DAISY MAY BATES

1859 - 1951

 

 

 

 

 

 

Daisy Bates.

 

This article is a substantial re-write of our original and was prepared for us by Brian Lomas. Brian has researched Daisy's life and has written a book titled 'Queen of Deception'. The book untangles the misconceptions and falsehoods that have been part of the story of Daisy Bates' life for so long.

 

Remembered mostly for her work among the Aboriginal people, Daisy Bates' life would have been one filled with controversy and scandal had her secrets been known during her lifetime. During her career as a journalist and writer she constructed such a credible persona much of it has survived the test of time.

Daisy Bates was born Margaret Dwyer on October 16 1859 in Roscrea, County Tipperary, Ireland. Her mother, Bridget, died from tuberculosis in 1864 and in the same year her father, James, remarried, and then died while en route to the United States. Taken in by relatives, Daisy was educated at Airhill National School, Roscrea.

After leaving school she worked as a governess before immigrating to Australia in 1883, by which time she had changed her name to Daisy May O'Dwyer. Obtaining a position as a governess at Fanning Downs station in northern Queensland, she met Harry Harboard Morant, a flamboyant, hard-drinking, male chauvinist who was a stockman there. After a brief courtship, they were married at Charters Towers on 13 March 1884 and the ceremony, which appears to have been somewhat impromptu and casual, took place at a friend's home.

 

Their marriage lasted 4 weeks 5 days, ending when Morant was apprehended for theft. Although subsequently acquitted, he was ordered out of town and headed inland toward the Northern Territory where he gained fame as a horse breaker, drinker, gambler, womaniser and bush poet. Morant, who also went by the name of Edwin Henry Murrant, was made famous by the film Breaker Morant (1980).

Before the end of the year she moved to Pyree, New South Wales where she met Jack (John) Bates and they married on 17 February 1885. Three years older than Daisy, Jack was an experienced stockman with his own droving team. Shortly after their marriage Jack left to go droving, which was mostly done during the cooler and wetter months from March to November. While Jack was away Daisy married a seaman, Ernest Baglehole in Sydney. This marriage lasted for the duration his ship was docked. Since the discovery of her marriages in recent times she has been castigated for, among other things, her bigamy. At the time divorce was the preserve of the wealthy and the working class had a fluid attitude towards marriage. If their personal or economic circumstances dramatically changed and they had few or no assets and no children, it was commonplace for a couple to agree to separate.

On August 26 the following year, 1886, Daisy gave birth to a son, Arnold, and her marital meanderings ceased. Sharing many of the traits of his mother, which included her inability for form a loving attachment, he would eventually leave his wife and family, isolate himself from his mother and settle in New Zealand near Jack's youngest brother, Uncle Hugh, Aunt Annie and cousins Ivy, Annie and Cilla.

 

 

Daisy Bates.

 

During the next eight years Daisy Bates is known to have visited Victoria and Tasmania, possibly working as a governess. In February 1894 she left for England and legend has it that she told Jack she would only return when he had a home established for her. After visiting her sisters, Daisy settled in London where she worked as secretary for Miss Ada Freer, sub-editor of the quarterly spiritualist magazine Borderland. Freer and Bates had much in common and it was during this period that Daisy developed her writing skills and became interested in a career as a journalist. The magazine ceased publication in October 1897 and nothing is known of Daisy Bates whereabouts until she returned to Australia in 1899.

During the voyage from Southampton to Fremantle, Western Australia, she developed a close relationship with a fellow passenger, Rev Martelli. When she disembarked on 6 \September 1899, her immediate priorities were to find a suitable school and lodgings for her son and to make her presence known to educated women with a literary interest. Rev Martelli helped her find Arnold a place at the Christian Brothers College, Guildford and she became a member of the literary division of the Karrakatta Club, the first women's club in Australia.

In her version of those early years Daisy Bates always maintained that she left Perth in March 1900 to investigate charges of ill-treatment of the Aborigines of Western Australia made by Mr Walter Malcolmson and to report back to The Times London. Daisy Bates wrote that she had sent a letter to The Times contradicting Mr Malcolmson's claims, but that was after his letter was published by The Times in April 1904.

Daisy Bates travelled by coastal steamer to Cossack in March 1900 and joined Jack at the nearby town of Roebourne. From there they travelled by buggy along the north coast road to Port Hedland, then retraced their tracks to Roebourne and continued south to Carnarvon. After selling their three horses and the buggy, they boarded a steamer to Fremantle on 31 July 1900. In her subsequent stories of this journey she gave the impression she was travelling independently by assiduously omitting any reference to her husband. These articles described the agricultural prospects for the region and she only mentioned the Aboriginal people in one derogatory sentence.

A few weeks later she was northbound again, this time travelling with her close friend Rev Martelli and the head of the Catholic Church for Western Australia, Bishop Gibney to Beagle Bay mission. Bishop Gibney was working to an impending deadline. He would be granted freehold title on the 10,000 acre mission site provided he could satisfy the government 5000 worth of improvements had been made.

An odd event occurred right at the start. Despite needing all the help he could muster, Bishop Gibney sent Rev Martelli away from the mission within a few days for what were spurious reasons. Then the government assessor, Joe Dreyer, arrived before repairs had barely commenced, yet after a brief inspection with the Bishop, Dreyer concluded that the improvements exceeded 5000. This valuation came as no surprise to Bishop Gibney as Dreyer was the son-in-law of his friend George Throssel, the Commissioner for Crown Lands.

In her first published article, The Possibilities of Tropical Agriculture in the Nor West,' (The W.A. Record 11 August 1901) and other articles about this journey written at the time she makes no mention of the Aboriginal people at the mission, lies about the length of time Rev Martelli remained there and creates what can only be a fictional account of the surveyors valuation. Bishop Gibney rewarded her complicity by offering her a position as journalist on his newspaper, The WA Record.

Almost immediately she began writing vituperative articles critical of government ministers and administrators and after six months Bishop Gibney terminated her tenure. Daisy and Jack were last seen together in April 1903 and in later years she would say she was a widow and at other times refer to herself as Miss Daisy Bates.

Her journalist skills had not gone unnoticed and in 1904 the West Australian Registrar-General appointed her to collect and document Aboriginal vocabularies and descriptions of their customs for posterity. Assiduously applying herself to the task, over the ensuing eight years she became the leading authority on the Aboriginals of Western Australian and in particular the Noongar people of the south-west.

In 1910 she was appointed a temporary Travelling Protector of Aborigines and a member of the Cambridge Scientific Expedition. She travelled with the expeditions leader, Alfred Brown, his assistant Grant Watson and their cook Louis Olsen to Geraldton, Sandstone, Carnarvon and the Lock hospitals on Dorre and Bernier islands. Hoping to secure a permanent position as a Protector, she recommended the removal of a Lattie and Pirta from their mothers, placated the mother of another girl, Polly while she was removed, notified the Chief Protector of the whereabouts of a boy, Charlie, and with the assistance of another Protector of Aborigines removed another young girl, Lily. (Source: Queen of Deception, 2015.)

In 1911 the government terminated her services and after a brief period as housekeeper for Kingsley Fairbridge, she left Western Australia in 1912 to live with Miss Beatrice Raine at Nullabor Plains station. In October 1913 she left Miss Raine and pitched her tent at Eucla while waiting for funds from the sale of her properties.

After four months at Eucla she travelled by camel buggy to Fowlers Bay, South Australia before moving on to Adelaide where she appeared before the Commission of Inquiry examining the conditions of the South Australia Aboriginal people. Despite witnessing the forced removal of Aboriginal people from their country and the tragic conditions at the Lock hospitals she informed the Commission she thought such hospitals were an imperative. After describing her observations at Eucla and Nullabor Plains station she asked to be appointed a Protector of Aborigines, given an annual stipend of 200 and offered to patrol the region to prevent the cohabitation of white men with Aboriginal women. After inquiry the Commission concluded her observations were without foundation and dismissed her request.

While in Adelaide she attended sessions held by anthropological section of the British Association for the Advancement of Science, then she travelled to Sydney to see her son Arnold, his wife Lola and their newborn son, Ronald.

Having spent most of her money she returned to Fowlers Bay where she lived with the Murray family at Yalata Homestead. In 1917 she was given charge of the welfare of three Aboriginal people during which time their condition deteriorated, one of them died and she became infected with the eyesight disease trachoma.

After recuperating in Adelaide she moved to Ooldea siding where she pitched her tent half a mile from the Trans-Australian railway line. She camped there for fourteen years during which time she wrote numerous newspaper articles about interesting people she had met, the places she had visited and in particular, stories about Aboriginal people. During these years she made national headlines by concocting sensationalist stories about Aboriginal cannibalism. These stories were without foundation and she became alienated from the anthropological community and many of her supporters. In 1934 she was made a Commander of the British Empire for services to the Aboriginal people. The following year she heard her husband, Jack, had passed away and left her camp for Adelaide two weeks later.

In Adelaide she worked on her autobiography, My Natives and I, which was published in newspapers across the country in 1936 as a series of articles. In 1938 this serialisation was edited and published as book The Passing of the Aborigines. Before her autobiography was published Daisy Bates resumed tent life, camping on the banks of the Murray River at Loxton, South Australia.

Towards the end of 1940 she left Loxton for Adelaide where she began cataloging her ethnographic and manuscript collection for the Commonwealth archives. In February 1941 she attended a ceremony in Canberra where she handed her collection to the National Library of Australia.

At the age of eighty-one she resumed tent life again, pitching her tent near Wynbring siding, about 100 miles east of Ooldea. A virtual exile, she isolated herself from the white railway workers and banished Aboriginal people from her camp. Her physical and mental condition deteriorated and she was admitted to Port Augusta hospital in February 1945. During her recuperation the matron and nurses asked her about her experience nursing Aboriginal people and were surprised to find she knew little to nothing about health care. The staff concluded she was a fraud, which is compounded by Daisy Bates herself. In several of her newspaper articles she conceded that no white person ever saw her nurse an Aboriginal person.

After a month in hospital she lived for a while at hotels in the Streaky Bay region of South Australia. In 1948, infirm and forgetful, she re-joined Miss Beatrice Raine at her house in Adelaide where she remained for a year. In October 1949 she was admitted to The Sanatorium Hospital and died with Beatrice Raine at her side on 18 April 1951.

 

Chronology

 

1859 - October 16 Born Margaret Dwyer at Roscrea, Ireland.
1883 - Moved to Queensland.
1884 - Married Harry Morant.
1885 - Married John (Jack) Bates on February 17th at Nowra NSW.
1885 - Went to Sydney and married Ernest Baglehole on June 10th.
1886 - Daisy gives birth to a son, Arnold Bates.
1894 - Daisy goes to England.
1899 - Returns to Australia, moving to Perth, Western Australia.
1900 - Undertakes 2 journeys to the north of the State, first with her husband Jack, and then to Beagle Bay mission north of Broome.
1902 - With her husband Jack, son Arnold and Jack's droving team they take 850 cattle from Roebuck Plains station to Roy Hill station.
1904 - Government appoints Daisy to collect and document West Australian Aboriginal customs and languages.
1906 - Establishes a camp beside Noongar Aboriginal people at Welshpool Reserve, aka Maamba.
1908 - Travels about the South West of the State gathering ethnographic information.
1910/11 - The first woman to be appointed a Travelling Protector of Aborigines, she joins the Cambridge Scientific expedition. During her travels she assists in the removal of four Aboriginal children from their parents.
1912 - Leaves Western Australia and lives with Miss Beatrice Raine at Nullabor Plains station.
1913 - Leaves the station and camps at Eucla.
1914 - Travels to Adelaide where she attempts to secure a position as a Protector of Aborigines. Attends meetings of the British Association for the Advancement of Science and visits her son, Arnold and family in Sydney.
1915-1918 - Living at Fowlers Bay, South Australia and begins to have eyesight problems caused by trachoma.
1919 - Recuperates in Adelaide before moving to Ooldea siding on the Trans-Australian railway line.
1920 - Appointed Justice of the Peace.
1934 - Awarded the CBE.
1935 - Returns to Adelaide to write her autobiography.
1936 - Her autobiography is published in serial form under the title My Natives and I.
1837 - Preferring to live in a tent, she camps beside the Murray River at Loxton, South Australia.
1938 - Her autobiography is edited into book form with the title The Passing of the Aborigines.
1940 - Leaves her camp to live in Adelaide.
1941 - Goes to Canberra where she donates her life's work (99 boxes of papers) to the National Library.
1941 - Aged 81, she returns to her tent life for final time, camping at Wynbring siding, 100 miles east of Ooldea.
1945 - Admitted to Port Augusta hospital.
1948 - In declining health, she rejoins her close friend Miss Beatrice Raine in Adelaide.
1951 - Dies on April 18th.

It should be noted that 'facts' and common held beliefs about Daisy Bates should be viewed with some skepticism, particularly those on government websites as these have not been updated for many years. All 'facts' listed above are verifiable from sources other than Daisy Bates.

 

Links to more information:

 

Bates, Daisy May (1863-1951)

Daisy Bates

Daisy Bates collection

The Passing of the Aborigines

Bates, Daisy (1859-1951)

 

 

 

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