Beecroft-Cheltenham History Group

Bush Muschetta (c1780-1825)

The most famous of the Aboriginal leaders to fight against the English Colony in Sydney was Pemulwoy. He appears to have come from around the Botany Bay area. Sometimes portrayed as a freedom fighter or leading a guerrilla war, others say that he may have been a caradhy, or a man within the Bidjigal tribe who was empowered to dispense justice. If the latter is true then his attacks were not to drive the invading settlers away but to respond to the settlers as part of his environment and bring them within his system of law whereby he would punish breaches of his people’s laws by way of payback.[1]

After he had been killed in 1802 his son Tedbury continued similar activities to his father. Tedbury was captured, for the first time, by some settlers from Baulkham Hills and Northern Boundaries ie adjacent to the northern boundary of the Field of Mars Common near present day Beecroft in 1805. Following his capture Tedbury took his captors to a cave when he had stored some clothes taken from a white man he had killed. The Sydney Gazette of 19 May 1805 records that while escorting Tedbury the captors were accosted by a group of Aborigines near North Brush (again near this district). Where Tedbury had hidden his clothes may well have been on Macarthur’s ‘Cornwall’ farm in present day Beecroft. By way of digression, and noting that it may be totally unconnected, it is coincidental that some three years later in January 1808, Tedbury travelled to Sydney carrying spears as he heard that Macarthur was at risk of harm from Governor William Bligh - this being the time of the Rum Rebellion. Tedbury informed Macarthur that if need be, he was prepared to spear Bligh.[2]
The fact that Tedbury was located near Macarthur land and there are links between Tedbury and Macarthur where Tedbury is offering to undertake payback lends some credence to the alternate view of the activities of both Tedbury and his father.

Returning to the main story, one of the Aboriginal men who accosted the party accompanying Tedbury to the cave in North Brush in 1805 was a man known as Bush Muschetta. On this occasion he declared in very good English that he proposed to continue the fight started by Pemulwoy and his son Tedbury.

Later in his life Bush Muschetta was said to be of the Carigal clan around Broken Bay.[3] He was also said to be the brother of ‘Old Phillip’ who also was associated with the Broken Bay tribe.[4] 

Shortly after this introduction to Bush Muschetta, the Sydney Gazette of 4 August 1805 records that Bush Muschetta (or Musquito) had been betrayed by some other Aboriginal men and been captured. A common reason for such betrayal was pay back for (in this case possibly) Bush Muschetta having taken an Aboriginal woman from another clan without necessary approvals.[5] Indeed, there is a record of one tribe raping a member of Tedbury’s tribe in 1795.[6]

Following his capture Bush Muschetta was convicted and transported to Norfolk Island. The nature of this sentence was explained by Governor King in later correspondence:

“Much has been said about the propriety of their being compelled to work as Slaves, but as I have ever considered them the real Proprietors of the Soil, I have never suffered any restraint whatever on these lines, or suffered any injury to be done to their person or property – And I should apprehend the best mode of punishment that could be inflicted on them would be expatriating them to some other settlements where they might be made to labour as in the case of the two sent to Norfolk in 1804.”[7]

While there he worked as a charcoal burner.[8] In 1813 he was then re-located to Tasmania. There he became a ticket of leave stockman and black tracker for Edward Lord who had settled there in 1804. In 1814 Mr Lord petitioned Governor Macquarie for Bush Muschetta’s freedom. Also in that year the Australian Dictionary of Biography says that his brother Phillip successfully petitioned for his return – but this was not carried out.[9] This petition was then followed by a petition four years later, in October 1818, by Lieutenant-Governor Sorell who wrote to Governor Lachlan Macquarie:

“Musquitto, a native of Port Jackson, who has been some years in this settlement and who has served constantly as a guide with one of the parties and has been extremely useful and well conducted, also at his own desire, goes to Sydney.”

While freedom was granted in 1814 in Sydney[10] this decision never reached Tasmania with the consequence that no freedom was given to permit Bush Muschetta’s return to Sydney. He did not leave Tasmania.

Staying in Tasmania he assaulted a convict who insulted him and then escaped into the bush rather than be captured. From 1819 he, and his mob, led a vendetta against neighbouring settlers including a 5 hour battle with some 150 men in two divisions against the farm of Mr Hobbes in 1824. Eventually captured, he was tried as a ‘principal in the second degree’ for aiding and abetting in the murder of one William Holyoak. No evidence was led other than that he was present with 60 or 70 others at the time of Holyoak’s death. He was denied legal representation. He was hung on 24 February 1825.

He was one of the few Aborigines of this era to leave behind at least part of his story for it is recorded that he said to Mr Bisbee his gaoler:

“I stop wit white fellow, learn to like blanket, clothes, bakky, rum, bread, all same white fellow: white fellow giv’d me. By and by Gubernor send me to catch bushranger – promise me plenty clothes, and send me back to Sydney, my own country: I catch him, Gubernor tell too much a lie, never send me. I knockit about camp, prisoner no liket me then, givet me nothing, call me bloody hangman noose. I knock one fellow down, give waddie, constable take me.

I then walk away in bush, I get along wid mob, go all about beg some give it bread, blanket: some tak’t away my gin: that make fight: mob rob the hut: some one tell Gubernor: all white fellow want catch me, shoot me, pose he see. I want all same white fellow he never give me, mob make a rush, stock-keeper shoot plenty, mob spear some. Dat de way me no come all same your house. Never like see Gubernor any more. White fellow soon kill all black fellow … Hanging no good for black fellow… Very good for white fellow, for he used to it.” [11]

This was reported as if to demonstrate the naivety of Bush Muschetta and his failure to comprehend the equal application of colonial law to him. With the hindsight of a further 200 years of history, his words can just as easily be taken (not as naïve) but as wisely stating a truth that white man’s punishment was from a different world and so was inappropriate to the actions of this Aboriginal man, first encountered in history around Beecroft.

[1] Anonymous, Pemulwuy, Pemulwoy, Pemulwy, Pemulwei: Justice or War? accessed 25 March 2010

[2] Sir William Macarthur “A few Memoranda reflecting the Australian natives” quoted in J Connor The Australian Frontier Wars 1788-1838 p 46

[3] Also see: M Powell & R Hesline “Making tribes? Constructing Aboriginal tribal entities in Sydney and coastal NSW from the early colonial period to the present” (2010) 96 JRAHS 115 at 138

[4] K Vincent Smith Mari Nawi: Aboriginal Odysseys (Rosenberg, Dural, 2010) p 62

[5] K Willey When the Sky Fell Down (Collins Sydney 1979) p 180

[6] K Vincent Smith Mari Nawi: Aboriginal Odysseys (Rosenberg, Dural, 2010) p 65

[7] K Vincent Smith Mari Nawi: Aboriginal Odysseys (Rosenberg, Dural, 2010) p 66

[8] K Vincent Smith Mari Nawi: Aboriginal Odysseys (Rosenberg, Dural, 2010) p 66

[9] N Parry “Musquito” Australian Dictionary of Biography Supplementary Volume p 299. Also see K V Smith “Bennelong among his people” (2009) 33 Aboriginal History 13

[10] Letter of Thomas Campbell dated 17 August 1814 quoted in K Vincent Smith Mari Nawi: Aboriginal Odysseys (Rosenberg, Dural, 2010) p 73

[11] Quoted in C Wise “Black Rebel: Musquito” in E Fry (ed) Rebels and Radicals (George Allen & Unwin, Sydney, 1983)

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