Aboriginal Freedom Fighters Remembered

On January 20, 2008 over sixty people, indigenous and non-indigenous, gathered at the corner of Franklin and Bowen Street, Melbourne, opposite the City Baths to remember Tasmanian Aborigines Tunnerminnerwait (Jack of Cape Grim) and Maulboyheenner (Peevay), the 166th anniversary of the judicial murder of these two indigenous freedom fighters. They were the first public executions in Melbourne on January 20, 1842, before a crowd of 5,000 people - about a quarter of Victoria's European population at the time.

Commemoration website | Photos

"Every Australian knows the story of Ned Kelly. Few know the remarkable story of Tunnerminnerwait, Maulboyheenner, Pyterruner, Truganini and Planobeena – a story of revolt, passion, courage, murder, armed resistance and execution." said a statement on the Commemoration website. The Commemoration Committee was launched in August 2007 to bring this largely untold and forgotten story to public attention. The Committee is convened by Dr Joseph Toscano, with the patron being Carolyn Briggs - Elders Spokesperson for Boon wurrung Elders Land Council.

The Commemoration Committee has called for the erection of a public monument to publicly acknowledge this story and its contribution to the history of Melbourne.

"Considering the number of statutes and monuments that have been erected around Melbourne to honour the Europeans who founded it, it would be appropriate if a public monument was erected on the spot Tunnerminnerwait and Maulboyheenner were executed to mark their contribution to the story of the City of Melbourne." said the statement on the Comemoration Committee website.

Tunnerminnerwait and Maulboyheenner were amoung 5 Tasmanian Aborigines who conducted a campaign of resistance to European settlement in 1841. The other three were Pyterruner, Truganini and Planobeena. They had been brought to Melbourne by the officially appointed Protector of Aborigines, George Augustus Robinson.

They raided station after station from Dandenong to Cape Paterson. They stole firearms and burnt down stations, trying to avoid unnecessary deaths and gunfights. They killed 2 whalers, Cook and Yankee, wounded 5 settlers, burnt down numerous farmhouses and evaded capture for 8 weeks. Three military expeditions were launched against them. Although they set out to drive the settlers from the bush, they didn't harm women or children and only fired at those that fired at them. Considering the outrages that had been perpetrated on them and their families in Tasmania, it´s extraordinary that they didn´t kill many more settlers when they had the opportunity to even up the score.

Their capture was effected by an overwhelming party of soldiers, police, settlers and black trackers near Anderson´s Inlet, not far from Cape Patterson. During the 8 weeks of their roaming, reports of their feats sent a shiver down the spine of the Europeans who were living in Melbourne and its surrounds.

They arrived in chains under military escort in Melbourne on 21st November 1841. All 5 were charged with murder and appeared in court before Judge Willis on the 20th December 1841. The jury delivered a verdict after half an hour finding the men guilty of murder, and the women not guilty. The jury made a very strong plea for clemency for the men ´on account of general good character and the peculiar circumstances under which they are placed´.

The next day Judge Willis sentenced the 2 men to death and the 3 women were discharged into Robinson´s care. The jury´s plea for mercy was rejected by the Executive Council of New South Wales. On the 20th January 1842 Tunnerminnerwait and Maulboyheenner were led to the scaffold, where the current RMIT building is located. Here they were hanged watched by a crowd of about 5,000. The first public judicial execution in Melbourne.

Tunnerminnerwait and Maulboyheenner were buried outside the Melbourne cemetery (under the current Victoria Market).

The Commemoration Committee formed with the aims:

  • To hold a yearly commemmoration on the 20 of January at the site the execution took place - (Cnr Bowen & Franklin Sts, Melbourne)
  • To acknowledge the injustce of what happened on the 21st of January 1842,
  • To highlight the unfinished business that still exists between indigenous and non indigenous Australians
  • To work towards the establishment of a significant public monument to publicly acknowledge what happened on that fateful day


  1. Jack of Cape Grim by Jan Roberts, Greenhouse Publications 1986, ISBN 086436007X
  2. MIM January 26, 2007 Indigenous Resistance Fighters Remembered
  3. MIM 20 Jan 2007 - Indigenous Resistance in the Hidden Frontier War in Victoria
  4. MIM 27 Jan 2006 - Culture Wars Counter Attack: Remembering Aboriginal Resistance to the Invasion
  5. Commemoration Committee website

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