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Patrick (Paddy) Cahill (1863–1923)

by M. A. Clinch

This article was published:

Patrick (Paddy) Cahill (1863?-1923), buffalo-shooter, farmer and protector of Aboriginals was born, probably in 1863, at Laidley near Toowoomba, Queensland, son of Thomas Cahill, blacksmith, and his wife Sarah, née Scahill; his birth was not registered. Paddy and his brothers Tom and Matt joined Nat Buchanan and the Gordons in overlanding 20,000 cattle in 1883 for Wave Hill station, Northern Territory. The Cahill brothers later managed Wave Hill, Delamere and Gordon Downs stations.

Paddy was soon attracted by reports of up to 60,000 buffalo running wild on the plains of the Alligator River. One of the first to shoot from horseback, he and his partner William Johnston employed Aboriginals during the dry season in semi-mobile camps to produce hides and horns. Cahill's largest monthly kill was 1605; hides were initially worth £1 each. Much of his success was due to his fast, intelligent horse St Lawrence. In 1898 he wrote a series of articles on hunting for the Northern Territory Times.

Early in 1899 when hunting was becoming unprofitable Cahill bought the pearling lugger, Ethel. On 18 October at St Mary's Star of the Sea Catholic Church, Darwin, he married Maria Pickford. Within three weeks of the wedding he covered 200 miles (322 km) in three days to assist Johnston who had been gored. Cahill was probably the most popular man in the Northern Territory at this time. Visiting Darwin in 1898, A. B. Paterson light-heartedly listed the main conversational pieces of Darwin as 'the cycloon' (of 1897), G. R. (the government resident) and Paddy Cahill.

Cahill and Johnston settled in 1906 at idyllic Oenpelli in Arnhem Land. The local Kakadu people helped establish a farm, growing fruit, vegetables, sisal, cotton and other products. Naturally intelligent, Cahill had developed a deep interest in and empathy with Aboriginals, learning languages and being careful to use tribal names. He sought to minimize their contacts with Europeans, particularly missionaries, and in 1912 was appointed a protector and manager of a reserve based on Oenpelli. He was visited there by (Sir) W. Baldwin Spencer in 1912, Elsie Masson in 1915 and Carl Warburton, all of whom recorded their admiration for the house, gardens and dairy. Cahill maintained a long friendly correspondence with Spencer and, next to F. J. Gillen, was probably his most important collaborator. As a result, Cahill supplied the National Museum of Victoria with zoological specimens and a very important collection of bark-paintings.

In 1915 J. A. Gilruth, administrator of the Northern Territory, chose Oenpelli as a government experimental dairy and provided some cows, but the first shipment of butter was boycotted by Darwin unionists because it was produced by black labour. In 1917 one of Cahill's trusted Aboriginal workers attempted to poison him and his family. During the Darwin disturbances of 1918-19 he served as a special constable defending Government House, antagonized the dissidents, and was described in royal commissioner N. K. Ewing's report as a decent man but sometimes careless. It was implied that he had used his friendship with Gilruth to advance his son.

Paddy Cahill was 'a stocky, broad-shouldered extrovert, with ruddy complexion and ever cheerful manner'. He visited Melbourne for the Cup of 1922 with his wife and son. An earlier influenza attack recurred and he died at the Sydney home of his brother Tom on 4 February 1923 and was buried in Randwick cemetery. Mount Cahill, Cahill's Landing and Cahill's Crossing in Arnhem Land and a Darwin street are named after him.

Select Bibliography

  • E. R. Masson, An Untamed Territory (Lond, 1915)
  • W. B. Spencer, Wanderings in Wild Australia (Lond, 1928)
  • C. Warburton and W. K. Robertson, Buffaloes (Syd, 1934)
  • E. Hill, The Territory (Syd, 1951)
  • K. Cole, Oenpelli Pioneer (Melb, 1972), and A History of Oenpelli (Darwin, 1975)
  • D. J. Mulvaney and J. H. Calaby, ‘So Much That is New’ (Melb, 1985)
  • Parliamentary Papers (Commonwealth), 1917-19, 6, 1145, 1920-21, 3, 1663, 1671
  • Northern Territory Times, 17 Mar, 20 Oct, 10 Nov 1899, 1 Dec 1911, 6 Feb 1923
  • Sydney Mail, 27 June 1899
  • Sydney Morning Herald, 6 Feb 1923
  • Daily Telegraph (Sydney), 7 Feb 1923
  • Argus (Melbourne), 10 Feb 1923
  • Labor Call (Melbourne), 8 Mar 1923
  • A1640 1903/419, CRS A3 item NT 17/427, AR NT 14/403 13 June 1914 (National Archives of Australia).

Related Entries in NCB Sites

Citation details

M. A. Clinch, 'Cahill, Patrick (Paddy) (1863–1923)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 1979, accessed online 20 July 2024.

This article was published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 7, (Melbourne University Press), 1979

View the front pages for Volume 7

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