State Library Victoria > La Trobe Journal

No 7 April 1971


The Hanging of two Aboriginals, 1842

The following is an excerpt from a typed copy, held in the La Trobe Library, of the Diary of James W. Dredge. Dredge (d. 1846) was a Wesleyan preacher and schoolmaster, who had briefly been an Assistant Protector of the Aboriginals of the Port Phillip District. The diary-entry is dated 20 January 1842. See Niel Gunson, The Good Country. Cranbourne Shire (Melb., 1968), pp. 45–6, for an account of the case.
This day has been rendered awfully notorious in the history of this Settlement by the execution — at 8 o'clock in the morning — of two Van Diemen's Land Aboriginals, named Bob and Jack, for the murder of two Sealers, by shooting and beating, in the neighbourhood of Western Port. There is a degree of interest thrown around the history of these misguided men by the fact of their having been attached to Mr. Robinson for about 13 years, and, indeed, accompanied him in the various excursions which he undertook with a view to the conciliation of their sable kinsmen at a time when misunderstandings and murderous retaliations existed between them and the White Colonists. It is said that Bob, especially, was several times instrumental in Mr. R's preservation when his safety was jeoparded by those uncivilized people.
When the remnants of these original Nations were removed to Flinders Island they were placed under the superintendence of Mr. R., to whom they seemed much attached …
On Mr. R's appointment as Chief Protector of Aborigines in New South Wales, application was made to the Home Govt. to allow the Flinders Island establishment to be transferred to Port Phillip … Lord Glenelg, then Secretary of State for the Colonies, himself approved the measure, but referred the decision of it to Sir John Franklin and Sir G. Gipps, the Governors of the respective Colonies, the former of whom was favourable to their translation, but the latter refused to yield to an experiment which he was fearful might lead to unhappy consequences. He, however, consented that Mr. R. should take with him a family — for his own attendants — to whom he was especially attached on account of their valuable services and affectionate devotion to his interests. Of these individuals the two unfortunate men in question were selected. From the time of their arrival — nearly three years ago, they have been considered as attached to, and under the direction of Mr. R. It would seem, however, that for some reason or other they had been occasionally in the service of other persons. Bob, for instance, had performed an overland expedition to South Australia with a party belonging to Mr. C. Langhorne in charge of Stock for the Adelaide Market; during this journey he was the means of preserving Mr. L's life — as well as some others — when a number of Aborigines on the Rufus pounced upon the Cattle.
For some time past, however, these individuals, in company with three of their women, deserted the service of their benefactors, and commenced a course of crime as lawless depredators. Visiting the
Stations of the Settlers, for the purposes of robbery and possessing themselves of Arms and Ammunition, by the use of which they rendered themselves a terror to the Settlers, several of whom were wounded by them, their property taken away, and their houses burnt. It was during this lawless career that they fell in with two sailors belonging to a Sealing party, and whom they shot — afterwards alleging that they did so under a mistake, thinking them some miners [?] from whom they had received some real or imaginary injury.
The place of their retreat was after considerable difficulty ascertained by a party of the Yarra Blacks, who were employed for the purpose by Mr. Powlett, the Crown Commissioner, and Mr. Thomas, Assistant Protector of Aborigines for the District, aided by a detachment of infantry and the border police. Their examination before the Magistrate elicited proof of the numerous outrages and robberies which they had committed, and issued in their committal on a charge of murder. On this accusation they were arraigned at the Supreme Court, when a verdict of Guilty was found against — accompanied, however, by a recommendation to mercy on the ground of their previous good character and faithful services, and the peculiar circumstances in which they had been placed since their removal to this country. It was generally supposed that this recommendation would have averted the forfeiture of their lives, but the last mail from Sydney brought their Death Warrants — and this morning, amidst hundreds — perhaps thousands — of Spectators, these poor unfortunate beings were forced into the presence of their eternal Judge. Such an affecting, appalling, disgusting, execrable scene my eyes never saw — God forbid they should ere behold the like again.
From the period of their condemnation they were attended by the Colonial Chaplain the Rev. A. C. Thompson, and it is said that Bob was much affected and very attentive to religious instruction. Jack, on the contrary, tho’ the elder, seemed indifferent to everything. These characteristics attended them to the last. They were brought to the fatal spot at the rear of the jail in course of erection North of Lonsdale Street, where a temporary Gallows had been set up, in a covered cart, dressed in a white shirt, duck trousers and white cap, and escorted by the Sheriff's Officers — the Constabulary — and a party of Mounted and Border Police, a detachment of Infantry having previously arrived to keep the ground. At the foot of the ladder they knelt while the Clergyman read the last service and tendered his final counsels; during this ceremony the distress of Bob was most acute, his whole frame was dreadfully convulsed, his sobs and moans were audible and affecting, and produced considerable commiseration amongst the feeling of the spectators. Jack was the first to ascend the ladder, which he did with tolerable firmness, apparently under the influence of a kind of apathetic demeanour induced by an overwhelming and stupifying sense of the awful event approaching him. Poor Bob was so affected that his limbs refused to perform their office, and he was literally dragged to the fatal platform. The awful preliminaries being arranged the unhappy victims were bungleingly and cruelly consigned to their fate. Jack seemed to leave the world without a struggle, as if the bitterness of death had been long passed. Not so Bob, his fine athletic frame was dreadfully convulsed, it was an awful sight. As to the eternal state of these victims, this must remain a secret till the great day — “Shall not the Judge of all the earth do right?” Yea, verily, not only in reference to them; but also in reference to those through whose neglect they have finished their course on the gallows.