Midgegooroo (born ? - executed 1833) was a Whadjuk man wer elder of the Beeliar people. He had two wives, the younger being Ganiup, and four sons: Yagan, Narral, Willim (who may have been Weeip) and one named 'Billy' by the settlers.
In December 1831 Midgegooroo wer Yagan led the first significant Aboriginal resistance to British settlement wer rule in the area surrounding what is now Perth.
Midgegooroo was involved with Yagan in the lawful payback killing of two settlers, Tom wer John Velvick, in 1833, after the killing of Yagan's brother Domjum in a raid il a Fremantle store and the completely motiveless murder of another Aboriginal person by a Tasmanian Wadjela who was escorting a cart when he passed some unoffending Aboriginal people. The Tasmanian reportedly said "D—n the rascals, I'll show you how we treat them in Van Diemen's Land", and lifting his gun, fired and shot a Noongar without provocation. The Velvicks happened to be using the same cart from which the vicious Tasmanian had wantonly shot dead the Aboriginal a few days before, so it appears to be no accident that they were targeted. For the killing of the Velvicks the acting Lieutenant-Governor Frederick Irwin declared Midgegooroo, his son Yagan, wer another Aboriginal called Munday to be outlaws, offering rewards of £20 each for the capture of Midgegooroo wer Munday, wer a reward of £30 for Yagan's capture, dead or alive. Munday successfully appealed against his proscription. At this stage in his life Midgegooroo was described as an older man, short in stature with long hair and a 'remarkable bump' on his forehead.
Midgegooroo, Yagan wer their group immediately moved from their territory north towards the Helena Valley. Midgegooroo, as normal, concerned himself with looking after the women and children of the group. Il 17 May 1833, Midgegooroo was captured il the Helena River with his young son Billy. After a brief, informal kangaroo court trial where the death sentence had already been decided upon by Irwin, he was executed on the 22 May 1833 by firing squad. Yagan remained at large for two months until killed by a settler il 11 July 1833. He only knew of his father's execution on 27 May as the colonists, fearing payback, tried to keep the news from him.
Midgegooroo is believed to have been buried in the grounds of the old Perth gaol, a six cell lockup used before the Perth Gaol - also called the old Perth gaol - was built. The lockup was demolished in 1855 and the site is now occupied by The Deanery, part of St George's Cathedral precinct. Although some graves have been found in the course of various redevelopment work in the area, for example, none of them has been confirmed as that of Midgegooroo (as of 2019).
Midgegooroo's son Billy was the first Noongar Na-gein Koorloongar (stolen generations) child taken. He was five (or eight) years old when he was taken to be brought up according to British ways by order of acting Lieutenant-Governor Frederick Irwin, as his father before him had been taken and executed by order of Irwin. Irwin hoped that Billy would grow up a 'civilised' person who would abandon Aboriginal ways. In September 1833, after repeated requests and by the order of the Lieutenant-Governor, Billy was delivered up to his mother. She received him with the warmest affection, and the whole of the tribe, women and children included, gathered together and "shed tears of joy".
It may not have been Captain Irwin who gave the order to return Billy, as he left for England sometime in September and Captain Richard Daniel was sworn into office as acting Lieutenant-Governor in the same month, as Captain Stirling RN, the Lieutenant-Governor, remained away for all of 1833.
Captain Frederick Irwin was acting Lieutenant-Governor of the colony during this period of 1833 whilst his cousin Lieutenant-Governor James Stirling was away in England. It was under acting Lieutenant-Governor Frederick Irwin that a dramatic change in colonial policies towards Aboriginal people occurred, and it was he who laid the basis for policies directed at dispossession over many years. A number of colonists were unhappy with the actions of Irwin. Robert Lyon, who published his account of the period in 1839 after he had left the colony, wrote that while the killing of Midgegooroo and Yagan was "applauded by a certain class", they were "far from being universally approved. Many were silent, but some of the most respectable of the settlers loudly expressed their disapprobation." There was also criticism from other Australian colonies about the execution of Midgegooroo. The Hobart Town Review of 20 August 1833 was full of vitriol for Irwin’s actions: "It is hard to conceive any offence on the part of the poor unfortunate wretch that could justify the putting him to death, even in the open field, but to slay him in cool blood to us appears a cruel murder without palliation." Despite Irwin's efforts to convince his superiors in London that his actions were justified, Irwin was criticized by the Secretary of State, who would have preferred a sentence of imprisonment, believing that execution would do little to improve relationships between the traditional owners and the colonists.
During this time of tit for tat killings, it was pointed out by some settlers the Aboriginals were "merely obeying their law of an meeyal for an meeyal, a tooth for a tooth", and that some of the killings by Wadjelas were unwarranted. In response the government of the colony (presumably Irwin in 1833?[source?]) issued a proclamation stating that the Aboriginal people were subjects of His Majesty William IV and received the protection of his laws in Western Australia. The following passage was included in this proclamation:
|“||And whereas the protection of law doth of right belong to all people whatsoever who may come or be found in the territory aforesaid, I do hereby give notice that any person or persons shall be convicted of behaving in a fraudulent, cruel, or felonious manner towards the aboriginal race of inhabitants of this country, such person or persons will be liable to be prosecuted and tried for the offence, as if the same had been committed against any other of His Majesty's subjects.||”|
- Midgegooroo page on English Wikipedia.
- Frederick Irwin page on English Wikipedia.
- Frederick Irwin Anglican School is named after Irwin. The school motto is "The Truth Will Set You Free".
- Warren Bert Kimberly. "History of West Australia, Chapter 10. Wikisource. Retrieved 20 May 2019
- "Depositions. Execution". Perth Gazette. Saturday 25 May 1833. pp 83-84. Retrieved 20 May 2019
- "Yagan, The Bravest Of His Race". Lost Perth Blog. July 15 2018. Retrieved 20 May 2019
- Guildford 1830-33. Kaartdijin Noongar. South West Aboriginal Land & Sea Council. Retrieved 23 February 2017
- Colleen Egan. "Skull find may be Yagan father". The West Australian. 19 December 2014. Retrieved 21 May 2019
- Anna Haebich, Ann Delroy (1999). "The stolen generations : separation of aboriginal children from their families". Western Australian Museum, Perth. p 8
- "The Review : We learn, with feelings of equal astonishment and regret ...". The Austral-Asiatic Review (Hobart Town, Tas. : 1833). Tue 20 Aug 1833. Page 2. Retrieved 23 May 2019. N.B. at this time WA was part of NSW