Australian Dictionary of Biography

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Eumarrah (1798–1832)

by Michael Roe

This article was published in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Supplementary Volume, (MUP), 2005

Eumarrah (c.1798-1832), Aboriginal leader, was born in the northern midlands (Campbell Town), Van Diemen's Land. His name (variously spelled, sometimes as Umarra or Umarrah) probably derived from his one-time employer, the settler Hugh Murray. Alternative names were Kanneherlargenner and Moleteheerlaggenner. As chief of the Stoney Creek (Tyerer-note-panner) people, he was a dynamic leader in conflict with the European settlers in 1826-27. One of Lieutenant-Governor (Sir) George Arthur's roving parties, led by Gilbert Robertson, captured Eumarrah and his wife Laoninneloonner late in 1828. The Hobart Town Courier on 22 November reported that the 'King, named Eumarrah . . . declares it his determined purpose . . . to destroy all the whites he possibly can, which he considers a patriotic duty'. Yet, before the Executive Council on 19 November the captives had denied any killing. Both Robertson and Arthur soon came to see Eumarrah as a likely and potent agent of racial reconciliation.

After a year in Richmond gaol, the Aboriginal leader joined G. A. Robinson's 'friendly mission' through the south-west in early 1830. Eumarrah impressed Robinson, but never subordinated himself, and in May he decamped. Showing mighty bushcraft (and an island-wide reach), he trekked from near Trial Harbour to his homeland region. In October he presented himself to the Launceston authorities and, at Arthur's request, immediately joined the 'Black Line' operation, as it sought to corral the remaining Aborigines. To Arthur's chagrin, Eumarrah soon left the line and began harassing settlers in the Tamar and Esk valleys and in the north-east. Robinson was then working there and on 29 August 1831 the two met again. 'How I rejoiced to hear that this man was in being', wrote Robinson, who promised that if the Aborigines stopped hostilities they might remain on the land.

With other Aborigines, Eumarrah accompanied Robinson's mission to the Big River people from October 1831 to January 1832, shaping it to their own purposes—both helping and hindering the search. At night Eumarrah sang hour-long stories of 'amorous adventures, exploits in war &c'. The idyll ended as Robinson took the party to Hobart Town. Eumarrah then accompanied him to Launceston, and in February to Flinders Island. Back at Launceston, Eumarrah became ill with dysentery. He died on 24 March 1832 in hospital there and was buried in St John's graveyard with some formality, European and Aboriginal.

Eumarrah's first wife had been killed in an inter-Aboriginal dispute in 1831. His second wife was Woolaytoopinneya, who died in May 1832. He had several siblings, or at least band-associates, of interest. His reputed sister Planobeena (Fanny) became the wife of PEEVAY (c.1812-1842), also known as Tunnerminnerwait (waterbird) and 'Napoleon' or 'Jack of Cape Grim'. Probably the son of Keeghernewboyheener, of Robbins Island, Peevay had met Robinson at Robbins Island in June 1830, when he began a long and complex relationship with the 'friendly mission'. Robinson spoke of him as 'an exceeding willing and industrious young man', who was 'stout and well made, of good temper, and performed his work equal to any white man'.

Perhaps Peevay was more deliberate than Eumarrah in his hopes of using the association to outwit Robinson and the colonizers generally. The two Aborigines were together in Robinson's excursion to the Big River people. In October 1835 Peevay went with Robinson to Flinders Island, where his tie with Fanny firmed. Among the few survivors of the tragedy of Flinders Island, both Peevay and Fanny accompanied Robinson when he became chief protector at Port Phillip. Their apparent closeness with Robinson continued until winter 1841, but in September Peevay, Fanny and three others, including Trugernanner and Timme, formed a band which attacked Europeans in much the same style as had earlier prevailed in Van Diemen's Land. Consequently the Supreme Court found Peevay ('Jack Napoleon Tarraparrura') and Timme ('Robert Timmy Jimmy Small-boy') guilty of the murder of two whalers. Peevay was reported as saying that 'after his death he would join his father in Van Diemen's Land and hunt kangaroo; he also said that he had three heads, one for the scaffold, one for the grave, and one for V. D. Land'. The convicted men were hanged on 20 January 1842, the first offenders to be executed at Port Phillip.

Eumarrah had possessed remarkable personal qualities, and his experience, like that of Peevay, illustrated how British settlement offered indigenes a mix of challenge, opportunity, confusion and disaster. He evidently felt some attraction to the colonists and hoped to use their presence to his own advantage. Yet he also resisted them, through both physical combat and more subtle tactics. In mirror image, colonists viewed Eumarrah with mingled hostility, admiration and hope that he would serve their ends.

Select Bibliography

  • Van Diemen’s Land: Copies of All Correspondence Between Lieutenant-Governor Arthur and His Majesty’s Secretary of State for the Colonies, on the Subject of the Military Operations Lately Carried on Against the Aboriginal Inhabitants of Van Diemen’s Land (Hob, 1971)
  • N. J. B. Plomley (ed), Friendly Mission (Hob, 1966)
  • N. J. B. Plomley, Weep in Silence (Hob, 1987)
  • H. Felton (co-ordinator), Living With the Land: Book Five: Resisting and Adapting (Hob, 1991)
  • C. Pybus, Community of Thieves (Melb, 1991)
  • I. MacFarlane, ‘Pevay: a Casualty of War’, Papers and Proceedings (Tasmanian Historical Research Association), 48, no 4, Dec 2001, p 280
  • Port Phillip Herald, 26 Nov 1841, p 2, 24 Dec 1841, p 2, 21 Jan 1842, p 2.

Citation details

Michael Roe, 'Eumarrah (1798–1832)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/eumarrah-12905/text23313, published in hardcopy 2005, accessed online 21 August 2014.

This article was first published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Supplementary Volume, (MUP), 2005

© Copyright Australian Dictionary of Biography, 2006-2014

Life Summary [details]

Alternative Names
  • Umarrah
  • Umarra
  • Kanneherlargenner
  • Moleteheerlaggenner
Birth

1798
Campbell Town, Tasmania, Australia

Death

24 March 1832
Launceston, Tasmania, Australia

Cultural Heritage
Occupation