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Maroot the elder

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Maroot the elder

Maroot the elder (c1773-1817) is little known in history but was clan leader of the Kameygal, who occupied the north side of Botany Bay, from the Cooks River to La Perouse. The Kameygal were the first Indigenous people in the Sydney area to suffer from European firearms. His son, Boatswain Maroot or Mahroot (c.1796-31 January 1850), sailed on English whaling ships and was said to be 'the last of his tribe'. Their territory was subsequently replaced by Dharawal-speaking people from the Illawarra area south of Sydney.

First contact with the Kameygal

Two French frigates, Boussole and Astrolabe, commanded by Captain Jean-François de La Perouse entered Botany Bay as the First Fleet ships were leaving for Sydney Cove on 26 January 1788. They stayed for six weeks at Frenchman's Bay in the vicinity of La Perouse.

William Bradley recorded that by early February the French had been 'obliged to fire on the Natives at Botany Bay to keep them quiet' and one week later to stop them stealing. [1] In a letter to Monsieur Fleurieu, La Perouse said his sailors had built a timber stockade to protect their new longboats, fearing the 'Indians of New Holland' would burn them. 'They even throw darts at us immediately after receiving our presents and our caresses', wrote La Perouse. [2]

The Kameygal were recorded as a 'Tribe' in a vocabulary kept by Governor Arthur Phillip and his aides. Ka-may was given as the name for Botany Bay in the same manuscript. [3] In the Sydney coastal language gamai (kamey) and variations including kamai, kah-my, ka-mai, cammi and camey, was the name of a spear, thus Kameygal meant 'Spear clan'. [4]

While the First Fleet convict transport Lady Penrhyn was moored in Botany Bay in January 1788, the ship's surgeon Arthur Bowes Smyth commented: 'Their Huts or Wigwams are dispersed abt. [about]' and were joined by 'cat paths' leading from one hut to another. [5] Marine Captain Watkin Tench described the Aboriginal 'village' to the north west of Botany Bay as having:

more than a dozen houses [gunyah or bark huts], and perhaps five times that number of people; being the most considerable establishment that we are acquainted with in the country.[6]

When Lieutenant William Bradley and James Keltie, master of the Sirius, surveyed the 'NW branch of Botany Bay' from 1 to 5 December 1789, tracing part of the Cooks River, they 'several Natives in small parties, they would not come near us'. [7]

First records of Maroot

Forced into Botany Bay by a violent thunderstorm, the American merchant vessel Ann and Hope, captained by Benjamin Page and bound from Rhode Island for Canton in China, anchored at Frenchman's Gardens (La Perouse) in October 1798. Two nawi (stringybark canoes) immediately put off from Point Solander, the southern headland of the bay, where a group of Aboriginal people sat in a circle around a campfire. One canoe crossed to the north shore to greet the ship and two Aboriginal men came on board. The ship's surgeon Benjamin Bowen Carter met the visitors.

One whose name was Maroot appeared to be a young fellow about 25 years old and the other was an old man but they did not know their ages. Maroot was a thin man of the common height. They spoke some English which they had heard in Sydney.

The younger man, Maroot (c.1773-1817) had a reed thrust though a hole in the septum nasi of his nose, which the Yankee sailors, like James Cook's crew on HM Bark Endeavour in 1770, jokingly called a 'spritsail yard' because it resembled the diagonal timber spar used to extend a ship's sails.

The two men were shivering in the rain. Carter gave them bread and meat and 'waistcoats & trowsers'. When the older man left, Carter poured Maroot a glass of brandy' which made him very talkative and forward. They all appear to be fond of spirituous liquors', he wrote. Maroot gave Carter a list of 30 Aboriginal words and some numbers, which Carter entered in his Journal on Ann and Hope 1798-1799, a manuscript held in the Rhode Island Historical Society in Providence, Rhode Island.

On 22 October 1798 Carter witnessed a bloody revenge combat between the Kameygal and Port Jackson clans near the Military Barracks, which were situated near present-day Wynyard Station in George Street Sydney, in which Maroot threw a spear that passed through the heel of the Gadigal leader Colebee but was safely removed. When Bennelong intervened in the battle he was badly wounded by a spear that pierced his side and protruded from his stomach. He collapsed unconscious, but recovered after friends extracted the spear and women sucked blood from the wound. [8]

Boatswain Maroot

George Thornton, Mayor of Sydney in 1857 and Protector of Aborigines in 1880, said 'Meroot and his wife Grang grang [Carangarang] were the parents of Bosun [Boatswain Maroot], a civilised black well known in Botany many years ago.' [9] It can be difficult to separate the elder Maroot from his son Boatswain Maroot in the official record. However, the father had a nosebone, while the son, who was never initiated, does not have one in his portrait painted by the visiting Russian artist Pavel Mikhailov in 1820. [10]

Early in March 1810, Moorroo (Maroot the elder) was involved in a ritual revenge battle at Kable's farm at Petersham Hill. [11] The clash was not reported in the Sydney Gazette but Governor Macquarie's aide Alexander Huey noted it in his journal:

On March 6th the natives had a desperate fight at Cable's [Kable's] farm, about a mile from the camp. They had been assembling for some days before this time and had formed a kind of camp of bark huts. The battle commenced with spears and ended with clubs. Mooroor [Maroot] fought with a hatchet and felled 4 or 5 of his enemies to the ground in a few moments. The fight was for the punishment of Burra Wurra, who killed a man. [12]

At this time Boatswain Maroot, working as a sealer, was stranded without rations on Macquarie Island, midway between Tasmania and Antarctica. [13]

Impressions and images of Maroot

Jane Maria Brooks was only eight years old when she first arrived in New South Wales aboard the brig Spring with her father and mother, Captain Richard and Mrs Christiana Brooks. She later married Edward Cox of 'Fernhill', Mulgoa. At the age of 71 Jane Cox wrote her Reminiscences, which were transcribed by historian Andrew Houison. She remembered:

We arrived at Port Jackson on the 8th March 1814. It was a lovely fine warm morning and boats with Fruit came alongside also boats containing Black men and Women, all talking to Captain Brooks whom they appeared to know very well, my father also calling them by their names. Maroot and Mrs. Maroot were among the number, the later [latter] a lady with a very large mouth. [14]

This tallies with a portrait completed at La Perouse in 1793 by Juan Ravenet, an Italian-born artist attached to the Spanish expedition commanded by Alejandro Malaspina (also Italian), aboard the corvettes Descuvierta and Atrevida. His striking portrait Una Mujer de la Nueva Olanda ('A woman of New Holland'), now in the Museo Naval in Madrid, Spain, accords with Jane Cox's description of 'Mrs. Maroot … a lady with a very large mouth'. Ravenet's Hombre has a nosebone, large beard and hair 'ornamented with Kangaroo teeth shells &c. fastened to it', like those Carter described. [15]

Maroot's death

About 9 August 1817, 'the elder Maroot' was killed in a fight by Dulmike (Dullmike, Dolmike or Dulnuke) after a blow to the back of the head with a stone while both were intoxicated. The Sydney Gazette said he 'had been known to us from the establishment of the Colony as a man of docile friendly disposition'. [16] Writing in 1888, Obed West recalled that 'Marrout' had been killed at the corner of King and York Streets near the Military Barracks by Dullmike, who had 'dashed out his brains with a brick'. [17]

George Thornton, who thought 'Blui' (Blueitt or Blewitt) had killed 'Meroot', said Maroot the elder and his wife were buried 'near Rushcutters Bay, exactly where Mr. John Williams' (late Crown Solicitor) house stands'. Williams (1821-1891) lived at 'Kurraghein', since demolished and replaced by apartments at 66-68 Bayswater Road, Rushcutters Bay, Sydney.


Keith Vincent Smith. 'Maroot the Elder', in Saltwater people of the fatal shore, ed John Ogden, 212-214. Avalon: Cyclops Press, 2012.


[1] William Bradley, A Voyage to New South Wales: The Journal of Lieutenant William Bradley RN of HMS Siirius, 1786-1792. Fascimile reprint (Sydney: Trustees of the Public Library of New South Wales 1969), 81, 84-9.

[2] La Perouse to M Fleurieu, 7 February 1788, quoted in John Cobley, Sydney Cove 1788, (Hodder and Stoughton, Sydney, 1962), 63.

[3] Anon. ca.1790-1792 Vocabulary of the language of NS Wales in the neighbourhood of Sydney. (Native and English but not alphabetical). Manuscript. Original in the Library of the School of Oriental and African Studies, London. Marsden Collection. MS 41645 (c). Microfilm in Mitchell Library of the State Library of New South Wales, 63.12

[4] Anon. ca.1790-1792 Vocabulary of the language of N.S. Wales in the neighbourhood of Sydney. (Native and English but not alphabetical). Manuscript. Original in the Library of the School of Oriental and African Studies, London. Marsden Collection. MS 41645 (c). Microfilm in Mitchell Library of the State Library of New South Wales, 54-55.12.

[5] PD Fidlon and RJ Ryan (eds), The Journal of Arthur Bowes Smyth: Surgeon, Lady Penrhyn, 1787-1789 (Sydney: Australian Documents Library,1979): 58; Mitchell Library, State Library of NSW, MSS 955, 1788

[6] Dixson Library, State Library of New South Wales, Watkin Tench, Narrative of the Expedition to Botany Bay, with an account of New South Wales, its productions, inhabitants &c, … (London, 1789), DL78/68, 90

[7] William Bradley, A Voyage to New South Wales: The journal of Lieutenant William Bradley RN of HMS Sirius, 1786-1792, Facs reprint (Sydney: Trustees of the Public Library of New South Wales, 1969): 184

[8] Mitchell Library, State Library of NSW, Benjamin Bowen Carter, A Journal of a Voyage from Providence to Canton in the Ship the Ann and Hope, Benjamin Page, Master, 1798-1799, Whaling Logbooks 1798-1843, microfilm copies made by Australian National University Pacific Manuscripts Bureau from originals held by Rhode Island Historical Society, Providence RI, PMB 769, frames 83-84

[9] National Library of Australia, George Thornton Papers, 'NSW Aboriginal', MS 3270

[10] Russian State Museum, St Petersburg, 'Movat and Salmanda' [Boatswain Maroot and Salamander], Pavel Mikhailov, R29209/207

[11] 'Moorroo' or muru means pathway in the language spoken by the coastal Eora

[12] Mitchell Library, State Library of NSW, Alexander Huey, Journal, Typescript B1514: 24. Henry Kable's farm was at Petersham Hill

[13] Keith Vincent Smith, Mari Nawi: Aboriginal Odysseys (Dural: Rosenberg, 2010): 147-150

[14] Mitchell Library, State Library of NSW, Jane Maria Cox, Reminiscences 1877, transcribed by Andrew Houison, c.1912, Original MS B391

[15] Museo Naval, Madrid, Juan Ravenet, 'Un Hombre de la Nueva Olanda; Una Mujer de la Nueva Olanda', 1793

[16] Sydney Gazette, 23 August 1817

[17] Obed West, Supplement to the Daily Telegraph, 23 January 1888: 6