Life and death on the Percy Isles, 1854

Rowland, M. J. (2020)


In October 1854, the ketch Vision arrived at Middle Percy Island off Mackay on the central Queensland coast. The botanist Walter Hill, naturalist Frederick Strange and crew members went ashore. Hill went off with three Aboriginal people while the crew stayed behind with six others. When Hill returned, he found the crew except Dalaipi (an Aboriginal crew member) dead. Nine Aboriginal people were later captured and sent to Sydney to be tried for the killings. They appeared before the Water Police Court in Sydney before the court ordered they be sent back to the Percy Isles, though they appear not to have made it beyond Port Curtis. The death of Strange was widely reported in newspapers across Australia and was portrayed as a clash between the “heroic explorer and scientist” and the “untutored savage”. The events on the Percy Isles and further contacts on islands off the coast of central Queensland occurred from a time of limited hostile contact through a period of growing shipping movement, to a time of more substantial and lethal contact involving the Native Police. Contact events on the central Queensland coast reviewed here provide insights into reasons for initial limited hostilities on the offshore islands prior to increasing hostile and lethal conflict on mainland coastal and inland frontiers.