The True End of Joseph Tice Gellibrand Rediscovered
by Wayne David Knoll, 2001
The authoritative work is wrong: The Australian Dictionary of Biography entry on J. T. Gellibrand reads: “He later became involved in the Port Phillip Association and disappeared on an expedition to explore the hinterland of Port Phillip in 1837. He and his companion, G. B. L. Hesse, probably lost their horses and perished in the summer heat.’ So far so good, that’s true. And then it concludes: “The mystery was not solved.”
It was solved, and the story published. So subsequent published documents and delayed accounts of the story’s after-findings have fallen off knowledge, and our historians presume to make authoritative statements out of that ignorance. Or is this an act of sidelining the story that came from Aboriginal sources - out of distrust? The Lieutenant Governor of Victoria, La Trobe, investigated the claim, and believed it. For there were reports of the solving of the case published in major newspapers both in Melbourne and Sydney by as early as mid 1844.
The last days of Gellibrand and the story of his end was solved, and in the early 1840s, by the folowing-up of reports made by West Otway Aborigines to John Allan of Allansford, near Warrnambool, Victoria, and then investigated by Charles Joseph Latrobe and found creditable to his satisfaction. LaTrobe even visited and mapped and marked the site of Gellibrand’s Aboriginal burial place.
Here is the original newspaper report
- From –
(DUNCAN’S WEEKLY REGISTER)
Sydney, July 27 1844
MESSRS. GELLIBRAND AND HESSE. - The following interesting narrative of the death of these unfortunate travellers has been furnished us by Mr. John Allan, brother to the actual discoverer of the skeleton of Mr. Gellibrand. About two and a half years and a half ago the Messrs. Allan took station on of a station at the mouth of the river Hopkins, which is about twenty miles to the eastward of Port Fairy. They had not been long in possession, before they were informed by the blacks that about three years from that time, there bad been a white man killed at a place called Barratt, (a river about fifteen miles to the westward of Cape Otway, which comes from the interior in a N. N. Easterly direction), and that another white man had been found dead about fifteen miles further up the river, both being described as "gentlemen."
From this statement -although but imperfectly understood at the time - the Messrs. Allan suspected that the bodies alluded to must have been the remains of Messrs. Gellibrand and Hesse, who were last heard of somewhere about the locality pointed out by the natives; they accordingly lost no time in mentioning the circumstance to the settlers in the surrounding country. The matter, however, owing to a want of confidence in the natives, and other causes, ceased to be considered of any particular moment, and was eventually dropped.
About three months ago, Mr. John Allan accidentally fell into conversation - with one of the Bethnangall tribe, residing near his own station, who had married a gin from the 'Barratt country; from him he learnt that his gin had been present at the murder of Mr. Gellibrand, when suckling an infant, now about seven years old, and that she had seen the body of the second white man (Mr. Hesse) up the river, about fifteen miles distant, as before described, laying with its face uppermost, untouched by either dogs or birds of prey.
Mr. Allan lost no time in finding out the black woman, and from herself learnt that at the time before stated, a white man’s (Mr. Gellibrand's) “cooey" attracted their attention and caused them great alarm, never having beard anything, of the kind before. After considerable difficulty and persuasion, her tribe were induced to go up to him, when he made signs to show his urgent want of food, and at the same time gave them to understand that another white man (Mr. Hesse) was in extreme distress from the same cause farther up the river. Having administered to his wants, a party proceeded in search of his comrade; but the proffered aid came too late - he was found dead. The tribe did all in their power to make Mr. Gellibrand comfortable; but as he refused to sleep in their “Mia Mias " they' built him one expressly for his own use. He lived with this tribe on terms of perfect friendship for about ‘two moons,' when their privacy was invaded by a large body of natives from the river Panyork, distant about seven miles eastward of Cape Otway. The Panyork tribe did all in their power to persuade Mr. Gellibrand to join them, but find - opposition not only from him but the Barratt people, the stronger party, in a fit of jealousy sought an opportunity to murder Mr. Gellibrand. Accordingly on one fine sunny morning, the Barratt tribe being out seeking food, and Mr Gellibrand at the camp alone, mending his trousers with kangaroo sinews, three of the Panyork men went and talked to Mr. Gellibrand, and thus taking him off his guard, one seized him from behind the throat, whilst another put his two fingers up his nostrils, the third jumping on his chest till life was extinct; the murderers then decamped, taking with them only the coat of their victim.
When the Barratt tribe returned and found what had been done, they expressed great regret for the loss of their white companion - and went into mourning after the known native fashion -painting themselves white and cutting their foreheads, &c., but did not attempt to retaliate on the Panyork tribe, as they were too strong for them. They then buried the body, and threw his pistols and (gold) watch into a creek adjoining the spot.
From the foregoing statement of the black gin, Mr. Allan made further enquiries, and being fully persuaded of the truth of the woman's story, he sent his brother Henry with two lads belonging to the Barratt tribe to search for the skeleton. His report is as follows: After travelling about thirty miles along the coast, they fell in with the Barratt tribe, a very small one, only seven in all; one of the number was the very man under whose care Mr. Gellibrand had placed himself, and who had buried him and mourned over his grave. Mr. Henry Allan immediately pressed him in his service, and travelled about twenty miles farther along the coast, the whole distance being one mass of scrub. They at length arrived at a spot which the old man pointed out as Mr. Gellibrand’s grave, describing at the same time how he had placed the body, his hat and trousers under its head, &c. Mr. Allan then began to remove the sand very carefully, and - at the depth of about fourteen inches came upon the skeleton, exactly as described by the black; under the skull he found part of a black beaver hat, part of a pair of trousers, lined with leather, several buttons, and under the wristbone of one arm a pearl button. The skeleton was perfect, with the exception of one knee, which was a little burnt. Mr. Allan having taken possession of the skull went in search of the pistols and watch; but the weather being particularly stormy, and the rain falling in torrents, the blacks refused to pursue the search any further. They then, however, pointed out the place where the body of Mr. Hesse was last seen by them; and promised, when the weather would admit of it, to go another time. They stated the white man had died from fatigue or hunger, and that he had dark hair. The remains of Mr. Hesse, they said, were about fifteen miles distant up the river in a direct line from Lake Colac.
The skull, which is in Mr. Allan's possession, shews the loss of one of the front and three of the back teeth; the rest are very fine, rather large and regularly set, with the exception of one in the lower jaw, which is a little overlocked. The murderers, Mr. Allen tells us, are well known, and have recently been seen by him; one of them is a ferocious looking character with a cut lip.
- P. P. Herald.
As syndicated from Melbourne - First published in the Port Phillip Herald
This story explains how after La Trobe’s findings, the major west-Otway river subsequently came to be named the Gellibrand river, along with the towns of Gellibrand and Lower Gellibrand. La Trobe made these checks and conclusions when he was reconnoitring the coast for a path to build the Cape Otway lighthouse.
I believe this. I do not see how it can be gainsaid or denied without offence to the Aboriginal informants, to the pioneer Allan, and the integrity of Governor La Trobe.