Part Five: sad epitaphs and savage retribution

(includes Waterloo Creek and Myall Creek massacres)

Chapter 21: Eliza Fraser and Anne Slade

The Charles Eaton shipwreck was just one of two disasters the Sydney newspapers were following at that time. They were also covering the arrival of Eliza Fraser, widow of Captain James Fraser, and the other survivors of the wreck of the Stirling Castle. The two shipwreck stories competed for public attention. The 350-ton brig Stirling Castle had left Sydney on 16 May 1836 and was wrecked on what is now called Eliza Reef, north-east of Moreton Bay, Queensland, on about 22 May. One man drowned but the captain, his wife and 10 of their crew took to the safety of the longboat, while the boatswain took charge of the pinnace and the rest of the crew.

Portrait of Eliza Fraser, artist unknown, used to illustrate the book Shipwreck of the Stirling Castle by John Curtis (1837).

For several weeks the two boats drifted together from reef to reef, until the seven men in the pinnace separated from the Frasers and their party in the leaky longboat and took off for the Moreton Bay penal settlement alone. The captain’s party beached at what is now called Fraser Island and was found by a party of Aborigines, but not before six of the longboat crew had also abandoned their ineffectual captain and his wife. All but one of the men aboard the pinnace perished, and the sole survivor was rescued and taken to Moreton Bay. Of the longboat party, Aborigines killed Captain Fraser, the chief mate and one seaman, while two men drowned trying to swim from the island to the mainland.

The Aborigines then took the rest of the party – except the second mate – across the sea to mainland camps. Three of the men subsequently escaped and walked back to Moreton Bay. A party of soldiers and convicts from the penal colony then rescued the second mate from Fraser Island, while Mrs Fraser, a seaman and a ship’s boy were snatched from Aboriginal camps on the mainland. The individual stories of the Stirling Castles eight survivors were harrowing but Sydney’s readers were particularly interested in what the captain’s widow had to say.1

One week after her arrival in Sydney, Mrs Fraser, hobbling from a spear wound in her ankle that would leave her crippled, visited the Sydney Herald and gave her version of what happened after the wreck of her late husband’s ship. Her story has since become an Australian legend, due in part to her willingness to talk openly of her suffering, although some parts of her story became more lurid with each retelling. Initially she refrained from overstating her ordeal. She also displayed seemly gratitude for her rescue by the soldiers and convicts from the Moreton Bay penal colony. Her interview was given more prominence than John Ireland’s interview, probably with the same reporter, in the following day’s edition of the Sydney Herald.2 It was to be the first of many times that the widow upstaged the cabin boy. Eliza Fraser would prove to be a very good self-publicist.

Both the Sydney Herald and the Sydney Monitor set up a subscription for Eliza Fraser and the other seven survivors from the Stirling Castle, and they raised more than £400.3 Mrs Fraser took the lot. She condemned the survivors who deserted her husband and succeeded in discrediting them as villains. Some of the mud she slung around attached itself to those of the crew who had done her no wrong.4

Charles Eaton tomb at the Devonshire Street Cemetery, photographed 1900– 1901 by Josephine Foster. Glass plate negative held at the Mitchell Library, Sydney. Hundreds of headstones, including this tomb, have been relocated to the Pioneer Park at the Bennelong Cemetery, Botany Bay.

On 17 November, the skulls found at Aureed were given a Christian burial at the Sydney cemetery in Devonshire street. A surgeon re-examined them and identified 17 of them as European but confirmed that George D’Oyly’s skull was missing. In late 1838 a large memorial tomb for the victims was erected under instructions from Governor Sir Richard Bourke, but George’s name was omitted from the list of those whose remains may have been interred.5 The Isabella crew, meanwhile, were busy in another direction. As the Sydney Herald observed (20 Oct. 1836):

We are not aware whether any of our speculating ship-masters have already taken a hint since the arrival of the Isabella from Torres’ Straits, of sending an armed vessel in search of tortoise-shell, etc. amongst the numerous islands in those parts; but if they have not, they may avail themselves of the idea. It is reported that several hundred weight of this valuable commodity was picked up by the people of the Isabella with merely the trouble of calling at the islands for it.

Tortoiseshell was fetching up to 28 shillings per pound in Sydney,6 almost the equivalent of four weeks’ wages for junior before-the-mast seamen, who were paid 30–32 shillings a month.7 Other items such as sea shells and island artifacts were also attracting good prices. For most of their four weeks in the Strait, the Isabella crew had actually been conducting a profitable trading mission and it soon became common knowledge. The most successful trader was Captain Lewis, who came back with chests filled with tortoiseshell and other souvenirs. He eventually donated most of the artefacts, including the huge Aureed mask, to the new one-room museum at the Council office in George Street. They later formed part of the original collection of the Australian Museum.8 All save for a few spears was subsequently lost when the museum, then set up in the Garden Palace at the Botanical Gardens, burnt down in 1882 (see Australian Museum website).

George Street Sydney looking south. Artist: Henry Curzon Allport, January 1842. State Library of NSW. Wikimedia Commons.

Everyone was making a big fuss of William D’Oyly. Governor Sir Richard Bourke was particularly kind to him and for a time everyone assumed that William would stay with him until the governor himself escorted the child back to England. Very soon, however, a Mrs Anne Slade sought permission to take charge of the orphan. Mrs Slade presented herself as an old acquaintance of the D’Oyly family and an intimate friend of William Bayley’s late wife, neé Elizabeth D’Oyly, whom she referred to familiarly as Betsy. Governor Bourke accepted Anne Slade’s claim and handed William into her care. Her connection with the D’Oyly family was so tenuous, however, she had to write a letter of introduction. She addressed her letters to Sion Hill at Kirby Wiske, being unaware that the family had left Sion Hill over 20 years previously. The new owner, Joshua Crompton, kindly and promptly forwarded her letters to William Bayley.9

Mrs Slade, née Cameron, was the daughter of Captain John Cameron, the master of the ship Jane Duchess of Gordon, when it sank in 1809 with the loss of all lives. Captain Tom D’Oyly’s 13-year-old twin brother, Edward jnr, had been among those who perished.10 It was ‘an event in which your family and myself were mutual sufferers’ Mrs Slade explained in her letter to the D’Oylys.11 Anne, then aged 11, and 18-year-old Elizabeth D’Oyly, had briefly exchanged letters until the Camerons moved to Scotland.

Governor Bourke already knew that Anne’s husband, George Milner Slade, was not quite the respectable public servant everyone supposed him to be and the NSW Government despatches relentlessly catalogue his shame.12 He was paymaster for the Army’s 6th Battalion 60th Foot Regiment in 1815, based in Jamaica, when his funds were deficient by £1,639, the equivalent of about 10–15 times his annual salary. The misappropriation had occurred at a time when Slade’s commanding officer was his brother-in-law, Colonel Wharton. Slade convinced his fellow officers that he had been following Wharton’s orders, passing the money over to his trusted relative on promise of repayment.13 Slade was court-martialled and dismissed from the Army, but avoided transportation to Australia and was soon released from prison on the understanding that he would pay off his debt to the Crown. On his return to England, he married Anne Cameron in the belief that she would inherit property on the death of a relative. With the additional expectation that he would soon find well-paid work in Australia, he charmed two of his close relatives into foolishly standing as sureties for his debt to the Crown.

The Slades arrived in Sydney aboard the Regalia in January 1820. It is perhaps a testament to George’s personality that in 1821 Governor Macquarie gave the disgraced and inexperienced ex-Army pay clerk the office of Sydney Coroner, on a salary of £90 per year, with fees and travelling expenses amounting to an additional £70. By the standards of the day, it was a modest income. Slade considered it ‘inadequate to the support of a family’14 and his wife was forced to start a girl’s school, putting in long hours and a lot of hard work for a mere pittance. As for her inheritance, it either failed to eventuate or else it proved to be less than expected.

Slade defaulted on his repayments to the Crown and his two guarantors had to honour his debt. Their outrage at being stuck with such a huge expense prompted a letter from Anne Slade to one guarantor claiming that the War Office had already proceeded against her husband, seizing property to the value of £170.15 Anne’s letter implied that her husband was unable to help his unfortunate guarantors because the sheriff had already stripped him of his assets. Thereafter the Slades were careful not to own any property that the sheriff could confiscate, choosing instead to rent a house in Sydney’s George Street, large enough to do double duty as a seminary for girls.

Slade, after a brief stint as secretary to the Australian Agricultural Company (AAC), eventually opened a store on the AAC’s land grant at Port Stephens. For a time the Slades appeared to be successful merchants but their business got its start with a £400 bank loan and borrowings from yet another gullible friend. When it failed, Slade was bankrupt and went to gaol for over a year.16 Alone and penniless, his wife was obliged to reopen her little school in Sydney. She had lost everything, including all of her household furniture, two horses and some bullocks. Although the colonists had been unaware that their former coroner had been court-martialled out of the Army for embezzlement, the failed business at Port Stephens hurt local creditors, including the Bank of Australia. Anne’s efforts to salvage her dignity and support herself, by resuming her school while her husband was in gaol, inspired at least one comment from the press:

‘’Tis education forms the common mind.’—Mrs. Slade, whose husband formerly was Coroner for Sydney and who once held the Secretaryship to the Millions of Acres Company, is on the eve of opening a seminary for young ladies. We are glad of this; as the paucity of female schools in Sydney is by no means subject of congratulation; and the acquirements of this lady cannot fail to render her a very valuable acquisition.17

The news item expressed some admiration for Anne’s personal qualities and kindly refrained from mentioning that her husband was currently in prison.

Hyde Park Barracks, Sydney, drawing by Hardy Wilson in 1914. Building designed by Francis Greenway. National Library of Australia

By late 1830, Slade had organised his release from gaol by taking advantage of the new Insolvent Debtors’ Act, and in 1831 a sympathetic Governor Darling made him the sole clerk to the Board for the Assignment of Convict Servants, a rather junior position but one he was lucky to get. The Assignment Board’s offices took up space on the ground floor of the three-storied Convict Barracks in Hyde Park, which included quarters for the superintendent and some guards. The Slades, however, were now tenants in Reibey’s Buildings, Lower Castlereagh Street, where Anne had fitted out rooms for her seminary.18

When Anne’s brother, Lieut. Col. Charles Cameron, died in 1827, the Slades raised his infant daughter, Anne Slade Cameron. In October 1834, she died suddenly after a ‘lingering illness’, aged eight years and three months.19 Anne had no children of her own and must have been heartbroken, while the fact that the child’s death took place at her latest boarding school was an additional blow. The school failed dismally despite the posh-sounding advertisements Anne placed in the newspapers.

When the Home Office abolished the three-man convict Assignment Board in late 1836, Sir Richard Bourke was sufficiently impressed by Slade to make him the Commissioner of the Assignment Office. Slade now had sole responsibility for the allocation of all male convicts and a handsome salary of £300. When Bourke subsequently learned of Slade’s shady past as an embezzler and debt defaulter, he did not withdraw the promotion. It was trusting of Governor Bourke not to have been more careful. Slade worked alone in the Assignment Board office and had no clerks to help him. There were occasional oddities and people were suspicious about why some settlers seemed to get a bigger or quicker allocation of convict workers than others, but Slade kept a proper set of books and nothing in his written records was ever irregular.

It had taken 16 years but the Slades were now affluent colonists and Anne was reinventing herself as the wife of a respectable senior public servant, finally putting her years as a hard-working and low-paid schoolmistress behind her. It was at this time that she took control of William D’Oyly. We can picture her stepping out from her new home in Liverpool Street in summer whites, with little William in tow. There is no doubt she basked in the attention created by his notoriety. Apart from Mrs Salting, she was the only woman in Sydney able to claim prior acquaintance, however slight, with his family. As a foster mother, she served very well. She had tenderly written in a letter received by William Bayley: ‘When the poor little fellow was brought to me he put his arms around my neck and called me Mama’.20 She promised his family that ‘every affectionate care and attention that he could experience from the kindest mother he shall receive from me.’21. She also wanted William to stay with her for long enough to remember her. Having got her hands on William, Anne Slade was in no hurry to give him up. She needed time to build up his weight, she explained, and to get his language skills to the point where he could speak English tolerably well.

Anne’s reputation as a boarding-school teacher was too well established. Many colonists believed that Sir Richard Bourke had placed William D’Oyly in her care as a paying student at her boarding school, and did not realise that the Governor had actually responded to her offer of charity. The Sydney Herald incurred her indignation when it published the following titbit (27 October 1836): ‘The child D’Oyley [sic], who was taken from Murray’s Island, we understand, has been very properly sent to a boarding-school, until the Government hear from his relatives, who are said to be persons of considerable wealth.’ Anne promptly informed the Sydney Gazette that the Sydney Herald had its facts wrong:

The fact is, that Mrs. Slade, wife of G. M. Slade Esq., of the Assignment Board, wrote to His Excellency the Governor, requesting that as she was intimately acquainted with the boy’s father and all his family she was desirous of having him placed under her charge, by which His Excellency assented. Mrs. Slade has with the greatest kindness adopted the lad as her own.’22

The Colonial Secretary at that time was Edward Deas Thomson, Sir Richard Bourke’s son-in-law. While Anne Slade took great delight in adopting William D’Oyly, Thomson’s wife, Anna, had similarly offered sanctuary to Eliza Fraser. Although initially announcing that she would be leaving immediately for England to be reunited with her now destitute family (she had three children), Eliza Fraser enjoyed the Thomson’s hospitality for four and a half months. If Anne Slade wanted to boost her social standing in Sydney, attaching herself to Anna Thomson for charity appeals was a good place to start. The ladies collected fine clothes for Eliza Fraser and Mrs Slade held a fund-raising party in her home.23

The occasion brought together Eliza Fraser and John Ireland for perhaps the only time. Ireland still had very little to say about his experience and was looking very thin but otherwise healthy. Mrs Fraser, however, had a nasty leg wound and could be depended upon to spin a good yarn, albeit one based more on vitriol than veracity. Anne’s invitation to Ireland was only partly an act of goodwill. She probably also wanted to question him further about George. Anne was dissatisfied with the claim that George’s death was properly established, but if she thought that she would be able to extract more information out of Ireland, she was mistaken.

There is no record of the conversations at the party but we do know from other published accounts that Eliza had no kind words to spare for the Aboriginal tribes she had encountered. Speaking of her husband’s former chief mate, Charles Smith, for example, she would later state: ‘The savages applied burning brands of fire to his legs, which burning upwards, literally roasted him alive, his whole body being burned to a crisp, and presenting an awful proof of savage barbarity!’24 While Mrs Fraser gave differing accounts of Smith’s death, the fact that many colonists did believe that indigenous Australians burnt their captives alive can be largely attributed to Eliza Fraser’s stories.

By late February 1837, William had been living with Anne and George Slade for about four months and everyone in Sydney considered him a child worthy of the utmost compassion. Everyone that is, except for the next-door neighbour, a man called William Savage. As far as Savage was concerned, the boy was, well, a bit of a brat I suppose. Savage had pigeon houses and he complained that the boy was continually throwing stones into his backyard. Anne was standing at her back window one morning when she saw Savage climb onto the roof of his home and look over the edge into her backyard. She then saw him throw a stone and rushed out to find William with a bloodied head. When Savage appeared before the police bar two days later, Anne admitted that William was in the habit of chasing after the pigeons when they flew into her yard, in the belief that if he could put salt on their tails he could catch them. As well, she conceded, ‘the child might have thrown stones at the birds.’ Savage had to pay a fine of £5 within three days, or face imprisonment for two months. He left the bar ‘amidst the indignant murmurings of a numerous auditory.’25 William’s small head wound put him in bed for a time and delayed his departure for England by about 15 months.

Anne Slade was a feisty Scot of good stock whose life had been a struggle since her father, Captain John Cameron, went down with his ship. During her years in Australia, she had lost everything twice and had supported many of her brother Charles’s children on the limited income from her boarding schools. She had become a resourceful, no-nonsense woman who made no secret of her dissatisfaction with the Isabella rescue mission. Captain Lewis, for one, seems to have detested her. When he met the Mayor of London in 1838, he gave Governor Sir Richard Bourke sole credit for taking care of William D’Oyly in Sydney and made no mention of the Slades.

On 15 June 1837, Anne Slade was facing court again, this time as the defendant:

Mr. George William Jackson v. Mrs. G. Milner Slade.–This was a case in which plaintiff sought to bind defendant to the peace. It appeared, by the evidence of Mr. Jackson, that a night or two previously the key of the hall door was missing, and thinking that defendant, who lives in the same house, had it, he sent his servant for it; when he heard Mrs. S. acknowledge that she had it, but would not give it up, and that if any one troubled her again she would stick a knife in them.’26

The Bench dismissed the case when the plaintiff and his servant admitted they were not in the least bit afraid of Mrs Slade, but Jackson had nevertheless succeeded in portraying her as a co-tenant who made death threats.

What the Slades wanted was a home to match their new status, and they eventually acquired or rented property at Darling Harbour on a little peninsula with pleasant surrounds, a great view and no close neighbours, which they called D’Oylyville.27 (I know, ouch). When the news got back to Slade’s unfortunate guarantors in England, as it invariably did through a friend in Sydney, they were outraged.28

The period between October 1836 and mid-1838 when Anne Slade cared for and tutored William D’Oyly was the high point of her life. She had finally gained some respect for her generous spirit and Christian charity and she basked in the glow of her own reinvention. According to Brockett, William had been healthy and active during his time aboard the Isabella, but the author Charlotte Barton, who met him, described William as ‘remarkably tall for his age’ but very thin, with a ‘sad cough’.29 She formed the impression that without the kind intervention of the Slades, William would have died. Her comment on his height reflects the fact that William was more than a year older than everyone supposed.

Meanwhile, back in England, William’s two brothers would very soon begin to await his return. It would be two years before he met his family. John Ireland would later report to William’s relatives that Mrs Slade was keeping him in Sydney30 and he was surely right. Yet it is also clear from her letter to the D’Oyly family that Anne and her husband adored the little boy. William was an attractive lad but according to a smitten Anne he was also intelligent, clever, affectionate and endearing. It was perhaps typical of the Slades that they should covet someone else’s child.

In August 1837, the Rev. J. W. Worthington finally wrote a letter of complaint to The Times newspaper in London:

‘ . . . as yet I have not even received from the authorities at Sydney any news of Doyley [sic] and Ireland, who might, at least, have reached this country as soon as Mrs. Fraser, who says she saw them at Sydney, and am not enabled to send my friend, Mr. Baylay [sic], even the comforting intelligence of the arrival of his nephew.

Inevitably, the complaint reached Sydney. Governor Sir Richard Bourke had departed for England on 5 December 1837. Until his replacement, Sir George Gipps, arrived, Colonel Snodgrass was now the Acting Governor. In January 1838, Snodgrass had a meeting with Captain Lewis and they came up with a plan to get William back to his family. Lewis took 18 months leave-of-absence on half pay to escort the boy to England. Before he left, Captain Lewis used his friendship with Henry Bull, the editor of the Colonist newspaper, for a bit of chest thumping and self-promotion:

It seems Her Majesty’s Government have at last come to the resolution of forming an establishment in Torres Straits for the protection of unfortunate sufferers who may be wrecked on the Great Barrier Reef and its neighbouring sea. This measure has been, we hear, adopted . . . in consequence of the suggestions of Captain C. M. Lewis . . . ‘31

And later, after he’d already sailed:

Captain Lewis has gone to England with the prospect of being appointed to undertake a survey of the Northern Coast of New Holland; and we believe it has already been proposed that a missionary station or settlement should be established in that quarter, under the superintendence of a Commandant. From his experience and various qualifications we know no one more suitable to be entrusted with the superintendence of such a project than our esteemed friend .’32

In his conversations with Henry Bull, Lewis had cut no cloth to cover his naked ambition. The worthy captain had returned from the rescue mission with grandiose delusions that were too obvious for Bull’s readers to take seriously.

Bridehead and estate, at the head of the River Bride. Evelyn Waugh’s novel, Brideshead Revisited, borrowed the name. In the 19th century it was the family home of Chalotte D’Oyly’s uncle, the very wealthy banker Robert Williams, and on his death, her cousin, also Robert Williams, inherited the estate. Black-and-white photo, c. 1910, photographer unknown. Property of the author.

William D’Oyly and Captain Lewis finally embarked for England aboard H.M.S. Buffalo in May 1838. The parting was heartbreaking for Anne Slade but even tougher on young William, who cried so much at departure time that everyone present was deeply affected.33 He had loved and lost three sets of devoted parents in just three and a half years. After a rough voyage that made all aboard the Buffalo fear for their lives, Lewis handed the boy into the temporary care of Charlotte’s cousin, the wealthy banker Robert Williams of Bridehead, who was now the Member for Doncaster on the death of his father. William Bayley had already been granted legal guardianship of William. The lad was seven years old when he met his uncle for the first time (D’Oyly-Bayley, 1845)..

Notes to Chapter 21

  1. See Michael Alexander, Mrs Fraser on the Fatal Shore, London: Michael Joseph, 1971, for a full account of the Stirling Castle wreck and Eliza Fraser’s experiences. See also John Curtis, Shipwreck of the Stirling Castle . . .  To which is added, the narrative of the wreck of the Charles Eaton in the same latitude, London: George Virtue, 1838.
  2. Sydney Herald, 20 Oct. 1836.
  3. Sydney Gazette and New South Wales Advertiser, 25 Jan. 1838.
  4. Alexander p. 123.
  5. Sydney Gazette and New South Wales Advertiser, 27 Dec. 1838.
  6. Sydney Herald, 20 Dec. 1837.
  7. The Times, 2 Nov. 1837.
  8. See Chapter 3.
  9. William Bayley file, Anne Slade to D’Oyly family.
  10. Sydney Herald, 21 Oct. 1836.
  11. William Bayley file, Anne Slade to D’Oyly family.
  12. New South Wales – Governor’s Despatches to the Secretary of State for the Colonies, vol. 48, June–Dec. 1845, Mitchell Library, Sydney, ML A1237. This file contains enough documents, letters, etc., to make up a fairly comprehensive biography of the Slades, and most of the information that I have on them comes from this source.
  13. New South Wales – Governor’s Despatches to the Secretary of State for the Colonies, vol. 48, June–Dec. 1845, Mitchell Library, Sydney, ML A1237.
  14. New South Wales – Governor’s Despatches, ML A1237.
  15. Ibid. Letter from Anne Slade to George Moger.
  16. New South Wales – Governor’s Despatches, ML A1237.
  17. Australian, 9 April 1830.
  18. New South Wales Post Office Directories, 1832–1836.
  19. Sydney Herald, 13 Oct. 1834.
  20. William Bayley file, Anne Slade to D’Oyly family.
  21. Ibid.
  22. Sydney Gazette and New South Wales Advertiser, 1 Nov. 1836.
  23. Michael Alexander, Mrs Fraser on the Fatal Shore, London: Michael Joseph, 1971, p. 105.
  24. John Curtis, Shipwreck of the Stirling Castle . . . , London: George Virtue, 1838.
  25. Colonist, 2 March 1837.
  26. Ibid, 15 June 1837.
  27. Ibid, 16 March 1839.
  28. New South Wales – Governor’s Despatches op. cit.
  29. Charlotte Barton (A Lady Long Resident in New South Wales), A Mother’s Offering to Her Children, Sydney, printed at the Sydney Gazette Office, 1840, p. 81.
  30. Ireland’s London deposition, The Times, 31 Aug. 1837.
  31. Colonist, 5 May 1838.
  32. Ibid, 7 July 1838.
  33. Ibid.

Chapter 22: the rush to print

When he had first arrived in Sydney, John Ireland had sought treatment at the Sydney hospital for his ulcers. Captain Lewis alone had taken pity on him, and for a time he continued to live aboard the Isabella, entrusted with keeping an eye on the chests of tortoiseshell and artifacts that Lewis still had in his cabin. Lewis had hired a new steward, a man called Lilly, but he had soon been sacked for drunkenness and Lewis had given the task of minding the chests to Ireland. It was a temporary arrangement while the schooner was at dock for refitting. The government eventually paid for a room in a boarding house where Ireland could stay. He roamed the streets attracting the curious stares of passers-by. Finally, the Sydney Herald displayed some sympathy for his plight:

The lad Ireland, the companion of D’Oyley [sic], still remains unprovided for, and expresses an ardent wish to get a passage to England, where he has an aged father and mother who must have long since given him up as a lost child. To those who have the means of benevolence, a more unworthy object might be found than this poor lad, to whom a trifling outfit and a passage home, would be no mean gift.”1

Ireland would have known about the charity fund set up for Mrs Fraser, and may have been hoping for a similar initiative from the Sydney Herald on his behalf. Sydney’s citizens, however, were unimpressed by the needs of a fit young lad who, by his own admission, met with kindness from the islanders. Ireland’s failure to disclose matters immediately after his rescue may also have worked against him. A job offer did finally come Ireland’s way, but not the hoped-for charity handout. He was actually living on a government allowance when the Sydney Monitor finally published its own appeal on his behalf:

The young man Ireland, brought from Murray’s Island on the Isabella, appears to be in a destitute situation. He is no seaman, and cannot obtain profitable employment in that capacity. Some speculators are endeavouring to prevail upon him to accompany them on a voyage among the islands in the character of an interpreter. He declines the offer being afraid of the dangers from which he has providentially escaped, on the one hand and being anxious to see his parents in London on the other. He is without shoes.”2

Ireland, meanwhile, was soon busy in another direction. At Captain Lewis’s request, he appeared in court on 16 November to act as a witness. Lilly, Isabella’s ex-steward, was charged with stealing tortoiseshell and seashells belonging to his captain. Ireland was able to identify some of the shells displayed in evidence as being among those he had obtained by barter for Lewis. Lilly was convicted of theft and sentenced to seven years transportation to Van Diemen’s Land.3 The Sydney Monitor adopted a different slant:

Now we happen to know that the Isabella was ordered from the Dock Yard to the Commissariat, after her arrival, by our much respected Harbour-Master, Captain Nicholson, for the purpose of discharging all the trade she had procured, and the supplies that she had brought back. We should, therefore, like very much to know how it is that this tortoise shell has been left so long on board. The Government have for some time had a communication on the subject, but did not choose to take notice of it.”4

In the following week’s issue it was still grumpily pursuing its complaint against Lewis without success:

We were, and still are of the opinion that the officers of His Majesty’s vessels, whether colonial or otherwise, are not entitled to trade on their own account.”5

The problem for Captain Lewis, and for the rest of the schooner’s crew, is that they were paid very little for their recent, dangerous voyage. Lewis, for example, got his regular wage of £12 per month plus rations, amounting to about £54 for his arduous and difficult role as commander of the Isabella rescue mission. Sydney at that time had its fair share of public servants earning that much and more for dipping their quills in ink pots. Lewis was being paid the same rate as a junior clerk. He had a house ashore and a young wife. We can forgive him for trying to supplement his meagre income by whatever means he could. He was a master mariner but he was in a low-paid rut and he was desperate to get out of it. Nevertheless, the court case revealed the extent to which the Isabella rescue mission had doubled as a trade mission, with details emerging of the crew bartering for the precious tortoiseshell at every island they visited, and even scouring the beaches for anything they could find. Lilly’s lawyer even implied that Lewis had been acting for Henry Bull as an agent, a charge he strenuously denied, although he did admit that an offer to sell the tortoiseshell to Bull was on the table at the time of the theft.

Ireland did have some friends. William Brockett had been a visitor during his temporary time aboard the Isabella, if only for personal reasons. Brockett had decided to publish his journal of the rescue mission and he acted with commendable speed, anxious to have his booklet out while the tragedy was still fresh in the public mind. He hired a local artist and engraver, a Mr Fernyhough, to improve his rough drawings, but he also wanted succulent titbits from Ireland. ‘I know many things relative to the crew, voyage etc which have never appeared in any of the publications,’6 Ireland told Brockett, but refused to enlarge on what they were. Brockett read a draft of his book to Ireland, who confirmed its accuracy, but Brockett’s book mentions only three surviving boys. The budding author was kept in the dark about John Sexton’s existence until the publication many months later of the Lewis/King account.

Brockett was not the only one to use Fernyhough’s services. The engraver had only just arrived in the colony and set up a shop front, when the Sydney Herald jumped in and got him to engrave an image of the Aureed mask from a sketch by a local artist, which became the first illustration ever published in an Australian newspaper (20 Oct. 1836). Brockett went ahead and sent his manuscript to the Colonist’s printing office, paying all costs and expecting to reap a small profit from bookshop sales. He delivered free copies of his booklet to all the newspapers, hoping for favourable reviews. Most editors obliged, but Brockett had trusted too much the honesty of those involved in a very competitive press scene. The NSW Literary, Political & Commercial Advertiser republished his booklet, almost word-for-word, in its next edition, and the short-lived Sydney Times followed suit.

The Sydney Gazette commiserated with Brockett (29 Nov. 1836): ‘one of our colonial papers has in the most unhandsome manner published nearly all his little work, which put him to considerable expense and trouble to prepare for the press, and which has been the means of preventing the sale of the pamphlet’. The writer advised Brockett to sue the Commercial Advertiser in the Court of Requests, ‘which being a Court of conscience he would surely obtain a verdict.’ When N. L. Kentish, the editor and proprietor of the Sydney Times, attempted to defend his plagiarism, he got a stinging rebuke from the Colonist, in the form of an anonymous Letter to the Editor, but likely to have been from the Colonist editor, Henry Bull:

Mr. Brockett is the only son of a wealthy and most eminent and respectable lawyer in the north of England, whose historical and other talented productions have acquired him that celebrity in the literary world, to which he is so justly entitled. Young Brockett inherited in common with his countrymen, that insatiable desire for sea life, which his friends were quite unable to suppress – and in his choice of profession he will appear in no way singular amongst the youth of that part of England of which he is a native, where nine boys out of ten become Sailors in spite of all impediments . . .

This, Sir, is the young gentleman, who Mr. N. L. Kentish (in excuse for pirating his Narrative) terms a common sailor boy . . . “7

Just two weeks after Brockett’s little book appeared in the bookshops, on 1 December 1836, the following display advertisement started appearing in the major newspapers in Sydney and Van Diemen’s Land:


In the Press, And shortly will be Published, A NARRATIVE of the Voyage of the Government Colonial Schooner Isabella, in search of the Survivors of the Charles Eaton, wrecked in the Torres’ Straits, prepared from the Official Report of the Voyage.


For three and a half months, this boxed display advertisement appeared in every issue of the major Sydney papers and in Hobart Town and Launceston. The campaign went on, and on, and on, 35 pre-release ads for a book that had yet to be printed. The Colonist missed out on the little revenue maker. It was already running its own months-long advertising campaign for Brockett’s book. Whoever was responsible for the new round of advertisements for a similar book was crushing Brockett’s little effort. By February 1837, the disillusioned author had packed his boxes and sailed home to Newcastle.

Finally, in mid-March 1837, this new book went to press, followed by another round of advertising. The publicity blitz was for the colonial government’s own account of the shipwreck and rescue, eventually entitled Voyage to Torres Strait in Search of the Survivors of the Ship ‘Charles Eaton’, compiled and edited by Captain Phillip Parker King and based in part on the logbook of the Isabella’s captain, Charles Morgan Lewis. Who paid for this costly attempt to bury private enterprise? The printer got his money from the colony’s military chest and presumably Governor Bourke would have been reluctant to spend the chest’s funds on that much advance publicity. According to Governor Bourke, the book lingered in the press until he sailed off in HMS Rattlesnake on his visit to Port Phillip. And while it lingered, the newspapers kept running the advance publicity. In the end the campaign was probably paid for out of profits from the sale of the book.

The lengthy campaign implied, at least in the mind of the newspapers’ readers, that the resulting book was going to be a worthy tome, an absolute mine of useful information about the Torres Strait. When it finally appeared as a slender pamphlet it disappointed mariners, who had hoped for something better. The Colonist, despite it’s own interest in the sales of Brockett’s book, generously published a favourable review, although it did place its emphasis on editor Henry Bull’s friend, Captain Lewis. There was a ‘sting in the tail’, however. One month later the Colonist re-published a lengthy but anonymous letter to the editor of the Commercial Journal that was actually a critical review of the book. It includes the following comments:

I did hope, I say, that the appointment of Captain King to the supervision of the Journal was for the purpose of embracing the favourable opportunity which this voyage afforded of collating for the public good all the scattered data of the last twenty years−embodying such authenticated discoveries as would bring our knowledge to the present time.

The Narrative published under the sanction of the Colonial Government by Captain King is meagre and void of useful detail in the extreme, being but a trifle better than Brockett’s Narrative. This “mountain in labour,” which has disappointed public expectation, is wholly unworthy of the colonial administration, thus imitates the apathy of the Home Government in our geographical affairs, and is also unworthy of the distinguished officer to whose gestation it was confided.

The critical review is signed TRAVELLER and the anonymous author has a point. The book does regurgitate material from the published account by Matthew Flinders of his 1804 visit to the Murray Islands. It is possible that the critique was written by Captain Lewis, despite the fact that he was still employed in the colony’s navy. Certainly there would have been many in the colony who believed he was the letter’s author, even if he was not. Lewis was still smarting at being prevented from publishing – and profiting from – his own book from his journal. His friendship with Henry Bull may have influenced the editor’s decision to republish the stinging review.

Lewis by this time had received a letter from William Barnes, the former master of the schooner Stedcombe: had Lewis heard anything of the two missing ship’s boys, presumed to be at Timor Laut? Captain Lewis called upon him and told him: ‘it was not in his written instructions to search for them: therefore he could not take [it] upon himself to do so,’ and that was the end of that. The dismissive response he got from Lewis shocked Barnes. Governor Bourke, when he eventually got to hear about it, may well have been equally annoyed. His instructions to Lewis for the rescue mission had sanctioned in general terms the rescue of other castaways.8

John Ireland had been hoping to return to England on the same ship as William D’Oyly but when he heard that the boy’s departure would be delayed by a small head wound he took a job on board the Florentia, bound for London. The ship left Sydney in February 1837 and reached London on 17 August, after a slow trip hampered by rough seas and storms.9 Relatives and friends of Captain Moore, the D’Oylys and Tom Ching were awaiting his arrival. Brockett had beaten Ireland back to England by a few weeks and carried news to William Bayley of his pending return.

Eliza Fraser had also left for England in late February 1837, but not before she secretly married Captain Alexander Greene, master of the brig Mediterranean Packet, recently arrived from New Zealand. This clandestine event took place on 23 February, at St Andrew’s Presbyterian Church in Sydney. The witnesses were two people sworn to secrecy.10 The Mediterranean Packet sailed for Liverpool soon after the marriage, leaving behind a town unaware it had just handed over about £400 to a woman presumed to be destitute, but who had already become the spouse of a well-paid master mariner. Since she was happily ensconced in the captain’s cabin, Eliza Fraser enjoyed a first-class passage home. As well, she had filled her chests with fine garments donated by the charitable women of Sydney and Moreton Bay. Some would later say that the hasty marriage was very convenient for her. Others would claim that Captain Greene was exploiting her and she was already a little mad.

The newlyweds arrived at Liverpool on 16 July 1837 and wasted no time in trying to solicit more handouts, this time from Liverpool’s charity funds. The stories she was beginning to tell of her experience were so outlandish, however, they aroused immediate suspicion. And when their chief mate admitted she was the captain’s wife, her appeal for charity was instantly dismissed. Undaunted, the Greenes set out for London, arriving there on the same day as John Ireland’s ship. The Greenes were too canny to allow themselves to be upstaged by Ireland’s story. Still concealing their marriage, they immediately applied to the Colonial Office for funds for ‘a widow in needy circumstances’11 and when they had received no reply from Lord Glenelg after a mere couple of days, immediately applied for an audience with the Lord Mayor of London, Alderman Thomas Kelly. Their unseemly haste, despite the many weeks they had spent seeking charity in Liverpool, suggests, despite their subsequent denials, that they were now very anxious to get in quickly with the widow’s harrowing tale.

Ireland, meanwhile, returned to his parents at Stoke Newington and was introduced to a new baby sister called Sarah, plus two sisters and a brother who had grown taller in his absence. He was told of little Eliza’s death, and that there was a brother, Edward, whom he would never know. Born while John was living on Mer, the two-year-old had died only weeks before John’s return. There was also an elderly relative or two squeezed into his family’s modest cottage.12 For someone who had been a child when he left home, it must have been an isolating experience. So much had happened in his absence. For his still grief-stricken parents, however, there was pleasure in knowing that fate had taken four children from them and graciously given one of them back.

The Irelands, father and son, their spirits high with hope and expectation, paid a visit to the office of the Messrs Gledstanes. Everyone was polite to John Ireland and listened to his story, after which the proprietors handed him a single sovereign. One of the clerks, perhaps embarrassed by his employers’ miserliness, gave the lad another half sovereign.13 Ireland was cast back into the streets of London where his story had begun. He did have, however, a few useful contacts, including James Drew and the Rev. Worthington. Drew had previously visited George Ireland and informed William Bayley (William Bayley file) that the father:

” . . . had promised to bring his son to me the minute he arrives. I shall endeavour to get his examination before anyone can by any possibility tamper with him. His father says that he is a very good and well disposed boy. This man also gives Considine [sic] the carpenter of the men arrived at Batavia an excellent character.

Constantine had been part of the original crew ex-London and apparently the only one of the other four survivors known to Ireland’s family. He must have given an account of himself that satisfied George Ireland.

Father and son did visit Drew and Worthington as promised, and the two men were so angry at the way Gledstanes had treated their only surviving employee from the Charles Eaton murders, they took Ireland’s case to the Lord Mayor at Mansion House. In addition, they wanted to generate enough public outcry to encourage proper nautical surveys of the Torres Strait. Overall, their motives were honourable. Eliza Fraser, however, got there first.

The Mansion House in London. Engraving by J Woods after a picture by Hablot Browne and R Garland. Published 1837.

Mayor Kelly agreed to enquire into her circumstances and she appeared before him at Mansion House on 23 August. Also present was John Curtis, a reporter from The Times. Curtis had already written a hasty account of the Charles Eaton story, compiled from reports received from Sydney and other sources, but needed an interview with Ireland to complete it. At the same time, he was following the stories on the Stirling Castle shipwreck and was already interviewing Eliza Fraser and some of the crew. They were cooperative and provided him with plenty of original, unpublished material for his book. Mrs Fraser, as she was still calling herself, presented a deposition at Manor House that made sensational copy. It was well reported in the English press and there is no denying that the circumstances of her shipwreck and survival were harrowing. Her story, however, had elements that were similar Ireland’s own. Michael Alexander, in his book Mrs. Fraser on the Fatal Shore (1971), points out one deliberate fabrication in her Mansion House testimony. She described the fate of one of the seamen, James Major, who had been aboard the pinnace when it separated from the main party in the long boat, and whose fully-clothed body was later found in the ashes of a campfire that he may have rolled into while asleep. According to Mrs Fraser, however:

While Major was at work, the chief of the tribe approached him and tapped him on the shoulder. At this instant the poor fellow received a blow on the back of the neck from a waddie or crooked stick, which stunned him. He fell to the ground, and a couple of savages set to work, and by means of sharpened shells severed the head from the body with frightful lacerations. They then ate parts of the body, and preserved the head with certain gums of extraordinary efficacy and affixed it as a figure bust to one of their canoes.”14

There are elements of this macabre fabrication that appear to have been lifted straight out of John Ireland’s account of the murders at Boydang. As well, Ireland had spoken of his fear during his time in the Torres Strait that he would be killed and his skull attached to a canoe as a figurehead. He may even have mentioned that fear to Eliza Fraser when he met her at Anne Slade’s party. After three days of lurid stories in the London press that portrayed the Australian Aborigines as fearsome head-hunters and cannibals, there was little left for Ireland to say that was fresh and new.

Mayor Kelly agreed to launch a public subscription to raise funds for the destitute widow. Later, when it became common knowledge that she was married to Captain Greene, a man more than capable of supporting her and her children, the substantial sum raised by the Lord Mayor’s subscription was given to Eliza’s three children instead.

When Ireland’s turn came to appear in the Justice Room at Mansion House and he fronted up on 30 August, the atmosphere was markedly different to that which had greeted the Greenes. His appeal application would be heard by Alderman Pirie, a shipowner and a much tougher proposition than Mayor Kelly. Pirie knew that the Greenes had duped people and he was determined not to let that happen to him. The following summary of the meeting is based on the Times account (31 Aug. 1837). Worthington’s name is incorrectly given as Wellington.

James Drew, having identified himself as midshipman Tom Ching’s brother-in-law, opened the proceedings with an attempt to give a brief outline of the fate that had befallen the cabin boy’s shipmates. Pirie interrupted him. ‘I’m aware of the circumstances of the loss of the vessel and the report that several murders had been committed,’ he said impatiently. He then asked Ireland several questions upon the subject, which he answered without hesitation. Drew then changed tactics. He said ‘his object in appearing at the Mansion-house was to press the necessity of the interference of the Colonial Government’ since people wrecked on the Torres islands were being subjected to horrible treatment. Espousing the inner passage to the Strait, he added that it ‘would be necessary to have an accurate survey taken of the coast as the coral-reefs were forming islands every day.’ Pirie was still unimpressed so Drew changed tack again and began to present the cabin boy as a worthy object for charity:

DREW:—The general practice amongst the savages to murder any white people wrecked on their islands—a practice well known by European nations—ought to have caused great efforts long before this. Bad as the case is which had been recently laid before the Lord Mayor [Stirling Castle], the atrocities committed in the case of the unfortunate crew and passengers of the Charles Eaton were still more frightful, not one more than Ireland and young D’Oyly having been saved out of about 26. The poor lad had been two years along with the child among the savages, and had arrived not many days since from Sydney, having worked his passage home, and is now without a situation and penniless.

PIRIE: A more respectable house than that of Messrs. Gladstone [sic] and Co, who are, I believe, the owners of the ship Charles Eaton, is not in London. Everybody who knows anything about shipping is aware that remuneration as to wages ended with the loss of the vessel, so that the lad has no legal claim upon the owners whatever.

WELLINGTON [WORTHINGTON]:—Although there can be no legal claim, the dreadful circumstances of the case, and the fact that Ireland is the only survivor of the crew, are sufficient of themselves to establish a sort of claim on the sympathy of the owners.

PIRIE:—You should make application to Messrs. Gladstone [sic] on the subject, and endeavour to procure employment for the young man.

Not much sympathy there. Speaking of the Mangles visit, Ireland himself made it clear that he was angry with Captain Carr. ‘It has been said that I shunned those who tried to get me away,’ he said. ‘Never was anything more false or ridiculous.’ Carr’s claim that the cabin boy loved his island life so much that he wanted to stay at Mer was no help to Ireland’s application for charity. If Ireland’s anger also reflected, bye the bye, Drew’s own anger with Carr well . . . that was just a bonus.

The statement contained additional information that Ireland had withheld at Sydney, and it later became the basis for his own children’s book, The Shipwrecked Orphans, which went to press not long after the meeting at Mansion House. The publisher, Dean and Munday, had its offices in Threadneedle Street, not far from Drew’s business in Bread Street, so presumably it was Drew who organised the contract for Ireland. Dean and Munday published general titles but specialised in children’s books. The choice of title is interesting, given that Ireland’s father was very much a visible presence at that time and there were no secrets about his family.

In the week that Alderman Pirie interviewed Ireland at Mansion House, the Wemyss book (based on William Bayley’s files but entrusted to his writer friend for publication) went on sale in London bookshops, and they advertised it extensively in the newspapers to coincide with Ireland’s deposition. It was hardcover, included quotes from numerous documents, cost one shilling, and had been published initially in The Dissenter magazine, a Stockton publication edited by Wemyss. Bayley hoped to make a tiny profit from the tragedy – probably for William – and he was one of many with a similar goal. Bayley (a solicitor) was also the only person to write to Brockett for permission to quote from his book. Unfortunately, Ireland’s deposition contradicted the Brockett and Wemyss books on a few points, making them seemingly less reliable sources.

Much of the Wemyss book, Narrative of the Melancholy Shipwreck of the Ship Charles Eaton . . . , did simply rehash Brockett’s book, although Wemyss added excerpts of letters privately and personally addressed to Bayley. Poor young Brockett was the one who really missed out in the rush to print with so many people plagiarising his book. He gave up any dreams of being an author and studied for the bar instead, eventually becoming a lawyer in Durham. The second edition of the Wemyss book (1884) contains fresh biographical material about the authors and may be a better book because of it.

Drew must have got the necessary endorsement from Mansion House because he went ahead and set up a benevolent fund for John Ireland. In fairness to Gledstanes & Co., they may have offered to employ Ireland again, a proposition he would have rejected, as Curtis observed in him ‘a great disinclination to return to sea, if he can obtain other employment.’15 The following day (1 Sept. 1837) The Times published the following advertisement:

WRECK of the CHARLES EATON. – The appalling details of the wreck of this unfortunate ship have been fully before the public and in consequence of the utterly DESTITUTE STATE in which the only adult survivor, JOHN IRELAND, is left, it has been resolved to lay his case before the benevolent public. After being badly wounded in the hand, and very dangerously speared in the side, he was detained two years by the natives and underwent the greatest deprivations and hardships until rescued by Capt. Lewis, of the Isabella, and he finally worked his passage home from Sydney to this country penniless, and with scarcely decent covering. The assistance therefore of the benevolent is earnestly requested to get together a sufficient sum of money to relieve his immediate wants, and eventually to place him in a situation to gain an honest livelihood.

Subscriptions will be thankfully received by Messrs. Drew, Heyward, and Co., Great Trinity-lane, Bread street, London.

Subscriptions already received:
Rev. Mr. Worthington, B. D. 2 2 0
Thomas Ching, Esq. 2 2 0
James Drew, Esq. 2 2 0
R. H. Pigeon, Esq. 1 1 0


Ireland’s charity appeal was off to a modest start with seven guineas in donations. More importantly, there were some impressive names on that short list. The Rev. Worthington could encourage his congregation to donate, and three big names in the pharmaceutical trade had already donated to the fund. Ching’s Brown Lozenges for Worms and Ching’s Yellow Lozenges for Worms had made the Cornwall family wealthy and famous, while Drew’s company was a wholesale druggist and supplier, representing medicines and remedies that were trusted and widely used. The biggest coup of all though, was R. H. Pigeon, a respected man about London. He, too, was a pharmacist, but he was also at various times the Treasurer at Guy’s Hospital and ditto at Christ’s Hospital. Pigeon and Drew were movers and shakers in the Pharmaceutical Society and good friends. They were men who would normally have had no trouble finding suitable work for Ireland around one of the hospitals or warehouses. The appeal got some negative publicity, however, with the publication of the following letter from W. S. Deloitte, master of the Florentia. The Times published it in their next edition:

Sir: Observing in your paper of today an appeal to the public in behalf of the only adult survivor of the crew of the unfortunate ship Charles Eaton, and as he is known by a great number of persons both in England and New South Wales to have returned by the ship Florentia, commanded by me, I think it but justice to the Governor of New South Wales, the public, and myself, to state that, instead of his working his passage home, being in this country penniless, and with scarcely a decent covering, he was amply supplied with clothes by the Government at Sydney, previous to leaving, and £10. 8s was given into my hands to be paid him on arrival in London. He also signed the ship’s articles as an ordinary seaman, at 30s per month.

The balance paid to him on the 19 August 1837 being

  9    6   6
10    8   0
19  14   6
And he has plenty of clothes.

I make this statement to you, not from a wish to prevent his receiving assistance from the compassionate; but I think that you will agree with me that truth only should be made use of for that purpose.16

Deloitte was being petty. John Ireland had worked his passage home, he was now unemployed, and (according to the Curtis reportage) he had not claimed to have ‘scarcely a decent covering’. All the same, there is something about that last sentence that would have suggested to the reading public that in Deloitte’s opinion, Ireland was being dishonest. It implied that once again some very good people had been duped. Perhaps Ireland’s tendency to withhold information had not gone down well with Deloitte.

Little wonder that Ireland was disgruntled when Curtis approached him. The Times journalist was unsuccessful in getting much for the forthcoming book that he was now anxious to rush to press. Ireland, with his own book deal in mind, was back to being uncommunicative, although he did, for the sake of accuracy, agree to check the manuscript. Curtis was lucky that there were no stringent copyright laws then, because he shamelessly plundered the Brockett and Wemyss books then tossed in some homilies from other sources and some word-for-word copies of other accounts. Curtis did a reasonable job with the section of his book devoted to the Stirling Castle. Most of his book had already been laboriously type-set before the Greenes appeared at Mansion House, and he was forced to defend their behavior in his book to avoid a costly re-typeset. The section on the Charles Eaton is a swift cut-and-paste job and it shows.

Drew’s motive in exaggerating Ireland’s circumstances was similar to that of the Greenes in that he wanted to present Ireland as a pitiable object worthy of charity. He also came close to calling Captain William Carr a liar, despite the fact that Carr had plenty of witnesses to back his version of Ireland’s confusing behaviour at the time of the Mangles visit. When we look at the various accounts of what happened with the Mangles crew at Mer, it is clear that Ireland did explain that he was being held back and it would be dangerous for him to attempt to leave. This would have been so especially if he was now betrothed to a local girl. He wanted and needed Carr to offer a generous reward for himself and William to compensate the islanders for their loss. Carr tossing his hat onto the beach with a message was a pathetic attempt to assuage any future criticism. Ireland was plunged into absolute despair when Carr made such a half-hearted attempt at rescue then sailed away early the following morning. He was not alone in holding that view. As Drew reported, there were several Mangles sailors who agreed with him.

At this point, Ireland fades out of the news. In 1845, The Shipwrecked Orphans was re-published under his name in America and reprinted in 1846, 1848 and 1850 (abridged edn). If there was an ultimate winner in the rush to print that produced five books in quick succession and numerous published first-person accounts, then it was probably the book’s American editor ‘Thomas Teller’ and his New Haven publisher, S. Babcock, who were catering for the lucrative American market.

George Tuttle was the real name of the writer who used the pseudonym ‘Thomas Teller’. He specialised in retelling traveller’s tales for a penny magazine, which also sold to the American market. He wrote numerous children’s books for his publisher, S. Babcock. Tuttle clearly never spoke to Ireland and was taken in by the book’s title, believing that Ireland was an orphan. He was also unaware that Ireland only gave oral accounts of his experiences. There has to be some doubt about whether Ireland or his family got any financial benefit from the additional editions published in his name. Tuttle does not state that he obtained permission from Ireland to republish his book. More likely, he did a deal with the London publisher for American editions.

Ireland may have returned to Australia and spent time as a fisherman at Williamstown, across the harbour from the fledgling town of Melbourne. I was unable to confirm this, but a pencil sketch by Liardet of Williamstown’s foreshore in 1841 (held by a Liardet descendant and sighted once) does show a row of makeshift huts and one of them is labelled by the artist as belonging to ‘John Ireland, fisherman’. Since it is likely that Captain Lewis called upon him during his visit to London in 1838, it does seem possible that Lewis encouraged Ireland to settle in Australia. If John Ireland did briefly become a fisherman, then he resumed a lifestyle similar to that which he had adopted in the Torres Strait.

Another account has it that he was returning to England in about 1844 and went ashore at Cape Town, where he met up with the Hull family and told them his story. He had booked into a guesthouse near the foreshore for a few days, he said, and had been surprised to find his sister and her husband there. They were new immigrants from London.17 In 1842 the seaport of Williamstown did go through a severe but temporary economic downturn. Labourers, no longer able to find any work there, left the village and for a time it was almost deserted. A descendant of the Hull family also records that according to what Ireland told them, he had acquired the nickname Tommy Roundhead. In the 19th century, Tommy Roundhead was a nickname occasionally given to individual Aborigines in frequent contact with settlers. When the ship’s boy Joseph Forbes was finally rescued from Timor Laut in 1839 he was sometimes called Timor Joe. The only survivor of a massacre on a New Guinea island (he was a Chinese emigrant) was known on the Victorian goldfields as New Guinea John. Similarly there would have been settlers in Australia who knew that Ireland had lived with natives for a time so the claim that he was given a local Aboriginal nickname is plausible. The fact that he was wiry, dark-haired and sunburned may have encouraged its use.

After 1837, there are no census records in Britain that I have been able as yet to incontestably link to this John Ireland, making it plausible that he either went back to the merchant marines, albeit very reluctantly, or else he emigrated for a time. The two oldest Ireland boys, George Jnr and John, were close in age and grew up together, a little apart from their much younger siblings. George eventually became a successful businessman, running a printery with a staff of 17. He married and in 1843 had a son and named him John.18 The door does open a crack to admit the possibility that the child’s young uncle had disappeared out of the British record books for a time simply because he was offshore.

On 19 September1882, a 64-year-old pauper called John Ireland was admitted to the Highgate Infirmary on Highgate Hill, Middlesex, London. He had given his birth year as 1818. He died there one month later, on 21 October. Highgate is not far from Stoke Newington, which is one of the reasons why I believe that entry in the Highgate admissions book is probably the rightful conclusion to Ireland’s story. In the end, the ship’s boy had returned to his roots.

Initially, Eliza Fraser fared much better than Ireland. She got, in all, more than £950 in donations and a final mention in Henry Stuart Russell’s book Genesis of Queensland (1888). According to Russell, she was appearing in a London tent show, probably in the late 1830s, because the author, who was visiting the city at the time, saw a man carry a gaudily painted placard for the show, emblazoned with the following – now infamous – advertisement:


I remain doubtful about whether the woman inside the tent was really Eliza, given that Alexander Greene was an experienced master mariner and reportedly comfortably well off. The Greenes had told John Curtis that they would be moving to New Zealand and they did so, apparently losing Eliza’s money buying land for which the title had already lapsed. This was possibly connected to the infamous Wakefield scheme. She is believed to have died as a result of a carriage accident in Melbourne in 1858. The Melbourne Argus reported no accident of that nature, but they may have missed the story. A man called Alexander Greene did have a carriage accident in Melbourne and it may or may not be connected to Eliza:

The Argus, Friday 9 April 1869. City Court Thursday April Minor Charges,Alexander Greene charged with allowing his horse and buggy to run away, was fined 10s.

It’s possible that Eliza Greene survived a carriage accident but sustained injuries that eventually lead to her demise. Most people would agree that it is probably a good idea to keep an open mind about the exact place, date and circumstances of her death, especially since it isn’t listed in Victoria’s Pioneer Index of Births, Deaths and Marriages, or even in the all-important Index of Inquests.

Inevitably, the events surrounding the Charles Eaton faded from public memory, although Captain Lewis did manage to maintain a public profile for another decade. Governor Sir Richard Bourke had promised him a reward for the Torres Strait rescue mission. However, Bourke’s successor, Governor Sir George Gipps, rejected his application for either a land grant of 1,240 acres or a gratuity of £300.19 To add further pain to the rebuff, the Isabella was sold while Lewis was returning William D’Oyly to his relatives, and he was told by the Colonial Office in London that he no longer had a job in Australia. During his time in England Lewis did exactly what Anne Slade had done and basked in the reflected notoriety of his little charge. It really did seem as if everyone wanted a piece of the action. The Times treated Lewis like a hero when he presented William to the Lord Mayor of London, during an unnecessary public handover to William Bayley:

Young Doyley [sic], upon being brought into the presence of the Lord Mayor, appeared to be greatly frightened, and clung to Captain Lewis with filial affection, sobbing violently during the whole interview.20

And then:

The poor child during the interview could not be prevailed upon for a moment to leave Captain Lewis.21

Many newspapers then published the contents of some of Lewis’s letters, written during his time in the Torres Strait, including the claim that the skulls at Aureed were ‘arranged near a place where they generally feasted on the dead’.22 Finally there is this:

The Lord Mayor expressed his gratification at seeing the poor child in safety, and hoped that Captain Lewis would be rewarded for his resolute and judicious conduct in making the search for the unfortunate passengers and crew, and recovering the child and Ireland . . . 23

So once again it was all about the reward. Such praise from the Lord Mayor had to be a worthy endorsement, surely? It was heady stuff but when Lewis received the news that there was no job to go back to in Sydney, he responded quickly to his dilemma. He persuaded William D’Oyly’s relative, Robert Williams M.P., to write a testimonial for him and what he got was an offensively brief scribbled note. It weakly praised the captain’s ability in effecting William’s rescue and ‘the kindness in care of the child during his passage home.’ Lewis, who had sacrificed nine months’ salary and placed himself in a financially perilous position when he agreed to return William to England, really did deserve something better. He seems to have failed to impress the Williams family.

With the more effective and useful backing of the Colonial Secretary, Lord Glenelg, Lewis also applied to Gipps for a position as Harbour Master and Master attendant, preferably at Sydney but Melbourne would do. When he arrived back in Sydney aboard the Cornwall, after an appalling journey during which 18 children died (Sydney Monitor 2 Sept. 1839) he also carried with him a recommendation from Lord Glenelg who wanted his claim for a £300 gratuity reconsidered. Gipps complied and presented the claim to the Legislative Council members but they rejected it once again.24 They gave two reasons for this. Firstly, the Council took the view that since the Charles Eaton was an English trader it was up to the English government to pay Lewis a reward if they chose to do so. Secondly, it believed that giving in to Lewis’s persistent demand for a reward for rescuing two castaways would set a dangerous precedent that other ship’s captains might follow. Gipps gave Lewis a job instead.

Lewis left for Melbourne on 25 November 1839 to take up his new posting as Port Phillip’s first harbour master, with the appointment officially approved in May 1841, at which time his salary was increased and then increased again to £300 per annum. Lewis considered it an insultingly small amount, given that Sydney’s harbour master got twice as much for an easier harbour. He did an admirable job for what was already proving to be a difficult anchorage for shipping. He soon discovered, for example, that the small and open whaleboats used by pilots were simply not seaworthy enough to handle the rip at Port Phillip heads and the savage squalls blowing in from Bass Strait. Most pilot boats were only about eight or nine metres long and were manned by a pilot and four rowers, assisted by a couple of sails. It took them a whole day just to row out to the heads and back to the fishing village at Williamstown. In July 1840 two pilots went out to meet an incoming ship in an ordinary ship’s boat purchased from the Duchess of Kent and were never seen again, although the wreckage of their capsized boat was later found.25

On Lewis’s recommendation, the 46-ton revenue cutter Ranger was converted into a cruising pilot station, sailing up and down outside the heads on standby to intercept any approaching vessels. With pilots actually living on board, the problem of pilots being reluctant to put to sea in bad weather was solved to some degree. The Ranger cutter, together with two more whaleboats, was fitted out and handed over to Captain Lewis on 21 April 1841.26

Lewis seems to have fancied himself as a bit of an explorer. The Australian (13 February 1841 and post) reported that he had returned from a mission to Corner Inlet to rescue survivors of the Clonmel, which had run aground there, announcing that he had discovered a vast inland lake. Local fishermen, who knew the area well, promptly informed the public that the ‘grand harbour’ at Corner Inlet that Lewis had supposedly discovered was actually well known to them as a sea channel. Since they had treated the channel as their own private secret, the newspapers took the view that the first person to announce the existence of the channel had the right to claim its discovery.

In August 1845, the now retired Captain Lewis, having just returned from a visit to England, travelled to Sydney with another petition to the Legislative Council. In it, he explained that due to ill health he was no longer able to attend to his duties as harbour master at Port Phillip. Lewis, although still a relatively young man, had suffered a stroke that left him partially paralysed and suffering from brain damage. His damaged mind had become obsessed with getting a reward for the Isabella mission and for his role in returning William D’Oyly to his relatives. According to his petition, probably prepared by friends, his physical and mental conditions were the result of a coup de soleil, i.e. severe sunburn or heatstroke, brought on as a direct result of his work as Port Phillip’s harbour master, for which he claimed he was surely entitled to some government compensation. He reminded the Legislative Council of his services in the Torres Strait, and requested either a grant of land from the Crown or the sum of £300. He also pointed out that he had ‘erected a house on some government land, at a cost of upwards of £300, as it appeared without proper authority, and for which compensation to the amount of £100 only had been allowed.’

The NSW Legislative Council finally took pity on him and reluctantly granted him a gratuity of £300, but only in lieu of a pension, whereas Lewis would surely have been expecting it in addition to a pension.27 One year’s wage equivalent instead of an annuity was a terrible outcome. Lewis returned to Wales soon after to live as an invalid with his elderly parents. He died in January 1853, aged 48.28 The only lasting tribute to his pioneering role as Melbourne’s first harbour master is the channel at Corner Inlet, which bears the name ‘Lewis Channel’.

George Milner Slade, having lost his job when the Legislative Council abolished his position as Commissioner for the Assignment of Convicts in 1840, was appointed to the role of Sydney Coroner again, this time on a generous salary of £300. The Governor, Major Sir George Gipps, considered Slade ‘a very trustworthy servant,’ and said that ‘he should not like to put him out of office without finding him another’.29 The offer was subsequently withdrawn, and it may be that the year Slade spent in the debtor’s prison now made him ineligible for the position. Slade was unemployed for 17 months and struggled to survive until all of his money was gone, when the Government Gazette (5 Aug. 1842) announced that ‘His excellency the Governor [Sir George Gipps] has been pleased to appoint Mr. George Milner Slade to be clerk to the bench of the magistrates at Brisbane, Moreton Bay.’ The Slades had established themselves as comfortably wealthy, respectable colonists in boom-town Sydney and now George had been given a low-paid clerical position in what was then a penal outpost, with a free population of not much more than 140 civilians. He had been banished and after the way he treated his guarantors, you could say that he got what he deserved.

After his arrival at Moreton Bay, Slade managed to acquire a second position as the young settlement’s first postmaster, which earned him an additional annual income of about £25–£30, on top of his other salaries of about £162. Slade ran the post office from a rented cottage and employed his brother, John, to help him. Poor Anne Slade though. She must have been devastated by the sudden loss of social status and most of her worldly goods (once again). She was in her late-forties when she died in Brisbane North on 24 September 1846,30 after a short illness. Her husband died suddenly in 1848.31 After his death, his post office accounts were found to be deficient but only by a small amount..

Notes to Chapter 22

  1. Sydney Herald, 27 Oct. 1836.
  2. Sydney Monitor, 11 Nov. 1836.
  3. Australian, 22 Nov. 1836.
  4. Sydney Monitor, 16 Nov. 1836.
  5. Ibid, 23 Nov. 1836. The Sydney Monitor appears to have at least partly misjudged Lewis’s motives. Forty-five artefacts were handed over to the Australian Museum. Most of them, including the Aureed mask, were lost in a fire in 1882. Eighteen arrows collected at Mer by Lewis survived the fire and are still held by the Museum in Sydney. The tortoiseshell, particularly any that had been left intact and hadn’t been carved into artefacts, was sold.
  6. William Bayley file, letter from Newcastle, thought to be William Brockett to William Bayley, and the two men did exchange letters, undated but probably July 1837, Dixson Library, State Library of New South Wales, Sydney, A1074. Also see Thomas Wemyss, Narrative of the Melancholy Shipwreck of the Ship Charles Eaton: and, the Inhuman Massacre of the Passengers and Crew; with an account of the rescue of two boys from the hands of the savages in an island in Torres Straits, London, 1837, 2nd ed., Stockton-on-Tees: J. Sharp, 1884,
  7. Colonist, 1 Dec. 1836.
  8. Sydney Monitor, 30 July 1838
  9. John Ireland, The Shipwrecked Orphans, New Haven: S. Babcock, 2nd edn, c.1845, p. 64. ‘Thomas Teller’ self-nominated as ‘editor’ in the American edition.
  10. Michael Alexander, Mrs Fraser on the Fatal Shore, London: Michael Joseph, 1971, p. 124.
  11. Alexander, p. 127.
  12. UK Census 1841.
  13. The Times, 31 Aug. 1837.
  14. Alexander, p. 130.
  15. John Curtis, Shipwreck of the Stirling Castle . . . ,, London: George Virtue, 1838, p. 312.
  16. The Times, 2 Sept. 1837.
  17. Email to author from David Morris. Charlotte Ireland, John’s oldest sister, appears in the 1841 census still living with her mum and dad, then disappears from all records kept in the UK, making it likely that she did indeed marry and emigrate post-1841. In 1842 she was 17 years old. Brother John also disappears from UK records and either went back to sea or emigrated. So far, Australian and South African records examined by the author have yielded no conclusive trace of either of them. The rest of his family lived out their lives in the Hackney-Stoke Newington area.
  18. Alexander, p. 156.
  19. Ibid.
  20. See: Allan McInnes, ‘The Wreck of the Charles Eaton’, read to a meeting of the Royal Historical Society of Qld, 24 February 1983, for details of Lewis’s attempt to get a reward from the government for leading the rescue mission. Also see HRA, Series I, vol. XVIII, pp. 432–36, 775.
  21. Morning Post, 26 Dec., 1838.
  22.  Ibid
  23.  Ibid
  24.  Ibid
  25. Noble, Captain J., Port Phillip Pilots and Defences, Melbourne: Hawthorn Press, 2nd ed., 1979, p. 11. The book contains brief account of Lewis’ career as a harbour master.
  26. Port Phillip Herald, 14 Jan. 1840.
  27. Sydney Morning Herald, 1 Nov. 1845; Maitland Mercury & Hunter River General Advertiser, 23 Aug. 1845 & 8 Nov. 1845; Morning Chronicle 6 Sept. 1845.
  28. Source: IGI.
  29. HRA Series I, Vol. XXIV, correspondence between Governor Gipps and G. M. Slade, pp. 661–70.
  30. Australian, 13 Oct. 1846.
  31. Moreton Bay Courier, 22 April 1848.

Chapter 23: the D’Oylys revisited

By the time William D’Oyly left for England his oldest brother, Tom, was already a student at the East India Company’s Addiscombe College at Croydon in London. Both the Duchess of Gloucester and Sir Charles D’Oyly had been soliciting on his behalf.1 Tom left for India in 1838, where he served as an ensign – and later a lieutenant – with the 45th Native Infantry.2 He was stationed at Shahgeampore and then at Dacca, before being transferred to Benares. In 1841 Bayley was still living in Paradise Row, Stockton-on-Tees, and the UK census shows that the only other occupants of his house were his oldest son, William D’Oyly Bayley (who was his articled clerk) and a maid. The rest of his family was scattered, with 10-year-old William and his slightly older cousin, Edward D’Oyly Bayley, already in a London boarding school. Lieut. Tom D’Oyly wrote to that young cousin, Edward, expressing regret that he had only received one letter from little William. He had been very ill he explained to Edward. Tom also mentioned in his letter that he had been in touch with his aunt, Frances Currie, on his arrival in India and she had been able to answer his questions. Some of them may have been about the deaths of his parents, including the fact that they had gone to New Norfolk instead of returning to England. If so, then perhaps a painful or perplexing issue was finally resolved.

The Bengal Army was fighting a campaign at that time against Afghanistan, for commercial gain. In the disastrous retreat from Kabul in January 1842, the Bengal Army suffered a major defeat. It lost 100 officers, about 4500 gunners and foot soldiers and about 12,000 camp followers. Tom’s company was not involved in the Afghan campaign, but he lost many friends from his Addiscombe days. He was stationed only a short boat-ride from the Chunar Fort and could go there looking for ghosts. Perhaps he found them, or perhaps the spirits of his parents were at hand when he finally succumbed to spasmodic cholera and died on 24 April 1842 at the age of 20. He had been immensely popular with his company and his fellow officers buried him at Benares with full military honours, an unusual tribute in a country where youthful death was a commonplace. A grieving William Bayley also had a memorial inscription to Tom added to his wife’s monument at the Norton cemetery.3

According to William Bayley, at the time of his death Tom appeared at the Bayley house between the hours of 12 and one in the morning, at almost the exact time that he died in India. His son, William D’Oyly Bayley, was prepared to testify to this, for the visitation had occurred – and been talked about – some weeks before the news of Tom’s death reached England.

With the Bengal Artillery now rebuilding from scratch after the disastrous march from Kabul, Tom’s younger brother, Edward, avoided the lower-ranked infantry and graduated into the prestigious Bengal Horse Artillery, where his uncle, Major William Geddes, was the riding master. He arrived in Calcutta in 1842, a few weeks after his brother’s death, and must have felt the loss of yet another family member very keenly. He married at Ferozepore in Indiain 1846 and had a son, Edward, in 1847. During the sepoy uprising (1857–1859, better known today as the First Indian War of Independence), the Bengal Horse Artillery’s Third Brigade rushed to the defence of besieged Lucknow. On 5 July 1857, a small band of mutineers attacked the brigade at Sassiah, en route to Lucknow. Captain Edward D’Oyly died of his injuries at the age of 33. His wife was with him when he died at Lucknow but his son was not and may have predeceased him.4 Edward D’Oyly fought heroically to the end and a couple of books and newspaper accounts on the 1857 Indian uprising commented on his extraordinary heroism.5 Edward left his entire estate to a ten-year-old orphaned cousin/niece he was apparently raising as his own daughter.

The battle at Allalabad, 1857. the Royal Horse Artillery on the way to the defence of Lucknow. Illustrated London News, Supplement, 20 March 1858.

William Bayley was obsessed with the Charles Eaton story for many years. He added yet another inscription to the side of his wife’s memorial at the Norton cemetery for Tom snr, Charlotte and George, and he arranged for the publication of a book on the shipwreck with the assistance of his good friend, Thomas Wemyss. In 1840–1841 he commissioned the well-known artist, John Wilson Carmichael, to paint two oil paintings to hang in his Stockton home, one of the wreck of the barque and one of William’s rescue. The National Library of Australia in Canberra purchased the latter in 2010. Entitled: ‘The Rescue of William D’Oyly’ it represents a bit of a coup for the library. You can view it online at the library’s website. It has an interesting provenance. In 1920 it was hanging in the home of Sir Warren Hastings D’Oyly, the 9th baronet and nephew of Sir Charles D’Oyly, the 7th baronet.

Now finally we come to William. Many people loved him but his destiny was out of his control. When his guardian died, he was 16 years old and reportedly penniless. Unlike his two older brothers, William never attended the East India Company’s Addiscombe military seminary, at Croydon in London. One explanation is that he failed the entrance exam. The earlier recommendation of the recently deceased Sir Charles D’Oyly6 stood for nothing if he did not qualify. More likely, William’s delayed education meant that he was already too old for entry. The Addiscombe house rules stipulated that you had to finish the two-year course before your 18th birthday. Fortunately, there was an alternative route available and William took it. In 1848 he got a direct posting to Madras (now Chennai) as an unranked cadet, attached to the 35th Native Infantry.7 After two years of in-the-field training he was ranked an ensign. His promotional opportunities, however, were less than those of an Addiscombe ensign. His relatives were in the faraway Bengal presidency of India, and there was no one to support him during his difficult first years in India. In 1852, his cousin, William D’Oyly Bayley, placed the following notice in The Gentleman’s Magazine:

Death Notice

13 August 1852– at SAMULIOTTOK, Presidency of MADRAS, EI, of dysentery, aged 20, WILLIAM ROBERT D’OYLEY Esq. HEICS. Youngest son of the late Captain D’Oyley, and nephew of the late William Bayley, Esq., of Stockton-upon-Tees. Deceased was upwards of two years in the hands of savages of Murray’s Island, Torres-Straits, after the murder of his parents and one of his brothers on their voyage from Sydney to India in 1834.8

According to the Madras Army records, and the records of the Madras Military Fund, William D’Oyly died on 22 March, 1852. The dysentery that ultimately caused his death was often a severe and frequently fatal symptom of cholera.


Notes to Chapter 23

  1. T. Wemyss, Narrative of the Melancholy Shipwreck of the Ship Charles Eaton . . . , 2nd ed., Stockton-on-Tees: J. Sharp, p. 32; William Bayley file op. cit. Edward D’Oyly to William Bayley, 1841; William D’Oyly-Bayley, A Biographical, Genealogical and Heraldic Account of the House of D’Oyly, London 1845, p. 148.
  2. William Bayley file op. cit. Thomas D’Oyly to his cousin, Edward D’Oyly Bayley, 1842.
  3. Most of the personal details about the three D’Oyly boys were supplied by William D’Oyly Bayley, A Biographical, Genealogical and Heraldic Account of the House of D’Oyly, London 1845.
  4. Bengal Service Army Lists, reference. IOR/L/MIL/10/52; HIEC Army Cadet Papers, IOR/L/MIL/9/220/141–48. British Library, Oriental and India Office Collections.
  5. Hervey Harris Greathed, Letters Written during the Siege of Delhi, London, Spottiswoode and Co., edited by his widow, 1858, pp. 97–98, 115; Peter Stanley, White Mutiny: British Military Culture in India, 1825–1875, United Kingdom: C. Hurst & Co., 1998, p. 100.
  6. Sir Charles D’Oyly had also initially intervened on the boys’ behalf to get all three of them into Addiscombe College.
  7. Madras Service Army Lists, IOR/L/MIL/11/59–date 1854. British Library, Oriental and India Office Collections.
  8. ‘Australasian BDM’s 1840–1864 from the Newcastle Courier’...

…. …… ;;;;

Chapter 24: The slaughters at Waterloo and Myall Creeks: bloody retaliation in Charles Eaton’s wake

Two days after the Isabella arrived back in Sydney, the following comment on the outcome of her mission was published in the Australian:

One cannot help, at such a recital as this, forgetting that the actors in this scene of carnage have some excuse in their ignorance, and wishing that it were possible to revenge, by the extermination of the whole race, the uncalled-for murder of our unhappy countrymen.

Given that 24 people were murdered off the coast of Australia, expressions of outrage were only to be expected. It is questionable, however, whether the uneducated among the convicts and settlers were capable of making the distinction between mainland Aborigines and a small and distant group of Torres Strait Islanders. The massive publicity the cabin boy’s story received could only have inflamed the existing racism against the native tribes. When Eliza Fraser arrived a few days’ later, the Government newspaper, the Sydney Gazette (20 Oct. 1836) allowed one of their ‘correspondents’ to vent his spleen:

. . . to send them Missionaries; why they might as well be introduced at the levee of his Satanic majesty; a truce with such milk and water means; the only best missionaries among these gentry are the red coats, the sharp, quick, sudden remedy of a shower of Bullets, and tickling them in the ribs with triangular pointed steel, would work a radical reformation, kill and destroy should go forth as a fist not to be recalled until ample retribution is exacted from the savages. Have we not before us the fate of the crew of the Oldham at Wallis’ Island, the Charles Eaton at Murray’s Island, and now the Stirling Castle on our own shores ; with these facts staring us in the face, with the blood of these slaughtered men crying aloud for vengeance, can the public, the mercantile interest in particular sit down contented and talk of sending missionaries to the poor benighted blacks, who would mumble the finger of an European in their mouth with as much glut as a child would suck a stick of barley sugar. If these men are benighted enlighten them, by all means, with a flash of musquetry [sic] and roar of cannon.

On 23 March 1837 the ship Mangles, still under the command of Captain William Carr, departed from Portsmouth for Sydney on her eighth voyage as a convict transport. Major James Nunn and a detachment of the 80th Regiment were escorting 308 male convicts.2 The ship arrived at Port Jackson on 10 July, after an impressively fast voyage of 107 days. It was time enough for Carr and his officers to entertain Major Nunn with the Charles Eaton story, and the vital role the Mangles and her master had played in alerting the world to the existence of survivors. By the time Nunn reached Sydney, his interest in the ‘melancholy shipwreck’ must have been well and truly aroused.

Five months after his arrival at Sydney, Nunn took up a new position as Commandant of the New South Wales Mounted Police. John Ireland was already on his way back to England. William D’Oyly, however, was still walking the streets with Anne and George Milner Slade, a poignant reminder of the fate that had befallen his family. At the museum in George Street, the Aureed mask was on display to visitors, while the King/Lewis book had just gone on sale in the bookshops and it was the first to include the cabin boy’s graphic details of the bloody murders. The book sold so well that within a few months it had a second print run. At the old Sydney cemetery a large memorial tomb would soon be erected for the victims’ skulls.

Murderous attacks by displaced Aborigines were common in the first decades of Australia’s white settlement, as also were provocative or retaliatory attacks by isolated whites. By late 1836, however, the indigenous tribes were under unusually intense siege from disgruntled squatters and convicts moving out onto the northern plains. Some of the worst atrocities against the Aborigines were reportedly taking place on Binguy station, the run of a settler called Daniel Eaton. The local tribes were fighting back and there were the usual reports of Aboriginal marauders killing stock. Then between June and October 1837, a stockman and four shepherds were killed by Aborigines in three separate incidents on three different stations.3

While the colony waited for Governor Sir Richard Bourke’s replacement, Sir George Gipps, to arrive, Colonel Snodgrass was vigorously pursuing his duties as Acting Governor. Having been informed of the murders that had recently occurred in the north, he summoned Nunn and his instructions to the police commandant were incautiously blunt. Nunn was to proceed to the northern plains, where he was to suppress the outrageous behaviour of the native tribes.4 Nunn left Sydney on 26 December 1837 with a party of troopers, and met up with his subaltern, Lieut George Cobban, at Jerry’s Plains. Cobban and a number of troopers joined Nunn’s expedition, while at the town of Invermein the party added a sergeant, John Lee, and perhaps another six troopers. During their long sojourn through the Gwydir River region of New South Wales, Nunn and the troopers often camped for the night at stations along their route and the gossip around the campfires included stories about real and supposed atrocities committed by the local tribes. What we do not know is whether Nunn contributed to those fireside chats with lurid details of the Charles Eaton killings, gleaned from personal conversations with Captain Carr but also from the King/Lewis book. Given his long shipboard confinement with Carr, it would have been remarkable if he didn’t.

On 26 January 1838 Nunn’s party reached a lagoon on Waterloo Creek, where they stumbled across a very large number of Aborigines. One of the men in Nunn’s party was speared in the leg. According to Sergeant Lee, they pursued the Aborigines downstream, running them down with their horses and shooting them on sight.5 Nunn and Cobban later claimed that no more than a few Aborigines were killed.6 Sergeant Lee, however, reported that ‘from what I saw myself, I should say that from forty to fifty blacks were killed’.7 Lee’s estimate is the one that most people seem happy to accept, although not all Australian historians agree.8

Typical Aboriginal encampment. Black and white engraving by John Skinner Prout.

Roger Milliss has written a very full account of Nunn’s actions in his book Waterloo Creek (1992) and there are many other published accounts. Suffice for me to say that on 22 July 1839 there was a judicial enquiry into the incident, held at the courthouse in the town of Merton, but the conflicting eyewitness accounts from Lieut. Cobban and Sergeant Lee, with their widely different estimates of the number of Aborigines killed, resulted in no charges being laid. Prior to that judicial enquiry, the stockmen in the Gwyder River region would have assumed that the events at Waterloo Creek (or Slaughterhouse Creek as it was then called) had attracted no disciplinary response at the seat of government in Sydney.

Not long after Nunn’s party returned to Sydney, some of those stockmen, inspired by Nunn’s punitive expedition and believing they could kill the Aborigines with impunity because they wrongly assumed it wasn’t a criminal offence, embarked on a murderous ‘drive’ against the local tribes. It culminated in a particularly cold-blooded attack at nearby Myall Creek, and the victims were up to 28 trusting Weraerai Aborigines camped around huts at Dangar’s station. Today we remember the Myall Creek murders for two reasons: firstly, seven of the convicts who participated in it were hanged; and secondly, the details of what happened, exposed in police interviews and court proceedings, were horrifying.

At about 4.30 on the afternoon of 10 June 1838, a party of 11 gun-toting, horse-riding stockmen rode up to Dangar’s station, where a clan of about 43 unarmed Weraerai had set up camp around the huts. Ten of the stockmen were convicts, assigned to stations in the region. The ringleader, however, was a free squatter called Fleming. Previously, the Weraerai camped at nearby McIntyre’s station, staffed at that time by a lone convict hut-keeper called Andrew Eaton. Eaton was kind to them and considered them harmless, and it would appear that they had a similar friendly relationship with the two assigned convicts at the neighbouring run taken up by Richard Wiseman.9 At some time around the end of May, Eaton encouraged the Weraerai clan to move off McIntyre’s station and over to Dangar’s run, convincing them they would be safer there. The original suggestion for the move had apparently come from Kilmeister, the stockman at Dangar’s, with the clan’s arrival timed to occur when his overseer was absent at another station.

When the armed convicts reached Dangar’s station, they found about 33 Aborigines there, predominantly women and children. Earlier on the same day, 10 of the Weraerai’s youngest and fittest men had been enticed away to nearby Newton’s station to help strip bark, leaving behind their helpless families and a few old men. The convicts knew this. On the previous day they had called at Newton’s station and were told by the convict hut-keeper, Robert Sexton, that the Weraerai bark-stripping party was on its way. Hearing this, the stockmen rode off, satisfied that the fittest of the Weraerai had been separated from their families. When they arrived at Dangar’s, their firearms and threatening attitude frightened Anderson, the hut-keeper, but Kilmeister shook hands with every one of them and promptly joined their drive. His was an act of particular treachery, since he had spent the previous week or two dancing and singing with the Aborigines and playing with their children.

The convicts bound the Weraerai women and old men by their hands to a long piece of rope and dragged them to the dry and sandy bed of Myall Creek, where they dismounted from their horses and hacked or clubbed their captives. The stunned victims, including many babies and children who had been crying and clutching their mothers, fell to the ground and the convicts decapitated all of them. Three months later, 11 of the killers went on trial in Sydney, the ringleader Fleming having fled and eluded capture.

Given that the cast of main characters in the Charles Eaton story was very small, it is interesting that three surnames associated with it – Eaton (twice), Sexton, and Wiseman – should crop up again closely associated with the events at Myall Creek. Some of the 11 convicts may have noticed it as well. It is just a coincidence but they may have felt that it linked them in an indirect way to the killings in the north. I am also tempted to wonder whether the convict hut-keepers, Andrew Eaton at McIntyre’s station and Robert Sexton at Newton’s station, were as innocent of any participation in the killing plot as they later presented themselves to be.10

More significantly, the convicts at Myall Creek chose a particularly messy and bloody technique. They not only clubbed, shot or slashed their victims – in themselves common practices – but also mutilated them by hacking off their heads. Since they were not head-hunters, they had no use for the heads as collectable trophies and left many of them to lie where they fell.

The men who committed the Myall Creek atrocity were motivated by genuine fears for their own safety. The decision to decapitate their victims seems unnecessarily bloody and pointless, however, unless we interpret it as an act of revenge for similar atrocities committed against their countrymen, of which the Charles Eaton murders were the best known, although there was at least one other instance as well. On the Liverpool Plains run of Sir John Jamison, three stockmen had been beheaded and dismembered by Aborigines in 1833. We can easily believe that somewhere in the warped minds of the convict stockmen lurked the notion that they would give the Aborigines a dose of their own medicine, their education being such as to render them incapable of distinguishing between Aborigines and Torres Strait islanders.

Many of the convicts passed through the convict barracks at Hyde Park in Sydney when George Milner Slade had his office there, attached to the convict Assignment Board. Their stay in Sydney had been brief. Slade worked alone and personally handled every male convict landed at Sydney. It meant that at least six of the convict murderers could claim to have seen or heard of someone with direct involvement in the Charles Eaton story, for their assignment officer had very kindly adopted William D’Oyly, the poor little orphan boy.11

The 11 convicts who went to trial in Sydney were originally acquitted of the charge of murdering an elderly Aboriginal male at Dangar’s station. Seven of the convicts, however, were recharged with murdering an Aboriginal child instead. Four of the convicts escaped the second charge in the misplaced hope they would give evidence for the prosecution. There was a lot of support for the murderers in the colony, but in the end, the seven convicts were found guilty of murdering an unknown Aboriginal child. On 18 December 1838, they were hanged at Sydney Gaol.

You could mount the argument that at least the convicts had the excuse of ignorance. No such concession is possible for the editor of the right-wing, pro-settler newspaper the Sydney Herald. On the day that the second trial commenced, he published an editorial designed to sway the jurors’ verdict and it includes the following comment:

—we may, it is hoped, be permitted to ask (inter alia) what attempts have been made to secure and punish the murderers of part of the crew of the Charles Eaton, and of the Stirling Castle? What steps have they taken to avenge the death of the parents of young D’Oyley [sic], who has been cast upon the world ‘a houseless, homeless wanderer?’ He may, hereafter, be present when some ranter may arise in a public place, and talk of the ‘interesting’ people of New Holland! But how will his blood boil in his veins when he remembers that by these ‘interesting’ people he has been made an orphan—consigned to the charity of strangers,

Cast a wanderer on the world’s wide stage—

If the erudite editor of the colony’s major newspaper was incapable of distinguishing between the ‘interesting people of New Holland’ and a far-distant group of Torres Strait islanders, what hope did his readers have? As far as this editor was concerned, the two were one and the same. He could quote from Atherton by William Pitt Scargill (1831), but neither knew nor cared that D’Oyly had already gone home to wealthy relatives in England.

On 19 December 1838, the day after the seven convicts were hanged at Sydney, the new Governor, Sir George Gipps, sent a despatch to Lord Glenelg at the Home Office, informing him of the outcome of the recent trial. Included in it was his own brief summing up of the crime as revealed to him in statements from witnesses, which he had obviously read with great care. In his view:

. . . it appeared on the trial that, for some weeks previous to the 10th June, not less than fifty Blacks of all ages and sexes had been living at these different stations (but mostly at Mr. Dangar’s) in perfect tranquillity, neither molesting the Whites nor being themselves molested by them. In consequence of some old quarrels, however, or possibly from accounts having reached the place of occurrences in other quarters, [author’s emphasis] a determination seems to have been formed by the white men to put the whole of the Blacks to death.12

Gipps does not state what ‘occurrences in other quarters’ he thought might have contributed to the stockmen’s decision to decapitate a party of peaceful and friendly Aborigines, but he would have known about the Charles Eaton and also the murders of some of the shipwrecked crew from the Stirling Castle. It is also worth keeping in mind that the events at Waterloo Creek and Myall Creek occurred while the King/Lewis account, published in 1837, had a second print run and was enjoying good sales in Sydney’s bookshops, as also were a number of other books on the same topic. Brockett’s book was still on sale, as also was the book by Wemyss and the Eliza Fraser book by Curtis. Ireland’s children’s book was on sale in a Sydney bookshop in late 1838. When you add to them the newspaper reports about marauding Aborigines out on the northern plains and a number of stockmen recently murdered in the southern districts, it is not surprising that the colony was awash with racism of the worst kind. Little wonder that the defendants in the Myall Creek trial received misplaced support from so many colonists.

When it comes to atrocities committed against one’s own countrymen, it is amazing how long memories can be. On 3 October 1936, almost exactly 100 years after the Isabella returned with Ireland and D’Oyly, and article appeared in a Sydney newspaper written by Walter E. Bethel. It gives a brief account of the tragedy then concludes with the following paragraphs:

There are many stories, equalling in intensity and pathos that of the Charles Eaton, that have Torres Strait for a background and the rest of the lengthy Australian coastline has its annals of effort and sacrifice.

It is well that these tragedies that have attended British occupation of Australia should not be forgotten, for they are irrefutable title deeds to the possession of the Land of the Southern Cross – a grim reminder, despite the not too rapid growth of population, that ‘this bit of the world belongs to us.13

According to Bethel’s reasoning, the British had every right to claim the entire continent as their own, prior Aboriginal occupation notwithstanding, because the blood spilt by the D’Oylys, Moore, Clare and many other British mariners, had purchased for the rest of the white settlers their ‘irrefutable title deeds’. How much more likely then that there would be some among those living in Australia at the time the tragedies occurred who would use that spilt blood as an excuse for indiscriminate acts of violence against Aborigines. More recently, Ian Nicholson, commenting on the Charles Eaton and similar tragedies in his book Via Torres Strait (1996) writes:

From our early mariners’ point of view there need be no ‘sense of guilt’ for alleged atrocities against the Aboriginal race. Indeed, the number of innocent, unarmed shipwreck survivors, including women and children, brutally murdered by Aborigines and Torres Strait Islanders well before any attempted white settlement of North Queensland in particular, leads to an entirely different conclusion. By their initial actions the natives were mostly seen at the time as barbarous cannibals, who could not be trusted, and their actions naturally brought the risk of some retaliation upon themselves later. Continuing atrocities made this inevitable.14

Nicholson is pointing out that tragedies like that which occurred at Boydang in 1834 contributed to the belief at that time that the Aborigines’ and Torres Strait Islanders’ own acts of violence against shipwreck survivors invited retaliation. To that extent then, many colonists would have seen the particularly bloody ferocity of the Myall Creek attack on an innocent tribe as just such a response.

Writing from Sydney in July 1834, Charlotte D’Oyly commented in her letter to her two sons in England that ‘a few years back, this spot was unknown to Europeans, it was inhabited by a race of blacks, who are now on the decrease, while the former are increasing wonderfully, and filling the country.’15 She had no way of knowing when she penned those words that others would use her own violent death to justify the displacement and decimation of the indigenous race.



Notes to Chapter 24

  1. Australian, 14 October 1836.
  2. Roger Milliss, Waterloo Creek, Ringwood Victoria: McPhee Gribble, Penguin Books Aust. Ltd, 1992, p. 12.
  3. Milliss 1992, p. 159 quoting Edward Mayne, the Commissioner for Crown Lands and Protector for Aborigines at Liverpool Plains (1838–1843) who referred in his address to the Legislative Council Committee on Police and Gaols in 1839 to ‘the first murder of two shepherds at Mr Cobb’s station’ (two more shepherds where killed at Cobb’s in December 1838), which was ‘done in revenge for another outrage’ against the blacks, supposed to be similar to a slaughter of 200 Aborigines at Gravesend mountain.
  4. Milliss 1992, pp. 1, 3.
  5. Lee’s deposition, HRA, Series I, XX, pp. 251–52.
  6. HRA, Series I, XX, pp. 250–56.
  7. Ibid.
  8. The historian Keith Windschuttle, in his trilogy The Fabrication of Aboriginal History, disputes many of the popular beliefs about the numbers of Aborigines killed in frontier murders, including those at Waterloo Creek, where there is room for the argument to be put that Cobban’s estimate was the correct one. I tend to the view that if only three or four Aborigines were slain, it would not have been seen by the local stockmen as evidence that they could kill 28 innocent people a few months later without repercussions. What they believed they got was a carte blanche for wholesale slaughter.
  9. Richard Wiseman was the son of the emancipist Solomon Wiseman. He had an older brother called William who was not Captain William Wiseman.
  10. In late 1836, 22-year-old Robert Sexton was sentenced to life and transportation to Australia. He depart England aboard the ship Prince George on 20 December 1836 and arrived in Sydney on 20 August 1837. With Sexton on board the Prince George was his younger brother, Burrows Sexton, aged 19. The two brothers had been sentenced to life for stealing a lamb, while their 50-year-old father, John Sexton, who was also transported, got 14 years for receiving it. Andrew Eaton arrived on the Surry in 1836. He was eventually granted a Ticket of Leave. George Milner Slade personally handled the allocations for both men as hut keepers and since the assignment office was on the ground floor of the convict barracks, there is a possibility that one or both men caught glimpses of young William D’Oyly.
  11. Of the convicts charged over the murders, Charles Kilmeister arrived on the Lord Lyndoch in 1833; James (Jemmy) Oakes arrived on ship Larkins 1829 was re-assigned in 1837 to Namoi River; Edward Foley arrived on Roslin Castle in 1833, aged 24. Sentenced to transportation for life for assault and levelling. At 29, he was the youngest of the seven convicted murderers hanged for their crime; John Johnson, aged 24 when he arrived on the Norfolk 1829; John Russell, a groom was 25 when he arrived on the Eliza in 1827; William Hawkins was 27 when he arrived on the Albion in 1828; James Parry arrived on the Royal Admiral in 1835, worked on Daniel Eaton’s station;.John Blake was 23 when he arrived on the James Laing in 1834. In 1837 he was assigned to James Glennie on the Patrick Plains. He was a butcher by trade and was married with two children. Sentenced to transportation for life 29 July 1833 for sheep stealing. Although identified as one of the murderers, he avoided conviction; James Lamb was 23 when he arrived on the Asia in 1825. Avoided conviction; George Palliser, was 20 when convicted of stealing a coat and sentenced to seven years transportation. Arrived on the Exmouth 1831.Described as ‘a quiet well disposed man’. Granted Ticket of Leave in 1835. Avoided conviction; Charles Toulouse, no arrival date known, avoided conviction. Slade was the convict assignment officer from 1831–1840 and handled six or more of the convicts involved in the Myall Creek killings.
  12. HRA Series I, XIX, Gipps to Glenelg, pp. 700–04.
  13. Walter E[dmond]. Bethel, newspaper cutting [Sydney Sun], 3 Oct. 1936, Small Pictures Collection, Dixson Library, State Library of New South Wales, Sydney.
  14. Ian Nicholson, Via Torres Strait, Roebuck Society Publication No. 48, Nambour, Qld, 1996, under the subheading, Genuine Mariners Not Guilty.
  15. William Bayley file, Charlotte D’Oyly to William and Edward D’Oyly, Dixson Library, State Library of New South Wales, Sydney, A1074.


Copyright for this manuscript is held by the author: Veronica Peek, of Melbourne Australia. Not to be reproduced in any form without permission.

Bing Translator