Time for a memorial to commemorate the Indigenous Resistance in early Melbourne history

A collection of short articles about the Tasmanian Aborigines Tunnerminnerwait (Jack of Cape Grim) and Maulboyheenner (Peevay), two indigenous freedom fighters that were the first public executions in Melbourne on January 20, 1842.

Submitted by Fluffy on June 29, 2017

Time for a memorial to commemorate the Indigenous Resistance in early Melbourne history

Tasmanian aborigines Tunnerminnerwait and Maulboyheenner were the first judicial executions in Melbourne on January 20, 1842, The execution was held in public attended by about 5,000 people, a quarter of Melbourne's population at the time. The two had been found guilty of murder of two whalers on circumstantial evidence in a court in which they could not make statements in their own defence. The Jury had asked for clemency due to the circumstances, but this was refused by Colonial authorities in Sydney. Along with Planobeena, Pyterrunner, and Trucannini, they had waged an 8 week campaign of resistance to settlement from Dandenong to Western Port and South Gippsland districts on the outskirts of Melbourne that had the new settlement of Melbourne in uproar. It took 3 military expeditions to successfully track and capture them, with the help of native police.

In 1986 Janine Roberts published her research into this forgotten story of indigenous resistance; a story of Melbourne largely forgotten and buried along with the two executed aborigines. Her book on the events surrounding Tunnerminnerwait and Maulboyhenner, Jack of Cape Grim, suffered a similar fate - a passing account of interst to a few historians. In 2005 Dr Joseph Toscano was motivated by Jan Roberts account to organise a commemoration on the anniversary in 2006 at he site of the execution. Joseph Toscano is a tenacious campaigner, who organised the formation of a commemoration committee with Carolyn Briggs, Boon Wurrung elder, as Patron. In the 2008 election for Lord Mayor of Melbourne, Toscano stood as a candidate and campaigned for a public memorial. Melbourne City Council has referred the proposal for a memorial for consideration as part of an aboriginal heritage study being prepared for council. The attendance of the Lord Mayor, Robert Doyle, at the 2009 commemoration is a sign that recognition and a memorial may at last be forthcoming.

Jan Roberts, when told about these events, said "Wonderful to see this happening. it fulfills a long dream of mine, When I wrote "Jack of Cape Grim" in 1986 about these events, it was because I was appalled how Melbourne had ignored what had happened when it was founded to the local inhabitants. Now we have the Mayor remembering these events. And last year, I should mention, the book went back into print in a new edition - [you can] find it on Amazon etc. (new ISBN no.) and people started to talk about a film."

Jack of Cape Grim was republished in July 2008 by Impact Investigative Media Productions.
ISBN 13: 9780955917707 ISBN 10: 0955917700. It is available from Powells.com and Amazon.com


Every Australian knows about the Ned Kelly gang, how many Australians are familiar with the story of Planobeena, Pyterrunner, Trucannini, Tunnerminnerwait and Peevay - Fanny, Matilda, Truganni, Jack and Robert - 5 indigenous Tasmanians who fought an effective campaign against the invading European settlers on the Eastern outskirts of Melbourne in the late 1841.

Their exploits rival those of the Ned Kelly gang. One group has been ignored and forgotten, the other immortalised in Australia folklore Three military expeditions were launched against 5 of the 17 Tasmanian Aborigines that had been brought across from Tasmania by the Aboriginal "protector" Robinson - for the purpose of aiding in the civilisation of the Aborigines of Australia Felix-the remnants of the Tasmania tribes who had fought a 34 year battle against the invasion of Tasmania by European settlers were once again conducting war against the invaders, this time in Victoria.

All 5 were familiar with firearms and the ways of European settlers. The invaders held no fear for them and they were able to evade 3 military expeditions that were sent to kill them.

They raided station after station from Dandenong to Cape Paterson. They stole firearms and burnt down stations, trying to avoid unnecessary deaths and gunfights. They killed 2 whalers, Cook and Yankee, wounded 5 settlers, burnt down numerous farmhouses and evaded capture for 8 weeks. Although they set out to drive the settlers from the bush, they didn't harm women or children and only fired at those that fired at them. Considering the outrages that had been perpetrated on them and their families in Tasmania, it's extraordinary that they didn't kill many more settlers when they had the opportunity to even up the score.

They were finally captured near Anderson's Inlet, not far from Cape Patterson, after an exchange of gunfire with an overwhelming party of soldiers, police, settlers and black trackers, who were used to pinpoint their position in the bush. In 8 weeks, this small band had sent a shiver down the spine of the 15,000 Europeans who were living in Melbourne and its environs in late 1841.

The Aboriginal prisoners arrived in Melbourne 6 days after they were captured in chains and under military escort on the 21st November 1841. All the defendants were charged with murder, they appeared in court on the 20th December 1841. Mr. Redmond Barry, the standing Defence Counsel for Aborigines who represented the 5 in court, was the same man who presided over the trial of some of the miners who were involved in the Eureka rebellion in 1854 and the judge who sentenced Ned Kelly to hang in 1880.

Barry conducted a very skilful defence, Robinson gave character evidence for the fire, and later the same evening the jury took half an hour to reach a verdict. The men were found guilty of murder, the women were found not guilty. The jury made a very strong plea for clemency for the men "on account of general good character and the peculiar circumstances under which they are placed".

The next day Judge Willis sentenced the 2 men to death and the 3 women were discharged into Robinson's care. The jury's plea for mercy was rejected by the Executive Council of New South Wales. There had never been an execution in Melbourne since it was founded in 1836.

It's ironic that the first 2 executions were of indigenous resistance fighters. The execution was carried out on the site of the current Royal Melbourne Institute of Technology on the 20th January 1842. 5000 people, a quarter of Victoria's white population turned up for Melbourne's first public executions.

Tunnerminnerwait faced the execution calmly, Peevy was terror struck and had to be dragged up to the gallows. The gallows were poorly built, the execution had no previous experience, the trap doors opened, both men only partially fell, "the 2 twisted and writhed convulsively in a manner that horrified even the most hardened". A spectator kicked the piece of timber holding the trapdoor partially opened, Robert slowly choked to death.

Jack and Robert were buried outside the Melbourne cemetery (under the current Victoria Market). Aboriginal armed resistance continued in Victoria till the 1850's.

SOURCE OF MATERIAL FOR ARTICLE: Jack of Cape Grim by Jan Roberts, Greenhouse Publications 1986, ISBN 086436007X

Extract taken from Anarchist Age No 643

Culture Wars Counter Attack: Remembering Aboriginal Resistance to the Invasion

The 30 or so people who gathered at the corner of Bowen and Franklin Streets in Melbourne last Saturday to mark the 164th anniversary of the execution of the indigenous freedom fighters Tunnerminnerwait and Peevay, decided to appoint a Steering Committee to examine the possibility of ongoing action.

Australia has been involved in a viscous culture war over the past 2 decades that has been conducted by a small but influential clique of reactionary historical revisionists who enjoy a great deal of support in the Federal Cabinet and Murdoch's flagship in Australia - The Australian. This war has been fought to undermine gains made by indigenous Australians, the trade union and community based orgnisations. They have succeeded in their efforts to undermine the gains made by people who have been oppressed for generations.

Ironically, while historical revisionists that deny the Holocaust occurred are correctly marginalised and ridiculed, those in Australia who deny the reality of the colonisation process in this country are lauded, are given a voice by both the Federal government and influential sections of the corporate media. The formation of a group that is willing to take these historical and cultural revisionists head on, is long overdue.

The best way to tackle the lies and misinformation that is currently doing the rounds, is by publicly commemorating significant events in our past, by erecting memorials, plaques and statues to physically mark these events, by putting pressure on local councils to establish and maintain these memorials and encouraging them to hold seminars and information days to inform the residents of their municipalities about these significant events and to put pressure on the government of the day to ensure that these important stories are told in the National Museum, the National Library, the National Art Gallery and most importantly of all, the story about the indigenous resistance to white colonisation is told in the Canberra War Memorial.


I first came across the story of Tunnerminnerwait and Peevay in a second hand bookshop 4 or 5 years ago. I'd heard about the first executions that had occurred in Victoria in the early 1840's, but knew nothing about them. It was one of those fortuitous meetings that happen once in a while. In the bottom shelf of the Australian History section was a copy of Jack of Cape Grimm which has been written by Jan Roberts as a bicentenary subject. She wanted to do a TV series, nothing came of it, now her book, like the bones of Tunnerminnerwait and Peevay rotting underneath the Queen Victoria Market, have joined the community's collective unconsciousness.

I've been thinking about organising something to mark their execution for 2 to 3 years. It was only late last year after a little bit of prodding from a friend - Bill, that the Anarchist Media Institute organised a commemoration. Even if 3 or 4 turned up, the event would stir up a few leaves in the collective amnesia of the city of Melbourne.

Saturday was the hottest day for over a year, temperatures soared around 40degrees. The spot - corner Franklin & Bowen Streets is bare asphalt, workmen were trying to get in and out of RMIT in their utes. About 30 of us made a circle, a few talked about the significance of the events, for an hour we remembered, we had blown life into this city's forgotten history. Although the media had been invited, no one came, no one called. I didn't expect anybody to bother; they had bigger fish to fry - what was happening at Ramsey Street, the cricket and 101 other meaningless events to cover.

It doesn't matter, we have started a tradition which will grow and grow, a Steering Committee was appointed - ‘THE CUTURE WARS COUNTER ATTACK' was born kicking and screaming. It is amazing what happens when we try to make the ideas in our heads a reality. Tunnerminnerwait and Peevay's deaths are not forgotten. People had tears in their eyes as I recounted their stories. A bunch of flowers, an A3 poster and a leaflet were taped around a tree, someone else will come across their story, maybe, just maybe, they will take the trouble like you to join us next year.

by Joseph Toscano Friday January 27, 2006 at 12:25 AM on Melbourne Indymedia
Repost from Anarchist Age Weekly Review 676

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6 years 10 months ago

In reply to by libcom.org

Submitted by Fluffy on June 29, 2017

Additional information;
The city of Melbourne funded a memorial, the chosen design can be seen here; http://www.theage.com.au/victoria/artist-says-new-monument-to-executed-aborigines-is-a-war-memorial-20151126-gl8ug9.html
It was opened in September 2016.
There is also a section about Tunnerminnerwait and Maulboyheenner on the City of Melbourne website, http://www.melbourne.vic.gov.au/about-melbourne/melbourne-profile/aboriginal-culture/pages/tunnerminnerwait-and-maulboyheener.aspx