Battle of One Tree Hill and Its Aftermath

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Figure 1: Mount Tabletop (One Tree Hill) near Toowoomba

One of the most dramatic incidents in the frontier wars of southern Queensland is presented in these reconstructions and images. Pitched battles between Aboriginals and Europeans were rare in any part of Australia, and battles in which Aboriginal groups won were extremely rare.

Figure 2: A Bush in (Fassifern) of the 1850s giving a good idea of the appearance of Bonifant’s Inn.

According to James Porter (an early observer) and also the Sydney Morning Herald, the battle grew from Lockyer, Upper Brisbane and Downs squatters’ quandary over what to do after being evicted from their runs by Aboriginal warriors during the earlier-mentioned sieges.  Some 14 to 16 of them met at Bonifant’s Inn (towards what is now Gatton) and sent a message to Dr Stephen Simpson in Brisbane, requesting police assistance.

They additionally called up a “cavalcade” from Ipswich: 3 loaded bullock drays (30-40 bullocks) accompanied by 14 armed men (mostly the squatters’ employees), and another 4 ‘tag-alongs’ (station workers and men looking for work). This well-armed convoy was expected to push up the pass to the Downs, conveying much needed supplies.

Figure 3: A typical dray. A convoy of these were ambushed by multuggerah. Drays were accompanied by men on foot and horseback, all usually armed.

To the settlers’ surprise, Multuggerah’s men ambushed this large and well-armed ‘train’.   Over 100 warriors hid down the slopes at the narrowest point on the route. Logs had been placed across the road to prevent the drays reversing, and additionally the sides of the road were fenced up with saplings tied to the trees.

The drays were halted by all these obstacles. With a shout and a flurry of spears, the hidden warriors sent all 18 Europeans fleeing back to the inn. The dray was sacked of all useful goods and the warriors feasted on the bullocks.

Figure 4: Location of ambush site (Blanchview Road)

Embarrassed at the cowardice of their men, the squatters, dray party and other servants and visitors at the Inn formed a mounted punitive expedition – probably 35 to 45 men. They arrived at the sacked dray at the night of the same day of the ambush. The next morning they sought out the warriors’ camp, where they had their first battle. Quite a number of Aboriginals were apparently killed, but some of the squatters were bogged in the mud, and one participant was wounded in the buttocks with a spear thrown by a woman.

The majority of remaining warriors conducted a mock retreat up the rocky, steep slopes of Mt Tabletop (One Tree Hill).  From this vantage point they were able to hurl spears, stones and even roll boulders, so that many of the squatters’ muskets were shattered. Several of the squatter’s group were badly wounded by the stones, but no squatter was killed.

Figure 5: The rocky slopes of one tree hill today, probable site of the second battle

However, as they were losing the fight, the group retreated, sacking the warriors’ empty camp on their way out. They camped out and waited for Dr Simpson’s border police, but when he arrived, he decided that his “small force” (six men) was insufficient for the task.

Figure 6: reconstruction of battle site

The legacy of this defeat was a continual embarrassment for the squatters, who were not accustomed to being beaten – especially when they acted in a group. According to both local and Aboriginal accounts, the hill continued to be used as a place from which to attack dray travellers.

The Great Chase: Aftermath of One Tree Hill (Sept-Oct 1843)

These maps show the unusually large-scale settler response to the Battle of One Tree Hill. This was a campaign of chasing Multuggerah’s warriors out of Helidon and into Rosewood Scrub, with sniping and raids by both sides, en route and after.

Immediately following the battle of One Tree Hill, Dr Simpson returned to Ipswich and Brisbane to gather forces. He obtained two lands commissioners, three other officers, a dozen soldiers and “a force of locals,” all of which he added to his six mounted police – a total of some 35-45 men. Meanwhile, the 16 station owners and/ or overseers from the inn, represented many of runs on the Darling Downs, Lockyer and Upper Brisbane, returned over a back road to their respective homes and gathered their own forces, which included servants, workers and three bush constables – perhaps another 40 to 60 men. Thus in total some 75 to 100 men were gathered to chase Multuggerah’s warriors from the pass.

Figure 7: Sketch of the Chase – possibly the storming of Rosewood Scrub.

Multuggerah’s group fled 50 kilometres along the creek and river valley and ridges towards Rosewood Scrub – a very large resource-rich area of vine forest. For the entire distance, they were sniped at by the European forces, but they had the advantage of rough terrain and their superior knowledge of the district, which impelled their pursuers to follow on foot.

Figure 8: The large waterhole at minden – probable site of the main hidden camp (which was said to be by a large waterhol

For the next couple of weeks, Multuggerah’s warriors successfully hid in the Rosewood Scrub, where their assailants failed to locate them. They also continued raids on the settlers. The most daring of these involved some 60 to 80 warriors attacking a head station near Ipswich (Mr McDougall’s). The huts and stores were plundered, most belongings destroyed, and the staff were driven off at spear point, being told “to be off, as it was their ground.”  Eventually, using an Aboriginal tracker, the squatters located the main base camp in the scrub and stormed the camp, killing leaders and an unknown number of others. They also destroyed large quantities of stockpiled weapons.

 

References:

  • Ayres, M-L, 2011, ‘A Picture asks a Thousand Questions,’ The National Library Magazine June 2011, 8-11
  • Campbell, J., (1936),  The Early Settlement of Queensland, Brisbane: Bibliographic Society of Queensland.
  • Kerkhove, R., 2015, Report: Indigenous Use and Indigenous History of Rosewood Scrub (Brisbane: Jagera Daran)
  • Kerkhove, R., 2016, Multuggerah and Multuggerah Way (Brisbane: Jagera Daran)
  • Langevad, G., 1979, The Simpson Letterbook – Historical Records of Queensland No 1 St Lucia: Uni of Qld (Anthropology Museum)
  • Nelson, C. J., 1993, The Valley of the Jagera – The Lockyer Valley Gatton: Chris Nelson
  • Queale, Alan ,1978, The Lockyer- Its First Half Century Gatton: Gatton & District Historical Society
  • Russell, H. (1888), The Genesis of Queensland, Sydney: Turner & Henderson
  • Talbot, Don, revised Don Neumann, 2014, A History of Gatton & District 1824-2008  Gatton: Lockyer Valley Regional Council
  • Tew, A., 1979, History of the Gatton Shire in the Lockyer Valley, 1979 Gatton Shire Council
  • The Raid of the Aborigines (Continued from Our Last), Bell’s Life in Sydney and Sporting Reviewer, 11 January 1845 p 4
  • Uhr, F., 2001, ‘The Raid of the Aborigines; a brief overview and background to the poem,’ Journal of the Royal Historical Society of Queensland Vol 17: 12 (Nov 2001)
  • Uhr, F., 2003, September 12 1843: The Battle of One Tree Hill – A Turning Point in the Conquest of Moreton Bay, Journal of the Royal Historical Society of Queensland (May 2003), Vol. 18:6, 241-255
  • Uhr, F., 2009, The Day the Dreaming Stopped: A Social History investigating the sudden impact of the pastoral migration in the Lockyer and Brisbane Valleys 1839 to 1846, MA Coursework mss (Uni of Qld)
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