Bennelong’s Life: a timeline

  • Sydney, Bennelong Point
  • Stories, Concept, Program


Approximate birth of Wongal man Woollarawarre Bennelong (also Baneelon, Wogultrowey, Wolarrabarrey, Boinba, Bundebunda). His sisters are Munanguri (Carangarang), Warreweer, and Wurrgan. His partners are Kurubarabulu, Barangaroo and Borong.

January 26, 1788

British invade and, without a treaty and in denial of 50,000 years of Indigenous settlement, improperly apply terra nullius and establish a colony by occupation, naming it after the Lord (Viscount) Sydney, Secretary of State for the Home Office.

December 29, 1788

Arabanoo captured and held captive in the colony until his death from smallpox in May 1789.

April, May 1789

Watkin Tench, writing in The Settlement at Port Jackson observes, “An extraordinary calamity was now observed among the natives. Repeated accounts brought by our boats of finding bodies of the Indians in all the coves and inlets of the harbour, caused the gentlemen of our hospital to procure some of them for the purposes of examination and anatomy.” Bennelong later reports to Governor Phillip that more than half of the Eora clans are claimed by the illness. Nanbaree and Boorong, both children, survive the epidemic and continue to live in the colony.

November 1789

Governor Phillip orders two natives to be captured and brought to the colony. Bennelong and Colebee are shackled. Colebee escapes almost immediately, Bennelong remains until May 1790.

September 1790

200 Eora people from several tribes, had gathered on Manly beach to feast on the carcass of a whale. Lieutenant Henry Waterhouse, who was present, describes in An Account of Governor Phillip being wounded in September 1790 at New South Wales what happens when he and Governor Phillip land on the beach and reconnect with Bennelong, whom they have not seen for several months.

Benalong on the Governors going up had a remarkable good spear which the Governor asked him for but he either would or could not understand him but took it & lay’d it down in the grass. The Nativs now seem’d closing round us which the Governor took notice of, & said he thought we had better retreat as they had formed a crescent with us in the center... Just as we were going Benalong pointed out & name several Nativs that were near, one in particular to whome the Governor presented his hand & advanced towards him, at which he seem’d frighten’d & seis’d the spear Benalong had laid in the grass, fixed his throwing stick & immediately threw it with astonishing violent, all those that were near made off with the greatest precipitation.

The spear took Phillip above the right collarbone, penetrated his body and emerged lower down his back, close to his backbone. Waterhouse tried to break the long spear shaft which jammed into the sand as Phillip tried to run. He broke it and they ran for the boat.

Beau Dean Riley Smith playing Bennelong in 'Responding' from Bennelong, Photography Dan Boud, 27 June 2017

October, 1790

After the spearing, which Phillips survives, and is understood by some historians as a ceremonial act of conciliation, Eora countrymen “come in” to the colony in large numbers.

December 1790

Bidjigal warrior Pemulwuy spears and kills John McIntyre, Governor Phillip’s hated gamekeeper. Phillip orders reprisal beheadings, Tench argues for capture, the expeditions fail. William Dawes refuses to take part in further expeditions and is ordered to return to England.


A brick hut, 3.6 m2 is built for Bennelong on the eastern point of Sydney Cove, now known as Bennelong Point. Bennelong’s wife, Barangaroo, dies from complications after the birth of Bennelong’s daughter Dilboong.


Bennelong and Yemmerawanye accompany Governor Phillip to England. Yemmerawanye dies and is buried in Eltham, England.


Bennelong returns to Australia.


Bennelong writes a letter to former patrons in London asking for gifts of reciprocity.

Sir, I am very well. I hope you are very well. I live at the governor’s. I have every day dinner there. I have not my wife; another black man took her away. We have had muzzy doings; he speared me in the back, but I better now; his name is Carroway. All my friends alive and well. Not me go to England no more.


Bennelong dies, buried on the estate of James Squire.

Note: quoted sources appear as originally published, including spelling and grammar.