Australian Frontier Wars – chronology (1770 -1831)


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There are quite a few readily available overall histories on the Frontier Wars so I see no point in rehashing those details which a quick google search will uncover. To get a solid run down on what they are about however the wiki is a good place to start to get your head around the areas where settlement and conflict occurred, though the wiki is in no way exhaustive.

That said, in this post I’m giving a chronology that focuses on the military/confrontation history of the Frontier Wars to provide some structure around the topic and to illustrate just how widespread and vast were the theatres of conflict in Australia. It is not, nor intended to be, comprehensive for every theatre and the engagements that occurred. The topic is just to vast for such an undertaking.

Some are what we might term ‘classic British colonial encounters’ in the Victorian sense with others being more akin to settlement experience in North America (and elsewhere) during the 18th and 19th century – a harsh environment indeed. It will however give a very good sense of the scope of clashes and confrontations that did occur.

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Background

When James Cook landed in 1770 his first assessment was that Australia was Terra Nullius ie an unsettled land with nomadic peoples who did not own the land in the British sense. From this the British surmised that they would simply establish a colony and the local Aboriginals would ‘move on’. Nothing off course would be further from the truth, but from that misunderstanding began a war of resistance between the Colonial settlers and the Aboriginal peoples – the Frontier Wars.

Resistance began from the very start, though not without some initial mutual ‘live and let live’ good-will with the colonists, much as had happened in the early settlement of North America. After time, when settlement expanded, confrontation occurred.

The Frontier Wars is an apt term for these wars as it largely describes how the conflicts were fought ie on the fringes of British encroachment onto Aboriginal lands – the frontier. These continually expanding areas of engagement largely dictated the battlefields of Australia for the next century and more – a veritable Australian Hundred Years War.

To get an idea of where and when the engagements occurred and in what regions the map below shows the conflict zones. Essentially conflict raged where initial settlements occur on coastal regions, and progressively expands inland into those districts, usually resulting in a period of 20-30 years or so of frontier clashes before finally the march of colonial settlement takes hold and resistance subsides or is eliminated. Each zone shown in the map below is effectively a ‘war theatre’ in and of itself…and not all areas where conflict occurred are shown.

For those unacquainted with Australia, the areas shown are of significant size as the distance scale shows. For example, the inland (or outback) Sydney region, also known as the Western Plains, covers two-thirds of the state of New South Wales (NSW), with the entire state being a touch over 300,00 square miles in area, virtually the same size as Great Britain and France combined. As a result of these vast distances and the relatively low population densities of Aboriginal peoples, a good deal of unrestrained pastoralist activity was undertaken by colonists. Such activity brought them into direct confrontation with the local tribal population which were progressively driven from their traditional grounds.

 

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Regions and time of conflict

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Whilst it would seem that with such a vast land mass and relatively low density of native population would be room for all, this in fact was not quite the case. The Aboriginal people had fairly well defined tribal land boundaries and within this vast land mass the continent was broken up into numerous tribal regions. Whilst some sharing of land occurred amongst neighboring tribes, generally they were self contained and autonomous traditional land spaces were understood and acknowledged. Tribal boundary lines, though clear, allowed for some inter-tribal land use so long as traditional practices were followed.

By and large initial settlements, beachhead frontiers if you like, were relatively peaceful as settlers and aboriginals lived side by side, with only occasional flare ups of violence. This ‘sharing’ mirrored the aboriginal’s own understanding of tribal coexistence on each other’s boundaries. Thus coastal aboriginals initially accepted that the white man from the sea were but another tribe on their border – from the sea.

However, trouble started when the settlers expanded into tribal lands. This movement triggered ongoing frontier warfare that lasted over a century. Fortunately for the British in the early days neighbouring aboriginal tribes did not coalesce into any sizeable force. This idea in fact was counter to the norms of aboriginal tribal culture and multi tribe coalitions were not typical, though that changed as the realisation of white settlement took hold.

Thus the British were effectively engaging in conflict with new groups of people every time they pressed inland, fighting ‘mini wars’ against each clan or ‘band’, who defended their own tribal lands as best they could. Whilst some cooperation occurred between neighboring tribes, they were more or less independent from one another, and often with enmity towards each other as well. Therefore conflict remained localised amongst tribal groups and smaller clans within that group, and in a number of circumstances inter-clan or tribal rivalry played into the hands of the British.

The very nature of Aboriginal ‘independence’ of each tribe, who owed no allegiance to other tribes or a higher authority (unlike for example the Zulu people under one king), meant that resistance was fierce within that traditional land space, as the Aboriginal occupiers had no where else to go.

Though localised Aboriginal resistance occurred, as white settlement expanded and the full implications of white colonisation began to be understood, cooperation of Aboriginal tribes started to be established in some districts, triggering a wider ranging conflict with more coordinated resistance, though still nothing in the order of a ‘strategic plan’ as we would understand it – resistance was localised.

That said, recent studies are challenging some previously held views on just how much organised resistance there was as opposed to ‘encroachment clashes’ on the frontier. Often times this process resulted in conflict not only between the settlers but sometimes between Aboriginal neighboring peoples, as one group was squeezed out into another’s traditional lands resulting in warfare between adjacent clans or bands.

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Map showing tribal regions in Australia

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Map showing Aboriginal Tribes in the Sydney Area. This area was fought over from the initial years of settlement up to the time of colonist expansion over the Blue Mountain range in 1813, 40km in land from Sydney (Port Jackson). Conflict in this region were known as the ‘Black Wars’, the first of many such named ‘wars’ in Australia.

 

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Surprisingly, particularly for modern day readers, the Aboriginals waged an effective war of resistance with the resources and knowledge they had. Surprising in so far as the perceived wisdom is that there was very little resistance and settlement occurred relatively peacefully, with the Aboriginal people’s ‘happily’ living on the fringes of colonial settlement. Nothing could be further from the truth.

The native hunter and gatherers of Australia adapted their own ritualistic style of warfare to the new enemy and on the whole, did it effectively. They also did it at some significant cost to their their own tribal group’s long term viability, not knowing the ultimate inevitability of colonial settlement and vast resources arrayed against them.

That they were ultimately overrun does not in any way diminish their determination to defend their land, nor their commitment to do so. It was however the very nature of their tribal based, semi-nomadic existence which meant that their resistance was generally sporadic, though constant, and with a few exceptions, localised.

Where the struggle was most intense, Aboriginal resistance delayed the settlement expansion whilst imposing a considerable economic and psychological cost on the colonisers. This is evident in historic accounts of resistance, some examples being the Hawkesbury and Nepean wars (1790-1805), the Wiradjuri wars (1820s), the Kamilaroi wars (1830s), clashes on the northern rivers (1840s) (New South Wales); the frontier wars of Victoria’s western districts (1840s); fatal fights between overlanders, settlers and Aborigines on the Murray River, the South-East, the Flinders Ranges and Eyre Peninsula (late 1830s to early 1850s) (South Australia); the ‘Black War’ (1827-1830) (Tasmania); Aboriginal resistance around the Swan and Murray Rivers (1829-1834) (Western Australia); the MacIntyre River war (1840-1849), the ‘Mandandanji land war’ (1842-1852), the Kalkadoon war (late 1870s-1883) (Queensland); and the unofficial war in the Northern Territory to establish cattle empires (1883-1894).

Essentially traditional warfare evolved into a form or guerrilla warfare against the colonists which ushered in a period of prolonged low-intensity conflict not unlike we see in modern time. On occasion, as far as we know, organised formal ‘showdown’ battles were fought, though mainly the petite de guerre was the order of the day – an entirely sensible ‘asymmetric’ approach to war which suited their natural fighting attributes and resources.

Similarly, the response was not unlike present day solutions to the same problem either – harsh and uncompromising, sometimes conciliatory, but ultimately finite and often deadly. In the end the descent into a more violent confrontation ensued until Australian federation (1901), by which time much resistance had been quashed, with hostilities only ‘ceasing’ as late as the 1930s.

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Without question, Australia’s Frontier Wars were the longest and one of her most bloody wars on a per capita basis and the manner in which it was fought. For anyone under any illusions as to the wether war occurred in Australia, a close look at the historical record shows that it must count as one of the longest, if not the longest, of Britain’s colonial wars.

From all this we can discern that from a miniature wargaming perspective, many colonial table-top encounters abound. We shall touch on the nature of the war when we take a closer look at Aboriginal warfare in some detail, but suffice to say that almost any type of low-intensity conflict that was waged in Britain’s other colonial conflicts, occurred in Australia, the main exception were large set piece battles such as Gate Pa, Isandlwhana, Omdurman, and so on.

However before we hit the table it’s a good idea to burrow down into some ‘real history’ so we can base our clashes on specific encounters of the time, or perhaps stirring interest by focusing in on a specific region to bring out its unique elements.

Given the vastness of terrain that the wars were fought over each offers a particular ‘look’ that differs from one another – you can equally use a green and desert coloured mat no problem, but don’t forget red dust as well! Engagements in the ‘red centre’ of Australia or Western Australia have a vastly different look to those based on the eastern seaboard of Australia, different again from the forests and mountains of Tasmania or tropics of Cape York.

Farm and camp raids, ambushes, encounter battles, desperate defenses, all out assaults and so on…they are all here much as one sees in the African Cape conflicts and later Zulu Wars and so many other wargames colonial conflicts.

 

 

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A quick overview of settlement and conflict  is useful as it precises the scope of expansion, degree and size of the types of conflict one encounters when looking at the Frontier Wars. It can be seen that Australia, a continent the size of North America, saw near constant low-intensity armed conflicts for over a century in a wide variety of theatres, each worthy of their own close investigation. The opportunities for skirmish scale gaming in multiple theatres and periods is limitless.

The emphasis of the chronology is on the ‘military’ clashes to give gamers an idea of the potential scenarios they may play out. It is in no way complete and events surrounding those described will provide ideas for other types of low level scenarios that can be played. 

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.CHRONOLOGY

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1770

  • April 29, Captain James Cook in HMS Endeavour entered Botany Bay. After an encounter with local people in Botany Bay Cook wrote that “all they seem’d to want was us to be gone”.

1786

  • August 18 the British Government chose Botany Bay as a penal colony.

1788

  • 18 January Captain Arthur Phillip entered Botany Bay. A total of nine ships sailed into Botany Bay over three days – Aboriginal people watched the arrival.
  • 25 January Phillip sailed to Port Jackson and between 25 January and 6 February 1000 officials, marines, dependents and convicts came ashore.
  • Frenchman La Perouse and two ships arrive at Botany Bay and remain until March 10.
  • Resistance and conflict between Europeans and Aborigines begins almost immediately.
  • Early February the French fire on Aboriginal people at Botany Bay.
  • 29 May the first conflict between the First Fleet arrivals and Aboriginal people takes place near Rushcutters Bay, Sydney. Two convicts are killed.
  • December, Arabanoo is the first Aboriginal person captured by Europeans.
  • Captain Phillip estimates that there are 1500 Aboriginal people living in the Sydney Region.

1789

  • April, smallpox decimates the Aboriginal population of Port Jackson, Botany Bay and Broken Bay. The disease spread inland and along the coast.
  • The settlement spreads to Rose Hill, later called Parramatta.

1790

  • September, Pemulwuy spears Phillip’s gamekeeper, John McEntire, and Phillip orders the first punitive expedition of 48 soldiers, which fails. A second punitive assault force advances on the Bidjigal camp on the shores of Botany Bay, which again fails to make contact with the elusive aboriginal tribesmen.
  • Pemulwuy and his son Tedbury lead Aboriginal resistance in the Sydney area in a guerrilla campaign lasting several years. They operated over a large area from Castle Hill in the north to Lane Cove and Kissing Point through to Toongabbie and Parramatta in the west, south to Botany Bay and north to Broken Bay. Some escaped Irish convicts also joined and fought alongside Pemulwuy against the British.

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Typical Eora warrior – note the long spear and multiple boomerangs. In the background are iconic white bark Australian gumtrees.

1791

  • ‘Time-expired’ convicts granted land around Parramatta.

1792

  • Colonists spread to Prospect Hill, Kissing Point, Northern Boundary, the Ponds and the Field of Mars.

1794

  • By August, up to 70 colonists are farming on the Hawkesbury. Aboriginal people dispossessed of their land.

1795

  • Clashes between settlers and Darug aboriginals intensifies in the Hawkesbury district.
  • In response to the killing of 5 settlers in the space of a few weeks a night attack against Darug Aborigines by a detachment of soldiers of New South Wales Corps (two officers, three drummer boys and 66 soldiers) at Richmond Hill  occurs. Despite this punitive raid succeeding, subsequent Darug raids occurred in response, forcing a permanent company sized garrison to be stationed in the Hawkesbury district.
  • Continuing Darug raids force settlers to abandon their farms as attacks become to frequent.

1797

  • Pemulwuy leads an effective raid on the Toongabbie outpost.
  • A Punitive party pursue Pemulwuy who continued to lead a sustained series of raids with about 100 Aboriginal people predominantly in the Parramatta district.
  • Pemulwuy is wounded and captured but later escapes.

1798

  • Colonists dispossess Aboriginal people of land around Georges River flats and Bankstown.

1799

  • 16 July, Mathew Flinders lands in Moreten Bay, Queensland, being driven off by aboriginals at ‘Skirmish Point’.
  • Two Aboriginal boys killed near Windsor by five Hawkesbury settlers.
  • Beginning of a six-year period of resistance to white settlement by Aboriginal people in the Hawkesbury and Parramatta areas, known as the ‘Black Wars’. This often involved retribution tit-for-tat attacks between settler and native peoples. Attacks however were not confined solely to the redress of ‘wrongs’ but rather the Darug focused on large scale farm raids to burn buildings and crops to deny the settlers the use of the land and keep their own losses to a minimum from firearms wounds, which often proved fatal.

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sydney-area

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1801

  • April, Governor King orders Aboriginal people gathering around Parramatta, George’s River and Prospect Hill “to be driven back from the settler’s habitation by firing at them”.

1802

  • Pemulwuy is shot by two settlers. Tedbury continues the resistance.

1803

  • Settlements are established near present-day Melbourne at Port Phillip and in Tasmania at Risdon, on the Derwent River by Governor King. The settlement at Port Phillip is abandoned.
  • British settlement established in Hobart, Van Dieman’s land (Tasmania). Initial good relations with the Big River aboriginals last for twenty years.

1804

  • 3 May; 300 Aboriginal people at Risdon Cove, Tasmania, are mistaken for a war party and fired upon. Hostilities increase – the attacks on Aboriginal people in Van Diemen’s Land has begun. Conflict between colonists and aboriginals would continue until 1834, amongst the most fierce fought of all frontier clashes in the colony.
  • Most of the Cumberland Plain west of Sydney is occupied by colonists. The Darug people are being dispossessed of their land.
  • Further Darug attacks during the corn harvesting season force settlers to once again abandon their farms.

1805

  • Aboriginal people trying to defend their land, kill colonists. A Government order on 19 April directed Captain William Bligh to send soldiers “for their [colonists] protection against those uncivilised insurgents”.
  • Aboriginal tribes continue to engage in inter-tribal warfare. Interestingly, it is not uncommon for Aboriginals to form ‘alliances’ with settlers  who fight alongside warriors to help drive off traditional enemies as was the case between a number warring Hawkesbury clans. This went so far as arming some warriors with muskets.
  • July; Governer King strikes a deal with the Darug people ending a decade of raids in the Lower Hawkesbury River region.

1805-1808

  • Engagements subside in a period of relative peace on the Hawkesbury frontier, until Tedbury, son of Pemulwuy, resumes raiding.

1807

  • Tasmanian aboriginals attack a British party on the Derwent River, forcing them to retreat. Limited fighting continues.

1809

  • Tedbury’s raids end November 1809 when a pardon from  Governor William Patterson is exchanged for a cessation of attacks.

1809-1814

  • Once again, conflict subsides in a period of relative peace on the Hawkesbury frontier, this time likely to the effects of disease and prolonged warfare by the Darug people.

1813

  • Colonists, assisted by Aboriginal people, cross the Blue Mountains, creating new hostilities as they pass through ‘undiscovered’ Aboriginal lands.

1814

  • Conflict breaks out once more, May 1814, on the southern reaches of the Nepean river as settlement encroaches on tribal lands. An inter-tribal alliance of the Darug, Darawal and Gandangara people resist the settlers. The relatively large populations of the Darawal and Gandangara people allow for war parties of 60-80 warriors raiding up and down the Nepean River.
  • Tactical adjustments are made by the Darawal and Gandangara warriors who start attacking musket armed enemies using a ‘duck and rush’ tacit ie duck before muskets are fired and then rush the shooters before they can reload – a tactic adopted by people as diverse as North American Indians and Masai warriors in East Africa.

1815

  • Remnants of the Broken Bay Aboriginal people are established on a reserve at George’s Head.

1816

  • Attacks continue on farms by Aboriginal peoples on the edge of Sydney, particularly in the Nepean River region, resulting in small parties of troops being stationed on the settler farms for protection.
  • April; a band of Parramatta aborigines crosses the Blue Mountains to raid the government cattle depot at Cox’s River.
  • May; a detachment of the 46th regiment is stationed to protect government interests at Cox River station. In addition extra military detachments are posted, bringing the total to six, each located on the Nepean, Grose and Hawkesbury Rivers and at Parramatta, Liverpool and Bringelly.
  • Governor Macquarie conducts a concerted operation to quell aboriginal raids in the Nepean River region. He instigates a six month military campaign, centred on a major ‘sweep operation’ down the Nepean River to drive the Aboriginal tribes away. In this operation Macquarie issues strict rules of engagement to limit losses to women and children, though they are not easy to follow given the nature of the contacts, often occurring at night. He sends Captain James Wallis with three detachments of the 76th Regiment to arrest ‘offenders’. A night attack by the grenadier company of the 46th regiment attack a camp near Appin, 17 April, in response to ‘acts of atrocities’ committed by the natives. Multiple detachments of grenadier and light infantry of the 46th regiment sweep the Grose, Hawkesbury and Nepean Rivers over a three week period.
  • 1 November, Macquarie formally ends the military campaign against the Darawal and Gandangara people. A cessation of hostilities in the Hawkesbury district is agreed to by both parties.

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1817

  • Resistance occurs in the Hunter Valley region as exploration parties encounter attacks from hostile tribes.

1818

  • 5 May, Benjamin Singleton’s small trekking party is confronted by a large groups of Aboriginals, up to 200 in total. Subsequent contact results in the aboriginals timidly attacking with thrown rocks – as if to ‘warn off’ the party, not kill it.
  • Whilst conflict in the Sydney and Hawkesbury region region is generally considered to have petered out inter-tribal conflict still occurs.
  • The aboriginal leader Musquito, in Van Dieman’s Land (Tasmania), leads a group of tribal outcast aboriginals known as the ‘Tame Mob’. His group conducts many raids, attracting others to his cause, upwards of 200 in total. His tactics are mimicked by other tribes to resist white settlement after his death in 1825.

1819 – 1820

  • Rapid expansion of the colony into present day Queensland. A penal settlement is set up at Redcliffe but moved to present day Brisbane three months later.
  • Colonists spread west of the Blue Mountains and establish stations, resulting in a few clashes, though on the whole the region was relatively peaceful as it was strictly government controlled and population densities of aboriginals and settlers were very low.
  • Aboriginals and British soldiers of the 48th regiment clash in the River Plenty, a tributary of the Derwent river in New Norfolk, Tasmania.

1821

  • Governor Brisbane expands settlements in the Bathurst area, with large farms settled, supplanted with convict labour. In four years cattle stock increases from 34 to 113 thousand head of cattle. The initial land allotment of 1000 ha increases to 36,000 ha. Inevitably the Wiradjuri are impacted by the expanding settler occupation (see map below).

1822

  • Wiradjuri attacks commence on Mudgee and Swallow Creek. Despite attempts at a peace agreement the settler occupation of Wiradjuri land results in continued attacks. Using classic guerrilla warfare tactics, they raid the Bathurst plain and retire into the nearby Blue Mountain escarpment, being almost impossible to track down.

1823

  • So successful are the mid spring Wiradjuri attacks that settlement was abandoned around Swallow Creek and further government expansion plans are cancelled. Even with this escalation of violence very few British soldiers are deployed to assist the settlers at this point.

1824

  • First settlement is established at Moreton Bay (Queensland). After three months of hostile attacks it is abandoned. Fierce resistance by ‘Queensland’ aboriginals would continue for the next hundred years.
  • The Wiradjuri people, comprising three tribes, the so called Wellington, Mudgee and Bathurst tribes, occupy traditional lands the size of Britain but only with a very low population density…much lower than the tribes in the Sydney basin area enabling rapid pastoral expansion.
  • A Wiradjuri leader, Windradyne (‘Saturday’), leads Aboriginal resistance in the Bathurst area. This marks the beginning of the final phase of initial resistance of the Wiradjuri people against British settlement west of the Blue Mountains. Despite having common cause, the tribal enmity between different Wiradjuri clans means no combined resistance is forthcoming, reducing their resistance efforts.
  • March; Wiradjuri warriors mount a 60 man raid on a Government station hut at Swallow Creek.
  • May; Wiradjuri warriors step up subsequent attacks with a series of raids, killing 7 white convict settlers, making working of the land untenable. Inevitably the settlers respond by conducting reprisal attacks against Wiradjuri tribesmen.
  • August; a Mission is established at Lake Macquarie, north of Sydney.
  • 14 August; martial law is proclaimed in the Bathurst area in the wake of the seven settlers killed by Aboriginal people and the conflict is seen as a serious threat. In response, 75 soldiers are stationed at Bathurst and a troop of colonial cavalry is raised. Along with settler forces the total colonial force amounts to 50 to 100 men.
  • An early raid by settlers happens upon a 30-40 man Wiradjuri warparty led by their leader ‘Blucher’, who is killed in the fight.
  • September; The officer in charge of the Bathurst detachment, Major Morisset, mounts an expedition made up of 40 soldiers of the 40th regiment plus support elements despite not yet having received horses to assist his mission. Conducting a series of sweeps in and around Mudgee the 10 day expedition fails to make contact with any Wiradjuri aboriginals. This military operation is assisted by independent small parties of mounted armed settlers.
  • Rumours of serious aboriginal losses abound at Bells Falls from settler attacks, but claims are not able to be substantiated. Settler losses are known to be 22 killed by Wiradjuri attacks.
  • Despite the lack of contact by Morisset’s detachment, Wiradjuri attacks cease in October and November and a Wiradjuri counsel seeks peace with the local authorities.
  • 11 December, martial law ceases with ‘peace’ having been established after the aboriginal leader Windradyne leads a delegation to meet Governor Brisbane. No further uprisings occur in the Bathurst area.

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  • Northern Australia; British outposts are established on the coast at Melville and Bathurst Island, off Darwin. The first, Fort Dundas, is located on Melville Island, 26 September principally to establish regional hegemony and trading links.
  • The Tiwi aboriginals, though used to other foreign interlopers on their land, resist the permanence of the British occupation.
  • Fort Dundas is one of only two purpose built forts in Australia to fend off hostile natives, such is the aggression of the Tiwi clans. The rectangular fort, little more than 75ds by 50yds made of timber, includes a surrounding ditch plus one 12-pounder, two 9-pounders and four 18-pounder artillery pieces. The garrison had 34 men of the 3rd Regiment plus 27 Royal Marines, each with their commanding officer. 
  • The construction of Fort Dundas sparks off an on going state of virtual siege by its occupants; though confrontation is intermittent, it is ever present, with only brief respite at the height of the wet season (Jan-Mar). The Tiwi clans, often up to 60 men, lay continual ambush attacks, conduct raids on pigs and cattle and other livestock, as well as burning crops. They interdict virtually all movement, attacking both day and night.
  • After three years the British abandon the fort as a lost cause and look to set up a similar post post on the adjoining peninsular at Fort Wellington.

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Fort Dundas

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  • Fort Wellington is setup along similar lines to Fort Dundas, sparking a similar response from the Iwaidja people.The fort is made in a hexagonal layout, 7′ high walls with a central observation tower 20′ high.The garrison had 30 men of the 39th Regiment plus 14 Royal Marines, each with their commanding officer, plus 22 convicts and support commissariat.
  • After a period of hostility friendly relations are established but disease ravages the garrison. It is abandoned in 1829.
  • A third and final fort is built in 1839 but with little success. It to is abandoned in 1845.
  • Van Dieman’s Land: Settler encroachment on most of the limited arable land triggers off the largest and deadliest conflict fought in Australia, the Vandemonion War.
    • Despite the threat from the British, inter-tribal conflict in Van Diemen’s Land still occurs, as it did for the entire conflict, though a number of inter-tribal coalitions ally to fight the common enemy. The war is typified by farmhouse raids and revenge attacks.

1825

  • As the Bathurst operations had shown, soldiers on foot were in no way easily able to make contact with the fast moving Wiradjuri warriors in the Bathurst district; as a result the New South Wales Mounted Police was established, made up of British soldiers mounted on horseback. These men, the first such Mounted Infantry on the continent, can be seen as the forbears of the Australian Light Horsemen and are to this day the oldest continuous operational mounted unit in the world.
  • This nascent force was comprised of two officers, two sergeant’s and twenty-two troopers, equipped with smoothbore carbines. Their first operation was to hunt down, not aboriginals, but Bushrangers operating in the Bathurst area, in late November.

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bathurst-area

 

 

1826

  • June; Wonnarua tribes conduct a series of raids around Wallis Plains (Maitland) and Patrick’s Plains (Singelton) resulting in soldiers and NSW mounted police being moved into the area.
  • Mounted police conduct operations into the Hunter Valley resulting in an escalation of frontier warfare at the request of settler farms after further attacks, predominantly by the Wonnarua and Kamilaroi tribes. Aboriginals warriors plundered huts, took corn and attacked sheep. A typical raid could involve an attack on a farm settlement with the attackers achieving complete  success against their barricaded quarry and/or breaking off their attacks when nearby mounted contingents rode to the settler’s aid.
  • Reprisal attack parties were often formed from mounted police, armed settlers and armed aborigines. This ‘response’ of well armed mounted horsemen proved decisive in allowing authorities to pursue aboriginal raiding parties and seize the tactical initiative with rapid movement and firepower now combined.
  • Fighting intensifies in the Hunter Valley in September. The Wonnarua and Kamilaroi tribes step up their raids but are largely subdued as another contingent of mounted police conducts increased operations into 1827. Nevertheless, Hunter Valley tribal resistance continues until 1836.

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  • A small contingent of mounted police is formed in Van Diemen’s Land (Tasmania).
  • Aboriginal raids increase the tempo of raids on settler farms in the hills surrounding Bothwell and Outlands in Van Diemen’s Land. Such a threat forces settlers to fortify their huts, turning them into a form of blockhouse with firing slits. The aboriginal leader Black Tom Birch leads many successful raids – notably he is a so called ‘civilised black’ who once lived amongst colonists before taking to the hills in resistance. This trend continues for many civilised aboriginals disillusioned with white society.

1827

  • John Oxley leads an expedition to the Liverpool Plains west of present day Tamworth, NSW. This area is settled in the 1830s, with an increase in settlers during the 1837-1845 drought, when more land is needed. Kamilaroi people are dispossessed of their land.
  • The Tasmanian aboriginal Black Tom is captured in November.

1828

  • Van Dieman’s Land (Tasmania) – April; authorities refuse aboriginals right of entry into white settlement due to the increased threat their constant attacks pose.
  • November; Martial law declared in Van Dieman’s Land.

1829

  • After initial peaceful contact with the Minang aboriginals in King George’s Sound (modern day Albany), Western Australian further exploration results in the settlement of Perth, August, 1829. The garrison is formed by one company of the 63rd regiment, 64 officers and men.
  • With initial occupation being relatively peaceful, traditional warfare continues with tribes, who ask for alliance with the British to fight their hereditary enemies.
  • Settler occupation of traditional land in The Swan Valley, Perth, farmed by the Wajuk people results in an outbreak of hostilities. Aboriginal tactics by the Pinjarup and other tribes involve 30-50 man clan attacks, livestock raids and ‘torch’ farm raids setting fire to haystacks and houses in a landscape so dry as to make fire a deadly weapon of resistance. These attacks sometimes involve stealing edibles, enabling warriors to fight and not be pre occupied with hunting for food.
  • In February clashes occur in Launceston, Tasmania.
  • An intertribal clash occurs in central Sydney, Hyde Park, on 26 December.

1830

  • NSW mounted police expanded to approximately 100 members.
  • 24May; Major Thomas Mitchell with a 23 man detachment engaged 180-200 aboriginals on Lake Benanee near Euston, New South Wales.
  • October; beginning of the Tasmanian Black Wars.
    • In response to a series of deadly attacks against the settlers, resulting in at least 15 deaths, Governor Arthur tries unsuccessfully to drive all the remaining Aboriginal people in eastern Van Diemen’s land on to the Tasman Peninsula. 2,200 men form the ‘Black Line‘.
    • It is unsuccessful in a military sense but continued aboriginal resistance is doomed, ultimately having a psychological effect breaking down resistance.

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black-line.

1831

  • Fighting in the Tasmanian Black War winds down as groups accept offers from the humanitarian, G.A Robinson. However, fighting in Tasmania would continue until 1834.

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…to be continued

 

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5 thoughts on “Australian Frontier Wars – chronology (1770 -1831)

  1. Sounds like a plan. Happy to help in any way I can. I had a couple of discussions with people from PM&C and the War Memorial who really thought the same way as we do. If you can de-politicise the story and concentrate on the “activity” rather than the “Motive” then the ideas of what happened out one nether frontier will get better traction. One criticism that came from PM&C was that “it wasn’t a game” and letting the war gamers loose would cheapen the history. My response was basically ‘bollocks’…

    Also in terms of Australian terrain, there is an exceptionally talented manufacturer of Australian trees and landscapes stuff (in whatever scale you like) in Queensland so there are some relatively inexpensive avenues out there. Ill stay tuned.

    G

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    • I would agree George – activity vs motive indeed – nicely put. As you can tell by now, and I think I have shown, there is most definitely as much gaming at the skirmish level as any other colonial conflict. The evidence simply does not support any other conclusion. I’ll keep my eye out for that terrain – do you have a link?

      Happy W

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      • Hopefully this is a link to a flip book showing a host of the trees in 28 mm. The supplier is syme123 on eBay. He will make trees and shrubs in whatever quantities and sizes you like. The tufts and associated terrain stuff were supplied by leadbears tufts in Murray bridge.

        The terrain is for a layout I made for the wheat growers association in the campion district of WA. They were looking at a display showing some of the area during the great emu war of 1932. It needed hundreds of emus !

        http://www.bookemon.com/flipread/750442&check=72ea2e65def19a0d31ed64688584ca3f

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  2. Great thanks Happy, after the first few paragraphs I began to wonder where you would chose to start, before or after 1801?? Would uniforms and models dictate the choice? I await further instalments.
    Andrew

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  3. “after the first few paragraphs I began to wonder where you would chose to start,”
    ..it’s on the lid good chap…(1770-1831)

    “Would uniforms and models dictate the choice?”
    I think uniform choice is certainly one element to consider when doing any AFW gaming. I think any Napoleonic Brits really do get you there and they do duty all over the globe as well…then there are marines, etc. The NSW corps were wearing the old bicorne hat so that look is usable to.

    The Perry Napoleonic era Egyptian range has a nice selection of early brits before the stovepipe shako, top hat and bicornes. In the 1820s you move toward the very nice bell top look and pork pie hat…both I rather like….and those eras align with actions in NSW, Tasmania and WA…all of which interest me and the weapon technology balance hasn’t yet ‘blown out’. Off course, all this is geared toward regulars. Civilian types abound as supporting and main actors.

    😉

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