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Berkshire Family Historian
June 2002

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Berkshire Family Historian
Main Page, June 2002 Contents

'An Australian boy'

by Ralph Sanderson

On Wednesday March 10, 1852 an 11-year-old boy died in Reading from the effects of tuberculosis and peritonitis. Several days later his body was buried in the London Road Cemetery and a headstone placed upon his grave as a memorial by those who knew him. In part it read 'Sacred to the memory of William Wimmera an Australian boy...'

A century and a half has now elapsed since William 'Willie' Wimmera's death yet the headstone that was erected still exists and is today both a rare and poignant reminder of his short existence.

Rare, because the grave it marks shares a common history with only a handful of other known graves in cemeteries across Britain
- it contains the remains of an indigenous Australian.

The oldest burial site of an indigenous Australian in Britain is the grave of Yemmerrawanie (Yemmerrawanyea), a 19-year-old native of the Eora tribe who died on May 18, 1794. With Bennelong he was one of the first two indigenous Australians to visit England. They arrived in London from the fledgling Colony of New South Wales aboard the Atlantic in 1793 and were presented to King George III. Within a year Yemmerrawanie was dead and his body interred in the churchyard of St. John the Bapfist at Eltham, Kent.

The Warstone Lane (Church of England) cemetery in Birmingham is the final resting place of Edward Warrulan (Warru-loong). He was about nine years old when he arrived in London aboard the Symmetry in 1845. Warrulan was the son of a tribal chief in the Colony of South Australia and had been brought to England by Edward John Eyre, the noted explorer. He and a companion were presented to Queen Victoria in January 1846. Following Eyre's appointment and departure to New Zealand as LieutenantGovernor, Warrulan remained in England where his benefactors placed him in an agricultural school at Sibford, in Oxfordshire. He later moved to Banbury where he learnt saddlery and harness work before joining the harness manufacturing firm of J. Middlemore in Birmingham. He also was aged about 19 years when he died from the effects of exposure on October 23,

At a park in Tower Hamlets in London's East End lies Bripumyarrinin (also known as 'King Cole', Brippokei, and Charles Rose). He was a native of the Colony of Victoria and had the distinction of being one of the members of the first all-aboriginal cricket team to visit and play in England. The team surreptitiously arrived in London aboard the Parramatta in May 1868 and had already played several matches when 'King Cole' tragically succumbed to tuberculosis within a month of their arrival and died on June 24, 1868 in Guy's Hospital, London.

William Wimmera was not a cricketer or the son of a tribal chief. Nor was he ever presented to royalty or had a well-known patron or benefactor. He was the youngest known 'Australian boy' to die and be buried so far from his land of origin. 'Willie', as he was referred to by his benefactors and acquaintances in England, was a native of the Wotjobaluk tribe who occupied lands in the Wimmera district in the Colony of New South Wales. He was born about 1840, only four years after Major Thomas Mitchell and his expedition had first traversed the region and in whose wake came the eventual demise of its native inhabitants.

Sketch from Illustrated London News

Illustrated London News, February 14, 1846

By the time the boy was six years of age, the Wotjobaluk country had been encroached upon by white squatters who brought with them thousands of head of sheep to graze the lands. Clashes between the Wotjobaluk and the European invaders became inevitable as both culture and commercial interests collided.

In a punitive measure for some unknown aggression or act, in February 1846, a party of white settlers set upon a camp of these aboriginal people by the banks of the Wimmera River. Amongst this native group was our six-year-old boy who, by the end of the attack, was left clinging to his dead mother - a bullet through her heart. The woman was buried on the spot and the 'orphaned' boy removed to the home of a Belgian settler, Horatio Ellerman, who had both participated in the raid and was reputed to have fired the shot that had killed the boy's mother.

At the home of Ellerman he was brought up and worked in the household as a servant. In December 1850, Willie's life took another dramatic turn. He was invited to join some men on a trip carting wood to Melbourne. But while in the city he became lost and wandered the streets.

He was soon discovered by a group of young white children and, either at the invitation of his young peers or through curiosity followed them home where he was both fed and allowed to sleep. Willie also accompanied the white children to their school and it was there he came to the attention of the 33-year-old Reverend Septimus Lloyd Chase, an Anglican clergyman and former curate of St. Johns Church, Reading.

After discovering the boy in the school it wasn't long before the Reverend Chase eventually took him into his own home. Chase was soon to return to England and so, with the thought of educating and evangelising the boy into the Christian Church, he asked Willie if he wished to accompany him. But Chase didn't realise that the boy was not an orphan, as his father and brothers were still alive in the Wimmera district, a fact that was realised many years later when his story was told to a local aboriginal congregation.

The barque Sacramento departed Melbourne on the March 29, 1851. A local newspaper recorded that among her passengers were the Reverend Chase and his 'servant'. It was a very long passage to England but it provided Chase with ample time to give the young aboriginal boy instruction in reading and writing and prayer. Following their arrival in London in September 1851 Chase and his young charge travelled to Reading, to the residence of Chase's father, Samuel. Over the next six months, the boy was cared for and educated by Chase's family and his acquaintances at Reading and at Iver nearer London. He was given lessons in writing and drawing and taught practical skills in plaiting straw and making shoes. His education into the Bible and Christianity also continued.

Whilst at Iver, the boy became ill with congestion of the lungs and so it was decided that he should return to Australia as it was considered that the English climate could prove fatal. He returned to Reading before Christmas but his condition continued to deteriorate. On January 8, 1852 Chase was married at St. Giles in Reading and because of this and other commitments was not able to provide the boy with his full attention.

Nevertheless, with Willie's understanding and acceptance of his new faith, Chase had the young Wotjobaluk boy baptized into the Church where he received the name 'William Wimmera' - a reflection of his origins because his traditional or given aboriginal name was probably never known or had been long forgotten.

Sadly, over the next few months the boy's condition scarcely improved. He lost a great deal of weight and he suffered great pain. Although his passage back to Australia in the company of Chase had been arranged Willie did not live long enough to make the journey home. Despite the efforts of his benefactor and carers he finally succumbed before dawn on that spring morning of Wednesday, March 10, 1852.

Plot 10, Row A, Section 44 of the London Road Cemetery, Reading holds more than the body of that eleven-year-old boy. It holds a glimpse into our history and although there may be none now who will mourn or mark the sesqui-centenary of his passing we can at least remember and reflect.

Headstone (photo)

 

Bibliography:

Aborigines' friend and colonial intelligencer, London. V. 1, No. 1, January-December 1855.

Argus, Melbourne, 1895.

Christie, M. F. / Aborigines in colonial Victoria, 1835-86. Sydney: Sydney University Press, 1979.

The Encyclopedia of Aboriginal Australia: Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander history, society and culture. Canberra: Australian Studies Press for the Australian Institute of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Studies, 1994. Illustrated London News, London, 1846.

Massola, Aldo. Aboriginal mission stations in Victoria. Melbourne: Hawthorn, 1970.

Mulvaney, D. J. Cricket walkabout: the Australian aborigines in England. 2nd ed. South Melbourne: Macmillan in association with the Dept. of Aboriginal Affairs, 1988.

Scholefield, Mrs H. A short memoir of William Wimmera: an Australian boy who sailed from Melbourne, April 1851 died at Reading, March 10 1852.


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updated 30th June 2002