Indigenous Australia Timeline - 1500 to 1900

A timeline of events relating to Indigenous Australians from the time of contact with Indonesian trepang fishermen c.1500-1700 until 1900.

Aboriginal bark painting, Arnhem Land

Stuart Humphreys © Australian Museum

1500-1700

Indonesian trepang fishermen visit northern Australia.

1606

Dutchman Willem Jansz and his ship Duyfken explore the western coast of Cape York Peninsula and were the first Europeans to have contact with Australian Aboriginal people. There were clashes between the two groups.

The Spaniard Luis Vaez De Torres sailed through Torres Strait.

1623

Dutchman Jan Carstenz described several armed encounters with Aboriginal people on the northern coast of Australia. Shots were fired and an Aboriginal man was hit.

1697

Englishman William Dampier visited the west coast of Australia.

1768

Anticipating that Captain Cook would discover the great southern land he was issued with special instructions to "with the consent of the natives take possession of convenient situations in the name of the King... or if you find the land uninhabited Take Possession for His Majesty".

1770

April 29 Captain James Cook in the Endeavour entered Botany Bay. After an encounter with local people in Botany Bay Cook wrote that "all they seem'd to want was us to be gone".

1786

August 18 the British Government chose Botany Bay as a penal colony.

1788

18 January Captain Arthur Phillip entered Botany Bay. A total of nine ships sailed into Botany Bay over three days.

Aboriginal people watched the arrival.

25 January Phillip sailed to Port Jackson and between 25 January and 6 February 1 000 officials, marines, dependents and convicts came ashore.

Frenchman La Perouse and two ships arrive at Botany Bay and remain until March 10.

Resistance and conflict between Europeans and Aborigines begins almost immediately.

Early February the French fire on Aboriginal people at Botany Bay.

29 May the first conflict between the First Fleet arrivals and Aboriginal people takes place near Rushcutters Bay, Sydney. Two convicts are killed.

December, Arabanoo is the first Aboriginal person captured by Europeans.

Captain Phillip estimates that there are 1 500 Aboriginal people living in the Sydney Region.

1789

April, smallpox decimates the Aboriginal population of Port Jackson, Botany Bay and Broken Bay. The disease spread inland and along the coast.

The settlement spreads to Rose Hill, later called Parramatta.

November, Governor Phillip captures two Aboriginal men - Bennelong and Colebee. Colebee escapes but Bennelong is kept at Government House for five months.

1790

Bennelong and a boy named Yemmerrawanie are taken to England by Phillip. Bennelong meets George III. Yemmarrawanie dies in England. In 1795 Bennelong returns to Australia.

1790

September, Pemulwuy spears Phillip's gamekeeper, John McEntire, and Phillip orders the first punitive expedition. Pemulwuy and his son Tedbury led Aboriginal resistance in the Sydney area in a guerrilla campaign lasting several years.

1791

Time-expired convicts granted land around Parramatta.

1792

Colonists spread to Prospect Hill, Kissing Point, Northern Boundary, the Ponds and the Field of Mars.

1794

By August, 70 colonists farming on the Hawkesbury. Aboriginal people dispossessed of their land.

1797

Punitive party pursue Pemulwuy and about 100 Aboriginal people to Parramatta. Pemulwuy is wounded and captured but later escapes.

1798

Colonists dispossess Aboriginal people of land around Georges River flats and Bankstown.

1799

Two Aboriginal boys killed near Windsor by five Hawkesbury settlers. A court martial found them guilty but referred sentencing to the Secretary of State for Colonies and the men are released on bail. Governor Hunter is recalled. Acting-Governor King is instructed to pardon the men.

Beginning of a six-year period of resistance to white settlement by Aboriginal people in the Hawkesbury and Parramatta areas. Known as the 'Black Wars'.

1801

April, Governor King orders Aboriginal people gathering around Parramatta, Georges River and Prospect Hill "to be driven back from the settler's habitation by firing at them".

1802

June 30, Proclamation stating: "His Majesty forbids any act of injustice or wanton cruelty to the Natives, yet the settler is not to suffer his property to be invaded or his existence endangered by them, in preserving which he is to use the effectual, but at the same time the most humane, means of resisting such attacks".

Shortly after this Pemulwuy is shot by two settlers. Tedbury continues the resistance.

1803

Settlements established near present-day Melbourne at Port Phillip and in Tasmania at Risdon, on the Derwent River by Governor King. The settlement at Port Phillip is abandoned.

1804

Colonists are authorised by Lt. Moore to shoot 50 Aboriginal people at Risdon Cove in response to Aboriginal resistance. Hostilities increase - the slaughter of Aboriginal people in Van Diemen's Land has begun.

1804

Most of the Cumberland Plain west of Sydney is occupied by colonists. The Darug people are being dispossessed of their land.

1805

Aboriginal people trying to defend their land, kill colonists. A Government order on 19 April directed Captain William Bligh to send soldiers "for their [colonists] protection against those uncivilised insurgents".

20 July the colony's Judge-Advocate, Richard Atkins when referring to whether or not Aboriginal people could be witnesses or criminals before a court stated that Aboriginal people "are at present incapable of being brought before a criminal court - and that the only mode at present when they deserve it, is to pursue them and inflict such punishment as they merit".

1810

Tedbury is wounded but there are no records of what happened to him.

1813

Colonists, assisted by Aboriginal people, cross the Blue Mountains. Create new hostilities as they pass through Aboriginal lands.

1814

The establishment of a "Native institution at Parramatta" by Governor Macquarie to "civilise, educate and foster habits of industry and decency in the Aborigines". An annual 'feast' is also begun to reunite parents with children, who have been separated from their parents to attend the institution.

1815

Remnants of the Broken Bay Aboriginal people are established on a reserve at George's Head.

1816

Attacks on farms by Aboriginal people on the edge of Sydney. Macquarie sends Captain James Wallis with three detachments of the 76th Regiment to arrest 'offenders'. They attack a camp near Appin at night and 14 Aboriginal people are killed including Carnabyagal.

4 May Macquarie announces a set of regulations controlling the free movement of Aboriginal people.

No Aboriginal person is to appear armed within a mile of any settlement and no more than six Aboriginal people are allowed to 'lurk or loiter near farms'.

Passports or certificates are issued to Aboriginal people "who conduct themselves in a suitable manner", to show they are officially accepted by Europeans.

Five areas are set aside by Macquarie as agriculture reserves for the settlement of Aboriginal people from the Sydney area. The Aboriginal people who settle on these lands are given seed, tools, stores and clothes for six months. Convicts are assigned to help with cultivation of crops.

1819 - 1820

Rapid expansion of the colony into present day Queensland. A penal settlement set up a Redcliffe but moved to present day Brisbane three months later.

Colonists spread west of the Blue Mountains and establish stations.

There are a number of large scale killings as conflict over dispossession of land and erosion of hunting rights continue.

1824

'Saturday' leads Aboriginal resistance in the Bathurst area.

August, martial law is proclaimed in the Bathurst area when seven Europeans are killed by Aboriginal people and the conflict is seen as a serious threat. Soldiers, mounted police, settlers and stockmen carry out numerous attacks on Aboriginal people. As many as 100 Aboriginal people are killed. Martial law stops in December.

August - a Mission is established at Lake Macquarie, north of Sydney.

1827

John Oxley leads an expedition to the Liverpool Plains west of present day Tamworth, NSW. This area is settled in the 1830s, with an increase in settlers during the 1837-1845 drought, when more land is needed. Kamilaroi people are dispossessed of their land.

1829

A colony is set up in Perth, on the south-west coast of Australia.

1830

October beginning of the Black Wars in Tasmania. Governor Arthur tries unsuccessfully to drive all the remaining Aboriginal people in eastern Van Diemen's land on to the Tasman Peninsula. 2 200 men form a 'Black Line'. It cost 5000 pounds and only two Aboriginal people are caught - an old man and a young boy.

1834

October, Governor Stirling leads a party of men to a site near present day Pinjarra, on the Swan River and attacks 80 Aboriginal people. One of Stirling's men dies and many Aboriginal people are killed. Official reports say that 14 Aboriginal people were killed but Aboriginal accounts suggest a whole clan was decimated in the attack. This became known as the 'Battle of Pinjarra'. The battle was an attempt to punish Aboriginal people south of Perth, after conflict with settlers the death, in April, of Hugh Nesbit.

The Aboriginal people are unsuccessful in defending their land and are dispossessed.

1835

John Batman attempts to make a 'treaty' with Aboriginal people for Port Phillip Bay, near present day Melbourne by 'buying' 243 000 hectares with 20 pairs of blankets, 30 tomahawks, various other articles and a yearly tribute. Governor Bourke does not recognise the 'treaty' and the purchase is voided. This is the only time colonists attempt to sign a treaty for land with Aboriginal owners.

The Dunghutti people of north coast NSW are now confined to 40 hectares of land on the Bellwood Reserve, near present day Kempsey. They previously owned 250 000 hectares.

October, George Augustus Robinson, who sees himself as a protector of Aborigines, takes over the European style settlement on Flinders Island in Bass Strait. He spent much time convincing the last Aborigines on Van Diemen's Land to move to Flinders Island. After most Aboriginal people have died from various diseases the protectorate is abandoned in December 1849.

1836

Port Phillip District established. As the settlement expands Aboriginal lives are severely disrupted and people die in great numbers.

Colony of South Australia is founded. A protector of Aboriginal people is appointed but the Kaurna people, near Adelaide, are unable to maintain life as a group because of the expanding settlement and loss of their land.

1836 - 1837

A select committee of the British House of Commons said that Aboriginal people had a "plain right and sacred right" to their land.

The committee reports genocide is happening in the colonies.

1837

Conflict between Aboriginal people and settlers, stockmen and shepherds increases on the Liverpool Plains between 1827 - 1837.

1837 - 1845

Drought on the north-west plains of NSW. Drying up of creeks and waterholes, forces Aboriginal people to kill sheep and cattle on European holdings, and move towards settlements looking for food.

1838

January, Major Nunn's campaign. Mounted police, mostly European volunteers, set out in response to conflict on the Liverpool Plains, north central NSW. At Vinegar Hill, a site on 'Slaughterhouse Creek', 60 - 70 Aboriginal people are reported killed. The only European casualty is a corporal, speared in the leg.

11 April, "Faithful Massacre" at Owens Creek, Victoria. Ten Europeans travelling south from NSW with G. P. Faithful, killed by Aboriginal people.

'The Bushwack' or 'The Drive', against Aborigines, is initiated by squatters and their stockmen to clear the Myall Creek area, near present day Inverell, NSW.

On 10 June, the 'Myall Creek Massacre' occurs. 12 heavily armed colonists rounded up and brutally kill 28 Aborigines from a group of 40 or 50 people gathered at Henry Dangar's Station, at Myall Creek. The massacre was believed to be a payback for the killing of several hut keepers and two shepherds. But most of those killed were women and children and good relations existed between the Aboriginal people and European occupants of the station. 15 November, 11 Europeans were charged with murder but are acquitted. A new trial is held and seven men are charged with murder of one Aboriginal child. They are found guilty and hanged in December.

Competition between Aboriginal people and colonists develops for water on Bogan River, west of present day Dubbo. Seven Europeans and their overseer are killed on William Fee's outstation. Border Police formed after the Myall Creek Massacre, arrive from Bathurst and almost all men of the group involved are killed.

Reports of poisoning of Aboriginal people on 'Tarrone' near Port Fairy, West Melbourne and 'Kilcoy' north-west Moreton Bay. Flour is poisoned and left in shepherds' huts on 'Kilcoy' in the expectation that Aboriginal people now dispossessed of hunting ground would take it.

1842

Governor Bourke of NSW ordered the establishment of the Native Police, in the Port Phillip district. They are trained to disperse groups of Aboriginal people. This force is disbanded in 1853.

Native Police forces operated punitive expeditions and attacked and killed many station Aborigines. The force was lead by European officers. The force played a significant role in later years, in 'settling' hostilities in the Macleay and Clarence River regions of NSW. Native Police were used extensively against Aborigines in Queensland. They were later disbanded and replaced by civil police, following increasing concern within non-Aboriginal communities concerning the forces' activities. The force was finally disbanded in Queensland in 1897.

1843

A number of squatters abandon their stations because of continued resistance of Aboriginal people in defence of their land which includes attacks on properties.

1845

About 50 remaining Aboriginal people from the Sydney and Botany Bay peoples are living at a camp on Botany Heads.

1846

Native Police are used to 'settle' hostilities on the northern plains of NSW. Hostilities lessen in the area.

1848

The Board of National Education, established in NSW states "It is impractical to provide any form of education for the children of blacks".

Native Police are introduced into northern regions with headquarters at Callandoon near present day Goondiwindi, on the Macintyre River.

1849

A select committee of the NSW Government claimed that protectors of Aboriginal people serve no purpose and should be abolished.

Land Commissioner McDonald reported widespread food shortages among Aborigines in the Murray District after their displacement by pastoralists who took their land for sheep stations.

December, Flinders Island Protectorate in Bass Strait abandoned after most Aboriginal people have died from various diseases.

1851

The Colony of Victoria established.

1857

27 October The Jiman people kill 11 Europeans at Martha Fraser's Hornet Bank station on the Dawson River, central Queensland. Local squatters with the help of the Native Police later shoot several Jiman men.

1860

A Board of Protection is established in Victoria and continues until 1957. During the next 20 years nearly 11 000 hectares of land are 'temporarily reserved'. By 1900, most Victorian Aboriginal people are placed on reserves.

1861

17 October, a party of settlers led by Horatio Spencer Wills, is attacked by Aboriginal people at the new Cullin-la-ringo station, near Emerald, Queensland. Wills and 18 Europeans are killed. Native Police deserters are said to be the ringleaders. A punitive party set out immediately and numerous Aboriginal people were slaughtered.

1867-1868

Aboriginal cricket team tours England. Some members of the team find it difficult to adapt to the climate and have to return home. One team member dies.

1868

150 Aboriginal people are killed resisting arrest in the Kimberley.

1869

A settlement is established in Darwin.

Punitive expeditions are common in the north and north-west until the 1930s.

Act for "Protection and Management of Aboriginal Natives" is passed in Victoria.

1874

The Maloga Mission is established as a refuge for the 9 000 surviving Aboriginal people in NSW.

1876

8 May Truganini dies in Hobart aged 73. The Tasmanian Government does not recognise the Aboriginal heritage of people of Aboriginal descent and claims the last Tasmanian Aboriginal person has died. A falsehood many still believe today.

1870

In the early 1870s the first Aboriginal children are enrolled in the public schools in NSW. By 1880 there are 200 Aboriginal children in school in NSW.

1877

The Hermansburg Mission in established on the Finke River, Northern Territory by the Evangelical Lutheran Church of Australia and the Hermannsburg Mission Society of North Germany.

1880

South Australia introduces a Protection Policy.

1881

A 'Protector of Aborigines' is appointed in NSW. The Protector has the power to create reserves and to force Aboriginal people to live on them.

The Minister for Education establishes separate schools for excluded Aboriginal children. The Protector attempts to provide reserves with a building where a school can be run by the Department of Education. Where this is not possible, Aboriginal children can attend the local public schools providing they are "habitually clean, decently clad and that they conduct themselves with propriety, both in and out of school".

1883

The Aboriginal Protection Board is established in NSW. Aboriginal people at Maloga Mission on the Murray River are moved to Cumeroogunga. By the end of the 1880s several reserves have been established in NSW. Reserves are set up far enough away from towns so that contact with Europeans is limited. Segregation is a key part of Aboriginal Protection Policy.

White parents object to about 16 Aboriginal children attending a public school at Yass. The Minister for Education, George Reid, stops the children from attending school stating, in general that although creed or colour should not exclude a child "cases may arise, especially amongst the Aboriginal tribes, where the admission of a child or children may be prejudicial to the whole school".

1886

Western Australian Aborigines Protection Act provided for a Protection Board.

The Victorian Aborigines Protection Act excludes "half castes" from their definition of an Aboriginal person. As a result nearly half the residents of the stations have to leave their homes.

1890

Jandamarra, an Aboriginal resistance fighter, declares war on European invaders in the West Kimberley and prevents settlement for six years.

In the 1890s Western Australia gives increased law enforcement powers to its justices of the peace who can sentence Aborigines to three years gaol or 24 lashes for offences such as sheep stealing. However, no Western Australian jury convicts a European for killing an Aboriginal, even though in one case a European had tied an Aboriginal person to his horse and dragged the man along the ground to his death.

1891

2 May - a man hunt lasting almost three years followed the spearing by Aboriginal people of S Murskiewicz at Dora Dora Creek, 68km from Albury. The two Aboriginal people responsible were finally caught in Queensland.

1897

The Queensland Aboriginals' Protection and Restriction of Sale of Opium Act established reserves and provides for the appointment of protectors. Europeans are permitted to employ Aboriginal people but Chinese people are not. This Act with some amendments in 1901 and 1934 remains the chief statement of Queensland Policy until 1939 when a new Act is passed.

Jandamarra, Kimberley's resistance fighter is shot and 19 former Aboriginal prisoners, who he had freed and were fighting with him, are also shot and killed.

1900

During 1900 Jimmy and Joe Governor, and Jackie Underwood kill seven Europeans in NSW because Jimmy Governor took offense at slurs passed upon his European wife. Joe was later shot dead and Jimmy and Underwood were arrested.

The following references were used in compiling this timeline:

  • Bostock, Lester, 1990, The Greater Perspective, Special Broadcasting Service
  • Fraser, Bryce, (ed), 1983, The Macquarie Book of Events, Weldon,
  • Directorate of Special Programs, NSW Department of Education, 1982, Aboriginal Australia, a Preliminary Chronology
  • Jonas, Bill and Langton, Marcia, 1994, The Little Red, Yellow and Black (and Green and Blue and White) Book, AIATSIS
  • Horton, D (ed) 1994, Encyclopaedia of Aboriginal Australia, Aboriginal Studies Press
  • Butler, Kevin, Cameron, K & Percival, B., 1995, The Myth of Terra Nullius, Invasion and Resistance -the early years, Board of Studies


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