New South Wales
WARNING: Visitors should be aware that this website includes images and names of deceased people that may cause sadness or distress to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples.
These are the breastplates annotated in King Plates: A History of Aboriginal Gorgets by Jakelin Troy (1993) as well as breastplates that have come into the National Museum of Australia's collection since the publication of the book. More breastplates will be progressively added.
We welcome feedback about any of the breastplates and/or additional breastplates.
Image Gallery Page Navigation
Page 3 of 7
John Neville, King of Mahaderree
1985.59.381 Edmund O Milne Collection
146 x 116 x 8
This is a very old and well-worn gorget. The holes from which it was suspended are very eroded and the surface is scratched, pitted, dented and corroded. The engraving is so damaged that it is difficult to be certain that the designation is Mahaderree. The first 'a' in the word may actually be 'y'. The deep crescentic shape, style of lettering and design suggest early to mid-nineteenth century.
John Neville remains an enigma. However, Mahaderree may have been Maharatta Station:
Maharatta. Is situated in the district of Menaroo, N.S.W., 58 miles from Twofold Bay; it is the station of Messrs. Robertson and Throsby. The two word endings, -ratta and -derree, are possibly the same kind of suffix or confused suffixes. In the nineteenth century there was no common method of spelling Aboriginal words and people made up their own systems. In fact, it is only recently that a common system of principles has been adopted by linguists and there is still variation.
Lease no 114, Maharatta, Charles Throsby, non-resident, cattle and sheep. 
1 WH Wells, A Geographical Dictionary; or Gazetteer of the Australian Colonies, 1848, The Council of the Library of New South Wales, Sydney, 1848, p. 247.
2 WK Hancock, Discovering Monaro: a Study of Man's Impact on His Environment, Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, 1972, p. 52
James Fearnought, King of Merigal
1985.59.382 Edmund O Milne Collection
200 x113 x 2
Both the shape and manufacture of this gorget are unusual among those in the Museum's collection. It is a particularly shallow crescent shape and the plate is very thin sawn and beaten brass. The lettering of the inscription is a little rough, but its accurate placement and the balance of design suggest it was the work of a professional engraver. The decoration is the popular emu and kangaroo. The surface patina of the gorget is particularly smooth and although the suspension holes are only slightly worn the lightness of the plate would not put much strain on them. Evidence collected by Edmund Milne suggests a date of about 1850 for the gorget which is reinforced by the style of lettering and design.
In 1912 Milne was able to obtain some information about James Fearnought and his son Michael via two letters from John Jones whose grandfather gave James the gorget. The name Fearnought was probably given to James in honour of his reputation as 'a great fighter'.
Yours to hand re 'James Fearnot' the plate you refer to as given to him by the late Alexander McGregor (my grandfather) I can only remember seeing the black fellow once or twice, he was a tall, thin man with a grey pointed beard. I can recollect his death clearly, as the blacks principally the gins went about with fire sticks and burnt green bushes, scorching anywhere they thought he had inhabited and walked. ... I cannot find out how long ago it was since his death or how long he reigned as 'King of Merigal nor the size of territory he reigned over. He had one son 'Michael' who was always known as 'Merigal Mick' he was also presented with a brass plate with 'Michael Fearnot' King of Merigal inscribed on it, he never wore it and did not take up the duties of 'king' as his father before him had done and who was very proud of the plate ... I will make enquiries from my mother who will know more about him as she was on the Station at the time. ... He was buried about a mile away from Merigal Homestead, the tree which marked his grave has since been destroyed. 
Re the plate you have inscribed 'James Fearnought'. My mother remembers him quite well. Her father James McGregor, have him the inscribed plate about 60 years ago. When she first knew him he was about 30, a tall fine built nigger. He died of consumption when he was about 50, made his headquarters at Merigal and his country was between the Macquarie and Castlereagh Rivers. He died at Merigal and was buried about three miles down the creek at a burying place the blacks had there. his first Gin, Mary Ann had one son, he traded or gave her to a white shepherd on Bullagreen, then part of Merigal - William Mahoney, and the son Micky, aged about six went with her. His second Gin, Nellie, was much younger, and also had one son. When mother knew Jimmy, there was no fighting, but from his build she thinks he would have been a great fighter. He mostly was at Merigal alone with his Gin, but Mother says she has seen as many as one hundred blacks there with him. 
1 J Jones, Letter from J Jones, Hotel Metropole, Sydney, 22 February 1912 to E Milne Esq., District Superintendent, Orange, manuscript, National Museum of Australia, 1912, EO Milne collection, file no 85/310, folios 152-53.
2 J Jones, Letter from John Jones per A D, Hotel Metropole, Sydney, 20 March 1912 to Milne Esq., District Superintendent of Line, Orange, manuscript, National Museum of Australia, 1912, EO Milne collection, file no 85/310, folio 151.
> Reactions of Aboriginal people to gorgets - more information on James Fearnough
Timothy, Chief of Merricumbene
1985.59.378 Edmund O Milne Collection
201 x 141 x 16
Many things about this gorget single it out from the others in the Museum's collection. Both gorget and recipient had lively histories which fortunately were recorded for posterity. Most interestingly, this is the only gorget in the collection presented to honour a heroic deed by an Aboriginal person. Details about Timothy and the presentation of his gorget are included in the text. (see the related link below)
Originally a cast brass plate, the gorget was hacked apart and later repaired with a reconstruction in sawn brass soldered into position. The parts are similar but the reconstructed piece is inferior to the original in manufacture, engraving and finish. The soldered joint is particularly disfiguring. In design the gorget is notable as the second of only two in the collection with a coronet incorporated as part of its unusual shape. The decoration is the popular emu and kangaroo with less common laurel branches borrowed from designs on military gorgets.
Half the gorget was acquired by Edmund Milne from R Fitzgerald of Nelligen in 1910. Fitzgerald, in a letter to Milne that accompanied the piece, told him that he had used it in making a boat:
After a lot of hunting I have found the peice [sic] of Blackfellows Plat [sic] which I am sending to you under seperate [sic] cover. When you receive it you will see it is not the piece of Plate I thought it should be as this one has been presented to a Blackfellow by name Timothy but cannot say by who, the other plate was presented to a Blackfellow by the name of Jimmy by Capt Oldrey R.N. and it had the words 'Bale Me Jarrad', on it, I dont think I cut it up But I cannot find it, you will think it silly of me to cut this one up as I have but at the time I was Building a Wager Boat and wanted some peices [sic] of Brass to finish it with so that is my excuse for doing so. 
The motto written on Jimmy's plate was in New South Wales Pidgin and means bale 'not', me 'I', jarrad 'fear', or 'I fear not'. The Jimmy mentioned by Fitzgerald was probably Jimmy Woodbury, an Aboriginal man who belonged to Timothy's 'tribe'. 
Milne had the gorget reconstructed by the jeweller WT Kerr, a member of the famous Kerr family of Sydney silversmiths: 
'Timothy, Chief of Merricumbene. Presented by -'. It will be noted that this plate has been restored. The smaller portion was found in an ash heap outside an old-time boat-building shed at Bateman's Bay in 1911. ... It was confirmed that part of plate had been used in repairing the keel of a boat. Mr Milne had the plate repaired by Mr. W.T. Kerr, Silversmith, of Sydney. 
1 Anon, The Milne Anthropological Collection, manuscript, National Museum of Australia, EO Milne Collection file no. 85/310 folios 160 and 166.
2 JP Townsend, Rambles and Observations in New South Wales With Sketches of Men and Manners, Notices of the Aborigines, Glimpses of Scenery, and some Hints to Emigrants, Chapman and Hall, London, 1849, pp 106-07.
3 Hawkins, JB, Australian Silver 1800-1900, National Trust of Australia, Sydney, 1973, pp 48-51.
4 EO Milne, Edmund O Milne's photograph album, National Museum of Australia, Milne Library item No. 11, nd.
> Commemoration of heroic acts - details about Timothy and the presentation of his gorget
Dennis, Chief of Morbringer
AIA no A-ON 117
160 x 91.5 x 2
The brass gorget is one of only two in the Museum's collection which is not crescent shaped and is the only one which is shaped like a shield. It was probably sand-cast and has an unusual zig-zag border made with a chasing tool. The style of lettering suggests it was made in the early to mid-nineteenth century.
Nothing has been uncovered about Dennis. However, Morbringer is likely to have been Morebringa Station, in the district of Murrumbidgee, New South Wales, 15 miles from Albury on the Murray River. 
1 WH Wells, A Geographical Dictionary; or Gazetteer of the Australian Colonies, 1848, The Council of the Library of New South Wales, Sydney, 1848, p. 267.
Coomee, last of her tribe, Murramarang
1985.59.374 Edmund O Milne Collection
176 x 114 x 2
Coomee's gorget was commissioned by her friend Edmund Milne in 1909, and it was returned to him for his collection a few years after her death. It is one of only two in the Museum's collections which were made for women. The near mint condition of the sawn brass plate suggests that it was rarely worn. There are three known photographs of Coomee and in none of them is she wearing the gorget. The gorget is free from decoration except for a series of engraved lines in each horn which are likely to have been copied from Coomee's body markings. Aboriginal people traditionally scarified their bodies for decorative and ritual purposes and Milne observed that Coomee had 'tribal ceremonial scars on each shoulder'.  Milne had the gorget made as a token of esteem because he believed Coomee was the last of the Murramarang people.
1 EO Milne, 'The passing of the lithic people: a story of the coming of white wings to Australia', Life, 1 April 1916, pp 301.
> Honours for the 'Last of the Tribe'
- more information about Coomee
Thomas Tinboy, King of Nelligan
1985.59.377 Edmund O Milne Collection
157 x 108 x 5, chain 282
The design on this plate is rather naïve but well executed by a named engraver, HC Jervis of Sydney, who left his engraver's stamp on the reverse of the plate. In addition to the popular emu and kangaroo, Jervis added a large waratah to the design. Aside from the commonly used xanthorrhoea and perhaps a gum tree on one other gorget, his is the only use of an Australian plant in the decorations on the Museum's gorgets.
Milne collected a little information about Thomas Tinboy. It is likely that Thomas Tinboy was in the Nelligen area in the early to mid-nineteenth century and this would date his gorget as an early example.
This plate was worn by Aborigine King Tommy Tinboy. ... He was a full-blood black and was King of this district for many years. Mr McCarthy states that this black was well known to him for about 35 years. ... He used to bring fish and wild honey to his house. In return for this he got tea, sugar, flour, and tobacco. ... This plate was found by Mr W McCarthy buried in an ant hill, in the ranges near Nelligan Creek, Where the King placed it no doubt before he died. (Milne Collection file 85/310 folio 169)
There are many accounts in nineteenth-century records of Aboriginal people trading wild honey, fish and other bush tucker with the colonists for their goods. Wild honey was commonly known as 'sugar bag' for its similarity of taste to the water from boiled sugar bags. The diet of colonists was often monotonous and any variety supplied by trade with Aboriginal people was welcome. Sugar was a particular luxury and honey made a fine substitute.
It is unknown whether or not Thomas Tinboy placed his gorget in the anthill, although it would certainly be a safe hiding place. However, Aboriginal people sometimes used anthills as part of their mortuary rituals. Therefore, Thomas may have been buried with his gorget in the anthill and his bones removed at a later date for secondary burial.
1 Anon, The Milne Anthropological Collection, manuscript, National Museum of Australia, EO Milne Collection file no. 85/310 folio 169.