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Decisions of the Nineteenth Century Tasmanian Superior Courts

R. v. Musquito and Black Jack [1824]

murder - aiding and abetting - Aboriginal defendant - Aborigines, mass attacks by - Tahitian, murder of - Grindstone Bay - Aborigine, execution of - capital punishment, in public

Source: Hobart Town Gazette, 6 August 1824 [1]

Last Tuesday two stock-keepers to Mr. James Hobbs came to town from their master's premises at the Eastern Marshes (where that Gentleman possesses an extensive run for grazing his cattle), bringing intelligence that a tribe of no less than two hundred Natives had made their appearance there, and that they had killed by spear-wounds one of their fellow servants, named James Doyle. -From the information which we have received it appears, that soon after the Natives became visible, the stockmen fired, in the hope that it would not only frighten but deter them from approaching the house.  This had not however its desired effect; for, owing to the fire-arms being improperly discharged all at once, and not having time to charge again, the Natives one and all suddenly advanced, thereby compelling the men instantly to retreat, leaving their fallen companion on the ground, as well as the cattle and premises at the mercy of the tribe. - The men are still in town, and such is the fear they entertain, that nothing can persuade them to return to their abandoned occupation. - All the property that was in the house has been taken by the Natives, who are also supposed to have driven away some of Mr. Hobbs' milch cows which are missing.

Although we cannot help expressing our regret in having to record such lamentable perpetrations as the foregoing, yet it is but justice to the poor untutored, Natives to say, that the mischievous dispostion which they have lately shown towards us, is chiefly to be ascribed to the unprovoked aggressions that have long since been perpetrated upon them by stock-keepers and others; of which, it appears to us, they are now becoming sensible, owing perhaps in a great measure to the knowledge which they must have gained from Musquito and other blacks, who have been brought up amongst Europeans, lately joining them. - The many recent unfortunate deaths of stockmen afford the sad example of the imprudence of molesting the Natives, who have always been considered the most harmless race of people in the world; and have consequently never been known to show their revenge until with these last few months.

We are credibly informed, that no Natives are now to be observed on any part of the coast, which is in some measure accounted for by the great number seen in the Interior, where it is apprehended the Aborigines in general have lately formed themselves into one formidable body. - Dogs of the English breed have also been perceived in considerable numbers with the Natives, whose remarkable fondness for them is such, that they have been noticed to carry in their travels young pups which are unable to walk.  That the rapid increase of these dogs must eventually prove injurious to the Natives as well as the Colony, cannot be denied; for they must in course of time destroy nearly all these people's principal staff of life - the game, of which they have already given us a specimen, by killing in several places Kangaroo to an unknown extent.  On one spot from 50 to 60 fine large foresters, weighing from 50 to 150 lbs. each, have been discovered, lying dead in a heap. - It has likewise been ascertained, that these dogs have even attacked some tame cattle, while the Natives have speared them. - One person has had two or three bullocks killed in this manner.

Since writing the above, we have if in our power to state, that another poor fellow has been speared by Musquito at Pitt Water. - The man it seems was enticed from his house by Musquito cooying till he brought him within his reach, when he drove the spear into his back, while returning to get him some bread.  The weapon broke in the wound, and the unfortunate man has in consequence suffered much in having it extracted.

Source: Hobart Town Gazette, 29 October 1824

Another Attack by the Natives. - We have just been credibly informed, that on the morning of the 21st instant, about twenty Aboriginals blacks approached the house and stock-yard of Mr. James Hobbs, situated about 15 miles east of York Plains, at which place it will be recollected a large tribe of natives made their appearance some few weeks ago, and that, after some resistance had been made by firing upon them, they killed one of Mr. Hobb's stock-keepers, as we announced in our Paper of the 6th of August last. - Upon the present occasion it seems, that as soon as the natives appeared in sight, they were instantly driven back; on which another party advanced in an opposite direction, and cooed - a signal which was no sooner heard than it was answered by at least 150 more of the same tribe, who, armed with spears and waddies, and attended by nearly 50 fine kangaroo dogs, surrounded the house.  Mr. Hobb's two servants, each having a musket, defended themselves for five hours, in the best manner they could, from the spears and stones which were thrown at them, until at length the blacks pressed furiously on, and surrounded them with fires, -- through which, after much struggling, and with considerable hazard, the poor fellows (though followed for more than 5 miles) escaped to Garth's hut. - On the following day, they ventured to return home, when they found that all their provisions, clothes, bedding, and utensils had been taken away.  Now we really think that these depredations are so alarming as to demand the most serious attention, as in all probability, unless they are now checked, their progress will at some future period be attended with more fatal consequences.  However, as there doubtlessly are various gentle means of supporting the violence and attacks of these untutored people, we would particularly recommend the necessity of all humane measures being adopted before fire-arms be used indiscriminately against them, as cruelty is never lawful. - This is the third time within the last three months that Mr. Hobbs has been attacked, and had all the property in his stock-yard destroyed by the natives. - On a previous occasion, they dug up two tons of potatoes, which they carried away.  They beat one of his men to pieces, and drove off five head of cattle.  And the extent of the last loss, although feared to be great, is not yet known, as there were about 50 cows with their calves near the house, and many of the calves too young to run out of the way. - These facts speak for themselves, and require no false colouring to excite an interest.  They will receive, we feel assured, all due attention. - We are not however surprised that the Eastern Marshes should be so much infested, as they form the Natives' best hunting ground, from which of course they are anxious to expel the Settlers, by making attacks on their stockmen and cattle.  Mr. Hobbs's location appears to be on a central spot, between the sea coast and York Plains, having a road running from it to all the stock-yards east of the Port Dalrymple Road and Oyster Bay.  It is the principal harbour for the blacks, and also, as Mr. Hobbs informs us, a common rendezvous for bush-rangers, because it is near all the stock-yards, which they can visit in a night's walk.

Supreme Court of Van Diemen's Land

Pedder C.J., 1 December 1824

Source: Hobart Town Gazette, 3 December 1824 [2]

Musquito and Black Jack (the first native of New South Wales, the latter born on this Island) were placed at the Bar, and arraigned as principals in the second degree for aiding and abetting in the wilful murder of William Hollyoak, at Grindstone Bay, on the 15th of November, 1823.  Plea - Not Guilty.

The Attorney-General described the facts, and called John Radford, who deposed as follows:-- ``I am, and for six years have been a stock-keeper on the run of Mr. Cylus Gatehouse, at Grindstone Bay.  I had a fellow servant named Mammoa, who was a native of Otaheite.  I knew the deceased; he was a servant to Mr. George Meredith at Swan Port, and came to our hut in November twelvemonths.  He said he was returning home from the Colonial Hospital, where he had been an invalid, and begged permission to remain a day or two, as he was not very able to go further.  He came on a Wednesday between the 10th and 15th, and remained until the following Saturday.  The morning after he came, a party of the natives arrived with the prisoners at the Bar.  Their number was about 65.  Some of them had spears, and sticks about two feet long; but some of the spears, which were wooden ones, might be six and other twelve feet long. I asked Musquito whither he was going? and he said to Oyster Bay.  He then begged for some provision, and I told him to follow me into the hut, where he should have some bread and meat.  After he had eaten some, I inquired how many natives were with him? he answered he could not tell.  I then asked if they would kill any of the sheep?  He said no.  Soon afterwards he retired for that night.  On the following morning he again came to the hut, and brought two or three women.  Some of the blacks were on the opposite side of the creek.  He asked for, and had some breakfast with me.  He lingered with the party about the plains until 2 or 3 o'clock, and then went away to hunt.  In the evening he returned, and I gave him some supper.  This was Friday night.  In the hut hung a small fowling piece, and a musket, the one by the bed and the other over it.  Musquito handled the musket.  On Saturday morning early the blacks were in the sheep-yard, sitting round a fire at their breakfast; this was about half-past 5 o'clock.  At 6 they came to the hut, with the prisoners at the Bar, over the creek, on the other side of which they had been at their diversions.  Some of them still remained there near the stock-yard, which approaches to within 10 yards of the hut.  The natives who were playing might be 150 yards from the hut.  I walked out to look at them after Mammoa, and left the deceased in the hut, but he came out after me.  At this time Musquito was on the opposite side of the creek with a number of blacks who were armed; but he had no spear.  The weapons he had were a waddy and a stick shaped like the axe of a tomahawk.  I had desired the deceased to bring the guns should he leave the hut before my return; but he did not.  Musquito then called Mammoa to the other side of the creek, and he went over.  He first, however, asked if the blacks would spear him, and Musquito answered no.  They talked to Mammoa for a few minutes, then took up their spears, and walked towards the hut.  I got to it first.  The guns had been taken away.  When I returned, Hollyoak was walking behind me, and I asked him if he had put away the guns? he said no; I made the same inquiry of Mammoa, and received the same reply.  At this moment he and Musquito were at the other side of the creek, coming towards the hut; when they came opposite they got over.  The other natives were by the hut door, so that now the whole body was assembled.  I stood with the deceased 2 or 3 yards off.  I had three kangaroo dogs and a sheep dog; the deceased had one dog, they were tied to a stump.  I saw Musquito untie them and take them into the sheep-yard, I heard Mammoa beg him not to take them, but he made no answer.  The natives stood with their spears raised, and their points directed to me and the deceased.  I told him the best thing we could do was to run away, and that otherwise we should be killed.  We accordingly did run, when one of the blacks threw a spear, which pierced my side.  I at first ran 2 or 300 yards, but the deceased could not keep up with me; -- he called out for me to return, and pull a spear out of his back.  I did so.  The wound was 3 or 4 inches deep.  Some of the natives armed with spears were pursuing us; there might be from 30 to 40.  I again ran away, and the deceased after me.  I received another spear in the back of my thigh.  At this moment the blacks were within 30 yards of me.  The deceased exclaimed ``Jack don't leave me."  I made no answer, but continued running till I heard him cry ``O my God! the black-fellows have got me!"  He was then about 200 yards behind me.  I looked back.  The natives were close to him.  I saw 5 or 6 spears sticking in him (some in his side, and others in different parts of his body.)  He was throwing some rotten sticks at the blacks, who appeared to be standing quiet.  After looking at them a few minutes, I recommenced my flight, and some of them still pursued me; eventually, however, I was lucky enough to escape.  When ten days from this time had elapsed, I ventured back to the hut, and four days after my return, I found the body of the deceased quite dead, covered with sticks, and more than half consumed, as if by vermin.  There were some spears broken in it. I am quite positive as to the persons of Musquito and Black Jack.  I can swear that no provocation was given to the natives, or any violence shown by me, or to my knowledge by the deceased.

Cross-examined by the Court. - When the dogs were untied by Musquito, I was deterred from interfering by the whole body, who raised their spears with the points directed to me.  I know Black Jack very well by his figure, and because his lips are much thinner than those of the natives in general.  He had gone into the hut several times, and I saw him in it on the Saturday morning, three quarters of an hour before the body of blacks came to it.  On being spoken to, he answered me in English quite well.  I never heard the prisoner called ``Black Jack," but simply ``Jack."  I call him Black Jack from his colour.

Cross-examined by Doctor Hood (one of the Jury.) - There were some women with the natives, but neither the deceased or myself had offered any offence, or wanted to take any liberties.  Verdict - Musquito Guilty,  Black Jack Not Guilty. [3]

The same prisoners were then arraigned, as principals in the second degree for aiding and abetting in the wilful murder of Mammoa, the before named Otaheitean.

To prove this charge, John Radford was recalled, but as his evidence scarcely varied from that which he had given in the previous trial, we consider that a repetition of it would be superfluous.

Mr. George Wise deposed, that in November last, from information received of the above murder, he, accompanied by Mr. Gatehouse, went off from Pitt Water to Grindstone Bay.  Witness reached the bay on the 17th, and on the following morning arrived at Mr. Gatehouse's hut, which was empty, the door of it being open, and the former contents strewed about the bush.  Witness found Mammoa's body in a pool of water, in the creek, on the 23d;  It was buoyant.  The head was very much bruised, and the body wounded in many places.  Seven small holes were in the left side within about the compass of witness's hand, and there were eight or nine holes in the neck.  Altogether the witness counted 37 wounds about the body, which he supposed to have been given by spears.  Near the hut, which was 70 or 80 yards from the creek, lay several broken spears, marked with blood.  The pool in which Mammoa was found might be nine feet deep.  Witness could be positive as to the unfortunate man's identity, having often seen him, and also because his features were peculiar.

Cross-examined by the Court. - The information which witness had received induced him to suppose the wounds had been inflicted by spears; but he might not be able to distinguish them from wounds inflicted by gun shot.  The cranium was fractured, and the wounds which witness had spoken of, he believed must have caused death.  All the wounds bled when the body was drawn from the pool.  The body was not very offensive.  There was no blood on the margin of the creek; but, about 350 yards from the hut, witness found many spears stained with blood, and to one of them a piece of cloth was sticking.  The deceased had on when found a pair of leather small-cloathes, but was otherwise naked.  The witness thought Mammoa must have been in the water a long time, because he had understood that a corpse generally became buoyant when putridity was commencing.

His Honor the Chief Justice then summed up; and the Jury, after retiring for a few minutes, pronounced an Acquittal.


[1] For Musquito see N.J. Plomley (ed.), Weep in Silence: A History of the Flinders Island Aboriginal Settlement, Blubber Head Press, Hobart, 1987, pp. 4-5, 10, 481-2.

On 10 June 1824, another Aborigine was charged with a crime.  The following is the full report of the hearing given by the Hobart Town Gazette, 11 June 1824:

A poor native black boy, named Troy, was then arraigned for house-breaking, but no witness appeared to support the prosecution, and he was, of course, discharged.

His Honor very kindly requested Mr. Bisdee, the Gaoler, to protect the youth, until something could be done for him.

[2] On the next day, 2 December 1824, one of the witnesses, Radford, applied unsuccessfully for witness's expenses.  Chief Justice Pedder said that application should be made in open court, and that the witness had to show what the expenses were: Hobart Town Gazette, 3 December 1824.

[3] Musquito was sentenced to death, AOT SC 41/1.  Black Jack was found guilty of a capital offence as well.  Their executions were reported as follows (Hobart Town Gazette, 25 February 1825):


"This morning Henry McConnell, for bushranging and burglary; James Bryan, Jeremiah Ryan, Charles Ryder, Musquito, a Sydney black, and Black Jack, a native of this Colony, for murder,John Logan, for shooting with intent to murder Mr. Shoobridge, and Peter Thackery, for stealing in a dwelling-house, and putting the owner in bodily fear, were executed according to their sentence - a sad example of the fate which sooner or later must overtake the enormities of which they had been convicted.  On this occasion, for the first time, the Scaffold was erected within the Gaol-walls, but in view of the town; and we should not be doing justice to the newly-appointed Sheriff, if we failed to state that the whole of the melancholy arrangements reflected credit to his feelings, as an Officer and a Gentleman.  The unhappy men on ascending the Platform, displayed a becoming humility, expressed their deep remorse, and, after singing an appropriate hymn, joined in most fervent and pathetic supplications to the throne of mercy. --  They then requested their clerical assistant, Mr. Bedford, to address, on their behalf, the assembled spectators, which he immediately did in words or to the effect following:--

"My dear Friends, -- It is the anxious wish of these our dying fellow sinners, that I should thus in public, acknowledge for them the justice of their condemnation and that I should call upon you to repent, `for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.'  They implore you to take warning from their ignominious end; they entreat in this their last hour that you will turn from the error of your ways to the Lord your God, for he will have mercy.  Yes, my brethren, these poor unhappy fellow-worms whose lives have become forfeited to the laws of violated justice and humanity, implore you all to shun the path that leads to death - to avoid bad company - to be industrious, sober, and slow to anger - to be obedient, honest, and religious.  May their prayers be answered, may their fate be impressed with salutary force on your recollection, and may you now successfully join me and them in cries to the Redeemer for their pardon in another world.'  This address proved very affecting, and the hapless offenders after a short interval were launched into eternity. - The whole of the officers in attendance were in deep morning."

Published by the Division of Law, Macquarie University and the School of History and Classics, University of Tasmania