Australian Dictionary of Biography

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Colebe (?–?)

by F. D. McCarthy

This article was published:

Colebe (Coalby, Botany Bay Colebe), was one of two Aboriginals through whom Governor Arthur Phillip established peaceful relations with the tribesmen of Port Jackson and Botany Bay. He and Bennelong were captured at Manly Cove on 25 November 1789 by Lieutenant William Bradley's boat crew. Colebe escaped after three weeks; Bennelong was freed in April 1790. Colebe, about 35 years of age, was a senior man of the Cadigal (whose territory ran along the eastern shores of Port Jackson, from South Head to Darling Harbour), and was treated with deference by Bennelong. They were constantly together, refused invitations for some time to visit the settlement, but finally acceded, and in September 1790 brought their families to the town; other Aboriginals followed their example and Phillip's purpose was thus achieved.

Colebe acted as a guide and as mediator with strange Aboriginals on journeys with Governor Phillip to the Nepean River and other places, helped to recover gear from an overturned fishing boat in the harbour, and led a lost soldier back to the settlement, for which good services he was rewarded. He sometimes dined at Government House, and took part in the whale feast at Manly in September 1790 when Governor Phillip was speared in the shoulder, but he failed to bring in Pemullaway, the murderer of the gamekeeper McEntyre, after undertaking to do so. He became quarrelsome and particularly violent to women. He severely battered Boorong, a girl living with Richard Johnson’s family, in October 1790, attempted to abduct another girl from Government House in May 1791, and with Yeranibe brutally murdered Yeranibe's young wife in 1797. He subsequently killed Yeranibe, and in a native duel that resulted in December 1797 his life was saved by soldiers. Colebe married Daringa, a sister of Moorooboora. There is no record of his life after 1806.

Select Bibliography

  • A. Phillip, The Voyage of Governor Phillip to Botany Bay (Lond, 1790)
  • J. Hunter, An Historical Journal of the Transactions at Port Jackson and Norfolk Island (Lond, 1793)
  • D. Collins, An Account of the English Colony in New South Wales, vols 1-2 (Lond, 1798-1802)
  • R. J. Flanagan, The Aborigines of Australia (Syd. 1888)
  • W. Tench, A Complete Account of the Settlement at Port Jackson in New South Wales (Lond, 1793).

Citation details

F. D. McCarthy, 'Colebe (?–?)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 1966, accessed online 18 May 2024.

This article was published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 1, (Melbourne University Press), 1966

View the front pages for Volume 1

© Copyright Australian Dictionary of Biography, 2006-2024

Life Summary [details]

Alternative Names
  • Coalby
  • Botany Bay Colebe
  • Coleby
Cultural Heritage

Includes subject's nationality; their parents' nationality; the countries in which they spent a significant part of their childhood, and their self-identity.