Saturday, 16 June 2012

Convicts, Absconders & "Wild White Men" of Moreton Bay - Part II

The Haunts of Brisbane wishes to advise Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander visitors that this article contains images and names of deceased people.

 Wolston House at Wacol, c.1890 (State Library of Qld)

Jumping off from last night's Part I, whereby Duramboi was finally located by Andrew Petrie's exploratory party, we follow into Part II of the story...

After being allowed to briefly return to his tribe in order to say goodbye & promise his return, Davis also ensured that the amassing aboriginal warriors would not attack Petrie's party during the night - a single act that would stand him in exceptional stead upon his arrival back in Brisbane Town.  Andrew Petrie, however, still felt an attack during the night quite likely, & ordered his men to sleep in the whaleboat on the river...a precaution that was not necessary, "for not a native was seen or heard during the night."  On their return to Brisbane Town, Davis was granted his pardon by the Government, based on the likelihood that he had saved Andrew Petrie's (& extended party's) lives as a result of his final request to his tribe discouraging a revenge attack.  Both Bracewell & Davis were placed with Stephen Simpson, the recently acting Colonial Surgeon to the Moreton Bay Penal Settlement & current Crown Lands Commissioner for Moreton Bay, at Woogaroo (near Goodna)...early the next year, in 1843, Simpson would be replaced by John Clements Wickham, freeing up time for exploratory expeditions into the Bunya Mountains.  A few years later again, Simpson would purchase land at Woogaroo for a horse stud, to become known as Woogaroo Station - on this land, in 1852, one of Queensland's oldest still-surviving resdiences would be built - Wolston House.  Furthermore, in 1865 & only a few years before Simpson's death, his property would be transformed into the Woogaroo Lunatic Asylum, which we now know as Wolston Park.

Unfortunately for David Bracewell, his return to European civilisation was short-lived - whilst felling trees with a logging party in 1844, he was fatally crushed by a falling trunk.  However, for James Duramboi Davis, his life would continue to cross paths with further amazing events as Brisbane Town's fortunes unfolded.  Shortly after his employment with Stephen Simpson, Davis accompanied Captain Joliffe, whom had been one of Andrew Petrie's party that fateful trip, back to the Wide Bay district to take up land - during Petrie's exploration of the north, Joliffe had accompanied the party in order to evaluate the northern regions for sheep & cattle grazing, on behalf of famous pastoralist & shipowner John Eales.  After a head station had been established at Tiaro, with two outlying stations at Gigoomgan and Owanyilla, Davis's previous employer Simpson paid a visit to inspect the progress as Crown Lands Commissioner.  After various small employment stints, Davis finally returned to Brisbane Town, where he settled at Kangaroo Point in the mid-1840's.  Opening a blacksmith's shop to service the growing region, utilising smithy's skills he'd learnt during childhood from his father, Davis married Annie Shea in November 1846.  Life back within western society was good, & his blacksmith business was trading extremely well...furthermore, Davis was still earning money on a random basis utilising the skills he'd learnt whilst moving amongst the northern tribes.

In the early days of 1848,  Dr. Ludwig Leichhardt sent specifically for Duramboi, to discuss his upcoming Swan River expedition from which the fated explorer & his party would never return.  On travelling out to Woogaroo, an area he knew well after having resided there for a short stint after being retuned from his tribe in 1842, Davis met with the famed explorer.  Disclosing important information necessary for approaching & conversing with aboriginal tribes along the way, he left Leichardt & his party to their final preparations.  Terribly, as any Australian history buff would know, Leichhardt & his party were last seen two months later on the Darling Downs...the exact location of the expedition's demise has never been located, although it is assumed that they likely came to grief in the Great Sandy Desert in Western Australia.  Ironically, after a number of failed search & rescue attempts had been made by men such as Hovenden Healy, who had been a part of Leichhardt's previously aborted Swan River expedition in 1847, Davis was again called upon in the early 1860's to not only provide valuable information as to Leichhardt's possible final location, but also to volunteer up to two years of his life to accompany the search party!  Whilst Davis was of the opinion that Leichhardt had likely fallen foul of the inland aborigines, he was only too happy to aid in the "rescue party"...however it was not to be.  To this day, the fate & whereabouts of Ludwig Leichhardt's missing party is still a complete mystery, & will continue to be debated by Australian historians.

The "Leichhardt Plate" held by the National Museum of Australia - the only extant relic located from Leichhardt's ill-fated 1848 expedition from Moreton Bay to the Swan River in Western Australia.

As an added aside to the story, which proves yet another fascinating facet to Davis' life, we also need to examine a previous amazing expedition of Leichhardt's.  In 1844, Leichhardt wholly funded an expedition to travel from Moreton Bay to Port Essington on the northern tip of the Northern Territory above current-day Darwin.  Considered a foolhardy mission, most Australians at the time supported Leichhardt's cause, however equally believed he would fail with tragic circumstances.  With Jimbour Station on the Darling Downs earmarked as the starting point for the expedition, Ludwig Leichhardt spent some time at Cecil Plains Station, & discussed his expedition at length with the owners Henry & Sydenham Russell.  Amazingly, the two brother had taken up the station in 1841, the year before Brisbane Town was opened for free settlement...more amazingly, one of the brothers, Henry Stuart Russell, had been a member of Andrew Petrie's expedition party to the Wide Bay region in 1842 - the very expedition that located Davis & returned him to Brisbane Town!  Henry Stuart Russell would go on to become one of the most important early historians of the Moreton Bay region, & would again mingle with James Duramboi Davis - on Davis' advice a few years later, Henry would take a lease & establish Burrandowan Station in the Wide Bay region, based on Davis' testimony that suitable grazing pastures existed in the locality.

Jumping back on track - after his meeting with Leichhardt in early 1848, Davis was yet again to play a major role in the history of Brisbane only a few months later, one fateful Sunday morning on the 26th of March 1848.  On that particular morning, he was roused from his Kangaroo Point blacksmith's shop in the hope his skills learnt amongst the aborigines could be of assistance again to the authorities - the body of a man named Robert Cox had been found butchered on the bank of the Brisbane River very close by, & the authorities were at a loss to explain the circumstances.  Having arrived at the site of the Bush Inn, Davis surveyed the scene of the crime & final location of the body...from the riverbank, he successfully tracked marks of blood into thick grass nearby but lost the trail.  On spying some aborigines standing nearby, Davis requested their help - an ability likely only possible to Davis on that morning, given his indigenous linguistic skills - & the team managed to follow the blood trail to the back fence of the Bush Inn, where a large quantity of blood was discovered.   As a result, Davis provided testimony regarding his findings at the initial hearing into the death of Robert Cox, for which William Fyfe would finally hang in Sydney for the murder...& to which Patrick Mayne would supposedly confess nearly twenty years later on his deathbed.  In recent years, the topic of Robert Cox's murder is still being healthily debated...little credence is paid to Duramboi's connection to the case - yet another historic event of Brisbane, in which this amazing man played an amazing part.

Jumping back to Davis' offer to aid in the search of Leichhardt, an amazing recollection was published in The Brisbane Courier on the 3rd of June 1889, not long after the great man's death.  Penned by S. G. Mee, the article discussed, amongst other things, the discussions about the rescue attempt that the author had with Davis in the early 1860's.  The article ended with an absolutely amazing personal account, that truly aids in appreciating the dignity, complexity & intelligence of James Duramboi Davis: "Before concluding, I cannot omit to mention one little incident that occurred during my second interview with Mr. Davis.  I found him, on this occasion, industriously painting his cottage in Burnett-lane.  At the time we were conversing there strode - or rather rolled - up to us a gentleman (at least he was in the garb of one), who, without the aid of any fictitious rouge - so rubicund was he - would have furnished a telling "frightful example" for Mr. Warner in the cabaret scene in the play of "Drink."  Davis politely requested the obtrusive stranger to retire and leave us to ourselves, as we wished to converse.  To this he strenuously objected.  "How dare you," he fiercely demanded, looking daggers at Duramboi - "how dare you dic - dictate to me!  You, a fellow who has been fourteen years with the savages!"  Davis, looking his gross insulter full in the face, with a quiet dignity I shall never forget, thus retorted:- "What you say, sir, is perfectly true; I was fourteen years with those you call savages; but I can assure you that during the whole of that time I never set eyes on so complete and so degraded a savage as you are at the present moment!"  The rebuke acted like a bomb.  The astounded and discomfited "pot-theist," with a muttered curse, instantly staggered off, leaving us to pursue our colloquy in peace."

Continue to Part III...

1 comment:

  1. Hi Liam,
    I understand the picture of James Davis was composed by Oscar Fristrom. If I recall correctly, this picture is mentioned in Constance Petrie's Tom Petrie's Reminiscences.
    Kind regards,