Exploring the journey of a Birrpai Goori woman

Posted by | November 01, 2018 | Our past, present and future | No Comments
Old leather-bound bible on weathered wooden boards.

… and her convict husband

John Heath

John Heath is a Birrpai man from the area now called Port Macquarie. John is descended from Charlotte Bugg, a Birrpai woman who married James Bugg, an English convict, transported and placed as assigned labour with the Australian Agricultural Company (AA Co.) in 1827. The company had received a million acre grant from the Colonial Government, across the lands of the Worimi, Gringhai and Birrpai People.

James Bugg became an Overseer of Shepherds, and within five years he had partnered with a Goori woman who had been given the English name of Charlotte, and fifteen years later, in 1848, they were married. Charlotte and James had 8 children and part of their life together is documented in the historical records of the AA Co., as well as other sources such as Court transcripts, Church Records and Colonial Secretary Correspondence. As an inter-racial couple, they fought off challenges from the Church, the government, and from within the Goori community, to successfully raise their children and remain together until Charlotte’s death in 1861. Their life was an example of a successful cross-cultural marriage, albeit one that was weighted towards assimilation into the dominant culture of British colonialism.

At the same time, there is evidence that their lives were also a struggle for justice. Charlotte and James challenged the Church to allow their marriage at a time when the Church decreed that Aborigines were incapable of swearing an oath under God. They challenged (defied) AA Co. directives, and later Governor Gipps’ Proclamation prohibiting the cohabitation of white men and Goori women. Gipps believed such cohabitation was a major cause of the ongoing hostilities on the frontier. There is evidence that James and Charlotte acted very strategically. John’s family has retained a family bible, purchased by James and Charlotte to commemorate the baptism of their two eldest children, John and Mary Ann. The recording of the baptism occurred just prior to John and Mary Ann being placed in the Orphan Schools in Sydney, as part of the assimilation process — ‘they will of course be separated from their Mother, as is most desirable they should be — if Bugg wishes them to be brought up, so as to ensure the abandonment of their savage life’ wrote Henry Dumaresq, Chief Commissioner of the AA Co.
James Bugg paid the subscription for his children at the Orphan School. Two years later he obtained a pardon from Governor Gipps, and eventually secured a lease over a parcel of AA Co. land, called ‘Bugg’s Farm’, which he maintained until five years before his death, aged 77, in 1879. Taken
together, these facts suggest that James and Charlotte’s children were removed as part of Gipps’ stated desire to stop the cohabitation of English men and Goori women and the production of bi-racial children. James could be coerced to do so because he was a convict and not a free man. But James and Charlotte did what they could to maintain their relationships to their two eldest children — recording their baptism in the family bible, and paying their subscriptions at the orphan schools – without jeopardizing their chance for land and freedom. There is evidence from later years that, despite the will of the colonial authorities, James and Charlotte were able to keep their family together.

John is researching this family history for use and reference by his family and their communities, but his research tells another story. The extensive literature regarding the Australian Agricultural Company does little more than document the economic circumstances of the company. References to persons, both black and white, are most usually in the context of their contribution to the production process. John’s research provides insight from an Indigenous perspective, into the lives of peoples and communities directly impacted by this massive capitalist venture that was
predicated on the appropriation of Goori lands.

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