Dictionary of Sydney

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'Eruptions covered the poor boy from head to foot', wrote Captain Watkin Tench when Nanbree or Nanbarry, nephew of the Cadigal leader Colebee, was brought into the Sydney settlement in April 1789, seriously ill from smallpox, which had killed his mother and father. [1]

Nanbarry (c1780–1821) recovered after treatment by Surgeon John White, who adopted him and named him Andrew Sneap Hamond Douglass White, to honour his patron, Captain Sir Andrew Snape Hamond, commander of HMS Irresistible. However, as second lieutenant Newton Fowell of HMS Sirius wrote to his father from Batavia on 31 July 1791:

His name is Nanbarry, Bolderry Brockenbau. he is always called Nanbarry. He is about 9 Years old. [2]

His name occurs in First Fleet accounts as Nanbaree, Nanbarrey, Nanbaray, Nanbarry, Nanbree and Nanbury.

In November 1789 Nanbarry was delighted to see Bennelong and Colebee after their capture at Manly Cove. He had often spoken about his uncle Colebee as a great warrior and leader and came to the Governor's wharf as they landed, shouting 'Coleby' and 'Bennalon'. [3] Nanbarry spoke 'Pretty good English' said naval lieutenant Daniel Southwell. [4] Bennelong refused to answer any questions that Nanbarry was instructed to ask him and once even slapped him.

On a visit to the Lookout Post near South Head in February 1790, Nanbarry told Southwell that the area had been the scene of great battles over fishing, territory and women. 'In the vicinity were the graves of the dead warriors', wrote Southwell, who said Nanbarry was afraid of their spirits and kept inside his hut.

Entries by Lieutenant William Dawes in his second language notebook (1791) describe Nanbarry swimming and playing with Boorong or Abaroo, a young girl from the Burramattagal (Parramatta clan), who also recovered from smallpox when White nursed her. Nanbarry exchanged names with Boorong's brother Ballooderry ('Bolderry'), but gave up that name after Ballooderry's death.

While staying at Governor Phillip's house, the sharp-eyed Nanbarry acted as an Aboriginal spy in the English camp. Once he warned Ballooderry that soldiers were looking for him and on another occasion he told Colebee that a punitive expedition had been sent after Pemulwuy, who had speared Phillip's game shooter John McEntire.

For a time, Nanbarry was employed to shoot small game for Surgeon White, with whom he lived. When White left New South Wales in 1794, Nanbarry became a sailor on HMS Reliance, commanded by Captain Henry Waterhouse.


Nanbarry was one of 15 Aboriginal youths initiated at the Yoo-long Erah-ba-diahng or 'ceremony or operation of drawing the tooth' in February 1795 at Woccanmagully (Farm Cove), now part of Sydney's Royal Botanic Gardens. [5] In this rite of passage boys were made men after ordeals that concluded when their upper right front tooth was knocked out. In an engraving by James Neagle, Colebee is shown pressing a cooked fish against Nanbarry's mouth to comfort him.

Nanbarry made several voyages to Norfolk Island on HMS Reliance, and in 1802 sailed on HMS Investigator with Matthew Flinders and the Broken Bay leader Bungaree as far as the Great Barrier Reef. Flinders, who called him 'a good natured lad', wrote in Terra Australis (London, 1814) that on 18 October 1802

Nanbarre, one of the two natives, having expressed a wish to go back to Port Jackson, was sent to the Lady Nelson in the morning. [6]

Nanbarry continued to take an active part in ritual revenge battles. In March 1805 both Bennelong and Nanbarry speared the Cowpastures (Camden) leader Cogy or Gogy in a fight on the road between Prospect and Parramatta. For three weeks, Cogy walked about with a spear shaft sticking out of his body. [7] In late January 1806, Nanbarry threw a spear that killed a Botany Bay man named Colinjong or Collindium. [8]


While visiting Sydney aboard HMS Dauntless, Lieutenant Allen Francis Gardiner (1794-1851) heard on 31 July 1821 that ‘a native fight was about to take place near the Farm of Mr Squires, at Kissing Point, on the Parramatta River’. [9] On landing Gardiner witnessed a group of Aboriginal men and women, including Bennelong’s sister, probably Carangarang, singing and dancing in a ‘Corrobera’ (corroboree).It seems likely that Nanbarry was injured in the ritual combat that followed which Gardiner did not record. This would explain why Nanbarry died just 13 days later.

Nanbarry, identified by the Sydney Gazette as 'Andrew Sneap Hammond [sic] Douglass White, a black native of this Colony', died at brewer James Squire's orchard at Kissing Point (Ryde) on 12 August 1821. [10] He was buried at his own request in the same grave within the orchard in which Bennelong and his last wife had been interred in 1813. The Gazette said that after his sea voyages Nanbarry took to the bush and only occasionally returned to Sydney. 'Mr. Squire we have every reason to believe treated him with particular tenderness.' [11]

Aboriginal people were forbidden to speak the name of a person who had recently died. Sophy Buckenbah, born about 1806, might have been Nanbarry's widow or perhaps his daughter, using his name Brockenbau, recorded by Newton Fowell in 1790. She is recorded in the Colonial Secretary Return of Aboriginal Natives (blanket lists) as living at Kissing Point in 1836, aged 30 and with one daughter.

The unknown 'Port Jackson Painter' and George Raper painted watercolour portraits of Nanbarry, while the convict artist Thomas Watling made a pencil portrait.


Watkin Tench, A complete account of the settlement at Port Jackson, in New South Wales, including an accurate description of the colony; of the natives; and of its natural productions, G Nicol and J Sewell, London, 1793

'Isobel', Nanbaree (self-published), Muhlings Colour Printers, Perth, 1994, 1995


[1] Watkin Tench, A complete account of the settlement at Port Jackson, in New South Wales, including an accurate description of the colony; of the natives; and of its natural productions, G Nicol and J Sewell, London, 1793

[2] Newton Fowell to his father, John Fowell, Batavia, 31 July 1790, State Library of NSW, Mitchell Library MLMSS 4895/1/21

[3] Watkin Tench, A complete account of the settlement at Port Jackson, in New South Wales, including an accurate description of the colony; of the natives; and of its natural productions, G Nicol and J Sewell, London, 1793, p 159

[4] Daniel Southwell, Southwell Papers, British Library, London, MS 16381

[5] 'Tooth knocked out' - Irra badiang', Robert Brown, Georges River Vocabulary, 1803, Botanic Library, Natural History Museum, London, MS B3V, ff 258–259. In the Sydney Language Yirra badiang literally means 'tooth hurt or injured'

[6] Matthew Flinders, A Voyage to Terra Australis, W Nicholls, London, vol 1, 1814, p 235

[7] Sydney Gazette, 17 March 1805

[8] Sydney Gazette, 23 March 1806

[9] Allen Francis Gardiner, Letters from the South Seas written during the years 1821–1822, Sydney Cove, 1 August 1821, ML MSS 8112, pp 47–50

[10] Sydney Gazette, 8 September 1821

[11] Sydney Gazette, 8 September 1821