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Battle of Pinjarra
Date28 October 1834
LocationPinjarra, Western Australia
Result British victory, Aborigines routed
British colonists Pinjarup people
Commanders and leaders
Governor Captain James Stirling Kalyute
25 soldiers, policemen and settlers 60–80 men, women and children
Casualties and losses
1 dead, 1 injured 25–30 dead,[1] unknown number injured

The Battle of Pinjarra or Massacre of Pinjarra was an engagement that occurred at Pinjarra, Western Australia between a group of up to 80 Australian Aborigines and a detachment of 25 soldiers, police and settlers led by Governor James Stirling in 1834. After attacks on the Whadjuk Tribe and depredations on settlers by a warband of the Pindjarup Tribe led by Kaylute had reached unacceptable levels, culminating in the murder of an ex-soldier, Stirling led his force after the party. Arriving at their camp, five members of the pursuit party were sent into the camp to arrest the suspects and the warband counter attacked. In the ensuing battle, Stirling reported 15 killed (eleven names were collected later from Aboriginal sources); police superintendent T.T. Ellis died of wounds and a soldier was wounded. Stirling warned the tribe against payback killings and arranged a peace between the warring tribes, but Kaylute continued to break it in raiding the Whadjuk until his demise.[2]


Robert Menli Lyon had commented on the fact that some of the soldiers from Tasmania would as soon shoot an Aboriginal as shoot a kangaroo[3] and there had been Aboriginal payback attacks on settlers, including the killing of Nesbitt, a servant of Thomas Peel. Captain Frederick Irwin, the lieutenant governor in Stirling's absence, had inflamed the situation, adopting a soldier's attitude to crush a warlike group of Aborigines and reduce them to a state of subjection.

It was this unyielding, overbearing attitude that had alienated [Irwin] from the body of Swan River settlers and caused them to burn him in effigy on the eve of his departure. It was a narrow, regimented view of frontier problems and, perhaps, part of the blame for the Pinjarra massacre can be attributed to Irwin and his unsympathetic administration of Aboriginal affairs during James Stirling's absence.[4]

Governor Stirling had been visiting the 400-km-distant seaport of Albany and bad weather caused his return to be delayed until September. In response to calls from Pinjarra settlers for protection against the increased hostility of local Binjareb Aborigines led by Calyute, Stirling organised a mounted force of police, bushmen and ex-soldiers. Their brief was to protect settlers, safeguard Aboriginal mail-carriers and confront the Binjareb on the Murray River. A small garrison at Dandalup had been withdrawn from fear of Aboriginal reprisals after they had shot some Aboriginal people.

The Binjareb tribe had a reputation with other local Aboriginal tribes for their aggression and attacks on other Aborigines and settlers. It is possible that their motives for attacking the local settlers were part of an attempt to assert their power amongst other local tribes and to take advantage of the political upheaval caused by the arrival of the British settlers, and the death of many Perth Wadjuk Aborigines. Stirling and others, drawing on the experience of Scottish clans and native American Indians of North America, were afraid of a possible alliance between the Binjareb and Weeip's Wadjuk people in the Upper Swan, and sought to prevent such an alliance by an attack on the Aboriginal people to the south.[5] Stirling's attack at Pinjarra was specifically to collectively punish the Binjareb for their earlier individual attacks, to re-establish a barracks on the road to the south, and enable Thomas Peel to attract settlers into his lands at Mandurah. This followed an earlier failure by Surveyor General Septimus Roe and pastoralist Thomas Peel who had led an expedition to the area with the goal of improving security and negotiating peaceful co-existence. Stirling wanted a "decisive action" that would end the attacks "once and for all".[citation needed]


Stirling had wanted to begin on 17 October, but a Murray man seen in Perth was suspected of being a spy for Calyute and so the expedition was delayed one week.

On the morning of Saturday 25 October, Stirling and Roe left Perth and travelled southwards to the Preston Ferry, there waiting for surveyor George Smyth and Corporal Delmidge, who had brought supplies south by boat from Perth. Spare horses from the ferry were loaded with supplies as the party set off to Hamilton Hill, skirting Fremantle to the East. There they were joined by Captain Ellis and the five mounted police, superintendent Richard Meares and his son, Seymour.[6] They then rode south to Thomas Peel's where they were joined by Mr Peel and two others. On the morning of 27 October, ten soldiers of the 21st regiment, two corporals and eight privates arrived at Peel's homestead to join the party. Ammunition was issued to a party on 27 October 1834, and they were issued with several weeks' supplies, as the soldiers were to remain at Pinjarra and establish the planned garrison there. Leaving Peel's farm they crossed the Serpentine River and went forward to the Murray delta where tracks of a sizable group of Aboriginal men women and children were discovered heading towards Pinjarra. In the late afternoon, they camped at Jinjanuk, 10 miles from the mouth of the Murray River, so that they could begin the attack early next morning when they judged the Aboriginal group would be least prepared.


The group was awoken two hours before dawn on 28 October, and ate breakfast in the dark. By 8:00 am, the party had rejoined the Murray where the river was 30 metres wide, between steep red loam banks, continuing northwards to cross the Oakley brook at about 8:35 am. Peel approached along the western bank of the river and returned to tell of a settlement of about 20 bark beehive shaped mia-mias in the bend of the river. The weather broke and it started to rain heavily as Captain Ellis, Mr Norcott and three of the police attacked from the south.

The Aboriginal men gathered up their spears and woomeras, as the women and children fled towards the river, where Captain Stirling, Captain Meares, Thomas Peel and 12 others were waiting in hiding. Ellis was soon in a melee with the Aborigines, and Norcott, recognising a troublemaker called Noonaar, shot him with his double-barrelled shotgun, causing the first casualty. Five or more Aboriginal people were killed in the first charge, and the remainder of the Aboriginal group then turned and ran towards the river, intending to cross and scatter into the hills. One of the eldest women in the tribe, Teelak, was shot dead with her 4-year-old daughter screaming violently. At least 13 other children and women were then shot.

Stirling, hearing the shots reacted quickly. Roe was sent with four others to prevent the group escaping south and guard the pack horses at the ford. The governor and 14 others in a line abreast then ambushed the surprised Aborigines who had crossed the river. Ellis had been dislodged from his horse but Norcott continued pushing the group into the river where they were caught in a withering crossfire. The flood-scoured slopes gave the men, women and children little cover as they tried to hide behind what logs or bushes there were. Many ducked into the water, holding their breath as long as they could. Some tried to float downstream out of range, but the water was too shallow to permit their escape. They, too, were shot. Roe's journal records "Very few wounded were suffered to escape". Soldiers fired indiscriminately at those caught in the ambush and, when all had been slain, the posse remounted to chase the others who had fled north into the bush. By 10:05 am it was all over and, because of the serious condition of two of the European wounded, Stirling decided to return immediately to Mandurah.


On the settlers' side, Corporal Heffron was wounded in the arm, but recovered to later take part in Balardong Aboriginal massacres in the York area. Captain Ellis was suffering concussion, either from a glancing blow from a spear or from the fall off his horse, and later died on 11 November after having been in a coma for two weeks. A folk ballad, The Jackets of Green, honouring Ellis, was later composed and sung around Guildford and Perth taverns.

On the Aboriginal side there are conflicting reports. 60-70 Aboriginal men, women and children in the camp had been subjected to intensive fire of 24 guns for an hour, and for another half hour the survivors were hunted through the bush. No male prisoners were taken alive and all wounded were immediately shot. At the end of hostilities 8 women and a few children were taken as captives. In his report, Stirling claimed 15 Aboriginal men had been killed. Roe estimated the dead at 15-20. But these numbers don't seem to have included women and children. Captain Daniel, whom Stirling sent to survey the "battleground" later, implied that many more were killed than officially acknowledged, as he found several mass graves, but the rain and his fear of an attack made exhuming the bodies for an official count impossible. Advocate-General George Fletcher Moore estimated from his own investigations (he was not present) that between 25 and 30 were left dead on the field and in the river.[1]

Francis Armstrong and Thomas Peel later attempted an official count by interviewing the Aborigines Ninda and Colling, who had been present. Some 11 names were given but, in view of the prohibition in Noongar culture against speaking of the dead, their task was almost impossible. Amongst the dead were Unia, Calyute's youngest son, and Gummol who had been flogged for his part in the earlier attack on Shenton's Mill. Two of Calyute's wives were amongst the wounded; Yornup's lower leg had been shot away, and Mindip had been shot in the left arm and right thigh.

At the end of the hostilities, Stirling gave the natives a terrifying warning. If there were any retaliatory payback killings from the Binjareb, he declared, "not one would be allowed to remain alive on this side of the Mountains (i.e., the Darling Scarp)".


The consequences of the massacre seem to have increased and intensified the settlers' fears rather than allayed them. The belief that Aboriginal people would unite to drive the colonists out persisted into the 1850s when there was another massacre of Aborigines gathering for a corroboree at Whiteman Park near Guildford.[citation needed] Mounted police continued regular patrols in the area, and the police force at Mandurah continued, though there was no further trouble. Thomas Peel continued to call for action to wipe out and exterminate the rest of the Binjareb, whom he called "a nest of hornets", although there were no further payback reprisals.

The killing of so many Binjareb caused a major population imbalance between rival Aboriginal groups, with Swan and Canning Wadjuk and York Balardong attempting to profit from the decimation of the Murray Binjareb. Stirling also personally profited, as he was able to take ownership of Binjareb lands in the Harvey district, untroubled.

Five months after the battle, the Murray group sent a deputation to the governor seeking an end to hostilities and the later killings that had followed. Maigo, of the Wadjuk went as a messenger, and the Binjareb promised support for actions of the governor. With the Wadjuk camped at the fresh water Doodinup spring at what is now Spring Street, and the Binjareb camped at the Deedyallup water-hole near the present ABC Building, a joint corroboree and distribution of 50 loaves of bread sealed the peace.[7] Calyute survived the massacre, but his continued existence annoyed Thomas Peel. Calyute equally hated Peel, biting his beard whenever he saw his old enemy.

From the diary of John Septimus Roe

'8.35 proceeded SE... ...heard the call of natives to the northward, being close at hand we made for them... ...advancing for the purpose of bringing on an interview... ...the natives although making much noise amongst themselves, would not answer the calls to them. Capt. Ellis & Mr. Norcott, with three of the mounted police were despatched across the ford to ascertain if the party belonged to the tribe of Kal-yute (which had recently committed some great outrages & for the purpose jointly with that of protection for the present exploring party the mounted force had accompanied us.) In a few minutes the loud shouting and yelling of the natives told us the whites were discovered & firing immediately commenced on the left bank... ...The firing continued upwards and followed the retreating voices of the natives for upwards of an hour.

On approach of the Police toward the natives, they started up from their fires, about 70 or 80 in number, & began retreating so soon however as it was ascertained that they were the obnoxious tribe, the firing commenced at full charge, in which the chief, Capt. Ellis was wounded in the temple & knocked off his horse by a spear... ...the same native wounded one of the police, P. Heffron, in the right arm so as to completely disable him... ...after the first charge which killed 4 or 5, the natives retreated to the river intending apparently to cross over by another ford 1/2 a mile lower down - in this they were completely frustrated by meeting the remainder of the armed force headed by the Governor... ...In this dilemma they took to hiding themselves amongst the bushes and dead logs of the river banks, & were picked off by the party on either shore. This was not however done without much resistance on the part of the natives... ...between 15 and 20 were shot dead, very few wounded being suffered to escape, until at length it being considered that punishment of the tribe for the numerous murders it had committed, was sufficiently exemplary... the idea of prosecuting the object of our exped was now at an end, on account of the severe example made of the natives, at 10.05 am - remounted & proceeded tow mouth of Murray.'

See also

  • List of massacres in Australia


  1. 1.0 1.1 Moore, George Fletcher (1884). "The colony". Diary of ten years eventful life of an early settler in Western Australia and also a descriptive vocabulary of the language of the aborigines. London: M. Wallbrook. Retrieved 2012-07-30. 
  2. Bates, Daisy M. (5 Aug 1926). "Battle of Pinjarra: Causes and consequences". The Western Mail. p. 40. Retrieved 2012-07-30. 
  3. Bourke, Michael J. (1987). On the Swan : a history of Swan District, Western Australia. Nedlands, W.A: University of Western Australia Press for the Swan Shire Council. pp. 367. ISBN 0855642580. 
  4. Green, Neville (1984). Broken Spears: Aboriginals and Europeans in the south west of Western Australia. Perth, WA: Focus Education Services. p. 105. ISBN 0959182810. 
  5. Stannage, C.T. (ed) (1981). A New History of Western Australia. Nedlands, WA: University of Western Australia Press. pp. 836. ISBN 0855641703. 
  6. Conole, Peter. "Superintendent Richard Goldsmith Meares (1780-1862)". WA Police Historical Society (Inc). Retrieved 2012-07-30. 
  7. Vinnicombe, Patricia (1989). Goonininup: A site complex on the southern side of Mount Eliza: An historical perspective of land use and associations in the Old Swan Brewery area. Perth, W.A: Western Australian Museum. pp. 48. ISBN 0730936627. 

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