It was here, on 21st January 1788, Captain Phillip and his men were met by twenty local Aborigines, who “waded into the water unarmed, received what was offered them, and examined the boats with curiosity.” Impressed by the “confidence and manly behaviour” of these men, Phillip referred to this place as “Manly Cove”. Captain Hunter used this name on an Admiralty chart, or map, he drew later.
Governor Phillip had orders from King George III to “endeavour by every possible means to open an Intercourse with the Natives and to conciliate their affections, enjoining all Our Subjects to live in amity and kindness with them.” Phillip was also a fair and intelligent man. He deemed the best way forward for the new Colony of New South Wales was to “civilise” the Aboriginal people and assimilate them into society. Unfortunately for Phillip, the local Aboriginal people didn’t come near Sydney Town after their initial curiosity subsided. He would be forced to capture some of them. Arabanoo, Bennelong and Colbee were the three men.
Due to the manliness of the Aboriginal people at this place, here is where he decided to ‘recruit’ them from. On 31st December 1788, two Marine Lieutenants ambushed two men at this spot. They threw a rope around one of their necks and dragged him into their boat. Terrified, the captured man thought he would be instantly murdered. The other escaped and attacked the boat with his friends using everything they could lay hands on. They did not retreat until many shots had been fired over their heads and the boat was far into the harbour. “The prisoner was now fastened by ropes to the thwarts of the boat; and when he saw himself irretrievably disparted from his countrymen, set up the most piercing and lamentable cries of distress. His grief, however, soon diminished: he accepted and eat of some broiled fish which was given to him, and sullenly submitted to his destiny.” (Watkin Tench – A Complete Account of the Settlement at Port Jackson). This was Arabanoo, who the colonists called Manly.
He was aged in his mid to late twenties and strong, although not tall. He was quiet and gentle but fiercely independent and became outraged when he was shackled and guarded by a convict in the colony. He was kind to the women convicts and shared his food with the children. He was terrified and disgusted by a public flogging he was forced to witness. He regularly dined with Phillip and provided him with the first useful information about the language and customs of his people, Sydney Aboriginal people. He was a popular figure in the colony and didn’t try to escape when his manacles were released after several months. In April 1789 a smallpox epidemic broke out among the Aboriginal people decimating their population. After nursing two Aboriginal children back to health, he was taken by boat to try and locate his friends. All they found were dead bodies floating in the water or lying unburied on the ground. He cried “all dead, all dead” in English, hung his head and was silent. He died of smallpox on 18th May 1789, eight days after contracting the disease. He was buried in the Governor’s garden, on the site of today’s Museum of Sydney.
It’s believed up to 2000 Aboriginal people, nearly half of all the Aboriginal people estimated to be living in the Sydney basin at the time, died of smallpox in 1789. In just over one year from European arrival, half of the known Aboriginal people in and around Sydney Harbour, were dead.
It is no surprise that Aboriginal people stayed away from Sydney Town. Scared of contracting disease or being shot by overzealous settlers, they continued their traditional lifestyle as they had done for millennia. Phillip, however, was encouraged by the progress he had made with Arabanoo and wanted to try again. He ordered the capture of two more Aboriginal men from Manly. “It was by far the most unpleasant service I ever was ordered to execute,” noted Lieutenant William Bradley. On 25th November 1789, after tempting the men with fish, Bennelong and Colbee were captured. A similar fight ensued as to when Arabanoo was captured.
Colbee escaped on the night of 12th December 1789. Supervision was relaxed a little over two weeks after his capture and he was gone. He untied the rope from his leg iron and ran away with the manacle still around his ankle.
Bennelong, born approx. 1764, so 25 at this time, however, stayed around a little longer. He formed a friendship with Governor Phillip, showed more prowess at learning English than Arabanoo and great exchanges of knowledge took place. However, on 3rd May 1790 he escaped over the back fence of the Governor’s house and rejoined his people. On 7th September 1790 Bennelong and his kin were feasting on a beached whale here at North Harbour when he sent some whale meat as an invite to Phillip to join them. After arriving and exchanging pleasantries with Bennelong, who called him beanga (father), Phillip was speared through the shoulder by a koradjee / carradhy (‘clever man’ or ‘medicine man’), called Willemering. It’s interesting to note here that spearing through the shoulder is a form or ritual payback for misdemeanors committed by initiated Aboriginal men. In Sydney, part of the Aboriginal initiation ceremony for men was called yulang yirabadjang. This is where the upper front right tooth was removed. Governor Phillip’s upper right front tooth was knocked out during a fight at naval college many years earlier. Could this be why the Governor of New South Wales was deemed worthy of punishment and not killed?
Phillip recovered well, Bennelong visited him in Sydney and the relationship between the settlers and the Aboriginal people improved. Philip built Bennelong a house built on the site of the modern day Sydney Opera House, at Bennelong Point. In a remarkable experience for a semi-nomadic hunter gatherer who had not seen a white man four years earlier, Bennelong accompanied Phillip to England 1792. It is open for debate whether he actually met King George III but he was a sought after dinner guest in high London society. After nearly three years away from home, half of which was spent on boats, he returned home. Having experienced both cultures, he preferred the one in which he was born and chose to live his remaining days. In a letter to Philip he wrote “Not me go to England no more. I am at home now.” He died at Kissing Point (now Ryde) in approx. 1813, aged approx 49.
Stop 1: Ellery’s Punt Reserve
Stop 2: Fisher Bay ‘Midden’
Stop 3: Fisher Bay Houseboat
Stop 4: Sandy Bay, Hawkesbury Sandstone
Stop 5: Clontarf Reserve
Stop 6: Clontarf Pumping Station
Stop 7: Castle Rock Beach
Stop 8: Grotto Point Lighthouse
Stop 9: Grotto Point Aboriginal Engraving Site
Stop 10: Crater Cove
Stop 11: Dobroyd Head
Stop 12: Reef Beach
Stop 13: Forty Baskets Beach
Stop 14: North Harbour Reserve – you are currently on this page
Stop 15: Fairlight House
Stop 16: Manly Wharf
Image courtesy of Tourism Australia