Australian Dictionary of Biography

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Musquito (1780–1825)

by Naomi Parry

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

Musquito (c.1780-1825), Aboriginal resistance leader and tracker, also known as Mosquito, Musquetta, Bush Muschetta or Muskito, was probably an Eora (Gai-Mariagal) man, born on the north shore of Port Jackson, New South Wales. In 1805 he participated in raids on settlers' properties in the Hawkesbury and Georges River districts. After the Sydney Gazette reported that, in good English, he had expressed his determination to continue his 'rapacities', General Orders issued on 9 June 1805 authorized his arrest to prevent further mischief. Local Aborigines agreed to capture him and he was apprehended by them and gaoled at Parramatta in July, but not charged. Next month Governor King exiled Musquito and 'Bull Dog', 'principals in the recent outrages', to Norfolk Island, where Musquito remained for eight years.

In January 1813 Musquito was evacuated aboard the Minstrel for Port Dalrymple (Launceston), Van Diemen's Land. Next year his brother Phillip, in New South Wales, gained Macquarie's consent for him to be sent back to Sydney, but Musquito remained in Van Diemen's Land. In 1817 Lieutenant-Governor Sorell praised his service as a tracker of bushrangers and approved his return to 'his Native Place', but this never eventuated.

Contemporary commentators blamed Musquito for influencing the island's 'sable natives' to violent retribution, and colonial historians John West and James Bonwick greatly embellished his character and deeds. According to them, he was transported to Van Diemen's Land for the gruesome murder of a pregnant Aboriginal woman and mutilated, murdered and prostituted his women before corrupting the local Aborigines.

By February 1818 he was a servant of Edward Lord. In October he helped to track and kill the bushranger Michael Howe. Henry Melville later recounted Musquito's statement that Sorell's broken promise, and ostracism by convicts, drove him into the bush, where he formed the 'tame gang', which Rev. William Horton met at Pittwater in 1823. Horton conversed with him, and described him as possessing superior skill and muscular strength to that of his companions. Musquito subsequently became antagonistic towards settlers, and joined the 'wild' Oyster Bay tribe. His knowledge of the English language and customs and his expertise in guerilla warfare were assets to people who, frustrated, resorted to aggression. With 'Black Jack', the band killed several stockkeepers in raids on the east coast in November 1823 and in 1824.

In August 1824 Musquito was wounded and captured by an Aboriginal boy named Teague. After his recovery, Musquito and Jack were charged with aiding and abetting the murder of a stockkeeper, and tried without oaths in the Supreme Court, Hobart Town, in December 1824. Musquito was convicted on dubious evidence, Jack on a second charge; both were hanged on 25 February 1825. Melville considered the trial and executions to constitute a 'most extraordinary precedent'. Gilbert Robertson felt the hangings incited further violence. It remained unclear whether Musquito committed any murders. The indigenous resistance leader was the subject of a series of paintings by the Aboriginal artist Lin Onus in 1978-82.

Another Port Jackson Aboriginal known as Musquito, an associate of Bennelong's, had been drawn by Nicolas Martin-Petit of the Baudin expedition in 1802 and was killed in a battle early in 1806.

Select Bibliography

  • Historical Records of Australia, series I, vol 5, pp 306-7, 497
  • J. Bonwick, The Last of the Tasmanians (Lond, 1870)
  • H. Melville, The History of Van Diemen’s Land, part 1 (Syd, 1959)
  • E. Fry (ed), Rebels and Radicals (Syd, 1983)
  • Sydney Gazette, 19 May 1805, p 2, 30 June 1805, p 2, 7 July 1805, p 2, 4 Aug 1805, p 2, 12 Jan 1806, p 1, 19 Jan 1806, p 2, 2 Feb 1806, p 2
  • Hobart Town Gazette, 14 Feb 1818, 16 July 1824, 6 Aug 1824, 3 Dec 1824, 25 Feb 1825
  • Rev Horton, Wesleyan Missionary papers, 3 June 1823, BT 52, vol 4, p 1268 (State Library of New South Wales)
  • Sorell dispatches, 20 Oct 1818, CY 1096, p 91 (State Library of New South Wales)
  • Colonial Secretary correspondence, King, 8 Aug 1805, reel 6040, p 41 (State Records New South Wales)
  • T. Campbell to Lt Gov Davey, reel 6004, p 251 (State Records New South Wales)
  • Mosquito correspondence file (Archives Office of Tasmania)
  • CSO 1/177/4306 (Archives Office of Tasmania)
  • Gilbert Robertson’s journal, CBE 1/1 (Archives Office of Tasmania).

Citation details

Naomi Parry, 'Musquito (1780–1825)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/musquito-13124/text23749, 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
  • Mosquito
  • Musquetta
  • Bush Muschetta
  • Muskito
Birth

1780
New South Wales, Australia

Death

25 February 1825
Hobart, Tasmania, Australia

Cultural Heritage
Occupation