The battle at Razorback, the growing number of raids and the mounting settler deaths forced Governor Macquarie to act. His response was to mobilise the largest military expedition in the history of the colony ‘so as to Strike them with Terror against Committing Similar Acts of Violence in future’.
Macquarie’s infamous campaign of April 1816, which resulted in the massacre of at least 14 Dharawal people at Appin, involved well-coordinated infantry detachments sweeping through the west and southwest of the Cumberland Plain. The campaign effectively ended resistance to the Europeans in the Sydney region and on its fringes (although there were smaller conflicts into 1817).
The campaign was developed in response to the aggressive tactics and military victories of the Aboriginal warriors, and the number of European deaths. Ultimately, Macquarie well understood that this situation could not continue if the colony was to expand across the mountains and to the south towards the ‘new discovered lands’. An often-overlooked factor in Macquarie’s thinking was his realisation that the supply route to Bathurst via Cox’s road was under threat. A detachment was ordered to defend it and escort all government movements along the route.
Hassall’s description of events has largely been ignored by historians, or treated as a farcical example of settler retaliation. However, it contains graphic details of a desperate foray by a scratch militia force against a concerted campaign by warriors that showed significant signs of preparation and planning.
The warriors lured the militia into advancing up a rocky hill until they were close enough for ‘showers’ of spears and stones — almost certainly stockpiled in advance. This excellent guerilla warfare tactic had been refined in the Sydney region over years of conflict and armed confrontations with settlers and soldiers.
As the settlements expanded across the Cumberland Plain, its rugged fringes became, as James Ryan put it, ‘a very advantageous retreating ground’. It was here that warriors were victorious in several engagements, using terrain of their choice, often with stockpiled weaponry. The Blue Mountains are remembered from school history as ‘impassable barriers’ that were only ‘conquered’ by Blaxland, Lawson and Wentworth after more than 20 years of attempts. Yet for Gandangarra, Dharug, Dharawal, Darkinjung and other Aboriginal people, they were places of retreat, safety and ambush during what one colonist described as the long-running ‘open war between the natives and the settlers’.