Life from the debris: artefacts from the Native Mounted Police - 1848 to the early 1900s

Author: Anthony Pagels

Pagels, Anthony, 2023 Life from the debris: artefacts from the Native Mounted Police - 1848 to the early 1900s, Flinders University, College of Humanities, Arts and Social Sciences

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Conflict on the Australian colonial frontier was an asymmetric form of war, fought by Indigenous peoples deploying a range of guerrilla-type tactics against colonial interlopers. In Queensland, Government officials chose to employ a Native Mounted Police (NMP) force, comprising detachments of Indigenous troopers under the command of European officers. This thesis presents a study of weapons-related artefacts from four NMP camps (Belyando in central Queensland [1863–1879], Boralga in Cape York [1875–1894], Boulia [1878–1886] and Eyres Creek [1883–1889] in western Qld), focusing on the context, use, and spread of spent cartridge cases and bullets across space and time. Historical research identified weapons issued to the NMP, including percussion weapons (double barrel, Constabulary and Yeomanry carbines, and Colt revolvers) in the 1850s–1860s, 20-gauge pinfire carbines from 1869, and centrefire Snider carbines and Webley R.I.C revolvers from 1870. The addition of various revolvers, .44-40 Winchester rifles, and 12-gauge shotguns is also indicated archaeologically. Archaeological data fill various gaps in the historical narrative and contradict claims that Martini-Henry carbines were issued to the NMP, show that officers privately purchased handguns, and that shotguns and Snider carbines were equally important to camp life. A second phase of analysis focused on understanding the terrain around NMP camps through the eyes of a trooper. US military-based terrain analysis via the KOCOA method was used to visualise landscape features to elucidate individual and group behaviours. This provided insights into site selection, camp arrangement, storage areas, target practice, and resource procurement that demonstrate practical combative strategies. The spatial distribution of discharged ammunition confirmed that target practice was rare; instead ammunition was connected to site-specific areas that point to individual troopers returning to spaces to hunt and reinforced a hierarchical separation between officer and trooper areas. Although Queensland had few formal “battlefields” akin to those identified in the US and the UK, it did have “battlescapes”, that is, intrinsic places connected to facilitating war, including NMP camps. Strategically anchored, NMP camps served as hubs to launch punitive expeditions against, and “dispersals” (a euphemism for killing) of, Indigenous peoples. A third phase of analysis calculated potential death rates on the frontier. Based on the ammunition of the Snider carbine, a weapon characteristic of the NMP between 1871 and 1890, this thesis considers that a rate of 26,400 Indigenous people killed by the NMP over this period is not unreasonable.

Keywords: historical archaeology, frontier conflict, ammunition, KOCOA, Queensland Native Mounted Police, Snider carbine

Subject: Archaeology thesis

Thesis type: Masters
Completed: 2023
School: College of Humanities, Arts and Social Sciences
Supervisor: Professor Heather Burke