Population Figures in the early 1800s

As is the case generally in south-eastern Australia estimates of population for the Eurobodalla area are limited in extent and accuracy. The figures that were recorded cannot be considered to reflect the population of the area before the advent of Europeans as the impact of disease had already been felt. The earliest recorded population figure for the Eurobodalla area was recorded by the missionary Harper in his visit to Bateman’s Bay in 1826. The figures he gave apply to the single group that he met with at that location:

The number of blacks present is 87 men, 36 women, 23 children; making in all 146. besides others who are not far distant, as may be seen by the smoke ascending in various places. The land is pretty tolerable in some parts and thickly covered with timber, tho’ in some parts it is very mountainous.

In 1839 Commissioner Lambie undertook a census of the Aboriginal and European inhabitants of the Maneroo Squatting District. The census is far from complete in its coverage of either group. Lambie’s census identified 173 stations already formed in the District with a non-Indigenous population of 1143 free or freed individuals75 and 565 convicts76. The Aboriginal population of the area was given as 44877 individuals.

In contrast to this figure Mrs Celia Rose, who arrived in Moruya as a young child in the early 1830s and remained there most of her life, remembered a population of almost that many in the Moruya area alone:

I think the Aboriginals numbered about four hundred. They were quiet and harmless, and the elders of them were very kind, and would put their hands on our heads and say, “Buderree fellow white picanniny.” There were no other white children but my brother and myself, and we used to play with the blacks, and were never frightened of them. My mother was the only white woman here at that time. The first hotel was built on the northern bank of the Moruya River, and when the blacks got drunk there they would fight and kill each other, and now there is not one full-blooded black left in this district.

In 1834 the government distributed blankets to station run holders to in turn distribute to the Aboriginal people in their local area. Blankets were distributed to four stations in the Bateman’s Bay area, thirty blankets each to Mr Thomson, Mr Hunt, Mr Flanagan and twenty to Mr Morris.80 The return from Walter Thomson, listing the 23 individuals to which he distributed blankets is the only one to have survived. Thomson stated in regard to the list that:

The number of Blankets I received from the Government, were thirty, & you will observe by the list enclosed, that there is only the Names of twenty three of the Blacks given, but among these were several old people, with families, who suffer much more from the inclemency of the weather, than those single men who are not so much advanced in years – I thought it expedient therefore, to give the very old people double Blankets each…

In 1839 a total of 117 people were recorded for the Bateman’s Bay area, 50 men, 29 women, 24 boys and 14 girls. Unfortunately no further details exist.82 In 1842 William Oldrey of Broulee supplied to the Colonial Secretary a list of all individuals taken at the Broulee Police Office at the time of the annual distribution of blankets. There is a total of 194 people listed by name, with estimates of their age and their place of normal residence, in addition there are 36 children with no further information provided.

Plate 1: Listing of Individuals to whom blankets were issued at Bateman’s Bay in 1834.
Plate 1: Listing of Individuals to whom blankets were issued at Bateman’s Bay in 1834.

Oldrey described the people attending the blanket distribution at Broulee as having come from, “… the Coast, extending 60 Miles to the South, and more than that distance to the North…”.

The following day William Oldrey wrote to the Colonial Secretary requesting that he be provided with additional blankets to distribute:

I have the honor to inform you that the Bales of Blankets have been recieved (sic) here, containing 170 Single Blankets. The whole were issued on Friday last at the Court House Browlee ; and I regret to state that there are about 100 Aborigines that without Blankets in this District, several of whom are labouring under sickness & Disease: the cold & Wet in this neighbourhood and to the Southward, have been severely felt by them.

Oldrey’s request for additional blankets was refused and in his letter of response to the Colonial Secretary Oldrey stated:

I have only to express, the regret, I feel, that after the representations I have had the honor to make, so great a number of Aborigines should still be left to suffer, in this District, from illness, which is principally to be ascribed, to their want of blankets, or some other warm coverings, to shelter them from the effects of the Cold, & Wet weather, prevalent in this quarter at this Season of the year.

In the following year, 1843, Oldrey again supplied a list of those who received blankets at Broulee. There are a total of 136 people listed by name, with estimates of their age and their place of normal residence, in addition there are 20 children with no further information provided.

Excerpt from Eurobodalla Aboriginal Cultural Heritage Study, South Coast New South Wales, 2005. Story contributed by Martin Ind from Moruya High School.