Pemulwuy of the Eora
The Aboriginal peoples did not have big armies to fight the British invaders. Instead, they worked in small groups to harass the settlers and organise surprise raids on the settlements and camps, commonly called guerrilla tactics. One of the earliest Aboriginal men to lead a group of warriors and resist the invasion of the British settlers around Sydney was a man named Pemulwuy.
Pemulwuy was an Aboriginal that lived in the Sydney area between the coast and Castle Hill in the Eora language group. He was born in about 1760, died in 1802 and saw the British as invaders of Aboriginal land. Refer Image 1
Pemulwuy first came to the attention of the British when he speared and killed the governor's gamekeeper, John McIntyre, in 1790. McIntyre was believed to have killed a number of Aboriginal people in the area. Governor Phillip ordered a punitive expedition to revenge the death of the gamekeeper, but the troops failed to capture Pemulwuy. He was then declared an outlaw under British law.
Pemulwuy was responsible for organising small groups of Aboriginal warriors to attack British farms, small towns and troops around Parramatta and Toongabbie. Many settlers abandoned their properties as the raids continued. Refer Image 2
Soldiers were soon ordered to patrol farming areas and protect the settlers. Pemulwuy and his warriors then began using fire as a weapon. They lit fires in the hope of destroying the British farms, fences, crops, stock, houses and supplies. The British responded by organising revenge attacks against the Eora people. The Eora camps were attacked while the men were away hunting. Elderly people, women and children were shot and either wounded or killed.
Capture and death of Pemulwuy
After several years of organising resistance against the settlers, Pemulwuy was shot and seriously wounded during an attack on Parramatta in 1797. He was captured and imprisoned. Despite his injuries, Pemulwuy somehow escaped. The Eora people believed he turned into a crow and flew through the bars of his prison cell.
For 12 years, Pemulwuy and his warriors fought against the British; although he found it increasingly difficult to find strong warriors to make the raids. Many Aboriginal people were dying from the European diseases and in battles with the settlers. In 1802 a patrol shot Pemulwuy dead in an ambush. His head was cut off and it was sent to Sir Joseph Banks in London for research and display in a British museum. Refer Image 3
The governor at the time, Lieutenant Philip King, wrote: 'Although a terrible pest to the colony, he was a brave and independent character.' With the death of Pemulwuy the large scale resistance to the European invasion around the Sydney region ended, but Aboriginal resistance continued in most other areas as the British settlement spread.
The guerrilla tactics used by Pemulwuy were the same used by many Aboriginal groups on the frontier. There were other warriors, including Yagan in Perth, that have become well known; but Pemulwuy was the first to show the British settlers that the Aboriginal peoples were going to resist the invasion.