Australia - South Australia/Northern Territory.
Barrow Creek Telegraph Station - the 1874 attack.

Sydney Morning Herald 6 March 1874:


The following details of this sad occurrence have been forwarded to the Adelaide journals by Mr. Todd, Superintendent of Telegraphs:

"On the evening of Sunday, the 22nd April, the whole of the station party, consisting of Mr. Stapleton, the master and seven others, including a civilized native boy, were outside the building smoking. They were holding a conversation with a young black fellow whom they proposed sending up the line on horseback with one of the line men when they were suddenly attacked from the eastern corner of the station-house by a large body of natives who speared Mr. Stapleton.

Being perfectly unarmed, the assailed made immediately for their station, to which there is only one mode of ingress; but here they were repulsed by a shower of weapons and Mr. Flint, the assistant operator, and police trooper Gason were both wounded. Finding their retreat fenced off, they ran round the building in the hope that they would be followed. This ruse appears to have been successful, for on making a second attempt to enter the gate they found it unguarded, and they accordingly entered, but not before John Frank, one of the linemen, had been fatally wounded.

The party, when inside the building, which is as secure as a fortress, immediately armed themselves and three shots were fired through the window at a body of natives at a distance of twenty yards and afterwards two rifle shots at a distance of 100 yards.

Next day, at 7 a.m., the natives made their appearance, all armed, and seemed meditating a second attack; and four rifle shots, reaching a distance of 500 yards, were fired to disperse them. The trooper reports that it is probable that one or two of the shots took effect, as some of the natives were seen to fall, and he thinks there is no doubt that some of the natives were mortally wounded in the affray of Sunday evening.

John Frank, the lineman, was speared in his right side, the weapon penetrating his heart and passing through the back in a downward direction. He died immediately after entering the kitchen. Mr. Stapleton,  the stationmaster, was also fatally injured. He was wounded in the left side, the size of the wound being reported to be about 1 inch broad and 3 inches deep. He also received a nasty injury in the left thigh.

James Stapleton - taken about 1852.

Mr. Stapleton was formerly in the employ of the Victorian Government, in connection with the Telegraph Department.

In 1870 he went by the Omeo to the Northern Territory and was assistant overseer of works on the telegraph line. He was afterwards appointed as Stationmaster of one of the Northern stations, and subsequently removed to act in the same capacity at Barrow Creek.

He left a wife and four children, who lived in Adelaide.

The first reports announced that Mr. Stapleton was mortally wounded; but subsequently it was hoped that a decided improvement had taken place in his case, his pains being eased by the kindness of Dr. C. Gosse, who, at the instance of Mr. Todd, attended at the head office to prescribe for the patients.

Mr. J. L Stapleton died peacefully on Monday afternoon. Dr. Gosse gave full medical instructions up to near the officer's end, and when he appeared to be getting worse.

Mrs. Stapleton, who resides at North Adelaide, was sent for by Mr. Todd. She conversed with her fast-sinking husband by wire, and while messages were still being sent from here asking for further information, a telegram came announcing his decease.

Pen sketch of the attack.
Source State Library of Victoria IAN25/03/74.37.

Mr. Flint, the operator, was speared in the leg, and the wound penetrated to the bone at a distance of 7 inches below the hip. The black boy, who was saved by being dragged through the window, was wounded half an inch below the right collar bone. He also received a spear wound in the left side, between his fourth and fifth ribs, and his right hand was badly torn. Mr. Flint, who telegraphs to Mr. Todd while in great pain upon his bed, hopes to be all right in a few days and he believes the boy will also recover. At the instruction of Dr. Gosse, the wounded men were kept awake the whole of the night, for fear their flesh might have been poisoned by the spears.

It is stated that the object of the natives in making the attack was to obtain supplies of flour and mutton. The following description of the station, published some time ago by the South Australian Register, will prove interesting and show to the friends of those interested that the building is specially erected for the purposes of defence:

"Barrow's Creek is the prettiest station on the overland line but it is a perfect hotbed of hostility. The building, like that at Charlotte Waters and Alice Springs, is of stone, and forms three sides of a square, with high walls and a strong iron gate across the back. In front of the house there are four windows, well protected with iron bars; there are also loopholes all round the house, but no other openings to the outside. All the doors open into the yard, the house is roofed with iron, and when the iron gates are closed it is a perfect fortress, which could be successfully held by three or four resolute men against very great odds. There are six men all told at each of the interior stations, and sometimes the work is warm enough for them.

The natives pulled the wire down and cut away great quantities of it for the purpose of arming the points of their spears. They also smashed the porcelain insulators and used the sharp-edged pieces to scrape their spear-blades into shape.

At the time of the attack, it appears that the station party consisted of eight persons, including the black boy; but instructions have gone forward for Mr. Tucker, the Station-master at Tennant's Creek, to reinforce them as speedily as possible. The Commissioner of Police has been solicited to augment the present force at Barrow's Creek and, after the serious affray which has just occurred, he will, no doubt, comply with the request.

The police trooper's report says:

"Since my arrival here, on the 14th instant, the natives have been treated kindly, and not interfered with in the slightest manner. The station-master made them several presents and was endeavouring to make them useful. The attack was made by them without the slightest provocation. To get possession of the flour and mutton, and to murder all hands, was their only object. A great many of the natives who attacked the station can be identified."