In 2018 the Australian Maritime Museum received a donation of papers belonging to First Lieutenant William Bradley, who sailed aboard HMS Sirius in the First Fleet. This extraordinarily generous gift to the nation had been passed down through five generations of Bradley’s English descendants, which included two vice-admirals.
Bradley was a cartographer and diarist. His carefully drawn maps and detailed notes recorded his exploration of Port Jackson and its tributaries. On 5th February 1788 Bradley accompanied Captain John Hunter on an expedition to survey the course of the Parramatta River. Stopping for breakfast on a narrow spit of land the party encountered a group from the Wangal clan, the first contact between British and Dharug people. The spot was named Breakfast Point on Bradley’s map.
Bradley’s map identified a number of other places, some of which were copied on the official charts sent to the Admiralty. However, when historians examined Bradley’s original log they discovered the name “Bloody Point” had been omitted.
Dr Stephen Gapp, Curator at the National Maritime Museum began a search to locate this feature and learn why it was so named. Gapp examined accounts of early clashes between settlers and aborigines.
One in particular involved two convicts sent to cut rushes for thatch. Their bodies were discovered several days later and returned to the settlement. It was clear they had died a violent death and the mutilation of their bodies suggested this had been an act of revenge. Governor Phillip speculated that the men might have tried to steal a native canoe, nawi.
For the Wangal this was a significant cultural item. Not only did it represent a considerable investment in its making, it was essential to their whole way of life. Dr Gapp writes in “Contested Waterways – Aboriginal Resistance in Early Colonial Sydney” (“Signal” Issue No. 123 Australian Maritime Museum 2018) that the nawi was an effective weapon against the British as it facilitated the ambush raids used to resist the colonists’ incursions into their traditional lands.
Phillip decided to meet this challenge with a show of strength and ordered a detachment to find an aboriginal group and return with six severed heads. The attack was carried out reversing an order Phillip had been given to endeavour to make friends with the aborigines. Some historians refer to the on-going clashes that followed as the “Frontier Wars”.
The description in contemporary records of where the two convicts were murdered is ambiguous – only saying that the event took place “in a bay up the harbour”. This was assumed to be Rushcutter’s Bay (hence its name). Using Bradley’s original map and notes, Gapp argues the actual location was “Bloody Point” – the present-day site of the UTS Rowing Club in Iron Cove. This is supported by reference to there being two streams entering the bay where the convicts were left to cut rushes. The UTS site, according to Bradley’s map is the only place where this occurs.
Why does it matter? Apart from the obvious merit in setting the facts right, it means that the city of Canada Bay can lay claim to two landmark events in Australian history: the first contact between the British and the indigenous people of Sydney and the beginning of the “Frontier Wars”.