The Hated Protector

Brian O'Brien's article about Lindsey Arkley's book The Hated Protector. The book, subtitled The Story of Charles Sievwright protector of aborigines 1839-42 is published by Orbit Press, Melbourne 2000, and costs $39. It is a fascinating account of events that took place in our own Mount Rouse (subsequently Penshurst) area in the 1840's. Further details are available at www.orbitpress.com.au . The author can be contacted by e-mail to lindsark@ozemail.com.au

Instalment 1. Sievwright

"Sievwright isn’t a name immediately  recognisable among the famous pioneer names that settled this part of the Western District in the 1840s. Perhaps it was because he wasn’t a squatter  or perhaps it was because he was labelled ‘the most unpopular man  that ever breathed’ for his attempts to protect the Aborigines in his care. SBS Radio journalist, Lindsey Arkley, feels history hasn’t been kind to Sievwright, and in a 500-page book called ‘The Hated Protector’ sets out to rectify his reputation. BRIAN 0’ BRIEN examines the short time Sievwright was in charge of Mt Rouse protectorate, before his dismissal in controversial circumstances."  

Instalment 2. Massacre of Three Native Women

IT WAS the massacre of three native women (one pregnant) and a child at Muston’s Creek, halfway between Penshurst and Caramut which illustrates why Charles Wrightman Sievwriqht was so hated by white settlers and by powerful administrators in Melbourne.

Two men, four women and two children had left Sievwright’s camp at Mt Rouse to return to their own region - They had set up camp in a clump of tea trees at Muston s Creek when, late one night eight men rode up, dismounted and opened fire with guns, killing four immediately (a fifth died later from wounds). When Sievwright heard the news, he was worried his family at Mt Rouse might be selected for revenge - But duty was everything, so he rode out the next morning to the station nearest the massacre site, where he made occupying squatters, Thomas Osbrey and Sydney Smith accompany him back to the site. There he made both squatters sign a document giving detailed descriptions of wounds on the bodies of the three dead women and dead child, Sievwright then assembled all the men on the property, who also included station manager Richard Guiness Hill, a nephew of the Dublin brewer, Sir Richard Guiness, hut keeper Joseph Betts and laborer George Arabin. He declared the killings would go unpunished and was ready to give a 50 pound reward for information that would lead to a conviction.

Despite this inducement, all of the white men present denied knowing anything about the murders. "All of them were lying, " Lindsey Arkley writes. "They (later) warned each other that anyone giving information the authorities would be shot."

The incident showed Sievwright’s determination to bring white settlers to justice when many others looked the otter way.

The squatters saw him differently, calling him overzealous. His superiors’ favourite description of him was vexatious and incompetent for handing out many rations to the natives.

Instalment 3. The Mt. Rouse Protectorate

By the time he started the Mt. Rouse protectorate, his enemies (who had been circling for three years) pounced, and his fate was sealed. Authorities also implied he was of dubious moral character with claims he had committed adultery with a fellow protector’s wife, and most serious of all, that he had committed incest with his 16 year old eldest daughter.By 1840, with Melbourne settled just five years earlier, settlers from Britain and Scotland had swarmed through western Victoria in their hungry search for land and fortune.In the clash between a modern European nation and an ancient one, the contest for land had an inevitable outcome. For the losers there was the uncertain protection of the Mt Rouse Aboriginal Protectorate, which was supposed to house all the tribes in the Hamilton region. The next closest protectorate had been near Terang.The Mt Rouse protectorate got off to a bad start. The squatters in the Hamilton district were angry when the government took land at Penshurst off prominent fellow squatter, John Cox, to establish the 10 square mile protectorate.

A Western District squatter, Thomas Alexander Browne (better known as author Rolf Boldrewood of ‘Robbery under Arms’ fame) wrote that grazing land around Mt. Rouse, especially the spring, made the mouth of a cattleman water.Once cattle were turned out there, they never seemed to have any inclination to roam, being instinctively aware, doubtless that they could never hope to find such shelter, such pasture, such luxurious lodging anywhere else.It was Sievwriqht’s fate , although he was never consulted, to become the person allocated the task of establishing a protectorate at Mt Rouse after being forced to abandon his camp at Lake Terang.The 70km trek to Mt Rouse in early 1842 must have been one of the most  extraordinary sights ever seen in the Western District.There were 17 whites traveling either on horseback, or on a cart pulled by six bullocks,  Charles and Christina Sievwright and their seven children, overseer Alexander Davidson and Constable Alexander Donaldson and their respective wives, Anne and Betty, as well as Seivwright‘s  four convict servants,  John White, James Evans, William Kay and Peter Littleher. No less than an astonishing 210 Aborigines came to Mt Rouse from Terang , 69 men, 6 women and 76 children.“It was unprecedented for a white man to be leading such a large group into the territory of another tribe (Gunditjmara) and it was fraught, with was fraught with the danger of an outbreak of either inter-tribal or inter-racial violence,” Arkley writes.  However neither happened.

At Mt Rouse, Sievwright took up residence in a stone hut, former  used by Cox’s overseer, James Brook. Relations with his wife had been strained some time so he moved into an adjoining hut which had been occupied by Cox.He didn’t let the grass grow under his feet, the next day agricultural work began.“The blacks were soon engaged in daily work, preparing ground allocated for wheat paddocks, a vegetable garden, and a kitchen-hut. A large area had to been cleared of its volcanic stores, and brush fences made to enclose the paddocks. Sievwright would soon be telling (chief  protector) George Augustus Robinson there was a need for more bullocks to allow ploughing to go ahead,” Arkley writes.Sievwright was keen for the natives to get an education, as well as religious instruction. The sooner education began the sooner progress could made in restraining younger children ‘from the habits and pursuits of their parents, while eradicating the undesirable traits which the older children had already acquired’.He was confident he had the confidence of the natives. “They know me as their friend, and trust me as such. They now conduct themselves peaceably and circumspectly at their meals, and observe all the general rules laid down for their guidance. They willingly employ  themselves to the task allotted to them, and their time is spent with cheerfulness and contentment, “ Sievwright wrote. Significantly, he added that all the Aborigines with him had, at that stage, little contact with the white population.

Instalment 4. Get Rid of Sievwright

Robinson had been looking to get rid of his assistant for quite some before Mt Rouse, and gleefully greeted a letter from Port Phillip’s superintendent Charles La Trobe, doubting Sievwright s ability to control the natives, as well as his unsatisfactory reports.

Robinson complained about Sievwright’s "unasked for and uncalled for comments". Sievwright had admitted Aborigines with him, were stealing from neighboring flocks and herds because of hunger arising from the government failing to provide sufficient flour. His fate was sealed just after starting at Mt. Rouse when Governor Gipps instructed the Colonial Secretary to send a letter to La Trobe suggesting it was time to get rid of Sievwright “who appeared to pay no attention to the instructions of either the Chief Protector or the government” . The die was about to be cast.
Sievwright hardly had time to set foot at Mt Rouse before the pressure of the previous three years became irrestible. It was time to get rid of someone seen as a pain in the neck to authorities in Melbourne as well as local squatters His stay at Mt Rouse was to be extremely brief, and he was to spend the rest of his life fighting against what he perceived as his unjust dismissal.

Instalment 5. The New Protectorate

He quickly got on with work at the new protectorate after arriving in February, 1842. When chief Protector, George Augustus Robinson, arrived at Mt Rouse on a rainy March 15, the number of Aborigines had risen to 253,  a quarter from the immediate area. For the previous two weeks, some Jarcoort Kirrae blacks had helped dig a channel to drain a marshy area constantly supplied by a spring at the foot or Mt Rouse. Black laborers were involved in fell ing and rooting up trees, and in continuing to erect brush fences to enclose the proposed wheat paddccks and vegetable garden.
Over the next two days, Robinson would help his assistant to lay out the site of a future black 'township’.He directed Sievwriqht to vacate the huts he and his fami.ly had taken over from squatter John Cox, and to build new huts on a slight rise at the northern base of Mt Rouse. Robinson also provided entertainment for the blacks at the camp by showing them he could use sunlight shining through a magnifying glass to burn marks on a sheet of paper.
When Sievwnight held his first major outdoor service at Mt Rouse, 264 blacks attended and later all sat down together near their bush ‘church’ for their special meal of damper. It was the Sievwright’s 20th wedding anniversary. They had been married in an Episcopalian Church in Stirling, Scotland, now they were living with their seven children in the isolation of the Australian bush surrounded by a large group of dark-skinned and mostly naked men, women and children with whom they could hardly converse! Early the next day, two men from the nearby station of Scotsman Alexander Cameron complained that a flock of sheep had been stolen by blacks from the reserve. Sievwright was able to recover 160 sheep, mainly rams, but 228 sheep were reported lost. Worried his enemies would use the incident to show the weaknesses of the protectorate, Sievwright called together the elders of the tribes living at Mt Rouse and warned he intended apprehending the thieves. Trying to keep the peace, and seen to be even handed between blacks and whites, Sievwright was again embarrassed when police magistrate, Foster Ryans, led a party of 12 troopers on a raid on the Mt Rouse station to capture Roger, who was believed to be involved in the murder of Patrick Codd at Mt Rouse two years earlier.

Instalment 6.  Promising Signs

“Except in cases of crimes committed when the Aborigines were under his direct charge, Sievwright suggested no further attempts should be made to make arrests at Mt Rouse without giving him a chance to negotiate a peaceful surrender.

"Arrests at the camp by parties of police would soon destroy the confidence the blacks had in him, "Lindsey Arkley writes.

Soon Sievwright was reporting increasing sickness at the reserve because of the total lack of medical aid and clothing. Articles of clothing promised by Robinson three months previous hadn’t arrived.

However, there were promising signs.

Most of his black laborers had become 'regular in their habits of industry’ and were applying themselves cheerfully to their agricultural duties without daily orders having to be repeated.

“Some act as stock-keepers and have charge of the bullocks and the cows upon the station, "he wrote. “Others have charge of the horses, and are employed at regular duties at the station. Others have been taught to plough and drive the team.”

While the men worked in the fields, the women gathered roots and opossums.

Instalment 7. Wild and savage

Sievwright even claimed the white settlers in the immediate vicinity of the reserve had told him of their surprise at the security they enjoyed. This was quite an achievement, he remarked, considering the blacks on the reserve were "of the wildest and most savage description". Most of them had no communication with whites "having but lately been deprived of their country by those settlers who have so rapidly overrun this part of the district."

The squatters virtually accused Sievwright of having ‘doctored’ his reports about the massacre of four women and a child at Muston’s creek while port Phillip’s superintendent, Charles La Trobe said Sievwright’ s behavior had "seriously aggravated" the disturbed state of the Western District. Governor Gipps told the British Government all the protectors had failed to earn respect from the settlers and their actions had increased the irritation ‘which has long existed between the two races’. Robinson told Gipps that "in my opinion it would be desirable if the services of  this officer Sievwright be dispensed with."

Arkley writes that on the eve of the 83rd anniversary of the battle of Minden, Sievwright went for a long walk around Mt Rouse searching for a wildflower resembling a rose, but found only early spring flowers.

Instalment 8. Sievwright Suspended

“The next day he would pin the flower to his cap before climbing to the top of Mt Rouse, to sit on a rock gazing wistfully southwards, where almost 60-kilometres away he could just catch a glimpse of the sea.

“It was a time of quiet reflection on the past, rather than the uncertain future, but it would not be long before Sievwright was brought back to harsh reality of the present, when a black from the camp below disturbed his solitude with the news that a horseman had arrived with some mail.

It was a letter from Robinson informing Sievwright that Gipps had authorised his suspension because of charges against his moral character. La Trobe had approved Robinson’s plan for an unsuccessful squatter, Dr. John Watton, to Take ‘temporary charge’ of the Mt Rouse reserve while Sievwright was suspended.

Sievwrigt served just six months at Mt Rouse in 1842. He left Melbourne in 1845 and spent the next 10 years in London fighting to clear his name. He went blind and deaf during the struggle, and is buried in an unmarked grave in Brompton cemetery. Dr Watton labored on at the Mt Rouse Reserve, but native numbers quickly dwindled. It was eventually closed in 1849.

Ed.: This concludes "The Hated Protector", i.e. Sievwright story.


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Friday, 27 April 2001

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