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On this day 190 years ago, Captain James Stirling landed at Raffles Bay on the Cobourg Peninsula, determined to establish a military settlement. Named ‘Fort Wellington’, it was designed to keep the French and Dutch out and to foster trade with Southeast Asia. It was the second attempt at a settlement in the north by the British, following the disaster of Fort Dundas on Melville Island. But things took a turn for the worse for the settlers this time too when the fresh water ran out and the local Aboriginal people put up a strong defence of their home. Stirling’s whaleboat was stolen and stripped of iron to be used for spearheads. Conflict escalated and in February 1828 an Aboriginal woman and one of her children were killed. Her other daughter Riveral was captured. While conditions at the settlement eventually improved, by 1829 the British had lost patience and it was like the one before it, abandoned. It would take nearly ten years before they tried establishing yet another military settlement and another 30 years before the beginnings of a little town called Palmerston, now Darwin.

Published: 18 June 2017

Picture: Observatory at Raffles Bay, lithograph by Louis Le Breton, National Library of Australia


Forgotten Territory was a weekly photo column of historic images in the Northern Territory News which I curated from 2016 until 2019 supported by the collections of the Northern Territory Library and other cultural institutions around Australia, as well as local history Facebook groups. 

Click on the images to read the story behind the image.

Warning: May contain images of people who have died.

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