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John Bungarie (c. 1829–1854)

by Patrick Collins

This article was published:

This entry is from the Australian Dictionary of Biography

John Bungarie (c. 1829–1854), native police officer, was born in the late 1820s on Gamilaraay country, northern New South Wales. He was taken from his people in the vicinity of the Namoi River when he was about five years old by the European brothers Stephen and Charles Coxen. The Coxens had entered Gamilaraay country in search of specimens of birds and mammals to send to their brother-in-law, John Gould, in England. How they encountered Bungarie is unknown; it is likely that the child became separated from his family as a consequence of frontier conflict. He may have been related to ‘King’ Joe Bungaree (b. c. 1817), also Gamilaraay.

Bungarie was taken to Stephen Coxen and his wife Sarah’s home at Yarrundi, a property on the Dart Brook north of Sydney, where his Aboriginal pathways to maturity and success were replaced by others chosen by the Coxens. The Coxens had two sons, Stephen Henry and Charles, who were of similar age to Bungarie. In 1837 Bungarie, Stephen Henry, and Charles were sent as boarders to the Normal Institution, Sydney. After public examinations in 1839, Bungarie was awarded a prize for ‘writing, geography and English grammar—more particularly the latter’ (Sydney Herald 1839, 2). In 1840 and 1841 he was highly praised for his efforts at school, where he ‘acquitted himself much superior to other boys of his age’ (Sydney Gazette 1840, 2) and showed ‘peculiar quickness and strength of mind’ (Sydney Herald 1841, 2). However, his formal education was terminated at the end of that year and he remained with Stephen Coxen at Yarrundi during 1842 and 1843. In June 1843 he accompanied Coxen on a journey through the New England and Namoi districts. On 25 April 1844, Stephen and Charles Coxen were declared bankrupt. Just over four months later, on 5 September, Stephen committed suicide at a Sydney hotel.

Until 1847 Bungarie probably lived with Charles Coxen Snr on the Darling Downs. In 1848 Roderick Mitchell, the Liverpool Plains land commissioner, reported that Bungarie was inciting Aboriginal people to attack stations on the Macintyre River. Mitchell, like other Europeans who knew something of Bungarie’s background and education, expected him to behave in a certain way and, especially, to avoid association ‘with the blacks’ (quoted in Watson 1925, 396). As it seemed to him that Bungarie was not meeting these expectations, he stated that Bungarie was now ‘perfectly useless’ and ‘vicious’ (quoted in Watson 1925, 396). The challenges Bungarie faced from both his particular upbringing and wider colonial attitudes are reflected in words attributed to him by Lieutenant George Fulford of the native police:

I wish I had never been taken out of the bush, and educated as I have been, for I cannot be a white man, for they will never look upon me as one of themselves; and I cannot be a blackfellow, I am disgusted with their way of living. (Qld Parliament 1861, 166)

 On 9 April 1849 Matthew Goggs, a Darling Downs squatter, implicated an Aboriginal man named ‘Bungaree’ in the deaths of two European men on William Edwards’s property. It is not known whether this man was John Bungarie. During this period Bungarie worked intermittently as a shepherd and station hand for Darling Downs squatters Colin MacKenzie, J. R. Wilkie, Henry Hughes, and Charles Coxen Snr. He joined the native police at Wondai Gumbal (near Condamine), south-west Queensland, in late 1852. Fulford regarded him highly and paid him twenty-five pounds a year—far more than other Aboriginal policemen. Bungarie’s role was mainly clerical; he was responsible for ordnance and stock control. However, he was issued with a carbine and a pair of pistols and may have participated in regular patrols intended to dispossess Aboriginal people by terrorising and even killing them.

With two other native police officers, Bungarie was sent to mark the route from Port Curtis (Gladstone Harbour) via the native police barracks at Traylan (later Ceratodus) to Gayndah on 10 January 1854. That night, while they slept, they were attacked by Aboriginal warriors. Bungarie received a severe blow to his head and his hand was bitten. The three men fought off their attackers and returned to Port Curtis where they recovered. Six months later, on 21 July, Bungarie died of inflammation of the lungs at the native police barracks at Traylan. He was survived by a wife whose name is not recorded. His life and death were recorded in an obituary printed in the Moreton Bay Courier on 23 December 1854, probably written by Steven Henry or Charles Coxen. The following year, the curator of intestate estates received a pay cheque for Bungarie for £20, and a statement that he was owed wages of £24 12s as well as other monies. His accumulated wealth at the time of his death was over £45; what became of this money is unknown.


 Pat Collins is a European man with strong connections to Aboriginal land near Muckadilla and Eulo.

Select Bibliography

  • Australasian Chronicle (Sydney). ‘Local [Aboriginal Talent].’ 17 December 1839, 1
  • Collins, Patrick J. ‘John Bungarie, the Coxens and the Native Police.’ Journal of the Royal Historical Society of Queensland 17, no. 7 (August 2000): 303–20
  • Moreton Bay Courier (Brisbane). ‘Domestic Intelligence [Death of a Civilised Aboriginal].’ 23 December 1854, 2.
  • Queensland. Parliament. Report from the Select Committee on the Native Police Force and the Condition of the Aborigines Generally, Together with the Proceedings of the Committee and Minutes of Evidence. Brisbane: Fairfax and Belbridge, 1861
  • Sydney Gazette and New South Wales Advertiser. ‘Domestic Intelligence [Normal Institution].’ 15 December 1840, 2
  • Sydney Herald. ‘Domestic Intelligence [Normal Institution].’ 16 December 1839, 2
  • Sydney Herald. ‘Normal Institution.’ 17 December 1841, 2
  • Watson, Frederick, ed. Historical Records of Australia. Series 1, Vol. 26. Sydney: Government Printer, 1925

Related Entries in NCB Sites

Citation details

Patrick Collins, 'Bungarie, John (c. 1829–1854)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, accessed 21 June 2024.

© Copyright Australian Dictionary of Biography, 2012

Life Summary [details]

Alternative Names
  • Bungarrie, John
  • Bungaree, John

c. 1829
Walgett, New South Wales, Australia


21 July, 1854 (aged ~ 25)
Ceratodus, Queensland, Australia

Cause of Death


Cultural Heritage

Includes subject's nationality; their parents' nationality; the countries in which they spent a significant part of their childhood, and their self-identity.