Crown Lands Commissioners In Moreton Bay (1842-1859)
Dr Margaret Shield, Visiting Fellow 2017/2018

William Wiseman Letter 1856

Rannes, Leichhardt

January 5th, 1856

Chief Commissioner of Crown Lands,



In compliance with the request contained in the circular dated 20th November 1855 I do myself the honor to forward the following report on the state of the Aborigines in the Leichhardt District during the year 1855 for transmission to the Secretary of State.

Notwithstanding a residence of nearly a year in that District employed in travelling over a great part thereof I have little satisfactory to say concerning any improvement or any progress to a more civilized state or in more accordance to their Status as subjects of the Queen. With the exception of three Stations – Cockatoo, Bungaban & Jundah – no stations admit the Natives. At these stations the natives belong chiefly to tribes on the longer settled Districts of the Auburn, Burnett & Condamine. When such are admitted they, frequently profiting by the knowledge gained in the ways of the whites, assist in directing murderers or in giving them refuge when pursued. The tribes inhabiting the left Bank of the Dawson, the Comet, Palm Tree and Ruined Castle Creek and the most northern watershed of the Balonne and Maranoa are still in a completely savage state and in hostility to the whites.

On my recent journey along the Dawson and its tributaries my camp was occasionally visited and watched by natives prowling about secretly in the middle of the night, as was apparent from the peculiar whistle by which they communicated with each other in the dark. The tribes around Rannes and on the McKenzie and FitzRoy are even worse. They cannot understand a word of the broken language usually current among the frontier tribes.

These were the men who massacred the Native Police in the night time at Baimes, with whom they had been fraternizing for two or three weeks while they had been received most amicably by the whites & had suffered with a too fatal confidence to camp within 30 yards of Mr Hay’s cottage. Some of these have been probably engaged in the frightful slaughter which occurred on the 27th December last, fatal season of rejoicing to them, at Mr Young’s Station about 70 miles from here between Mt Larcomb and the Dividing Range when 3 white men, 1 woman and two civilized Aborigines were murdered. I am the more induced to think so as when I was encamped on the head of the Goganzo waters (which is the route some would take on their way back to the McKenzie in endeavouring to escape the Police) in the 29th December I saw two or three smokes of Natives very near me but not being then aware of the commission of this murder I did not go to examine their camps.

The repeated success attending their outrages on the whites occurring throughout the Leichhardt and neighbourhood without being followed with adequate punishment so emboldens them that more loss of life will probably ensue, destruction of property, and what is far worse to the material prosperity of this fine District, the loss in condition of stock the natural sequence of the impossibility of the Squatter ever being able to persuade his shepherds to do justice to their flocks so long as these shepherds are constantly in dread of an attack from the treacherous natives. The panic now amongst the whites is greater than ever, and will probably be insurmountable when the news of the late wholesale murder becomes known. Such state of hostility is undoubtfully the natural consequence of the occupation of the soil by the white race. Without trying to disparage the character of the Savage whose conduct under the circumstances is quite natural, I may be allowed to observe that such behaviour is not in accordance with the habits of civilized life and is totally inconsistent with the policy of the white race. However painful the reflection to the philanthropic & Christian spirit which directs all the activities of our Government the fact must be observed that Destiny proclaims the certainty of the future triumph of the white race and of the final extirpation of the aborigines.

As, however, the prosperity of this large District and the welfare of the white races is the main object in view the question naturally arises as to whether means might not be adopted on the following out of this [object-scored through] Destiny to prevent so much loss of life among the whites. Conciliation so laudably enjoined and so agreeably adopted by the humane spirit of the age is, when put in practice with Savages, decidedly an erroneous principle of action. The savage cannot understand the benevolence and humanity inculcated by the Christian religion.

Intimidation is the only principle of dealing with them. Submission to authority is surely the first step in civilized life. Then kindness and conciliation. The Roman principle of the Parcere subjectis sed betrare superbos is equally applicable, however despicable they may appear to European minds to these Savages. They respect the man who rifle in hand demand “an eye for an eye” “a tooth for a tooth” they despise the man whose humanity offers them presents and gives them blankets, such conduct they attribute to fear not to Justice or benevolence. Strict retaliation in killing any member of the tribe when the actual murderer cannot be secured is the principle in force amongst the savages themselves.


Nor can they understand the scruples of the white man in not exacting it, but they readily enough turn such scruples to their advantage for after committing any atrocity, all the aiders and abetters, all perhaps except those who actually struck the blow, proceed to some friendly station where they know that the Police will not touch them.

Truly these savages are wiser than the civilized man. At first they seek peace only with the intention of gaining time to concoct some scheme for the destruction of the white man. They wave the branch of the Wisp of Grass in token amity but to deceive. They encamp near the white man, engage his confidence by the most accommodating behaviour, receive food and clothes from him, and are apparently on the most friendly terms when some fatal night they rise and murder as many as they can.

Notwithstanding my entertaining such sentiments concerning the character of the Australian savage, I shall endeavour to pay the most obedience to formal injunctions I have received to proceed in all my intercourse with the wild Aborigines in a humane and conciliating spirit, even though it may casually place my life and that of others in jeopardy. I consider it my duty however in a report of this description, nor can I refrain at the present moment, urged as I am by my feelings of horror and detestation as a civilized man at the wholesale and treacherous murder just committed by the Savages on some of my fellow countrymen, from stating firmly yet with the greatest respect my solemn conviction that the present system of conduct towards the aborigines on the frontiers is an erroneous one, and that the sacrifice of many valuable lives, the loss of much property, and the retardation of the material prosperity of this large district to the manifest loss of the Government and Public, may, nay must be the consequence of continuing this mistaken conciliation principle.

I would also most respectfully suggest that it is the interest if not the duty of supreme power, wherever such power resides, either to afford sufficient protection to those, who come to purchase or lease lands in these frontier Districts, and to keep the suppression of rapine and murder in its own hands instead of allowing it to be clandestingly assumed by individuals, whose interest must compel them to adopt such measures, and who may and will in many instances abuse the power thus acquired, or at once to withdraw all protection and to proclaim then the Squatters & Storekeepers must rely on their own resources for the protection of themselves, their servants & their property.


I have the honor to be


Your most obedient servant,

(Signed) W.H. Wiseman C.C.L.



(Langevad, G., Queale, A. and Queensland Department of Community Services, Guide to the Letterbook (1855-1860) of William Wiseman Commissioner of Crown Lands for the Pastoral district of Leichhardt,/ compiled from a bound photo-copy of the original prepared by the late Alan Queale by Gerry Langevad,, Queensland Department of Community Services, Brisbane, 1986, pp. 61-64.)