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'You have all this place, no good have children ...' Derrimut: traitor, saviour, or a man of his people?

The importance of Derrimut in the early history of the settlement of Melbourne cannot be overstated. Along with Benbow and Billibellary, Derrimut is a significant Aboriginal leader in the early history of Melbourne. Numerous Internet sites attest to his significance, (1) and Eidelson's guide to Aboriginal places in Melbourne includes Derrimut's memorial stone in the Melbourne General Cemetery as a site of significance. Derrimut is the subject of a short biographical piece published by C. Tudehope in 1963, and he is discussed in biographies of leading European men--such as John Batman and John Pascoe Fawkner; in secondary sources such as local histories of Prahran and Altona; in histories of Coranderrk and of the Native Police Corps, and general histories of Victoria. (2) Primary sources that refer to Derrimut include the journals of Fawkner, the journals and papers of Port Phillip Aboriginal Protectorate officials George Augustus Robinson and William Thomas; and official government reports. (3)

He is without a doubt a controversial and colourful figure. His actions were instrumental in preventing a massacre of John Pascoe Fawkner's party in late 1835. William Buckley wanted to spear him for his actions; (4) Massola considered he was a traitor; (5) Christie a collaborator; (6) Christiansen 'a go-between'; (7) Griffiths a person who 'crossed the boundary' and 'betrayed his people'; (8) and Barwick 'the saviour of Melbourne'. (9) However, these judgements need to be balanced against his actions in the late 1850s and early 1860s when he unsuccessfully fought to protect Boonwurrung rights to live on their traditional country at Mordialloc. When this reserve was finally taken from his people in July 1863, Barwick (10) asserts Derrimut became half-crazed with remorse and drank himself to death within the year.

Derrimut was a Yalukit-willam clan-head, whose name is believed to mean 'to pursue', or 'to hunt'. (11) The name Yalukit-willam probably means 'river camp' or 'fiver dwellers'. (12) A second name was recorded by Robinson who noted that Buddybarre, meaning 'salt water' or 'sea', was the name of Derrimut's tribe because his country was near the sea, (13) although this may be an alternate to the language name, Boonwurrung. The Yalukit-willam were associated with the coastal tract at the head of Port Phillip Bay extending to the Werribee River, and included Williamstown, Port Melbourne, St. Kilda, and Prahran. (14) They were one of six Boonwurrung clans.

Specific sites in the Yalukit-willam estate personally associated with Derrimut included the south bank of the Yarra River, from the punt at South Yarra to the Yarra wharf, where steamers moored. (15) The specific entries in Robinson's journal and papers are as follows:
 Bare.rar.run: Derrimart's country; (16)

 My bank W. belongs to Derrimart; (17)

 Naarm, or Narm, or Nearm, where the steamer stops, belongs to
 Derremot. (18)


In the 1858 evidence presented by magistrate William Hull (see below), Derrimut also described the site of the Bank of Victoria, in Swanston Street, between Collins and Flinders streets, in Melbourne's central business district, in the following terms: '... he pointed ... to the Bank of Victoria, he said, "You see, Mr Hull, Bank of Victoria, all this mine, all along here Derimut's once"'. (19)

The Yalukit-willam people spoke the Boonwurrung language, boon being their distinctive word for 'no', and wurrung meaning 'lips', 'mouth', and 'language'. 'Boonwurrung' is used, rather than 'Bunwurrung' or 'Bunerong', so that we stop mispronouncing the first vowel as the vowel of sun, pun, etc. (20) Howitt described Boonwurrung country as:
 ... A strip of country from the mouth of the Werribee River, and
 including what is now Williamstown and the southern suburbs of
 Melbourne, belonged to the Bunurong, a coast tribe, which occupied
 the coast line from there round Hobson's Bay to Mordialloc, the
 whole of the Mornington Peninsula, and the coast from Westernport
 Bay to Anderson's Inlet. (21)


The Boonwurrung were amongst the first of Victoria's indigenous peoples to have contact with Europeans. In October 1803, Lieutenant-Colonel David Collins arrived at Port Phillip Bay from England with 300 convicts and fifty marines and established a settlement on Boonwurrung land at what is now Sorrento, on the Mornington Peninsula. Amongst the passengers were convict William Buckley and eleven-year-old John Pascoe Fawkner. When William Buckley escaped from the Sorrento settlement in 1803 and eventually settled with the Wathawurrung-balug clan near Geelong, he travelled around the Bay on Boonwurrung land and is almost certain to have passed through Yalukit-willam country. Buckley and Fawkner later figure prominently in the history of the Yalukit-willam people.

Aboriginal people along the southern coasts of the continent had to cope with repeated incursions by sealers and possibly whalers between 1800 and 1834. Forceful clashes with Aboriginal men and forced intimacy with the women were common. In one known instance in 1833, four women were seized at Point Nepean by sealers who took them to their permanent camps on one of the Bass Strait islands (22). They were the wives or close kin of Ningerranaro, Derrimut, his brother and his sister's son. Nan.der.goroke was the name of Derrimut's abducted wife. (23)

The Yalukit-willam numbered about forty in 1830 (24). In the early 1840s, there were five leading men, including two clan-heads (arweet): Derrimut and Ningerranaro, and the latter's three sons--Budderup (Big Benbow), Boollut (Little Benbow, King Benbow), and Mungara (Mr Man).

The Yalukit-willam people were intimately associated with John Batman when he founded the Melbourne settlement in June 1835. It is Diane Barwick's thesis (25) that Batman's 1835 'treaties' with the leaders of clans, including the Yalukit-willam, near Melbourne are an example of how permission for temporary access was granted in a ritual exchange of gifts and formal presentation of tokens (soil, plants, water, food) symbolising the owners' hospitality. Batman's treaty overtures were, therefore, probably perceived by the Woiwurrung and Boonwurrung clan-heads as an amateurish attempt at initiating the required tanderrum (freedom of the bush) ritual. The boundaries indicated in the Batman treaties approximate the country of the Yalukit-willam and the Wurundjeri-baluk, and two Wathawurrung clans near Geelong with whom they inter-married. (26)

The Yalukit-willam's positive relationships with Europeans continued with the arrival of John Pascoe Fawkner and his party in July 1835. The relationship was so significant that the clan-head, Derrimut, warned Fawkner on two occasions of an impending Aboriginal attack on Fawkner's party. The first was a general warning of intention on 28 October 1835 when, wrote Fawkner 'The Blacks we learnt intended to murder us for our goods'. (27) The second, on 13 December 1835, was more specific. 'Derramuck came this day and told us that the natives intended to rush down upon us and plunder our goods and murder us, we cleaned our pieces and prepared for them ... I and two others chased the Blacks away some distance'. (28) Derrimut's warnings ensured that Fawkner's party was able to arm themselves in time to prevent the attack. Fawkner later recalled:
 I do not believe that one of us would have escaped. But fortunately
 for us the Melbourne party of Aborigines were favourable to us. They
 felt thankful for the things we gave them, and the lad Wm Watkins
 that belonged to us, took kindly to the Blacks and they to him, he
 taught them words of our language and very readily learnt theirs,
 and two of these sons of the soil, named Baitbanger and Darrimart
 formed a friendship with him and the latter told Watkins of the
 plan to murder the whole party, in order to possess themselves of
 our goods etc etc etc. Watkins could not make out the words used
 by Derrimart, who appeared much excited. I therefore called Buckley
 to explain what information the boy Watkins could not make out.
 Buckley having been 32 years with these blacks understood their
 language fully, and he at once declared that the Aborigines had
 agreed to murder all the white people by getting two or more of
 their fighting men alongside of each of our people, and upon a
 given signal each of us were to be cut down by blows on the head
 with their stone tomahawks, and the half savage Buckley declared
 that if he had his will he would spear Darrimart for giving the
 information . (29)


Fawkner's recollection that Buckley wanted to spear Derrimut for divulging the information is curious. Until Buckley translated Derrimut's warnings, Watkins and Fawkner had no understanding of what Derrimut was saying, and Buckley could easily have mistranslated his words and ensured that the attacks proceeded unhindered.

The entries in Fawkner's diary would suggest the purpose of the attack was simply to acquire the goods brought by the Europeans. Christie, however, has suggested the planned attack was a reaction to the fact that Fawkner's party had taken Aboriginal land without as much as a token payment. (30) The land it seemed was to be stolen, and not shared, and Christie considers the Kulin peoples may have decided to wipe out the Europeans before their numbers became even larger. It is not possible to confirm Christie's interpretation that the intended massacre was retributive. Tudehope believes a 'massacre would have caused the withdrawal of any possible survivors and the settlement of Port Phillip could well have been delayed for years'. (31) There is no doubt that contemporary observers shared Tudehope's perspective, for upon Derrimut's death the words they had inscribed in his tombstone referred to his noble actions that saved the first colonists from massacre.

The identity of the attackers is unclear. The people responsible for Derrimut's mortuary stone identified them as 'up-country tribes'; Fawkner, however, in his journal did not identify who they were, other than to infer that they did not belong to the 'Melbourne party of Aborigines'. The eastern Kulin groups who gathered in Melbourne at this time included Boonwurrung, Woiwurrung, Daungwurrung, Wathawurrung, and Djadjawurrung peoples. In the mid-1830s, there were tensions between the Wathawurrung and the Woiwurrung as evidenced by Batman's reluctance to work with the Woiwurrung; however, relations between the Boonwurrung and Wathawurrung were convivial. The explanation may simply be that the attackers were from eastern Kulin groups who had not formed a relationship with Fawkner's party and, therefore, there were no impediments to an attack aimed at securing their goods.

Accounting for Derrimut's actions is equally complex. Priestley considers it is possible he was 'protecting recognised access rights against violation by people who had not been party to the agreement'. (32) Since Batman had explained that he was a forerunner for other white people who would come in ships, no distinction was made by Aborigines between his associates and the Fawkner party. Barwick would have us understand that Derrimut may have been guaranteeing Fawkner's safety in accordance with traditional Kulin access rights. 'Visitors who had no entitlement could also seek formal permission from clan-heads for temporary access. The safety of all approved visitors was guaranteed. The system worked because reciprocity was the guiding principle of land and resource management'. (33) The rewards that Derrimut received from Fawkner--'we gave him clothes and food not only then, but have continued to do so until the present time' (34)--may support this interpretation. However, the view that Derrimut was protecting his friend and Fawkner's adopted son, William Watkins, from being murdered, and that this is why he disclosed the plot to Watkins, to ensure his safety, is also too simplistic. (35)

However, these interpretations are made in ignorance of the fragment in Thomas's papers that identifies the warnings as the outcome of discussions between Derrimut, Ningerranaro, Billibellary, and Bet Banger, revealing that Derrimut was not acting alone. The warnings were sanctioned by the leading Yalukit-willam and Wurundjeri-baluk clan-heads, and they need to be understood in this light.

Applying some of the literature on cross-cultural interaction, it may be possible to understand Derrimut as a 'culture-broker' or as an indigenous person succumbing to a non-indigenous culture in ways consistent with the 'demonstration effect'. (36) Though normally seen as 'marginal-men', culture-brokers control and manipulate local culture for the purposes of the exotic other, and through acquisition of a second language and through providing some kind of service to the colonisers, they often experience economic mobility and are more highly compensated than the monolinguals of their community. This term only partly applies to Derrimut, for it would be wrong to see him as 'marginal' within his community, for he was an 'arweet', a clan-head and was far from marginal.

Derrimut's willingness to wear European clothing, to drink European grog, and to use European weapons, are examples of changing value systems and attitudes and may be an example of the demonstration effect at work, where youths in particular are susceptible to external influence and 'voluntarily' seek to adopt certain behaviours and accumulate the material goods of their non-indigenous visitors.

The issue of collaboration of Aboriginal people who worked for European interlopers and assisted in the process of colonisation has been examined in some detail by Henry Reynolds. Reynolds found that 'collaboration was as common as confrontation'. (37) There is no doubting that Derrimut was closely associated with John Pascoe Fawkner, and the fledgling Melbourne settlement. He often went hunting and fishing with Fawkner (38) and was in his employ. In correspondence dated 10 April 1836, Fawkner noted that Baitbanger and Derrimut 'a chief from whom with others I bought my land, live with me, and frequently go out and shoot kangaroos, snakes, &c., for me'. (39) Derrimut and other Aboriginal men often formed a crew for Fawkner's boat and assisted to lighten the Enterprise in bad weather to enable her to get over the bar at the entrance to the channel near Williamstown. In July 1836, Derrimut joined in the search for the Aboriginal killers of Charles Franks and Flinders, his servant, who were killed at Mount Cotterell. (40)

Derrimut accompanied Fawkner to Van Diemen's Land in August 1836 in the Enterprise where, dressed in labourer's clothes, he was presented to Governor Arthur. Arthur presented him with a drummer's dress or uniform. (41) Presumably, these were the uniforms commonly worn by British units serving in Australia in the early 1800s, comprising red serge fatigue jacket, Kilmarnock (pork pie) forage cap, and red trousers.

Giving uniforms and other items of clothing, and other gifts to leading indigenous people was a common practice in early settler colonies. (42) Uniforms were a source of pride and, on the basis of contemporary observations, it would seem that Aboriginal people shared the colonial passion for sartorial elegance. Gorgets or breast-plates were also presented to leading figures. Fels, in an assessment of the Native Police Corps in Port Phillip, has discussed the importance of uniforms in the social economy of the time. (43) Boollut aka Benbow, one of Derrimut's Yalukit-willam contemporaries and a former member of the Corps, was 'seldom seen out of uniform, which was generally that of a commissariat in full dress, except the cocked hat. Mr Erskine used invariably to give him his left-off uniform, and Benboo never shrank when he wanted uniform from asking for it'. (44) Benbow was presented with a breast-plate, but there is no record of Derrimut ever receiving one.

Why Derrimut and Betbenjee were presented with drummer's uniforms, specifically, is not known, nor is it known what became of them as there are no accounts of the two men wearing them when they returned to Victoria.

Anderson refers to Derrimut as a 'black exhibit', (45) and to reinforce the interest in him, Benjamin Duterrau painted his portrait when he was in Tasmania. Duterrau's oil painting shows Derrimut naked except for a possum skin cloak around his waist. There is no evidence of the drummer's uniform presented to him by Governor Arthur. He shows the outward signs of initiation--rows of raised scars on his chest and arms. An interesting example of cultural adaptation are the two rings that adorn his fingers.

Botanist and naturalist Daniel Bunce met Derrimut during his 1836 visit to Tasmania. It was the first of several meetings between the two men. Bunce recounted his visit to Tasmania:
 ... Tasmania was honored by the arrival of some distinguished
 visitors from Port Phillip, which had just been discovered by Mr.
 John Batman, in the persons of two of its princes, or chiefs:
 Derrimut, King of the Werriby District; and Betbenjee, of the
 adjoining district, two brothers ... Of the two native chiefs, a
 singular instance of the effects of strong drinks may be related.
 On their arrival, they both got extremely intoxicated, and they
 both felt the sickening effects the following morning. Poor
 Derrimut was induced to taste 'a hair of the dog that bit him', and
 recommenced his debauch, and still continues a drunkard to this
 day. (46)


As a direct result of the visit of Derrimut to Tasmania, the Port Phillip Association made application to Lieutenant Governor Arthur respecting the abduction of Aboriginal women:
 ... some native women, I believe four in number, who have been
 forcibly taken from their husbands and families, from the southern
 coast of New Holland, by some men employed in sealing, and who
 frequent the islands in Bass Strait, and to request that His
 Excellency will be pleased to give the necessary instructions to
 the Commandant of Flinders Island [George Augustus Robinson] to
 take measures for restoring these women to their families. Two of
 the native men who have been deprived of their wives are known to
 the Association, and others who have become residents at Port
 Phillip are on terms of friendly intercourse with them. Indeed one
 of them [Derrimut] has been civilized by Mr Fawkner, in whose
 family he has resided for several months past, and is at this time
 on a visit to this place. (47)


In December 1836, George Robinson visited the fledgling Melbourne settlement to learn more about the abductions of Port Phillip Aboriginal women by sealers, and to take one or two of the men from whom the women had been taken, and for them to accompany him to islands, in order to identify the women. He held conference with William Buckley and the twenty or so Port Phillip Aboriginal people who were at the settlement. He found the Aboriginal people 'dreadfully afflicted with venereal', which he attributed to the 'depraved whites'. He noted that some of the children were afflicted, and some of the old people could hardly walk. (48) Robinson met Derrimut at Port Phillip in December 1836, and gained some information from him, including vocabulary. Robinson observed that Derrimut had venereal disease. (49) Robinson was horrified by the living condition of the Aboriginal people at the Melbourne settlement.
 The natives at Port Phillip are in a very wretched condition. The
 government ought to do something for them. One old woman was a mere
 skeleton and was lying with a wooden bowl with water in it by her
 side and nothing to shelter her from the weather. Some little
 children (girls) were sitting beside her and with great affection
 driving off the flies and assisting ... Another old woman was also
 in a dying state. (50)


Initially, Derrimut and one other agreed to accompany Robinson to the Bass Strait islands to identify their stolen women folk; however, on the day of departure they declined. Robinson believed they had been dissuaded from accompanying him by some of the 'depraved whites'. Police magistrate William Lonsdale, however, explained they were unwilling to go because 'it was so long since they went away that they did not care about their return'. (51) However, this uncaring attitude is not supported by Robinson's official report of his visit to Port Phillip wherein he describes a community extremely concerned with the loss of their wives and daughters and who 'expressed a great desire to have them restored'. (52)

The first attempt by government to address some of the negative aspects of the establishment of Melbourne on Aboriginal people was the Yarra Aboriginal Village Mission under the control of the missionary George Langhorne. A site was chosen on Yalukit-willam land in early 1837, known as Tromgin, in what is now the Royal Botanic Gardens in South Yarra. Its objective was to 'civilise' the Aboriginal peoples, by impressing upon them aspects of European lifestyle: religion, education, production and exchange. Those who lived at the mission were rewarded with rations for their agricultural labours, and those who did not work went unrewarded. Children were given rations when they attended school classes. By April 1838, the mission had become almost exclusively a domain of the Woiwurrung, with only a few Boonwurrung individuals present. The mission was closed the following year.

In 1837, a British House of Commons Select Committee recommended the establishment of an Aboriginal Protectorate in the Port Phillip District of New South Wales. In 1838, Robinson was appointed Chief Protector and with him four Assistant Protectors.

In May 1838, Derrimut and others informed Christian De Villiers, commandant of the Native Police Corps, of the names of Aboriginal people attacking sheep on pastoral runs around Melbourne. Six alleged offenders were taken prisoner and a further two arrested at Langhorne's mission station. (53) Priestley speculates that it is possible that Derrimut was using the white men as unwitting agents in some longstanding matter of tribal justice. (54)

The Aboriginal Protectorate commenced operations in early 1839. In 1839, the Yalukit-willam people were served by two assistant protectors. That portion of their estate west of the Yarra was Edward Parker's responsibility and formed part of the 'Loddon District', and that portion south of the Yarra, was William Thomas's responsibility and in the 'Westernport District'. However, after Parker moved from Woiwurrung country in November 1840 on to the Loddon River in Djadjawurrung country, the Yalukit-willam became the responsibility of Thomas.

The establishment of the Westernport District was hampered, initially, by Chief Protector Robinson's refusal to allow Thomas to leave Melbourne. By August 1839, Thomas had established quarters at Arthur's Seat, in Boonwurrung country, where his attentions outside Melbourne were concentrated until August 1840. However, much of his time was spent assisting Robinson in Melbourne, attempting to 'break-up' the Aboriginal camps by the Yarra River, and in discouraging others from entering the town's vicinity. Those campsites on the south side of the Yarra River, at Yarra Falls and at Tromgin (now the Royal Botanic Gardens), were on traditional Yalukit-willam land.

Early entries in the journal of William Thomas, kept from January 1839, reveal that the Boonwurrung and Woiwurrung had trouble obtaining game and vegetable food in the vicinity of Melbourne, and they were suffering from introduced diseases. Europeans objected when Aboriginal people entered fenced paddocks to hunt and, consequently, they were forced to subsist by begging and cutting bark and firewood for the intruders.

In the early years of the Aboriginal Protectorate, Derrimut and his family moved freely around Boonwurrung country. In July and October 1839, he visited the Wathawurrung people at Geelong. He visited Thomas's station at Tubberrubberbil (Arthur's Seat) in June 1840, and often camped near the Yarra Falls and at Tromgin.

In February 1839, William Thomas and his wife, Susannah, cared for Derrimut and his family who were suffering from influenza. Mrs Thomas gave them a quart of tea and bread every morning, until they recovered. (55) Thomas noted that 'their gratitude was always evinced'. Derrimut's family included his mother Dindu, and his brother Tal.lar, aka Tom. In March 1839, Derrimut was recorded by Robinson as not having any wives; however, by October 1845, Maywerer, aka Maria, a Wathawurrung woman from Geelong had become his wife. (56)

In March 1839, Langhorne reported to Robinson that he had received word that the Daungwurrung were coming to Melbourne to kill Derrimut for some supposed outrage he had been guilty of, in killing a native man of another tribe. (57) In April 1839, Derrimut arranged a corroboree at Melbourne for visiting dignitary Lady Franklin. (58)

In July 1839, reports circulated that Derrimut and others had been employed by Europeans to massacre some Gulidjan people at Lake Colac. These reports were never substantiated. (59) He was also accused of being implicated in the death of an Aboriginal youth named Peter, in the employ of George Langhorne, in September 1839. (60) Robinson noted that the Woiwurrung told him that Derrimut, Mr King and Billy Lonsdale had killed the youth; however, when Robinson spoke to Derrimut on the matter, he denied the charge. The following day Thomas complained to Robinson that he had visited the native camp on the Yarra River where a drunken Derrimut 'threatened to throttle him'. (61) Derrimut was drunk again on 11 November 1839, and Thomas made the following entry in his journal:
 At night an awful uproar. A Sydney (Joe, late at Barman's) and a
 Port Phillip black (Derrimut) came at 10 o'clock, drunk, into the
 encampment. They had fallen in to the Yarra and were vociferating
 against the whites who Derrimut said had stole his hat and stick.
 He was going to spear his poor old mother. I got the woman in my
 tent. Was up till three o'clock. What an awful life I lead.
 Derrimut otherwise is very fond of his mother. Drunkenness and
 swearing is all that these people seem to have learned, and
 firing off a gun. (62)


Derrimut was drunk again later in the month and Thomas noted 'Derrimut came in drunk and capered around like a maniac. I went in among them but you might as well talk to gum trees'. (63)

Derrimut was considered by early observers to be unpredictable when he was drunk. G. M. Langhorne considered he had 'ferocious propensities'. (64) The punt-keeper at the old-punt bridge told Magistrate William Hull that Derrimut was 'a very dangerous man when he is drunk'. (65) Hull was to find this out in the early 1840s when he made a comment to a drunk Derrimut, who was hosting a corroboree, and in anger Derrimut attempted to spear him. (66) There were times when Derrimut injured female companions. (67)

In late 1839, Daniel Bunce arrived in Melbourne, and he recounted that Derrimut 'was the first to greet us on our arrival'. Derrimut and three other leading Boonwurrung men led Bunce on an excursion to the Dandenong Ranges and to Western Port. (68)

Thomas abandoned the protectorate station at Arthur's Seat in September 1840, and established a second station at Narre Narre Warren that same month, only to abandon it in March 1842. From June 1842, Thomas was based at the confluence of the Merri Creek and Yarra River, where he visited Aboriginal camps in Melbourne.

From the time of his association with Fawkner, Derrimut carried firearms. For example, on 21 September 1839 he went to Gellibrand Point to shoot ducks for J. P. Fawkner. (69) In August 1840, an Act was proclaimed that prohibited Aboriginal people from possessing firearms without the written permission of a justice of the peace. (70)

Derrimut was never a member of the Native Police Corps but was critical of the generosity of their provisions: 'the police only walk [ie. drilled] and get plenty to eat and good clothes'. (71) However, in November 1845, Derrimut was one of five wayegerers (messengers) who visited the Daungwurrung relaying information from Chief Protector Robinson. (72)

In June 1846, on government orders, Thomas removed the valuables from the willams of the Boonwurrung camp then wrecked and burnt them. He ordered the fifty-one residents to disperse. Thomas lamented that he had to order them to move every time a European objected. 'Poor fellows, they are now compelled to shift almost at the will and caprice of the whites'. Their hardship was intensified because there was no bark left in the district and they were now compelled to build 'mud huts'. The breaking up of camps continued unabated in the latter part of the 1840s. In January 1849, at one Boonwurrung camp, Thomas was asked 'where were they to go, why not give them a station'. On 28 February, the Yalukit-willam came to Thomas and pleaded for 'a country to locate themselves upon'.

Opposition to the Aboriginal Protectorate saw the formation of a Select Committee in 1849 to enquire into the Protectorate. The Committee recommended its abolition and the Protectorate formally closed in March 1850 when Chief Protector Robinson surrendered his office and handed his official papers over to La Trobe's staff.

In January 1850, Derrimut and others visited the Gippsland lakes, where they camped for some weeks before returning to Melbourne. (73) In March 1852, Robinson, preparing for his return to England, acquired a daguerreotype of Derrimut. (74)

In place of the Protectorate, William Thomas was appointed 'Guardian of Aborigines' for the colony of Victoria. Thomas concentrated his efforts in the Melbourne district. By June 1852, he had secured 832 acres (367 ha) at Mordialloc, a favourite camping place of the Boonwurrung, and 1,908 acres (772 ha) at Warrandyte for the Woiwurrung peoples. The reservations were the result of a bargain he made with La Trobe who wanted them kept out of Melbourne. Thomas was authorised to issue occasional supplies of food and clothing to the aged and ill.

In the early 1850s, based at Mordialloc, Derrimut befriended an English lawyer cum professional game-shooter, Horatio Wheelwright, who lived near the Aboriginal camps at Mordialloc for several years. He camped on the beach on Alexander McDonald's 'Moody Yallock' station, which he described as'the best fishing station in this part of the country'. Wheelwright explained that when he camped at Mordialloc, he 'lived on very neighbourly terms' with the Boonwurrung people, who 'generally had their miamies close to my hut; and as I never made too free with them, or gave them a promise I did not intend to keep, I was a bit of a favourite with them'. (75) It is also clear that Wheelwright had a very high opinion of Derrimut:
 Some of our chaps I used to like very much; and when my old
 friend, King Dermot, is gathered to his fathers, I trust his
 prediction to me upon one occasion will be verified--that 'When
 he tumbled down, he should go up long way and fly about, all
 same big one eagle-hawk'. (76)


Derrimut was still living at Mordialloc in April 1856, for Daniel Bunce recounts meeting him there on 27 April. (77)

In 1858, a Victorian government Select Committee enquired into the condition of the Aboriginal people of Victoria. The Select Committee was told of the Yalukit-willam leader Derrimut's despair as the immigrants built homes on his land--'you have all this place, no good have children'--and Thomas had fought every European move to interfere with the Boonwurrung camp at Mordialloc. Hull informed the Committee of Derrimut's fatalism:
 ... if this committee could get Derimut and examine him, I think
 he would give the committee a great deal of valuable information
 with respect to himself and his tribe, which would be very
 interesting; he speaks moderately good English, and I was told
 by a black a few days ago that he was still alive, and that he
 'lay about in St. Kilda'. The last time I saw him was nearly
 opposite the Bank of Victoria, he stopped me and said 'You give me
 shilling, Mr Hull'. 'No', I said, 'I will not give you a shilling,
 I will go and give you some bread,' and he held his hand out to me
 and said 'Me plenty sulky you long time ago, you plenty sulky me;
 no sulky now, Derimut soon die,' and then he pointed with a
 plaintive manner, which they can affect, to the Bank of Victoria,
 he said, 'You see, Mr Hull, Bank of Victoria, all this mine, all
 along here Derimut's once; no matter now, me soon tumble down.' I
 said, 'Have you no children?' and he flew into a passion
 immediately, 'Why me have lubra? Why me have picanninny? You have
 all this place, no good have children, no good have lubra, me
 tumble down and die very soon now'. (78)


Bonwick interpreted this passage in a discussion on the 'decline' of the Aboriginal people of Victoria. 'They lose heart with the helplessness of their situation. Derrimut thus tells the sorrows of his people, when speaking to a magistrate in Melbourne, and pointing down the leading street of the city...'. (79)

Thomas told the Select Committee of the health of the Boonwurrung people and of their fondness for the Mordialloc reserve:
 Their general condition, as far as the necessaries of life are
 concerned ... they want for nothing, nor need nor want. They are
 fond of their reserve, and when inclined, return to it, where are
 always tea, sugar, flour, tobacco, and soap, and have had from
 1852 an annual distribution of a pair of good ordinance blankets.
 Their health, when they keep in the bush and are working with
 respectable farmers, their bodily health is as good as regular
 living Europeans. It is only when they stop for a week or two near
 a public inn, or with low characters, that their enervated
 constitutions are materially affected, which I have known so rapid
 that a few days have ended their career. (80)


The 1858 Select Committee recommended that reserves be formed for the various tribes, on their traditional hunting ranges where agriculture was to be combined with the grazing of livestock.

In 1860, though based at Mordialloc, Derrimut would frequently come to Melbourne and often become drunk and end up in the Melbourne watch house. For example, Thomas found him in the watch house on 27 February 1860, and he 'gave him a severe lecture' and he had him released on the promise of returning to Mordialloc. (81) Derrimut returned to Melbourne in September 1860, and on 10 September 1860 Thomas once again released Derrimut from the watch house, and he noted in his journal 'get him out of town most miserable object'. (82)

In June 1860, the Victorian government established a Central Board 'appointed to watch over the interests of the Aborigines'. Reserves were set aside in Victoria, and those peoples not served by a reserve were catered for by a second system, that of local guardians who functioned as honorary correspondents to the Central Board, and as suppliers of foodstuffs and clothing. (83) The Mordialloc Reserve, decreased in size to 640 acres, was never gazetted as a reserve--it was set aside as a gentleman's agreement between Thomas and La Trobe. Thomas explained it as follows:
 The Yarra and Coast tribes have been supplied for years, by an
 arrangement between Mr La Trobe and myself, in order to prevent
 the five distant tribes from thronging Melbourne, and my
 impression is, that it has not cost Government for the Yarra and
 Coast tribes 80 [pounds sterling] per annum. I formed two depots,
 one at Mount Disappointment and the other at Moody Yallock, after
 a consultation with the blacks themselves. The arrangement has
 been successful and the metropolis freed from the frequent visits
 of upwards of 700 blacks with their dogs. (84)


The salting industry encroached on the Mordialloc reserve. The demand for salted fish grew with the influx of Chinese to the gold fields. Schnapper, when salted well, fetched between 1 [pounds sterling] to 30s per dozen, and at Mordialloc a canvas town of fishermen's tents mushroomed between September and Christmas, when up to fifty boats fished the schnapper grounds. The Chinese found it more profitable to buy the fish at Mordialloc, and salt and dry them on large pieces of canvas spread out on the ground. The salting industry employed over a hundred people and both Chinese and Europeans encroached on the Aboriginal reserve. In 1858, with 'apparently little use being made of the reserve, the locals, including the Chinese, approached the Board of Land and Works to sell the reserve as a township site, so that the fishermen could build homes'. (85) Thomas fought for the retention of the reserve, disputing local assertions that only two or three Aboriginal people used the area.

'There were,' he wrote, 'over ten Bunurongs left and the area was frequently visited by the Yarra tribe'. He had preached to between fifty and sixty Aboriginals on the reserve in October 1857. He concluded that soon the blacks would be extinct; 'till then I trust not a perch will be wrested from them'. His trust was misplaced. Two years later he was protesting against efforts to have the reserve declared a public commonage, but now his health was fading, and the battle was lost. In the opinion of the Commissioner of Lands and Survey, the Mordialloc Hotel and the numerous fishermen made the area 'unsuitable' for Aborigines: they were better off elsewhere. 'Elsewhere' was suggested as Lyndhurst but this was vetoed by the Board of Land and Works who opposed the granting of Aboriginal areas within twenty-five miles of Melbourne. (86)

The reserve was included in the Mordialloc Farmers' Common, duly proclaimed in February 1861, consisting of 4,960 acres. A month later it was renamed the Farmers' Common at Mordialloc and Moorabbin, and its boundaries extended by 3,000 acres, carefully delineated to cover the entire northern half of the swamp.

Derrimut was once again in Melbourne in October 1861, and on 16 November 1861 he was in the Melbourne lock-up, and was brought before the Bench comprising Thomas, Magistrate Hull, and Dr Eades. Thomas noted in his journal that he 'gave him [a] severe lecture'. (87)

On 7 July 1862, Thomas authorised a re-issue of blankets to Derrimut, noting in his journal:
 I authorize Derrimut--I fear has sold his pair of blankets--I
 state though a great drunkard--from his age & the service he
 rendered in preserving the lives of the 1st settlers Fawkner
 &c.--to let him have another pair. (88)


Derrimut was back in the lock-up on 17 October 1862. Thomas visited the Mordialloc reserve on 4 November 1862, taking with him an extra pair of blankets for Derrimut. At the reserve, Derrimut angrily asked why he 'let white man take away Mordialloc where black fellows always sit down'. The Lands Board had approved its sale and surveyors were already dividing it into allotments. The Boonwurrung feared they would soon see 'ploughs furrowing up the bones of their ancestors'. Thomas knew their dead had been buried there since 1839 and protested to the Central Board about the 'cruelty' of the Survey Department. These protestations came to nothing. On 31 December 1862, Thomas noted that Derrimut was still complaining about the surveyors. (89)

Thomas met some Boonwurrung in Melbourne on 23 January 1863. He noted that 'they complain of country taken from them & no good white man--no good Governor--I try to pacify them--poor creatures they think Marminarta can do all for them I tell them Board bigger than Marminarta & Governor more big than Board--they said no more Blkfellows have country'. (90)

On 25 January 1863 Thomas, whilst on his rounds in Melbourne, learned that an Aboriginal man had been taken to hospital 'early in morning found drunk, bruised, and very ill'. Thomas went to the hospital and discovered that the 'Dr had ordered him immediately in a warm bath--found it King Deremut, the man had much trouble with him scrambling out of the bath till I pacified him and he went thro' the process'. (91) Thomas visited Derrimut the following day, however, by 28 January he had 'eloped from the hospital', Thomas noted that he was very anxious about Derrimut and went to see the police sergeant where he learned that by 3 o'clock Derrimut was seen drunk again.

Some 2,300 acres (931 ha) of land at Coranderrk were reserved on 30 June 1863 for east Kulin peoples, and within a week the sale of the Mordialloc reserve was announced. With this, the Boonwurrung had lost the last of their territory, however, nine old men and women remained near Mordialloc and Cranbourne where the last of them, Jimmy Dunbar and his wife Nancy, died in 1877. (92) On 6 July 1863, Thomas accompanied by John Pascoe Fawkner went to see Heales to 'protest against sale of aborigl reserve'.

Derrimut remained at Mordialloc where he lived with other Boonwurrung people such as George, Mary, and Mr Man. On 4 December 1863, he was readmitted to the Melbourne Hospital. Thomas noted on 11 December that he thought Derrimut was 'nearly blind'.

In January 1864, Derrimut was the subject of a report into his mistreatment by two nurses. A committee met on 5 January to consider the charge. Thomas attended the meeting and advocated that the two ward attendants not be discharged but removed to another ward; however, he was over-ruled by the committee.

Confined in the hospital, Derrimut received regular visits from Thomas who brought him 'little comforts' such as oranges. On several occasions Thomas was accompanied by other concerned visitors such as Mrs Thomas, John Pascoe Fawkner, and Mr Warren the Honorary Correspondent. When Fawkner visited on one occasion, Derrimut grasped his hand and said 'Oh my Brother Johnny long long time ago'. He was much delighted to see Warren. However, it was the visits from his country-people that gave him the most joy. For example, on 8 January 1864, three men and a women from Mordialloc were in Melbourne and anxious to see Derrimut. Thomas made 'them deposit their swags near the gate'. He recorded their meeting, thus: 'Poor Derremut cried & so did Mr Man who hung his head on the breast of Deremut like Esau & Jacob, I was forced at length to separate them'. (93)

On 29 January 1864, the Argus published a story on Derrimut, claiming 'he was completely recovered, he is now only kept in hospital until Mr Thomas the Protector of Aborigines can make some provision for his support'. Thomas wrote to Smyth on the matter: 'Derrimut has not recovered his left arm is still paralysed I visit him daily and take him in what he wants and this day and Mr Fawkner and will see to his conveyance to Mordialloc'. (94)

Derrimut was reluctant to remain in hospital, and he regularly entreated Thomas to be allowed to return to Mordialloc; however, Thomas persuaded him he was not well enough to leave the hospital. On 27 February 1864, Thomas received the following letter from J. Williams, the superintendent of the Melbourne Hospital:
 I am requested to inform you that the aborig'l named in the margin
 [Derrimut], will not derive further benefit from a longer
 residence in the Hospital and to ask the favor of your kind
 offices for his removal. I may also remark that the overcrowded
 state of the institution renders it essential to relieve the wards
 by discharging as many of the least urgent cases as possible. (95)


On this letter, Thomas wrote a 'private note to myself':
 Derrimut was about 20 years of age or 21 when he saved the lives
 of Fawkner & others--he was joined by Ningernoul 24 & Ben Benger
 18 yrs--in agreement with Billibellary aged 30 yrs--these secured
 the lives of 1st settlers.


This is an interesting annotation; for the first time it identifies the leading Aboriginal men responsible for the intervention that forewarned the settlers of the impending attack. Ningerranaro (or Ningernoul) belonged to the same clan as Derrimut; Billibellary was an eminent clan-head of the Wurundjeri-baluk, (96) the Woiwurrung clan adjoining the Yalukit-willam, and the clan of Dindu, Derrimut's mother. This scrap of information also confirms that Derrimut was not acting alone; that he was acting with the full authority of eminent Boonwurrung and Woiwurrung arweet and ngurungaeta. It confirms that the 'traitor' hypothesis is simplistic and of little value.

Thomas attended a meeting of the Committee of the Benevolent Society on 10 March 1864, concerning his application for admission of Derrimut to the Benevolent Asylum. The asylum, in Victoria Street, North Melbourne, had opened on 27 November 1851, (97) and Cannon explains the people who were sent to the Asylum were primarily' aged and incurable paupers'. (98) Thomas, in a letter to Smyth, reported on the meeting:
 I was examined by the committee, stated forcibly that the Central
 Aboriginal Board for the Protection of Aborigines had always
 attended to his wants, were ready to build a hut for him, and have
 a man to look after him, but I considered, taking into
 consideration his manner of living, that for his comfort the
 asylum was the fittest place for him to end his days.

 I stated particularly to the Committee that the Central Aboriginal
 Board would pay any charge the committee may require for his
 maintenance. After some time I was requested to retire. The
 chairman stated 'that if the committee admitted him I should
 receive a letter'. No letter came on Thursday or yesterday up
 to 2 p.m., a little after a note came to the hospital requesting
 Derrimutt to be forwarded to the asylum. Derrimut was put into a
 comfortable warm bath, clean and clad and forwarded. (99)


On 11 March 1864, Derrimut was transferred from the Melbourne Hospital to the Benevolent Asylum. Thomas compiled a brief history of Derrimut 'from the commencement of his living in the hospital to his admission to the Benevolent Asylum':
 Early on Sunday morning the 25th of Jan'y 1863 1 visited the lock
 up at Melbourne after 3 of my blacks--find that Derrimutt had been
 found during the night helplessly drunk and paralysed in a water
 course and had been taken to the hospital by orders of the
 sargeant of police. I saw him the same morning, struggling with
 the man in the bath room he was pacified on my entrance and went
 thro' the ordeal. On the 27th however he had managed to get out
 of the hospital and on the 28th about 3 p.m. was seen drunk again.
 On the 4th February poor Derrimut was found in a most miserable
 state, had sold his clothes and paralysed and brought again once
 more to the Melbourne hospital where he has remained till his
 removal to the Benevolent Asylum on the 11th of March 1864. (100)


Thomas visited Derrimut in the asylum on 13 March and Derrimut, although he was very comfortable, complained that he was not receiving his three 'noblers'. Thomas promised he would try to secure these for him.

On 27 March 1864, Thomas visited the Benevolent Asylum only to find Derrimut' comfortable but much weaker'. He saw the medical assistant who reported that he had all the comforts including brandy as per the hospital's sanction which he received both night and day. (101) The warden reported that Derrimut had been examined and it was found that his lungs 'are near gone'.

Thomas visited the asylum on 14 April 1864, only to find Derrimut in a bad way and not expected to live much longer. Thomas stayed some time with him, and at the request of the attendant managed to get him 'to take an egg in his grog, nicely beat up'. Thomas requested to be informed immediately should Derrimut's condition worsen.

A small group of the Boonwurrung came to Melbourne on 16 April 1864 to see Derrimut, but as they were 'under the influence of liquor' Thomas would not permit them to see him. Thomas wrote in his journal 'Poor Derrimutt very much weaker'.

Thomas visited Derrimut the following day only to find that his condition had worsened, he 'cannot discharge his phlegm only by being racked up--he is so gratified at seeing me. I direct him to look up to that great Father of us all who will take his soul & mine if we very sorry for all bad done'.

As Derrimut's condition deteriorated, Thomas sought to arrange for a photographer to visit the asylum and take his photograph. The photographer was unwilling to visit the asylum, and Thomas stated 'if I can only get the likeness of the man I shall be satisfied--his price I will pay & take his apparatus--he demurs & says he might lose customers while absent'. (102) Thomas's efforts to photograph Derrimut before his death were unsuccessful.

Thomas received a note from the Benevolent Asylum on 25 April, informing him that 'a great change has taken place in Deeremut he is raking', (103) and he visited Derrimut at 10.00 a.m. on the following day, and stayed half an hour with him. Although' near his end he is sensible'. Thomas noted in his journal the exchange the two men had:
 Direct him as I had oft before to the great father above--I was
 much pleased he pointed up every now & then his finger. 'There
 good marmar Bundgyl murrumbeek bar murrumbinna marmar--bondeep
 nge'. I said, 'Nulworen murrum bar soul'. He caught hold of my
 hands squeezed it, said, 'Bondup nulworthy my soul'. I had a
 prayer with him, he said, 'Nangana murrumbenna barbar eran'.
 (104) I thank the medical officers. The Drs enquire in the event
 of his death if I should have any objection to a post mortem
 examination--I stated I saw no objection for scientific purposes.


Later that day, Thomas learned that Fawkner had visited Derrimut on Monday 25 April. He also received a note from the asylum, informing him that Derrimut had died in the afternoon at 4 o'clock, 26 April 1864. Thomas visited the asylum the following morning and learned that Derrimut had died soon after Thomas had left-this surprised Thomas, as 'he was so sensible'. Thomas thanked the medical officers and they were anxious to know the details of Derrimut's interment.

Derrimut's body was buried in the Melbourne General Cemetery on Wednesday 24 August 1864, almost four months after his death.

In the intervening period arrangements were made for a tombstone to mark his grave. On 7 May 1864, Thomas met Judge R. W. Pohlman, who informed him that he had forwarded one pound for 'tombstone to poor Derrimutt and if was needed he was ready to add and that every facility for removed his body to where me and Mr Fawkner wished'. The following day, in conversation with John Fawkner, Thomas learned that '2.2 [pounds sterling] had been received from Judge Barry, and from Judge Pohlman and Williams 1 [pounds sterling] each'. (105) Thomas gave 1 [pounds sterling] subscription to Fawkner on 13 May 1864.

Thomas was responsible for drafting the text for the tombstone. The following version is found in his journal entry for 16 May 1864:
 Derrimutt: The last of the chiefs of the Boonoorong or Western
 Port tribe died 26th of April 1864 at Benevolent Asylum aged about
 52 years. He preserved the lives of the first colonists, when
 about to be massacred by the upcountry tribes--300 were assembled
 together at Melbourne 1835 for that purpose. Wm Thomas.


Redmond Barry sent the following letter to Thomas on the matter of the inscription:
 Be so good as to present my compliments to Mr Fawkner and thank
 him for his courtesy in tendering me to the proposed inscription
 to be placed on the tombstone of the departed chief Derrimutt. The
 modest epitaph appears to me very suitable--I am unwilling to
 propose any alteration. It is probable that additional interest
 would be given to it were mention made of the person to whom the
 information was given. This monumental testimony of the enterprise
 of the first settlers and the lasting record of their names may
 prove valuable to the future history or Macauley of Victoria.

 A few colonists have erected this stone in memory of the native
 chief Derrimut who by timely information prevented the first
 settlers from massacre October 1835 by some of the up country
 tribes of Aborigines. He closed his mortal career in the
 Benevolent Asylum May 26th 1864 aged about 54 years. (106)


The tombstone was erected at Derrimut's grave in the Melbourne General Cemetery on Friday 26 August 1864. The stone has the following inscription, which confirms that several changes were made to previous drafts:
 This stone was erected by a few colonists to commemorate the noble
 act of the native chief Derrimut, who by timely information given
 October 1835 to the first colonists, Messrs Fawkner, Lancey,
 Evans, Henry Batman, and thier [sic] dependants; saved them from
 massacre planned by some of the up-country tribes of Aborigines.
 Derrimut closed his mortal career in the Benevolent Asylum, May
 28th, 1864, aged 54 years.


It is curious that the date of Derrimut's death on the headstone is incorrect, as he had died on Tuesday 26 April 1864.

On 30 August 1864, Thomas visited Robert Brough Smyth and received a request from him 'to get skull of poor Derrimut'. The following day, Thomas went to the cemetery to enquire about getting the skull. He was told that he needed to obtain the consent of the Trustees, whose next meeting was planned for 13 September. Thomas reported this requirement to Smyth. Thomas went to the Trustees meeting on 13 September, but only two members turned up--not enough for a quorum--and the meeting was abandoned. They recommended Thomas submit an 'application to government'. Thomas wrote a formal letter to the cemetery Trustees on 11 October 1864:
 I have been solicited by a scientific gentleman who is about
 writing an elaborate work on the aborigines of Victoria the
 Trustees' permission to get the skull and pelvis of Derriemut,
 they will be photographed and careful measurements will he taken,
 after that they will be restored to the grave. (107)


On this letter, Thomas wrote a memorandum:
 Dear Smyth, I have just rec'd this letter from the Trustees of the
 Melbourne Cemetery. No one but you & I know who that scientific
 gentleman is.


It is clear that R. B. Smyth is the 'scientific gentleman' about to write 'an elaborate work on the aborigines of Victoria'. Smyth's two-volume opus, published in 1878, was entitled 'The Aborigines of Victoria ...', and he commenced collating information for his work in the early 1860s. In this work, Smyth includes an appendix devoted to craniology, written by George B. Halford, a professor of anatomy and physiology in the University of Melbourne, and whilst this does not contain any information on Derrimut, it does present the craniology of Jimmy Dunbar, a Boonwurrung man who died at Mordialloc in 1877. The other person who may be behind Smyth's interest is French phrenologist M. Sohier, who had established a phrenology practice in Melbourne in the early 1860s) (108) Research into the outcome of this request is continuing; however, it seems that it was refused. (109)

Local historian, J. B. Cooper has discussed the last few years of Derrimut's life:
 ... for years before that he lived in the neighbourhood of St. Kilda
 and Prahran. He was a well-known figure to Prahran residents of
 those years, as he wandered about the streets with two aboriginal
 women and a number of miserable looking dogs. J. P. Fawkner
 frequently befriended him, but nothing could induce Derimut to give
 up the freedom that was his savage heritage. When he was carried to
 the asylum he was already in a dying condition. (110)


Derrimut's grave is an important mortuary site in Victoria, and is an important cultural site in Melbourne. Derrimut's name persists in the electoral district of Derrimut; the Parish of Derrimut (proclaimed in 1860), west of Melbourne; in Mount Derrimut; and the Mount Derrimut property north of the Truganina cemetery; and streets in Footscray and Sunshine.

Fels has commented on the value of biographical enquiry, arguing that 'it becomes not so much a question of examining the evidence of description, but rather of piecing together the fragments of information about individually named acting persons, making connections and making sense of them'. (111) She argues that the 'tiny details of Aboriginal lives and living are as necessary to an understanding of Australia's past as are the tiny details of European lives and living'. (112) This study of Derrimut is an example of the value of biographical research.

Derrimut looms larger than almost any other Aboriginal person in Melbourne's early history, with the possible exceptions of Billibellary and Benbow. (113) During his lifetime, he suffered the abduction of his wife by sealers off Point Nepean in 1833; he witnessed the establishment of Melbourne in 1835; he visited Tasmania in 1836; and he saw numerous systems of government indigenous policy come and go, such as the Port Phillip Aboriginal Protectorate; and he saw the Central Board for the Protection of Aborigines dispossess the Boonwurrung from their last piece of land at Mordialloc in the early 1860s.

How should we understand the historical actions and the life of Derrimut, the clan-head of the Yalukit-willam peoples? Was he a traitor to his people? Was he the saviour of Melbourne? On the other hand, was he a man of his people? There is no doubting his importance in the early history of Melbourne. That Derrimut prevented a massacre of Fawkner's party in late 1835 is clear. After his death in 1864, his memorialists believed his noble actions had 'saved them from massacre'. One contemporary, William Buckley, and later commentators, such as Massola, clearly perceived his actions were those of a traitor; however, this view is too simplistic. He may well have been acting to protect a party whose presence had been formally approved, or he may simply have been protecting the lives of his friends. The traitor hypothesis does not sit comfortably with his attempts, in the late 1850s and early 1860s, to secure and maintain his people's rights to live on traditional Boonwurrung country. These are not the actions of a traitor who has turned his back on his people and his heritage.

He formed relationships with people as diverse as Chief Protector George Augustus Robinson, Assistant Protector and later Guardian William Thomas, the entrepreneur John Pascoe Fawkner, the botanist Daniel Bunce, the magistrate William Hull, and the professional game hunter Horatio Wheelwright. From what these men write of him, and what we know of their interactions with him, it is clear that Derrimut had gained their respect and affection and friendship. As a mark of his regard for him, Robinson ensured that when he left Victoria in 1852 to return to England, he took with him a daguerreotype of Derrimut, a Boonwurrung leader he had known for some twenty-six years. After his death, a group of leading men memorialised him by placing a tombstone on his grave that honoured his actions.

Was Derrimut, as a clan-head, 'a man of his people'? Did he care deeply about his people? Did he have their admiration and respect throughout the length and breadth of his domain? The evidence points strongly to this conclusion. He moved freely around the country of eastern Kulin clans, and only people who were respected were able to serve as waygerrers or messengers between language groups. There seems little doubt of his authority in the chronicling of his actions to ensure his people, the Boonwurrung, had' a country to locate themselves upon'. The selection of the site at Mordialloc, an important Boonwurrung camping place, ensured his people had continuity with 'the bones of their ancestors'. However, after his people had the Mordialloc reserve wrested from them in July 1863, Derrimut's health deteriorated, and his last days were spent in the Melbourne Hospital and finally the Benevolent Asylum where he died Tuesday 26 April 1864.

School of Business

University of Ballarat

Notes

The different spellings of Derrimut's name that appear in the quotations within this article are all as they appear in the original documents.

(1) For example, http://www.arts.monash.edu.au/cais/ekulin/clan/people/Derri.htm describes Derrimut as 'one of the best-known Aborigines in the early days of Port Phillip'. http:// www.sprint.net.au/~rpascoe/community/st.albans_folder/ARC/arc.html claims that Derrimut was 'rewarded' for warning the whites of impending black attack 'by having his name immortalised in the landscape'.

(2) C.M. Tudehope, 'Derrimut, an Aborigine of the Yarra Tribe' in Victorian Naturalist, 79, 1963, pp. 288-95; H. Anderson, Out of the Shadow: the career of John Pascoe Fawkner, Melbourne, 1962; A.H. Campbell, John Batman and the Aborigines, Malmsbury, 1987; J.B. Cooper, The History of Prahran From its First Settlement to a City, Melbourne, 1912; S. Priestley, Altona, a long view, Melbourne, 1988 D.E. Barwick, Rebellion at Coranderrk, Canberra, Aboriginal History Monograph 5, 1998; M.H. Fels, Good Men and True, the Aboriginal Police of the Port Phillip District, 1837-1853, Melbourne, 1988; M.F. Christie, Aborigines in Colonial Victoria, 1835-86, Sydney, 1979; A.S. Massola, The Aboriginal People, Melbourne, 1969; A.S. Massola, 'Mortuary and other monuments to Aborigines' in Victorian Naturalist, 87, 1970, pp. 299-305, P. Pepper and T. De Araugo, What Did Happen to the Aborigines of Victoria, Vol. 1, The Kurnai of Gippsland, Melbourne, 1985.

(3) C.P. Billot (ed.), Melbourne's Missing Chronicle being the Journal of Preparations for Departure to and Proceedings at Port Phillip by John Pascoe Fawkner, Melbourne, 1982; M. Cannon, (ed.), 'The Aborigines of Port Phillip, 1835-39', Historical Records of Victoria, vol. 2A, Melbourne, 1982; M. Cannon, (ed.), 'Aborigines and Protectors, 1838-39', Historical Records of Victoria, vol. 2B, Melbourne, 1983; N.J.B. Plomley, Weep in Silence A History of the Flinders Island Aboriginal Settlement with the Flinders Island Journal of George Augustus Robinson, 1835-1839, Hobart, 1987; I.D. Clark, (ed.), The Journals of George Augustus Robinson, Chief Protector, Port Phillip Aboriginal Protectorate, 1839-1852, six volumes, Clarendon, 2000; I.D. Clark, (ed.), The Papers of George Augustus Robinson, Chief Protector, Port Phillip Aboriginal Protectorate, Volume 2, Aboriginal Vocabularies: South East Australia, 1839-52, Clarendon, 2000; Report of the Select Committee of the Legislative Council on The Aborigines; together with the Proceedings of Committee, Minutes of Evidence, and Appendices, Melbourne, 1858-59.

(4) Campbell, p. 9.

(5) Massola, The Aboriginal People, p. 4.

(6) Christie, p. 52.

(7) P. Christiansen, 'Treaties and Lies' in http://www.dotlit.qut.edu.au/200101/liars.txt.

(8) T. Griffiths, Hunters and Collectors the antiquarian imagination in Australia, Cambridge, 1996, p. 111.

(9) D.E. Barwick, Rebellion at Coranderrk, Canberra, Aboriginal History Monograph 5, 1998, p. 66.

(10) Barwick, Rebellion at Coranderrk.

(11) Massola, 'Mortuary and other monuments to Aborigines', p. 303; I.D. Clark, Aboriginal Languages and Clans, an historical atlas of Western and Central Victoria, 1800-1900, Clayton Vic, Monash Publications in Geography, no. 37, 1990.

(12) Clark, Aboriginal Languages and Clans, p. 368.

(13) G.A. Robinson, Papers vol. 44, Correspondence and other papers, Flinders Island, Mitchell Library, State Library of New South Wales, MS. A7075, 1837.

(14) Clark, Aboriginal Languages and Clans, p. 368.

(15) Clark (ed.), The Papers of George Augustus Robinson.

(16) Robinson jnl 2/10/1839 in Clark, The Journals of George Augustus Robinson.

(17) Robinson papers in Clark (ed.), The Papers of George Augustus Robinson, Volume 2, p. 244.

(18) Robinson papers in Clark (ed.), The Papers of George Augustus Robinson, Volume 2, p. 304. For more information on Queens Wharf see Meyer Eidelson, Melbourne dreaming: a guide to the Aboriginal places of Melbourne, Canberra, 1997, pp. 6-7.

(19) Report of the Select Committee of the Legislative Council on The Aborigines, p. 12. This is not the place for a detailed assessment of the implications of these attributions. They would appear to challenge Howitt's (A.W. Howitt, The Native Tribes of South-east Australia, London, 1904, p. 71) delineation of the boundary of the Woiwurrung as 'from the junction of the Saltwater and the Yarra rivers, along the course of the former to Mount Macedon, thence to Mount BawBaw, along the Dividing Range, round the sources of the Plenty and Yarra to the Dandenong mountains, thence by Gardiner's Creek and the Yarra to the starting point'. One possible interpretation is that Derrimut is asserting matricentric rights, as his mother, Dindu, was a member of the Wurundjeri-baluk, and was personally associated with Narrm, the site of Melbourne, see Robinson papers in Clark (ed.), The Papers of George Augustus Robinson, Volume 2, p. 34.

(20) B.J. Blake, 'Woiwurrung, the Melbourne Language' in R.M.W. Dixon and B.J. Blake (eds), 'The Aboriginal Language of Melbourne and Other Grammatical Sketches', The Handbook of Australian Languages, vol. 4. South Melbourne, 1991, pp. 31-122.

(21) Howitt, p. 71.

(22) Robinson jn1 30/12/1836 in Plomley, Weep in Silence; Robinson Papers April 1847 in Clark (ed.), The Papers of George Augustus Robinson, Chief Protector, Port Phillip Aboriginal Protectorate, Volume 2.

(23) Despite the fact that Barwick (D.E. Barwick, 'This most remarkable lady: a biographical puzzle' in D.E. Barwick, J. Beckett, and M. Reay (eds), Metaphors of interpretation: essays in honor of WEH Stanner, Canberra, 1985, p. 227) considers Nan-der-gor-oke to be Elizabeth Maynard, one of the Port Phillip Aboriginal women living with sealers in Bass Strait, she does not provide any evidence to support this identification.

(24) Priestley, p. 19.

(25) D.E. Barwick, 'Mapping the past: an atlas of Victorian clans 1835-1904' in Aboriginal History, vol. 8, part 2, 1984, p. 100-31.

(26) Barwick, Rebellion at Coranderrk, p. 24.

(27) Billot, Melbourne's Missing Chronicle, p. 10.

(28) P.L. Brown, (cd.), The Todd Journal 1835, Geelong, 1989, p. 65.

(29) Campbell, pp. 138-9.

(30) Christie, pp. 51-2.

(31) Tudehope, p. 289.

(32) Priestley, p. 20.

(33) Barwick, 'Mapping the past: an atlas of Victorian clans 1835-1904', pp. 106-7. It is not possible to assess the degree to which Derrimut's relationship with Fawkner and his party complied with traditional kinship systems.

(34) Massola, The Aboriginal People, p. 41.

(35) C.P. Billot, John Batman: the story of John Batman and the founding of Melbourne, Melbourne, 1979, p. 173.

(36) P.M. Burns, An Introduction to Tourism & Anthropology, London, 1999.

(37) H. Reynolds, With the White People, Melbourne, 1990, p. 1.

(38) Billot (cd.), Melbourne's Missing Chronicle, pp. 61-2.

(39) Hobart Town Colonist in J. Bonwick, The Wild White Man and the Blacks of Victoria. Melbourne, 1863, p. 14.

(40) Cannon (ed.), The Aborigines of Port Phillip, 1835-39, p. 47; Fels, p. 9.

(41) Anderson, p. 88; Billot (ed.), Melbourne's Missing Chronicle, p. 95; Campbell, p. 190.

(42) See K.V. Smith, King Bungaree A Sydney Aborigine meets the great South Pacific Explorers, 1799-1830, Kenthurst, 1992, for a detailed discussion of Bungaree, a leading Aboriginal man from Sydney in the early 1800s who dressed in cast-off military clothing. In 1831, Major Thomas Mitchell rewarded Piper, his Aboriginal guide, for services rendered by presenting him with an officer's uniform and a brass gorget (see J. Troy, King Plates A History of Aboriginal Gorgets, Canberra, 1993, pp. 32-3).

(43) Fels, pp. 83-8. Fels regards the Aboriginal acceptance of uniforms as an example of acculturation.

(44) Thomas in T.F. Bride, (ed.), Letters from Victorian Pioneers, South Yarra, 1983 [first published 1898], pp. 405-6; I.D. Clark, The Yalukit-willam: the first people of the City of Hobsons Bay, Altona, 2001.

(45) Anderson, p. 94.

(46) D. Bunce, Travels with Dr. Leichhardt in Australia, Melbourne, 1979 [first published 1859], p. 61.

(47) JH Wedge to VDL Col. Sec. 8/10/1836 in Cannon (ed.), The Aborigines of Port Phillip , 1835-39, p. 53.

(48) Plomley, p. 410.

(49) Plomley, p. 410.

(50) Plomley, p. 411.

(51) Lonsdale to Col. Sec. 7/1/1837 in Cannon (ed.), The Aborigines of Port Phillip, 1835-39, p. 55.

(52) Robinson report 12/1/1837 Colonial Secretary's Office, Tasmania, CSO 5/19/384, pp. 171-96, Tasmanian State Archives.

(53) Cannon (ed.), The Aborigines of Port Phillip, 1835-39, p. 299.

(54) Priestley, p. 22.

(55) Cannon (ed.), Aborigines and Protectors, 1838-39, p. 438.

(56) Clark (ed.), The Journals of George Augustus Robinson, journal entry 25/10/1845; Clark (ed.), The Papers of George Augustus Robinson, p. 15.

(57) Clark (ed.), The Journals of George Augustus Robinson, journal entry 19/3/1839.

(58) Clark (ed.), The Journals of George Augustus Robinson, journal entry 4/4/1839.

(59) Cannon (ed.), Aborigines and Protectors, 1838-39, p. 728.

(60) Cannon (ed.), Aborigines and Protectors, 1838-39, p. 544.

(61) Robinson jnl 18-19/9/1839 in Clark (ed.), The Journals of George Augustus Robinson; Thomas had no doubt that Derrimut was one of the child's murderers, and he noted in a fragment in his papers that he 'was so desirous that the parties might be punished that I wrote upon the subject to Mr Plunket Attorney General and rec'd an answer that nothing could be done'.

(62) Thomas jnl 11/11/1839 in Cannon (ed.), Aborigines and Protectors, 1838-39, p. 559.

(63) Thomas jnl 27/11/1839 in Cannon (ed.), Aborigines and Protectors, 1838-39, p. 568.

(64) Cannon (ed.), Aborigines and Protectors, 1838-39, p. 590.

(65) Report of the Select Committee of the Legislative Council on The Aborigines, p. 110.

(66) Report of the Select Committee of the Legislative Council on The Aborigines, p. 9.

(67) Cannon (ed.), Aborigines and Protectors, 1838-39, p. 571; Clark (ed.), The Journals of George Augustus Robinson, journal entry 25/10/1845.

(68) See Bunce pp. 64-79 for a full account of this excursion.

(69) Clark (ed.), The Journals of George Augustus Robinson, journal entry 21/9/1839.

(70) Priestley, p. 24.

(71) Fels, p. 54.

(72) Clark (ed.), The Journals of George Augustus Robinson, journal entry 26/11/1845.

(73) Pepper and De Araugo, p. 95.

(74) Clark (ed.), The Journals of George Augustus Robinson. The daguerreotype has not been found. Thomas, ten years later, tried to get Derrimut photographed, however he refused (see Thomas jnl 17/4/1862, W. Thomas papers, Uncat. Mss, Set 214, Items 1-24, Mitchell Library).

(75) H.W. Wheelwright, Bush Wanderings of a Naturalist, Melbourne, 1979 [first published 1861], p. 260.

(76) Wheelwright, pp. 262-3. It is worth noting that the moiety of Derrimut's clan, Yalukit-willam was Bundjil (eagle-hawk).

(77) Bunce, p. 61.

(78) Report of the Select Committee of the Legislative Council on The Aborigines, p. 12.

(79) J. Bonwick, The Wild White Man and the Blacks of Victoria, Melbourne, 1863, p. 86.

(80) Report of the Select Committee of the Legislative Council on The Aborigines, p. 27.

(81) Thomas jnl 27/2/1860.

(82) Thomas jnl 10/9/1860.

(83) At Mordialloc these were Mr G.H. Warren and Mr McDonald.

(84) Report of the Central Board appointed to watch over the interests of the Aborigines in the Colony of Victoria. Presented to both Houses of Parliament, Melbourne, 1861, p. 26.

(85) G.M. Hibbins, A History of the City of Springvale Constellation of Communities, Port Melbourne, 1984, p. 47.

(86) Hibbins, p. 47.

(87) Thomas jnl 16/12/1861.

(88) Thomas jnl 7/7/1862.

(89) Thomas jnl 31/12/1862.

(90) Thomas jnl 23/1/1863.

(91) Thomas jnl 25/1/1863.

(92) Barwick, Rebellion at Coranderrk, p. 66. Barwick claims that two young Boonwurrung men went to Coranderrk where they 'found wives' and 'reared families there', however she is in error. One of these men, James Reece, was a Barkinji man from the Darling River, near Menindie. Some of his children were born at 'Western Port' and this must be the basis for Barwick's claim. Reece' s marriage certificate confirms his Barkindji birthplace. The second man, Mongara (aka Dr Adam Clark), is Wathawurrung, and this is confirmed on his marriage certificate, and an 1846 census list found in Robinson's papers (see Clark (ed.), The Papers of George Augustus Robinson, p. 222). Presumably Barwick has conflated this Mongara with Mungara (aka Benbow, Mr Man), a leading member of the Yalukit-willam.

(93) Thomas jnl 8/1/1864.

(94) Thomas correspondence 29/1/1864, Uncat. Mss, Set 214, Items 1-24, ML.

(95) Thomas correspondence 27/2/1864.

(96) See Clark, Aboriginal Languages and Clans, p. 385.

(97) A.G.L. Shaw, A history of the Port Phillip District Victoria Before Separation, Melbourne, 1996, p. 221

(98) M. Cannon, Melbourne after the Gold Rush, Main Ridge Vic., 1993, p. 419.

(99) Thomas correspondence 12/3/1864.

(100) Thomas correspondence 10/3/1864.

(101) Dowling, the resident physician at the hospital, confirmed that 'Derrimutt whilst a patient here had six ounces of brandy daily, I think a certain quantity daily is absolutely necessary for him' Thomas Correspondence 18/3/1864.

(102) Thomas jnl 19/4/1864.

(103) Thomas correspondence 25/4/1864, 'raking' as in dissolute.

(104) Analysis of these passages by linguist, Dr Stephen Morey (pers com 10/12/2002), has provided the following translations:
Marmar Bundgyl murrumbeek bar murrumbinna marmar bondeep nge
Mama bundjil marramhik ba marrambinharr mama burndap nge
faher eagle I and thou father good there.


'There (in heaven) is our father-eagle (God), praise him'.
Nulworen murrum bar soul. Bondup nulworthy my soul.

Nalwa-rri-n marram ba soul. Burndap nalwa-dji my soul.
Take care body and soul. Good, praise take care-PURP


'He will take care of your body and soul'. 'Pray that he takes care of my soul'.
Nangana murrumbenna barbar eran
Nganga-na marrambinherr [uncertain]
See? you [uncertain]


(105) Thomas jnl 8/5/1864.

(106) Thomas correspondence 21/7/1864. Macaulayesque is characteristic of or resembling the historical method or literary style of Thomas Babington, Lord Macaulay (1800-1859), English historian.

(107) Thomas correspondence 11/10/1864.

(108) A. Galbally, Redmond Barry: an Anglo-Irish Australian, Melbourne, 1995, p. 154.

(109) The Thomas Papers, although they contain reference to the request, are silent on its outcome.

(110) Cooper, p. 17.

(111) Fels, pp. 86-7.

(112) Fels, p. 87.

(113) Articles on these men are in preparation.
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