William Griffis

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


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.,


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”.