Alexander McRae

Flying Foam Massacre: Alex McRae’s Report

The Inquirer, 1 Apr 1868

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


I have to honour to report, for your information, the following proceedings of the party placed by you under my charge, to arrest the murderers of P.C. W Griffis, George Breem, and native assistant Peter, who were killed at Nickol Bay on the 7th Feb, by native known as Coolyerberri, Pordigin, and Woolgelgarry, together with eight others, for whose arrest warrants have been issued. the party under my charge consisted of Messrs S Hall, A E Anderson, F McRae, R Sholl, S H Meares, R Bax, assistant Tommy, and a native of the district – all volunteers, who were sworn in as special constables; the cutter Albert being chartered by the government, and placed under Mr Withnell’s directions, to cooperate with the land party, as the natives are supposed to have made for the islands at and about Flying Foam Harbour. We left Roebourne on the 14th Feb, and camped for the night on the Nickol River.

On the 15th we proceeded to the scene of the murder, and buried the remains of George Breem, and made a search for the man Jermyn, who is also supposed to have been killed – but without success. I think it probable he was chased into the mangroves and there met his end, as no tracks could be found in distance from the camp. Griffis and Peter’s saddles and bridles were found on the plain about half a mile from the camp, together with a chain,  some ammunition and pannicans. Camped for the night at the bottom of Nickol Bay.

On the 16th followed up the western shore of the Bay to Hearson Cove. Saw a number of native tracks leading to the west. Here we met the boat party, as previously arranged, and arranged to meet again in Mermaid Straits, opposite the Rosemary Islands. Followed the tracks to the west, which took us to a waterhole on the south shore of Mermaid Straits. Fires were noticed a quarter of a mile farther round the beach, but as it was after dark, we camped for the night.

On the 17th started on foot before daylight, to try and surround the native camp seen last night, as, by the number of tracks, it was supposed to be a large one, and likely to contain most of the men we wanted. They were camped on a clear sandy beach, a few yards from the mangroves; but before we could get within reach of them, they saw us, and made for the mangroves and the hills at the back of their camp. We cut some of them off, but they would not stop to be arrested; so we had no alternative but to fire upon them, when one of the murderers, Chilwell, was shot dead, and several others wounded. I regretted much to have to take this step with those misguided creatures, but we had no alternative for it, for if they cannot be arrested, their escape without a lesson what only lead to further outrages. We found many articles taken from the murdered men – a Crimean shirt and hat belonging to Griffis; also Peter’s cap, together with the quantity of pannicans, dishes, pots, knives, shot, and many other articles. Mr Withnell and some of his party who had landed near Dolphin Island, joined us. They succeeded in taking a lad, about ten years of age, on the way over, and learned from him that several of the murderers were in the camp we tried to surround, has some others on the islands farther to the north. He was put on board the cutter, but, I believe, afterwards absconded with a ship’s water bottle. After several hours in a fruitless scramble over the high rocky hills, led on by occasionally getting sight of some of the scattered natives, who as quickly disappeared among the rocks, we returned to camp.

On the 18th some of the party were left in camp to communicate with the cutter, the rest going out to the east, when we found that the natives had crossed the Straits to Dolphin Island, six of them having just reached the opposite shore as we got down. Returned to camp and found that the cutter had arrived. Mr Withnell shortly afterwards came on shore, and informed us that he had caught two natives on one of the islands, one of whom there was a warrant against, but they both managed to get loose and jump overboard the same evening. We shifted our camp a few miles to the east, where we were to meet the boat to be landed on Dolphin Island.

On the 19th met the boat, and were landed on the island, but found the natives had crossed to some of the islands in Flying Foam Harbour, so were again taken on board the cutter, when some natives were seen crossing the bay in canoes, and chase was given in a small boat, but we could not come up with them, so the party was ordered to fire upon them, as they were close to the island; and one was shot and the others got on the island, when many others were seen standing on the shore; but as they made for the mangroves upon our landing, we found it impossible to arrest any of them, although several were shot or wounded. Returned to our camp in the evening.

On the 20th started for the Maitland River, where we heard some of the natives had gone, Mr Withnell still remaining on the islands with this party, where he was afterwards nearly speared in a skirmish. Camped on the plains a few miles from the Maitland. Mr Hall, Bax and native Johnny returned to Roebourne.

On the 21st went to Mr Venn’s station, and found that his camp had been robbed during his absence a few days before. We also learned that the number of natives were camped at the mouth of the river, and started in pursuit, but only succeeded in capturing a man named Billy, in whose position we found some pipes taken from Mr Venn’s camp. The others got into the mangroves before we could get near them. Returned to Mr Venn’s camp in the evening.

On the 22nd started for Roebourne, first setting our prisoner at liberty, as there was no evidence to convict him with murder, or the robbery of Mr Venn’s camp.

I have now only to record my thanks to each member of the party, for the manner in which they assisted in the performance of the duties connected with this unpleasant trip.

I have, &c.,

Flying Foam Massacre: Robert Sholl’s Post-Massacre Report

The Inquirer, 1st April, 1868

Return of the Expedition from Nickol Bay

Government Resident’s Office, Roebourne
To The Hon. the Colonial Secretary, Perth
Feb 26, 1868


Referring to my letter of 18th inst., No 478, I beg to add that the sea party returned on the 22nd inst., in the forenoon, and the land party on the evening of the same day.

From Mr McRae’s report, herewith forwarded, it will be seen that the principal murderers have not been secured, and that the prisoners captured made their escape. In fact, it was difficult to get at the men at all, and it became necessary to fire upon those who are retreated into the mangroves. If this had not been done, the natives would have been able to attack the party, under the cover of the mangroves. A few – I do not know how many – were killed and some wounded.

Much as I regret that loss of life should have ensued, yet I cannot forget that but for the terror thus created among the natives, it would have been, if not impossible, very hazardous to attempt arresting the murderers with the ordinary police. I shall now send out the policeman with white and black assistants, and do not now apprehend that they will have to encounter resistance in the execution of their duty.

I have the honour also to forward report from Mr Withnell, in which he gives an account of operations on the islands. Had I not chartered the vessel, it would have been impossible to disperse the natives.

You will observe that the natives attacked were in possession of the property of the murdered men, and I may add that from information I have received, they were all either concerned actively in the murder or consenting parties thereto.

I have tended to Messrs Withnell, McRae, and the gentlemen associated with them, my thanks for the services they have rendered, and I have no hesitation in saying that by their action, loss of life among the isolated whites has been prevented, the well-disposed natives confirmed in their amity towards us, the wavering made steadfast, the guilty terrified, and the old feeling of security revived among the whole white population.

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

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”.