Flying Foam Massacre: Instructions for Massacre

The Inquirer, 1st April, 1868, p. 3

Instructions of the Government Resident to Messrs. McRae and Withnell

Government Resident’s Office, Roebourne
Instructions to A McRAE, Esq., Roebourne
February 11, 1868


With reference to the conversation between us this day I beg to address you as follows:-

You are aware that murders have been committed by the natives of Nickol Bay, that P.C. Griffis and his native assistant have been killed while in the discharge of their duty, and that at least one (I fear two) white men, whose guests they were, shared their fate.

I had ascertained that the principal murderers, or those who threw the first spears, are Coolyerberri, alias Entire, who killed Peter, Poodigie, alias Charley, who killed George Breem, and Woolgolgarri, alias Ned, who killed Griffis. Warrants will be issued for the apprehension of these men.

There are about twelve others took an active part in the outrage, and many – judging from the tracks, some fifty or sixty – who were consenting parties, if not actually assisting, and who certainly robbed the tent after the massacre.

I have evidence to the effect that and native known among us as Big Monkey – I am not at present aware of his native name – was the instigator of the assault, and against him, and others who can be identified, warrants will be issued.

As we have at present no police in the district, and as the despatch of one or two men in that capacity would clearly be useless and lead to loss of life, it becomes necessary to enforce the law by means of a strong and well-organised party.

I propose to dispatch two parties to follow up the accused, who, with their companions, have proceeded to the westward; one to go by land and the other by water. You have kindly consented to take charge of the former, and I gladly avail myself of the services of so efficient a volunteer.

I shall leave to your discretion the selection of the members of your party and the method of procedure, knowing that you will bear in mind the necessity of protecting your own party from injury and of dispersing around bands whose attitude may show an intention of opposing the execution of the Law.

To enable you more satisfactorily to perform your duty, yourself, and every member of your party, will be sworn in as special constables.

Mr Withnell has kindly consented to take charge of the boat party, and so long as he is afloat, will have an independent command, but should he land his force and combine with your men, you will, if you deem fit, take command of the whole party.

I shall be prepared to assist you by every means in my power with horses, arms, and provisions, and will also spare you such men as may be useful and are at my disposal.

I earnestly trust that the effort of your operations will be to teach these misguided persons to abstain from violence, and to protect the lives and property of the few white people who are scattered over a large extent of country, and who are peculiarly liable to attack.

I have, &c,
Robert J SHOLL
Government Resident

Memo: According to Jacky’s statement, Entire killed Breem, and Charley Peter.

Government Resident’s Office, Roebourne
Instructions to J WITHNELL, Esq., Roebourne
February 13, 1868


Having made arrangements for the services of the cutter Albert in the proposed expedition to Nickol Bay or its vicinity, and you having kindly consented to command the boat party, I beg to address you with reference to the business in which you will be engaged.

Warrants will be issued for the apprehension of the murderers Entire, Ned, and Charley, and also against others who were concerned in that crime. These warrants will be delivered to Mr McRae, a gentleman in charge of the land party, to whom I must refer you for further information.

As you will be acting under the section of the Law, it will be advisable that you yourself and the members of your party be sworn in as special constables. They must also be given to understand that in every respect they must obey your orders.

The vessel will be placed at your disposal as far as her movements are concerned, of course you are aware that the master will have sole control as regards working his ship, and that he is not bound to endanger his ship and contents.

The object I had in view in chartering the Albert was that assistance might be rendered to the land party in the event of the murderers escaping to the islands, or attempting to do so. I feel assured that you will cooperate with Mr McRae and render him all needful assistance.

It will be your duty to disperse any armed bands who may be disposed to resist the execution of the Law, being careful that women and children shall, as far as possible, be saved from harm.

As soon as the objects of your expedition – viz. the the murderers and the dispersion of armed men – shall be accomplished, you will be good enough to order the return of the vessel.

I shall not attempt to fetter your movements by giving special instructions, relying fully upon your discretion and judgement.

Of course I shall be happy to assist you by every means in my power.

I sincerely trust that you will be enabled to take such measures as will tend to deter the natives from the commission of crimes so heinous as those which have lately occurred, and thus renew the feeling of security which has hitherto prevailed.

I have, &c.,
Robert J SHOLL
Government Resident.

Katitjin Notes:

It is clear from Sholl’s statement “It will be your duty to disperse any armed bands who may be disposed to resist the execution of the Law, being careful that women and children shall, as far as possible, be saved from harm” that the intention was a punitive expedition and not simply the apprehension of the suspected killers of Griffis, Breem and Peter. “Disperse” is a widely acknowledged term that meant “kill”.

Flying Foam Massacre Evidence

The following is the report made by the Magistrate Robert Sholl, given in evidence as an eye-witness account of the attack on Constable Griffis. However, as noted in Katitjin Notes at the end of this post, there must be some skepticism about the how accurate this ‘translation’ of Euralgarri might be.

1868, Apr 1 Inquirer Newspaper

Depositions of the natives concerning the death of Constable Griffis, the native assistant, and George Breem

The information of Euralgarri, alias Jacky, a native of the North-West Coast, touching the death of PC W Griffis, Peter, a Swan River native, and George Breem, given through the sworn interpretation of Horace William Sholl [1], taken 8th February, 1868:-

Jacky being affirmed to speak the truth saith: Two nights since I was to the westward of Mr Davis’s boat. I then slept about as far as the river from this house to the eastward of Jermyn’s tent. Griffis and Peter came to me that night, and Peter captured a native named Entire by the whitefellows, but Coolyerberri by the blacks, and put a chain around his neck. The natives all ran away and Griffis and Peter went to the westward to the tent with Coolyerberri. After Griffis went away the natives all collected together and were talking savagely – they were very angry. Pooldalgarry, alias Big Monkey, said “We’ll all be savage, and when they go to sleep we’ll spear them.” I heard his say so. The others said “We ought not to be frightened – we ought to go and spear them.” None of them said we ought not to spear them. There were present at the time Poodegin, alias Charley, Woolgulgarry, alias Ned, Mulligough, an island native, Cooracoora, a native who came to the Government Resident to complain of a whiteman named Woodhouse having flogged himself and his brother, Chilwell, who went with Mr Broadhurst pearl shell fishing, and three others. There were many more natives, but these were all that were savage. They did not speak to me, but I spoke to them, and asked why they wanted to spear them, for the whitefellows would come down and shoot them. They said when the whitefellows came to shoot them they would spear them. Memerri, an island native, said so. I slept that night with the women and children and the native men who were not savage. We all went away over the hill to another place, the others were creeping towards the tent along the track. The moon had not risen high when I left them. Entire came when we were asleep with a revolver in his hand and a chain on his neck, and told us that the whitefellows were dead, and that he and the others had speared them. The other natives came with him. Ned said that he had speared Griffis first, in the chest, and then they all hit him with the back of at tomahawk. They did not use the firearms. Charley speared Peter in the belly just as he was rising up – he tumbled over and never spoke – Griffis never spoke. Entire said that he speared Breem, who ran away frightened, but the others chased him, and he was speared. When he was running away he told them not to be savage with him. The natives took a big gun of Jermyn’s, another gun, one from Peter and a pickaninny gun. I did not see powder or shot or saddles. They went to the westward, to a well, through the water, where their tracks could not be seen. I was frightened and swam across to the boat. I was too frightened to tell what had occurred. The men who speared them are now to the westward at the other end of the Bay. I have no relations among these natives.

Katitjin Notes:

[1] Horace “Horrie” William SHOLL (1852-1927)
Horace Sholl was the son of Robert John Sholl, the Resident Magistrate at Roebourne, whose report preceeds this deposition. Horace arrived in Nickol Bay with his family in July 1866 at the age of 14. Here we find him at the age of 16, having been in Roebourne for about a year and a half, being the official interpreter for these Aboriginal depositions. One would have to ask to what degree Horace’s interpreting skills favoured presenting a point of view that would shortly justify the massacres that occurred, with full knowledge and authorisation by his father. Horace later became a pastoralist on the Yule River, a Member of the Legislative Assembly (1891-1901) and one of the most successful pearlers of the North-West. Talk about a vested interest!

1868 Flying Foam Massacre

Picture courtesy of Julie Dowling

17th Feb 2018 marks the 150th anniversary of the Flying Foam Massacre that occurred in 1868. However, this day was only the start of the massacre, which continued for some months and occurred not just in the Flying Foam Passage area but was a systematic punitive expedition designed to decimate the Yaburara people who owned and occupied Murujuga country, now known as the Burrup Peninsula. It is estimated that about 150 men, women and children were killed between February and May, 1868, with the punitive party “committing the most cowardly and diabolical acts on women and children”. This genocidal act had a devastating impact on the Yaburara community that continues to be felt with deep pain today.

But where are the news programs announcing this anniversary? Where is the media attention? Did anyone at all commemorate this tragedy? Why is there still such a deafening silence about the history of genocide in Australia?

There will be a commemorative event on the Burrup Peninsula on Sunday April 15th at 10am. More information can be found on Facebook event page Annual Flying Foam Massacre Event


Worrorra Resistance

Grey, George. 1841. Journals of Two Expeditions of Discovery In North-West And Western Australia. London: T & W Boone


Dec 22, 1837 Hanover Bay

Scarcely had we reached these rocks, and sheltered ourselves under the overhanging projections, when I saw a savage advancing with a spear in his right hand, and a bundle of similar weapons in his left; he was followed by a party of thirteen others, and with them was a small dog not of the kind common to this country. The men were curiously painted for war, red being the predominant colour, and each man carried several spears, a rowing stick, and a club. Their chief was in front, and distinguished by his hair being of a dark red colour from some composition with which it was smeared; the others followed him close, noiselessly, and with stealthy pace, one by one, whilst he, crouching almost to the earth, pricked off our trail.

We remained concealed and motionless until they had all passed, but the moment they came to where we had turned off they discovered our retreat, and raised loud shouts of triumph, as, forming themselves into a semicircle, they advanced upon us, brandishing their spears and bounding from rock to rock. It was in vain that I made friendly signs and gestures, they still closed upon us, and to my surprise I heard their war-cry answered by a party who were coming over the high rocks in our rear, which I had flattered myself protected us in that direction.

Our situation was now so critical that I was compelled to assume a hostile attitude. I therefore shouted in answer to their cries and, desiring the men to fire one at a time if I gave the word, I advanced rapidly, at the same time firing one barrel over their heads. This had the desired effect. With the exception of one more resolute than the rest they fled on all sides, and he, finding his efforts unavailing, soon followed their example.

Feb 11, 1838 Glenelg River

It was the duty of the Cape man who accompanied me to mark a tree every here and there by chipping the bark, so that the party might the next day easily recognise the route which they had to pursue; upon looking back I now perceived that he had neglected a very remarkable tree about twenty or thirty yards behind us, and which stood close to the spot where I had fired at the kangaroo. I desired him to go back and chip it, and then to rejoin us; in the meantime I stood musing as to the best means of avoiding the little rocky ravine in our front.

Finding that the man remained absent longer than I had expected I called loudly to him, but received no answer, and therefore passed round some rocks which hid the tree from my view to look after him. Suddenly I saw him close to me breathless and speechless with terror, and a native with his spear fixed in a throwing-stick in full pursuit of him; immediately numbers of other natives burst upon my sight; each tree, each rock, seemed to give forth its black denizen, as if by enchantment.

A moment before, the most solemn silence pervaded these woods. We deemed that not a human being moved within miles of us, and now they rang with savage and ferocious yells, and fierce armed men crowded round us on every side, bent on our destruction.

There was something very terrible in so complete and sudden a surprise. Certain death appeared to stare us in the face: and, from the determined and resolute air of our opponents, I immediately guessed that the man who had first seen them, instead of boldly standing his ground, and calling to Coles and myself for assistance, had at once, like a coward, run away; thus giving the natives confidence in themselves, and a contempt for us: and this conjecture I afterwards ascertained was perfectly true.

We were now fairly engaged for our lives; escape was impossible, and surrender to such enemies out of the question.

As soon as I saw the natives around me I fired one barrel of my gun over the head of him who was pursuing my dismayed attendant, hoping the report would have checked his further career. He proved to be the tall man seen at the camp, painted with white. My shot stopped him not: he still closed on us and his spear whistled by my head; but, whilst he was fixing another in his throwing stick, a ball from my second barrel struck him in the arm and it fell powerless by his side. He now retired behind a rock, but the others still pressed on.

I now made the two men retire behind some neighbouring rocks, which formed a kind of protecting parapet along our front and right flank, whilst I took post on the left. Both my barrels were now exhausted; and I desired the other two to fire separately, whilst I was reloading; but to my horror, Coles, who was armed with my rifle, reported hurriedly that the cloth case with which he had covered it for protection against rain had become entangled. His services were thus lost at a most critical moment whilst trying to tear off the lock cover; and the other man was so paralysed with fear that he could do nothing but cry out, “Oh, God! Sir, look at them; look at them!”

In the meantime our opponents pressed more closely round; their spears kept whistling by us, and our fate seemed inevitable. The light coloured man, spoken of at the camp, now appeared to direct their movements. He sprang forward to a rock not more than thirty yards from us and, posting himself behind it, threw a spear with such deadly force and aim that, had I not drawn myself forward by a sudden jerk, it must have gone through my body, and as it was it touched my back in flying by. Another well-directed spear, from a different hand, would have pierced me in the breast, but, in the motion I made to avoid it, it struck upon the stock of my gun, of which it carried away a portion by its force.

All this took place in a few seconds of time, and no shot had been fired but by me. I now recognized in the light-coloured man an old enemy who had led on the former attack against me on the 22nd of December. By his cries and gestures he now appeared to be urging the others to surround and press on us, which they were rapidly doing.

I saw now that but one thing could be done to save our lives, so I gave Coles my gun to complete the reloading, and took the rifle which he had not yet disengaged from the cover. I tore it off and, stepping out from behind our parapet, advanced to the rock which covered my light-coloured opponent. I had not made two steps in advance when three spears struck me nearly at the same moment, one of which was thrown by him. I felt severely wounded in the hip, but knew not exactly where the others had struck me. The force of all knocked me down, and made me very giddy and faint, but as I fell I heard the savage yells of the natives’ delight and triumph; these recalled me to myself, and, roused by momentary rage and indignation, I made a strong effort, rallied, and in a moment was on my legs; the spear was wrenched from my wound, and my haversack drawn closely over it, that neither my own party nor the natives might see it, and I advanced again steadily to the rock. The man became alarmed and threatened me with his club, yelling most furiously; but as I neared the rock behind which all but his head and arm was covered he fled towards an adjoining one, dodging dexterously, according to the native manner of confusing an assailant and avoiding the cast of his spear; but he was scarcely uncovered in his flight when my rifle ball pierced him through the back between the shoulders, and he fell heavily on his face with a deep groan.

The effect was electrical. The tumult of the combat had ceased: not another spear was thrown, not another yell was uttered. Native after native dropped away and noiselessly disappeared. I stood alone with the wretched savage dying before me, and my two men close to me behind the rocks, in the attitude of deep attention; and as I looked round upon the dark rocks and forests, now suddenly silent and lifeless but for the sight of the unhappy being who lay on the ground before me, I could have thought that the whole affair had been a horrid dream.

For a second or two I gazed on the scene and then returned to my former position. I took my gun from Coles, which he had not yet finished loading, and gave him the rifle. I then went up to the other man, and gave him two balls to hold, but when I placed them in his hands they rolled upon the earth–he could not hold them, for he was completely paralysed with terror, and they fell through his fingers; the perspiration streamed from every pore; he was ghastly pale and trembled from head to foot; his limbs refused their functions; his eyes were so fixed in the direction in which the natives had disappeared that I could draw his attention to nothing else; and he still continued repeating, “Good God, sir! look at them, look at them.”

The natives had all now concealed themselves, but they were not far off. Presently the wounded man made an effort to raise himself slowly from the ground: some of them instantly came from behind the rocks and trees, without their spears, crowding round him with the greatest tenderness and solicitude; two passed their arms round him, his head drooped senselessly upon his chest, and with hurried steps the whole party wound their way through the forest, their black forms being scarcely distinguishable from the charred trunks of the trees as they receded in the distance.

To have fired upon the other natives when they returned for the wounded man would, in my belief, have been an unnecessary piece of barbarity. I already felt deeply the death of him I had been compelled to shoot: and I believe that when a fellow-creature falls by one’s hand, even in a single combat rendered unavoidable in self-defence, it is impossible not sincerely to regret the force of so cruel a necessity.