in 1825 (Wylie was thought to be about 15 when he went with E.J. Eyre in 1840), Wylie would have been 27 years old.

On the right is a cropped reproduction of Arthur Onslow’s 1858 portrait of an unnamed Albany Aborigine held in the Mitchell Library – MLMSS A 4335, Item 1. The image was reproduced in John Dowson’s Old Albany book, where I have taken it from.  If Wylie was born in 1825 then in 1858 he will have turned 33 years old.

Wylie comparison


Note the following:

  • Shape of the crown
  • Consistency and length of hair
  • Position of headband
  • Height of the forehead
  • Protrusion of the brow
  • Shape of the nose
  • Consistency of facial hair relative to top lip, jaw and chin
  • Length of the face
  • Relative age (the photograph was taken six years after the sketch was made)



Chauncy - Natives of KGS from NGAAbove:  Chauncy was particular about the people he drew. You can see from this inked up drawing of the collected sketches he made at Albany (held at the National Gallery of Australia ) the individual character of each of his subjects. In the original sketchbook Chauncy redrew Koron (Profile 7 above) because the first was not for him a close enough resemblance. In the above drawing Wylie (Profile 8) loses some of the individuality evident in the original sketch made in 1852.



Chauncy - original sketchs of Wylie and GelgaranAbove: Chauncy’s original sketch of Wylie and his wife Gelgaran, taken from the collection at the National Gallery of Australia Note the simple clarity of this sketch versus the later inked-up redrawing of the collected individuals above.


Chauncy - Kooron and WebbinburtIn the above images, taken from the same notebook, Chauncy redrew his 1844 image of Kooron, reflecting his critical attention to detail and desire to provide true likenesses.



Kartrull possibly 001 (472x550)Above: This is the uncropped version of Arthur Onslow’s February 1858 photograph. Onslow’s note which accompanies the image (held at the the Mitchell Library) reads; “On Wednesday I went ashore with Wilson and we commenced photographing. He got three good views. I tried portraits of the niggers. At first I had great trouble getting them to sit, as they were afraid it wd. cause their death. But on seeing me take some of the McKails and by giving them 6d. they plucked up courage enough to let me bring the lens to bear on them but they are bad sitters.” These comments explain the look of consternation on the subject’s face.


Of course it’s just not possible to be certain the man in the above photo is Wylie. I suppose too, that if the subject was Wylie, then you would think the photographer would have been made aware of it. Onslow was with John McKail who had been in Albany since about 1836, so right through the period of Wylie’s return with Eyre in the winter of 1841 after which Wylie was around Albany a great deal and at the height if his celebrity. I guess, if McKail helped Onslow set the photograph up, and it was Wylie, you’d expect him to have told Onslow all about it.

But then, when you read the note that Onslow made about taking the photograph, it’s not unreasonable to question his attitude toward the Aborigines;

On Wednesday I went ashore with Wilson and we commenced photographing. He got three good views. I tried portraits of the niggers. At first I had great trouble getting them to sit, as they were afraid it wd. cause their death. But on seeing me take some of the McKails and by giving them 6d. they plucked up courage enough to let me bring the lens to bear on them but they are bad sitters.


Onslow refers to the Aborigines as ‘niggers‘ so maybe McKail had told him it was Wylie but when he wrote his notes Onslow either forgot or simply didn’t think it warranted inclusion. Especially as Wylie had been in trouble with the authorities at Albany from as early as 1844 and in 1853 was described by the SubGuardian of the time, Arthur Trimmer, as ‘one of the worst behaved natives in the town.‘ In the Uren and Stephens book Waterless Horizons, Malcolm Urens concedes that Wylie fell victim to alcoholism and  probably died as a result.


Wylie - the worst - 1853

Above: In a March 1853 report written by the Sub-Guardian of Aborigines at Albany, Arthur Trimmer, Wylie is described as one of the worst behaved natives in the town.   CSR.255, 7 March 1853. Trimmer is forced to ask the Colonial Secretary for permission to give Wylie two pounds of flour per day, an entitlement given to him for ensuring the survival of Edward John Eyre during their perilous overland trek from Adelaide to Albany, a privilege which appears to have been given and withdrawn multiple times. This is the last known reference to the living Wylie. The next mention of  him in the archives comes from Jefferson Stow (see below) who wrote that Wylie had died ten years previous to his arrival in Albany in 1865. 


Wylie disappears from the town records from March 1853 but was previously found to be employed in Mr Thomas’s whale fishery at Cheyne’s Beach during 1850 where he is said to have spent his earnings in a manner similar to that of another native called Lindol. That manner being the hosting of a great feast and dance.

When Wylie went to Adelaide with E.J. Eyre in May 1840 they sailed in the Minerva on a journey that took 16 days. On that sailing were four other ‘blackboys.’ These were Joey and Yarry; Eyre’s long serving New South Wales boys, Yanki Yanki; a teenager from Victoria who had been abducted by boatmen at Western Port Bay (very probably led by George Meredith Jnr) and who found his way to the Swan River Colony by accident, and Lindol; a local character at Albany and former house servant of George Grey. (See under the section on the sealer Bob Gamble in Campbell Taylor and the Cape Arid Connection – Part 3)

One local legend gives it that Wylie is buried in the front yard of a well known house on Grey Street West, Albany. Another suggestion, put forward by Bob Howard, the since deceased historical Albany Aborigines advocate, is that the grave’s address was rear of 116 Grey Street East; but that address does not exist today.

Howard also thought Wylie died in the middle 1850’s, a conclusion which would also appear to be drawn from the Stow Reference. Jefferson Stow, an Adelaide based journalist, newspaper editor and magistrate, published a pamphlet about an open boat journey he made down the West Australian coast in 1864 and his subsequent observations on the state of the Swan River Colony. The pamphlet, called Voyage of the Forlorn Hope and notes on Western Australia was published in 1865. Stow came to Albany early in August 1864 after which he commented;  “Poor Wylie has been dead ten years. The natives talk about him freely but I could find none who remembered Eyre.” If Wylie was in fact dead ten years then it would have been 1854 when he died, up to six and a half years before Arthur Onslow’s 1858 photograph.


Wylie death year by StowAbove: A cut from Jefferson Stow’s 1865 pamphlet  Voyage of the Forlorn Hope and notes on Western Australia in which he mentions Wylie being “dead ten years”. Jefferson was in Albany in the winter of 1864, so if Wylie was dead exactly ten years then we could say he died in the winter of 1854. Or did Jefferson mean ten years from the time he was writing up his pamphlet and got to the point where he was recounting his visit to the Sound? No historian has been brave enough to assert 1854 as Wylie’s death year, all thus far preferring to say he died ‘about 1855’ or else ‘during the mid 1850’s’ reflecting a reluctance to accept Stow’s comment as absolute. And rightly so, for immediately below his comments on Eyre and Wylie Stow talks of the Spencer House at Strawberry Hill, saying that ‘beyond this is Frenchman’s Bay’ when in fact it is Middleton Bay. Stow’s narrative is discursive and while he asserts his points in a way typical of the earnest educated men of the era, he is nonetheless open to error. That Wylie died sometime in the ten years previous to Stow’s arrival at Albany is wholly acceptable, but Stow’s single ‘ten years’ assertion cannot deny the possibility Wylie was still alive and about Albany in February 1858.






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