Coutt's Crossing extract

from Reference 24

Thomas Coutts emigrated to Sydney about 1817 in company with his brothers John, Donald, James and sister Ann. He had eight children with Maria, all born in Sydney, except the youngest who was buried at "Ellangowan" with its mother.

"The Coutts Family History" states that Thomas with his two brothers went whaling for about two years before settling on the Clarence River near Grafton, New South Wales. One brother was speared by aboriginals and a cousin who came from England was lost in the Charleville District, Queensland and never heard of again. In 1840 Thomas settled at Kangaroo Creek. The hardships were detailed in the "Argus" of June 11th 1886 in the "Personal recollections of the Early History of the Clarence", an address delivered in the School of Arts on 8th June, 1886.

'In the year 1840 Mr Coutts located on this river at Kangaroo Creek, about thirty miles inland, and at that time his cattle numbered between 800 and 900, his sheep upwards of 5,000, but owing to the repeated depredations of the blacks he can now only muster half his quantity of cattle and sheep; he has never sold or boiled down a single head, nor has he killed more than the immediate wants of the station, yet, notwithstanding a lapse of eight years, instead of his stock showing a large increase there is a reduction to half the number. There has, moreover, been two of his men murdered by the blacks, as was also a fine, intelligent boy who was most barbarously so no later than twelve months since. Protection was applied for in the proper quarter, but none was rendered.'

Oral history says he was responsible for murdering many aborigines by poisoning. An account of this is outlined in "A History of Coutts Crossing....". The Government Gazette of 1848 describes the Kangaroo Creek run as follows: No. 7 Coutts, Thomas, Name of Run - Kangaroo Creek. Estimated Area - 53,760 acres. Estimated grazing capacity - 560 cattle and 7,500 sheep. "Coutts poisoned a group of local aborigines at his station of Kangaroo Creek. There are two basic conflicting accounts of how this was done; the blacks claimed that Coutts gave them the flour that had been laced with arsenic, while the other story as told by Thomas Bawden and reported in other books, was that the poisoned flour was placed in a hut where it was subsequently stolen. Whether Coutts gave the poison to the blacks or placed it in a position where he knew it would be stolen matters little, for in either case it amounted to premeditated murder".

As previously described, by 1848, Thomas had lost half his original stock and at the same time two of his shepherds and a youth had been killed by aboriginals. "It seems that Oliver Fry, the Police Commissioner, did not think there was any need to investigate the young man's death and later used Coutts' treatment of the aborigines as an excuse for his lack of action". Supplies had been constantly stolen and crops stripped before they could be harvested. "That Coutts and/or his men had probably brought this situation upon themselves by their own treatment of the aborigines is more than likely... As a result of the deaths from poisoning several of the tribe who had escaped the fate reported to Commissioner Fry that Mr Coutts had given them poisoned flour, and a few days later the Commissioner together with two policemen and a chief constable, accompanied by one of the Coutts' servants who was under arrest at the time, left Grafton in the direction of Coutts' station. Two days later they returned with Mr Coutts in custody.

The Commissioner's party on leaving Grafton had headed first for the camp of the blacks where they were shown seven bodies and a piece of damper that was supposed to have caused the deaths. Four of the bodies, apparently had been found at a waterhole. Armed with his evidence and an affidavit of the arrested servant who was in custody on a charge of horse-stealing, Fry placed Coutts under arrest. When the hearing before the bench in Grafton took place, two of Coutts' servants claimed no knowledge of the events other than information given them by the natives, and a third servant, presumably the horse-thief claimed that he had seen Coutts hand a bag, which he presumed contained flour to the blacks, while at the same time holding a paper in his other hand which he assumed had held the poison.

The bench in committing Coutts allowed bail of 1,000 pounds, and two sureities of 500 pound each. These sureties were not forthcoming, and Coutts was forwarded to Sydney on the next steamer.

On 2nd February 1848 Mr Justice Manning was reported in the Herald as having released Coutts on bail of 500 pound and two sureties. No record has been found of further hearings and it is assumed that under the circumstances of Fry's lack of action prior to the crime Coutts was freed.

"Some reports stated that as many as 20 blacks were poisoned, truly a tragedy that should never have occurred had the government of the day not allowed indescriminate settlement without due regard for the traditional occupiers, the aborigines. The natives, for their part, had their own ideas of justice and retaliation, for on the 9th April 1848 another shepherd was killed and some 900 sheep of Coutts' were stolen. In his book "Settlement of Guy Fawkes and Dorrigo" Eric Fahey was of the opinion that Coutts was the owner of Bald Hills run at the time of the Meldrum Massacre in 1851 and that the account of the atrocity that follows was a continuation of the Coutts/aborigine conflict.

Coutts was thought to be the owner of the station Bald Hills at this time, but in our research we noted that in the Baker's Australian Atlas mapped in July 1846 it is Dangar's name that appears at Bald Hills run. It seems likely, therefore, that Coutts did manage to sell this property as a result of his 1844 advertisement. The natives, of course, may not have known of the transfer of ownership, or then again the massacre could have been in retaliation after the Myall Massacre that occurred on another of Dangar's runs a few years earlier". Coutts hung on for about two years longer and then sold out and formed "Tooloom Station", but did not remain there long. From a letter of Fred Tindal, dated 12th February, 1852, we learn that Coutts had met with disaster on his new station on the Dawson River in Queensland. The blacks killed some of his men and drove off his sheep. His name remains in Coutts' Crossing in New South Wales".