1838: Seven perpetrators of the Myall Creek Massacre

1 comment December 18th, 2007 Headsman

On this date in 1838, seven white men were hanged for an unprovoked massacre of aborigines in Australia.

A memorial stands over the the site of the Myall Creek Massacre. Image used with permission.

Native life was cheap on the continent and countless brutalities blithely visited by European settlers have gone to that vast forgotten register of unavenged atrocities.

The Myall Creek massacre was not atypical of such incidents, save in its outcome: it was the first execution of whites for crimes against Australia’s natives, a fact that aroused furious opposition in much of Australia’s settler population.

The massacre took place on June 10, when a group of 12 whites rounded up 28 aboriginals, mostly women and children, at a remote outback station, raping some women and murdering all. Unusually, it was reported, investigated, and prosecuted. Eleven of the party (the ringleader escaped and was never punished) stood trial and were acquitted in an apparent gesture of jury nullification:

“I knew the men were guilty of murder but I would never see a white man hanged for killing a black,” one juror told a newspaper.

But he would see it, and soon.

The governor had seven of the group immediately re-arrested and tried again — technically for a different specific murder amid among the slaughter — and this time, condemned. Along with much of its readership, the Sydney Morning Herald was incensed:

We want neither the classic nor the romantic savage here. We have far too many of the murderous wretches about us already.

The whole gang of black animals are not worth the money the colonists will have to pay for printing the silly court documents on which we have already wasted too much time.

That bilious sentiment, far from expunged in Australia, has an enduring symbol in the Myall Creek Massacre. The aboriginal victims of this day’s hanged are commemorated in a monument overlooking the scene of their deaths … and they have occasioned modern efforts at reconciliation, including some of the descendants of their murderers.

Also on this date

Entry Filed under: 19th Century,Australia,Capital Punishment,Common Criminals,Crime,Death Penalty,Execution,Hanged,History,Infamous,Mass Executions,Milestones,Murder,Notable for their Victims,Notable Jurisprudence,Occupation and Colonialism

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