By Lynley Wallis
While team researchers Noelene Cole and Bryce Barker recently visited Cooktown to talk with the local people about our project, I was back in Broome doing archival research from the luxury of my air conditioned office. One of the officers I was researching was Sub-Inspector Stanhope O’Connor, who for a long time operated around Cooktown, hence a post about him is timely.
O’Connor is lauded by some for having had a more progressive approach towards Aboriginal people while he was an NMP officer, attempting to establish friendly relations with local people in the Cooktown region. However, the evidence suggests he was also involved in violent “dispersals” of Aboriginal people. The following is a snippet from an account from the Morning Bulletin newspaper of 1879, reporting on NMP actions under Sub-Inspector O’Connor:
On Thursday, the 14th instant, Sub-inspector O’Connor with six troopers crossed the harbour in a boat at night, and by moonlight picked up the tracks of the blacks … by Sunday morning [they] had hemmed the blacks within a narrow gorge, of which both outlets were secured by the troopers. There were twenty-eight men and thirteen gins thus enclosed, of whom none of the former escaped. Twenty-four were shot down on the beach, and four swam out to sea.
This mass killing of Aboriginal people was in response to two Europeans being “severely wounded” whilst logging in the area. As such, it seems that O’Connor was not so much a humanitarian as some have suggested.