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Original Documents on Aborigines and Law, 1797-1840

Document 32a

Original Document 32a

Robertson's statement re Aborigines to Alfred Stephen. Troubles with convict servants, non-payment: 1833


[114] 1833 Robertson

To Alfred Stephen Esquire


In compliance with your desire that I should furnish you with a written statement of what I know and can recollect relating to your interest in my affairs and the cause and extent of your interference - in endeavouring to obtain for me the fulfilment of the promise made to me by the government for my services in pursuit of the Aborigines. I beg to state that as far as I recollect the first Pecuniary transaction I had with you was in October 1828.   When I was sued by Urias Allender for apprehending him while he was committing a riot at Kangaroo Point. Allender's Counsel, by making the only persons present who were not guilty of the riot and resistance to me as a constable Defendants with me in the action, deprived me of all evidence for my defence and on my application to you a one of the law officers [115] of the Crown to defend me for an act done in the Discharge of my duty (the Governor having given you an order to that effect) you advised me to compromise the matter, and you got some person to arrange a compromise with Allender and his lawyers. You said that you considered the case a very hard one and that the Government out in my case to have indemnified me but, as you knew they would not do so and thought it might be made a bad precedent that you would pay the money for me. You paid £100 for me which with the Interest thereon as all that I recollect that I was indebted to you before your return from England . For though you had done a great deal of Professional business for me you never charged me any fee but always gave me your advise and assistance gratuitously - To repay the money which you had advanced for me and to complete the purchase [116] of Monro's farm, which was necessary to make a good Title to my own original Grant, I borrowed £ 450 on Mortgage from Mr. Hornby. You obtained this Loan for me - and I instructed Mr. Pitcairn whom you had employed for me in this matter to pay your claim first and after wards to settle some other claims which were against me - After these claims were paid I had a balance in Mr. Pitcairn's hands which your received for me and paid over to me when I required it. The only other Pecuniary transaction that I had with you   arose out of the purchase of Woodburn - After I had made the bargain with Mr Harris Walker - he asked for security - you volunteered to become my surety but as you afterwards objected to the nature of the security which Mr. Walker required a difficulty arose - which was got over, by your taking upon yourself the lease with condition to purchase, for which [117] I had agree with Mr. Walker And afterwards grating me a lease from you in every respect similar to that which you held from Captain Walker - You had no beneficial interest in the remotest nature in the transaction into which you entered solely to serve me - You was [sic] not quite satisfied with the Title that Mr . Walker had to give and you wrote to your agent in England to obtain a proper title from M R Walkers Constituents there - This title was brought out by Captain Mackellar (after Mr. Walker's death) who had instructions from the representatives of the original Grantee, who was also dead, to sell their interest in the estate. You told me that you could not advance the price for me at the moment, and with my consent you transferred your interest to Mr Baldwyn, who paid the price agreed on between Mr Walker [118] and myself - and became proprietor of the Estate subject to my lease with power to purchase - The only pecuniary advance which you made for or to me in this transaction was   sum which you remitted to England to pay for the conveyances there - which sum I repaid to you on signing my lease from Mr Baldwyn and we exchanged memorandums to the effect that if the sum remitted was more than sufficient you should return me the balance, but if less, that I should pay you the difference. You found that it was not sufficient, and I owe you the balance. But of this either you nor I could be aware until you arrived in England . I have referred to these matters to shew that the expressions which Mr. O'Connor ascribed to you (in pleading my cause before the Committee appointed to enquire into my claims) cannot possibly have been correct - for you could not have any personal or pecuniary [119] interest in the result of my claim.

In that case I had in October 1828 gone out in pursuit of the aborigines who had been committing outrages in the District of which I was Chief Constable. I was on that occasion out three weeks, and succeeded in capturing five natives, one of them the Chief " EuMrrah ", [sic?] who with another woman that I captured were the means of finally bringing in all the natives. On my return I was received by the Government & by the inhabitants as one who had done a great service and I was urged to persevere until I succeeded in capturing or conciliating the natives, but the Government very artfully evaded making any written overtured on the subject, and they contrived to persuade me to make the first written offer - I asked £150 a year Salary with ration and slips for myself and party, so long as the Governor chose to employ me until the Aborigines were taken or drove out of the settled Districts. I also stipulated [120] that each man of my part who conducted himself well should at the end of a year receive a ticket of Leave or such other indulgence as his Excellency should think fit - meaning thereby a Pardon free or conditional if the men deserved it - His excellency authorized me (as far as a man's word can authorize another to act on his authority) to promise the men tickets of leave but told me on no account to hold out to them the hopes of higher indulgence though he promised that he would consider according to circumstances my recommendations for higher indulgence in case of extraordinary exertions - but unfortunately this was only verbal. And I found to my cost that such promises are not held officially binding.   I also stipulated that I was to receive a maximum Grant free of all restrictions.   I was to have the sole direction of the service in which I was engaged, and to correspond only with Captain Montague who was then either Brigade Major or Town Adjutant. [121] Before I had been long out I found that it was impossible with the means under my charge to accomplish any thing against the natives, and I wrote for the formation of another party to act under my directions in reply to this application I received an order to place myself under the orders of Mr. Anstey. I obeyed the order by from that moment gave up all hopes of success. I found that I was purposely thwarted in all by operations and a convict of worse than ordinary convict character was appointed to an equal command with myself. I considered this an insult and refused to hold any correspondence with him as my equal.   From that time I could not obtain payment of my salary though his Excellency had assured me, & in my presence given instructions to the Colonial Treasurer & Town Adjutant, that it should be paid quarterly to my agent Mr Stodart - [122] And it was nearly six months after my years service had expired that I obtained payment of the two last quarters of my salary.

At the expiry of my first year I applied for the promised indulgence to my men and wrote to every person that I thought could give me information to ascertain whether it was His Excellency's pleasure to require my services for another year. But I have not to this day been able to receive either reply or instructions. I returned to my duty as Chief Constable at Richmond . And urged the governor to give me my promised Maximum grant. After much delay His Excellency, I fancied with the best intentions, referred my claims to a committee composed of Messrs Thomas, O'Connor & Mulgrave & I was examined before them, gave them a journal of my proceedings and brought all [123] then men who had been with me to answer any questions the Committee might wish to ask them - The Committee expressed themselves satisfied with the information I had given them & declined calling the men before them - a short time after this Jorgen Jorgenson Mr. Anstey's confidential agent whom he had appointed as my colleague in charge of the parties employed against the aborigines came to Richmond where he got drunk and created a riot with some of the men who had been in my party and were then doing duty in the Richmond Police. One of those men named Robert Lee had been prosecuted by me for letting a Prisoner escape and being repeatedly drunk on duty. On this night "Lee" was charged by Jorgenson with robbing him of a ring and some silver I confined them both and next morning I was informed that Lee had made use of threats against me and spoken of a Journal which he said he had kept of my proceedings in the bush - He was next morning [124] discharged and sent by me to the station at East Bay Neck - Sometime after this a letter " Private and Confidential " was sent by Mr Mulgrave to Mr Gordon, desiring that Lee might be sent immediately to be examined before the Committee. I had information that he was called upon in consequence of a communication made by Mr. Anstey to the Committee . Lee was called upon to produce his Journal and was promised his Emancipation if he could establish any charges against me. William Grant or Thomas Arthur - the latter had been Sentenced to Death on evidence formerly got up against him by Mr. Mulgrave and on obtaining his pardon had spoken very freely concerning M r Mulgrave's conduct on his prosecution - Lee could produce no Journal. But he was ordered to East Bay Neck and time allowed him to write his Journal during which he was by Mr . Mulgraves order exempt from duty. On his way through Richmond he saw several of the party and [125]   told them that Mr . Mulgrave had informed him that I was the sole cause of there not having received their indulgence. That both Mr Mulgrave and Mr . O'Connor were anxious to " serve me out " - And if they (the men to whom he was talking) would stick together they would see me turned out of office and "grant" or " arthur " sent to Macquaries Harbour - When Lee had (as I believe by the assistance of Jorgenson) made a Journal and been again examined before the Committee. He gave them the names of certain men who would confirm his statements. Those men who were Constables were secretly sent for with summonses, and the constables who served the summonses were ordered to bring the men in custody to the Police Office in Hobart Town, with strict orders that they should not come near Richmond not be allowed to see me - Those men on refusing to corroborate "Lee" were scolded & threatened by Mr. Mulgrave [126]  

When I heard of these secret proceedings I made repeated applications for copies of the examinations but I could not obtain them nor would the Committee allow me to be present nor in any authentic shape be made acquainted with the object or substance of the evidence for which they were seeking - And His Excellency to whom I personally applied declined to interfere. After repeated application and considerable delay - I received a letter from the Colonial Secretary informing me that the Committee had reported that I had not exerted myself in pursuit of the Aborigines That I had totally failed in performing the service which I had undertaken and therefore that I was as entitled, to no compensation.

On receiving this information I appealed to the Governor and prayed to be furnished with [127] a copy of the report and if the evidence on which the committee had come to a conclusion so injurious both to my character and interest - But I could obtain no satisfaction. I waited personally on his Excellency and complained of the unjust proceedings of the Committee. His Excellency admitted the justice of my claim but said that he could not interfere with the decision of the committee, and argued that on the strict interpretation of my agreement I had no legal claim , but he added that he would direct the committee to reconsider their report and on my complaint of the uncivil and insulting treatment which I received personally from the Committee he advised me no to appear before them again but to ask you to appear as my Counsel which he said he knew your would do gratuitously he also desired me to inform you of the several other claims which I had upon the Government, both [128] for services and losses. I stated that I was afraid you wd not appear before Mers O'Connor and Mulgrave. Because I understood that one or both of those Gentlemen had a bad feeling towards you more than towards myself. The Governor said that Captain Montague who had just arrived from England was well disposed towards me and as I had commenced the service under his immediate direction that he would most likely plead my cause with the Committee. I left the Governor with the inclination of asking captain Montague to take up my cause but recollecting that I had no spoken to him since his return. I could not bring myself to use the freedom of asking such a favour from him.

You very reluctantly undertook to appear with me as my Counsel. I had great difficulty in obtaining a meeting of the Committee.   Mr. O'Connor objecting to reconsider the report on any grounds and particularly objecting to hear you [129] I at last got them to meet by means of personal Solicitation and the interference of Mr. Thomas with the other two members.   I gave you a statement of my claim upon the Government, for losses and services, in which I observed [?] the loss I had sustained Firstly the expenses which I incurred in consequence of the error in my original Grant -

Second - the loss that I suffered by attending action

Third - The loss that I sustained by law expenses in consequence of my salary not being regularly paid while I was after the natives.

Fourth - I urged the consideration of my services in bringing to justice the Black Brush Gang of robbery, and also the Murderer " Routley " and his Gang

Fifth - the compensation that was promised me of a maximum grant of land for my services in pursuit of the natives [130] To which I considered I had a good and sufficient claim because I had continued on that service as long as I was required to do so which was the condition of my agreement.

I recollect your accompanying me to the Treasury office where the committee sat - while I remained in the room you stood leaning against the wall close by the windows. You was [sic] arguing with the committee who objected to reconsider the matter or to let me have a copy of the proceedings. You admitted that I had not fulfilled the letter of my agreement so as to entitle me to the land under that agreement. And you urged the losses I had sustained and the Debts I had incurred by my services to the Government. You said that you knew that I had suffered losses and incurred debts from that cause for that you had advanced money for me on that account and you added "He [?] is then to pay those debts if the Government denies him [131] compensation for his services.   I know he has been promised by the Governor that you would take those Losses into consideration" -

One of the committee, I think it was Mr. O' Connor said - "If the Governor wished to give Mr Robertson the Land, he can do so independent of our report. But we have no instructions to consider anything except whether Mr. Robertson has fulfilled his contract by taking all the blacks." I was about to reply to him when you interrupted me rather in an angry manner saying - "Mr . Robertson if you have entrusted your cause to me I beg that you will notinterfere - If you do I shall retire" - I asked your pardon and immediately left the place. When you came out you told me that they would not reconsider the matter without fresh instructions of which you said I must apply to the Governor. I went personally to the Governor [132] His Excellency desired me to request you to see him on the subject. I heard no more of it until I received a note from Mr. Thomas desiring me to attend a meeting of the committee who he said had ordered to reconsider my claims. I attended on the day appointed but could not get the committee together for several days.   At last Mr. O'Connor told me in the street opposite the Treasury that He would have nothing more to do with the Committee nor with any thing wherein you interposed.

I was not again before the Committee but I got 1000 acres of land subject to Quit rent which I sold to Mr . Meredith for £ 300 in long Bills. I pocketed about £ 240 after deducting Discount Commission and expenses -having received altogether £ 390 for my years services in the Bush. In place of the emoluments of my office which I gave up worth £ 250 - I also lost £ 70 law expenses by my salary not being paid and I am certain that my loss in my business in [133] consequence of my absence was nearly equal to all that I got for my services independent of the two Items before stated. It is impossible that you could have any interest in my obtaining my claims from the Government beyond your desire to see justice done to me And I am very certain that you had no pecuniary claim upon me which either your or I could at any time after my return from the bush in January 1830 have contemplated to be repaid out of the proceeds of the land that I claimed from the Government.

Therefore, I am convinced that Mr. O'Connor was grossly mistaken or guilty of a wilful and malicious falsehood in attributing to you the expressions which he did in his letter published in the "Colonial Times". I am inclined of the latter opinion from what I have observed of his feelings towards you.

I remain Sir

Yours very respectfully

Gilbert Robertson.



[1] See also Robertson's 1838 speech.

Published by the Centre for Comparative Law History and Governance of Macquarie University, and State Records NSW