Rufus River massacre

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Rufus River Massacre
Date27 August 1841
34°03′S 141°15′E / 34.050°S 141.250°E / -34.050; 141.250Coordinates: 34°03′S 141°15′E / 34.050°S 141.250°E / -34.050; 141.250
Result British victory
British Empire British colonists Aboriginal Australians
Commanders and leaders
Matthew Moorhouse
Bernard Shaw
29 (government) + 10 (overlanders) 150 (including women and children)
Casualties and losses
None at least 30

The Rufus River Massacre was a massacre of Aboriginals that took place in 1841 along the Rufus River near Wentworth, Australia.[1] It was the result of six months of guerrilla warfare by the local Aboriginal people (Maraura), who blocked an overlander route through their land.[2][3] The original cause of much of the trouble with the Aboriginal groups was the Europeans engaging in sexual relations with the women without giving the food and clothing promised first.[4] That initiated an escalating cycle of conflicts, which eventually included the Aboriginal groups stealing thousands of European sheep.[5][6]

The massacre of the Aborigines was led by the Protector of Aborigines, Matthew Moorhouse.[4] Protector Moorhouse later testified that about 150 Aborigines appeared to be readying to attack, and that the massacre was committed to pre-empt such an attack.[7]

It is generally recorded that 30 to 40 Aborigines were killed.[4][5][8] The record originates from the official report of Protector Moorhouse, which was sent to the Governor of South Australia, George Grey. The report states that "the result was, to the natives, the death of nearly 30, about 10 wounded, and four (one adult male, one boy, and two females) taken prisoners".[9][10] A large majority of the wounded would be expected to die from their wounds, because Aboriginal medicine was ill-equipped to deal with gunshot wounds.[11]

The report of Protector Moorhouse, however, was disputed by the head of the overlanders, William Robinson. Robinson stated that "thirty to forty were killed, and as many wounded".[9] The report of Protector Moorhouse was also later disputed by James Collins Hawker. Hawker told the following, in his book Early Experiences in South Australia (1899: p. 79).

The firing lasted about fifteen minutes, 30 natives were killed, 10 wounded and 4 taken prisoner ... This was the Protector's report but in after years when I was residing on the Murray and had learnt the language of the natives, I ascertained that a much larger number had been killed....

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "Rufus River", Wentworth Shire Council, retrieved 26 September 2018.
  2. ^ "Rufus River Massacre", Culture Victoria, retrieved 25 September 2018.
  3. ^ "Rufus River Massacre", Murray River Heritage, retrieved 19 February 2014.
  4. ^ a b c "Friction between overlanders and Australian Aboriginals". State Library of South Australia. Retrieved 28 August 2018.
  5. ^ a b Coulthard-Clark C. (2001), "Rufus River", Encyclopaedia of Australia's Battles (Allen & Unwin).
  6. ^ Foster R., Nettelbeck A. (2011), Out of the Silence, p. 32-39 (Wakefield Press).
  7. ^ "Inquiry into the circumstances attending the death of a number of natives on the Murray". South Australian Register. 25 September 1841. p. 3-4 – via Trove.
  8. ^ Burke H., Roberts A., Morrison M., Sullivan V., The River Murray and Mallee Aboriginal Corporation (2016), "The space of conflict: Aboriginal/European interactions and frontier violence on the western Central Murray, South Australia, 1830–41", Aboriginal History, 40: 145-179.
  9. ^ a b "Fatal Affray With The Natives In South Australia: Report of Mr. Moorhouse to His Excellency the Governor", Port Phillip Patriot and Melbourne Advertiser, 14 October 1841, p. 2 - via Trove.
  10. ^ Tolmer A. (1882), Reminiscences of an Adventurous and Chequered Career at Home and at the Antipodes—Vol. I, chap. 20 (London: Sampson Low, Marston, Searle, & Rivington).
  11. ^ "The Rufus River Massacre", Sovereign Union of First Nations and Peoples in Australia.

Further reading[edit]

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