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Lettsom Raid

The Lettsom Raid occurred at dawn on Sunday 11 October 1840, when Major Samuel Lettsom, accompanied by 58 soldiers and police, rounded up 400 Aboriginal people who were camped near Melbourne and marched them to town, 'pricking them with their bayonets and beating them with the butt end of their muskets'. Two men were killed and others wounded.

Major Lettsom had been dispatched from Sydney to apprehend Aboriginal leaders responsible for attacks against settlers on the Goulburn River, but followed them to Melbourne after learning that they had gone there for a ceremonial gathering. Lettsom demanded that Protector William Thomas hand over the Goulburn 'troublemakers' but he refused, arguing that there were no warrants for their arrest. Lettsom then gained permission from Superintendent La Trobe to make the raid.

Edward S. Parker, Protector for the Goulburn region, managed to free all but 30 of the Goulburn men, ten of whom were put on trial on 6 December 1840. They were tried without the benefit of a defence lawyer or interpreter and nine were sentenced to ten years transportation for theft. The raid and its aftermath illustrate that Aboriginal people were not treated as equals under British law, despite the legal fiction that said they were.

Michael F. Christie