Daniel Mow-watty (c.1791-1816)

The Boy Who Strayed From The Bush Path

By Michaela Ann Cameron

They called him ‘Daniel.’ But those who adopted and ‘reared’ the little orphan boy of the Darug people ‘from his infancy’[1] and others who knew him well typically referred to him simply as ‘Dan.’[2] His name meant ‘God is my judge’ and had belonged to an exiled Hebrew prophet of Judah who, as a captive but loyal servant, interpreted the dreams of a Babylonian king and was protected by God when thrown into a lions’ den.[3]

‘They’ were the Partridges; First Fleet convicts Richard ‘The Left-Handed Flogger’ and Mary, and their children Richard and Mary Ann. Despite being raised by these white settlers, Daniel maintained strong links to his own people, their language, and traditional knowledge of the environment. The result was that, for much of his life, Daniel appeared to be a model version of an Aboriginal who conformed to European ideas of ‘civility’ whilst retaining traditional knowledge that might prove useful to the colonists. From early adolescence, for example, he served as a trustworthy bilingual, bicultural Aboriginal guide to botanist George Caley,[4] which may have inspired the Aboriginal name Daniel began using in adolescence: Mow-watty or Moowattin, ‘bush path.’[5]

Far From The Bush Path

In his capacity as Aboriginal guide, Daniel Mow-watty travelled with Caley to Norfolk Island, Tasmania, and Nattai (present-day Appin) and became the third Aboriginal person to travel to England, where he stayed for approximately a year.[6] Reports relating to Daniel Mow-watty’s time in England, however, indicate that far from being the ideal version of a bicultural individual within whom the best of both cultures harmoniously coexisted, he was feeling increasingly torn between two identities that were not fully integrated: ‘Daniel’ and ‘Mow-watty.’

‘Daniel’ admired English ‘manners and customs,’ and music[7]; thought the English ‘horses fine, the men strong, the women beautiful,’ and wore the latest English fashions so that he was ‘to all intents and purposes a black beau.’[8] Eager to please and be accepted by the white settlers in the colony who were his family and friends, he ‘avowed a determination to conform to [English manners and customs] entirely’ upon his return to New South Wales.[9] Yet, on the same trip to England in 1811 ‘Mow-watty’ ‘expressed great surprise at the extent of London; thought there were too many houses; trees were much wanted; could not imagine how all the people got food; thought the weather was “sower cold;” [and] clouds too near the ground…’[10] To pastoralist William Lawson he confessed, ‘I am anxious to return to my own Country, I find more pleasure under a Gum tree sitting with my tribe than I do here.’[11] Caley’s young guide had also begun to drink heavily, causing an angry Caley to strike the 20 year old so forcefully he broke his own thumb in the process.[12]

Upon his return Daniel ‘worked as any other labourer, received wages, and lived as labourers generally do,’[13] but he abandoned this European lifestyle when he declared to Reverend Samuel Marsden, ‘Me like the bush best’[14] and ‘return[ed] naked in the woods.’[15] Committing fully to his identity as ‘Mow-watty,’ however, invariably caused ‘Daniel’ to feel the call of the life and culture he left behind.

The Exile, Daniel, Ignores the Decree

“Now, O king, establish the decree, and sign the writing, that it be not changed, according to the law of the Medes and Persians, which altereth not…Daniel, which is of the children of the captivity of Judah, regardeth not thee, O king, nor the decree that thou hast signed…Know, O king, that the law of the Medes and Persians is, That no decree nor statute which the king establisheth may be changed.”[16] – The Book of Daniel

When Daniel cast off his European raiment and returned to the bush in 1816 he violently raped and robbed 15-year-old currency lass Hannah Russell.[17] A few days later Daniel was apprehended by Parramatta Constable James Oldgate and surrendered the money he stole from the girl, telling Oldgate, who had known him for well over a decade, ‘that he could not live in the bush now, from his being so habituated to the white people’s mode of living.’[18]

All who knew Daniel in the settler society, including Reverend Marsden and George Blaxland, knew with absolute certainty that he,‘from long experience, with our manners and customs,…had a thorough discrimination between right and wrong…’[19] Though aboriginal violence towards settlers was dealt with outside of the law in this period,[20] Daniel Mow-watty was clearly perceived as being part of the settler community — whether he felt that way himself or not. His name, then, turned out to be sadly ironic; straying from the ‘bush path’ and dabbling in European lifeways had made ‘Mow-watty’ uniquely subject to settler law,[21] and unlike the prophet ‘Daniel,’ after whom he was originally named, God was not to be his only judge. Daniel Mow-watty became the first Aboriginal person to be tried by a Superior Court in New South Wales[22] and when he was thrown into that lions’ den, nothing and nobody could save him.[23]

Daniel in the Lions’ Den

“Then the king commanded, and they brought Daniel, and cast him into the den of lions. Now the king spake and said unto Daniel, May thy God, whom thou servest continually, deliver thee!”[24] – The Book of Daniel 

The Court found Daniel Mow-watty guilty of rape and robbery and gave him the death sentence.[25] He was about 24 years old at the time; roughly the same age his adopted parents were when they both received sentences to hang in England. But, unlike Richard and Mary Partridge, for Dan there would be no mercy.

On Friday 1 November 1816, Governor Lachlan Macquarie recorded in his journal:

‘This morning were executed, agreeably to their respective Sentences, the three Criminals under Sentence of Death – namely – Thomas Collins and Hugh McLair – for High-way Robbery – and Daniel Mowwatting (a Black Native of this Colony) for Rape and Robbery on a young Female White Woman a native of this Colony. – The three malefactors confessed their Crimes – and all Died Penitent.’[26]

Thus Daniel Mow-watty became the first Aboriginal man (legally) executed in the colony.[27]

Twenty-six years after his execution, the Australasian Chronicle wrote a feature article on the ‘Australian Natives – Moo-wat-tin and Be-ne-long.’ With the predictably unashamed lumping together of aboriginal people into one homogeneous mass, the journalist wrote in 1842, ‘The general conduct of these men was so similar that the particulars relating to [Moo-wat-tin] may be sufficient to show the character and disposition of both, perhaps of all.’[28] It should come as no surprise, then, to discover that the same journalist was blissfully unaware of Mow-watty’s true fate:

‘As in the case of his predecessor Be-ne-long, Moo-wat-tin, for some time after his return to New South Wales, retained the manners of an European. He treated those of his tribe with the greatest disdain, and seemed to cultivate a friendly intercourse with the free settlers; but he possessed no habits of industry and nature could not be subdued. Liberty amongst his native woods and wilds had charms that rendered irksome the kindness of strangers, and dulled every sense of the superior enjoyments of civilisation. He returned to his original pursuits, to a state of nakedness and of precarious existence, and has rarely been seen since by any of the settlers of the colony.’[29]

Mow-watty’s tragedy was that the choice between settler society and the bush path was never that simple.

References

“Australian Natives: Moo-wat-tin and Be-ne-long,” Australasian Chronicle (Sydney, NSW: 1839-1843), Saturday 23 July 1842, p.4 http://trove.nla.gov.au/newspaper/article/31736634/4232766 accessed 26 March 2016

Michaela Ann Cameron, “Richard Partridge: The Left-Handed Flogger,” St. John’s Cemetery Project, (2016) http://stjohnscemeteryproject.org/bio/richard-partridge/, accessed 29 March 2016

Lisa Ford and Brent Salter, “From Pluralism to Territorial Sovereignty: The 1816 Trial of Mow-watty in the Superior Court of New South Wales,” Indigenous Law Journal, Vol.7, Issue 1 (2008): 67-86

Lachlan Macquarie, “Lachlan Macquarie’s Journal,” Friday 1 November 1816, http://www.mq.edu.au/macquarie-archive/lema/1816/1816nov.htm accessed 26 March 2016.

Keith Vincent Smith, “Moowattin, Daniel (1791-1816),” Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/moowattin-daniel-13107/text23713, published first in hardcopy 2005, accessed 29 March 2016

Trove

Notes

[1]Court of Criminal Jurisdiction,” Sydney Gazette and New South Wales Advertiser (NSW: 1803-1842), Saturday 28 September 1816, p.2, accessed 26 March 2016

[2] Botanist George Caley marked all the botanical samples collected by Daniel as ‘Got by Dan.’ Keith Vincent Smith, “Moowattin, Daniel (1791–1816),” Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, published first in hardcopy 2005, accessed 30 March 2016

[3] King Nebuchadnezzar II of Babylon. See “The Book of Daniel,” King James Bible Online, accessed 29 March 2016

[4]Court of Criminal Jurisdiction,” Sydney Gazette and New South Wales Advertiser (NSW: 1803-1842), Saturday 28 September 1816, pp.1-2, accessed 26 March 2016; Keith Vincent Smith, “Moowattin, Daniel (1791–1816),” Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, published first in hardcopy 2005, accessed 30 March 2016

[5] Keith Vincent Smith, “Moowattin, Daniel (1791–1816),” Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, published first in hardcopy 2005, accessed 26 March 2016

[6]Court of Criminal Jurisdiction,” Sydney Gazette and New South Wales Advertiser (NSW: 1803-1842), Saturday 28 September 1816, pp.1-2, accessed 26 March 2016; Keith Vincent Smith, “Moowattin, Daniel (1791–1816),” Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, published first in hardcopy 2005, accessed 30 March 2016

[7]Court of Criminal Jurisdiction,” Sydney Gazette and New South Wales Advertiser (NSW: 1803-1842), Saturday 28 September 1816, p.2, accessed 26 March 2016; “Australian Natives: Moo-wat-tin and Be-ne-long,” Australasian Chronicle (Sydney, NSW: 1839-1843), Saturday 23 July 1842, p.4, accessed 26 March 2016

[8]Australian Natives: Moo-wat-tin and Be-ne-long,” Australasian Chronicle (Sydney, NSW: 1839-1843), Saturday 23 July 1842, p.4, accessed 26 March 2016; “Moowattye,” Sydney Gazette and New South Wales Advertiser (NSW: 1803-1842), Saturday 23 May 1812, p.3, accessed 4 April 2016

[9]Court of Criminal Jurisdiction,” Sydney Gazette and New South Wales Advertiser (NSW: 1803-1842), Saturday 28 September 1816, p.2, accessed 26 March 2016

[10]Australian Natives: Moo-wat-tin and Be-ne-long,” Australasian Chronicle (Sydney, NSW: 1839-1843), Saturday 23 July 1842, p.4, accessed 26 March 2016

[11] William Lawson recounting Mow-watty’s conversation, cited in Keith Vincent Smith, Mari Nawi: Aboriginal Odysseys (Dural Delivery Centre, NSW: Rosenberg, 2010) p.126

[12] Keith Vincent Smith, “Moowattin, Daniel (1791-1816),” Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, published first in hardcopy 2005, accessed 29 March 2016, accessed 26 March 2016

[13]Court of Criminal Jurisdiction,” Sydney Gazette and New South Wales Advertiser (NSW: 1803-1842), Saturday 28 September 1816, p.2, accessed 26 March 2016

[14] Suttor to Banks, November 1812 cited in R. Hawkins Aboriginal Life in the Blue Gum High Forest (unpublished manuscript, 2011) p.16; “Moowattin,” Beecroft-Cheltenham History Group, accessed 29 March 2016

[15]Court of Criminal Jurisdiction,” Sydney Gazette and New South Wales Advertiser (NSW: 1803-1842), Saturday 28 September 1816, p.2, accessed 26 March 2016

[16]The Book of Daniel,” King James Bible Online, accessed 29 March 2016

[17]Court of Criminal Jurisdiction,” Sydney Gazette and New South Wales Advertiser (NSW: 1803-1842), Saturday 28 September 1816, p.2, accessed 26 March 2016

[18]Court of Criminal Jurisdiction,” Sydney Gazette and New South Wales Advertiser (NSW: 1803-1842), Saturday 28 September 1816, p.2, accessed 26 March 2016

[19]Court of Criminal Jurisdiction,” Sydney Gazette and New South Wales Advertiser (NSW: 1803-1842), Saturday 28 September 1816, p.2, accessed 26 March 2016

[20] Lisa Ford and Brent Salter, “From Pluralism to Territorial Sovereignty: The 1816 Trial of Mow-watty in the Superior Court of New South Wales,” Indigenous Law Journal, Vol.7, Issue 1 (2008): 72

[21] Lisa Ford and Brent Salter, “From Pluralism to Territorial Sovereignty: The 1816 Trial of Mow-watty in the Superior Court of New South Wales,” Indigenous Law Journal, Vol.7, Issue 1 (2008): 69, 75-7

[22] Lisa Ford and Brent Salter, “From Pluralism to Territorial Sovereignty: The 1816 Trial of Mow-watty in the Superior Court of New South Wales,” Indigenous Law Journal, Vol.7, Issue 1 (2008): 67-9

[23]The Book of Daniel,” King James Bible Online, accessed 29 March 2016

[24]The Book of Daniel,” King James Bible Online, accessed 29 March 2016

[25]Sydney,” Sydney Gazette and New South Wales Advertiser (NSW: 1803-1842), Saturday 2 November 1816, p.2, accessed 26 March 2016

[26] Lachlan Macquarie Journal, Friday 1 November 1816, accessed 26 March 2016; “Sydney,” Sydney Gazette and New South Wales Advertiser (NSW: 1803-1842), Saturday 2 November 1816, p.2, accessed 26 March 2016

[27] Lisa Ford and Brent Salter, “From Pluralism to Territorial Sovereignty: The 1816 Trial of Mow-watty in the Superior Court of New South Wales,” Indigenous Law Journal, Vol.7, Issue 1 (2008): 67

[28]Australian Natives: Moo-wat-tin and Be-ne-long,” Australasian Chronicle (Sydney, NSW: 1839-1843), Saturday 23 July 1842, p.4, accessed 26 March 2016

[29]Australian Natives: Moo-wat-tin and Be-ne-long,” Australasian Chronicle (Sydney, NSW: 1839-1843), Saturday 23 July 1842, p.4, accessed 26 March 2016

© 2016 Michaela Ann Cameron