1871 Select Committee Report

1871 Report of the Select Committee of the Legislative Council relative to the Aboriginal Natives

The Select Committee consisted of Robert Walcott (Attorney-General), George Shenton, James Drummond, William Marmion, Maitland Brown, and John Monger.

The report is just one page that reads:

The Committee recommend the passing of An Act relating to apprentices.

They also recommend that grants of land may be made to such Aboriginal Natives as are recommended by the Principal of any Native Industrial Institution, upon the following conditions:-

That no Aboriginal Native shall be permitted to sell, transfer, or let such land without the recommendation of the Principal of a Native Industrial Institution and the consent of the Governor.

The Governor to reserve the right to resume all grants of Aboriginal Natives should the grantees neglect to improve or cultivate the land so granted for three consecutive years.

R J Walcott

At the time this report was compiled, it was accompanied by a more detailed report entitled “Information regarding the habits and customs of the Aboriginal inhabitants of Western Australia.” In early accounts of Western Australian history, there are references to this report having been accompanied by supporting evidence taken from missionaries who operated the referred-to “Native Industrial Institutions.”

In 1871 the Legislative Council appointed a Select Committee to devise means for the more systematic protection of the aborigines. The committee suggested that grants of land should be made to natives, where recommended by the Principal of any Native Industrial Institution, on condition that such grants should not be sold, transferred, or let without the consent of the Governor; and if not improved or cultivated for three consecutive years, that the Governor should resume the land. The evidence of several philanthropists was taken. Bishop Salvado, while declaring that natives were incapable of sustained physical or mental effort, said that he successfully taught natives at New Norcia such trades as tailoring, boot and harness making, as well as agriculture, &c. In 1871 four men at New Norcia reaped 190 bushels of their own corn. Father Garrido had reported that they were good shepherds, teamsters, stockmen, and shearers. Mrs. Camfield described their adaptability for domestic work. (Kimberly 1897, 247)

The opinion of those in charge of the Institutions at New Norcia and Albany (since transferred to Perth) are to be found in the reports made by them, which were published with the Council Papers for 1871. 

Bishop Salvado says that the natives are generally not capable of continuous hard work, either corporeal or mental, and that he considers condemnation to hard labor condemnation to death; he found it necessary to combine both, giving three hours daily to bodily, three to mental labor in the school, and the rest of the day to relaxation, gymnastics, games, music, dancing, &c. He considers the labor of a well-conducted farm most suitable as a means of civilization. Tailoring, shoemaking, and harness making, have been successfully taught and practised, but require too long continued and regular labor for natives generally. The young men become good agriculturists, and four reaped 190 bushels of wheat of their own in the year 1871. All labor at New Norcia is paid for at customary rates, and the property of individuals is respected. He finds that the diseases from which the natives suffer most are not so amenable to the ordinary course of medical treatment adopted by European medical men as they are in the case of the settlers, but that they more often recover under their native remedies. They suffer much from “home sickness,” and occasional hunting is allowed them on this account.

Father Garrido reports that they have been found good shepherds and teamsters, and first-class stockmen, but, like Bishop Salvado, he prefers agricultural labor, as more tending to civilization; that in one year 5413 sheep were sheared at New Norcia by natives, one shearing 1421 sheep in 25 days, and earning £19s. 8½d. The girls, he says, are taught to wash, cook, and work with the needle; several couples have been married, and those living in cottages on the estate of the Monastery have adopted the habits, manners, and dress of civilized life.

Mrs. Camfield, who had charge of the school at Annesfield (Albany), reports specially on the fondness of the natives for music. One girl, sent to Sydney, played for some time the harmonium in St. Philip’s Church, and gained her living by teaching; several others married civilized natives from institutions in the other colonies, having become good housewives, able to make bread, cook, wash, cure fruit and meat, and use their needle well; some are now employed as school teachers. She also notes the fondness of the boys for mechanical arts. They are, she adds, easily taught to be neat and clean in their persons, being very observant and great admirers of dress. (Nicolay 1880, 93-95)


Kimberly, Warren Burt. 1897. History of Western Australia: A narrative of her past together with biographies of her leading men. Melbourne: F W Niven & Co

Nicolay, Charles Grenville. 1880. Handbook of Western Australia. Perth: Richard Pether, Govt Printer

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