Natives on The Murray

South Australian Register

16 November 1839

We are sorry to announce that since our last number, intelligence has reached Adelaide of another encounter with the natives on the Murray.

Mr McLeod, who left Adelaide a few weeks ago, with provisions to meet Captain Finniss' overland party, writes from his encampment twenty five miles from the Murray, on the 5th instant, as follows:-

It is with feelings of no little regret that I have to acquaint you with the necessity for my falling back five days' journey from where I had reached on 28th October.

On the morning of the 29th, just as we started, Flood and myself in advance, we fell upon an ambush of the blacks, who, rising from the long grass and from behind the trees in considerable numbers, effectually prevented our proceeding, and attacked us in a most determined manner.

Unfortunately we had very few fire-arms and these principally ineffective.

Those that were serviceable, the men were obliged to fall back with, covering the unarmed portion of the party, and protecting themselves from the spears and waddies which were flying about in every direction.

After about half an hour's sharp firing, which the natives stood admirably, we drove them from the drays, and finally into the river; but had it not been, I suspect, for one or two well told shots, the result would have been very different. Two of the men were struck, but not materially hurt.

I feel deeply sorry at the want of sufficient fire-arms and the weakness of the party, as it has completely frustrated my intention of reaching the Darling by this, but as the natives were gathering in great numbers the whole of the 29th and the following day, I considered I was not justified in risking the lives of the men and the property on the drays with so inadequate a means of defence; I therefore returned to where I am now encamped. I have sent Flood in, in the expectation of his early return with additional supplies and a few more men, when I will at once proceed towards the Darling, which I hope to make by the 25th inst., which will be somewhere about the time Capt. Finnis may be expected to reach there, according to the information I received from Mr Mackinnon and party.

I overtook Mr Mackinnon's cattle and sheep on the 28th ult.; when I found one of the men (the overseer) had been murdered in a most brutal and barbarous manner by the blacks, about seven miles from where we were attacked the following morning; and as it was done in the utmost cool blood, it may afford some idea of the hostile feeling they have, and the treachery used towards the whites."

The particulars of the attack upon the stock party which we mentioned in our last two numbers, appear to be as follows:- On the morning of the 21st ult., the blacks drove off about 300 of Mr Snodgrass's sheep, which had just crossed the river.

Mr Templar, who was left in charge, having got some assistance, followed the blacks, and succeeded without much trouble in recovering about 250 of the sheep (the natives having partially dispersed, which were placed in charge of Mr Langhorne, who had just crossed the river to look after his herd of cattle. Shortly after, the blacks mustered to the number of at least two hundred, and advanced towards Mr Langhorne's party.

They were warned to keep away, and some shots were fired over their heads to frighten them, but without effect. The party was therefore obliged to fire a few shots in self defence, and some of the blacks were wounded but none of them killed.

Mr Fletcher then mounted a horse and charged the main body upon which they fled, but rallied again shortly after; and it was not till he had charged them a second time that the party was allowed to collect their cattle and sheep uninterrupted.

It appears evident that both of these unfortunate affairs have originated in the covetousness of the native - not from any decided hostility to the whites, but from an avaricious desire to become possessed of their property.

Their aim in the case was to drive off the sheep, and the other to become possessed of Mr. McLeod's dray, and they saw that unless they were able to muster the parties who had charge of them, they would be unable to attain their purpose.

Parties ought, therefore, to be continuing among the natives in that district, taking care to afford them no inducement to commit depravities on property, and they will also do well not to put much confidence in them, however friendly their appearance may be, as they often obtain by tretchery what they could not get otherwise.