Hard Men #1: Portland Bay

(Sealers and Whalers 1800-1850)

Portland Bay

1. 'Convincing Ground' 1833-1834
Ian Clark, 1995, Scars in the Landscape: A register of massacre sites in western Victoria, 1803-1859, Aboriginal Studies Press, Canberra ACT.

"The earliest recorded massacre, at the Convincing Ground, on the coast near Portland, is believed to have taken place in either 1833 or 1834...
PLACE NAME: Convincing Ground
LOCATION: on the coast between Portland and the Surrey River [Narrawong]
DATE OF INCIDENT: 1833 or 1834
ABORIGINES INVOLVED: Kilcarer gundidj [clan], Dhauwurd wurrung [language group]
REPORTED ABORIGINAL DEATHS: all but two young men from the Kilcarer clan [Pollikeunnuc and Yarereryarerer. Typical extended family groups ranged from 30-50 individuals including children]...
The earliest [written] reference to the Convincing Ground locality is an entry in Edward Henty's diary dated 18 October 1835, where he noted that he 'walked to the convincing ground'...
George Robinson, the Chief Protector of Aborigines in Port Phillip from 1838 to 1849, learned of this massacre in 1841...Robinson visited Portland in May 1841, and on 16 May he learned the origin of the name Convincing Ground, which he related in his journal..."

1.1 George Robinson's Journal 16 May 1841
G. Presland (ed), 1980, Journals of George Augustus Robinson, May-August 1841, Records of the Victorian Archaeological Survey, No 11, Melbourne.

"Mr Edward Henty [permanent settler] and Mr Blair [police magistrate] called and spent the afternoon...Mr Henty said the Blacks at Mt Clay are a bad lot, and he did not think I should get a communication with them...He related one story of their badness. He said that some time ago, I suppose two or three years [corrected by Robinson on 23 March 1842 to 'eight or nine years earlier' after conversation with 30 Dhauwurd wurrung from various coastal clans], a whale broke from her moorings and went on shore. And the boat went in to get it off, when they were attacked by natives who drove them off. He said the men were so enraged that they went to the head station for their firearms and then returned to the whale, when the natives again attacked them. And the whalers then let fly, to use his expression, right and left upon the natives. He said the natives did not go away but got behind trees and threw spears and stones. They, however, did not much molest them after that.
There is a spot on the north shore, where the fishing works are I think, which is called the 'Convincing Ground' and I was informed that it got its name from some transaction with the natives of the kind mentioned, so Mr Blair said. Mr Tyers [government surveyor] however said it was because when the whites had any dispute they went on shore and there settled it by fighting. I however think the former most feasible, especially after what Mr Henty himself stated."

1.2 George Robinson's Journal 17 May 1841
G. Presland, 1980

"Descended a very steep and abrupt bank which the horse was barely able to get down and came to the bush. Passed small [illegible] weatherboard buildings belonging to the whaling establishment. Two miles from Double Corner was a small creek of fresh water. [      ] miles from Double Corner is the Messrs Henty's fishery. This spot where the buildings are is called the Convincing Ground...
It is stated that the natives fought the whalers. Now, the cause of this fight, if such an unequal contest can be so designated, firearms [are] certain death against spears, was occasioned by the whalers going to get the whalebone from the fish, when the natives, not knowing their intentions and supposing they intended to take away the fish which the natives considered theirs and which it had been for 1000 of years previous, they of course resisted the aggression on the part of the white men; it was the first guns of the fishery, and the whalers having used their guns beat them off and hence called the spot the Convincing Ground. That was because they convinced them of their mistake and which, but for their firearms, they perhaps could not have done."

1.3 Robinson's official report of his 1841 journey into western Victoria
I.D. Clark, 1990, 'In Quest of the Tribes: G.A. Robinson's Unabridged Report of his 1841 Expedition among Western Victorian Aboriginal Tribes', Memoirs of the Museum of Victoria (Anthropology and History), 1 (1), 97-130

"Among the remarkable places on the coast, is the 'Convincing Ground', originating in a severe conflict which took place a few years previous between the Aborigines and the Whalers on which occasion a large number of the former were slain. The circumstances are that a whale had come on shore and the Natives who feed on the carcass claimed it was their own. The whalers said they would 'convince them' and had recourse to firearms. On this spot a fishery is now established."

2. Charles Tyer's  1839 'census' of the Portland Bay settlement
'C.J. Tyers' Journal of Expedition to Portland Bay, Oct 10, 1839 to Mar 5, 1840', in Noel Learmonth, 1934, The Portland Bay Settlement, Historical Society of Victoria

"Dec. 2. [1839] -- A heavy gale from the west. Vessels now in the bay -- Pyramus, Minerva, barque, schooner, a black brig, and Rapid, all of which are riding out the gale well. Since our arrival at Portland Bay we have had a series of gales and heavy rain, so incessant and heavy as to prevent our continuing the survey...The country 50 miles north of the bay is said to be as good as any in the world...Messrs Henty have at their several stations in this country 20,000 sheep and 500 head of cattle. Messrs Winter and Wedge have also several flocks. The following census was kindly furnished me by Mr. Stephen Henty: -- ...Total at Portland 41 [11 'people of consequence' are named and balance of 30 are servants, stockmen, and boatmen]...[Total at sheep stations 95, including 8 named squatters and balance of 87 are shepherds, shearers, and labourers]...During the whaling season Messrs Henty six boats of whalers...76... Three ships each four boats and men....102...One schooner, three boats...24...[Total whaling crews 202]...The orderly and civil deportment of the people here has been to me a matter of astonishment considering there is neither magistrate or other Crown Officer to exercise the least authority over them. I do not include the whalers from V. D. Land, for during the whaling season, I understand, these people occasionally give trouble..."

3. Continuing lawlessness: Official colonial correspondence 1840 - 1842 
Letters reproduced in Noel Learmonth, 1939
"...James Blair was appointed Police Magistrate at Portland Bay on 13th August 1840...He arrived in Portland by the Prince George October 31, 1840, and resided there  as police magistrate for 23 years."
  3.1 Colonial Secretary, Sydney, to Police Magistrate, Portland
October 12, 1840 "I have been requested to supply you with the following for the police under your orders: -- Cut down muskets 7, Bayonets 7, Bayonet scabbards 7, Pouches 7, Belts 7, Musket cartridges 100, Flints 100"
[This seems a sadly inadequate supply of out-of-date army-surplus munitions]

3.2 Superintendent La Trobe, Melbourne, to Magistrate Blair, Portland
February 2, 1841 "Approving of the appointment of a person to act as scourger at Portland at your request."

3.3 Magistrate Blair, Portland, to Superintendent La Trobe, Melbourne
March 20, 1841 "As the whaling season is fast approaching, will you inform me whether any and what restrictions should be placed on vessels trying out in the bay, and whether parties will be permitted to establish stations on any part of the coast."
Same Date "I beg to report the escape of three prisoners from the lock-up. Parties outside evidently supplied a saw and tools; the police being too few to guard the lock-up, tools and even fire have been passed between the spars to prisoners. The three men were leaders of a riot that took place here on the 16th inst. about 2 p.m., when 30 or 40 men assembled to oppose the police. Two of the police had their heads laid open, when Mr Henty came to my assistance to put down the riot with firearms. The mob at first seemed determined to give shot for shot, and visited a public-house to collect firearms for the purpose. I was convinced I should have to read the Riot Act and fire upon them. But it is particularly gratifying to me to report order was restored without any bloodshed. But unless I am given more support I cannot suppress further outbreaks in the same peaceable manner."

3.4 Colonial Secretary, Sydney, to Superintendent La Trobe, Melbourne
May 6, 1841 "In reply to your letter of March 30, that a small party of military should be stationed at Portland Bay in consequence of riotous proceedings of the crews of whalers, the Military Secretary states that an officer's party of 80th Regiment has been ordered to hold itself in readiness for that destination."

3.5 Superintendent La Trobe, Melbourne, to Magistrate Blair, Portland
June 12, 1841 "This will be handed to you by Lieut. Hillingworth, of 80th Regiment, who proceeds with a party of military to Portland...I request you will give him any advice and assistance in your power in choosing a proper camp, and erecting such temporary buildings as he may deem requisite for the use of the men of his detachment...Mr Hillingworth is, of course, fully prepared to give you any assistance and adopting any means that may be advisable for the security and tranquility of Portland Bay district."

3.6 Superintendent La Trobe, Melbourne, to Magistrate Blair, Portland
November 5, 1841 "...giving the following estimates for the Portland Bay Police Establishment for 1842: -- Police Magistrate 300.0.0; Clerk of Bench 150.0.0; Chief Constable 100.0.0; District Constable 54.15.0; Watchhouse Keeper 54.15.0; Four Ordinary Constables at 2s. 9d. per day 200.15.0; Scourger at 3s. 5d. per day 63.17.6; Total 924 pounds 2 shillings and sixpence."

3.7 Superintendent La Trobe, Melbourne, to Magistrate Blair, Portland
May 30, 1842 "I have the honour to signify my approval of the party named in the margin holding a ticket of leave being appointed lock-up keeper from 16th inst. at a pay of 3s. per day."
Same Date "In reply to yours proposing that ---- should be appointed scourger in place of ----, who has received his ticket of leave, I regret to state that I believe no scourgers are to be paid by the Government after April 1." 


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