Saturday 13 April 2013

Robert Gamble - Sealer of the South Coast of Australia

Following is the story of Robert Gamble and one of his Aboriginal wives "Eliza".  I thought that I would like to blog it to get initial reaction or just to get this important story of Australian History that is rarely written about, i.e. the stealing of Aboriginal women from the South Coast of Australia, "out there".

With the push of the publish button it will be there and I hope some may read it, some may even think about it, if only that I have blogged it is all that happens, perhaps that is enough.

Robert Gamble was believed to have been born about 1808, at this point the place of his birth is unknown however evidence seems to suggest that he came to Australia aboard the ship Surrey which sailed from Cork Ireland, maybe as crew or as part of a contingent of men to help ferry convicts down to Hobart from Sydney in about 1820.   

From around 1825 to 1830 Robert was sealing in Bass Strait.  He spent 10 months on King Island where he was later accused of murdering two Tasmanian aboriginal women. 

These women were taken from their people either from the Victorian coast or from the Tasmanian coast and forced into work for the sealers.  The sealers considered these women their property and would buy and sell them accordingly.  The men found that these women were hard working, could catch kangaroo and wallabies for their skins and food as well as being able to herd, skin and process the seal.  Sealing was extremely profitable and there is evidence to suggest that Robert Gamble made a good profit from it. 

In 1830 Robert gained employment with the Government of the day in what was then Van Diemen’s Land (Tasmania).  George Augustus Robertson, later to become the first “Protector or Aboriginals” in Victoria was commissioned by the government to seek out and relocate Tasmanian Aboriginals.  The main objective was to remove these people from their lands and place them on the islands of Bass Strait. 

Robert was first employed as coxswain on the schooner Carlton and then onboard the Charlotte with R.G. Robertson to navigate through the islands of Bass Strait.  R.G. Robertson believed that Robert Gamble was alerting the sealers to his intentions of removing the women from the sealers and R.G. Robertson dismissed Robert from the services of the government.

Robert now appears to go back to sealing and acquires a couple more women, these women this time coming from Port Phillip.  Eliza Nowen as she was to become known was most probably one of these women.  She was said to have come from the Pt. Nepean area.

Robert’s life now begins in the area of the Archipelago of Recheche were he is now involved with the sealing gang of John “Black” Anderson.  This man was well known in the Archipelago and was apparently an African slave escaped from America.  His reputation along with his circle of sealing men was infamous.

Robert and Eliza’s first recorded child was Martha in 1835.  She was recorded as having been born in Albany but was most probably born on one of the islands for the Recherche Archipelago.  Martha’s early life must have been extremely hard and family history states that she became deaf from an early age as a result of a boating accident. 

John, Robert and Isobella were shortly to follow all recorded as having been born in Albany however their fate is unknown and it is likely that they died in infancy and were buried in the islands somewhere.

Robert and Eliza become more involved within the community of Albany around the 1840’s and there are varying references associating him with the Hassell’s in what was to become Jeramongup and the search for coal in that area. 

As Robert becomes older he becomes more settled and by 1844 is overseer at Hassell’s property when Nancy is born.  Here Robert is to remain in part for the best part of the next fifteen years, indeed Nancy was still at the property of the Hassell’s up until and after she married William Serle.

Emma and John are apparently born in Albany in 1853 and 1860 respectively and in 1864 took up the position of Lighthouse Keeper for the Harbour and Lights Government department at Breaksea Island.  He wrote to his daughter while he was there that it was not arduous work, however it was isolated and there was a lot of writing to be done each month.

Robert and Eliza’s health deteriorated and in June 1867 they left Breaksea Island and returned to Albany where on the 28 Aug 1867 Robert passed away, followed by Eliza on the 5 Oct.  Martha also died in 1867 in September after complications in childbirth.  All are buried in the Albany Memorial Cemetery but the exact locations of the plots are unknown.

Robert and Eliza’s legacy to us as their descendents is truly amazing.  We have continued to multiply and grow as families and, I believe that both Robert and Eliza would be proud to know how varied and wide spread their descendents have become.

©Theresa Lo.Presti
Pat Keenan

Revised, 2009-08-20

1 comment:

  1. Hi Patricia, I have sent you a private message on Facebook (if I have the correct Patricia Keenan) as I came across this blog and have a decent family tree back to Robert Gamble. I would love to chat more..