Tuesday, 22 July 2014

The Maria Massacre - 25 July 1840

Maria, an 136 ton sailing ship left Port Adelaide headed towards Hobart, Tasmania on the 20th of June 1840, when it was blown off course and foundered at Cape Jaffa on a reef. ( near Kingston SE, South Australia)
The Maria's passengers and crew, consisted of the following 25 people:
Captain William Smith and his Wife.
Samuel Denham and Mrs Denham and their five children (Thomas, Andrew, Walter, Fanny and Anna).
Mrs York (sister of Mr. Denham), who had recently been widowed and her infant.
James Strutt who had been hired as Mrs Denham's servant.
George Young Green and Mrs Green.
Thomas Daniel and Mrs Daniel.
Mr. Murray
The ship's mate and crew:
John Tegg
John Griffiths
John Deggan
James Biggins
John Cowley
Thomas Rea,
George Leigh
James Parsons.
When the Maria hit the reef, the passengers and crew made their way ashore with the goal of making their way, by foot, back to encounter bay to seek help aide for the now abandoned ship.
The party came across some local indigenous peoples and asked them to lead the party to safety. Along the way, a path heading inland was discovered, and it is believed the party split in two at this point, with the Captain making his way inland, and some of the crew and passengers choosing to follow the shoreline back to Encounter Bay.
Somewhere along the shoreline, some of the travelling party decided they would prefer to re-join the captain, and left the walking party to find the Captains inland party, now there were three groups of settlers trying to make their way back to Encounter Bay.
Not one of the passengers or crew members of the Maria, was ever seen alive again.
Eventually someone happened upon two bodies, both of which had weddings rings, used to identify whom they were.
Soon rumours began to emerge of an alleged massacre by Aboriginal peoples, who lived in the area, of the passengers of crew of the Maria.
It didn’t take long until more bodies were found, in different regions but still in close proximity to the Maria. Also, The Maria's logbook and some of the Passenger and Crews clothing were also found amongst local indigenous people.
As the rumours grew into a crescendo of upset settlers in the colony, Governor Gawler, South Australia's second Governor, ordered Major Thomas O'Halloran to head south and investigate the situation, and to uphold the law in the region.
O'Halloran left Goolwa with a mounted troop on the 22nd of August 1840, headed toward cape Jaffa, whilst a small boat set sail to search the coastline.
On 23 August the force ran into a number of Aborigines and rounded up 13 men, 2 boys and 50 women and children. He shackled the men and set the others free, though they voluntarily remained nearby their tribesmen.
Two of the Aboriginal men tried to escape their capture by swimming in the sea, but were shot and wounded by O'Halloran's men. A man named Roach, who had two years previously been arrested in the area by O'Halloran, led the mounted troop to a wurley where blood stained clothing, passengers belongs, and the Maria's logbook had been stored.
O'Halloran followed Governors Gawler's instructions to the letter, and at 3pm on the 25th of August, hung the two men who had tried to escape earlier.
Governor Gawler's instructions to O'Halloran were very clear:
"...when to your conviction you have identified any number, not exceeding three, of the actual murderers...you will there explain to the blacks the nature of your conduct ...and you will deliberately and formally cause sentence of death to be executed by shooting or hanging"

The hangings caused quite the stir in Adelaide, and in London. The press had a field day with accusations of murder, corruption and miscarriages of Justice. “The Aborigines Protection Society” argued that South Australian law could not be used in this case as the Aboriginal tribes of the area had not pledged allegiance to the Crown.

The case was brought but in to the public eye on the 10th of April 1841 when Mr Richard Penny was guided by members of the Tonkinya tribe to the grave of a white man who had died at sea. It was thought the body would be that of Captain Collet Barker, who was speared to death in the region in April 1831. However, Penny would find four of the five bodies still unaccounted for from the Maria wreck.
The bodies were in a bad state, and it was clear that they had been beaten to death. The Tribe then went on to tell Penny how the killings had happened.
Major O'Halloran's expedition to the
Coorong, August 1840
It seemed the Sailors and passengers had promised blankets and other goods for safe passage back to Encounter Bay, they had promised to return with the goods. The Aboriginal tribe was unhappy with this arrangement and wanted something now that they could use. The sailing party refused, and a fight broke out, of which the white men lost.
The Maria's hull was never found, it is thought she broke up on the reef. However her cannon was found and would later becoming a garden ornament at Victor Harbours “Adare Castle, fired every New Years Eve as a family tradition!