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The majority of the 160,000 convicts transported to Australia in the nineteenth century were European, yet a small number of colonial subjects were also incorporated into Britain’s Antipodean penal settlements. These included Aboriginal prisoners from the New South Wales frontier. By the 1850s a few Aboriginal convicts were incarcerated at Cockatoo Island, Sydney Harbour, where their comparatively high rate of death attracted administrative attention. This article situates these deaths in custody within the broader history of convict transportation. As well as an analysis of comparative death rates it uses a series of case studies to explore the factors that contributed to the higher death rate experienced by Aboriginal convicts in colonial Australia.


In recent decades the disproportionate number of Aboriginal deaths amongst prisoners in custody in Australia has become something of a cause célèbre. Responding to public concerns, the Hawke Labor government instigated a Royal Commission in 1987. In all, the commission reviewed ninety-nine custodial deaths that occurred between 1987 and 1990. When the commissioner, Elliot Johnson QC, issued his report in 1991 he made a point of emphasising the importance of history. He did so not because the process of dispossession was unfamiliar to historians and Aboriginal people, but because the violence that accompanied that process and the level of dislocation engendered by it were not widely appreciated by Australians generally. He concluded “it is a principal thesis of this report” that these are issues that “must become more known.”1

High death rates have characterised the custodial experience of Aboriginal people in Australia since the first half of the nineteenth century. Between 1805 and 1860, at least sixty Aboriginal men from New South Wales were transported as convicts. Fifty-seven of these were incarcerated in the years after 1833—a period characterised by the rapid expansion of the settler frontier.2 All were incorporated into the colonial penal system designed to extract labour from convicts sentenced to transportation by courts in Britain, Ireland and elsewhere within the British Empire.3

Until 1840 most convicts transported to Australia were sent upon disembarkation to work in the private sector, their labour being especially valued on colonial farms. Male convicts who were subsequently convicted in lower and higher courts risked being sent to road gangs and chain gangs, while persistent or serious offenders could be relocated to a series of remote penal stations characterised by punitive work regimes. After 1840 transportation from the British Isles to New South Wales ceased, although the colony continued to maintain much of the existing infrastructure of convict management especially its more punitive aspects. Although transportation to Van Diemen’s Land continued until 1853, newly arrived convicts were now expected to perform a stint of probationary labour on the roads before being eligible for private service. As well as attracting a small wage, the latter was considered to be less physically demanding than government work. Those sentenced to transportation in colonial courts, including Aboriginal prisoners, were routinely sent to government road parties, chain gangs and penal stations, bypassing labour in the private sector altogether. They were thus disproportionately exposed to the more coercive elements of the colonial penal regime.4

While Aboriginal convicts were initially distributed amongst a number of punishment stations, by the 1840s the majority were serving sentences of hard labour on Cockatoo Island, Sydney Harbour. This concentration served to highlight the disproportionate rate of deaths among Aboriginal convicts, prompting an official investigation in December 1850. This resulted in a proposal to change custodial practices in New South Wales in an attempt to ameliorate the high death toll. Following the dismantling of the apparatus of convict transportation in the 1860s, however, the experiences of Aboriginal transportees and the recommendations of this earlier inquiry faded from historical memory.

New South Wales was certainly not the only colony to sentence colonised peoples to transportation. Such practices were commonplace across the British colonial world. They were also prevalent within the Portuguese and French transportation systems. This article will situate the history of Aboriginal deaths in custody in convict Australia within the context of the mortality experience of other transportation flows. As such it will adopt the same methodology as the Johnson Commission placing the Indigenous record of death within the wider context of non-indigenous experiences. This comparative exercise will be used to isolate some of the factors that might account for the rate and timing of deaths recorded for Aboriginal convicts within the Australian transportation system. Individual case studies will be used to elaborate the Aboriginal experience of arrest, conveyance into custody and institutionalisation. Finally we will examine the manner in which the problem of Aboriginal deaths in custody came to the attention of the New South Wales colonial government as well as the recommendations made by the 1850 inquiry.

Placing Aboriginal Deaths in Custody in Comparative Perspective

Between 1788 and 1853 in excess of 150,000 convicts were transported to the British penal colonies of New South Wales and Van Diemen’s Land. The vast majority of these, 147,000, were shipped from British and Irish ports. Smaller numbers, however, were transported from the Cape, Mauritius, the Indian sub-continent, Hong Kong, New Zealand and other colonial outposts.5 The bulk of these inter-colonial arrivals were former soldiers of the British imperial garrison who had been convicted by courts martial, but Australian bound inter-colonial transports also contained small numbers of colonial subject peoples. These included former slaves and indentured labourers from Mauritius as well as Khoisan and Maori prisoners from the Cape and New Zealand.6

Although transportation to Australia is often viewed as a distinct practice it functioned as part and parcel of a much wider network of unfree labour flows. These included a parallel system of transportation within the Indian Ocean. At least 79,000 convicts were transported between 1787 and 1943 to Benkulen, Mauritius, the Strait Settlements (Penang, Malacca and Singapore), Arakan and the Tenasserim provinces and the Andaman Islands. The majority of these were shipped from ports in British India but there were smaller counter flows. Thus, several thousand convicts were sent in the opposite direction from Burma and the Straits Settlements to the Indian presidencies. Others were transported from Mauritius and the Cape Colony to Robben Island.7 Indigenous resistors to the process of colonisation were often caught up in these transportation flows. These included adivasi (tribal) communities in India such as the Santal and Khoisan in the Cape particularly the /Xam arrested in the wake of the 1868 Koranna war and sent to the Breakwater convict establishment in Cape Town. Death rates for both groups were much higher than those for other institutionalised populations.8 Indeed David Arnold has argued that the end for many adivasi communities came not with military defeat, but as a result of the high post-conviction mortality rates that characterised their experience in British penal institutions.9

While much of the literature has focussed on the transportation of convicts from the British Isles there are a growing number of studies that highlight the extent that penal exile was used to control subject peoples throughout the Empire. As Clare Anderson argues, transportation served a number of purposes. It provided an intermediate form of punishment between the extremes of execution and local incarceration while simultaneously securing a source of unfree labour. The movement of convicted subject peoples between colonies also provided an effective and comparatively cheap method of imposing colonial authority.10

Exile also sent a powerful message. In Australia, for example, some argued that a sentence to hard labour had more of a salutary effect on Indigenous communities than a hanging. Citing Justice Burton the Australian newspaper argued that “the removal [of Aboriginal convicts] from their tribe forever… [and] the dim uncertainty of their fate” created a stronger impression on their kin than the production of a body following a judicial execution.11 Resident Judge à Beckett in Melbourne thought likewise, claiming in 1847 that Aboriginal prisoners, once convicted, ought to be given an “exemplary” sentence that would “instil terror” into their kin. Exiling Aboriginal men through sentencing them to transportation provided a mechanism through which this could be achieved.12

The British were not alone in using convict transportation as a means of controlling colonial peoples. By the early twentieth century one in five of the degredados condemned to penal servitude in Angola had been convicted in the colonies of Mozambique, Cape Verde Islands and Goa, as opposed to the metropolitan Portugal.13 The French also engaged in inter-colonial transportation. After the abolition of slavery in the French Empire in 1848 convict transportation was used as an alternative supply of labour to Guiana, the first convicts arriving in 1852. The death rates amongst prisoners shipped from metropolitan France to the bagne was so great that the policy was colloquially referred to as the “bloodless guillotine.”14 In the face of mounting political pressure, transportation from France to Guiana was abandoned in 1866. From then until 1887 France effectively operated two transportation systems. French citizens were exiled to the comparatively healthy bagne in Pacific New Caledonia while subject peoples convicted in west and north Africa, the Caribbean and Indochina were shipped to Guiana.15 This in effect mirrored earlier British policy that reserved Indian Ocean penal destinations for Asian convicts while shipping Europeans to Australia.16

Thus, while only small numbers of Aboriginal Australians were sentenced to penal servitude, their experience formed part of a wider attempt by nineteenth and early twentieth century colonial regimes to use transportation as a tool for controlling subject peoples. As with other Indigenous convicts, that experience rarely included repatriation to country. Of the sixty Aboriginal prisoners transported between 1805 and 1860, twenty-seven are known to have died in custody, fourteen escaped, and five survived their sentence. The remaining fourteen cannot be traced. One of the striking things about this record of mortality is the number that died within a year of entering the penal system. The crude death rate experienced by Aboriginal prisoners during the first year of their sentence was three hundred per one thousand, thereafter falling to an annual average of around fifty per one thousand over the next three years of penal servitude. Within the context of the history of convict transportation this is hardly exceptional. Most penal colonies were characterised by high death rates (see Table 1).

The origins of convict transportation lay in the need to identify cheap forms of expendable labour that could be deployed to colonies characterised by high death rates. At times, convict labour was substituted for slave labour since its replacement costs were lower.17 Australia was, however, the exception. As nineteenth century commentators recognised, death rates amongst European convicts in Australia were comparable to those for the working population in the British Isles.18 For example, at thirteen per one thousand per year, the male death rate for convicts in Van Diemen’s Land was lower than that for troops in barracks in the British Isles.19

Table 1. Male death rates for selected penal colonies (1000 per year)
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Table 1.

Male death rates for selected penal colonies (1000 per year)20

Rather than comparing the record of Aboriginal convict mortality in Australia with death rates for other transportation regimes, it seems more pertinent to compare it with that for European convicts who occupied neighbouring cells, shared their meals, and laboured alongside them in chain gangs. It was, after all, the strikingly different mortality outcomes between European and Aboriginal convicts at the Cockatoo Island convict establishment that first drew the attention of Australian colonial officials to the problem of Aboriginal deaths in custody.

Like their Aboriginal counterparts, convicts transported from the British Isles experienced higher mortality rates during the first year of colonial servitude. The death rate for 44,516 male convicts transported from Britain and Ireland to Van Diemen’s Land in the period 1830–53 was twenty-one per thousand in the first year after landing, falling thereafter to just over nine per thousand (see Table 2). Even given the small size of the Aboriginal sample, the disparity is striking. The death rate amongst Aboriginal prisoners was fourteen times higher than that for convicts transported from Britain and Ireland in the first year of colonial servitude and five times higher over the subsequent three years. To place these findings within a contemporary perspective, the death rate for Indigenous prisoners in Australia in the period 1990–95 was 1.26 times greater than the death rate amongst non-indigenous prisoners. While this is a marked discrepancy, it is much less than that which prevailed in the nineteenth century.21

The disparity between the Aboriginal custodial death rate and that for convicts transported from Europe is all the more remarkable since much of the elevated death rate experienced by newly arrived British and Irish prisoners can be attributed to the knock-on effects of a voyage that averaged 118 days at sea. The journals kept by the surgeon superintendents appointed to oversee healthcare on voyages to Australia confirm that seventy-nine per cent of prisoners who died within one month of arrival had been treated at sea. Indeed some disorders associated with shipboard life claimed more lives on land than they did during the voyage. Thus, of those dying within ninety days of landing who had been diagnosed as sick while at sea, seventeen per cent were suffering from scurvy. This is a higher proportion that the six per cent of deaths attributed to deficiency diseases that occurred during the voyage itself.22

In the 1830s and 1840s several colonial vessels carried Aboriginal prisoners across Bass Strait from New South Wales to Van Diemen’s Land. These men were convicted following the criminalisation of their acts of resistance at the frontier and had been brought in under police escort from remote areas. In terms of the geographical distance covered, if not treatment, their experience was thus more akin to that of other prisoners arrested on the frontier than transportees arriving direct from the British Isles. The death rate experienced by 424 such prisoners transported in the period 1834–46 was seventeen per one thousand in the first year of servitude. This is slightly less than that for other transportees. However, unlike their fellow convicts who arrived direct from Europe, the death rate for colonially convicted prisoners rose after the first year of sentence had been completed (see Table 2).

Although spared a long passage at sea, colonially convicted convicts were sent direct to penal stations such as Cockatoo Island, Moreton Bay, Norfolk Island, and Port Arthur in Van Diemen’s Land. By contrast prisoners arriving direct from the British Isles in the period to 1840 were assigned to private settlers and were mostly engaged in farm work. While, after 1840 they were subjected to a period of probationary labour on the roads before being hired out to the private sector, the conditions they experienced were comparatively benign compared to those for convicts in penal stations. Not surprisingly, the death rates amongst ganged convicts in these coercive punishment centres were considerably greater than they were amongst prisoners generally. For those labouring at Macquarie Harbour penal station in the period 1822–1833, for example, the death rate was thirty-three per one thousand.23 In short, colonially convicted convicts were fed straight into the coercive underbelly of the convict system and the effects of this are reflected in their elevated risk of death which, after the first year of sentence, was twice that of imperial convicts shipped direct from Britain.

Thus, part of the reason why Aboriginal convicts experienced significantly higher levels of mortality is that, like other colonially convicted prisoners, they served their sentences in coercive punishment orientated locations. While this helps to contextualise Aboriginal convicts’ elevated risk of death over the duration of their sentence as a whole it does not explain their higher risk of death in the first year of sentence.

Table 2. Male death rates for selected cohorts of convicts over the first four years of sentence in Australia (one thousand per year)
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Table 2.

Male death rates for selected cohorts of convicts over the first four years of sentence in Australia (one thousand per year)24

Explaining Aboriginal Deaths in Colonial Custody

Administrative officials in Australia were not alone in perceiving that Indigenous convicts drawn from frontier regions were at greater risk of death in penal institutions. In Bengal, for example, British medical officers became alarmed at the high mortality rate experience by Santal convicts arrested in the wake of the 1855 hool insurrection.25 The susceptibility of immunologically naïve peoples to disease following colonial contact has become well established in the literature.26 Indeed, the biological failings of the Indigenous body have at times been used to divert attention away from institutional practices.27 As more recent work has shown, however, it is difficult to account for the decline in Indigenous populations by adopting a narrow model that focuses purely on lack of immunity. Malnutrition, environmental stress, and dislocation were important contributory factors that shaped mortality rates. Such insults can act powerfully to lower immune responses to pathogens.28

There is plenty of evidence that the Aboriginal experience of arrest and transfer into custody often involved violence. Most Aboriginal convicts were captured during armed frontier altercations. Arrests were made during or after frontier skirmishes, usually by armed settlers or military forces, but sometimes by a combination of both. In some instances, particularly in the Port Phillip District in the 1840s, Aboriginal “Native Police” commanded by white officers were involved in tracking and arresting alleged offenders. As Aboriginal defendants were commonly accused of stock theft, rape, or murder—crimes that heightened feelings amongst settler communities—their arrests were often accompanied by the excessive use of force.

Thus, the Jardwadjali man Yanem Goona, also known as Yanengoneh (“spring from the earth”) or Old Man Billy Billy, was apprehended in the Grampians in the Port Phillip District of New South Wales in 1845.29 Between 1838 and 1840, the lands his people occupied, and those of the neighbouring Djab Wurrung, were subject to what Ian Clark has termed a “squatting invasion.” Between thirty and forty men of the Konongwootong gundidj clan of Jardwadjali were killed in March 1840 alone.30 In response, the Djab Wurrung and Jardwadjali engaged in what was described by a settler who lived in the area between 1841 and 1842 as “guerrilla warfare.” Nearby Mount Arapiles—a natural fortress—provided an ideal base from which to launch their attacks.

By mid-1845, the superintendent of the Port Phillip District, Charles La Trobe, had sanctioned the secondment of detachments of the Native and Border Police to the Wimmera, one of which was commanded by Henry Dana.31 In July 1845, Dana wrote to La Trobe about an armed encounter between his men and the Choorite balug clan of the Jardwadjali people. His contingent pursued these men following the disappearance of a flock of sheep. Dana described how the Native Police picked up the animals’ tracks and followed them into the scrub. After travelling about thirty miles, they “came up with a number of sheep with their legs broken” and found two hundred enclosed “in a bush yard.” The fugitives, wrote Dana, “uttered a Yell and commenced threatening us with their spears.” In the course of the ensuing action, Dana explained that Yanem Goona: “the Ringleader of the party was cut down after a long resistance, by Yupton a Corporal of the Native Police and made a prisoner of; he is badly wounded. I have ordered him to be marched to Melbourne as soon as his wounds will permit.”32

Although there were no witnesses from amongst the colonists who could swear to Yanem Goona’s personal involvement in sheep stealing, he was tried in Melbourne. Justice Roger Therry found “that if this black was a member of the community where the sheep were found altho [sic] he had no hand in the actual stealing or killing, yet as a member of that community was equally guilty.”33 Accordingly, Yanem Goona was sentenced to ten years transportation to Van Diemen’s Land.34

He arrived in Hobart Town on 29 December 1845. Required to serve a three-year period of probation, Yanem Goona was sent to join a convict gang stationed at Norfolk Island (the harshest location to which he could have been sent). Less than two years after his arrival on Norfolk Island, an ailing Yanem Goona was transported back to Van Diemen’s Land where he arrived on 18 August 1847. After spending the night in the prisoners’ barracks in Hobart, he was forwarded to Saltwater River, near Port Arthur, to complete the remainder of his three years probation. Just over a year later he died in the nearby hospital for convict invalids at Impression Bay on Tasman’s Peninsula.35 The extensive injuries he acquired at the time of his capture almost certainly contributed to his ill health and death.36

Aboriginal men often faced arduous journeys between the sites of their arrest and their subsequent incarceration. Usually undertaken on foot, these forced marches could take weeks, or even months, to complete. In the interim, they were forced to try and deal with cultural and social dislocation as well as the other psychological and physiological impacts of being taken captive and incarcerated.

In the early 1830s there were a series of confrontations along the William’s River in northern New South Wales. On 2 April 1834, a posse of convict servants from the stations belonging to Archibald Mossman and George Mackenzie surprised a camp of Aboriginal people. During the affray, one of Mossman’s servants, John Flynn, was wounded. The man thought to have thrown the spear that struck Flynn was known to the convicts as Jackey. Pursued and captured, he was brought before Mackenzie, who had equipped the vigilantes with guns, powder, and buckshot, and was also the local justice of the peace. Flynn survived long enough to identify Jackey as his assailant and the latter was consigned to gaol. Later, when Flynn died of his wounds, the charge was upgraded to wilful murder.37

Jackey was taken on foot thirty miles to Newcastle. There he was held in gaol until embarked on the steamer William IV bound for Sydney. For the length of the journey he was kept in chains on the deck. He was said to have felt his situation “most bitterly” and was seen to be crying as the boat departed from the coastal port.38 He arrived in Sydney on 1 May 1834 in a pitiful state. According to a report in the Australian, the unfortunate man was “entirely naked, and the irons on his legs had lacerated them in a dreadful manner.”39 The less conservative Sydney Monitor observed that Jackey’s condition spoke “badly on behalf of the Police and constables who had charge of the man. It appears they valued the black’s flesh at a less price than a piece of old rag, or a bit of old sugee bag.”40

On 8 August 1834, Jackey appeared before Chief Justice Francis Forbes and Justice James Dowling in the Supreme Court to answer a charge of wilfully murdering John Flynn.41 After hearing the evidence the chief justice instructed the jury to consider a verdict of manslaughter rather than wilful murder—he considered the attack on the encampment to have been provocative. The jury found Jackey guilty and he was sentenced to transportation for the term of his natural life. The Sydney Gazette reported that “the unhappy creature seemed totally unconscious of what was passing while he was being sentenced to perpetual exile.”42

Jackey and four other male convicts were sent to Van Diemen’s Land on 20 September 1834 on the Currency Lass.43 On 29 October 1834, a little over a month following Jackey’s arrival in Van Diemen’s Land, he died.44 The immediate cause of death is likely to have been the deep wound on Jackey’s leg caused by his leg irons. As Satadru Sen pointed out in relation to a different colonial context, “irons caused abrasions which quickly became festering sores, leading to amputations, general debilitation, and not infrequently, death.”45 While European prisoners protected themselves against such injuries through the use of leather guards or strips of cloth, such measures were not available to many Aboriginal prisoners who had little by way of clothing to cut up.46

Other Aboriginal convicts also suffered life-threatening wounds while being conveyed into captivity. In January 1841, the Chief Protector of Aborigines for the Port Phillip District of New South Wales, George Augustus Robinson, visited Turrangen and Winegerine in Melbourne gaol. These men, who were facing a charge of murder:

complained of ill usage in [sic] their way down in their manner of being confined and shewed me their arms, neck, rists [sic], and ankles which all bore evident marks of ill usage, such as would not be permitted be done to a horse. Not only was the skin scarified but in some parts ulcerated… They said they were fastened with handcuffs around the ancles [sic] and their hands tied behind them and especially round the small of the arms…47

A month before Winegerine’s arrest, a man referred to as his brother, Jaggerrogrer (also known as Harlequin), was taken into custody by the native police, but died shortly afterwards of a bad fever. His plight was attributed by the native police trooper Kenrick to:

excessive exertion during the extreme hot weather forced upon him in travelling on foot from the Hume to Melbourne a distance of 200 miles, 80 miles the distance from the police barracks on the Goulburn to Melbourne having been done in two days, the prisoner being at the time handcuffed and a chain round his neck by which he was led or rather dragged by the native policeman. The man was in bad health when the policeman took charge of him at the Goulburn.48

The day before Jaggerrogrer was buried, Robinson noted in his journal that another man, Minnup, was “escorted in the same manner” by a mounted native policeman. Minnup complained to Robinson about being dragged along with a chain around his neck, and the latter produced a sketch based on the man’s account of the position he had been forced to adopt during his most uncomfortable transit. When questioned about the man’s condition on arrival, the watchhouse keeper told Robinson that Minnup “could scarcely stand” and “complained of pain in the region of the heart and said shewing his neck ‘plenty pallang plenty pallang here, me plenty very bad.’” The medical practitioner Dr. Cussen described Minnup as having been in a “very bad state.” Robinson condemned the mode of conveyance as “wicked and barbarous,” although the mounted policeman simply saw the treatment of the prisoner as being “a matter of course to him.” This sentiment was echoed elsewhere in New South Wales, suggesting that the adoption and naturalisation of this practice extended well beyond the boundaries of the Port Phillip District as the follow example illustrates.

When three Aboriginal prisoners arrested in the Brisbane Water district in the early 1830s escaped from the local lock up, visiting magistrate Jonathan Warner bemoaned the fact that leg irons were unavailable as they were already being used on three Aboriginal prisoners en route to Sydney. Aboriginal prisoners, according to Warner, “are very determined and consequently require more caution to be looked after than white prisoners.”49 An alternative perspective is that Aboriginal people were not used to incarceration because they had not yet been socialised into it as a means of maintaining social control.

In addition to physical violence, Aboriginal convicts were sometimes tormented by other convicts on board ship as well as within the gaol walls. On 9 October 1840, a large group of “Goulburn blacks” arrived in Melbourne to supplement a Waverong contingent gathering to avenge a spearing by some Watowerong people. While this matter need not have directly concerned the colonists, the latter were sufficiently unsettled for key officials in Melbourne to convene to discuss the situation. Chief Protector Robinson proposed that warrants ought to be issued for the arrest of those alleged to have committed offences. Instead, the military and police joined forces to carry out an early morning attack on the camp.50 An eyewitness later reported how “shocked” they were “at the cruelty of the military and police.” Another described how women, the old, and the infirm were “goaded with bayonets by the soldiers and hit with the but [sic] end of their muskets or cut by the sabres of the native police.” About three hundred Aboriginal men, women, and children were taken prisoner and removed to a stockade at the prison barracks. La Trobe told the chief protector his officials “were drafting out the worst characters.” Thirty-five men and boys were later “chained by the leg, two together, and lodged in gaol.”51

In his official capacity as chief protector, Robinson visited the Aboriginal inmates. On 14 October he noted in his journal “natives unwell in gaol” and reported the situation to the superintendent.52 In response La Trobe convened a “board of inspection” whose members were told by the Aboriginal inmates that “they should all die” if they remained where they were. During the inspection, the commissariat officer, Captain Charles Howard, was heard to comment “what is to be done with them? I think the best way would be to hang them all!”53 Such views were shared by some of the white prisoners who, Robinson reported, “made use of very sinistrous and approbious [sic] language as I went passed them blooddy [sic] blacks wished them all hung.”54

Eventually, ten of the imprisoned Aboriginal men were tried before the court of the resident judge at 11 o’clock on the morning of Wednesday 6 January 1841.55 The “totally unfit and incompetent” interpreters failed to communicate the nature of the evidence to the Aboriginal defendants, leading the chief protector to denounce the trial as “a farce… got through with indecent haste.”56 After deliberating briefly, the jury decided that only one of the men, Warworong, was not guilty. The remainder were sentenced to ten years transportation and were ordered to be shipped to Cockatoo Island in Sydney Harbour.57

Less than a week after sentencing, the Aboriginal convicts were put on board the cutter Victoria to be taken out to the brig Vesper. Thirteen white male convicts and one female convict were already in the hold of the Victoria, while the nine Aboriginal convicts were kept on deck wearing leg irons. The Geelong Advertiser later described how “on their way down the river the people on board the cutter amused themselves by terrifying the blacks, telling them that they would be hanged on their arrival at Sydney.” When the vessel tacked within a short distance of land the ironed Aboriginal men leapt overboard. The guards opened fire following which “two were seen to sink to rise no more.” Van Diemen’s Land Aboriginal trackers later found evidence that three of the men had made it to land.58 One of the escapees, Tarrokenunnin, later visited Robinson and privately informed him that “all the Goulburn blacks were saved when they escaped the Victoria cutter.”59 Even if three had drowned, however, the survival rate would have been higher than is likely to have been the case at their officially intended destination.

Colonial Attitudes to Deaths in Custody

During the early years of the colony of New South Wales, Pinchgut Island in Sydney Harbour was used as a prison, but was abandoned in favour of more distant outposts.60 However, the high costs incurred in transporting convicts and supplies to the outlying stations of Norfolk Island, Port Macquarie, Wellington Valley, and Moreton Bay, and the difficulties associated with monitoring their management, engendered a rethink. Governor George Gipps preferred the convenience of the islands adjacent to Sydney.61 Cockatoo Island lay just a couple of miles upriver from the city “surrounded by deep water, and yet under the very eye of Authority.”62 Its geography and its strategic location—a quarter of a mile from either shore—made the island a “natural hulk.”63

Sixty men transferred in chains from Norfolk Island were the first to arrive at Cockatoo Island where they were put to work constructing a new penal station to supplement the convict establishment at nearby Goat Island.64 One of their many tasks was to quarry the locally available stone. As this sandstone was of excellent quality, Gipps hoped Cockatoo Island “may ultimately be made to supply this material to Sydney in the same way that the Penitentiary at Sing Sing supplies Building Stone to New York.”65 Soon after its establishment in 1839 Cockatoo Island became “the most important convict prison in the colony” and was considered suitable for the colony’s most hardened prisoners.66

Aboriginal men had a presence on Cockatoo Island from its inception. Most had faced criminal charges that related to episodes of cross-cultural conflict on the colonial frontier. The first Aboriginal men to be shipped as convicts to Cockatoo Island, Sandy, Billy, Jemmy, Cooper, and King Jackey, are a case in point. These five Kamilaroi/Gamilaraay men inhabited the tract of country that runs between the Gwydir and Namoi Rivers. They were arrested by the commissioner of Crown Lands after being tricked into visiting him in his tent.67 On being sentenced to ten years transportation to Cockatoo Island for robbery, the Sydney Gazette reported that they seemed “greatly depressed,” and wore “a most woebegone and wretched expression, as if expecting death in its most horrid form.”68 All five were transported to Cockatoo Island on 3 October 1839 where like other convicts they were put to work hewing stone. The harsh regime at the penal institution took an extraordinarily high toll on the first of its Aboriginal inmates. Within two months of their arrival on the island, all five Aboriginal convicts were dead.69

As Aboriginal convicts became centralised on Cockatoo Island, the extraordinarily high mortality rate they exhibited in custody came to the attention of colonial authorities in Sydney. It was the death of an Aboriginal convict named Jemmy at Cockatoo Island in 1850 that sparked an official investigation. In December 1850 the Native Police Office informed the colonial secretary of Jemmy’s death. In a short note dated 5 December 1850 the visiting magistrate to Cockatoo Island, H.H.S. Browne, stated that Jemmy had “been a patient in the hospital for some weeks” and had “died from natural causes.”70 In the margins of the letter, the colonial secretary wrote an annotation instructing a public servant to “ask for a return of the number of Aboriginal Natives that have died on the Island during the last five years specifying the cause of death.”71

As requested, Browne provided the colonial secretary with a return prepared by Superintendent Charles Ormsby at Cockatoo Island dated 16 December 1850.72 This demonstrated that of the nineteen Aboriginal convicts received on Cockatoo Island between 1839 and 1850, twelve died either on the island itself or shortly after being transferred to the General Hospital in Sydney. Archival records demonstrate that at least three more Aboriginal men were sent to Cockatoo Island in the 1850s. Of the twenty-two Aboriginal men known to have served time on the island, at least fourteen of them are known to have died in custody.

In his accompanying letter to Ormsby’s return of Aboriginal convicts at Cockatoo Island, Visiting Magistrate Browne observed that it was “quite conclusive that the confinement of Aboriginal Blacks in the ordinary Penal Establishments seriously affects their Health and Constitution and leads ultimately to disease and death.”73 He noted that as it was customary to remove seriously ill prisoners to the General Hospital, few of the Aboriginal convicts were shown to have died on Cockatoo Island itself. Yet there was no doubt that their declining health profiles and subsequent deaths were the outcome of having been held in captivity there. When the colonial secretary received Browne’s letter and the enclosed return, he issued immediate instructions for a board comprising medical personnel associated with Cockatoo Island to be assembled to “consider some alternative which would be less destructive to the lives of these people than… confinement on Cockatoo Island appears to be.”74

In February 1851, the medical adviser to the government, Dr. Patrick Hill, wrote to the colonial secretary in relation to “mortality amongst the Aborigines at Cockatoo Island.” He enclosed a letter from Browne reporting two further deaths as well as a letter from the settlement surgeon, Dr. O’Brien. Hill informed the colonial secretary that he had met with Browne and O’Brien “to consider the subject of the mortality amongst the Aboriginal natives who have been confined on Cockatoo Island during the past five years for criminal offences.” They were of the opinion that the high mortality rate was not predicated on any factors specific to Cockatoo Island such as climate or “situation,” but was attributable instead to “the fact of their having been confined.” They suggested the deaths probably would have occurred “in any other locality” given that it “is a well known fact that savages do not bear captivity but pine and die in any situation” of incarceration.75

Colonial officials attributed Aboriginal deaths in custody to a range of physical, mental, and spiritual factors. Lung conditions like tuberculosis and pneumonia as well as related illnesses such as pleurisy saw many Aboriginal convicts confined to hospital, sometimes on multiple occasions. Confinement whether within the prison cell or hospital ward was inevitably associated with depression, commonly referred to as “pining away.” Eyewitness accounts reveal something of the mental stresses that resulted from confinement. Godfrey Mundy, a cousin to the New South Wales Governor Charles Fitzroy, travelled to many parts of the colony in the 1850s. In his published account he recalled how on a visit to Bathurst Gaol, he had:

witnessed the effects of protracted confinement upon an Aboriginal prisoner. This man, Fish-hook by name, had been sentenced to imprisonment for cattle-stealing… When brought out of his cell for the inspection of the Governor, he showed little or no sign of intellect, and when I saw him again a month later he was quite idiotic. The poor black had left within those high brick walls the little mind he ever had, while his soul-case looked in the highest preservation.76

On seeing for himself the impacts of imprisonment upon Fish-hook, Fitzroy ordered the man’s immediate release from custody.

Evidence has also survived that demonstrates that while in captivity Yanem Goona’s physical injuries were compounded by mental anguish. At Norfolk Island he was said to have “cried from the thought of home” whenever the Grampians were mentioned.77 This behaviour is typical of the condition described by Vicary and Westerman as “longing for, crying for, or being sick for country”—a sickness that has “the same symptom base as clinical depression.”78 A similar condition was ascribed to Santal prisoners in Bengal.79 Such ill health was in many cases exacerbated by the harsh treatment meted out to Aboriginal prisoners during their apprehension and conveyance to gaol. Some received injuries during the process from which they never recovered. Separation from kin and country clearly took its toll, as did a change in diet to prison fare.

Taking all these factors into account, Hill, Browne, and O’Brien concluded that shifting Aboriginal convicts from Cockatoo Island to other sites of incarceration “would be useless” in terms of ameliorating the high death rate. They recommended instead that such convicts be divided into two distinct classes and treated differently. While they suggested that there should be no mitigation of sentence for serious offenders whose early release “would tend to endanger society,” other “minor cases” could be released early if their “health is observed to break down.”80

The colonial secretary went further directing “the visiting surgeon to watch carefully the state of any Aboriginal prisoner who may be sentenced to Cockatoo Island or any of the other gaols in the colony.” In cases where “longer confinement is likely to endanger their lives,” the surgeon was to be instructed to “immediately report their cases.”81 On 25 March 1851 he approved an official circular drafted by the medical adviser who then forwarded it to “the visiting surgeons at the gaols of Sydney, Parramatta, Goulburn, Bathurst, Maitland, and Brisbane.” It read:

The attention of the Government having been drawn to the mortality which has been found to prevail amongst Aborigines of this Colony when confined for any length of time in gaols or other places of imprisonment, I am instructed by His Excellency the Governor to request that you will watch carefully the state of health of any Aborigines who may be imprisoned… and that you will immediately report, through the Visiting Justice, the case of any Aboriginal Native whose life you may consider to be endangered by longer confinement in order that the necessary steps may be taken for his liberation if the circumstances of the case may seem to justify such a step.82

A mechanism was now in place to address the issue of the disproportionately high death rate that prevailed amongst Aboriginal people in colonial custody, albeit one that focussed on the custodial rather than the judicial system that continued to send Aboriginal men to Cockatoo Island well into the 1850s. Evidence suggests, though, that its use was at best sporadic and its efficacy therefore limited.

When the visiting magistrate to Cockatoo Island reported that an Aboriginal convict, Joseph Milay, had died on 6 May 1853, questions were immediately raised as to whether there had not been “some general rule applicable to the care of Aboriginal criminals.”83 The visiting surgeon was directed to prepare a “special report” to explain why the instructions issued in the March 1851 circular appeared not to have been adhered to.84 In 1858 the visiting surgeon made certain that he informed the colonial secretary when the health of an Aboriginal convict, Billy Morgan, deteriorated. According to West’s letter dated 24 April 1858, Morgan was suffering from pleurisy, a condition that he had previously been hospitalised for on four occasions.85 On 22 May, West wrote to the visiting magistrate to Cockatoo Island to inform him that Morgan, having previously been discharged from hospital to convalesce, had once again been admitted “laboring under a similar attack of the lungs.” The visiting surgeon was of the opinion that “his life will be endangered by longer confinement on the Island.”86 This report was forwarded to the colonial secretary, with the magistrate’s suggestion that the only course of action was to retain Morgan in hospital as “were he to be let out his death could be certain.”87

This increased vigilance sometimes led to anomalous decisions. Peter and “Stupid Tommy” were tried at Goulburn on 21 December 1854 and sentenced to three years on a road gang with the first year to be served in irons. The men were sent to Cockatoo Island. While “Stupid Tommy” later became eligible for a ticket-of-leave that would allow him to reside in the Bong Bong district this was denied on the grounds that it would be dangerous to separate the two men, presumably through fear of compromising Peter’s well being. 88

The duties of the visiting surgeon to Cockatoo Island extended to Darlinghurst Gaol, where other Aboriginal men were also under his care. The visiting surgeon was proactive in petitioning for their release when any of these prisoners showed signs of serious illness. Several examples of such petitions are extant. In one instance, an Aboriginal prisoner, Jackey Mamlan, was reported by surgeon West on 15 March 1856 to be complaining of headaches. Although he was otherwise free of disease, he was “very low spirited, and whenever he can withdraw himself from observation he is crying and lamenting the death of his comrade,” symptoms that West read as being “premonitory of illness of a serious nature.” Based on these observations, the visiting surgeon concluded that if Mamlan was “kept in confinement it will be likely to send fatality to him.”89 On these grounds, Mamlan’s early release from Darlinghurst Gaol was approved. Later in the same year, 1856, another Aboriginal inmate, Davy, also fell ill. Predicated on the visiting surgeon’s opinion that “further imprisonment will be the cause of his death,” Davy’s early release from gaol was also officially sanctioned.90


The mid-nineteenth century heralded a transition in attitudes towards the criminalisation and incarceration of Aboriginal people in the Australian colonies. At least sixty Aboriginal men were transported for criminal offences that had largely arisen out of their actions of resistance to colonial intrusion. As such they were subjected to punishments that were designed to serve as exemplars to their respective communities in order to dissuade their countrymen from committing similar acts. It was for these reasons that some colonial officials argued that a sentence to hard labour had more of a salutary effect on Indigenous communities than a hanging. Ironically, the outcomes for transported Aboriginal men were so dire that for most a stint of hard labour was tantamount to a death sentence.

Although spared the effects of a long oceanic voyage, many Aboriginal prisoners suffered particularly harsh treatment pre-trial. Along with other colonially convicted prisoners they were subsequently subjected to penal regimes that were far more coercive than those experienced by convicts arriving from the British Isles. Weakened by their previous experiences and the scale of their alienation from their own societies, their death rates remained higher than the non-aboriginal convicts with whom they shared the experience of forced labour and incarceration.

While the experience of Aboriginal convicts in Australia was not unique, it was unusual in two respects. First, death rates for the convict population transported to New South Wales and Van Diemen’s Land were comparatively low compared to other British and European transportation flows. Second, it was unusual for Indigenous convicts to be integrated into a penal management system populated largely by inmates of European extraction. Combined, both factors served to highlight the peculiar plight of Aboriginal convicts. This was particularly the case in the middle decades of the nineteenth century.

As the transportation system was wound up in New South Wales greater use was made of Cockatoo Island as a site of secondary punishment. One unintended consequence was that it concentrated Aboriginal offenders in contrast to previous transportation policy, which had tended to scatter Indigenous prisoners across a number of disparate sites of incarceration. As the number of Aboriginal convicts confined on Cockatoo Island increased, both they and the officials charged with their care were subject to greater levels of surveillance. This was a product of the considerable decrease in spatial separation between the metropolitan centre and the site where punishment was extracted. This also led to a reduction in temporal separation as correspondence could be exchanged within much shorter timeframes. As a result, awareness of the poor health outcomes for incarcerated Indigenous people was brought to the attention of colonial officials in offices as high as the governor and official instructions were issued in an effort to ameliorate the problem. While this resulted in some Aboriginal men being kept in hospital or discharged early from custodial sentences because their health had deteriorated markedly, it had no impact in the colonial courtrooms where prison terms continued to be imposed on Aboriginal defendants.

Kristyn Harman
University of Tasmania, Australia
Hamish Maxwell-Stewart
University of Tasmania, Australia


1. Elliot Johnston, “Overview and Recommendations,” in Royal Commission into the Aboriginal Deaths in Custody (Canberra: Australian Government, 1991), 1.4.1.

2. See Kristyn Harman, “Aboriginal Convicts: Race, law, and transportation in colonial New South Wales” (PhD diss., University of Tasmania, 2008).

3. Stephen Nicholas and Peter Shergold, “Transportation as Global Migration,” in Convict Workers: Reinterpreting Australia’s past, ed. Stephen Nicholas (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1988), 30.

4. For a detailed account of administrative changes to colonial transportation policy over time see A.G.L. Shaw, Convicts and the Colonies (London: Faber and Faber, 1966), 185–384.

5. Amongst those shipped from British and Irish courts were a small number who had originally been convicted in Britain’s Canadian and Caribbean colonies.

6. Leslie Duly, “‘Hottentots to Hobart and Sydney’: The Cape Supreme Court’s use of transportation 1828–38,” Australian Journal of Politics and History 25/1 (1979): 39–50; Jeff Hopkins-Weise, “‘Fighting those who came against their country’: Maori political transportees to Van Diemen’s Land 1846–48,” Tasmanian Historical Research Association Papers and Proceedings 44/1 (1997): 49–67; Vertrees Malherbe, “Khoikhoi and the Question of Convict Transportation from the Cape Colony, 1820–1842,” South African Historical Journal 17 (1985): 19–39; Vertrees Malherbe, “South African Bushmen to Australia? Some soldier convicts investigated,” Journal of Australian Colonial History 3/1 (2001): 100–24 and Clare Anderson Convicts in the Indian Ocean: Transportation from South Asia to Mauritius, 1815–53 (London: MacMillan, 2000).

7. Clare Anderson, “Sepoys, Servants and Settlers: Convict transportation in the Indian Ocean, 1787–1945,” in The Cultures of Confinement: A history of the prison in Africa, Asia, and Latin America, eds. Frank Dikötter and Ian Brown (New York: Cornell University Press, 2007), 188–9.

8. See Clare Anderson, “‘The Wisdom of the Barbarian’: Rebellion, incarceration, and the Santal Body Politic,” South Asia: Journal of Asian Studies 31/2 (2008): 223–40 and Pippa Skotnes, “‘Civilised Off the Face of Earth’: Museum display and the silencing of the /Xam,” Poetics Today 22/2 (2001): 304–5.

9. David Arnold, “The Colonial Prison: Power, knowledge, and penology in 19th Century India,” in Subaltern Studies VIII: Essays in honour of Ranajit Guha, eds. David Arnold and David Hardiman (New Delhi: Oxford University Press, 1994), 168.

10. Anderson, “Sepoys, Servants and Settlers,” 189.

11. Australian, 17 February 1835, 2.

12. á Beckett to Lonsdale, 6 January 1847, State Records of New South Wales [henceforth SRNSW], 47/28 4/2779.3.

13. Gerald J. Bender, Angola Under the Portuguese: The myth and the reality (London: Heinemann, 1978), 87–8

14. Patricia O’Brien, The Promise of Punishment: Prisons in nineteenth-century France (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1982), 268–70.

15. O’Brien, The Promise of Punishment, 285.

16. Clare Anderson, Legible Bodies: Race, criminality and colonialism in South Asia (Berg: Oxford, 2004), 119–21.

17. See Ruth Pike, “Penal Servitude in the Spanish Empire: Presidio Labor in the eighteenth century,” The Hispanic American Review 58/1(1978): 37 and Kevin Santiago-Valles, “‘Bloody Legislations’ and the Work of Race Making in the Spanish Atlantic: Differentiated spaces and general(ized) confinement in Spain Puerto Rico, 1750–1840,” Radical History Review 96 (2006): 36–57.

18. See for example George Washington Walker, “Notes on the male convict population, Van Diemen’s Land,” University of Tasmania Library Special and Rare Manuscripts Collection, W7/61.

19. The crude death rate for troops in the British Isles was fourteen per one thousand. The death rate for convicts drops to below eleven per one thousand if executions are excluded, see Philip D. Curtin, Death by Migration: Europe's encounter with the tropical world in the nineteenth century (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1989), 194; and Hamish Maxwell-Stewart, “‘To Fill Dishonoured Graves’? Death and convict transportation to colonial Australia,” Tasmanian Historical Research Association Papers and Proceedings 58/1 (2011): 28.

20. Stephen A. Toth, Beyond Papillon: The French Overseas Penal Colonies, 1854–1952 (Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 2006), 20 and 99; Pike, “Penal Servitude,” 37; Satadru Sen, Disciplining Punishment: Colonialism and convict society in the Andaman Islands (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2000), 140 and W. D. Bayliss and John Fredrick Adolphus McNair Prisoners their own Warders—A Record of the Convict Prison at Singapore in the Straits Settlements Established in 1825 (Westminster: Archibald Constable and Co, 1899), 90–1.

21. Office of the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Social Justice Commissioner, Indigenous Deaths in Custody 1989 to 1996, accessed 15 January 2010,

22. This analysis based on a sample of sixty surgeons journals for male convict vessels arriving in Van Diemen’s Land in the period 1830–1853 (UK National Archives [hereafter NA] Adm 101/1-75). These were linked to a post voyage record of convict mortality formed by collating information about death contained the following record series. Tasmanian Archives and Heritage Office [hereafter TAHO], Con 31/1-48; Con 33/1-115; Con 37; Con 63/1-2; RGD 34/1; GO 33, 1834–48; NA, HO 10/38, 39, 48, 49, 50 and 51. For details of voyages undertaken by convict vessels to Australia see Charles Bateson, The Convict Ships 1787–1868 (Sydney: Library of Australian History, 1983).

23. Hamish Maxwell-Stewart, Closing Hell’s Gates: The death of a convict station (Sydney: Allen and Unwin, 2008), 253.

24. Data compiled from TAHO, Con 31/1-48; Con 33/1-115; Con 37; Con 63/1-2; RGD 34/1; GO 33, 1834-48; NA, HO 10/38, 39, 48, 49, 50 and 51, and Bateson, The Convict Ships.

25. Anderson, “The Wisdom of the Barbarian,” 225–7.

26. Alfred Crosby, “Virgin soil epidemics as a factor in Aboriginal depopulation in America,” William and Mary Quarterly, 3rd Ser., 33 (1976): 289–99; Alfred Crosby, Ecological Imperialism: The biological expansion of Europe, 900–1900 (Cambridge: Canto, 2000) and Jared Diamond, Guns, Germs and Steel: The fate of human societies (New York: Norton, 1997).

27. Alexander Butchart, “The Industrial Panoptican: Mining and the medical construction of migrant African labour in South Africa, 1900–1950,” Social Science and Medicine 42/2 (1996): 185–97.

28. David S. Jones, “Virgin soil revisited,” The William and Mary Quarterly, 3rd Ser., 60/4 (2003): 703–42.

29. For the English interpretation of Yanem Goona’s name, see Rose to La Trobe, in Letters from Victorian Pioneers: Being A Series of Papers on the Early Occupation of the Colony, the Aborigines, etc., Addressed by Victorian Pioneers to His Excellency Charles Joseph La Trobe, Esq,, Lieutenant-Governor of the Colony of Victoria, ed. Thomas Bride (Melbourne: R. S. Brain, Government Printer for the Trustees of the Public Library), 148.

30. Ian Clark, Aboriginal Languages and Clans: An historical atlas Of western and central Victoria, 1800–1900, Department of Geography and Environmental Science, (Melbourne: Monash University, 1990), 94, 239.

31. Hall to La Trobe, 6 September 1853, in Letters from Victorian Pioneers, 222.

32. Dana to La Trobe, July 1845, State Records of New South Wales SRNSW 45/13794/2741.

33. Clark, Aboriginal Languages and Clans, 244. Note that at the time Aboriginal people could not give evidence in the court because they were considered to be pagans and were therefore unable to swear the required oath.

34. George Augustus Robinson, ‘Saturday 18 October 1845,’ Ian Clark, ed., The Journals of George Augustus Robinson, Chief Protector, Port Phillip Aboriginal Protectorate, Volume Four: 1 January 1844 – 24 October 1845 (Clarendon: Heritage Matters, 1998), 336.

35. TAHO, CON37/2: 588.

36. Dana to La Trobe, July 1845, SRNSW 45/1379 4/2741.

37. R v Jackey 1834, Bruce Kercher, ed., Decisions of the Superior Courts of New South Wales, 1788–1899, (Sydney: Division of Law, Macquarie University), accessed 9 July 2012.

38. The Australian, 6 May 1834.

39. The Australian, 6 May 1834.

40. Sydney Monitor, 7 May 1834.

41. R v Jackey 1834.

42. Sydney Gazette, 2 September 1834.

43. “A Return of Five Male Convicts Embarked on the Currency Lass for Van Diemen’s Land,” TAHO, CON13/6: 303.

44. “Jackey.” TAHO, CON 31/26: 16.

45. Sen, Disciplining Punishment, 94.

46. There is a surviving example of such a leg guard in the Hyde Park Barracks collection, Historic Houses Trust, New South Wales, acquisition number A9800–125.

47. Robinson, “Saturday 2 January 1841,” Journals Volume Two, 49.

48. Robinson, “Saturday 2 January 1841,” Journals, Volume Two, 40.

49. Charles Swancott, The Brisbane Water Story Parts 1 to 4 (Booker Bay: Brisbane Water Historical Society, 1953–61), Part 1, 24–5.

50. Robinson, “Saturday 10 October 1840,” Journals, Volume Two, 6.

51. Robinson, “Sunday 11 October 1840,” Journals, Volume Two, 7.

52. Robinson, “Wednesday 14 October 1840,” Journals, Volume Two, 11.

53. Robinson, “Wednesday 21 October 1840,” Journals, Volume Two, 18.

54. Robinson, “Monday 26 October 1840,” Journals, Volume Two, 21.

55. Robinson, “Wednesday 6 January 1841,” Journals, Volume Two, 51.

56. Robinson, “Wednesday 6 January 1841,” Journals, Volume Two, 52.

57. Geelong Advertiser, 9 January 1841.

58. Geelong Advertiser, 9 January 1841.

59. Robinson, “Tuesday 28 September 1841,” Journals, Volume Three, 8.

60. Catherine O’Carrigan, “Cockatoo Island: An island of incarceration in Sydney Harbour,” in Islands of Incarceration: Convict and quarantine islands of the Australian coast, eds. John Pearn and Peggy Carter (Brisbane: The Australian Society of the History of Medicine, Amphion Press, 1995), 61.

61. Gipps to Lord Glenelg, 8 July 1839, Historical Records of Australia [Hereafter HRA], Series I, Volume XX, 217.

62. Gipps to Lord Glenelg, 8 July 1839, HRA, Series I, Volume XX, 217–18.

63. Godfrey Mundy, Our Antipodes; Or, residence and rambles in the Australian Colonies: With a glimpse of the gold fields, (London: Richard Bentley, 1852), 102; Gipps to La Trobe, 24 October 1840, Gipps-La Trobe Correspondence, 111.

64. Sydney Gazette, 23 December 1839.

65. Governor George Gipps to Lord John Russell, 8 July 1839, HRA, Series I, Volume XX, 216–18.

66. Roger Parker, Cockatoo Island, (West Melbourne: Thomas Nelson, 1977).

67. R v Sandy and Others 1839.

68. Sydney Gazette, 22 August 1839.

69. Ormsby Return, SRNSW, 50/12485 4/3379.

70. Browne to Native Police Office, 5 December 1850, SRNSW, 181/50 4/3379.

71. See annotation dated 7 December 1850 on Browne to Native Police Office, 5 December 1850, SRNSW, 181/50 4/3379.

72. Browne to Colonial Secretary, 28 December 1850, SRNSW, 191/50 4/3379, with enclosure, Ormsby Return, SRNSW, 50/12485 4/3379.

73. Browne to Colonial Secretary, 28 December 1850, SRNSW, 191/50 4/3379.

74. Browne to Colonial Secretary, 28 December 1850, SRNSW, 191/50 4/3379.

75. Dr. Patrick Hill to the Colonial Secretary, 22 February 1851 (with enclosures), SRNSW 51/2048 4/3379.

76. Mundy, Our Antipodes, 45.

77. Rose to La Trobe, Bride, ed., Letters from Victorian Pioneers, 148.

78. David Vicary and Tracy Westerman, “‘That’s Just The Way He Is’: Some implications of Aboriginal mental health beliefs,” Australian e-Journal for the Advancement of Mental Health 3/3 (2004): 5.

79. Anderson, ‘“Wisdom of the Barbarian,” 226.

80. Dr. Patrick Hill to the Colonial Secretary, 22 February 1851 (with enclosures), SRNSW, 51/2048 4/3379.

81. See the Colonial Secretary’s annotations on Hill to the Colonial Secretary, 22 February 1851, SRNSW, 51/2048 4/3379.

82. Circular, 20 March 1851, SRNSW, 51/2048 4/3379.

83. Visiting Magistrate, Cockatoo Island to the Colonial Secretary, 6 May 1853, SRNSW, 53/1938 4/3379.

84. See annotations on the letter from the Visiting Magistrate, Cockatoo Island to the Colonial Secretary, 6 May 1853, SRNSW, 53/1938 4/3379.

85. West to the Colonial Secretary, 24 April 1858, SRNSW, 58/5878 4/3379.

86. West to the Visiting Magistrate, Cockatoo Island, 22 May 1858, SRNSW, 4/3379.

87. Visiting Magistrate Cockatoo Island to the Colonial Secretary, 27 May 1858, SRNSW, 58/1938 4/3379.

88. Inspector General of Police and Chairman of the Convict Classification Board Mayne to the Colonial Secretary, 7 June 1856, SRNSW, 56/5325 4/3328.

89. West to the Colonial Secretary, 15 March 1856, SRNSW, 56/2517 4/3317.

90. West to the Colonial Secretary, 15 March 1856, SRNSW, 56/2517 4/3317.

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