Arie Baelde

This is the first in a four-part series that explores colonial impacts on local Aboriginal peoples based on original diaries and texts.

A monument in stone

On the intersection below the former Franklinford Methodist Church stands a memorial cairn dedicated to Wesleyan preacher, Edward Stone Parker. The cairn was constructed in 1965 commemorating the 100th anniversary of the death of E.S. Parker, Assistant Protector of Aborigines from 1839 until 1849, when the Protectorate system was abolished. Further west down the hill are the sites of the former Loddon Aboriginal Protectorate Station, the 1849-1864 Aboriginal School, along with the Protectorate era graveyard at the back of the more recent Franklinford cemetery.

Edward Stone Parker (1802-1865), Assistant Protector of Aborigines, Port Phillip, 1839-49. (Image: State Library of Victoria)

Parker’s letters and diaries are amongst the earliest written history of our area providing witness to the consequences of colonial settlement around today’s Wombat Forest. Parker was preceded by an array of adventurers, misfits, retired army officers and businessmen who had followed Major Mitchell’s 1836 dray tracks south. Alexander Mollison arrived in April 1837 in search of a run, taking with him two overseers, 49 servants, 5,000 sheep, 634 cattle, 28 bullocks and 22 horses. After travelling over 600 km overland he decided to settle on the Coliban River near present day Kyneton. Captain John Hepburn squatted at Smeaton Hill (Mt Kooroocheang) in April 1838.

To the south of today’s Wombat Forest, squatters landed with sheep mostly from Van Diemen’s Land. Captain William Henry Bacchus arrived in January 1838 with 2,000 sheep, taking up the Lardedark run. In 1840 Charles Griffith and James Moore, Irish barristers established Glenmore in the Parwan valley. To the west Campbell and Dr Henry Wilsone occupied Upper Weirriby Station with 9,000 sheep near present day Ballan.

How did the colonists and British society in general view this taking of Aboriginal land? How are the colonists and those they displaced remembered today? This story will end in the cemetery but we must first follow the eagle’s rise over Lalkambuk/Mt Franklin towards the forest until we see the flattened out landscape in its entirety; plains, forest, swamps, rivers and sea. To the south is Wadawurrung Country with its coastal resources, volcanic plains, rivers and lakes, to the north Dja Dja Wurung country with its volcanic uplands, rivers, swamps and loamy low lands. Early survey maps and drawings show that the fertile plains on either side of the divide were sparsely dotted by trees much as they are today, maintained by frequent Aboriginal burning. Into this “Gentleman’s Park” rode the squatters, their overseers, shepherds and flocks.

A warm argument at dinner

Soon after his arrival and having met Aboriginal people for the first time, the legally educated squatter, Charles Griffith of Glenmore, near Bacchus Marsh wrote:

“Had a very warm argument at dinner on the subject of the treatment of the natives and of the injustice of Englishmen coming out and depriving them of their country. If civilized men have no right to take possession of a country which savages have for centuries left uncultivated and in its unimproved condition incapable of maintaining more than a few miserable hordes and even those in the lowest state of social existence — if this be the case, no treatment of them can cure our original defect of title and the sooner that every Englishman packs up and returns home the better — but I maintain that this is not the case. I conceive that by their lacks they have forfeited their original right… The contact of extreme civilization and absolute barbarism must always be productive of an immensity of mischief.”

This mischief was not new to the colonial office. The consequences of the ‘Black War’ in Van Diemen’s Land were regarded as a stain upon the reputation of the colonial government and of the colonists. In 1833, the British government spent 40 per cent of its annual budget (around 18 Billion pounds in today’s money) to recompense 46,000 slave owners for their ‘loss of property’ after the abolition of slavery. Prominent anti slavery campaigners turned their attention to the plight of Aboriginal people in British colonies. They convinced the government to conduct a Select Committee on Aborigines (1835-1837). The committee recommended the establishment of a system of Aboriginal ‘protection’. The Aboriginal Protection Society was formed to lobby government to implement the committee’s recommendations. The society later merged with the Anti Slavery Society to eventually form what is today called Anti-Slavery International.

In New South Wales and Van Diemen’s Land the European colonies developed slowly, dependent as they were on the long and thin supply lines from the motherland. In Port Phillip, however, the squatters came primed with stock and seed from existing Australian settlements and the impact on the local Aboriginal people was almost immediate. Conflict was inevitable. In 1839 the colonial office appointed George Augustus Robinson as Chief Protector for the Port Phillip District with four Assistant Protectors including E.S. Parker. They were given the following instructions:

It will be your duty generally to watch over the rights and interests of the natives and to endeavour to gain their respect and confidence. You will, as far as you are able by your personal exertions and influence, protect them from any encroachments on their property and from acts of cruelty, oppression or injustice.


Aitken, Wendy, ‘Indigenous Policy Failure and its Historical Foundations’,  International Journal of Critical Indigenous Studies Volume 2, Number 1, 2009

Cahir, Fred ‘The Wathawurrung People’s Encounters with Outside Forces 1797-1849: A History of Conciliation and Conflict.’ PhD thesis, University of Ballarat, 2001.

Clark, Ian D., ‘Squatters Journals,’ The Latrobe Journal No. 43. Autumn 1989.

Golding, Barry, ‘Beyond contact’ ,

Morrison, Edgar, ‘A successful failure’, First published in three volumes 1965-71, republished Graffiti Publications, 2002. Available from Daylesford Museum.


Next week: Part 2: Acts of cruelty and injustice.

Arie Baelde is a local resident and agronomist who has an interest in local history.