1. Themes
  2. A to Z

Port Phillip Protectorate

On the recommendation of the British Select Committee on Aborigines (1837), a protectorate was established in the Port Phillip District in 1838. Chief protector George Augustus Robinson was appointed on a generous salary of £500 a year, and James Dredge, William Thomas, Edward Stone Parker and Charles Sievwright were made assistant protectors on £250 per annum. Robinson had colonial experience, but the others, four schoolteachers and a former soldier, were appointed in England. The protectors were required to travel with Koorie groups, learn their languages, set up schools for them and act as their advocates in court. Because the protectors brought large families with them, each eventually established a central station, which incorporated the family home with a school and a ration depot. Such stations were established at Narre Narre Warren, at Mount Rouse, at Franklinford and at 'Mitchellstown' on the Goulburn River.

The protectorate was generously funded to start with (£24 000 in 1839-43). It also had the backing of powerful philanthropic groups in England, but such support was lacking in New South Wales. The squatters and the press, particularly in the Port Phillip District, where the scheme was introduced, gave it a hostile reception. Even the colonial authorities viewed it as a threat to their authority. Gipps warned Superintendent La Trobe to treat the protectors circumspectly because in England 'Persons perhaps more powerful than the Government' would believe and act on their reports.

Although protectors were made justices of the peace in order to take depositions in frontier conflicts and represent their Aboriginal clients in court, anomalies in the law prevented most Aboriginal suspects from getting a fair trial. It is hard to say to what extent the protectorate modified the impact of white settlement on indigenous societies. Aboriginal people were still dispossessed, poisoned, shot, raped, infected and ridiculed. Their language, culture and health were undermined, but at least the protectorate stations offered a place of refuge and a source of food and medicine for those who survived the loss of land and the spread of disease. It also generated reports that provide documentary evidence of traditional Aboriginal lifestyles and the Aboriginal struggle to maintain them. From 1842 funds were cut (£17 000 was spent in 1843-50), and internal wrangling and external interference reduced the protectorate's effectiveness. The colonial government argued that it had failed and, following the 1849 New South Wales Select Committee on Aborigines, abandoned it.

Michael F. Christie

Arkley, Lindsey, The hated protector: the story of Charles Wightman Sievwright, protector of Aborigines 1839-42, Orbit Press, Melbourne, 2000. Details
Christie, M.F., Aborigines in colonial Victoria, 1835-86, Sydney University Press, Sydney, 1979. Details
Clark, Ian D. (ed.), The journals of George Augustus Robinson, chief protector, Port Phillip Aboriginal Protectorate, vol. 1-6 of 6, Heritage Matters, Melbourne, 2000. Details