Thursday, June 3, 2010


Discovered in the early 1820's the small village of Queanbeyan was established on the Molonglo River on the 'Limestone Plains'. In 1841 the village of Queanbeyan  had a population of 72 people and it was estimated that there were between 400 and 500 Aboriginal people living in the Limestone Plains area in 1850 (today's Canberra).

Onyong, the leader of the Ngambri People of the Limestone Plains would have seen first hand the impact of European settlement from its beginnings in the 1820's. In the following 30 or so years he is shot in the leg, has his traditional lands taken from him and watches the very fabric of his society disintegrate. Sometime between 1847 and 1852 Onyong was killed by Jemmy the Rover in a dispute and metaphorically became the last of the 'wild' blacks (post here) of the Australian Capital territory and vanished into the regions history.

Aboriginal Australian man hunting kangaroo - Henry Brinton 1846.
Image State Library of Victoria (here).

By 1862, the Aboriginal population of mixed european and indigenous blood was drastically increasing. In that same year the last full corroboree was reportedly held alongside the Molonglo River. The best known survivors of the next generation of Ngambri, some of whom had a European as well as a Ngambri parent, were Nanny, Jimmy Taylor, Kangaroo Tommy, ‘Black Dick’ Lowe, ‘Black Harry’ Williams and Bobby Hamilton, husband of Nellie Hamilton.

Nellie (1835?-1897) who was not yet a 'Queen' was a Ngarigo woman (info here) and the wife of the Ginninderra cricketer Bobby Hamilton. Bobby was a Ngambri man (website here) who was probably supported or employed in the 1850's by the well known pastoralist and sportsman William Davis (1821-1910)(bio here) who moved to the 'Limestone Plains' in 1849 to manage 'Ginninderra Station' for it's owner George Palmer (1784-1854)(bio here).

The conversion of the Aborigines 1858

Bobby and Nellie would have lived, and possibly worked on the station's 13,200 acres (5342 hectares) of their own traditional lands. Nearly 4000 acres (1619 hectares) of Gininderra Station's total area was cleared. If Bobby worked as a stockman, he would have worked with over 2000 head of cattle and 6000 sheep and would have been paid a pittance if at all.

Davis was famous for his passion of the 'gentleman's game' of cricket. He introduced the game to the district in the early 1850s and his team was unusual in that it included three Aboriginal players, a Jimmy and Johnny Taylor and Bobby Hamilton who were also reportedly the teams best players. Bobby played exceptional cricket all over the district for Davis's team. In the 1864 match 'the Ginninderra eleven' Vs 'the Queanbeyan' and 'the Bungendore' elevens combined! Bobby and his team still won. In 1862 Davis built and moved into a new home nearby, naming it Gungahline.

An Aboriginal cricket team at the Melbourne Cricket Ground 1866.
Wikipedia image (here).

By 1878 Aboriginal culture and its people had largely ceased to exist in the region. Nellie Hamilton had  married three times before 1897 with her third husband being King Billy (from the South Coast). King Billy wore a *king plate. (description and image below)

Image National Museum of Australia (here).

*King plates or breast plates were heavy metallic (e.g brass) crescent-shaped plaques worn around the neck by a stout chain and were used in pre-Federation Australia by white colonial authorities to recognise Aboriginal leaders (Wikipedia here). The image above is of 'King Neddy's 'King Plate'. The Neis Valley is probably the Naas Valley near Tharwa in today's Australian Capital Territory. The valley was the last cultural refuge for a decimated people trying to escape from the european invasion. To see a gallery of  different and varied breastplates/kingplates go to the National Library of Australia 'Trove' (gallery here). According to the National Museum nothing more is known of 'King' Neddy...

In 1895 Nellie probably became the first Aboriginal political activist when she said:

'I no tink much of your law.
You come here and take my land,
kill my possum, my kangaroo; 

leave me starve.
Only gib me rotten blanket.
Me take calf or sheep, 

you been shoot me, or put me in jail.
You bring your bad sickness 'mong us'.


UPDATE : 14/6/11 - "Her words were recounted after the fact by Samuel Shumack. His manuscript which includes a version of Nellie's quote is held by the national library, but the most widely quoted version was from a letter he sent to John Gale who related the anecdote in his book about the history of Canberra. (Courtesy J. Crane)

A full post on the quote is here

I had read that Nellie was an 'honoured guest' at the opening of the Tharwa bridge in 1895 but cannot re-locate the source if she did attend Nellie did not get a mention in the news of the day.

The Sydney Morning Herald, 29 March 1895.

As elsewhere in Australia, Aboriginal patterns of land use and movement had been disrupted and many, many Aborigines died from European-brought diseases like influenza, syphilis, smallpox, measles, and tuberculosis. Nellie lived her later life in Queanbeyan. Only fifty years after Onyong's death it is believed, that in 1897 that the last full-blooded Aboriginal inhabitant (Ngambri website here) of the 'Limestone Plains', Queen Nellie Hamilton died and was buried in the Queanbeyan Riverside Cemetery.

An excellent website about the Ngambri, their present day descendants and a photo of 'King' Billy (with plate) and 'Queen' Nellie can be found on the Ngambri website (here).

 And the thoughts of the day 20 years later in 1934...

The Sydney Morning Herald (26 February 1934).

MAP:  The Riverside Cemetery in Queanbeyan.

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