Friday, 8 April 2016

A little bit of Australia in Eltham, the story of Yemmerrawanne and his death in 1794

Rev Shaw Brooke's entry in the parish records, 1794
“Yemmurrvonyea Kebarrah, a native of New South Wales, died May 18th 1794, supposed to be aged 19 years at the house of Mr Edward Kent.”

It is not much I grant you to sum up a man’s life, but that is about it.  The entry was written by the Rev. Shaw Brooke in the parish records and along with Yemmerrawanne’s gravestone that is all Eltham has of this young man who died so very far from home.

And I have to confess like most residents of Eltham I clocked the reference in various guide books and left it at that.

I suppose upper most in my mind was that this was a story which would be very difficult to track down. But like all good stories it deserved to come out of the shadows and with the help of Dr Keith Vincent Smith that is exactly what I have been able to do.*

Dr Smith is a historian and curator specialising in the ethnology and history of the Indigenous people of coastal Sydney. His book on the Aboriginal Australian Bennelong was published in 2001.**

Bennelong was a man of the Eora who lived in the Port Jackson area close to the first British settlement in Australia and served as an interlocutor between the Eora and the British. 

Yemmerrawanne, date and artist unknown
So I was very pleased when Dr Smith contacted me with more of the story of the young Yemmerrawanne, who was “an Aboriginal youth, who died at Eltham in the house of Mr. Kent on 18 May 1794. Yemmerrawanne and his kinsman Woollarawarre Bennelong were taken to England by Governor Arthur Phillip, first governor of the colony of New South Wales. Bennelong returned there in 1795.

The Rev. Shaw Brooke also made the entry in the parish burial register: Yemmurrvonyea Kebarrah, a Native of New South Wales, died May 18th 1794, supposed to be aged 19 Years, at the house of Mr Edward Kent

'Kebarrah' was a version of kebba or gibber, meaning 'stone' and acknowledged that the youth had been initiated by having his upper right incisor removed.”

Like so many peoples of different cultures and different places the British misnamed the young Yemmerrawanne and usually he was called “Yemmerrawanne or Imèerawanyee by English officers of the early colony of New South Wales, [and which was further compounded] by the Rev Shaw Brooke who wrote it as   'Yemmurrvonyea'.”

The grave of Yemmerrawanne, 1794
I doubt that we will get any more about his stay in Eltham.

We know that he and Bennelong stayed in the house of Edward Kent who may have lived at South End.

There is a reference to him in a tax record for 1793 which seems to suggest that he lived at this end of Eltham, and there is a record of another Edward Kent who was born here in 1785 who I guess was his son.

But my friend Jean is on the hunt and she may also be able to turn up something on “John Briggs, who nursed  Yemmerrawanne at Kent's house for no payment and also gave lessons in reading and writing to the two Aboriginal men. He was eventually paid 19 guineas (Treasury Board Accounts at the National Archives).

Briggs was due to leave on 31 October 1794 to work on the Gold Coast (Ghana) in Africa as a 'writer' (clerk). I suspect he might have been a Quaker because of his statement that he had not paid board and lodging to Edward Kent while staying at ‘my Brother’s house’, but had been ‘an expence to my friends’”.

So there you have it.

I know it is not much but it is a bit more than just a footnote in an Eltham guide book, and a place in our parish graveyard.

And who knows, perhaps more will emerge.  I hope so.

Location; Eltham, London

Pictures; the Rev Shawe Brooke's entry in the vestry records, photograph courtesy of Jeremy Steele, Yemmerrawanne, Silhouette on paper, Artist unknown, no date, B10 f.14, Dixson Galleries, State Library of NSW and gravestone of  Yemmerrawanne, Irene Smith May 2011 

*Original research and much of the story comes from Dr Keith Vincent Smith

**Bennelong: The Coming in of the Eora, Syndney Cove 1788-1792, Keith Vincent Smith
Kangaroo Press, 2001 - Aboriginal Australians - 182 pages

Biography of Bennelong (c1764-1813), a Sydney Aboriginal man who was kidnapped by Governor Phillip in 1789 and subsequently lived within both the European and Aboriginal cultures. Reveals Bennelong as a clever politician playing a double game between his people and Phillip. Recounts his leadership of a resistance movement against the European invaders, culminating in an unwritten peace 'treaty' in 1790. Includes map, illustration, appendix, notes, bibliography and index. Author worked on the 'Sydney Morning Herald' and the 'Australian' and was a correspondent for Australian Associated Press in London, Saigon and Sydney. Previous titles include 'King Bungaree'.

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