The Trial of Bungarrow (alias Sam)

Readers please be aware that this post contains the names of Indigenous Australians who are deceased, and it also describes violent scenes and indications of sexual abuse.

The 18th of January, 1906, was a Thursday. It had been a particularly hot day for those working out on the Yuin Reef Mine, and the heat had continued long into the night.

That night, an Indigenous Australian woman named Energy had been sleeping with a little seven year old boy out the back of Mrs Flora Carlyon’s kitchen, close to an electric light that lit up the premises. Energy had been working for Mrs Carlyon over that Summer. At about 10pm, she had been woken from her slumber by a familiar face. It was Bungarrow (Note: also known as Sam), another Indigenous Australian who worked from station to station up in the Murchison district. He had told her to go to the Italian’s camp and “get money” from them. (Note: In Energy’s witness statement it is unclear whether he wished it to be stolen or retrieved in another way). She refused and Sam went away. Energy rolled over back asleep, wrapped in her blanket. She remembered hearing the 11pm whistle blow and soon after felt a sharp pain in her left side. She rolled over and there was no-one there, but she had been speared through her blanket. Half of the spear had been broken off and had hit her in the head.

Arthur Carlyon, son of Flora and Richard John Carlyon, had been sleeping outside under the dining room window on that night. He had been bothered by the heat and decided to sleep in the buggy at about 11:30pm. He heard someone moving around near the kitchen and checked to see what the commotion was. It was then that he saw Sam sneaking up behind Energy with the spear raised about 40 yards away. Arthur yelled out to Energy to “look out” but Sam had already speared Energy in the left side. The spear broke and Sam attempted to push it further into her. Arthur yelled at Sam and he then ran away through the gate of the property.

Arthur then ran down to his father, Richard John Carlyon, who had been driving the whip-horse, and told him what had happened. Richard immediately ran up to the house and woke his wife, Flora, who bandaged the wound. After the wound, which was 1 inch deep, had been cleaned and bandaged, Mrs Lena Merritt and her sister took Energy down to where the Indigenous Australian camp was.

Energy luckily recovered and Richard John Carlyon handed the spear over as evidence to Constable George Jorgen Jensen, who took witness statements from everyone.

Henry Maginess, Police Constable at Mt Wittenoom PD (Note: approximately 125km from Yuin) apprehended Sam on the 20th of June, 5 months after the offence had taken place. Sam had gone on the run and had eventually found his way to Mt Wittenoom, where he was arrested on the charge of unlawful attempt to kill. Sam’s trial date was set for Wednesday the 5th of September, 1906.

Energy had recalled that the spear she had been maimed with was used only by Indigenous Australians with the intention to kill. She added that she was not the partner of Sam (Note: and so it was no domestic dispute), she had had a partner but he was now deceased. Often Sam had harassed her about going to the Italian’s camp, or to go away from the house towards the windmill with an Italian man, but she never went. She threatened that she would get Mrs Carlyon to hunt him away if he did not leave to his camp.

Arthur Carlyon was adamant that the perpetrator was Sam, as he could clearly see the offence unfold under the electric light. He had also known Sam for three years, so was confident he could recognise him. Arthur’s father, Richard, stated that he had also warned Sam previously about abuse he had unleashed on Energy.

Astonishingly, before the trial had started, Sam had admitted guilt to the crime. He had retaliated with the spear when Energy had refused to go with him, at first intending to kill her but he had changed his mind as he realised he might be hanged for the crime. This statement was witnessed by Robert Wallace and Owen McKenna, JPs.

The spear was reproduced in this trial and each witness, as well as the victim and Police Constable Jensen, identified the spear as being the one used for the crime. Another witness, an Indigenous Australian woman named Coolya Coolya, was also asked to speak but unfortunately I cannot find what her testimony was. Sam also identified the spear.

Mr A. H duBoulay represented the Crown in this trial, and Mr A. T Mills was the defence for Sam. After all evidence had been shown to the jury of twelve, they were reminded that only Arthur, a boy, had seen the spearing occur. Energy hadn’t, and Richard Carlyon hadn’t. There was no direct evidence, apart from Arthur’s testimony, that Sam had thrown the spear. The jury were told that the “prisoner should receive the benefit of any doubt” and that they should keep in mind the “difference of temperament between white and black” (Note: the false and racist belief that darker skin means you have a more aggressive temperament). The jury returned and gave the verdict of “Not guilty”, and Sam was acquitted.

Unfortunately, no justice was found for Energy and nothing was heard of from Sam again. However, looking into this event has brought up more than one issue. Even though there are but subtle indications through Energy’s witness testimony, it is clear as day to me that there was a deeper issue of sexual violence and abuse being enacted on the Indigenous women of Yuin Reef.


“Geraldton Quarter Sessions”, Geraldton Express, 7th September 1906, page 2.

“Item Evidence 1906/1- Bungarrow alias Sam – attempted murder of Aboriginal Native Woman ‘Energy’ at Yuin Reef. Witness Arthur S Carlyon”, Geraldton Clerk of Courts, State Records Office of Western Australia, 1906.

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