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Moowattin, Daniel (1791–1816)

by Keith Vincent Smith

This entry is from the Australian Dictionary of Biography

Daniel Moowattin (c.1791-1816), Aboriginal guide, was born in the Parramatta district, New South Wales, and adopted as an infant by Richard Partridge, alias 'Rice', the colony's notorious hangman. Rev. Samuel Marsden, described Daniel as 'a very fine youth'. Moowattin, meaning 'bush path', was probably a name received in initiation. Aged about 14, he became a helper for George Caley, the botanist employed by Sir Joseph Banks. Daniel was Caley's interpreter, bush guide, plant- and leaf-getter, bird-trapper, servant and companion on botanizing expeditions around Sydney. He lived in Caley's cottage near Government House, Parramatta. Caley marked eucalyptus leaves, gumnuts and flowers as 'got by Dan'.

In 1805 Daniel sailed with Caley to Norfolk Island and Van Diemen's Land. Back in Sydney in 1807, while searching for a koala south-west of the settlement, Daniel found a high waterfall which Caley named and sketched as the 'Cataract of Carrung-Gurring on the River Moowat'tin'. 'Moowattin River' appeared in Plate 1 of Matthew Flinders's Atlas of Terra Australis (London, 1814). It was later renamed the Cataract River and the cataract the Appin Falls. In 1808, when Caley heard a false rumour that Moowattin had been speared and killed, he wrote to Banks: 'The native I have been speaking of is the most civilized, of any that I know . . . and is the best interpreter of the more inland natives' language of any that I have met with . . . I can place that confidence in him that I cannot in any other--all except him are afraid to go beyond the limits of the space which they inhabit with me'.

Moowattin sailed with Caley to England in H.M.S. Hindoostan in 1810. During one year in London he was supported by Banks and, dressed in the 'pink of fashion', he frequented theatres and public houses and smoked his pipe in the evening at a Chelsea coffee house. In conversation he always said that the fine shops and houses of the city were 'not equal to the woods' in his own country. He took to drink, which angered Caley so much that on 11 February 1811 he struck him forcefully, breaking his own thumb. Caley remained in England when Dan sailed for Sydney in the Mary of London with the nurseryman George Suttor. After two weeks at Suttor's Baulkham Hills farm, Moowattin sold a shotgun given to him by the botanist Robert Brown, bought some peach cider and ran off into the bush.

'Daniel Mow-watty or Mowwatting', employed as a labourer at the farm of William Bellamy at Pennant Hills, was tried in September 1816 for the rape and robbery of Hannah Russell, daughter of a convict settler. In court, Marsden, Gregory Blaxland and others testified that Daniel understood the difference between good and evil. Found guilty, he was hanged on 1 November 1816 probably at The Rocks, Sydney, the first Aborigine to be legally executed in Australia. Some of the specimens he collected for Caley are in the National Herbarium, Royal Botanic Gardens, Sydney.

Select Bibliography

  • G. Caley, Reflections on the Colony of New South Wales (Melb, 1966)
  • N. Gunson (ed), Australian Reminiscences and Papers of L. E. Threkeld, Missionary to the Aborigines, 1824-1859 (Canb, 1974)
  • Chambers’ Edinburgh Journal, 1832, p 199
  • Historical Records of New South Wales, vol 5, p 299
  • Sydney Gazette, 23 May 1812, p 3, 28 Sept 1816, p 1
  • 12 Oct 1816, p 2
  • G. Caley diary, 1811-17 (Botany Library, Natural History Museum, London)
  • G. Suttor memoirs (State Library of New South Wales)
  • Banks papers (State Library of New South Wales)
  • Lachlan Macquarie diary A773, 1 November 1816, p 295 (State Library of New South Wales).

Citation details

Keith Vincent Smith, 'Moowattin, Daniel (1791–1816)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://ia.anu.edu.au/biography/moowattin-daniel-13107/text23713, accessed 26 September 2017.

© Copyright Australian Dictionary of Biography, 2012