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2011/82/1 Collection of buttons (13) and ammunition, metal, various makers, England / Australia, used by the Native Police in Owanyilla / Bonfil Creek / Banana / Wondai Gumbal / Spring Creek / Highbury, Queensland, Australia, c. 1850-1890. Click to enlarge.

Collection of Australian Native Police buttons and ammunition

Made
Artefacts relating to the history of the Aboriginal Native Police forces are very rare, most not having survived. This collection of uniform buttons, carbine balls and bullets, all collected from Native Police camp sites in Queensland, is therefore of great importance. The donor recovered these items from sites of Native Police camps thus giving them a precise location. All the buttons either feature the letters VR or the Victoria Crown, and all but one were made in England by the best known uniform manufacturer and supplier of the time, Hebbert and Co. One, marked 'NEW SOUTH WALES POLICE' was made in Australia by D. Jones & Co (now known as David Jones).

In the nineteenth century Aboriginal men served as troopers in various 'native police' forces. These forces, which consisted of uniformed, armed and mounted Aboriginal troopers under the command of white officers, were created to keep the peace between Aborigines and white settlers in the frontier districts. In reality, they helped to quell the resistance of the traditional owners, open the land to European settlement, and protect the settlers from the displaced local populations. Many of the troopers were men of elevated status in their local communities, possibly motivated by the prestige of a uniform, firearms and a horse, and perhaps a recognition that the white man was here to stay.

Aborigines were chosen as troopers because of their superior knowledge of the bush and their ability to track. (Aboriginal troopers were distinct from the black trackers employed by the colonial police forces.) An Aboriginal force operated in the Port Phillip district (now Victoria) for 11 years from 1842 under the command of Captain Henry Dana. It seems that units may have existed in a less established way for some years before this. In view of the perceived effectiveness of Dana's force, the governor of New South Wales Charles Fitzroy established a native police force in 1848. Records kept by the NSW authorities show that in the ten years that followed, 175 Aboriginal men were recruited. Operating in small mounted detachments that patrolled the troubled northern frontier districts, they almost immediately saw action in what is now south-east Queensland. In 1849 a bloody four hour battle against the defiant Bigambul people ended ten years of Aboriginal resistance to European occupation of the Macintyre River region.

At first the NSW native police force was under the control of officials in Sydney who were answerable to the Colonial Office. From 1856 to 1859 the force was controlled by the new government of NSW. When Queensland became a separate colony in 1859, control of this force was passed to the government in Brisbane. The Queensland native mounted police continued to patrol the fringes of European settlement until it was disbanded in 1900, although a last camp remained at Coen, in North Queensland until 1914.

Queensland Aborigines strongly resisted losing their land and livelihood. Many nervous pastoralists urged the authorities to unleash the native police on troublesome blacks. The force became known for its brutality toward local Aborigines and was implicated in several massacres. The activities of the native police in Queensland were often kept secret and their reports seldom made public. Many of the government records relating to this force after 1859 appear to have been destroyed, although many documents, and newspaper reports, Royal Commission reports etc remain, and there is now reasonable coverage on the World Wide Web. Henry Reynolds has written that 'The Queensland native police played a decisive role in crushing Aboriginal resistance' ('With the White People', Penguin, 1990, p71). The consequences of whites co-opting Aboriginal skills and knowledge in the form of native police units were disastrous for Aboriginal communities.

Summary

Object No.

2011/82/1

Object Statement

Collection of buttons (13) and ammunition, metal, various makers, England / Australia, used by the Native Police in Owanyilla / Bonfil Creek / Banana / Wondai Gumbal / Spring Creek / Highbury, Queensland, Australia, c. 1850-1890

Physical Description

Collection of buttons and ammunition used by the Native Police. The thirteen circular metal buttons vary in size and design, however all referring to the reign of Queen Victoria, either depicting a crown or the initials VR or both, in raised embossed designs. Ammunition includes three spherical lead carbine balls and two brass percussion caps from a Potts & Hunt double barrelled carbine, a bullet cartridge from a .577 Snider-Enfield carbine and a brass cartridge casing for a .442 cartridge used in a Webley centre fire revolver.

Production

Made

Notes

All the buttons were produced in Britain, except one (2011/82/1-10) which was made in Australia by D. Jones & Co, a Sydney retailer founded 1837, now known as David Jones, who also made buttons used by the NSW Volunteer Rifles, 1860-70.

Hebbert & Co London were one of the major military equipment suppliers of the 19th century, making uniforms since 1840, swords and truncheons for police, buttons for British Volunteer forces, Queensland forces, equipment to New Zealand in the 1860s, and was one of the major suppliers to the Confederate forces during the American civil war. (Peter Tait & Co, Limerick, Ireland was the other).

Wikepedia reports that .442 Webley, also know as .422 Revolver Centre fire, was a British centrefire revolver cartridge, introduced in 1868. It was widely used in the British Bull dog, a popular type of solid frame pocket revolver introduced by Philip Webley & Son of Birmingham, England, in 1872. The gun was widely copied, and was designed to be carried in a coat pocket. (/17)

History

Notes

'All of the items were collected during the 1980s-1990s. Many sites have since been unwittingly destroyed. Precise dates of establishment are sometimes difficult to make with accuracy. Tenders might be called but the buildings erected at a later date. Conversely a camp could be used for a temporary camp and a permanent camp established later. Thus artefacts could pre or post date the years noted.' quoted from research by the donor.

Places where objects were found:
Owanyilla is between Gympie and Maryborough on the single-track rail line that runs up the Queensland coast to Cairns. Also known as Coopers Plains. The camp was established c. 1856-57, closed 1860s (possibly 1863).
Bungil Creek is south of Roma, also known as Euleotha. The camp was established c. 1859 and closed possibly 1862.
Banana is west of Gladstone on the Leichhardt Highway. The camp was north of Banana and was established and closed c.1860s.
Wondai Gumbal is near Yuleba on Tchanning Creek. The camp was established c.1851 and closed c.1859.
Spring Creek is south of Springsure, which is south of Emerald on the 60. The camp was known to have been occupied between 1862-1867.
Laura is inland from Cooktown on the Peninsular Development road. The camp was to the north of Laura, established c. 1876 and closed 1894.
Highbury is on the Mitchell River in Far North Queensland, not far from the Bourke Developmental Road.

The Snider Enfield carbine fired a British Black powder metallic cartridge which fired a .577 lead projectile. Early models used a cartridge made of paper with a metallic base, and the later ones were made from drawn brass.

A .442 Webley, also know as .422 Revolver Centre fire, was a British centrefire revolver cartridge, introduced in 1868, widely used in the British Bull dog, a popular type of solid frame pocket revolver introduced by Philip Webley & Son of Birmingham, England, in 1872. The gun was widely copied, and was designed to be carried in a coat pocket (Wikepedia).

Source

Credit Line

Gift of Mr Simon A Whiley, 2011

Acquisition Date

13 September 2011

Cite this Object

Harvard

Collection of Australian Native Police buttons and ammunition 2020, Museum of Applied Arts & Sciences, accessed 25 September 2020, <https://ma.as/397127>

Wikipedia

{{cite web |url=https://ma.as/397127 |title=Collection of Australian Native Police buttons and ammunition |author=Museum of Applied Arts & Sciences |access-date=25 September 2020 |publisher=Museum of Applied Arts & Sciences, Australia}}