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A True History of Queensland’s Native Police?

By Simon Whiley.

A review of Jonathan Richards’ book, The Secret War: A true history of Queensland’s Native Police

 The Native Police (NP) force has by its very nature been a controversial subject for historians and the wider public alike. Since its inception in 1848 until the present, opinion has been sharply divided on all aspects of its operations. Thus facts have been distorted, evidence misquoted, scholarship questioned, and conclusions reached that on occasion present a very subjective viewpoint.


  Within this context it becomes essential that any new publication covering the history of the NP meets certain criteria.

a.The provision of primary source evidence

b. In the absence of (a) Clear, concise and reasoned argument in support of statements or conclusions

c. Accurate references and descriptions that clearly reflect those references

d. When questioning previous work, primary evidence must be provided to support any allegation of inaccuracy or lack of research.


  In light of the above, this article seeks to as accurately as possible examine certain aspects of the most recent addition to the literature on the history of the NP. It does not seek to address the central theme of the book but rather to examine the evidence quoted, and conclusions reached on the basis of that evidence.


  The publication of The Secret War subtitled A True History of Queensland’s Native Police by Jonathan Richards UQP 2008 has reignited debate on the NP and its operations. However despite the detailed research outlined on the back cover, many of its facts, descriptions and conclusions remain open to objective criticism. In the following pages various examples are examined in detail and their validity scrutinised by comparison with primary documentation in the author’s own references. On this basis and on this basis alone can the claim of The Secret War to be A True History of Queensland’s Native Police be assessed.



  In The Secret War a recurrent theme is the accuracy of previous writers. The author takes issue with a wide variety of documentation from books to government papers and in so doing questions their scholarship or value as an accurate source.


Some examples:

a. p. 179

Patrick Collins, who wrote about the early years of the Native Police, confuses Frederick’s brother Robert, who also served in the Native Police, with frontiersman Richard Walker.


  Unfortunately this is not just a case of mistaken identity. Richard Walker is a pivotal character in Collins’ book Goodbye Bussamarai UQP 2002, which describes frontier conflict in the Condamine/Maranoa district during the decade 1842–1852. If the author is correct then Collins’ book and his very detailed research is deeply flawed, and the book’s value as a source is virtually destroyed. It is interesting to note that Ray Evans a historian of high repute with an intimate knowledge of many aspects of NP history had this to say about Collins’ book (front cover):

          A  tour de force in both research and historical reconstruction.


Now comes the vexed question as to who is correct. Vexed because the outcome affects the depth of research undertaken by either author. Regrettably Richards provides NO evidence to support his claim nor any example where such confusion occurs. Thus it is necessary to refer to contemporary documents, if they exist, to resolve the issue.


  To establish the identity of any individual at a given time (1850–52) and given place (Condamine/Maranoa) it is necessary to establish the whereabouts of any claimants to the identity within the specific time frame. In this case it is easily established.


  Robert Walker’s whereabouts are clearly established in his application to join the NP. The letter of application registered on 21 May 1853 states the following: “I have been for seven (7) years in the employment of my relative Mr James Walker of Wallerowang. Wallerowang was situated east of Bathurst. Thus Robert Walker was clearly in the Bathurst area 1846–53.

     (Letter 53/454 Col Sec NSW)


  Richard Walker’ whereabouts are equally clearly established by two unimpeachable witnesses. Gideon Lang, in his The Aborigines of Australia (1865), recorded numerous anecdotes about his travels in the Maranoa, while searching for runs with Richard. Lang emphasised (p.23):

I would mention that the “Walker” so often mentioned is not Mr. Fred Walker, the enterprising explorer, but Dick Walker, an old Border trooper, whom I engaged as my assistant in exploring, in the Maranoa District. … during our companionship of four months, which we spent almost entirely by ourselves … he related many a wild adventure.


Lodgement dates on Lang’s associated tenders for Maranoa leases confirm that the above four months were between early September 1850 and January 1851.

                             (QSA, Run Registers CLO N1, CLO N2/3, CLO N5 & CLO N6). 


There was similarly no doubt in Hovenden Hely’s mind about which “Walker” had assisted him in 1852: i.e. while searching for Leichhardt. On 19 April when passing via Surat in the Maranoa, Hely employed Richard Walker, who was to remain with the search party from then until it returned to Sydney after the search. Hely’s lengthy Journal on his journey in search of Leichhardt 1852, records that although Richard Walker was at times disruptive, he had remained with Hely throughout the search (May–July) and for some time afterwards.

(Employment Contract: NSW LC V&P, 1852, Papers Relative to Dr Leichhardt and Party, MFL Frame 309. Hely’s Journal: C265, CY Reel 211).


  Clearly Collins is correct in his identification of the individual as Richard Walker and his detailed research is vindicated.


b. p. 179.

  ‘Others believed Frederick and Robert were unrelated’. The author does not identify the “others” so it is not possible to examine their evidence. Likewise the author provides no evidence to support his statement that they were in fact brothers. A statement that is repeated on a number of occasions in the book.


  The question of the family relationships of various NP officers with common names is one that has bedevilled historians and researchers alike for many years. One document however provides, in the writer’s view, a very strong case, for those who considered they were unrelated. A letter from Frederick Walker’s mother (QSA M2076 letter 16 February 1854), together with an attached note form Frederick’s sister Harriet, sent from Dawlish, Devon, England passes on detailed news of his siblings:

          Harriet (S) Dawlish Devon

          Edmond (B) Bengal Engineers India

          Charles (B) Switzerland

          John (B) England

          Maria (S) Dawlish.


There is no mention of a supposed brother Robert who at the time was serving in the NP under Frederick. It is inconceivable in the writer’s view that this would occur if such a brother existed. Further to this there is no mention in Frederick Walker’s correspondence (voluminous) whilst Commandant of the NP 1848–55, of a brother Robert.



pp. 74-75 (The Secret War).

Several generations later, some Queenslanders still justified the slaughter by the Native Police during the frontier period. Writer H.G. Lamond, the son of an officer, argued ‘we cannot turn back the clock’. He admitted that violence on the frontier was ferocious, but called it a necessity.67 Lamond has been quoted widely as a reliable source on Native Police frontier violence: the four semi-official histories of the Native Police in Queensland are word-for-word copies of Lamond’s writings. Settlers believed in simple solutions to problems in the complex colonial world. As recently as 1959, this was still the conventional history of the Queensland frontier:

In war, one suppresses excuses for the enemy: fear makes fury relentless, and the squatters met ferocity with ferocity, in terror for their wives and children. The found they thought, an effective answer to the native warriors in the Native Mounted Police. They claimed, with reason, that they had no alternative.68

H.G. Lamond was more interested in defending the reputation of the Native Police and that of his father, Inspector James Lamond, than objectively describing frontier history. He was also mounting a moral defence for violence as an act of settlement. Archival records show that his father expressed typical frontier attitudes, including a classic statement in 1897, ‘When the blacks begin to know their own strength they may then become a serious trouble again’.69 Evidence of attitudes similar to H.G. Lamond’s can be found in many books and articles celebrating the pioneer experience.


p. 114.

Lamond, who was born at the Carl Creek Native Police camp, had his own skewed interpretation of Native Police History. The exaggerations of both Lamond and Little show just how unreliable and inaccurate some secondary sources on the Native Police can be. Lamond is often quoted as a good source, but in at least one important respect he was very misleading. He claimed that one in four officers died, but records show that actually only five died during attacks. In an article, ‘Native Mounted Police’, published in Walkabout on 1 November 1949, Lamond refused to name the officers in case he missed one, saying ‘it would be a greater shame for me to omit one of those gallant old boys than it would be to my credit if I could name forty of them’.


  The extracts quoted above are hardly a ringing endorsement of H.G. Lamond’s reliability as a source. Yet the author uses Lamond as his source for a very disparaging quote on the character of an officer who was killed.

p. 101.

Marcus La Poer Beresford, descended from an old Anglo-Irish military family and formerly a member of the New South Wales Police, was killed on patrol near Cloncurry in 1883. According to H.G. Lamond, Beresford contributed to his own death when he ‘took a young lubra with him for his own enjoyment’.33



 Is this borne out by any credible evidence? The author provides none and in fact it is probable that his death may have been caused for the very opposite reason. The evidence for this is contained in his file, 104 AFQSA A/38720. However, unless a researcher is conversant with traditional Aboriginal lore it easily overlooked. The evidence is contained in letter 2837/83 dated 31 March 1883 from 318 Sergeant Lacey to Sub Inspector Thompson at Georgetown. This included answers to three questions from Thompson. The Key to Bereford’s death lies in answer No 2, below:


2. None of the Troopers had any of the Gins from the Tribe, [Trooper] “Brisbane” say he saw one Gin go up to Mr. Beresford and that he put her away.


  In traditional Aboriginal lore, there were certain recognised formalities when armed groups of strangers met. In order to ascertain the intentions of both groups it was normal for one group, if their intentions were peaceful, to send out a woman to the other group as an indication of their non-hostile intentions. If the second group accepted the woman then it indicated that they too had no hostile intent. However, if the woman was sent back it indicated that the peaceful overtures were rejected.


  This is exactly what happened. The gin approached Beresford but he ‘put’ her away: e.g. he pushed her away. This would have been seen as a rejection of a peace offering and an indication of hostile intent. This hypothesis is obviously conjecture but exactly fits the circumstances and may prove the key to the attack on Beresford and his troopers.


  This quote from H.G. Lamond is the only information provided on Beresford’s career in the book. Beresford deserves better than a derogatory quote from a source the author derides. So why did he use it?



p. 115

When more than one man with the same family name served in the force – for example, the five men with the family name of Murray – and when this was compounded with ignorance or misunderstandings about first names, confusion, non-existent ranks and fictitious characters were created. John Murray (1852–1870), George P.M. Murray (1857–1867), Frederick J. Murray (1865–1895), Robert Murray (1889–1904) and Michael J. Murray (1900-1807) were all unrelated. Colonial clerks and contemporary historians alike have been confused by the fact that in at least twelve cases more than one member of a family served in the Native Police. Multiple family members in the force included two Blakeneys (father and son), two Littles (father and son), three Morisset brothers, two Townsend brothers, two Uhr brothers, two Walker brothers and two Wheeler brothers.


  Unfortunately it is not the Colonial Clerks and contemporary Historians who were confused or ignorant of the facts, just the author!


  John Murray (1852–1870), G.P.M. Murray (1857–1867), and F.J. Murray (1865–1895) were all brothers. Not only that, they were raised on Warrawane station which adjoined Wallerowang where Robert Walker worked.


  As an aside there were four (4) Walkers in the NP, not two (2). They were: F.W. Walker Commandant (1848–1855, R.G. Walker Sub Lieutenant – Lieutenant 1853–1861, H.W. Walker Sub Lieutenant 1856, A Walker Sergeant (1854–1855?).


The author would have provided some credibility to his remarks if he had quoted just one example of his ‘fictitious characters’.



p.115   ‘non-existent ranks’

p. 113.

Although some published works do mention the cases and careers of individual officers, none cover all those recorded as having served in the force. There are errors in many of these works: the published secondary works on the Native Police are not very useful, because they are often based on inaccurate and unreliable sources. The flaws begin with the officers’ names and ranks. Non-existent ranks appeared in the secondary texts: the force never had captains, commanders or sub-lieutenants, but these ranks erroneously appear in several books and other sources.


  Once again the author is wrong. When controlled by NSW during the period 1948–59 a number of officers were appointed as Sub-Lts including: 1. R.G. Walker 1853 and 2. J. O’C Bligh 1853. Both of the above appear in the book (Nominal Roll). The rank was in existence from 1853–56? It was instituted as a replacement for the rank of Sergeant (white). It is referred to in the 1856 Select Committee NSW VP (1856-57) 1: 1157–1216. Numerous references to the rank of Sub-Lt are also in Police of the Pastoral Frontier quoted in the author’s bibliography.




But there were other factors at work here as well. The surviving records in Queensland show that in some cases the Native Police detachments targeted certain groups. Although the records don’t tell us everything, sometimes they reveal crucial details such as the …


  Again the author produces no evidence to support his assertion. In fact the records show that indiscriminate killings did occur, but the fact that women and children were killed is not evidence of a predetermined policy of targeting specific groups.




Native Police Troopers in the Northern Districts of NSW (Present day Queensland) were all recruited in the southern colonies before 1860.


  This is again incorrect. By 1860 probably 80 percent or more of the serving troopers had been recruited in the North. Whilst an exact figure cannot be given, based on known deaths, desertions, and discharges of troopers recruited in the South a reasonable estimate can be arrived at. Some examples of recruiting:

a. In 1852 troopers were recruited from the Barwon, Balonne, Namoi and Clarence (Walker/Col Sec 25/8/1852 A2/25 COL. OL)

b. In 1854 Walker recruited new troopers probably from the Clarence (Walker/Col Sec 4.5.54 A2/29 OL)

c. In 1855 nineteen troopers were recruited at Maryborough but later released from service due to lack of rations and pay (NMP B/J1 QSA 1/8/1855.

d. In 1857 Lt Murray recruited fifteen troopers from Maryborough (Murray/Wickham NMP B/J1 QSA 6/3/1857)

e. Perhaps the most telling comment re the recruitment of troopers is revealed in the 1858 Select Committee. The Committee stated:

… the system of recruiting in the Northern districts is most pernicious … wholesale desertion having, in consequence, taken place. All the witnesses agree that troopers should be raise from distant parts of the colony.

(1858 Select Committee p.848 para 4 NSW VP 1858).






Was colonial Queensland such a violent place? Did the frontier, as some historians contend, bristle with guns? How may firearms did the Native Police have, and what kind were they?



Ordinary (European) police did not carry firearms on duty, but the Native Police always did, and were issued with Terry breach-loading rifles in 1861 to replace the muzzle-loading carbines they had used previously. However, one correspondent calling himself ‘A Northern Man’ claimed in the Queenslander of 28 February 1874 (thirteen years later) that some detachments were still equipped with ‘antiquated double-barrelled muzzle-loaders’. Snider rifles, ordered in 1871, were issued to police in 1874 and then replaced with Martini-Henrys in 1884. The Martini-Henrys were only issued to the stations of the ordinary (European) police, but many of these deadly weapons soon found their way into Native Police camps, suggesting an informal trade in government-supplied weapons. An order for 38,000 rounds of Snider ammunition was approved in 1882, and Native Police units continued to use this particular firearm until the late 1890’s. Both the Martini-Henry and Snider rifles were modern, efficient, lethal tools that could kill many people at great distances. Their development pointed to the tremendous advances made in firearm design and manufacture during the latter half of the nineteenth century.


 a. Whilst the foot police did not carry firearms on normal duty, they were issued carbines for use as required.

 b. Mounted Police carried a pistol as standard equipment.

 c. Terry carbines were NEVER issued to the NP. They were purchased for the “Volunteers” Queensland’s earliest military force. The only temporary issue was that of forty to the ordinary police in May 1865.

 d. The quote from a ‘Northern Man’ is correct, but the reality was that most not some of the Native Police at the time (28 February 1874) were still issued with double barrel “Potts & Hunt” muzzle loading carbines.

 e. The police were first issued with the Snider in 1870 (Not the NP).

 f. Date of issue to the NP is unknown to the writer, however the weapons issued to the NP consisted of ‘200 single barrel carbines for NP’ purchased from P. Webley & Co in 1873.

 g. What relevance an order for 38,000 rounds in 1882 has the author does not say, however the inference would seem to be that it was wholly for the NP which is most unlikely. By 1882 the Queensland Government had purchased c.2000 Snider for use by the military, police, goldfields etc. To put the order for 38,000 rounds into perspective, a preliminary report on the defence of Queensland dated 31 August 1874 in Schedule A of the Appendix amongst other items is: ‘500,000 rounds ball ammunition Snider’. Again in May 1877, 50,165 rounds were obtained from NSW and this was followed by a telegram to the Agent-General in London to procure: ‘200,000 round of ball with all haste’.

h. The  Snider was an interim weapon developed during the transitional period between muzzle loaders and breech loaders. It was in fact a conversion of the Enfield 58 muzzle loader. The genesis was the requirement of the British Army for a design that would allow the Enfield to use a self-contained brass cartridge loaded from the breech. Following the end of the conversion phase it was produced as a new weapon in its own right.

  Whilst far superior to the Enfield, it was hampered by a low velocity round that limited range and accuracy. The Carbine version whilst most convenient had a shorter barrel resulting in even less velocity, range and accuracy. It must be remembered that the British army used volley fire as its primary application of fire. The claim that it was a modern efficient tool that could kill many people at great distance is simply incorrect.

  The only weapons that meet those criteria are semi or full automatic weapons firing high velocity rounds and they simply did not exist despite claims in Frontier Lands and Pioneer Legends, P.L. Watson, Allen & Unwin 1998, p.107, that:

by the time some Queenslander frontiers were opening up, settlers were able to replace the time wasting rifle and arm themselves with Colt revolvers and Snider Carbines. The latter were semi-automatic …


Semi-automatic weapons had not been invented! The Snider was a single shot manually loaded weapon.

i.  The Martini-Henry carbines were issued to the NP. See:

(1) Photograph in the Queenslander 2 November 1901.

(2) Photograph in 45 Years in North Queensland W.R.O. Hill captioned ‘the best shot in the Native Mounted Police’.

 j. The suggestion that an informal trade in government supplied weapons is nonsense. Every weapon issued to the police was marked, registered and checked annually if possible.

 k. It is perhaps pertinent to point out that at the time of issue the Snider was a single shot weapon, a number of modern magazine rifles/carbines were [indistinct] available to settlers from civilian sources. Examples are: Spencer, Henry, Winchester 66, and Winchester 73.




How many guns were there on the Queensland frontier? Archival documents and newspapers do not usually contain many references to guns and other weapons in everyday life, apart from weekly sporting shooting columns. The absence of references to firearms stands at odds with newspaper stories about the number of weapons some carried. Most frontier residents were armed, but rifles, revolvers and other firearms were infrequently mentioned in the historical material until the 1870’s, suggesting that Australia, in this period, was catching up with the dramatically increased production in the United States.


The above seems somewhat contradictory: e.g.

  1. The newspapers do not usually contain many references …

  2. Newspaper stories about the number of weapons some carried.

The reality is, the newspapers and weeklies, carried numerous references to weapons carried by settlers, miners, etc. Using the author’s own examples nearly every ‘collision’ between settlers/Aboriginals indicates the widespread distribution of weapons.




Many reports made by Commissioner of Police David Seymour and his subordinates argued that they had no choice against such ferocious and determined fighters. Nevertheless, the pretence of English justice was occasionally mentioned and, in 1867, a memo from the commissioner was sent to all inspectors:


            When forwarding monthly duty reports, officers in command of Native Police are instructed to carefully insert on the back of each report the date of all outrages reported to have been committed by the Blacks, on whom, by whom reported, with particulars of outrages and supposed cause thereof, also date and full particulars of every ‘collision’. Officers of Native Mounted Police are cautioned to be careful when acting without warrants.3


There is little evidence in the surviving records of this practice being carried out.



The remote camps and scattered stations of a colony the size of Queensland were a lot for one man to supervise. The position of the chief inspector was introduced in 1866. The records do not disclose any reason for the creation of this new rank, which simply appears in operational records. The position had initially been offered to Inspector John Marlow, but he declined the promotion. Marlow, who served for a further six years, resigned after a career spanning fourteen years. In 1868, he wrote to the colonial secretary suggesting that ‘Aboriginal women and children should be confined on offshore islands as a means of controlling and stopping Indigenous resistance’.16 His proposal was supported by local church ministers but not, at any time, by the government. Marlow’s …


This supposed quote from Marlow is pure fabrication. The letter from Marlow certainly contains the suggestion but is couched in quite different wording. The letter also contains specific mention of reports submitted re ‘collisions’, which the author has overlooked. It clearly indicates that the Commissioner’s directive was carried out.



  In Chapter 1 ‘A Reign of Terror’ a number of examples of NP operations are used in support of the chapter’s theme.

a. Hornet Bank

b. Cullin-La-Ringo

c. Irvinebank Killings

d. Wreck of the Maria

e. Normanton Killngs

f. Ducie River Killings


 Since the author considers them ‘key collisions’ it is appropriate to examine in detail his presentation of facts and the conclusions he draws. As the documentation for the Irvinebank killings is complete and readily available, it is an obvious choice for close scruting.



   A third example of Native Police operations shows that the colonial justice system did not, as some claim, protect Aboriginal people. In October 1885, a detachment commanded by Sub-Inspector William Nichols and Cadet Roland Garraway killed at least six Aboriginal people at Irvinebank, inland from Cairns. A European witness saw ‘the blacks scatter in all directions’ after the troopers arrived. One ‘blackfellow’, handcuffed to a fence, ‘was screaming  out loud’ before the troopers ‘led him away fastened between two horses’. He and the others were never seen alive again, but their half-burned bodies were seen by many Europeans. According to the Brisbane Courier of 14 November 1884, ‘over fifty persons had seen the bodies’ at a camp near the town. Several residents said the Native Police had burnt the bodies. Mine-owner John Moffat, a most reputable witness, testified at the subsequent inquest: ‘I found the remains of a large fire that had been made on the spot where the bodies formerly lay’.39

   However, seeing evidence of racial violence and gaining a conviction were two different things. As on regional paper had written ten years before, ‘You will never get a jury to bring in verdict of murder for the killing of a black’.40 Nichols, dismissed from the force, was charged with ‘being an accessory before the fact to the Irvine Bank murders’, but the Crown did not proceed with the case against him. One police officer remarked before the preliminary hearing that local prejudice would obstruct further proceeding in the matter, saying ‘If tried in Cooktown justice might be defeated owing to hatred of aboriginals’.41 He was correct.

   W.M. Mowbray, the police magistrate at Herberton who conducted the inquest during October 1884 and the trial of Nichols in January 1885, was no friend to Aboriginal people. After Cadet Garraway gave his evidence at the court hearing, Mowbray declared ‘there was not much use going on with the case’, and discharged Nichols. The public applauded. Five troopers, tried in Townsville in April 1885 for ‘having feloniously and wilfully killed and murdered at Irvine Bank’, were discharged in October and transferred south. Historian Geof Genever’s work on the killings, Failure of Justice: The story of the Irvinebank Massacre, is one of the few detailed studies of a mass-killing incident in frontier Queensland. The Native Police, he says, virtually represented ‘the sum total of Colonial Queensland’s policy towards its indigenous  people’, and concluded, ‘it was unarguably a policy primarily based on collective punishment without trial: one that was not only illegal, but morally bankrupt’.42

Ref Inquest JUS/N110 511/1884.


  On the face of it a straightforward account of the incident and its aftermath. Regrettably this is not so, it in fact contains: numerous factual errors, omissions of key evidence, and apparent ignorance of legal procedure and a very selective quotation in support of incorrect assertions and conclusions.


  Before addressing these perceived shortcomings, the key facts of the case need to be clearly stated:

  On 18 October 1884 four (4) Aboriginal people were killed by NP troopers outside Irvinebank North Queensland. They were identified as: King Billy (M), Kitty (F), unknown (F), unknown (child).

  These facts are not in contention. They are clearly described in the initial Inquiry as well as the subsequent Court Cases.


  A reader of the description of the incident as described in The Secret War can be forgiven for taking it at face value and forming the impression that Sub-Inspector Nichols and Cadet Garraway at the head of the detachment were involved in a ‘collision’ with the  Aborigines in which six or more people were killed in October 1884.


  As to the aftermath, it would appear that there had been a government cover up, abetted by dubious or at least biased legal proceedings.


  There is obviously only one way to clarify the matter. To closely examine all the evidence produced as sworn depositions, in the legal proceedings emanating from the incident. These are:

a. MAGISTERIAL INQUIRY:    23 October 1884 adjourned till 1 November 1884, further adjourned to 12 November 1884, Inquiry terminated.  (JUS/N110 Inquest 511/1884).

All evidence was then forwarded to the Attorney-General for consideration. He obviously decided charges should be laid on the evidence before him.


b. COURT CASE: Regina V Nichols (Herberton)

1. Arrest of Nichols by Detective John Barry on the Port Douglas Range 3 January 1885. Taken to Port Douglas lock up.

2. Appeared before Police Court Port Douglas 5 January 1855, remanded to Herberton at request of Detective Barry.

3. On remand at Herberton 19 and 20 January 1885, further remanded to 21 January 1885

4. Appear before the Court 21 January 1885, Police Magistrate Mowbray. After hearing the sworn depositions of a number of witnesses, including that of Cadet Garraway which was a clear and very detailed one, Mowbray dismissed the case and discharged Nichols.

N.B. When asked by the Bench if he had any comment after hearing Garraway’s evidence Detective Barry replied: ‘That he has no evidence to refute that given by Cadet Garraway’.

                                                                                               (COL SEC A414 QSA)


c. COURT CASE: Regina V NP Troopers (Herberton)

  1. Troopers arrested by Detective Barry at Herberton 11 January 1855

  2. Appeared before the Court 12 January 1885. Remanded to 19 January 1885

  3. Reappeared before the Court 19 January 1885. Further remanded to 20 January 1885.

  4. Reappeared before the Court 20 January 1885. Further remanded to 21 January 1885.

  5. Reappeared before the Court 21 January 1885.

  6. Committed for trial at the Supreme Court Townsville 22 April 1885.

               (COL SEC A414 QSA)


  1. Trial commenced 22 April 1885.

  2. Troopers discharged 22 October 1885.

                                                                            (Criminal Case File A18, 293, 1885/342).

For additional coverage: Newspaper reports: Herberton proceedings

         Queenslander 17 January 1885 and 7 February 1885.

Herberton Advertiser 15 November 1884, 3 January 1885, 21 January 1885, 24  January 1885, 25 January 1885.


An accurate synopsis of the Magisterial Inquiry is contained in the Herberton Advertiser 15 November 1884 reproduced below.

Magisterial Inquiry.

A magisterial Inquiry touching the cause of death of certain aboriginals near Irvine Bank, on or about the 18th of October, was commenced at Irvine Bank on the 23rd October.

  George William Seaman deposed that he was a clerk in the employ of John Moffat and Co., at Irvine Bank. On Wednesday, the 15th October, he saw black troopers riding about and the blacks staying in the camp scattered in all directions. He went down to the township, and on the allotment near Bethel’s saw a black fellow known as Spoopendyke handcuffed and, with his feet tied together, fastened to a fence. Spoopendyke was swearing out loud. There was a black trooper in charge of him. Sub-Inspector Nicholls was also there. Shortly afterwards the troopers led Spoopendyke away fastened between two horses. He ran up to Mr Moffat’s residence to acquaint him of the matter, and on looking down saw another black boy, named Toby, being led away by a trooper, and, he thought, Mr Carr’s Cadet. He was taken along the track towards Herberton. On Friday, the 17th of October, he saw the troopers out again; they camped on a creek, and were walking about all the afternoon. He saw some of the troopers on Saturday. Mr Nicholls and another were about during the day the troopers were absent. At nightfall he noticed one of the troopers bringing five or six horses with saddles on into the camp. About 8 o’clock on the same night a man named Sedgwick told witness that he had heard five or six rifle shots fired. On the Sunday morning following, a black fellow named Alicky told witness that he had been with the troopers to a blacks’ camp where two gins, a piccaninny and a blackfellow were shot or otherwise killed by the troopers. After breakfast Messrs Jno. Moffat, Peter Moffat, Linedale, Dineen and witness were piloted by Alicky to a camp where they saw the remains of two gins, a piccaninny and a blackfellow. The blackfellow was known in the camp as King Billy. He had been about the Silver Camp and Irvine Bank for months past. Witness also recognised the body of one of the gins, who was in the habit of knocking about Tait’s public-house. The bodies were all partially burned. One gin was unrecognisable, but there was sufficient of the remains to show that there had been tow gins and a piccaninny. The lower extremities were destroyed by fire. The bodies appeared to have been drawn together, some logs and bushes piled on them and then set fire to. Witness noticed bullet marks on two or three trees in the vicinity, and out of one of them extracted the bullet produced. He found one of the pairs of handcuffs produced, about 200 yards from the bodies, and found the other pair, produced, close to the bodies. The cartridge case, also produced, was within a few feet of them. He found a Woomera and spear close to the tree from which the bullet was extracted. Also found a shield, partially burned, lying close to the bodies. On the 22nd October witness went up to the camp in company with constable Moroney. The bodies were much more burned and very much decomposed. The fire was burning when he first saw the bodies, but was not burning when seen in company with constable Moroney. On the 23rd October he visited the spot where the bodies were [indistinct]. When the bodies were seen they had not been dead more than twelve or fourteen hours. He had seen one of the gins on the previous day, at Tait’s public-house. He did not take notice of any wounds, but fancied the head of one of the gins had been smashed in. Around the camp were pieces of old blankets, such as were distributed to the blacks. Believed the name of one of the gins was Kitty, and knew that she was the mother of a blackboy who is driving Tait’s packhorses.

  Mr. John Moffatt also gave evidence which corroborated that of the previous witness in every particular.

  The Inquiry was then adjourned.

  Constable Moroney deposed that on the 22nd October he visited the scene of the reported murder of the blacks, near Irvine Bank, and had seen something like the remains of four aboriginals, partly destroyed by fire. He visited the place next day in company with Dr. Bowkett, Mr Moffat, Mr Seaman and Sergeant Breene, when he saw nothing but a heap of ashes.

  Dr. Bowkett deposed that he accompanied the Police Magistrate and others to a hill about two miles from Irvine Bank, and was there shown a heap of ashes, still smouldering. Was informed that human bodies had been burnt there. Examined the heap and found some small bones, but was unable to identify them as human bones, they being so much charred.

  The inquiry was further adjourned.

  The hearing of the inquiry was continued at Irvine Bank on the 12th November.

  J. C. Sedgwick deposed that he heard shots fired on Saturday evening, and had an idea what the shooting was for.

  Alesandro Leoni deposed that he heard shots fired and heard screams. He afterwards saw dead bodies of four Aboriginals.

  The inquiry was terminated and the evidence forwarded to the Attorney-General.

                  (Herberton Advertiser, 15 November 1884; ex Cairns Historical Society).



  Before doing a comparison of the author’s description of the incident and the aftermath, with sworn depositions made by witnesses, two points need to be made.

  1. The author never names the sources of his quotes i.e. the identities. We are given :

a. A European witness …

b. One police officer remarked

c. Several residents …

In the case of (a) and (b) above the name of the individual has a direct bearing on the way a comment may be evaluated. The author must be aware of the names, yet for some reason does not use them.

2. It is almost impossible to use the description, as given by the author, as a basis for analysis or comparison because it is so flawed. Two different incidents have been combined, witness statements placed totally out of context, and inferences drawn based on ignorance of the legal procedures.

  Under such circumstances the simplest way to overcome the confusion of a line by line rebuttal, is to present the facts in chronological order utilising facts from sworn depositions or referenced documentary evidence. The reader can then make a choice as to the correct version of events.

  Rather than quote the depositions in detail the writer has extracted the relevant facts to save page after page of evidence. Suffice to say these facts are supported in detail in the original documents. Where extracts are used from other documents these are quoted verbatim and referenced.




  The reasons for Sub-Inspector Nichols and his detachment’s presence at and near Irvinebank during the period in question:

I also had tracked a large mob of blacks to within seven miles of IrvineBank (sic) whom I had strong reasons to believe were concerned in two murders, spearing one man, spearing the cattle on Mr H Williams station on the Lynd River, and in the ravishing of a white girl namely the daughter of Mrs (indistinct) living then at Irvinebank.

                                           (Letter Nichols/Col Sec 1473/1885 C0L A419 QSA) 


15 October 1884.

  Sub Inspector Nichols and his detachment arrive in Irvinebank and proceed to execute warrants held for two Aboriginals named Spoopendyke and Toby. This is described by two European witnesses George W Seaman (a clerk employed by John Moffat and Co and the author’s anonymous European witness) and James Dwyer (a miner).


Facts from GW Seaman’s testimony:

  1. On 15 October 1884 he saw troopers riding around, and blacks from the camp scattering everywhere. He ran down to the township to investigate.

  2. He saw Spoopendyke, handcuffed, feet tied together, fastened to a fence with Nichols and a trooper there

  3. Shortly after he saw Spoopendyke led away by troopers fastened between two horses.

  4. He than ran to Mr Moffat’s residence to inform him of the events, and looking back saw Toby being led away by a trooper and someone he thought was Mr Carr’s Cadet (i.e. Cadet Garraway).

  5. He saw Toby taken along the track to Herberton

    (JUS N/110 Inquest 511/1884).

Later in his evidence at the trial (Regina v the NP Troopers) his statement concerning the events on 15 October consisted solely of the following:

I remember the Wednesday the 15th October I saw Sub Insp Nichols and some black troopers there. I recognise Sandy, Pituri and Sambo. I do not recognise any of the others as having been at Irvinebank on the 15th October last.

                                                                                                    (A414 QSA)


a. Thus it can be seen that the events of 15 October whilst raised in the Magisterial Inquiry were not deemed part of the later incident.

b. Cadet Garraway on 15 October was at the Barron River NP Camp and the identity of the individual with Sub Inspector Nichols is revealed in the next witness’s evidence.


Facts from James Dwyer’s evidence:

  1. He saw Sub Inspector Nichols and some troopers take Spoopendyke into custody.

  2. He assisted in subduing Spoopendyke, and heard Nichols tell Spoopendyke to shut up.

                                 (A414 QSA)

This identifies James Dwyer as being the individual with Nichols, not Cadet Garraway (who was at Barron River NP Camp at the time) as George Seaman thought.

Summary: 15 October 1884:

Sub Inspector Nichols arrives in Ivinebank and executes outstanding warrants on Toby and Spoopendyke. They then set out towards Herberton.


The next series of events culminate in the murder of four innocent Aboriginals and the arrest and trial of Sub Inspector Nichols and certain NP troopers.

Because the evidence is so voluminous and readily available, only salient facts will be extracted except where they are at variance with the description in The Secret War when direct quotations will be used. In addition critical omissions will also be quoted.


16 October 1884:

  1. Sub Inspector Nichols and his detachment arrive at Nigger Ck NP camp having camped overnight on their way from Irvinebank.

  2. Cadet Garraway arrives at Nigger Ck, with orders from Sub Inspector Carr the senior officer at Barron River NP Camp, to pick up a deserter Charlie and return him to Barron River. Garraway brings two troopers with him.

  3. Garraway and his troopers stay overnight.


17 October 1884:

  1. Nichols requests the assistance of Garraway and his two troopers as he intends returning to Irvinebank and is shorthanded.

  2. Garraway wires Inspector Isley, the senior police officer in the district, for orders.

  3. Isley orders Garraway to assist Nichols.

  4. The combined party, together with deserter Charlie, then set out for Irvinebank. This they reach and camp overnight in the vicinity of the township.

  5. The combined party now consists of:

Nigger Creek Detachment:  Sub Inspector Nichols, Cpl Sambo, Tpr Carlo, Tpr Sandy, Tpr Pituri, Tpr Warry/Joe.

Barron River Detachment: Cadet Garraway, Tpr Willie, Tpr Jimmey, Tpr Charlie (Deserter).


18 October 1884:

  The critical day in the whole chain of events and one which the author of The Secrete War passes over with little detail.

  1. Sub Inspector Nichols parades the troopers and issues explicit orders:



He emphasised the order by repeating it.

                                                                 (Garraway Deposition 21/1/1885 A414 QSA)


This raises two questions:

a. Who is Tommy and why does Nichols want him.

b. Why did he send out his troopers and not accompany them.

a. Tommy and the reasons for Sub Insp Nichols’ interest in him are clearly shown in Cadet Garraway’s deposition on 21 January 1885:

Mr Nichols told me that his wish to get Tommy was to obtain some information from him about some murders I believe. He said Tommy was a runner between the tribes.

                                                       (Garraway Deposition 21/1/1885 A414 QSA)

b. It was normal practice for officers to send out troopers unaccompanied when they were scouting or looking for an individual.

(i)        Sub Insp Nichols did no go in charge of the troopers that day. He did not send me in charge of them.  I should say it was not his duty to go with the troopers himself when they are sent scouting like that, or to have sent me in charge of them.

(Garraway Deposition 21/1/1885 A414 QSA)


(ii)      It depends on circumstances whether it was the accused’s duty when sending his troopers on patrol in

        October last to go in charge of them.

There is such a thing as sending out scouts and there is such a thing as patrolling. In sending out scouts it is not customary for the officer to go. Patrolling is when all the detachment are working together.

I have heard Mr Garraway’s evidence in this case. I heard him swear how the troopers went on duty of the eighteenth of October last. I heard him swear they were paraded and sent out for a particular purpose by the accused. I consider it to have been an error in judgement to send out so large a party of troopers without an officer in charge of them, and not a neglect of duty. I consider the party was unnecessarily large for scouting.

                                                             (Isley Deposition 21/1/1885 A414 QSA)



2. After receiving Sub Insp Nichols’ specific instructions, seven troopers left camp between 9.00 a.m. and 10.00 a.m. leaving Tpr Sandy in camp with the two officers.

3. The trooper Sandy together with Alicky an Aboriginal and a gin left camp about 5.00 p.m. to collect some spears that Alicky said he knew the location of.

Sub Insp Nichols’ instructions to them were:

          Alicky know where some spear are, suppose you find ‘em, you bring them in.

     (Garraway Deposition 21/1/1885 A414 QSA)

4. About sundown Tpr Charlie returned to camp with the horses ridden by the troopers who had left in the morning to find Tommy. He said Cpl Sambo had sent him back with the horses as the country was too rough.

5. Tpr Sandy returned to camp between half-past eight and 10.00 p.m. with the spears. Alicky and the gin also returned to the camp.

6. The troopers who had left in the morning returned to camp between 9.00 p.m. and 10.00 p.m.

I first noticed the boys when they returned. I called out to you ‘Oh the boys are here.’ You spoke to Sambo in the presence of the other boys. I think you said, ‘You been bringing in Tommy, Sambo?’ He replied, ‘No catch em Mame think em gone away.

     (Garraway Deposition 21/1/1885 A414 QSA)

7. Neither Sub Insp Nichols nor Cadet Garraway were aware of any killings having taken place.


19 October 1884:

All the troopers together with Sub Insp Nichols and Cadet Garraway returned to the NP Camp near Herberton.


21 October 1884:

Cadet Garraway returned to the Barron River NP Camp. He did not hear of any killings at Irvinebank until after his return and only from a telegram in a newspaper.



Following the killings on the eighteenth of October there followed a sequence of events as outlined in the depositions of civilian witnesses. These depositions are all contained in A414 QSA and from which the following facts are extracted.


18 October 1884:

1. Alexander Leoni (a woodcutter) lived at Irvinebank and saw horses being driven along the dam wall towards town by a trooper. He then met some troopers about a mile below the dam, who asked him if there were any blacks about. He then went to his camp and about an hour or an hour and a half after dark heard five (5) shots and some crying. A good bit later he heard several more shots.


2. John C Sedgewick (a miner) lived at Irvinebank. At about 7 p.m. or 7.30 p.m. he heard seven (7) reports of firearms. Two first then five (5) reports followed quickly on each other. After hearing the shots he went to a store where he saw G. Seaman.


3. George W Seaman (a clerk) said that he met JC Sedgewick at the store and learned about the shots Sedgewick had heard. He also stated that he had heard something from Alicky on Saturday the 18th in the morning (Seaman was obviously confused as to the date and day. It was in fact on Sunday the 19th as borne out by other witnesses).


19 October 1884:

 As a result of the shots heard and Alicky’s information the following, John Moffat (Magistrate), Peter Moffat, Anthony Linedale, Charles Dineen, George Seaman and Evenden, set out to investigate what had occurred. Guided by Alicky they went to a mountain in the vicinity of Irvinebank whey they discovered the partially burnt bodies of four Aboriginals. They were the bodies of an elderly male (King Billy) a female (Kitty) together with an unidentified adult female and a child.

  They also found a pair of police handcuffs. John Moffat estimated that the victims were not dead for more than twelve to fifteen hours.

  Upon their return to Irvinebank J Moffatt and J Newell sent a telegram to the Police Magistrate of Herberton informing him of the matter.


22 October 1884:

The following revisited the site to further investigate, George Seaman, Alexander Leoni and Constable Denis Moroney (Herberton Police Station).


23 October 1884:

The following visited the site, Constable Denis Moroney, W.M. Mowbray, J. Moffat, Dr Bowkett, Sgt Breene, George Seaman.

By this time the bodies had been completely burnt and there were insufficient remains left to allow Dr Bowkett to identify them as human. Following this visit the Police Magistrate W.M. Mowbray immediately instigated a Magisterial Inquiry that same day at Irvinebank.



The sequence of the proceedings has been detailed elsewhere thus what remains is to examine the inferences of Government Cover-up, Judicial bias, and miscarriage of Justice that the author of The Secret War appears to promote.



  1. ‘Nichols, dismissed from the force, was Charged with ‘being an accessory before the fact to the Irvinebank murders’ but the crown did not proceed with the case against him’.


Apparently, arresting Nichols, remanding him firstly at Port Douglas and then at Herberton, bringing him before the court, hearing the evidence and acquitting him, is considered as ‘the crown not proceeding with the case’. Apparently the author is unaware of the term ‘double jeopardy’. You cannot charge a individual a second time after he has been acquitted.

2. As for the case against the Troopers is concerned the proceedings were carried out with all process. The fact that they were released by Judge Cooper in the Circuit Court Townsville, which was a judicial decision, does not imply a cover up. The reasons for his decisions are clearly shown in the following extracts:

(a).                                                    Townsville, April 25.

At the Circuit Court today four aboriginal troopers were charged with the murder of aboriginals at Irvine Bank near Herberton, and were remanded until the next sitting. The court was unable to interpret the charge to the prisoners, and Mr. Justice Cooper refused to allow the trial to be conducted in any “pigeon” English. Robert Miles was found guilty of an indecent assault on a girl under 12 years of age, and was sentenced to five years penal servitude and to receive twenty-five lashes with the cat-o’-nine-tails.

                                                                (Brisbane Courier, 27 April 1885.)


      (b).                                                   Townsville, Oct 22.

  At the Circuit Court today …. Five aboriginals were brought up charged with being concerned in the Irvinebank murders, but after several interpreters had been tried his Honour declined to accept their services, they being unable to convey to the prisoners the meaning of the charge, and the prisoners were therefore discharged.                              

                                                                           (Brisbane Courier, 23 October 1885.



The author is at pains to infer that the Police Magistrate W.M. Mowbray did not conduct the court proceeding in a just and impartial way. The writer added the emphasis in the following:

‘W.M. Mowbray the police magistrate at Herberton who conducted the inquest in October 1884 and the trial of Nichols in January 1885 WAS NO FRIEND TO ABORIGINAL PEOPLE. After Cadet Garraway gave his evidence at the court hearing, Mowbray declared:

            ‘There was not much use going on with the case’ and discharged Nichols.’


Regrettably once again the author uses unsupported statements and quotations out of context. In fact the evidence indicates that Mowbray carried out his duties in an impartial and professional manner.


1.(a).  On being advised on the 19th October of the alleged murders he travelled to Irvinebank as soon as possible. After visiting the site he immediately instigated a Magisterial Inquiry on the 23rd October. On completion of the inquiry on the 12th November he placed the results in the hands of the Attorney General.


1.(b).  As to the conduct of the court at Herberton, the author gives no evidence to support his statement (p.34) that Mowbray ‘was no friend to Aboriginal people’. Furthermore he follows this with ‘after Cadet Garraway gave his evidence at the court hearing, Mowbray declares ‘there was not much use going on with the case’ and discharged Nichols’.

  The clear inference obviously intended was that Mowbray’s discharge of Nichols was a reflection of his lack of concern for judicial honesty where Aboriginal people were involved.

  The reality is somewhat different as shown in a contemporary report on the case:

  The Herberton correspondent of the Townsville Standard writes that ‘the chief topic of the past week has been the trial of the seven black troopers for the murder of aboriginals at Irvinebank, and that of ex Sub-inspector Nichols for being an accessory before the fact to the same. The trial of the troopers lasted two days, and nine witnesses were examined, Detective Barry ably conducted the case for the crown.

  The Police-magistrate said he considered the evidence strong enough for a committal, and remanded the prisoners until advised as to which place they were to be tried at.

  The trial of Nichols only lasted half-a-day. Three witnesses were examined, Cadet Garraway (who was with him at the time), Inspector Isley, and James Bettel. The evidence given by the principle witness for the crown (Garraway) was of such a nature as to cause the Police-magistrate to ask Detective Barry if he had any evidence to produce to refute that given by him, and upon Detective Barry replying “No”, the Police-magistrate said there was not much use going on with the case. After hearing a couple more witnesses, the prisoner was discharged amid considerable applause.

                                                                  (Brisbane Courier, Monday 2 Feb 1885)


In reality there was no cover u, and the judicial process produced two verdicts that clearly reflected the impartiality and integrity of the law and those responsible for its implementation.


Firstly:         Nichols was discharged because there was no evidence to sustain the charge against him.


Secondly:     The troopers were discharged because Judge Cooper obviously believed that they could not receive a fair trial if they were unable to understand the charge against them.


It is a pity that this judicial impartiality, is rarely if ever mentioned in discussion about the Irvinebank killings.


2. ‘One police officer remarked before the preliminary hearing that local prejudice would obstruct further proceeding in the matter saying ‘if tried in Cooktown justice might be defeated owing to hatred of Aboriginals’.’


  Once again the statement omits the crucial names, quotes remarks out of context and draws a conclusion that is wrong.

  The unnamed officer would appear to the unsuspecting reader to be an independent individual with a strong sense of justice. So who was he? Whilst the author names him in a footnote he fails to do so in the text. His name, none other than Detective Barry the prosecuting officer!


  In all fairness to Detective Barry his remark should be put into context, which the author fails to do.

  As earlier detailed Nichols was placed on remand in the Port Douglas watch-house. The normal procedure would then be for the case to be heard at Cooktown.


IN A LETTER TO HIS SUPERIOR OFFICER IN TOWNSVILLE Detective Barry made the quoted remark obviously to support his application to the PM at Port Douglas for the remand of Nichols to Herberton. Detective Barry had a valid point. As a result of the murder of the Strau family and others during the Palmer Gold Rush there was a well-documented antipathy towards Aboriginals in Cooktown.

  The application was granted and Nichols was remanded to Herberton to appear before W.M. Mowbray no less.

  Obviously Detective Barry had a higher regard for Mowbray’s impartiality than the author.



Summary of the Irvinebank killings as described in The Secret War:


Regrettably, in the view of the writer, the presentation of the Irvinebank killings is:

  1. Factually inaccurate.

  2. Too often characterised by inference or innuendo.

  3. Apparently lacking in a clear understanding of Judicial Process.

  4. Somewhat cavalier in its use of documentary evidence.



  Whilst a notable addition to the literature of the Queensland Native Police, ‘The True History of Queensland’s Native Police’ it is not.

  Firstly it is not a history of the NP but the author’s personal perspective on certain aspects of its operations.

  Secondly its claim to be a ‘True’ history is open to objective criticism as the preceding pages surely indicate.

  There are regrettably too many factual errors, unsupported statements, and unjustified criticisms for it to be accepted as such.

  But perhaps the greatest shortcoming taken overall, is the fact that despite the obvious research that has gone into the book, this is not reflected in the content, where all too often the author’s personal perspective seems to take precedence over historical accuracy.

  Finally the author’s seeming preoccupation with the shortcomings of previous writers and governmental clerks is a double edged sword as all too often the author is in error, not those whose scholarship he questions.

                                                                                      By Simon Whiley 2009.

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