George Caley was born on the 10 June 1770 at Craven, Yorkshire, England. He was taken out of school at the age of fourteen to work as a stable boy in his father’s stables as his father was a horse dealer. Working with horses included learning how to prepare certain herbs to prepare horse medicines, and this included a small amount of botany. This introduction to botany led to a further interest in botany, which resulted in Caley applying to one of England’s most prominent botanists, Sir Joseph Banks, for a position. Sir Joseph Banks is not only a botanist but also a natural historian who took part in Captain James Cook's first voyage from 1768 to 1771.
After working at one of the most significant gardens in the world, the Kew Gardens in London England, Sir Joseph Banks appointed Caley in 1798 as a botanical collector in the new colony of New South Wales.
Caley arrived in New South Wales in April 1800 on the Speedy. Until his return to England in 1810 he spent the next ten years extensively exploring the new colony including Jervis Bay, the Hunter River, Norfolk Island, Van Diemen's Land, and in Sydney in 1804 the Vaccary Forest (Cowpastures), the Nepean and Camden, and attempted to cross the Blue Mountains. He also contributed to scientific work and collections and wrote extensive accounts of all the proceedings that he witnessed and wrote a substantial amount of letters. He also formed lasting friendships which included the famous Parramatta scientist George Suttor, but he also formed some fractious relationships. One of the most important relationships and enduring friendships of his life and career was formed whilst in Parramatta with the young Darug boy Daniel Moowattin.
Daniel who was born in 1791, was orphaned at a young age and adopted at the age of five by Richard and Mary Partridge. There are no records to indicate what happened to Daniel’s parents which resulted in his adoption. By all accounts, Daniel was born in Parramatta. Samuel Marsden, who was the Minister of St. Johns Church Parramatta for nearly fifty years said that Moowattin was of the Parramatta Tribe.
Both Richard and his wife Mary arrived on the First Fleet. They were married at St. John’s Cathedral and Richard went on to become a constable gaoler who supervised convicts and a flogger. Known as the left-handed flogger he was one of the men who flogged the Irish after the Vinegar Hill uprising. His land grant was where James Ruse Agricultural School now stands. Richard was buried at St. John’s Cemetery on the 23 May 1831.
Richard and Mary named their adopted son Daniel, but most people who knew him referred to him as Dan. Dan was his childhood name, but after his initiation his adult name became Moowattin. Moowattin means ‘bush path’. Caley referred to him as Dan and then began referring to him as Moowattin around 1806 when he would have been approximately fifteen years old. There are many variations on the spelling of Moowattin in the historical records, including Mow- watty, Mowwatting, Moowatting and Moowattye.
Unfortunately no images remain of either George Caley or Daniel Moowattin, but the artist William Westall drew portraits of some Port Jackson boys in 1802 when Daniel would have been approximately ten years old.
Port Jackson, a native boy. William Westall, 1802. Source: https://nla.gov.au/nla.obj-138879276/view
At the time of Caley’s arrival, the fear felt by some of the colonists of the Aboriginal people was not shared by him. In addition he both appreciated and acknowledged the many skills and traits the Aboriginal people possessed including their knowledge of caves and fjords, their ability to climb and awareness of flora and fauna, their tactical and hunting skills and their ability to speak many native languages. He also maintained friendly relationships and his own independent perspective on the Aboriginal people despite the political upheavals of the time. As early as August 1801 he explained to Sir Joseph Banks that:
"While I was away in the Lady Nelson a variance happened at Parramatta betwixt some of our people and the natives, whereby the latter killed one of the former and wounded a few others, and also plundered some houses. I believe the Governor gave strict orders to shoot them, and the military went in quest of them several times, but were not able to meet with them…They are not far off in the woods, and the uproar is almost over. Let them behave indifferently to our people, it will not do for me to fall out with them. I have every reason to believe that the whites have been the greatest aggressors upon the whole. At other places in the colony the natives adjoining, frequent the inhabitants".
He also added:
"I mean to keep a bush native constant soon, as they can trace anything so well I the woods, and can climb trees with such ease, whereby they will be very useful to me, and shall gain a better knowledge of them".
Despite Caley’s intention to take on a guide, it took several more years before this occurred. In 1805 Moowattin became his guide, translator, and travelling companion, but by this time they had already been friends for serveral years having met in 1802. In their explorations together he helped Caley find dozens of different plant specimens and fauna that would have been impossible for Caley to have found alone including many different species of eucalypts. It was also as a result of their collaboration that it was learnt that the Saligna Blue Gum was called Calang’ora and the blackbutt the Tarunde’a. In acknowledgment of the contribution that Moowattin made, Caley labelled many plant specimens discovered by him as “got by Dan”. Many of these can be found at the National Herbarium of New South Wales. Caley intermingled with the Aboriginal people and the dialogue between Caley and Moowattin shows how he relied on him for instant familiarity with the environment in their explorations together:
"My ideas have been greatly extended since I visited the cataract of Currung Gurring respecting the geography of the country, from an interpretation with some natives residing more backward. The conical hill which has been mistaken for Mount Hunter, and bearing from Prospect Hill about S.S.W. ¾ W., whose distance I suspect to be about 60 miles, I am informed of as follows: - That it can only be ascended in kangaroo and emu paths by its being covered in black stone, which cuts both the hands and the feet of the natives. I cannot think what stone this can be, unless it is flint. I was given to understand that neither me nor my native (Moowattin) had ever seen any, for it was only met with upon this hill".
Over the next few years Caley and Moowattin travelled extensively together. In October 1805 they travelled to Van Diemens Land together, and in July 1807 Moowattin was sent by Caley in search of a koala. Moowattin in his investigations discovered the Appin Falls on the Cataract River. Subsequently Caley named the river after him but unfortunately the name did not survive.
For the first few months after arriving in Parramatta Caley lived in a cottage close to Government House in what had been according to George Suttor’s diary ‘Governor Phillip’s cottage, a little above the dam’. He was also allowed the use of a room in Government House to dry out and preserve his collections. By September 1800 a hut had been specifically built for him to the north-east of Government House, bordered by O’Connell and Marsden Streets. The land was leased to Caley on the 1 January 1806. A description of his cottage at the point of sale in 1810 read:
"TO be Sold by Private Contract, a Weather-boarded and Shingled Dwelling House, having an extensive garden under cultivation, and other conveniences, most eligibly situate at the upper end of Parramatta, contiguous to a stream of fresh water, and in the present occupation of George Caley. The whole held under Lease of which 3 years are unexpired. Also to be Sold, a few useful articles, comprising a feather bed, steel mill, kitchen requisites, some iron, &c. &c.— For further particulars apply on the Premises".
After the sale Governor Brisbane granted part of this lease to the Agricultural Society as a place where experimental gardening could take place. The Old King’s School was later erected on this site and students started attending the school in 1836.
Map of Parramatta showing the location of the Old King’s School 1823. Source: Parramatta Heritage Centre Research Library map collection
In 1805, as evidence of their growing connection, Moowattin began living with Caley in this cottage. Their friendship and bond is also evident in Caley’s desire to bring Moowattin back to England with him, despite disapproval from Joseph Banks. In a letter to Joseph Banks from George Caley in 1808 he states:
"The native that I have been speaking of is the most civilised of any one that I know who may still be called a savage and the best interpreter of the more inland native’s languages of any that I have met with... I can place that confidence in him which I cannot in any other - all except him are afraid to go beyond the limits of the space which they inhabit with me (or indeed with any other) and I know this one would stand by me until I fell, if attacked by any strangers. His name is Moowattin".
In 1810 George Caley returned to England with Daniel Moowattin and George Suttor on the Hindostan. Also on the trip was Caley’s pet cockatoo named Jack. Moowattin was at that time only the third Aboriginal person to visit England. Moowattin was unable to disembark with Caley as he first required a sponsor. Once Joseph Banks agreed to act as a sponsor Caley immediately had him inoculated against smallpox as he was highly aware of the devastating impact that this virus had on the Aboriginal people. Over the next year their friendship continued in London, exploring the city together and visiting old friends such as George Suttor, the botanist Robert Brown, but also the former Governor William Bligh. They also visited the Royal Society in Kew together. From all contemporary accounts, Moowattin became an extremely fashionable man, attending theatres and coffee houses and smoking a pipe. During this time he began to drink heavily and this resulted in an argument with Caley in February 1811 that ended so badly that Caley hit Moowattin and broke his thumb. When asked about his thoughts on England Moowattin said:
"There were too many houses, trees were much wanted; could not imagine how all the people got food; thought the weather was so cold. Clouds too near the ground; horses fine, the men strong, the women beautiful".
In August 1811 Sir Joseph Banks requested that Moowattin was to return home. It was on his voyage home he met the future magistrate Robert Lowe who described him as a sensible man and very intelligent and “and so much pleased with the manners and customs of Europeans, that he had frequently during the passage avowed a determination to conform to them entirely after his arrival”. Yet shortly after returning home, he left the home he lived in with George Caley’s friend George Suttor in Baulkham Hills and returned to the bush. He eventually became a labourer and was working for an emancipist named William Bellamy, who had a farm in West Pennant Hills. It was here on the 6 August 1816 that he was accused of having attacked and raped a 15 year old girl called Hannah Russell. It was decided by those at the trial, which included Samuel Marsden and Gregory Blaxland, that due to his exposure to European culture he could distinguish between right and wrong and therefore could be found guilty. He was found guilty and with his hanging on the 1 November 1816 Moowattin became the first Aboriginal person in New South Wales to be legally executed.
Daniel Moowattin was a man caught between two worlds. His friendship with George Caley had given his life direction and purpose, but he was also deeply committed to his indigenous heritage. In the time he spent with Caley in Parramatta and all the places that they explored together they accomplished a great deal. Many specimens were sent back to Sir Joseph Banks in England, vastly increasing the scope of the natural world. Also some of the most meaningful interactions between the English and the Aboriginal people were made for the first time, influencing the future proceedings of this fledgling colony.
George Caley died in Bayswater, England, on the 23 May 1829.
‘Members of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities are advised that the this article contains images, names and stories of deceased peoples.’
Caroline Finlay, Regional Studies Facilitator, Parramatta Heritage Centre, City of Parramatta, 2020
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