The Battle of One Tree Hill (12-13 September 1843)

Tabletop Mountain

Figure 1: Mount Tabletop (One Tree Hill) near Toowoomba

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

According to James Porter (an early observer) and also the Sydney Morning Herald at the time, the battle grew from Lockyer, Upper Brisbane and Downs squatters’ quandary over what to do after being evicted from their runs by Aboriginal warriors during weeks of sieges across the Lockyer, Downs and Upper Brisbane.

Some 14 to 16 squatters met at Bonifant’s Inn (towards what is now Gatton) and sent a message to Dr Stephen Simpson in Brisbane, requesting police assistance. They additionally called up a “cavalcade” from Ipswich: 3 loaded bullock drays (30-40 bullocks) accompanied by 14 armed men (mostly the squatters’ employees), and another 4 ‘tag-alongs’ (station workers and men looking for work). This well-armed convoy was expected to push up the pass to the Downs, conveying much needed supplies.

To the settlers’ surprise, Multuggerah with over 100 men ambushed this large and well-armed ‘train.’ The warriors hid down the slopes at the narrowest point on the route. Logs had been placed across the road to prevent the drays reversing, and additionally the sides of the road were fenced up with saplings tied to the trees. The drays were halted by all these obstacles. With a shout and a flurry of spears, the hidden warriors sent all 18 Europeans fleeing back to the inn. The dray was sacked of all useful goods and the warriors feasted on the bullocks.

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Figure 2: Location of ambush site (Blanchview Road)

Embarrassed at the cowardice of their men, the squatters, dray party and other servants and visitors at the Inn formed a mounted punitive expedition – probably a total of 35 to 45 men. They arrived at the sacked dray at the night of the same day of the ambush. The next morning they sought out the warriors’ camp, where they had their first battle. Quite a number of Aboriginals were apparently killed, but some of the squatters were 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). From this vantage point they were able to hurl spears, stones and even roll boulders, so that many of the squatters’ muskets were shattered. Several of the squatter’s group were badly wounded by the stones, but no European was killed. However, as they were losing the fight, the group retreated, sacking the warriors’ empty camp on their way out. They camped out and waited for Dr Simpson’s border police, but when he arrived, he decided that his “small force” (six men) was insufficient for the task.

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Figure 3: reconstruction of battle site

The legacy of this defeat was a continual embarrassment for the squatters, who 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 attack dray travelers.