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Arabanoo (1759–1789)

by Eleanor Dark

This entry is from the Australian Dictionary of Biography

Arabanoo (d.1789), Aboriginal man, was captured at Manly on 31 December 1788 by order of Governor Arthur Phillip, who wished to learn more about the natives. Arabanoo was taken to the settlement where a convict was appointed to guard him; he was at first pleased by a handcuff on his wrist, believing it to be an ornament, but became enraged when he discovered its purpose.

Then a severe epidemic of smallpox broke out among the Aboriginals in April 1789, several who had been found in great distress were brought to Sydney where Arabanoo helped to care for them; he caught the disease himself and died on or about 18 May. He was buried in the governor's garden.

One contemporary account gives his age as about 30 and another as about 24. He was not tall, but 'robustly made', with a thoughtful face and a soft, musical voice; his disposition was mild and gentle, but 'the independence of his mind never forsook him'. During his brief sojourn among the colonists he became a general favourite, and Phillip records that he gave them much information about the language and customs of his people.

Select Bibliography

  • Historical Records of New South Wales, vol 1, part 2
  • J. Hunter, An Historical Journal of the Transactions at Port Jackson and Norfolk Island (Lond, 1793)
  • D. Collins, An Account of the English Colony in New South Wales, vols 1-2 (Lond, 1798-1802)
  • W. Tench, A Complete Account of the Settlement at Port Jackson (Lond, 1793).

Citation details

Eleanor Dark, 'Arabanoo (1759–1789)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, accessed 22 July 2018.

© Copyright Australian Dictionary of Biography, 2012