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George Stewart's Report

Page history last edited by Mcgooley 13 years ago

To the Honorable the COLONIAL SECRETARY, &c.,


SYDNEY, 10th June, 1836


“SIR – In obedience to the commands of His Excellency the Governor conveyed to me in your letter of the 4th ultimo, I embarked on board the Revenue Cutter (Prince George) on the 6th of that month for the purpose of proceeding to Port Philip; and when off the Heads of Port Jackson I delivered to Captain Roach his sealed instructions.


2. Our arrival at Port Philip was delayed by contrary winds, but we reached it on the 25th of May, and on the 27th I had the pleasure of seeing Mr. John Wedge, who resides about thirty (30) miles west of what is called the Settlement. To this gentleman, and the other residents, I am indebted for all the information which they readily afforded me.


3. I have, in the first place, to report, that the parties who are believed to have committed the two outrages at Western Port, one upwards of 18 months ago, and the other in March last, have long since left the colony.

The principal, accused of perpetrating the first, commanded a sealing vessel, and was killed by the natives in the neighbourhood of  Spencer’s Gulph. One of the females he carried from Western Port is reported to have been with him at the time he was killed. The perpetrator of the latter, is, I have every reason to believe, a half-caste named Tomlins, at present employed in a whaling establishment at Portland Bay. In the spring of the year, when the whaling season is over, it is the custom of the men belonging to this establishment to employ themselves in collecting Mimosa bark, during which employment an attack was made upon a native family, in which two women were wounded. It is expected that next season they will again return to Western Port, when, should the Government not deem it necessary to make any Police Establishment, I have every reason to hope that the delinquent and his accomplices, if any, will be apprehended by the residents of Port Philip.


4. The only aggression known to have been attempted by an European at Port Philip upon any of the blacks was committed by a stockman, who some time ago attempted forcibly to violate the person of one of their females, and who, on that account, was sent back to Van Diemen’s Land by Messrs Wedge and Batman, with which punishment the friends of the female were quite satisfied.[1]


5. The Port Philip residents appear to be treating the blacks with great kindness, and are endeavouring to instil habits of industry into them. But, like all savages, they will steal when they can find an opportunity; and three of them are reported to have speared two white men near ‘Indented Head’, that they might possess themselves of some flour these two were carrying. The tribe they belonged to, however, offered to give them up to the Europeans for punishment, which offer, under existing circumstances, was declined.


6. The only convicts that are known to have escaped to Port Philip are two from Van Diemen’s Land, who secreted themselves in the ‘Caledonia’ trader, on her last trip from Launceston. They are supposed to be lurking within ten miles of the Settlement, and during my stay of eight days, I used every exertion for their apprehension; but having completed every other object of His Excellency’s instructions, I did not feel myself at liberty to detain the cutter longer, and accordingly I embarked on the 3rd instant on my return to Sydney. I had less inducement to delay my departure, knowing that the residents are keeping a strict watch on these men, and there is little chance of their long escaping detection. Such is the feeling, indeed, among the persons now forming the establishment at Port Philip, that they expressed to me their determination to use their best endeavours to apprehend any convict who may escape thither, and to forward him by the first opportunity to the police of either New South Wales or Van Diemen’s Land.


7. On the 1st of June, I held a conference with the aboriginal natives, and I distributed to them some of the blankets which were placed at my disposal for that purpose. So far as my information extends, I am of opinion the number frequenting the country occupied by Europeans is about eight hundred (800), of which four hundred (400) have assembled on the Settlement at one time. Their movements are, however, very uncertain; and though I was somewhat surprised that, from the means I adopted of sending notice that blankets would be distributed, a larger number did not meet, the residents accounted for the circumstances in various ways, and my impression is, that either the shortness of the notice, or some feast at which they were supposed to be present, occasioned the small assemblage. Messrs Wedge and Batman having undertaken the charge of the remainder of the blankets, and promised to distribute them to the natives, I have no doubt His Excellency will approve my having left themwith these gentlemen for that purpose, as I was informed by Buckley that even if I remained another fortnight I might not see more of them.


8. The use of tobacco is yet unknown to them, and would not be appreciated had any been distributed.

The respectable residents are anxious to prevent their acquiring a taste for either it or spirits; and by their advice I have brought it back to Sydney. The articles most prized by the blacks are blankets, tomahawks, knives, and brass ornaments.


9. The blacks above alluded to are divided into seven (7) principal tribes, and the following, as far as I have been able to ascertain, is the name of each, its chief, and the country it inhabits, viz –



Yow Whamgetée
















I am inclined to think it has not been sufficiently ascertained what distinguishing title the chief prizes most, but have been led to believe that they designate themselves as the chief of such a tribe, and not the king of such a country.


10. On the same day of my holding the conference with the natives, there was a meeting of the Europeans at the Settlement, and I embraced that opportunity of promulgating the Proclamations of His Excellency Sir Richard Bourke, and circulated copies of each, for the purpose of their being posted up at the various stations of Europeans.


11. I further, agreeably to my instructions, embraced the opportunity of my stay at Port Philip, to collect all the information I could relative to that Settlement and neighbouring country, and the following is the result of my inquiries.


The Bay of Port Philip is about 100 miles in circumference, and, owing to the numerous shoals, is of rather difficult access. All the vessels, with the exception of one, which always chooses the western passage, go by the eastern channel, although the western is the more direct way to the Settlement, owing to the former not being so well known. The town, ‘Bearbrass’, is on the left hand of the Yarro Yarro, about seven miles from its mouth, which at present consists of thirteen buildings, viz., three weather boarded, two slab, and eight turf huts.


The whole amount of European population consists of 142 males and 35 females; of these nine are proprietors claiming under Mr. Batman’s treaty with the natives in June 1835; four of whom reside on their lands, and some of the others are soon expected to follow their example.


Twenty-four others are individuals who have settled in the vicinity without any regard to the above treaty, and the remainder are composed of, and servants of, the above.


The number of sheep grazing at Port Philip when I left was computed at 26,500, the number of horses at 57, and of horned cattle 100. The estimated value of the whole stock, together with farming implements, &c., was computed at £80,000. There was last year under cultivation 60 acres, and the settlers have now brought the means to cultivate to any extent which, under the tenure of their circumstances, they may deem expedient. I could not find, however, that their object was so much agricultural as to secure pasture for their stock. The wheat which had been grown, Mr. Batman assured me, was of excellent quality.


12. The Europeans occupy an extent of about 100 miles of the country, but no person is known to have penetrated more than 70 miles within land, and the most distant station is not, that I could learn, more than 35 miles from the township.


The soil is generally available for all agricultural purposes, and, for the most part, open grassy plains or downs. A very considerable tract of fine country is represented as extending to the westward of Port Philip. The land in other directions, beyond the limits claimed by the proprietors who acquired under Mr. Batman’s treaty with the natives, is not known to any extent, but it is supposed there is an available country extending to the north and north-west, as well as to the eastward, as far as the western extremity of the Australian Alps.


13. The country about Port Phillip did not suffer last season from the severe drought what was experienced in New South Wales and Van Diemen’s Land; and Buckley states that during his long experience of upwards of thirty years, he has never seen the pastures materially affected by the want of rain, nor the country during all that period flooded. In a ride which I took across the country between the two branches of the Yarro, I observed on some plains considerable cracks in the ground, which I thought must have been caused by dry weather, but, on my remarking the circumstance, I was told that the pasture did not suffer in the least.


14. Little appears to be known by the residents of Port Philip relative to the country about Western Port; but the impression seems to be, that there is at the latter place but a small extent of available country compared with the former. On our way to Port Philip, being caught in the Straits by a gale of wind, which injured the sails of the cutter so materially as to compel us to put into Western Port to repair, I took the opportunity of visiting the country where the settlement formerly was[2] (about eight miles from where we anchored), and walked for some miles through as rich a country as I have seen. It was thickly clothed with kangaroo grass, upwards of three feet in height, and on mentioning this at Port Philip, I was informed that, in that direction, there are excellent cattle stations, but the ground is considered too wet for sheep.


I beg to annex a long and interesting communication, addressed to me by Mr. George McKillop, an intelligent gentleman lately from India, who has embarked a large capital in the Port Philip speculation.


It is perhaps unnecessary for me to draw the attention of His Excellency to any separate portion of that letter, except it be to the important subject mentioned in the postscript, viz., the smuggling of tobacco, which, together with spirits, I found were, by means of the vessels trading thither, constantly imported without paying duty either at Sydney or Van Diemen’s Land.


For His Excellency’s information, the following list of the vessels now employed in bringing stock from Van Diemen’s Land is given.


Enterprise               55 tons . . .              9 trips

Adelaide                 100  “    . . .            14   “

Norval                    300  “    . . .             7   “

Caledonia                300  “    . . .             4   “

Champion               110  “    . . .              3   “

Vansittart               110   “    . . .             2   “

Gem                       80   “   . . .              3   “

Hetty                    100   “   . . .              1   “

Chili                       200   “   . . .              2   “

Henry                    150   “     . . .            2   “

Edward                    60   “   . . .              1   “


TOTAL TONS . .1,565;  NO. OF TRIPS . . 48


Indeed, if I may venture to give an opinion, the establishment of a branch of the Customs appears necessary to the regulate the introduction of those articles of trade.


15. In conclusion, I beg to assure His Excellency, that the residents generally expressed great satisfaction at the Government of New South Wales having made inquiry into their state, and would, I am persuaded, feel much gratified if this Government would extend to them its protection.


I have the honour to be,


Your most obedient Servant,"

(signed) George Stewart.


  1. See page on Frederick Taylor.
  2. November 1826, to January 1828. See page on Settlement of Western Port.

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