Chapter Two ― Academic Treatment
Writing in 1888, Charles F Maxwell observed that Vincent Dowling:
Although exposed to frequent attacks from the blacks, he escaped without hurt, but not without some close shaves, as on one occasion he had a spear driven through his hat; and on another a boomerang thrown by a wild man cut open the ribs of the mare he was riding. Yet he did not retaliate, and not until 1865, when his brother John was murdered by the blacks, did he ever shed a drop of blackfellow’s blood.
It is regrettable that Mr Maxwell, who no doubt was an honourable gentleman, should be responsible for putting bad thoughts and mis-information into the minds of the digital knights-errant of today, who tilt at the windmills of Australian colonial history with the deluded belief they are righting the wrongs of yesteryear. The above statement by Maxwell is wrong and without foundation of any kind. I quote from Vincent James Dowling’s diary:
22 June 1863. While off my horse examining fresh black tracks to ascertain their age while stooping was rather surprised at getting a spear through my hat from the opposite side of the creek carried off and pinned it to the ground, no time for reflection before I was saluted with four boomerangs, none of which took effect but the last which struck the saddle and horse, tearing off flap of the saddle cut it almost like a knife. Picked up the boomerangs 3 and spear with my hat on the top of it cantered out of shot. I had a narrow escape four inches lower and the spear a fine barbed one would have pierced my left temple. I shall always wear long American hats. The Blacks must have taken me to be long headed which I am not by the bye and thus my hat saved me. Must never leave camp without arms again. After recovering from my surprise went out back and up the creek a little struck in and found good water holes. Returned down the creek keeping away from the banks. I stopped for an hour 3 miles up from where I struck the creek, fed my horse, bridle in hand, too close to the darkies. Rounded up three blacks on returning home and found the name of the creek to be the Coocara. Had some difficulty in stopping these gentlemen. They would not stop until I touched up one with the point of my spear. … Got back to camp at Sundown and found old Tom all right, poor fellow. I am glad I escaped for his sake, he would have been in a terrific fix. I need not say how thankful I feel to Providence for my escape. Death is often closer to us than we think.
29 June … Drove on down the creek (Cutha Paroo) met an old blackfellow and his gin in about 7 miles, they invited me to spend the evening with them. I accepted their invitation, they made me a fire and picked some grass for my bed, were exceedingly attentive and polite, on the whole spent rather an agreeable evening. How little satisfies one, if one could only believe in it. Ingenuas dedicisse fidelibus notes et cet. [I think Vincent means: The note of love is gentle and ardent; that of anger, loud and turbulent.]
30 June. Started my hostess Kitty, I find is her name, for the horses at daybreak. She brought them up and acknowledged her reward in the shape of half a fig of tobacco. Ascertained in the course of conversations these are Cooinoo last night (and) that there is a spring near Birrewarra right bank and that there are several between the Paroo and Cutha Paroo. Bid adieu to my hosts very early having given them a pressing invitation to visit the sheep station on the Irara which they have excepted (sic).
In late December 1922, EO Hobkirk handed to William Gall, Under Secretary in the Home Secretary’s Department, Brisbane two manuscripts seeking to sell them for 10/-. Gall described Hobkirk to the anonymous buyer as “an old identity of South West of Queensland.” The relevant manuscript is called, The Murder of Mr John Dowling. Locality, Bulloo River Queensland and is a hand-written document of approximately 1700 words in length written in 1922 about an event that “happened in 1865, 57 years ago.” The full article may be seen at Appendix F. The structure of the document is in the form of a narrative commencing with a statement of principle that Aborigines prefer death before disloyalty. They never betray their own tribesmen. Hobkirk then describes the lead up to the disappearance of John Dowling, the search for him, the finding of his remains and then the investigation of his death culminating in the massacre of the Bulloo Aborigines because of their dumb insolence towards a white man seeking answers to a white man’s problem which effectively proves the point that Aborigines do not give up their tribesmen to white authority. During the course of the telling, Hobkirk confesses to being a party to the killing of the Aborigines but only under the orders of a superior and that he did not actually kill any Aborigines. Being an eye witness to the slaughter of the Aborigines for their principle of steadfastness and staunchness, he effectively kills two birds with the one stone. He proves his observation that loyalty to one’s tribe is paramount to Aborigines and he has also witnessed a leading squatter, a pillar of society, a Magistrate, dirty his hands with criminal acts thus portraying his rank hypocrisy. The second part of the story is how Hobkirk solved the murder of John Dowling, captured the culprit Pimpilly and turned him reluctantly over to Vincent Dowling’s overseer and was never heard of again. The story ends with Hobkirk not receiving any acknowledgment or reward for services rendered to Vincent Dowling. The question is, firstly, is this document a valid historical source and if so, what weight should be given to the version of events set out in the document?
Also attached to the above Gall note was a second hand-written manuscript titled, Impersonating an Aboriginal. This is a story of Hobkirk in 1867, disguising himself as an Aborigine and joining-in a corrobboree:
We blackened with charcoal a thin, white singlet and a pair of underpants and then painted the front of the singlet with red and white stripes. The blacks paint their skin with red and white ochre, also a pair of black stockings, which we had managed to get possession of; my headgear consisted of a wig, made of horsehair, decorated with emu and white cockatoo parrot feathers. This completed the makeup.
This article appeared in the Queenslander of 12 May 1923. The article about the murder of John Dowling did not appear in the press but formed a small part of an article called Aboriginal Characteristics published by the Daily Mail of 6 January 1923 as follows:
Another strange characteristic is that natives seldom will betray their own race. Mr John Dowling was cruelly murdered by his pet black boy in the Bulloo River district when camped, out together, but this was not proved until many months after. Although the whole, or many of the tribe knew all about it, they would not betray the murderer, so in consequence, sacrificed their own lives.
Might an inference be drawn from the fact that since the above articles were written for publication in the popular press and as a consequence were never held out by either the publishers or the author as statements of fact as one might find in affidavits or other document of that nature or in scholarly works of history or science, that the articles were written only for the purposes of leisure, entertainment and recreation?
The next version is given by J St. Pierie who in 1969 complied Some Information on the History of South West Qld:
Vincent Dowling was killed by the natives while mustering stock in sandhill country on what is now Wongatta Station and was buried near the old Thargomindah crossing near Thargomindah homestead. As a reprisal, troopers who found the tribe camped on the eastern side of the river about thirty miles downstream (near the present Thyangra homestead), chased them towards the hills shooting them down as they ran. Until ten or twelve years ago it was not unusual to come across aboriginal skulls in that area. Reports are that the whole tribe of nearly 300 was wiped out. In 1911 there was an old aborigine at Norely who claimed to be the sole survivor of the massacre. A piccaninny at the time, his mother had hidden him under bark in a hole in the floor of the gunyah. The troopers had burnt the camp, including the gunyahs, over his head, but he stayed there and crawled out later. (Information from Mr G Gooch who went to Norley as a book-keeper in 1911). Date of the massacre is uncertain but it was probably 1872 or earlier as in 1872 Frederick W Armytage bought Thargomindah and Norely stations paying £170,000 for the former and £110,000 for the latter.
Now this version is even more outrages than Hobkirk’s. It does not even refer to John Dowling but Vincent, who died peacefully in his bed at Rylstone, NSW in 1903 but let us be generous and say it’s a typographical error, and instead of ‘Vincent’ it should read ‘John’. It still makes no sense. When you compare and contrast Hobkirk and Gooch/ St. Pierie with each other and the 1865 press reportages, the inconsistency and disparity are beyond question and reconciliation. Moreover, the 1865 press reports completely destroy the credibility of the Hobkirk and the Gooch/St. Pierie versions making them unreliable and discredited sources.
Incident 1865 Version 1922 Hobkirk 1969 J St. Pierie
Deceased John Dowling John Dowling Vincent Dowling
Departure Point Caiwarroo Paroo Thouringowa Bulloo N/A
Guide Waddy Galo Pimpilly N/A
Reason for travel Cutting a road Exploration Mustering
Destination Mount Murchison Menindee N/A
Duration of travel Four full days Not clear/not stated N/A
Search party Podmore & Hall Sams & stockman N/A
Duration of search Travelled 30 or 40 miles from Paroo 2 days 60 miles from Cheshunt Bulloo N/A
Place of Death Paroo River Queensland Bulloo River Queensland Wongatta Station
Date of Death 13 June 1865 Not clear/not stated 1872
Environment Waterless track of country, lost Good country couldn’t locate water Sandhill country
Manner of death Single blow to head, crushing skull Blow to head, struggle then several blows to skull Not stated
Reason for death unknown To avoid further beatings Not stated
Crime scene Camp site undisturbed Camp site looted Not stated
Perpetrator unknown Pimpilly Tribe of Blacks
Horses Not found Nearby mudfat plenty of water good feed Not stated
Perhaps the first post-November eleven 1975 crusader to deal with John Dowling’s death was Bobbie Hardy in his book Lament of the Barkindji:
When John Dowling’s body was found some weeks after his murder on the Paroo in 1865, nothing in the camp has been touched, neither rations, blankets, saddles, pistols nor the dead man’s clothing. The assailant was thought to be a Wadikali tribesman, far from his home on the Bulloo, who was helping Dowling survey a track from Mount Murchison to the Paroo. Why he felt impelled to crash his waddy down on his skull was a mystery, but not one that Dowling’s friends deemed worthy of much pondering. The fundamental fact was that another white man had been killed by “the niggers”, and it behoved his compatriots to take their revenge.
For this event, Hardy cited the Sydney Mail, 2 September 1865. Hardy’s treatment of the facts seems fair but his comments are emotive and inflammatory. There is no proof that any white man took revenge against the Wadiklai tribe or any other tribe over John Dowling’s death.
The next to deal with the matter was Hazel McKellar, in Matyu-mundu where she recounts the Gooch/St. Pierie version:
As with other groups, the Kullilla suffered at the hands of the whitefella’s rifle. The most notable massacre occurred around 1872. Vincent Dowling, the owner of Thargomindah station, was killed, according to white history, by aborigines while mustering stock in sandhill country. As a reprisal, troopers found the tribe camped on the eastern side of the river, chased them towards the hills, shooting them down as they ran. It was reported that nearly 300 people were killed in this incident. Some whites say these people belonged to the “Bitharra” tribe but Peter Hood, a Kullilla descendant, is certain they were his people. He says the site of this massacre was further south towards Bulloo Downs.
However, she does not acknowledge Gooch/St. Pierie as the source; there are no citations. McKellar does not attempt a critical analysis of the source material. She makes no comment about the identity of the deceased. Is it Vincent Dowling or John Dowling, or just another white man? Suggesting, it may be irrelevant since it is white history. She says the white history is wrong as to the tribe massacred, as it was the Kullilla and not the Bitharra and the nominated site of the massacre was further south of Bulloo Downs on the authority of Peter Hood, a Kullilla descendant. Again, no citations or authorities are given for these categorial statements of fact. This perhaps suggests that white history is irrelevant but where it corroborates a tribal story (oral history) then it derives some historical value to koori culture but apart from that it is meaningless white man’s business. The issue for McKellar is that Kullilla tribes’ people were killed without excuse or justification on the Bulloo River south of Bulloo Downs by troopers in 1872 and not by the Dowling family or their agents or servants. Where books in the McKellar genre sit in the world of scholarly research, I cannot say, but I imagine there is a place for them in the social justice library.
Perhaps the next attempt at dealing with the John Francis Dowling incident is by Jonathon Richards who completed a Doctor of Philosophy thesis called, A Question of Necessity: The Native Police in Queensland, Griffith University, March 2005. I quote from Richards’s thesis:
One credible account of a killing perpetrated by squatters and their employees, is found in the reminiscences of Edward Hobkirk, an employee at Dowling’s Station on the Bulloo River.107 According to Hobkirk, grazier John (‘Jack’) Dowling was killed in 1864 by his ‘pet blackboy’ and Dowling’s brother wrote to the nearest Native Police (probably Bungil Creek near Roma) about the murder. Hobkirk said Dowling was told to ‘take what measures he thought best to revenge the murder,’ so ‘all the men in the neighbourhood’ were assembled and ‘armed with revolvers and rifles’ before the local Aboriginal people were mustered.108 Hobkirk admitted he helped bury the bodies that Dowling and others shot at several camps.
107 EO Hobkirk, Original Reminiscences of South West Queensland, NLA, MS 3460, Vol 2. It is unclear when Hobkirk actually wrote this account, but the other records in the file cover the period from 1870 to 1923. Hobkirk gave his manuscript to William Gall at the Home Secretary’s Office in 1922.
108 Hobkirk, Original Reminiscences. The Dowling brothers were the nephews of Sir James Dowling, A New South Wales judge, and related to other leading squatter families. See a family tree of the Dowling family in David Denholm, The Colonial Australians (Melbourne: Penguin, 1979), 177, and a list of their relatives (including James Morisset) in Anthony Dowling (editor), Reminiscences of a Colonial Judge: James Sheen Dowling (Sydney: The Federation Press, 1996), 202. John Dowling’s death was confirmed in the Brisbane Courier (4 June 1864), and the repercussions are mentioned in Bobbie Hardy, Lament for the Barkindji: the vanished tribes of the Darling River region (Adelaide: Rigby, 1976), 116.
109 One source says Vincent Dowling ‘subsequently became a terror to the black’ Charles F Maxwell, Australian men of Mark 1788 – 1888 1 (Sydney: Charles F Maxwell, no date), 385.
Richards relies entirely on Hobkirk for his description of the John Dowling incident. He describes Hobkirk as a credible witness. Richards says “Hobkirk says John D was killed in 1864” and that Hobkirk was “an employee at Dowling’s Station on the Bulloo River”. Hobkirk in fact says 1865 and clearly states, “… Mr Sams of Cheshunt cattle station, where I was employed.” Richards further quotes Hobkirk, “helped bury the bodies;” Hobkirk in fact said, “I helped first to burn the bodies and then to bury them.” These errors and omissions are critical and reflect a lack of attention to detail when accuracy is critically required. Where do the examiners of this work stand? In footnote 108, Richards says “John Dowling’s death was confirmed in the Brisbane Courier (4 June 1864).” This statement is blatantly wrong. If Richards had searched the Queensland Register of Deaths, he would have found that John Dowling died on 13 June 1865 on the Paroo River, Queensland. Moreover, if he had checked Bobbie Hardy’s footnote at page 116 of Hardy’s above book, Richards would have been referred to an article at page 2 of the Sydney Mail of 2 September 1865 which, if Richards doctoral thesis is to be treated seriously as a work of scholarship, he would have then found a version totally different to Hobkirk’s drivel. In other words, he would have been duty bound to explore and bring to light what the newspapers of the day had to say. This he failed to do; again, where do the examiners of this work stand? There is no scholarly analysis of the incident just the familiar vapid, insular mould of university historians of the leftist genre who, when they’re on a good thing, stick to it; don’t muddy the water with clarity and honesty or a contrary source that may destroy the leftist plot.
The next text to deal with the death of John Dowling is One Hour More Daylight by Mark Copland, Jonathan Richards and Andrew Walker first published in 2006 but republished in 2010 at page 78:
A chilling account of the killing of Aboriginal people in the far southwest can be found in the reminiscences of E. O. Hobkirk, a man described as “an old identity of South Western Queensland.” In 1861 Vincent Dowling ‘took up’ stations on the Paroo River; an attack in 1863 was supposed to have been averted by his ‘long American hat’, which deflected a spear.228 In 1865 his brother John Dowling, manager of ‘Thouringowa’ station on the Bulloo River, was reported as having been killed by his ‘pet black boy’. Vincent Dowling gathered the white men in the neighbourhood and started on a search for the alleged culprit ‘Pimpilly’. Hobkirk described Dowling’s revenge:
Mr V Dowling, who could talk the blacks’ lingo pretty well asked several of them ‘who killed white fellah? Brother belonging to me’. They one and all answered ‘they knew nothing about the murder’. He also enquired ‘where Pimpilly?’ this they also confessed that they knew nothing whatever about him. Mr Dowling then said, ‘If you do not tell me, I will shoot the lot of yous’. Still they all remained silent. Mr Dowling and the others then set to work and put an end to many of them, not touching the ‘Gins’ and young fry. This I know is true as I helped first to burn the bodies and then to bury them. A most unpleasant undertaking! But as I was only a ‘Jackaroo’ on ‘Cheshunt’ station at the time, I had to do what I was told.229
A similar massacre took place on a neighbouring station later on the same day. Eventually Pimpilly was captured and killed. He had killed Dowling after receiving a vicious beating for not providing his master and horse with water.230
228 Australian Dictionary of Biography (1972), Vol. 4, p. 99.
229 Queensland historical manuscripts – Vol 2 ‘Original Reminiscences of South West Queensland’ by E.O. Hobkirk, NLA, MS 3460.
The authors introduce their scholarly work as follows, “This book represents a condensation of over two years of systematic research of manuscripts, newspapers and government documents. It is based on a selection from a wide range of archival records, … However, this is the most comprehensive effort to date in drawing together historical material relating to dispossession in the region.” Not satisfied with that overdrawn statement, these learned gentlemen go on to make this breathtaking gasconade, “One Hour More Daylight provides far too much evidence to sustain an argument that there has been a ‘fabrication of aboriginal history’.”
The first aspect of this publication to note is that Jonathan Richards is one of the three authors. Turning to the above quote of Hobkirk’s, Copland et al use the word ‘Gins’ the manuscript says ‘lubras’. It is an error; perhaps, it was a typographical error? There is no analysis of the source material or the incident. It appears in their book as a recital might be found in a deed, pleadings, lineage, or a Norse saga. The authors seem to treat it as folklore, thus beyond scrutiny even when it may be a false or unsubstantiated belief by Hobkirk. They say they made a systemic search of newspapers but do not refer to the numerous reportages of the incident that appeared in the newspapers of Queensland, New South Wales and Victoria. Does this raise for the querist the suggestion that one, they did not search the relevant newspapers or two, that they did but repressed the information as it was inconsistent with the leftist genre of writing anti-settler history or three, was it to protect Jonathan Richards’ thesis or four, they were incompetent as researchers?
In 2008, the University of Queensland Press published a book called The Secret War by Jonathon Richards which appears to be based on his above thesis of 2005. The book was reprinted in 2017. The relevant section is quoted as follows:
One credible account of a killing perpetrated by squatters and their employees, is found in the reminiscences of Edward Hobkirk, an employee at Dowling’s Station on the Bulloo River. It is unclear when Hobkirk actually wrote this account, but the other records in the file cover the period from 1870 to 1923 and he gave his manuscript to William Gall at the Home Secretary’s Office in 1922.47 According to Hobkirk, grazier Vincent Dowling’s reported in writing to the nearest Native Police (probably Bungil Creek near Roma) after his brother John (‘Jack’) Dowling was killed in 1864 by his ‘pet blackboy’. Hobkirk said Dowling was told to ‘take what measures he thought best to revenge the murder,’ so ‘all the men in the neighbourhood’ were assembled and ‘armed with revolvers and rifles’ before the local Aboriginal tribe was mustered at gunpoint. Hobkirk admitted he helped bury the bodies that Dowling and others shot at several camps. One source says Vincent Dowling ‘subsequently became a terror to the blacks’.48
47 E.O. Hobkirk, Original Reminiscences of South West Queensland, National Library of Australia, Manuscript MS 3460, Volume 2.
48 Charles F Maxwell, Australian men of Mark 1788 – 1888 1 (Sydney: Charles F Maxwell, no date), 385.
When you compare and contrast his thesis with the above quote from 2017 reprint, you will find that he has rearranged the text slightly. However, he still maintains that John Dowling was killed in 1864 and Hobkirk was an employee of Vincent Dowling notwithstanding, the contradictory statements made by Richards in his 2006 collaborative work on One Hour More Daylight. Authors who collaborate are jointly and severally liable for the integrity of their published work. So, the blatant errors of the thesis and the lack of critical analysis of the source material are transferred into Richards’ published work, The Secret War. So much for authentic, accurate, and honest scholarship and tight professional editorial control alleged by university publishing houses. Richards is primarily writing about the Queensland Native Police and you only need to note this bold statement, ‘… the infamous force created to kill Aboriginal and Torres Strait people in Queensland’. So, a simplistic take on why Richards would include John Dowling’s death is that if the Native Police cannot do the job, then the squatter can make application for a licence to kill and he will be authorised as Vincent Dowling was, to carry out the extermination policy. The sheer preposterousness of the statement is beyond belief and not a shred of evidence is offered to prove that the Queensland Government ever authorised and directed Vincent Dowling to kill Bulloo River Blacks or that the Native Police were a state-run extralegal organisation killing Aborigines. Aborigines were killed and so were settlers and police in the many collisions that occurred on the Queensland frontier. What I said about Richards’s thesis applies equally to his published work by University of Queensland Press.
Raymond Evans in 2010, contributing to Passionate histories: myth, memory and Indigenous Australia at Part One: massacres, with, 1. The country has another past: Queensland and the History Wars also draws upon the Titus Oates of Australian history, EO Hobkirk, who should be called Hobkirk the Liar, with the old familiar refrain:
In 1865, for instance, EO Hobkirk, ‘an old identity of South Western Queensland’ was present at a mass killing of Aborigines on the Bulloo River after an Aboriginal worker, described as a ‘pet black boy’, murdered John Dowling, the manager of Thouringowa Station. His brother, Vincent gathered a white posse to secure the culprit, but when local Aborigines would not provide information – to quote Hobkirk: Mr. Dowling then said, ‘if you do not tell me I will shoot the lot of yous’. Still they remained silent. Mr. Dowling and the others then set to work and put an end to many of them, not touching the ‘gins’ and young fry. This I know to be true as I helped first to burn the bodies and then to bury them. A most unpleasant undertaking! But as I was only a ‘Jackaroo’ on ‘Cheshunt’ station at the time, I had to do what I was told.43 Vincent Dowling had earlier been a pioneering cattleman on the Upper Darling River in 1859. His head stockman, John Edward Kelly later provided graphic descriptions of atrocities visited by white settlers on the local Aboriginal peoples. ‘We feel perfectly certain that we have not exaggerated one single statement we have made’, Kelly concluded his account: ‘We have seen the bones’.44
43 Copland et al 2006: 77–78; Richards 2008: 67.
44 The Stockwhip, 22 April 1876; Maryborough Chronicle, 9 May 1876; Evans, R 2009: 10.
Evans trots out the same old hackneyed source uncritically. Hobkirk is an inappropriate source. No attempt is made to address the other material that is available. He adopts a studious ardour to avoid any material that might question or threaten the leftist view that a white man massacred Aborigines. What is of interest though, is Evans’ novel attempt to bolster Hobkirk’s credibility by the juxtaposition of a totally irrelevant quote from Vincent Dowling’s head stockman, JE Kelly. It is a variation of the guilt by association technique. Kelly says he had heard reports of atrocities against Aborigines and then gives a general description of these activities. I fail to see the relevance of Kelly’s statement, since John Dowling was killed in 1865 long after the period Kelly is describing and he further says that whilst he was in the area working for Vincent Dowling no atrocities were committed by Dowling or his staff. However, if a quote has to be given perhaps the following might be fair and adequate:
We are speaking (says the writer) of the year 1859. The blacks on the Darling had been most barbarously murdered by our early predecessors, hunted like kangaroos or wild dogs, wherever they were known to exist. … driving him home, and there “stretching” and flogging him as already described. This was about the extent of the punishment inflicted upon the blacks when we first took up our abode on the Darling — that is by the sheep-men. … Although we never saw a black shot or “stretched” — for the simple reason that no man living dare do such a thing in our presence — still we feel perfectly certain that we have not exaggerated one single statement that we have made. We have seen ”the bones;”
The next attempt at dealing with the murder of John Dowling may be found in Timothy Bottoms’ book Conspiracy of Silence published in 2013. His portrayal of the incident is as follows:
In 1864, Jones, Sullivan and Molesworth Greene established Bulloo Downs Station (c. 113 kilometres south-west of the future Thargomindah, and 20 kilometres north of the NSW border). The following year, the owner of Fort Bourke Station on the Darling River, Captain John (Jack) Dowling, formed Ardock Station and not long afterwards, his brother, Vincent James Dowling, took up Thargomindah Station.13 Later in 1865, while managing his brother’s station, John Dowling was out on the run mustering, and was beaten to death with a waddy while sleeping beside his campfire. His ‘tame black boy’, ‘Pimpilly’, had sought revenge for a beating he received from Dowling for not promptly bringing water to his ‘master’ and his horse when so ordered. A Kooma descendant, Hazel McKellar, recalled: ’As a reprisal … [they] found the tribe camped on the eastern side of the river, chased them towards the hills [Grey Range], shooting them down as they ran.’14 This occurred at Thouringowa Waterhole on the Bulloo River (rough halfway, south-west, between Thargomindah and Bulloo Downs). EO Hobkirk was in Vincent Dowling’s white posse that went in search of the alleged perpetrator. He described how they had corralled a camp of Kullilli, and Dowling had demanded to know who had killed his brother, but the Kullilli confessed that they knew nothing about the murder, to which Dowling responded:
‘If you do not tell me, I will shoot the lot of yous’. Still they all remained silent. Mr Dowling and the others then set to work and put an end to many of them not touching the lubras and young fry. This I know is true as I helped first to burn the bodies and then to bury them. A most unpleasant undertaking! but as I was only a ‘Jackaroo’ on Cheshunt station at the time, I had to do what I was told. Later in the day the party went to another camp of blacks, about 20 miles down the river and there again shot about the same number.15
Dowling continued to terrorise the Aboriginal population to avenge his brother’s murder, while employing Aboriginal labour.16 The bookkeeper at Norley Station (c.30 kilometres north of Thargomindah) recalled that in 1911, there was an old Aboriginal there who: … claimed to be the sole survivor of the massacre. A piccaninny at the time, his mother had hidden him under bark in a hole in the floor of the gunyah. The troopers had burnt the camp there and crawled out later.17
It was reported later that nearly 300 people were killed in this incident. Although the numbers may well have been an exaggeration, it was nevertheless a sizeable killing spree.
13 J St Pierie, ’18. Some Information on the History of South West Qld,’ in Warrego and South West Queensland Historical Society Collection of Papers, Cunnamulla and District, Vol.1, 1969, p.2 (of paper).
14 H McKellar, Matya-mundu: a history of the Aboriginal people of South West Queensland, Cunnamulla Australian Native Welfare Association, 1984, p.57.
15 E O Hobkirk, Queensland historical manuscripts―Vol.2 ‘Original Reminiscences of South West Queensland’, NLA MS3460, (1922) pp. 3-4. Cheshunt Station is located 20 kilometres south-west of Taro, or c.100 kilometres west of Dalby.
16 Hobkirk, NLA MS3460. Hobkirk noted: ‘We found it hard to prevent the few that were employed on the station from … [running away into the ranges] … as they were so scared at what had taken place that we had to lock them up in the Hut―that was used as a store[,] for a short time.’ p.4.
17 G Cooch (bookkeeper at Norley in 1911) cited by St Pierie, History of South West Queensland,’ in Warrego and South West Queensland Historical Society Collection of Papers, Cunnamulla and District, Vol.1, 1969, p.3 (of paper).
Timothy Bottoms holds a degree of Doctor of Philosophy and is a professional historian. As an historian his first step should have been to consult the Australian Dictionary of Biography (ADB) and he would have found an entry for Vincent James Dowling which would have alerted him to the inaccuracy of the St. Pierie’s version because it would have shown that John Dowling was not the owner of Fort Bourke. His failure to acknowledge the ADB, which is a touchstone for any researcher venturing into Australian history, is bordering on professional incompetence or negligence, if not that, then at least it is not a fair and honest investigation. The above extract from Bottoms’ book is a melange of two sources (St. Pierie and Hobkirk) cherry-picked to invent a credible historical event that never occurred. It contains errors and omissions woven in a way to breath a fictional dimension to a past event such as John Dowling’s murder. The first and by far the greatest omission is the failure to identify the press reports of 1865 of John Dowling’s death and to make an appraisal of them. The second is his failure to critically assess the source material he finally acted on. For instance, the Gooch/St. Pierie version, was first written down by J St. Pierie in 1969 who got it from Gooch, a bookkeeper, who only arrived at Norely station, which is near Thargomindah, in 1911, 46 years after the event. Gooch was not an eyewitness. He can only have acquired his version by hearsay, local gossip. Gooch said Vincent Dowling was killed while mustering. Hobkirk said John Dowling was killed while exploring a route to the Darling. Gooch had no qualifications other than bookkeeping skills and appears to have been a collector of tall stories and squatting yarns of doubtful authenticity. Bottoms then adds some pepper and salt by saying that: “A Kooma descendant, Hazel McKellar, recalled: ’As a reprisal … [they] found the tribe …’.’’ Hazel McKellar was not an eye witness. The use of the word ‘recalled’ suggests she brought (a fact, event, or situation) back into her mind; remember it. She wrote a book that quoted Gooch/St. Pierie and failed to give any citation for the quote. Her work can only be viewed as a very poor secondary source of doubtful veracity and honesty. Bottoms further distorts the sources by adding, “Dowling continued to terrorise the Aboriginal population to avenge his brother’s murder, while employing Aboriginal labour.” Hobkirk was an employee of the Messrs Sams on the Cheshunt station. He did not work for Vincent Dowling and therefore, would not know what labour problems Vincent had, if indeed he had any. Furthermore, Bottoms says, “Cheshunt Station is located 20 kilometres south-west of Taro, or c.100 kilometres west of Dalby”. There is no town called Taro; it is Tara Qld 4421. Circa 100 kilometres west of Dalby would equate with the town of Moonie. This makes Bottoms’ version even more absurd. The only integrity that Hobkirk’s version has and it is very little, is that Cheshunt Station was a neighbouring station to VJ Dowling’s Thuringowa Station, not approximately 700 kilometres from Thargomindah as Moonie is. That appears to be the total historical treatment of the murder of John Dowling and the aftermath by professional historians.
I just want to end this chapter with a quick overview of the above analysis of the academic treatment of John Francis Dowling’s murder by one or more Aborigines. As I opined in the Preface to this book, some will see it as just another brick hurled in the History Wars squabble; I do not. The point I am trying to make is that the writing of history is simply a matter of honesty and accuracy on the part of the historian who is further duty bound to discover and bring to notice any and all sources of knowledge relating to the historical event under study. Furthermore, the information or evidence must be initially assessed as to its worthiness or probity by an agreed set of rules for evaluating its admissibility. These sorts of ground rules should be above concepts of conformity to prevailing political or fashionable standards. I have always thought that was the case. But it seems that history somehow or other ends up being the plaything of newly emerging groups in society who seem to demand the right to tell their story in their own way. Well may they say, we have that right and who would deny them their campfire songs and stories. However, a society or a nation is not just a bunch of social media jerks, who have emerged from the chrysalis of social justice, flimflamming on their cell phones. Standards of academic excellence must be preserved and maintained even in the face of the social justice warrior. If you want to write a history from the point of view of a political or social belief then say so.
2 thoughts on “The Murder of John Francis Dowling and the Massacre of 300 Aborigines.”
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