Mapping Frontier Conflict in South-East Queensland
Dr Ray Kerkhove, Harry Gentle Visiting Fellow 2016/2017

Individual Conflicts in SE Queensland

Battle of One Tree Hill and Its Aftermath

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The Battle of One Tree Hill, one of the most dramatic incidents in the frontier wars of southern Queensland, is presented in these reconstructions and images. Pitched battles between Aborigines and Europeans were rare in any part of Australia. Battles in which Aboriginal groups won were extremely rare.

Mount Tabletop (One Tree Hill) near Toowoomba (Image courtesy of Toowoomba Regional Council)

According to both James Porter (who knew the participants) and the Sydney Morning Herald, the battle grew from the quandary of settlers over what to do after being evicted or severely attacked on their runs across the Lockyer region, Darling Downs and Upper Brisbane. For some months, this area – some 2500 square miles – had been much harassed by a “mountain tribes” alliance that was being led by Multuggerah, a leader from the Gatton and Upper Brisbane area. In particular, all the Lockyer runs (some 1000 square miles) were being held in daily siege at this time.

A typical Queensland bush inn (JOL SLQ Neg No 202418)

Between 14 and 16 squatters and leaseholders met at Bonifant’s Inn (on the west of what is now Gatton) to plan their course of action. They decided to draft and send a message through their local Justice (Mr Ferriter) to Dr Stephen Simpson (the Lands Commissioner) in Brisbane, requesting police assistance. As well, they organised for a “cavalcade” to be sent up from Mr Forbes in Ipswich. This consisted of 3 loaded bullock drays, with somewhere between 6 and 36 bullocks. It was accompanied by 14 armed men (mostly the settlers’ employees), and another 4 station workers and men looking for work. The track taken by the convoy was the one most subject to Aboriginal raids and attacks. It had been constructed with considerable difficulty by the settlers of the Downs and Lockyer about two years earlier. For this reason, and as it enabled commerce and communication between the Downs and Brisbane, the settlers were anxious to keep it open”. They believed they could accomplish this by increasing the number of drays, the number of assistants, and the amount of arms.

Bullock drays of the period (S T Gill, Australian Sketchbook, 1865)

To the settlers’ surprise, Multuggerah’s men ambushed this large and well-armed “train”. The warriors had placed logs across the road to prevent the drays reversing, and additionally fenced up sides of the road with saplings tied to the trees, and created barricades. The convoy had to halt on account of all these obstacles. Whilst the dray workers were busy dismantling the obstacles at the narrowest point on the route, over 100 warriors jumped up from the creek bed they were hiding in (just beside the road). With a shout and a flurry of spears, they sent all 18 Europeans fleeing back to the inn (34 kms away). The dray was sacked of all useful goods and the warriors held a corroboree in celebration, feasting on some of the bullocks at a camp nearby.

Location of ambush site, Blanchview Road, between Mt Davidson and Mt Tabletop (Image courtesy of Ray Kerkhove)

The fleeing men took several hours to reach Bonifant’s Inn. Shocked by the ambush and embarrassed at the cowardice of their men, the settlers organised a punitive expedition. All those present at the Inn and their servants seem to have been involved – some 35 to 50 men, representing many of the runs of the Lockyer, Downs and Upper Brisbane. It was nightfall of 12 September 1843 by the time they arrived near the sacked dray. They camped some 2 kilometres from Mt Tabletop (probably junction of Blanchview and Spa Water Road).

Very early the next morning, the punitive party sought out the warriors’ camp, and surprised them whilst they were eating. They rode in and had their first battle. Quite a number of Aborigines were apparently wounded or killed, but the settlers were hampered by being bogged in the mud, and one participant was wounded in the buttocks with a spear thrown by a woman.

The majority of remaining warriors conducted a mock retreat up the rocky, steep slopes of Mt Tabletop (One Tree Hill). Apparently boulders had been stockpiled here in preparation. From this vantage point they were able to hurl spears, stones and even roll boulders. Many of the squatters’ muskets were shattered. Several of the squatter’s group were badly wounded by the stones and boulders, but no squatter was killed.

The rocky slopes of one tree hill today, probable site of the second battle (Image courtesy of Ray Kerkhove)

However, the 35-50 settlers were defeated. They retreated, sacking the warriors’ empty camp on their way out. They camped out near the sacked dray and waited for Dr Simpson’s border police, but when he arrived, he found the roads barricaded again. He decided that his “small force” (six men) was insufficient for the task.

Reconstruction of battle site (Image courtesy of Ray Kerkhove and Google Earth)

This defeat was a continual embarrassment for those settlers involved. They were becoming important political figures and were not accustomed to being beaten – especially when they acted in a group. According to both local and Aboriginal accounts, the hill continued to be used as a place from which to conduct raids or roll boulders on drays camped below.

The Great Chase: Aftermath of One Tree Hill (Sept-Oct 1843)

The full maps in this section demonstrate the unusually large-scale settler response to the Battle of One Tree Hill. This was a campaign of chasing Multuggerah’s warriors out of Helidon and into Rosewood Scrub, with sniping and raids by both sides, en route and after.

Immediately following the battle of One Tree Hill, Dr Simpson returned to Ipswich and Brisbane to gather forces. He obtained two lands commissioners, three other officers, a dozen soldiers and “a force of locals” to which he added his six mounted police. This was probably a total of 35-45 men. Meanwhile, the 16 station owners and/or overseers from the Inn, representing many of the runs on the Darling Downs, Lockyer and Upper Brisbane, returned over a back road (Flagstone Creek Road) to their respective homes and sent form messages to gather their own forces all over the district. Some came from as far as Cressbrook. They included station heads, servants, workers and three bush constables. This was perhaps another 40 to 60 men. Thus in total some 75 to 100 settlers, including most of Moreton Bay’s soldiers and police, chased Multuggerah’s warriors from the pass.

Sketch of the Chase – possibly the storming of Rosewood Scrub (Sketch by Thomas Domville-Taylor, Patty Ffoulkes Scrapbook 1840-1844, NLA)

It is recorded that one of these parties camped at Helidon. Multuggerah’s group was forced 50 kilometres along the creek and river valleys and ridges, availing themselves of broken and densely wooded areas to evade their pursuers. They headed for Rosewood Scrub – a 159 square miles of vine forest that once existed around Laidley, Plainlands, Lowood and Rosewood. For the entire distance, they were sniped at by the European forces, but they had the advantage of rough terrain and their superior knowledge of the district, which impelled their pursuers to follow on foot.

The large waterhole at Minden – probable site of the main hidden camp (Image courtesy of Ray Kerkhove)

For the next couple of weeks, Multuggerah’s warriors successfully hid in the Rosewood Scrub, where their assailants failed to locate them. They also continued raids on the settlers. The most daring of these involved some 60 to 80 warriors attacking a head station near Ipswich, belonging to Mr McDougall. The huts and stores were plundered, most belongings destroyed, and the staff were driven off at spear point, being told “to be off, as it was their ground”. Eventually, using an Aboriginal tracker, the squatters located and stormed the main base camp in the scrub, killing leaders and an unknown number of others. This was in October 1843. They also destroyed large quantities of stockpiled weapons. Nevertheless, attacks and raids continued for another 5 years, with the Rosewood and Helidon Scrubs serving as the main base for activities.

Corn Fields Raids 1827 – 1828

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Red Cliff Point, site of first penal colony (JOL SLQ Neg No 196831)

The very first frontier conflict of Queensland consisted of Aboriginal hostilities near the fledgling colony at Redcliffe (near today’s Humpybong Park) in 1824. Aborigines killing and threatening convicts at Yebri Creek and elsewhere seems to have been part of the reason for the removal of the colony to Brisbane.

1835 drawing of Brisbane including the Convict Hospital (JOL SLQ Neg No 138146)

Three years later, the same hostilities threatened the colony at its new location (today’s Brisbane CBD). This consisted of repeated plundering and destruction of the maize fields at South Brisbane, New Farm and Kangaroo Point. The Aboriginal community realised that this was the colony’s main supply food. Thus from 1827 onwards, they organised themselves to starve out the settlement:

…a disposition was evinced, on the part of a tribe of the black natives, to pillage or destroy portions of the second maize crop, then in the ground… a party of natives… appeared… to be meditating a fresh invasion (The Australian 25 July 1827:3).

Sets of 40 to 50 southside warriors from the camps at Woolloongabba and South Brisbane descended on the fields in regular, continuous raids. Mulrobin was the main southside warrior and headman at this time and most likely orchestrated the attacks. Indeed, an 1838 account mentions the fame of his “warlike feats”. The raiders destroyed and sometimes took large quantities of corn and sweet potato.

After a series of smaller raids that had been deflected by posting a single gunman, a successful attack was launched on the evening of 24 April 1827. The raiders this time waited till the corn was nearly ripe. They tossed several spears at the watchman, wounding his hand and forcing him to flee. As the fields were now under Aboriginal control, Logan sent over three men to fire over their heads, but this had little effect. Rather, they began to gather in what Logan described as “alarmingly large numbers”. By 8pm – using the darkness to cover them – a very large force charged en masse into the fields.

Logan was apparently watching all this from across the river. He was concerned the entire crop would be destroyed, leaving the settlement bereft of food until the next supply ship. Noticing the failure of the three gunmen to control the situation, he sent over another two constables and three soldiers – making a party of eight trying to curb the raid in pitch darkness.

The soldiers spotted two escaped convicts amongst the raiders and focussed on these, eventually tracking them to the main camp (probably Woolloongabba). Here they tried to apprehend the escapees, who were now sitting around one of the camp fires. In the darkness and confusion, the convicts escaped. Naturally, with the entrance of soldiers at the camp, warriors flew into defence. There was some sort of skirmish, in which at least one warrior was shot dead.

As a result of all this, Captain Logan instituted a series of “crow minders” – convicts who watched the fields from treehouse shelters. They were day and night sentinels. During small raids that followed that of 24 April, the sentinels are known to have shot and killed at least one warrior, and probably wounded many.

But Mulrobin’s men carefully noted who conducted the shootings. Several months later (6 January 1828) his warriors stalked and killed both South Bank crow minders and severely wounded another man whilst they were making a recreational excursion into the south (roughly the Logan River area).

The former cornfields covered an area roughly the area of today’s South Bank Parklands (Henry Wade 1844 map of Brisbane, QSA)

Thus, despite crow minders, corn field raids continued. A convict workman was speared very close to where a sentinel kept watch. A second major raid followed – again just as the corn was ripening (24 January 1828). In this attack, warriors rushed the South Bank fields in broad daylight. One of the raiders was killed. The crow minders seem to have persisted into the 1830s. Tom Petrie mentions one who watched over their gardens (near today’s Customs House), always keeping a loaded rifle handy.

Stradbroke and Moreton Islands 1832 – 1833

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There are three rather conflicted written accounts of conflict between soldiers and Aboriginal groups, roughly between 1832 and 1833. Oral traditions of the Aboriginal residents add further details.

Amity Point pilot station in the 1830s (JOL SLQ)

The conflict seems to have erupted over killings and counter-killings involving the European staff of the Amity Point pilot station and a local headman, who was killed during a fishing trip. According to one account (of Thomas Welsby) the result was a day-long pitched battle against a group of soldiers at the flats of Cooroon Cooroonpah Creek (north of Myora).

Map of the Cooroon Coroonpah Creek area, Stradbroke. Hills on both sides were used for vantage and camping (Museum of Lands, Mapping and Surveying)

Although the accounts of the Battle of Cooroon Cooroonpah Creek differ in details, they indicate that the conflict began with the Amity Point Pilot Station. After a few payback killings at Point Lookout and Dunwich for the abduction of Aboriginal girls and the killing of a headman, soldiers were sent from the mainland, attacking camps on the southern end of Moreton Island and purportedly killing some 15 to 20 Aborigines. The conflict came to a peak with a day-long pitched battle north of Myora (at Cooroon Cooronpah Creek) between soldiers and warriors. It seems to have ended in a stalemate, and accounts vary as to casualties – some listing a couple of soldiers being killed, other accounts saying no one died on either side. Quandamooka oral history is that Dunwich Cemetery was begun with some of the dead warriors from this battle.

Plan of Dunwich Military Garrison 1828 (QSA)

The long grass of this location and the clunky nature of muskets (which took time to reload) enabled the warriors to sneak up repeatedly on the soldiers. The battle purportedly established some of the terms of cooperation that the Stradbroke people thereafter maintained with white settlement.

Pine Rivers/Sandgate Area 1850 – 1860

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The Pine Rivers/ Sandgate area is of interest as an arena of conflict during the 1850s. On account of the rainforest and wetlands skirting the South Pine – which was used as a pathway by Aborigines – Pine Rivers was somewhat of a bastion or safe haven for Aborigines. Settlers purchased land at Pine Rivers and Sandgate but were repeatedly ousted, most notably from Sandgate and Cash’s property, which was boldly situated in the middle of this region. The first settlement of Bald Hills sat on a ridge overlooking these dangerous flats– the huts reportedly being placed within close proximity for safety. The settlers were regularly visited by police to monitor their progress.

Dundalli, the warrior leader who mostly lived and operated around the Pine and Caboolture District (Silver Diggles Sketch Book, 1855)

Chas Melton described the area as home to thousands of hostile Aborigines. The most troublesome groups, such as friends and companions of the warrior-leaders Dundalli and Yilbung – generally passed through this area between Brisbane and Bribie Island, reportedly taking whatever they wished from people’s homes and gardens, even in daylight.

Native police detachment (Police Museum No PM2431)

For this reason, the Native Police headquarters for all of southern Queensland was established at Sandgate in 1861. From here, Ltnt Fred Wheeler and his troops patrolled into the Caboolture district and beyond. Sometimes they were called to deal with situations in Bald Hills.

Breakfast Creek Camp Raids 1840 – 1860

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Early map of Breakfast Creek with ‘blacks fishery and crossing place’ marked. Fishing weirs here produced abundant fish harvests (Museum of Lands, Mapping and Surveying)

Aboriginal groups still remember Breakfast Creek as a type of ‘front line’ in their battle against encroaching settlement. The large and prosperous camps had been commented upon as early as 1824 by Oxley and Cunningham. Leaders such as Yilbung, Commandant, Dalaipi, Dundalli, Billy Barlow, Harry Pring and Tinkabed were all visitors here.

In 1852, 40 warriors raided Mr Bullocks’ home, destroying crops. They then joined a party of 200 to attack Cash’s property further north. A large party of settlers and eight mounted troopers responded by attacking the camps, but they became bogged and found the camps empty on their arrival. They nevertheless burnt down and destroyed what they could.

The 1850 petition of residents at or near Breakfast Creek, pleading for police protection (Image courtesy of Ray Kherkhove and QSA)

Between 1856 and 1867 there was continual harassment, raids and robberies by Aboriginal groups here, resulting in a series of punitive attacks by settlers. In 1859 five police destroyed the camps and killed and injured at least two of the over 100 residents. In 1861, riotous Aborigines drove off drays and robbed travellers, resulting in Constable Griffin and two mounted police raiding Aboriginal camps and making arrests. In 1862 there was another “dispersal” by Constable Griffin and one trooper. In 1865 two Constables were attacked and in revenge for this Aboriginal camps were again burnt down. In 1867, some 15 Aborigines stole one boat and ransacked another (a cutter). Sub-Inspector Gough conducted the fourth burning of the camps. Similarly, in 1874 mounted police dispersed camp occupants.

The tight roadway (an Aboriginal pathway) along the Hamilton Reach of the river. The usurping of important transport routes close to large encampments goaded conflict (JOL SLQ Neg No 204328)

Rosewood Scrub 1843 – 1848

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Rosewood Scrub covered a large area. As this map indicates, it held many camping grounds, ceremonial grounds and other sites. It had a tangled wall of brigalow so marked that it was often drawn on local maps. As access was so difficult and many Europeans became lost travelling through here, it remained a favoured bastion for resistance throughout the 1840s and even saw use as a hideout many decades later, until German farmers began the arduous task of clearing it to establish dairy farms.

A hilllside at Rosewood showing the still intact dense thickets (Image courtesy of Arnold Rieck)

From 1843 to 1846, Multuggerah continued his attacks on drays and travellers from this location as well as from the Downs. Rosewood Homestead (now Glenore Grove) was repeatedly held in siege, which according to one report resulted in settlers building a makeshift ‘fort’ here that they took turns manning.

1840s blockhouse. This is probably similar to the appearance of the soldiers’ ‘fort’ at Helidon (Photo courtesy of Wikipedia)

In 1846, Multuggerah brought some 500 warriors and almost starved out the Rosewood Homestead occupants. The settlers were relieved by accidental visitors. The combined party later stormed Multuggerah’s camp, killing him and many others. In the next years (1846-1848), other leaders such as Jackey, Uncle Marney and possibly King Billy seem to have operated from here.

Immediately after the Battle of One Tree Hill, Lands Commissioner Simpson established a soldier’s barracks or fort near Postman’s Ridge to guard the road up the Downs. This fort seems to have been moved a couple of times. It was manned with anything from 3 to 13 soldiers from the 99th Regiment . Travellers and drays camped along the creek by this checkpoint. From here, they had to wait for a soldier to escort their convoy up through the pass. The fort was disbanded in June 1846. There was also purportedly a barricaded building at Rosewood Homestead (now Glenore Grove) with a similar defensive purpose, built and manned by settlers.

A dray camp similar to the camp situated beside the 99th detachment’s ‘fort’ (Ludwig Leichhardt’s Journal of and Overland Expedition in Australia, Gutenberg ebook)

Brisbane Northside 1840 – 1850

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Northside Brisbane was a contested landscape in the 1840s-1860s. As shown on the accompanying map, creeks served as de facto borders which Aboriginal parties – if troublesome or threatening – were sometimes driven across by police. Aboriginal oral traditions recall areas beyond these points as places where they could camp and hunt unmolested. This de facto situation meant that in the view of Aboriginal families, any settlers present beyond the creeks were trespassers. This may explain the continual harassment, robbery and violence experienced by Europeans who ventured beyond these points during the 1840s-1860s.

However, none of this was officially ordained. Settlement continually expanded. From the dawn of settlement onward, civic and policing authorities did not designate any areas in or near Brisbane for Aboriginal camping or any other Aboriginal use. Nevertheless, numerous reminiscences and contemporary accounts attest to the fact that in practice, European residents allowed traditional camping grounds to remain, regardless of who owned the area. This was the case sometimes into the 1890s-1910s and later in places such as Victoria Park, Holland Park and Nundah.

Yorks Hollow 1864. This was the site of a number of altercations with settlers, soldiers and police (JOL SQ Neg. No. 108131)

Victoria Park was a very major camp, often seeing hundreds of residents. It is of interest as a conflict site because it saw shootings and burning of camps – first by Constable Peter Murphy and his party in 1846, then by 24 soldiers of the 11th Regiment in 1849.

Medal minted to mark the first exhibition at Victoria Park in 1876 and the ex-rexing (dethroning) of King Sandy of the Moreton region (Museums Victoria Collections Item NU 33473)

Nearby lay Wickham Park. In 1846 and 1847, one warrior-leader, Yilbung, took a monthly ‘rent’ of the Colony’s flour – extracting regular bags for his people from the mill workers at the Windmill. Yilbung was imprisoned for this. In 1855 the Windmill site was also where Aboriginal groups staged a very vocal protest during the hanging of Dundalli, a warrior who was seen as a hero and leader by many from the northside and Bribie areas.

Nundah saw Aboriginal raids and attacks on its German Mission – most notably in 1840 when some 20-30 warriors sacked Reverend Schmidt’s fields, forcing the mission to keep nightly armed watch over the crops. Partly in retaliation, Reverend Schmidt shot and wounded a number of elders. In 1850 cattle were harassed and in 1854, 60 warriors surrounded a homestead and pulled up all its crops.

Park in the vicinity of Nundah Cemetery, the former campsite attacked by settlers in 1858 (Image courtesy of Ray Kerkhove)

In 1858, Nundah settlers became frightened of a war-making corroboree and the voiced threats of Aboriginal warriors. They decided on a preemptive strike. With some police in assistance, a group of settlers crossed the swamp at night to one of the Nundah camps (probably the old Cemetery site) and fired a volley of shots into the camp. Casualties are unknown but the camp was abandoned for two months. The surviving occupants took revenge by dispersing and killing numerous cattle on the Pine Rivers.


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