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Towney (1835–1875)

A week or two ago "Towney the Tracker," a native well known in the Bourke district, died. He was about 40 years of age, and when young was in the service of Messrs. Hughes, Bloxam, and Edwards, on the Darling. He had been engaged as a tracker for the police for the last eight years, and owing to his marked ability obtained his title. He was a terror to the rest of the blacks at Bourke, and was often called upon by the whites to quieten their black servants. Unlike many Aborigines he was not addicted to drinking spirits excessively, and his usefulness to the police will make it difficult to obtain an efficient substitute. While driving a roguish horse about a fortnight prior to his death, Towney was kicked on the shin, a large flesh wound close to the bone resulting. The native, who was about three miles from Bourke, rode back, and was attended by a medical man, who applied the customary remedies, and ordered Towney to keep quiet. However, the Central Australian states that "the poor fellow became worse, and at his request was taken to the blacks' camp, where all the doctor's prescriptions were ignored, the bandages taken off, and the leg allowed to swell. The black doctor now tried his skill, applying clay, cold water, and incessant talking with his mouth close to the injured leg, as if charming it. Grog was eventually introduced to the camp; the king, queen, and all got drunk. Poor Towney, of course, got some; mortification soon set in, and the poor fellow in about 12 hours expired. Soon after death the body was covered with gum leaves, and rolled in an opossum rug and a blanket. His gin lay with her head resting on tbe corpse, and one of the oldest men lay in a similar manner. All were silent, and remained so for 24 hours. When preparations were made for the funeral two widowed gins, with hair cut short and heads covered or plastered with pipeclay, took prominent parts in the arrangements. The oldest men carried the body to the grave (some half a mile from the camp) on a pole, one end resting on each shoulder, and passed through the cords which secured the blanket and opossum rug on the corpse. A grave was dug in the shape of a well, about 4 ft. 6 in. deep. When the grave was ready the bier was raised by two old warriors, and at this moment a pitiful cry was raised by all the blacks. After silence was partly proclaimed an old warrior named Kangaroo, with a small branch of gum-tree in his hand, commenced addressing the corpse, with his head close to the body. He continued doing this incessantly for 20 minutes, and was answered by an old man in a stooping posture on the opposite side of the bier. When finished he was asked what the meaning of it was, and he said 'Like Father Ryan,' meaning the burial service. Two men in the grave laid an opossum-rug round it to receive the remains, which were lowered down amidst the cries of every black present. Gum leaves were then thrown over the body. And now comes the revolting part. Two men, adjusting the body in the grave, stand up. One takes a boomerang, the other stoops and receives a blow which draws blood freely. The boomerang is handed to the other; he then strikes, and both bleed copiously over the corpse. They are then removed, and three men go into the grave and strike each other till they bleed, bowing down their heads the while. One throws himself down, and is with difficulty removed. Three others repeat the same thing. These men all bled freely and in submission till the grave was almost covered with blood. The bleeding men now retired in sadness under trees; the gins applied gum leaves till the blood was stopped, meanwhile keeping up an unceasing cry. They submit, it seems, to their heads being cut in order to strengthen the deceased in the grave, and assist him to rise in another country, not, as is generally supposod, a white man, but a black. They carefully covered in the grave, and built a sort of gunyah over it with a bush fence round it. They swept round all the old graves, and returned to camp, leaving the wife of deceased and the widowed gins at the grave."

Original publication

Citation details

'Towney (1835–1875)', Obituaries Australia, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, accessed 14 April 2024.

© Copyright Obituaries Australia, 2010-2024

Life Summary [details]


New South Wales, Australia


27 January, 1875 (aged ~ 40)
Bourke, New South Wales, Australia

Cause of Death

horse riding accident

Cultural Heritage

Includes subject's nationality; their parents' nationality; the countries in which they spent a significant part of their childhood, and their self-identity.