Australian Frontier Wars – chronology (1832 -1855)

Victorian Native Police c.1850



In this post we continue to look at our chronology, picking up with the subsiding of hostilities in Tasmania and the expansion into the soon to be established colonies of Victoria, South Australia and Southern Queensland as well as the ongoing conflict in Western Australia and New South Wales.

Taken in total, one cannot be other than amazed at just how much constant conflict there actually was. These wars were literally generational between both whites and blacks and our chronology only touches on flash-points around the country. There are considerable areas that would make excellent backdrops for war game scenarios and campaigns.

Note – I have chosen a cut off date of 1855 as this is commensurate with a trending change in uniform styles, the forces involved, the conclusion of the significant Black War in south-east Queensland and to a greater extent the subjugation of resistance in south-eastern Australia. After this time the nature and theatre of the war shifted to the northern parts of the country in northern and outback Queensland, Western Australia and the Northern Territory.




  • Western Australia, Perth, July; a punitive operation is mounted by the 63rd regiment after an attack wounds a soldier, resulting in many Pinjarup warriors being wounded with some deaths. Further attacks occur on the 21st regiment, the new regiment stationed in the colony to bolster a company of the 63rd.
    • So bad had the attacks become in Perth that Governor Stirling requests a detachment of the South African Cape Colony Mounted Rifles – his request is denied.
  • The explorer Thomas Mitchell opens up a succession of new overland routes throughout New South Wales.





  • 14 September, the Perth garrison is doubled with the replacement of the lone company of the 63rd regiment by two companies of the 21st regiment, including 6 officers, 8 NCOs and 116 other ranks.
  • Western Australian Mounted Police established in response to clashes around the Murray River and Swan districts.





  • Perth, October; Captain Sir James Stirling, the Western Australian Governor, personally leads a force of 25 mounted civil police, soldiers of the 50th (West Kent) regiment and armed settlers south toward present day Pinjarra on the Murray River, from his forward base at Mandurah. His force attacks 80 Nyungar Aborigines, led by the leader Calyute. The battle was an attempt to punish Aboriginal people south of Perth, after conflict with settlers resulting in the death, in April, of Private Hugh Nesbit at Peel’s property in the Murray district. The engagement became known as the ‘Battle of Pinjarra’.
    • Stirling under the cover of rain laid an ambush on the Murray River opposite the aboriginal encampment, whilst sending a 5-man mounted party in a flanking move across the river.
    • The flanking detachment once detected, charged into the encampment as the Nyungar warriors attempted to arm themselves and repel the attackers in response. Under small arms fire, the clan withdrew toward the river only to be caught in a crossfire from Stirling’s ambush force.
    • Official reports say that 14 Aboriginal people were killed but other accounts suggest a number closer to double that figure, with other accounts claiming higher losses. The survivors retreated south-west to Lake Clifton.
  • Conflict in Van Dieman’s Land (Tasmania) draws to a close with the last ‘hold out’ tribes being defeated.




  • Perth, March; After heavy tribal losses the Pinjarra meet with Governor Stirling. Conflict in Western Australia however has only just begun – it will continue into the 20th century.
  • Conflict continues in the York region east of Perth. Due to escalating attacks small garrisons of soldiers are posted at farm stations for protection.
  • Victoria: John Batman attempts to make a ‘treaty’ with the Aboriginal people of Port Phillip Bay, near present day Melbourne, by ‘buying’ 243,000 hectares with 20 pairs of blankets, 30 tomahawks, various other articles and a yearly tribute. Governor Bourke does not recognise the ‘treaty’ and the purchase is voided. This is the only time colonists attempt to sign a treaty for land with Aboriginal owners.
  • The settlement of Melbourne and subsequent expansion of ‘Victorian’ pastoralists sparks off fierce resistance for two decades south of the Murray River in the yet to be established colony of Victoria.
  • Clashes still occur in the Hunter Valley region, New South Wales. Typical of many attacks the Bogan and Badder tribes unite to conduct cattle raids, like many other tribal attacks that occur in the vast north-central and western plains districts.
  • October, George Augustus Robinson, who sees himself as a protector of aborigines, takes over the European style settlement on Flinders Island in Bass Strait. He spent much time convincing the last aborigines on Van Diemen’s Land to move to Flinders Island. After most aboriginal people have died from various diseases the protectorate is abandoned in December 1849.


  • Port Phillip District established (see map below). As the settlement expands Aboriginal lives are severely disrupted causing much displacement. This expansion of pastrolists triggers conflict on the frontier.
    • Constant clashes, virtually daily, were experienced for a time in the Geelong district against the Kurung and Wathaurung people.
    • These clashes involved attacks by upwards of 200 warriors across 46 stations,  persisting into the drought of 1838-39 as water and food resources became scarce.
  • Many Van Dieman’s Land settlers move to Victoria. They bring huge flocks of sheep to graze on the lush Victorian pasture lands. As many as 48 transits of Bass Strait to Melbourne bring upwards of 20,000 heads of sheep. Within 10 years over 10,000 people and 780,000 head of sheep journey to Melbourne.
  • Outbreak of conflict occurs along the Murray (Indi) River as squatters move into the district. The general line of pastoralist expansion is from the north-east toward the new settlement of Melbourne, itself the source of expansion back toward the north-east. This ‘squeezing’ of tribal groups is yet another trigger for conflict.
  • The colony of South Australia is founded. Prior to this sailors and sealers had come into conflict with tribesmen of Kangaroo Island, of the South Australian coast.
  • Western Australia; in the wake of the Pinjarra clashes a new line of resistance is established in the hills of the Avon District, spreading from the York clashes of the previous year.





  • Conflict between Aboriginal people and settlers, stockmen and shepherds increases on the Liverpool Plains between 1827 – 1837.
  • Repeated raids on settler farms on the ‘Mitchell Line’ extending from Melbourne to Sydney leads to Governor Lonsdale forming a Native Police Force to restore order and calm settler fears. Aboriginal raids focus on destroying sheep flocks and supplies in an economic war to drive off settlers. The Native Police Force, in its many guises, will forge a controversial legacy in pacifying settled Australia.
  • South Australia; late 1837, after initial attempts to settle the land with some aboriginal consent, inevitable violence breaks out after a number of killings of settlers by dispossessed aboriginal clans.

1837 – 1845

  • Drought on the north-west plains of New South Wales. The drying up of creeks and waterholes forces Aboriginal people to kill sheep and cattle on European holdings, and move towards settlements looking for food, causing many confrontations to occur.
  • Aboriginal offensives by the Murray and Ovens River tribes engage in the so called ‘seven year reign of terror’. These tribes engage in numerous ‘classic’ guerrilla war hit and run tactics remaining constantly mobile and hard to track. This period saw some of the hardest fighting in all conflict zones of the Frontier Wars.
  • Continued attacks around the Geelong district delay settlement as aboriginal attacks continue.


  • New England, New South Wales – January; Major Nunn’s campaign. Thirty police and between ten and twenty heavily armed civilian auxiliaries set out in response to aboriginal ‘outrages’ on the settlers of the Liverpool Plains, north central NSW.
    • A mounted detachment under Ensign George Cobban followed up tracks which led him to an Kamilaroi encampment on ‘Waterloo Creek’. Being discovered the warriors engaged the small force whilst the non combatants fled. The fight then became general and 60 – 70 Kamilaroi Aboriginal warriors are reported killed, many in the pursuit…a recurrent theme in many engagements.
  • Victoria; 11 April, “Faithful Massacre” at Owens Creek. Ten, perhaps fourteen europeans travelling south from NSW with G. P. Faithful, are killed by Aboriginal people in the Broken River district (near modern day Benalla). This attack is noted in newspapers as being conducted by the ‘fiercest and most intractable Aborigines yet encountered’. Further attempts at settlement result in failure by the Faithful brothers and a withdrawal to less hostile pasturelands.
    • Barfield, 9 June; Wurrunjerri (or Yarra) Aborigines clash with white station hands on the Campaspe River after a number of tribal attacks on homesteads, particularly on sheep stock. Further attacks and reprisal attacks by station owners triggers a month of confrontation and unrest between tribesmen, station hands and mounted police.
  • Western New South Wales; Competition between Aboriginal people and colonists develops for water on Bogan River, west of present day Dubbo, Western New South Wales. Seven europeans and their overseer are killed on William Fee’s outstation.
  • ‘The Bushwack’ or ‘The Drive’, against Aborigines, is initiated by squatters and their stockmen to clear the Myall Creek area, near present day Inverell, NSW. The unsavoury Myall massacre occurs. Border Police are formed after the Myall Creek Massacre, arriving from Bathurst and seven of the ten men involved are hanged by court order.
  • Further attempts at settling the Broken River district renews conflict. Notably, settler G. MacKay observes that twenty-one aboriginal tribesmen ‘all armed with guns’ have adapted their warfare to include firearms.
  • Continued resistance threatens the southerly overland route through New South Wales, such are the frequency and intensity of attacks.
  • Along the South Australian-Victorian Border on the overland Murray River route many clashes occur, predominantly with the once friendly but now fiercely territorial Milmenrura tribe.
  • Coastal clashes occur around Port Lincoln and Adelaide.


  • South Australia, March; continued farm attacks regularly occur to resist settlement in South Australian districts.
  • South-Western New South Wales; a resurgent Wiradjuri people, in a coalition with Narrungdera and Kamilaroi tribesmen, engage in sustained attacks and raids against settler properties. This results in the loss of livestock and the burning of dwellings, forcing settlers to abandon the lower Murrumbidgee River region with the loss of over 1000 head of cattle. Despite a retaliatory force made up of mounted police and armed auxiliary forces, which failed to make contact with the elusive indigenous forces, this campaign re-established Wiradjuri control of the region which effectively cut the overland stock route to Adelaide.
  • Northern New South Wales; the Thungutti people engage in a twenty-five year campaign of resistance from white settlement in the New England Tablelands District.
  • Victoria: the war leader ‘Jack Napoleon’ leads Wurundjeri warriors in a series of lightning raids using capture firearms against outlying stations and Cape Patterson whaling station. A force of mounted police, soldiers and civilian auxiliaries led a pursuit and subsequently captured the Napoleon band.
    • The Native Police Force is disbanded due to funding problems.


  • Victoria, Heidleberg, May: A large band of Aborigines led by their so-called leader Jackie Jackie, attacks armed settlers. The tribesmen, unusually, are armed with captured firearms. Up to 200 warriors, 30 of which have firearms, clash with white settlers in clashes on the northern Melbourne fringes. Mounted police undertake a punitive operation but are ambushed and driven off sustaining several losses.
  • South Australia; Milmenrura tribesmen kill survivors of the ship wreck Maria. In the wake of this ‘white massacre’ an investigation is conducted resulting in new laws providing ‘protection’ under British law for ‘submitted tribes’, placing those who oppose such a proclamation outside the law. With this decree many tribes were now openly at war with the British authorities.
  • September; the Police Commissioner, under direction from the Governor, assembled an armed party to seek out resistant aboriginal tribes, the Milmenrura in particular. Two Milmenrura leaders were captured and executed.
  • October; 200 Milmenrura warriors attack a survey camp in revenge for their leader’s deaths.




  • Central Victoria: warfare expands considerably. Under the war leader Winnaberrie two tribes, the Wurundjeri and Taungurong, conduct constant daily raiding, forcing settlers to abandon their farms and retreat to Melbourne.
  • Widespread guerrilla fighting continued throughout Victoria. In the west the Maraura tribe gathered war parties as large four hundred men,  driving back overlanders to Adelaide. In the Dimboola/Horsham area the Jaddwa people raided from Mount Arapiles before slipping back to their sanctuary countering any possible pursuit by mounted authorities, whilst the rugged mountainous region of Gippsland in Eastern Victoria enables the Bratauolong tribes to raid virtually ‘at will’, all but placing Port Albert under siege.
  • South Australia; Milmenruras war parties continue attacks against white expeditions, stations and outposts. They torch farms in the scorching South Australian hot weather dispersing sheep and cattle. Using their hit-and-run tactics they frustrate local authorities.
    • In the aftermath of Milmenruras attacks Governor Gawler warns of a coming war between settlers and aborigines.
    • April; 300-400 Milmenruras warriors attack an overland sheep drive. Survivors note that they showed ‘fierceness and courage hitherto unknown’ and some with no fear of firearms.
    • Governor Gawler is replaced by Governor Grey. He rescinds the policy of treating hostile tribes as a ‘foreign enemy’. Now calling them all under British law he treats the Milmenruras insurrection as a civil disturbance. Following this proclamation he organises 68 Police and special constables to apprehend recalcitrant tribesmen.
    • The punitive expedition fails to apprehend any tribesmen, being totally outmanoeuvred by tribesmen familiar with the country. They do however link up with overlanders, who were attacked days before, losing a number of men killed in the Milmenruras’ attacks. From this Governor Grey decrees all overlander expeditions must be accompanied by 10 Mounted Police under the command of a military officer.
    • July; in an apparent ruse, a overlander protection party of 29 is led into an ambush of upwards of 300 warriors, from which they luckily extricate themselves, inflicting a loss of 30 dead on the warriors.
    • Continued attacks result in the formation of permanently stationed Police in outposts on the Murray River to protect overlanders.
    • Port Lincoln, South Australia; a systematic campaign of harassing attacks threatens the survival of the white settlement.
    • October; 80 soldiers of the 96th regiment are deployed from Port Arthur to South Australia as Aboriginal attacks increase. In South Australia, the aboriginal insurrection is reaching alarming proportions.


  • Port Lincoln attacks continue, with some settlers forced to flee to the township. Combined Police and colonist armed parties attempt to quell the violence but fail. Several tribes are now reported as combining in resistance.
  • Near everywhere along the South Australian frontier attacks occur and resistance continues.
  • Brisbane; 30-60 aboriginals are poisoned at Kilcoy station, Brisbane district.
  • Victoria; Governor Bourke of New South Wales ordered the reestablishment of the Native Police Force in the Port Phillip district following continual raids and attacks. They are authorised to ‘disperse’ groups of Aboriginal people to limit the threat of constant attacks.
    • Significant settler losses in sheep, cattle and supplies reaches critical levels, such is the success of the aboriginal attacks. Settlers regularly combat tribesmen in self defence, sometimes mounting punitive raids themselves.
    • August; continued complaints of aboriginal tribes conducting attacks on the route from Melbourne to Adelaide, notably documenting an uptick in the effective use of captured firearms in their assaults.
    • Throughout Port Phillip (Victoria) conflict reaches something of a crescendo in the 1840s with uprisings occurring all along the frontier. Warfare  ranges from areas such as Colac, Kelos, Indented Head, Casterton-Portand Bay, Bunninyong, to Werribee River in the west; Tambo, Broken and Macarthur Rivers in the north-east and the Campaspe, Glenelg, Loddon and Wimmera Rivers in the north-west (see map above). This would continue for some years to come.
  • Queensland; The opening up of a route from Brisbane to Westbrook sparks ‘war in earnest’ by tribesmen.
  • From south-east Queensland all the way down the eastern seaboard to Port Phillip District, numerous ‘hot spots’ of aboriginal resistance continues, making the conflict widespread virtually anywhere outside of established white settlements. Such is the level of confrontation that one observer noted that there is ‘a present  state of open war between the races’.




  • Victoria;  A combined force of 1000 warriors musters at Broken River to join the Murray people in a plan to reconquer the entire Goulburn Valley District.
    • By August, war on the fertile upper Murray River near present day Echuca and Corryong, saw combined tribes total 600 warriors. Multiple raids were launched along the river destroying property and forcing settlers off the land.
  • Queensland; A protracted conflict, the ‘Black War’ of South-East Queensland, involves many coalition tribes in what amounts to a coordinated strategy of resistance on a scale not yet seen. War taken to be declared in May ’43 following the resolution to fight after the new year Bunya festival, in the wake of Kilcoy poisonings. A principal war leader emerges called Dundali, leading the Gubbi Gubbi tribe.
    • A number of squatters abandon their stations because of continued resistance of Aboriginal people in defence of their land which includes attacks on properties. Conflict is intense and widespread, with a purveying sense of ‘terror’ felt by the frontier settler population.
    • After Aboriginal landowners of the Jagera people block key supply routes to the Darling Downs, South east Queensland, white settlers attack them in the Battle of One Tree Hill in the Lockyer Valley, defeating the colonist forces. The Jagera are led by the Aboriginal warrior Multuggerah.
    • Nine members of the Fraser family are killed by Jiman tribesmen at Hornet Bank, Taroom, resulting in intensive punitive expeditions by authorities.


  • Mudall and Gerawhey tribes employ hit and run tactics against farms; scattering cattle, attacking stockmen and retreating in the face of a police response, only to  immediately return. Tribesmen use trained dogs in their attacks. 



  • Attacks increase in the Macquarie and Darling Rivers region by close to 150 warriors from united tribes, including some detribalised aboriginals, who attack five stations as well as ambushing supply drays (ox carts). Border police respond by conducting sweep operations. 
  • Native Police operations in the Goulburn Valley District significantly reduce further aboriginal attacks.
  • The huge increase in population in Port Phillip and the march of white settlement has reduced aboriginal populations by at least half –  continued resistance occurs but slowly subsides as tribes lose the capacity for sustained war.
  • Queensland; Combined tribal groups under the emergence of a charismatic war leader Dundalli, attack isolated stations on the outskirts of Brisbane. Despite army raids to locate his band he remained at large with his large guerrilla group for nine years.


  • Victoria, 1 February; Native Police clash with aborigines in response to escalating violence between shepherds and tribesmen. A detachment of 14 police encounter a group estimated at 200 strong. After suffering casualties from the warrior’s attack the commander, William Dana, ordered a mounted charge resulting in a prolonged shoot out.
  • Native Police are used to ‘settle’ hostilities on the northern plains of New South Wales. Hostilities lessen in the area.
  • A party of mounted police are ambushed at the Bogan River suffering losses, only saved by the retreat of native warriors.


  • Attacks intensify in the Macintyre and Collygs Creek region with expanding squatters. Regional trouble continues into the 1850s.


  • Resistance in South Australian districts, particularly Port Lincoln and Yorke Peninsula, continues – this war has been going on since the beginning of the 1840s.


  • Native Police are introduced into northern regions with headquarters at Callandoon near present day Goondiwindi, on the Macintyre River.
  • Western Australia; looking to establish new pastoral lands north of Perth Governor Fitzgerald’s party is attacked by local tribesmen, resulting in him being speared, but luckily able to make his escape after killing the tribe’s leader.


  • Queensland (Bundaberg) – mid June; Taribelang Aborigines clash against white settlers conducting a punitive retaliatory attack by 50 armed mounted men. A dawn attack on foot against 100 or so tribesmen caught them unawares resulting in a one sided contest. An eye witness noted that “the blacks put up a mighty fight against the firearms of the whites, they of course having no better weapons than spears”.
  • Queensland, 9 July – ‘Battle of Carbucky’, – A ten man detachment of Native Mounted Police (including three squatters), under Commandant Frederick Walker, move into the Goondiwindi area on the Condomine river to conduct operations against hostile tribes. Upwards of 150 Aborigines from the Fitzroy, Dawson and Condamine areas were planning additional raids launching a pursuit operation. The police detachment conducted a dawn raid resulting in an armed clash between the forces with the aboriginals retreating in the face of greater firepower.


  • Western Australia; there are ‘frequent and fatal collisions with squatters’ in the Champion Bay (Geraldton) region, north of Perth.
  • Victoria: resistance is largely broken in Victorian districts after several years of constant fighting between native forces and police and armed auxiliaries.
  • Queensland (Paddy’s Island) – August; A 100 man volunteer force, led by a black tracker, mounted a reprisal attack against 1000 aboriginals encamped on Burnett River for the killing of Gregory Blaxland (youngest son of the famed explorer). Launching a mounted charge the battle resulted in hundreds of deaths with the speed of the attack. As often happens surprise attacks against restive aboriginal forces often results in lopsided fatalities against indigenous tribesmen.
  • Queensland (Hornet Bank) – October; Yeeman Aborigines mount a reprisal attack against a pastoral station on Dawson River, 40 kilometres south-west of Taroom, Queensland. 100 warriors attack and kill the station settlers which sets of a series of attacks and retaliatory responses.


  • The Colony of Victoria established.


  • Queensland (Hornet Bank) – Settlement extends into the Dawson River region but is opposed by the fierce Jimans tribe. They conduct raids resulting in 1,400 sheep driven off.


  • Queensland, Brisbane area, Sandgate, – Aborigines attack Dowse family, who escape. The Incident leads to the establishment of a Native Police camp at Sandgate headed by Lt. Wheeler.
  • Victoria; The Native Police Force is disbanded as hostilities subside.


  • End of the Mandandanji Land War, southern Queensland (1842 – 1852).
  • South-Eastern Queensland; Dundalli, the charismatic warrior-leader, is captured and publicly hanged amid much tension in Brisbane town.
  • Queensland; Larcom Station, Port Curtis district – Aborigines murder five employees resulting in the Native Police pursuing the perpetrators, killing many.
  • Battle of Eureka Stockade in Ballarat, Central Victoria.


  • After Dundalli’s death, uprisings by the ‘united tribes’ occurs on the outskirts of Brisbane – at Sandgate and especially further north between Caboolture and Taroom – conflict continues and worsens for another decade.



Note – To give you a sense of just how many flash points occurred you can see a comprehensive (but not complete) listing of known encounters. Another very good website on Frontier Conflict is worth checking out – recommended.



One thought on “Australian Frontier Wars – chronology (1832 -1855)

  1. Again food for thought on guessing where you will commence your miniature contest Happy Wanderer. Have you enlisted trooper Rivers to run down the fearless Uncle Akers?


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