by Takver, at www.melbourne.indymedia.org – Last Sunday I attended for Melbourne Indymedia an important commemoration of a little known historical event of Melbourne. One hundred and sixty five years ago, in 1842, the first judical execution in Melbourne took place: the execution of two Indigenous resistance fighters, Peevay and Tunnerminnerwait.
Thirty people, gubbahs and kouris, gathered at the corner of Franklin and Bowen Street, Melbourne, opposite the City Baths to remember Tasmanian Aborigines Tunnerminnerwait and Peevay, the 165th anniversary of the judicial murder of these two indigenous freedom fighters. They were the first public executions in Melbourne on January 21, 1842, before a crowd of 5,000.
As the current furore over the death in custody of Domadgee Mulrunji continues, it is important to reflect on the aboriginal resistance to the European invasion. European justice remains a means to justify the invasion, dispossession, and continued repression of indigenous resistance up to the present day.
Tunnerminnerwait and Peevay were amoung 5 Tasmanian Aborigines who conducted a campaign of resistance to European settlement in 1841. They had been brought to Melbourne by the officially appointed Protector of Aborigines, George Augustus Robinson.
They raided station after station from Dandenong to Cape Paterson. They stole firearms and burnt down stations, trying to avoid unnecessary deaths and gunfights. They killed 2 whalers, Cook and Yankee, wounded 5 settlers, burnt down numerous farmhouses and evaded capture for 8 weeks. Three military expeditions were launched against them. Although they set out to drive the settlers from the bush, they didn´t harm women or children and only fired at those that fired at them. Considering the outrages that had been perpetrated on them and their families in Tasmania, it´s extraordinary that they didn´t kill many more settlers when they had the opportunity to even up the score.
Their capture was effected by an overwhelming party of soldiers, police, settlers and black trackers near Anderson´s Inlet, not far from Cape Patterson. During the 8 weeks of their roaming, reports of their feats sent a shiver down the spine of the Europeans who were living in Melbourne and its surrounds.
They arrived in chains under military escort in Melbourne on 21st November 1841. All 5 were charged with murder and appeared in court before Judge Willis on the 20th December 1841. The jury delivered a verdict after half an hour finding the men guilty of murder, and the women not guilty. The jury made a very strong plea for clemency for the men ´on account of general good character and the peculiar circumstances under which they are placed´.
The next day Judge Willis sentenced the 2 men to death and the 3 women were discharged into Robinson´s care. The jury´s plea for mercy was rejected by the Executive Council of New South Wales. On the 21st January 1842 Tunnerminnerwait and Peevay were led to the scaffold, where the current RMIT building is located. Here they were hanged watched by a crowd of about 5,000. The first public judicial execution in Melbourne.
Tunnerminnerwait and Peevay were buried outside the Melbourne cemetery (under the current Victoria Market).
1. Jack of Cape Grim by Jan Roberts, Greenhouse Publications 1986, ISBN 086436007X
2. MIM 27 Jan 2006 – Culture Wars Counter Attack: Remembering Aboriginal Resistance to the Invasion
3. MIM 20 Jan 2007 – Indigenous Resistance in the Hidden Frontier War in Victoria
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