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Wylie (?–?)

by Wendy Birman

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Wylie, a Noongar man from the King George Sound district in Western Australia, was nearing manhood when taken by ship from Albany to Adelaide by Edward John Eyre in May 1840. He had disappeared in June when Eyre left to explore an overland route to Western Australia, but at Eyre's request was in the Hero which arrived at Fowler's Bay with provisions in January 1841. Wylie was older than the two South Australian Aboriginal men who, with Eyre and his assistant, Baxter, made up the party which left Fowler's Bay in February. By April food supplies had dwindled and Wylie, whose good temper largely depended on prodigious meals rich in protein, became sulky and disobedient. On the 22nd he left the camp with one of the South Australian Aboriginal men, but returned after three days and apologized for his absence. On the night of the 29th he is said to have raised the alarm which roused Eyre, who suspected, despite Wylie's denials, that he had known of the plot to raid the stores and had become horrified when Baxter unexpectedly awoke and was killed. Eyre maintained that the other two Aboriginal men were responsible, but in 1997 a Ngadju-Mirning man, Arthur Dimer, said it was Mirning tradition that Eyre himself had killed Baxter in a fit of rage because Baxter was drunk. Eyre also suspected that Wylie was disturbed by the thought of possible consequences on their return to settlement, or that the others might turn on him. However, he helped Eyre to find the horses and break camp. Together they continued the journey, followed for a time by the deserters who called to Wylie like 'wild dogs'. By Arthur Dimer’s account the two had fled in fright and were speared by Mirning people who were observing the expedition’s progress through their territory.

In May provisions were very low and both men suffered greatly from exhaustion. At times conditions improved and Wylie went in search of food. Quick, observant and a very good shot, he brought in kangaroos, opossums, ducks and swans. He also found yams and roots, and could eat crabs twice as fast as Eyre. He knew how to take water from certain leaves but his inexperience made him painfully slow. On 22 June they sighted the whaling vessel Mississippi. Wylie bade Eyre go ahead while he attended to the horses. He enjoyed his stay on the French ship and the generous rations. They brought ashore many stores, with pipes and tobacco especially for Wylie who was a great smoker, and cans of treacle which he liked to eat with rice.

Earlier in the expedition they had twice encountered Aboriginal people, probably Wirangu or Mirning, whose language Wylie did not understand, but at Rossiter Bay (near Esperance) they met Noongars whom Wylie understood completely. Nearer to their destination, Wylie insisted that he knew where to cross the King River; he was not a reliable guide, for they became badly bogged and had to camp overnight instead of reaching the settlement as planned. Next day Wylie met a member of his clan and learnt that he had been mourned by his people. A sudden shrill cry, picked up by Aboriginal people in the area, soon brought an excited crowd to greet the wanderer. He made a statement about Baxter's death to the magistrate at Albany, and was commended to the governor for remaining 'faithful to his white friend when forsaken by his countrymen, although, doubtless, like them he too had his fears whether they would ever survive the hardships and difficulties of this fearful journey'.

Wylie was rewarded with a weekly ration of flour and meat by the government and with £2 and a medal by the Agricultural Society of Perth. For a time he served as a police constable but was soon suspended because his duties were hampered by his tribal connexions and his addiction to drink. In 1848 Eyre heard of his plight and had his small ration increased, but nothing certain is known of his later life.

Select Bibliography

  • E. J. Eyre, Journals of Expeditions of Discovery into Central Australia, and Overland from Adelaide to King George's Sound, in the years 1840-1, vols 1-2 (Lond, 1845)
  • M. Uren and R. Stephens, Waterless Horizons (Melb, 1941)
  • M. Uren, Edward John Eyre (Melb, 1964)
  • Western Australian Government Gazette, 6, 13 Aug 1841
  • Perth Gazette, 7 Aug 1841
  • Albany Court records, 8 July, 16 Aug 1841 (State Library of Western Australia)
  • Wollaston's Journal B, 1848 (State Library of Western Australia)
  • CSO files (State Library of Western Australia).

Citation details

Wendy Birman, 'Wylie (?–?)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 1967, accessed online 23 June 2024.

This article was published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 2, (Melbourne University Press), 1967

View the front pages for Volume 2

© Copyright Australian Dictionary of Biography, 2006-2024

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