Item 1909/0015

State Records Archive
Consignment: 652
Item: 1909/0015
Title: Lock Hospital – fit subjects for

Keywords: Lock hospitals, Mulga Downs Station, Winnie, Cooberong, Wineri, Richard Pilmer, Arthur Adams, Oobagooma Station, Bernier Island, Dorre Island, Cuteen, Yambanum, Jimmy, Elvire Station, Ruby Plains Station, James Isdell, health

Police Station
28 Dec 1908
Sergt Pilmer
I beg to report for the information of the Chief Protector of Aborigines that when I visited Mulga Downs Stn on the 8th inst. I inspected an Abo Native woman named Winnie @ Cooberong or Wineri who is suffering from a severe form of venereal disease and who Mr Miller the manager considers a fit subject for the lock hospital.
I am also of the same opinion.
She is about 35 yrs of age and is unable to perform any work and is totally dependent upon the station for her sustenance.
S W Hardy

Chief Protector, Perth
Submitted for your information. Mulga Downs Station is 180 miles from Roebourne. It will be a costly matter getting this unfortunate woman down. However, I await your instructions.
R H Pilmer
Aborigines Dept Recd Jan 7 1909

22 Jan 1909
From Roebourne
To Police Station Perth
Four female two male diseased natives Marble Bar Station please advise what be done with them
Sergt Pilmer

2 Feb 1909
From Derby
To Chief Protector Aborigines, Perth
Two natives male and female suffering venereal disease from Obagooma now hospital where shall they be sent
McCarthy, acting sub

1 Feb 1909
From Derby
To Lovegrove, Medical, Perth
Imperative that two venerial [sic] natives now in Derby hospital be transferred by this boat to Bernier Island retreat.

To Chief Protector of Aborigines
Please deal with attached telegram from Dr Adams at Derby
[Signature illegible]
Colonial Secretary’s Dept
Medical Public Health
3 Feb 1909

3 Feb 1909
Resident Magistrate
Men’s island hospital not ready for patients. Women must be kept until next batch of women patients sent Bernier. Instructions will be given when to collect patients of both sexes.
Chief Protector of Aborigines

3 Feb 1909
Sergeant Pilmer
Men’s island hospital not yet ready for patients. Waiting to transport both sexes from inland at one expense. Patients mentioned must stay until further instructions
Chief Protector of Aborigines

From District Medical Office, Derby
To Acting Sub-Inspector, Police Dept, Derby
Jan 15th 1909
I beg to inform you that on the evening of the 13th inst two aboriginals were delivered into my charge by Police Constable B H Fletcher suffering from extensive venereal disease. These natives named Cuteen (female) and Yambanum alias Jimmy (male) have been entered into the hospital as patients, there to remain until such time as your department undertakes their transference to the Bernier Island retreat.
I remain, Sir, your obedient servant,
Arthur R Adams DMO

Police Department
West Kimberley
Roebourne Station
Jan 15 1909
Report of B H Fletcher Const
Relative to 2 diseased (venereal) natives found in Native camps at Obagamma
I have to report finding 2 Ab Natives Cuteen and Yambanum in the natives camps at Obagamma on the 28th December 1908. There were over 80 natives camped there and these 2 were in a frightful condition and I thought it my duty to bring them in to the Derby Hospital.
I handed these 2 natives to Dr Adams RMO on the 13th Jan 09.
B H Fletcher

[Memo on the bottom of the above report]
Actg S I McCarthy
J T Brodie 15/1/09
To Chief Protector of Aborigines
Forwarded. Please see Dr Adam’s letter attached. I request to be instructed as to when these diseased natives will be sent away and where to.
J M McCarthy
Acting Sub-Insp

From Derby
To Chf Protr Aborigines, Perth
6 Feb 1909
Yours of third inst the two venereal natives decamped from hospital see memo to Lovegrove in post it is impossible to control diseased unless isolation area and appurtenances be gazetted as reserve within meaning of aborigines act they cannot be legally detained in Derby lockup.
Resident Magistrate

From Halls Creek
To Aborigines Dept, Perth
20 Feb 1909
Visited Elvire and Ruby. At Elvire male aborigine bad chronic venereal. Arranged man camped there feed him eighteen pence a day. Cannot walk or ride. Can get him Halls Creek per sulky hire pound per day. Say three pounds. Cruel to leave him where he is. Two women many months in relief camp. Very bad chronic cases should be sent immediately Bernier. Teamster refuses take diseased natives. No vehicles Halls Creek. Only alternative spring cart from Wyndham. Wrong to keep them lingering relief camp.

Isdell, Halls Creek
Your wire re diseased natives relief camps. Hospital for men not quite ready. When it is instructions will be issued collection natives both sexes and send them down together in one batch to save expense. In meantime have all arrangements ready for transport to coast all syphilitic natives so that when time comes there will be no delay. What would cost hire be spring cart from Wyndham.
Chief Protector of Aborigines

From Port Hedland
To Dept of Aborigines, Perth
25 Feb 1909
Aboriginals Nelly & Tommy bad venereal disease cases. Here no hospital. Please advise as to disposal.
Browne, Resident Magistrate

To Resident Magistrate, Port Hedland
Please have temporary shelter made if necessary. Also see to their well being as far as possible. Dorre Island not quite ready for males. The two sexes will be sent down together very shortly from different stations. Will advise.
Chief Protector of Aborigines

From Halls Creek
To Aborigines Dept, Perth
26 Feb 1909
Owing to heavy rains setting in, engaged vehicle bringing in sick native from Elvire. Arrived today, three days hire three pounds thirteen days, sustenance at Elvire nineteen shillings and sixpence. Please authorise Magistrate pay amounts.

To Resident Magistrate, Halls Creek
From Aborigines Dept, Perth
27 Feb 1909
Please pay for transport etcetera sick natives from Elvire three pounds nineteen shillings and sixpence.
Chief Protector of Aborigines

From Halls Creek
To Aborigines Dept
1 Mar 1909
In accordance wire received 23rd, telegraphed Sergt Wyndham reply sixty two pounds. Sum preposterous. Strongly advise most economical police aborigine depts. Combine purchase large tilted spring cart leading shaft harness. Ship Wyndham first steamer. Use of Halls Creek can always hire horses settle. All future transport difficulty and heavy expense same convenience wanted Fitzroy Crossing. No possible getting vehicle Halls Creek made diligent enquiry.

(Stamped: Received Medical Public Health Dept 11 Mar 1909)
To PMO, Medical Dept, Perth
From District Medical Officer
Jan 27, 1909
I beg to report that two aboriginals suffering from venereal disease were delivered into my charge by the local police on the 13th inst. These natives, named Yambanum @Jimmy and Cuteen, were entered as in-patients (nos 322 & 323 on the Admittance Register) of the Derby Hospital. They were in an extremely loathsome condition, the female (Cuteen) in particular with mass of condylomata from sacrum to pubes, including inner aspect of upper third of thighs. Considerable improvement occurred under treatment while awaiting shipment for the “Retreat” at Bernier Island: howbut the shippers declined to take any more diseased natives, and not receiving reply to my wire of the 25th inst (the Derby Police are also awaiting instructions from the Head Office) the SS Bullsea left without them on yesterday afternoon. Early this morn both patients absconded from the hospital, again illustrating the futility of treatment without an isolation reserve being gazetted, and a “Contagious Disease Act” being in force.
I remain, Sir, your obedient servant,
Arthur R Adams

To Chief Protector of Aborigines
From Principal Medical Officer
2 Mar 1909
Will you please reply to Dr Adam’s letter, direct, in regard to the matters referred to, in the attached letter
M Hope

To The Resident Magistrate, Derby
Mar 29, 1909
Your letter to the PMO of Jan 27th has been passed on to me for answer. I am taking steps to have a reserve under the Aborigines Act declared at each port along our northern coast, and such reserves will include the area on which hospitals are built. By referring to section 12 of this Act you will notice that the Minister may cause any aboriginal to be removed and kept within the boundaries of a reserve etc, and that any aboriginal who may refuse to be kept within the boundaries of such reserve shall be guilty of an offence. The Solicitor General informs me that as soon as these reserves are proclaimed, it will be your duty to receive any natives suffering from venereal disease, and immediately wire down to the Hon. the Colonial Secretary the names of such aboriginals, when the Minister will wire up to you instructions to keep such diseased natives within the boundaries of the reserve. On receipt of the telegraphic instructions you will be in a legal position to detain the native in the hospital, and if he escapes you will have power to issue a warrant for his arrest, and to bring him back again. For your information, I beg to state that I am having very considerable difficulty with the steamship companies in getting diseased natives down from our northern ports to the lock hospitals. They have one and all refused to bring them down on the same conditions as the first lot was sent, and I believe that we shall have to charter a special steamer, and make every effort to collect as many natives suffering from these diseases as possible, in order that we can bring them down to the islands in sufficient number to pay us for the charter of the boat.
Chief Protector of Aborigines

To Chief Protector of Aborigines, Perth
Six halfcaste, two aboriginal children sent Broome per Junee today for Beagle Bay, also two females for Bernier.
Resident Magistrate

Apr 23rd, 1909
To Resident Magistrate, Wyndham
Under no circumstances send full blooded aboriginals away from their own country to Missions without approval. Do not wish any more venereal patients sent south until after winter. Please advise Police
Chief Protector

27 Apr 1909
To Police, Broome
Two diseased native women being sent from Wyndham to Broome per Junee. Doctor instructed treat them out patients until can be sent Bernier. Please meet and arrange for rations.
Chief Protector Aborigines

From Resident Magistrate, Derby
To Chief Protector, Aborigines Dept, Perth
19th April, 1909
I am in receipt of your answer dated March 29th last.
I thank you for the concise information contained therein, and I am pleased to note that my recommendation of “Reserves” for diseased natives (including the areas on which hospitals are built), so long formulated (as far back as September 1907) are within sight of realization.
Your directions will be duly observed.
I remain, Sir, your obedient servant,
Arthur R Adams RM & DMO

Katitjin Notes:

Oobagooma Station, also spelled Obagama, Obaguma, was a cattle station about 80 north of Derby. It was established by the McLarty family in 1884 and is now a uranium mining property, zoned as a military training area and closed to the public.

Dr Arthur Reginald Adams was a government medical officer working in the north-west region for many years as a doctor and as resident magistrate. He was a doctor in Collie in 1902 and then moved up to Derby where he was the only doctor from 1907 – 1910. He was very popular and the townspeople of Derby, Halls Creek, Fitzroy Crossing and Turkey Creek all signed a petition for his reinstatement in 1910 and again in 1913, at which time he was resident magistrate in Onslow. He was also resident magistrate in Esperance for some years. He finally retired in Onslow in 1940, where he had been resident magistrate since 1933.

Richard Henry Pilmer (1866-1951) was a controversial policeman stationed in the north-west for many years. Born in New Zealand, he came to Western Australia as a surveyor in 1891, joined the police force in 1892, stationed in the north-west until 1899, during which time he gained a reputation as a violent and aggressive policeman, infamous for his use of a cat-of-nine-tails with Aboriginal prisoners. In 1897, he was a part of the police force trying to capture the Bunuba resistance leader, Jandamarra, and shot him in the hip. He enlisted in the Boer War and on his return in 1901, as a non-commissioned officer, he was so disliked by his men that when he landed in Fremantle he was pelted with potatoes, dough, and ink as he walked down the gangplank, which led to his nickname “Pelted Pilmer.” He was then stationed at Collie but was so unpopular that the townspeople made a petition to have him removed. Pilmer returned to the north-west until about 1911, when he was the leader of a punitive expedition on the Canning Stock Route, leaving from Leonora. Here is a newspaper item from the West Australian, June 9, 1901:

Ex-Policeman Pilmer
A Little of His Past
Pelted Pilmer, of the returned contingent is an illustraion of the way they manage things in the West. He was formerly employed in the Nor-West to bring in runaway niggers with chains round their necks for the squatters to try them. As the squatters owned the niggers, they would receive severe penalties and, perhaps, flogging was the chief. Pilmer did the flogging when nobody else would. He flogged 30 in one batch and received 10s per head for his labors. The ordinary cat-o’-nine tails would not satisfy him. He got a broom handle and fastened nine bullock hide strips with knots in them to both ends. The knots were about six inches apart. With this he flogged the blacks at the triangles and brought flesh and blood with every blow. He boasted that he worked so hard that he had to rub himself with eucalyptus afterwards, he was so stiff. Then he made a profit out of feeding his chain gangs of niggers, for whom he charged 7s per head per day, while he gave them nothing but kangaroo and flour water for food. This was how he made his money in the Derby district.

James Isdell was a pastoralist, parliamentarian, and traveling protector of Aborigines. Although he expresses compassion in his communications in this record, he was more notoriously known for being the instigator of the Canning Stock Route and an “enthusiastic child removalist.” The following quote is from a chapter by Robert Manne, in the book Genocide and settler society: frontier violence and stolen indigenous children in Australian history (2004), edited by A. Dirk Moses:

The most enthusiastic West Australian child removalist in these early days was James Isdell, the former pastoralist and parliamentarian, who was appointed traveling protector for the north in 1907. On 13 Nov 1908, Isdell wrote from the Fitzroy River district to the Chief Inspector, Charles Gale. “I consider it a great scandal to allow any of these half-caste girls to remain with the natives.” On 15 Jan 1909, Gale issued Isdell with the authority to “collect all half-caste boys and girls” and to transport them to Beagle Bay. Isdell expressed his gratitude: “It should have been done years ago.” By May 1909, he was able to report from Wyndham that the entire East Kimberley region had been “cleaned up.”
Isdell was aware that sentimentalists from the south sometimes wrote letters to newspapers “detailing the cruelty and harrowing grief of the mothers.” He regarded such complaints as nonsensical. “Let them visit and reside for a while” in one of the native camps and see for themselves “the open indecency and immorality and hear the vile conversations ordinarily carried on which these young children see, listen to, and repeat.” Isdell did not believe that the Aboriginal mother felt the forcible removal of her child more deeply than did a bitch the loss of a pup. “I would not hesitate,” he wrote, “to separate any half-caste from its Aboriginal mother, no matter how frantic momentary grief might be at the time. They soon forget their offspring.” “All Aboriginal women,” he explained in letters to Gale “are prostitutes at heart” and all Aborigines are “dirty, filthy, immoral.” (Moses 2004, 222-223)

Bernier Island:
Quote from Daisy Bates, The Passing of the Aborigines, Chapt 9:

Dorre and Bernier Islands: there is not, in all my sad sojourn among the last sad people of the primitive Australian race, a memory one-half so tragic or so harrowing, or a name that conjures up such a deplorable picture of misery and horror unalleviated, as these two grim and barren islands of the West Australian coast that for a period, mercifully brief, were the tombs of the living dead.

For more information about the Lock Hospitals on Dorre & Bernier Island, see Jade Stingemore’s PhD Thesis entitled Surviving the ‘cure’: life on Bernier and Dorre Islands under the Lock Hospital regime. It is available for open access download at the University of Western Australia Research Repository.

Jebb, Mary Anne. The Lock Hospitals experiment: Europeans, Aborigines and venereal disease. Studies in Western Australian History, No. 8, Dec 1984: 68-87.

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