Flying Foam Massacre: John Withnell’s Report

The Inquirer, 1 Apr 1868

Report of Mr Withnell to R J Sholl, Esq., Government Resident, Roebourne
Roebourne, Feb 25, 1868

Sir,

I have the honour of forwarding you a report of the trip of the cutter Albert, under my command, in search of the murderers of police constable Griffis and two or three others.

On the 15th Feb the cutter Albert sailed out of Tien Tsin Harbour with the following party – J Withnell, in charge, G Seubert, G B Fauntleroy, G Howlett, J Field, R Rowland, J McKenzie, J Glover, Fitzgerald, and native Monkey.

16th – Landed at Hearson Cove, where we were met by the land party, and arranged to meet again on the opposite side of the adjacent island; no natives to be seen.

17th – Landed on the south side of the Boat Passage, where we met with the land party, as agreed. They informed us of a skirmish they had had the same morning with a number of natives. A boy was taken whilst crossing the island, from whom we learned that several of the murderers were in the camp surprised in the morning, and more had gone to the north. In the afternoon crossed the Boat Passage in search of water, when two natives came to us, mistaking us for pearl fishers, finding out their mistake only when it was too late to run away. They asked if the white-fellows were angry at the death of Griffis, the murder of whom they confessed to be implicated in; one of them was Mulligang, for whose arrest a warrant is out. We took them on board the cutter and kept a watch over them all  night, but having no chains or handcuffs, could not fasten them securely.

18th – Today the two prisoners managed to slip over the side and swim some distance before they were seen. We called to them to stop, which they took no notice of; so I gave orders to fire upon them, as the mangroves were a short distance off; and had we attempted to retake them, they would probably have escaped. Visited another island in the evening but saw no natives.

19th – This morning the land party were conveyed across to Dolphin Island, after which I landed with the party on an island to the north of Flying Foam Harbour, but saw no natives. Signal fires were seen on an adjacent island. The land party saw some on one of the islands in the harbour, but did not succeed in taking any.

20th – Landed upon the island where the fires were noticed yesterday, and came upon a native camp, in a very rugged piece of country, and as the natives were armed, we had a sharp skirmish with them. I myself narrowly escaped being speared, as did several others of the party. None of them were taken, but several articles belonging to the murdered party were found in their possession in the camp.

21st – Started for Hearson Cove, but could see not signs of natives. Arrived on the following morning at Tien Tsin Harbour.

I have, &c.,
J WITHNELL

 

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