Australian Dictionary of Biography

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Old Moppy (c. 1787–c. 1842)

by Ray Kerkhove

This article was published online in 2020

Old Moppy (c. 1787–c. 1842), Aboriginal leader, guide, and resistance fighter, also known as Moppy and Moppé, was born in the 1780s in the Lockyer Valley region, south-east Queensland. He was probably a Yugara (Jagera/Yaggera) man. Today his country is claimed by Yugara, western Wakka Wakka, Giabal (Gitabal/Kitabal), and other Aboriginal language groups. A number of Aboriginal families including the Halls, Tobanes, Bonners, Lloyds, and Thompsons claim descent from him. He had at least three sons. One was Multuggerah, also known as Moppy, Young Moppy, and Campbell. Wooinambi may have been his son and Jimgulthe may have been another son or nephew. ‘Moppy’ was a European nickname for persons with moppy hair. However, as the earliest recorded spellings of Old Moppy’s name were ‘Moppee,’ ‘Mappe,’ and ‘Moppé,’ it is probable that his Aboriginal name was Mappi, a Yugara word for beeswax.

Extremely tall and heavily muscled, Old Moppy was described as being ‘upwards of seven feet high, beautifully proportioned, and the muscles of his upper arms [looked like] … the gnarled trunk of an oak’ (Colonial Times 1850, 4). In the late 1820s, as part of a pullen-pullen or traditional tournament to settle disputes between Aboriginal groups, he led seven hundred ‘mountain warriors’ (Colonial Times 1850, 4) from his own and neighbouring groups in a fight against groups from north of the Brisbane River and beyond. After being defeated and seriously injured by his challenger, Eulope, a Stradbroke Island headman, Old Moppy developed new alliances on the Darling Downs instead of among the Stradbroke and Logan groups who were the traditional allies of his people.

During Queensland’s early colonisation, Old Moppy tried to develop friendly relations with Europeans. He became ‘a well-known character with the squatters’ and ‘somewhat of a favourite’ (Knight 1892, 402) of Moreton Bay’s commandant, Lieutenant Owen Gorman. In May 1840 Old Moppy arranged for his people to assist Gorman in tracking the Aboriginal men who had killed two members of the Staplyton expedition near Mount Lindesay. These were captured near Rosewood, close to Old Moppy’s homeland. A few months later, when Old Moppy was visiting Brisbane, Gorman presented him with a breastplate naming him ‘King of the Upper Brisbane Tribe’ (Knight 1892, 402). However, when James Baker, an escaped convict who had lived with Old Moppy’s people for fifteen years, explained what the words meant, the headman organised for Baker to return the plaque to Gorman.

In October 1840 Gorman visited Old Moppy and his group at their main camp near Gatton. Still hopeful of an alliance with the newcomers, Old Moppy sent two of his sons to guide Gorman west across the Great Dividing Range to what became Toowoomba. He thus helped Gorman to open a new pass to the interior: Gorman’s Gap. While at Old Moppy’s camp, Gorman promised to investigate complaints by Darling Downs people that squatters had shot at them, and, if necessary, to punish the offenders.

Earlier in 1840, James ‘Cocky’ Rogers, a European then working at Eton Vale station, had taken his flock of sheep east of Picnic Point (Toowoomba) and ruthlessly shot dead at least one Aboriginal man from a group holding a corroboree on the summit of Table Top Mountain. Gorman visited the Darling Downs squatters to enquire into this and other alleged shootings. They pleaded innocence and told him that local Aboriginal groups had banded together and attempted to burn them out with a wall of flame. Faced with this new information, Gorman decided against prosecuting the shooters. When Old Moppy realised that Gorman would not assist his people, he became less conciliatory.

On 6 November 1840, presumably on Old Moppy’s orders, between three hundred and six hundred warriors attacked a dray team on Lockyer Creek. On 28 August 1841 Old Moppy and many of his group were part of a very large (two thousand person) ceremony and pullen-pullen at Toorbul Point (later Sandstone Point) opposite Bribie Island. While Old Moppy and his people were busy with this tournament, squatters moved in and established sheep runs on his homeland. Rogers, now overseer of Helidon station, stole hundreds of bark sheets from Old Moppy’s people’s main camp at Humpy Flat, Grantham, and shot all the camp dogs.

It seems likely that Old Moppy’s compatriots were aware of this invasion, as they joined other groups in attacking stations on the upper Brisbane Valley during their return journey in late 1841. In a combined drive, involving three or four hundred warriors, at least two European shepherds were killed and twenty settlers were forced to quit two runs and take refuge at a third. The Aboriginal warriors also took approximately one thousand sheep, although many were eventually recovered. Moving south to Helidon and Tent Hill stations, Old Moppy took shepherds hostage and removed fifteen sheep.

In retaliation for this repeated rushing of the runs, on 21 October 1841, Rogers gathered a small posse of armed and mounted squatters and conducted a dawn raid on Old Moppy’s main camp (Humpy Flat). Moppy’s son Wooinambi speared the two Europeans who led the charge. This shocked the attackers, sending them into disarray, but they soon regrouped and stormed the camp. The numbers of Aboriginal casualties were not recorded. In reprisal, on 10 November 1841, Old Moppy’s warriors killed Thomas Coyle, Rogers’s shepherd, at Tent Hill. Old Moppy’s group also held the Tent Hill run under siege, removing some eighty sheep to bush pens they had built south of Gatton, and robbing the station of anything useful. Wooinambi was killed during these actions. On 11 November the Aboriginal men attacked outstations at Tent Hill and Grantham, but were driven off by gunfire. Chased by horseman for the next two days, they evaded capture. On 5 December, four hundred of Old Moppy’s men attacked a dray at Laidley’s Plain but were held off by armed soldiers.

On account of Old Moppy’s compatriots’ frequent raids, all flocks of sheep were temporarily removed from the Lockyer Valley. In January 1842 Gorman headed to Grantham to hold a committal hearing into the violence that had taken place in the area, and to arrest Rogers for initiating the attack on Old Moppy’s camp and starting the conflict. In the bush trial that followed, all seventeen European witnesses—Rogers’s co-workers and supporters—swore that no Aboriginal people had been shot. Rogers was released, but the humiliation of the trial turned him against Gorman and seems to have increased his determination to defeat Old Moppy.

In February 1842 between thirty and sixty Aboriginal people were killed with flour laced with strychnine at Kilcoy station, west of Caboolture. Following this massacre, tribes from all over south-east Queensland declared war on Europeans. A number of intertribal meetings were held at Tiaro, Jimna, and other sites in March-June 1842 to negotiate combined objectives. Having gained the confidence of Aboriginal groups through his actions, Old Moppy forged an alliance of so-called ‘Mountain tribes’ (Colonial Times 1850, 4). On 17 March 1842 he was part of a tournament near Redcliffe that solidified his influence. Old Moppy’s authority was said to stretch across ‘East and West Moreton, and as far as the western slopes of the Main Range’ (Queensland Times 1884, 5), taking in thousands of warriors. Indeed, his fame was such that his people were referred to as ‘Moppy’s tribe’ or ‘the Moppes’ even decades after his death.

So serious was the threat Old Moppy posed to Europeans that he was soon killed: ‘a life for a life’ (North Australian, Ipswich and General Advertiser 1861, 4). The details of his death are unclear. One version is that he was shot and killed by Rogers at a creek near Tent Hill in 1842 or 1843, later known as ‘Blackfellows Creek.’ George Thorn, the first European to reside at Ipswich, believed that Blackfellows Creek was so named because ‘a notorious’ Aboriginal leader (probably Old Moppy) had been ‘hunted down and killed [there]’ (Darling Downs Gazette 1877, 3). Old Moppy’s murder incited his sons to step up attacks: Multuggerah vowed to kill six whites in revenge. The ensuing violence between Aboriginal groups and Europeans escalated into a war that raged across the Darling Downs and Lockyer regions for decades.

Old Moppy’s sincerity, strength, and skill in battle enabled him to bring together many diverse groups for a common cause. While his actions effectively began the resistance activities of the western Moreton region, he is remembered as a trustworthy and trusting leader who sought peace. William Wilkes’s mock epic poem, ‘The Raid of the Aborigines,’ claimed that Old Moppy ‘always exerted himself to restrain his followers from collision with the whites’ (North Australian, Ipswich and General Advertiser 1861, 4).

 

Ray Kerkhove is a European man. He was living on Turrbal, Yagara (Jagera), Nalbo (Kabi Kabi) land when he wrote this article.

Research edited by Rani Kerin

Select Bibliography

  • Colonial Times (Hobart). ‘Romance of Real Life in Australia.’ 24 May 1850, 4
  • Darling Downs Gazette and General Advertiser (Toowoomba). ‘Gatton and Tent Hill Ploughing Match.’ 4 April 1877, 3
  • Jarrott, J. K. ‘Gorman’s Gap.’ Queensland Heritage 3, no. 4 (1976): 24–38
  • Kerkhove, Ray. ‘Tribal Alliances with Broader Agendas? Aboriginal Resistance in Southern Queensland’s “Black War.”’ Cosmopolitan Civil Societies Journal 6, no.3 (2014): 38–62
  • Knight, J. J. ‘In the Early Days XI—The Birth and Growth of Brisbane and Environs.’ Queenslander (Brisbane), 27 February 1892, 402
  • North Australian, Ipswich and General Advertiser. ‘The Raid of the Aborigines: A Heroic Poem.’ 11 January 1861, 4
  • Queensland Times, Ipswich Herald and General Advertiser. ‘Local and General News.’ 28 June 1884, 5
  • Simpson, Stephen. The Simpson Letterbook. Transcribed by Gerry Langevad. St Lucia, Qld: University of Queensland Press, 1979
  • Queensland State Archives. Digital Image ID 24303, Book of Trials Held at Moreton Bay, 29 October 1840 – 28 February 1842, PART 3
  • Uhr, Frank. ‘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 18, no. 6 (May 2003): 241–55.

Additional Resources

Citation details

Ray Kerkhove, 'Old Moppy (c. 1787–c. 1842)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/old-moppy-29802/text36892, published online 2020, accessed online 6 July 2020.

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