Drawing the Downs: Thomas Domville Taylor
Timothy Roberts, HGRC Visiting Fellow, 2019 to 2021

Please note: some content in this text may be distressing for some readers.

A party in search of Aboriginal Australians, Darling Downs, Queensland, approximately 1845 / Thomas Domville Taylor (National Library of Australia, call number PIC MSR 14/1/6 Volume 1191 #PIC/20299/12)

As settlers began to select and divide indigenous Australian country, they disrupted passage through country and obstructed access to sacred sites. This caused relationships between local indigenous communities on the Darling Downs, among them the Baruŋgam, Geynyon, Jarowair and Giabal people, and new pastoral occupiers to rapidly disintegrate. The earlier mentioned account by Christopher Gorry of John Hill’s demise was not an isolated incident; writing to the editor of the Sydney Gazette in August 1842, “Squatting” called for additional border police to be deployed in the Darling Downs region following an increase in resistance hostility by local indigenous communities, resulting in death and injury to settlers and livestock. [10]  Taylor was personally connected to at least two conflicts, the first occurring in late 1842 when an aggressing party consisting of Ralph Gore, Sydenham Russell, and Taylor attacked an indigenous community who were passing through lands occupied by Tummaville and Yandilla stations. Writing about the incident in 1887, Henry Stuart Russell recalled:

The blacks had been more aggressive of late than ever. They were harrying and killing cattle wherever cattle were. The shepherds were in a terrible state of “funk,” and no wonder. My brother had caught them, when crossing the plain between Yandilla and Tummavil [sic] in company with Ralph Gore and Taylor, coolly rounding a mob up in the open, and preparing to kill. A “set-to” was the consequence. The blacks numbered about three hundred, and kept admirable order and showed unusual courage. Upon the firing of a shot, the “ducking” of heads and rush on their assailants were instantaneous, well arranged, and executed. Syd’s horse was fidgetty; [sic] so he jumped off and let him loose. The “brummagem” double barrelled gun which he had—mine, however—burst in his hands without doing damage ; and it must have been quite half-an-hour before the mob, which showed a steady line throughout, had retreated, step by step, to the timber which skirted the western edge of the plain, and only then turned tail. [11]

A second incident occurred in mid-1844, when reports emerged of hostile action by an indigenous group west of Ipswich. A dray belonging to the Forbes Brothers was halted and robbed; a short while later an attempt to rob a dray belonging to Rolland and Taylor passing the same route was unsuccessful. [12]

It is unknown how frequently Taylor and his companions at Tummaville conflicted with indigenous communities, however Taylor visually recorded growing tensions between the indigenous residents and the occupying pastoralists in the form of graphic sketches. One such drawing executed in 1843 records 11 men loading their rifles and shooting as they advance toward a group of about 25 indigenous men, women and infants. The presence of gunyahs in the image suggests that the aggressors may have approached a camp, which justifies the lack of defence observed in the scene – just one man peers around a tree holding two spears, and another man carries a boomerang. Taylor inscribed beneath the image ‘The Blacks who robbed the drays on the Main Range of Mountains attacked by a party of Darling Downs Squatters after following them for a week.’ Historian Ray Kerkhove notes that this image may be connected to the storming of the Rosewood Scrub in late-1843. [13] The image is one of the earliest and most significant depictions of violence by European communities on the Darling Downs towards indigenous people.

Several drawings in Taylor’s sketchbook reiterate the constant vigilance by members on both sides of the conflict. Aborigines of Australia on the lookout for whitefellows depicts five indigenous people sitting atop an elevated viewpoint observing three men on horseback emerging from scrub in the distance. Fine details including scarring on the men suggest that Taylor may have based this representation on indigenous subjects that he had contact with. Squatters in search of blacks N.S.Wales depicts a dozen relaxed squatters at camp with their horses and travelling accoutrement. This image contrasts with a more potent scene a few pages later, A party in search of blacks, which depicts a man holding a rifle giving directions to four similarly dressed and armed man, while an attendant, possibly indigenous, sits nearby, and a large group of figures on horseback amass in the middle ground. Towards the end of the sketchbook, one page titled Shooting blacks N.S.Wales features three loose drafts of armed settlers aggressing towards indigenous Australians, and another titled Drinking N.S.Wales depicts an indigenous man armed with a spear, about to attack a settler who is drinking from a waterhole.

These sketches contrast with more intimate depictions of indigenous subjects in Taylor’s papers. A caricature portrait of Peter Boombiburra in the scrapbook of Taylor’s step-mother depicts Taylor’s ‘servant’ dressed in trousers, smoking a pipe. His scarring is visible and a camp dog sits by his side. A remarkable and fine portrait of a boy from Moreton Bay named Jimmy or Timmy, possibly not by Taylor’s hand, is held among his drawings. Within Taylor’s sketchbook are two depictions of indigenous subjects related to Thomas Livingstone Mitchell’s Journal of an Expedition into the Interior of Tropical Australia: in search of a route from Sydney to the Gulf of Carpentaria, published in 1848. Taylor’s most intimate and impressive drawing of indigenous life was executed in 1844, and depicts a group of men performing a corroboree around a campfire by moonlight, accompanied by women instrumentalists. To date no letters or diaries by Taylor have come to light to reveal further details about his relationships with the local indigenous community while living at Tummaville.

Despite Taylor’s depictions of both sides of the conflict that was growing on the Downs, it cannot be said that he was a passive observer. In addition to the conflicts that Taylor participated in during his time at Tummaville, while taking part in a search expedition for explorer Ludwig Leichhardt led by Christopher Pemberton Hodgson, Taylor kept a detailed diary that reveal his views towards indigenous Australian people. Most of Taylor’s observations of indigenous Australians in his diary are neutral in tone and describe the interactions that he had, however one week into the expedition, Taylor reveals his own fear for Dr Leichhardt’s fate:

It was certainly a queer plan for a man to encamp for 10 days in within less than 50 yards of a dense scrub that was at the time occupied by the blacks and we could not help fearing that Dr. Leichardt [sic] put more faith in the friendly appearance and demonstrations of the blacks than they are generally known to possess. [14]

This comment is likely informed by Taylor’s experiences with conflict during his time at Tummaville. It is observed though, that once Taylor was familiar with a community, his reaction was much warmer. On 5 September during the party’s return from their search, Taylor wrote:

Hearing a cooing behind us, on looking back perceived some blacks running after us; we halted and had a talk with them. They would not allow us to approach on horseback evidently afraid of the horses. They were some of our old friends we saw at Euröonbah. They pointed out the place Dr.Leichardt [sic] crossed the Range, the direction of Banandown they did not know. To the Eastward they said were very high mountains. Johnny presented them with an old shirt. [15]

11. Henry Stuart Russell, The Genesis of Queensland: an account of the first exploring journeys to and over the Darling Downs: the earliest days of their occupation; social life; station seeking; the course of discovery, northwards and westward; and a resume of the causes which led to the reparation from New South Wales, Sydney: Turner & Henderson, 1888, p. 328.
12. Sydney Morning Herald, 9 August 1844, p. 4.
13. For further discussion on the Battle of One Tree Hill, please consult Ray Kerkhove, Mapping Frontier Conflict in south-east Queensland, 2017, Harry Gentle Resource Centre.
14. Thomas John Domville Taylor, Journal of the expedition in search of Leichhardt, 1845 [Manuscript]. National Library of Australia PIC MSR 14/1/6 Volume 1190 #PIC/20229/1-2
15. Ibid.