Major Mitchell, Slaughtering of the Aborigines
The Sydney Gazette and New South Wales Advertiser
17 January 1837
Since we wrote the article which appeared in Saturday's Gazette relative to the slaughtering of the aborigines, during this officer's last expedition into the interior, we have been spoken to by several gentlemen, who differ with us in the view we have taken of this subject; but the arguments of each, which we were naturally desirous of hearing, appear to us so futile, and childish; as to have had the effect of strengthening, rather than weakening, the opinions we have all along entertained, and which we published in our last number.
We have been told by one party to put ourselves in Major Mitchell's place, and see if we would not then have acted similarly; by another, that it is easy to find fault, but not so easy to provide a remedy; a third asked us, with a degree of scorn on his intellectual brow, if white men's lives were to be put in jeopardy, for the sake of a parcel of mere savages? - a fourth states, with all the gravity and decision of a judge, that if Major Mitchell had not killed the savages, the savages, as a matter of course, would have killed Major Mitchell, referring us as a proof of his sagacity in discovering this circumstance, to the fate of the late Mr. Cunningham.
Now not one of these positions can alter ours one jot, and we believe they contain all the exculpation that the Major himself puts forward in his plea of justification.
Is there, we could ask any one thing adduced that could warrant thirty men firing on the natives, - that could warrant their reloading (while the poor wretched creatures were running off in all directions, naturally appalled at the first murderous fire, so unhesitatingly levelled at them), to repent the same act of destruction?
Is there anything that could justify a second volley, and a third being discharged with the same awful effect?
Is there anything that could justify the whites following the savages to the very water's edge, and until they plunged into the stream, to escape the slaughter which was being dealt out so unmercifully around them?
If then there are circumstances that can be stated sufficiently strong, to admit the correctness of the foregoing proceedings; what can be said in exculpation of the fact, that when the savages were actually swimming across the river, in the most hurried manner, to escape the deadly scene, that they should still be shot at like so many dogs and thus the lives of many others were sacrificed, and several severely wounded!
If, we say, there are any palliative circumstances for acts like these (and we admit there may be, as far as the Major is concerned, for he might not have ordered this to be done), for Heaven's sake! for mercy's sake to Major Mitchell himself, in justice to all concerned in the expedition, let there be a full - most minute enquiry.
Justice demands it, the country demands it - we demand it; and cannot but think, that Major Mitchell himself should demand it.
We have seen the formality and ceremony gone through in our Supreme Court before now, of the aborigines being arraigned to take their trials for the murder of their fellow men.
We have seen before now, public examples made upon the scaffold, of the savages who, poor unenlightened wretches, have revenged some act of aggression on the part of our stock keepers, according to the rules of their own country, by murder, ignorant that they were perpetrating any act, which would call down upon them the vengeance of our laws.
If then we have witnessed these cases, where they are rigidly made amenable to the jurisdiction of the civil authorities of our country, why, in mercy's name, are they not to have the same fostering arm of projection held out to them, when we commit unjustifiable acts of aggression on their tribes? Lieutenant Lowe, we well remember, was put upon his trial for shooting one native he was acquitted; but had the reverse been the result, his life would have been forefeited.
Here then is a charge against Major Mitchell, or his party, (we can as yet scarcely say which), for shooting these men by dozens. Is he to undergo no examination for this, is the Government at once satisfied of his exculpatory statement?
If it is, we are not; and though nothing will give us more gratification than to hear of Major Mitchell's honorable acquittal, or of those who may be mixed up with him in the business, from so serious a charge; we cannot say, we dare not, as public writers, allow the occasion to pass, without demanding an enquiry.
Our demand is not a heavy one - it is, remember, only for enquiry. Surely this may be acceded to.
Had the circumstances happened within the boundaries of the Colony, a Coroner's inquest would have been convened, but as it is beyond the limits, where this could not be done, a full investigation is absolutely necessary.
We certainly have more sanguine hopes of obtaining the attention of the present Government in this instance, than in any other case we have ever brought under its notice. Major Mitchell is obnoxious to Sir Richard Bourke, and we partly augur from this circumstance, that an enquiry will be ordered.
But remember, in demanding an enquiry into so serious a matter, we will have no packed juries, no unfair or underhand means resorted to; this we will particularly look after.
With respect to Major Mitchell's eminent abilities and qualifications-his services - the arduousness of his several expeditions, and his successful exertions, that must hand his name down to posterity in the Geographical annals of the Colony – all of which have been laid before us, as reasons why he should not be called strictly to account for shooting these men; while we admit all his qualifications in the fullest extent, and afford him the need of praise for each, to which we consider him so well entitled; it is our duty at the same time to state, that these circumstances cannot be called in question here.
We must stick to our text; for had the Major been a very Saint from Heaven, both previous and subsequent to, this lamentable business, it could not in any way affect this particular case.
We only call on him to account for this one act, and we shall continue to do so, till we have gained the object we have in view - enquiry.
This attained, we will be as quiet as the lamb - as silent as the grave.