Captain Philip Gidley KING (Military Governor, 26/9/1800-12/8/1806)

and the Aborigines

"The real Proprietors of the soil" 

"he ... strove to keep peace with the Aboriginals. These, he told Governor Bligh, he 'ever considered the real Proprietors of the soil'. He refused to allow them to be worked as slaves, tried to protect their persons and their property and to preserve 'a good understanding' with them; but he found them 'very capricious', often 'sanguinary and cruel to each other', and like his contemporaries failed to understand what he called their 'most ungrateful and treacherous conduct'."


[Source: Pike, Douglas (General Editor), Australian Dictionary of Biography Vol. 2; Melbourne University Press, 1967 Page 56]

Manning Clark on Governor King


[Source: Clark, C.M.H; A History of Australia (Melbourne University Press (1962)      

[p160] After 1800 the outlines of two societies began to take shape in the settlements of New South Wales. One drew its wealth from trade, the other from land and sheep. One laid the foundations of bourgeois society, the other created the ancient nobility of New South Wales. At the same time the Protestant ascendancy continued to dominate the civilization in the colony, despite some desperate and anguished protests from the Irish Catholics, the relations between Europeans and aborigines rushed headlong towards their final tragedy; new settlements were begun at Port Phillip and in Van Diemen's Land. All these tendencies were strengthened when Philip Gidley King was Captain-General and Governor-in-Chief of the colony of New South Wales ... "

"When King took up office in 1800 he was by profession a member of the kindness and amity school. In June 1802 he received instructions from Lord Hobart to pardon the five Europeans who had been found guilty by the criminal court on 18 October 1799 of wantonly killing two aborigines. Hobart added the rider that every means should be used to cultivate the goodwill of the natives. At that time King had not lost faith in the policy of amity and kindness. In a proclamation he announced that any future injustice or wanton cruelty against the natives would be punished as if it had been committed against the persons and estates of any of His Majesty's subjects. He went on to forbid any of His Majesty's subjects using any act of injustice or wanton cruelty against the natives. At the same time he pointed out that the settler was not to suffer his property to be invaded, or his existence endangered by the natives, qualifying this by adding that he was to use effectual though humane means of resisting such attacks. He ended by recommending a great degree of forbearance and plain dealing as the only means to avoid future attacks and to continue the present good understanding. That was on 30 June 1802.

By 1805 King had joined the ever-increasing group of settlers who accused the aborigines of ungrateful and treacherous conduct. A native, while in the act of eating with one of the settlers and his labouring man, had scarce ended his meal before he took an opportunity of seizing the settler's musket and powder, and by a yell summoned his companions, who instantly put the unfortunate settler to death and left his servant, as they thought, in that state. On the same day, about three miles from where the first murder was committed, a house belonging to a settler was set on fire by the same band of natives. After a search the mangled and burned limbs of the settler and his man were found, some in the ashes and others scattered [King to Camden, 30 April 1805, H.R.A., I, 5, p. 306.] This finished King's faith in amity and kindness. To stop such barbarities he directed a party of soldiers to drive the natives from the area.

King, in fact, was beginning to wonder whether the aborigines' idea of revenge would not entail never-ending reprisals. A white man had struck an aborigine without provocation. For this he was sentenced to six months' imprisonment, which, as King put it, the white man would accept as sufficient atonement. To their everlasting irritation and despair the white men had found that the aborigines' thirst for revenge and atonement was insatiable, that their imaginations were heated and excited to action by the accidental recollection of an injury which had been expiated long past. This happened repeatedly in their relations with each other. It was not surprising therefore that the same ideas should obtain concerning real or imaginary evils they might have received from white people. [King to Camden, 30 April 1805, H.R.A., I, 5, p. 306.] King's amity and kindness degenerated into a pessimistic innate racial characteristic explanation of the friction, which snuffed out all hope for any future improvement, and left him as a believer in force to protect the lives and property of the settlers. Amity and kindness pointed forward to equality; innate racial characteristics pointed to an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth, to force and terror as instruments of subordination. [See the proclamation of 28 April 1805, H.R.A., I, 5, p. 820.] In a calmer moment, nevertheless, King knew that the main cause of the trouble was that the white man had expropriated the original proprietors of the soil. [See King to Bligh, undated ms. in Mitchell Library, Sydney).]

King was not the first to drift from the benevolence and goodwill which informed the policy of amity and kindness to a belief in those innate and indelible characteristics of the aborigines which neither contact with civilization nor the beneficent influences of the Protestant religion could touch. More and more people were beginning to think of them as a permanent special case. Atkins was not prepared to admit aborigines as witnesses in the law courts of New South Wales, because the evidence of persons not bound by any moral or religious tie could never be considered as legal evidence, and because to admit them as either criminals or witnesses before a criminal court would be a mocking of judicial proceedings and a solecism in law. The only mode of treating them for their excesses was to pursue them and inflict such punishment as they deserved. [H.R.A., I, 5, pp. 502-4.] Francis Barrallier, the son of a French emigre, who had arrived in the colony in 1800 as an ensign in the New South Wales Corps, found during his explorations to the west of Parramatta that the aborigines were strangers to feelings of gratitude, and that the most refined cruelty and barbarity were the principle features of their character. [Ibid., p. 588.]

By 1805 less and less is heard of the early aspirations to civilize the aborigines as a preparation for their becoming members of the mystical body of Christ's Church. Experience was driving more and more settlers as well as civil and military officers, to explain the treachery, cruelty, revolting habits and inferiority of the aborigines, and the ineffectual results of all attempts to civilize them, by their innate characteristics as a race. Experience was also convincing more and more people that violence and reprisals were the only methods the aborigines could understand. No one contemplated the extinction of the aborigine with remorse, guilt or regret; nor did anyone testify to a common humanity, let alone to any sense that they too were made in the divine image. Not everyone accepted this fatalistic, hopeless view of the situation. Starting from quite a different premise, the French explorer Peron had reached an optimistic conclusion. He had reached Sydney in 1802 on a voyage of exploration in the south seas. He came to the conclusion that the material weakness and primitive culture of the aborigine were to be explained by his environment; that in the land of Diemen and New Holland the lack of food, its poor quality, and the excessive labour which the aborigine was compelled to employ to obtain it, seemed to be the causes of his weakness as well as the vices of his constitution. Peron went on to deduce that the perfection of the social state, by bringing abundance to such men, would probably be able to produce a more considerable development of their physical strength, and so cause the vices of their constitution to disappear. In this way the progress of civilization would become the two-fold source of strength and physical perfection. [M. F. Peron: Voyage de decouvertes aux terres australes (Paris, 1807 and 1816), vol. 1, pp. 470-1.] For Peron had derived his ideas on the nature of man from the enlightenment rather than from the Book of Genesis. With such ideas, the aborigine might have been saved from extinction and degradation, while the white man might have been saved from guilt and estrangement. King and the rest of his civil and military officers identified such ideas with Jacobin terror, with sedition, treachery and treason. The Reverend Samuel Marsden, the missionaries and the chaplains continued to explain the material weakness and the vices as a special punishment of their people for the role of their ancestors in that terrible drama between God and man in the garden of Eden. The European theft of the land, with the response of the aborigine to such a theft, and European ideas on the nature of man and his destiny, rushed both groups into a clash which doomed the culture of the aborigine, condemning him to destruction or degradation and the white man to peace, security and material success, at the price of a reputation in posterity for infamy."

[Source: Clark, C.M.H; A History of Australia Vol 1, Melbourne University Press, 1962 Pages 160-169]