The Myall Creek massacre
As the British settlement spread away from Sydney and into the inland areas, violent clashes between Aboriginal peoples and settlers became more common. Although it was official government policy to protect the Aboriginal peoples, most settlers disregarded this policy. They attacked and killed many Aboriginal people for even the smallest crimes, or simply to keep them away from their settlement. Settlers who randomly killed Aboriginal people were rarely brought to justice. What was notable about the massacre of a group of Aboriginal people at Myall Creek in 1838 was that the British murderers were brought to trial; and seven were found guilty and hanged.
Myall Creek massacre
On 10 June 1838, a party of 12 men, consisting of 11 convict settlers and 1 free man, named John Fleming, arrived at a hut on Henry Dangar's Myall Creek station, in north-west New South Wales, near Inverell. They were there to capture any Aboriginal people they could find, in revenge for the theft of cattle. The men gathered 28 Aboriginal people who were at a camp nearby and tied them up. The men brutally beat the group to death; the group included women and children. Later, they collected the bodies and burned them. Refer Image 1
When the manager of the station returned several days later, he discovered the bodies and decided to report the incident to the authorities. A group of police investigated the incident and found the burnt bodies. The 11 convicts were captured and charged with murder, but John Fleming escaped. He was never captured and may have been responsible for further massacres throughout the Liverpool Plains and New England regions. Refer Image 2
There were 2 trials of the convicts. At each trial, a station-hand named George Anderson, who was living on the property, was the only British witness to the incident. In the first trial, the men were found not guilty of murdering 2 Aboriginal men, but in the second trial they were charged with the murder of one of the Aboriginal children. 7 of the men were found guilty and were sentenced to execution by hanging. The men were executed on the morning of 18 December 1838. This was the first time that the European legal system had been used to punish British people for crimes against Aboriginal people.
There was much anger among the British settlers that the 7 men were hanged for killing the Aboriginal people, who many regarded as 'black animals'. Although the trial and hangings were intended to stop the massacres on the frontier, it may have encouraged the settlers to further retaliate and to cover up the evidence. Indeed, the frontier battles and massacres continued to occur for many more years, causing countless deaths in both the Aboriginal and European populations.