The restored headstone that marks the final resting place of one of Tabulam's first white settlers - Peter Pagan.
The restored headstone that marks the final resting place of one of Tabulam's first white settlers - Peter Pagan.

Hat theft deteriorates into murder and massacre

HE WAS a young man with a taste of adventure.

At least that's the assumption for a Scot to travel to the other side of the world and become Tabulam's first white settler.

It is the beginning of the Australian adventure for Peter Cunningham Pagan, the fourth son of William Pagan from Curriestanes, Dumfries in Scotland.

While he may have had big plans for the lightly timbered ridge that overlooked a big expanse of river flat in a bend of the Clarence River, the story did not have a happy ending.

There is no clear version of the facts on that fateful day of April 22, 1841 when the 24-year-old squatter was speared by a local Aborigine, or of the ensuing massacre.

The Queenslander reported in 1928 an old Aboriginal named Mundi who was a survivor of the attack by white settlers on his tribe, and who carried a bullet hole in his ear for the rest of his life, as a reminder.

"While working in company with a servant...(Pagan) saw the natives enter his hut," the article said.

The article went on to say Pagan waited until the natives were clear, with whatever they had stolen, and he went for his gun.

Keeping in the wake of the alleged thieves he reached the river bed.

The paper then goes on to say that without warning "a spear transfixed him, the forerunner of several" and Pagan died instantly.

Retribution was swift and the paper reported, that was when Mundi, who had been only a child at the time, received his bullet hole, .

A band of white men appeared from everywhere, according to the old Aboriginal, who despite being shot in the ear was one of the few who escaped.

The men tracked the tribe, who had decamped shortly after Pagan's death, to Yulgilbar and planned their attack for a 3am raid.

While it had been decided to drive the tribe up the valley and then intercept them, the natives fled for the river.

The Richmond River Herald reported:

"On the valley party reaching the scene of the fray several of the blacks were found to have been shot, while a New Zealander...tomahawked all he could get at-young or old."

No sign of Pagan's stolen effects were found at the camp.

A further search of another Aboriginal camp, where one policeman dashed through the camp, shooting left and right with a double-barreled gun, managed to retrieve Pagan's hat, although nothing else was mentioned.

Pagan was buried near the Clarence River and the original headstone was restored in 1982 by family members.


  • 'The Tragic End of Peter Pagan', The Queenslander, Thursday, April 26, 1928, Page 4.
  • 'Early Days at Tabulam', The Richmond River Herald and Northern Districts Advertiser, Friday, October 22, 1937, Page 7.

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