Feature Articles

Yamba’s Yesteryears

The following graphic newspaper article is from the Grafton Argus of 14 September 1877:

At the Rocky Mouth Police Court (N.S Wales), on the 29th ult., as reported in the Grafton Argus, Abraham Carr was charged with assaulting one Patrick Murphy by tarring and feathering him. The case caused a great deal of excitement at Rocky Mouth, where all the parties; are well known, and the court was densely crowded.

The complainant stated – On 5th August 1877 (Sunday) I was on defendant’s land, and had been speaking to his daughter. There had been some negotiations. Both of us had been willing to marry. William Carr came to me first, and struck me on the head seven or eight times. Defendant came up next. A few minutes after he struck me on the back of the head. William Carr had me by the arm. He said, “If you don’t leave the island I’ll take your life.” I made no answer. Defendant said, “If you do not leave the island I’ll get a block and hang you.” No one else came up then.

They took me, one on each side, down to their house, 9 or 10 chains away. This was between 3 and 4 o’clock. Defendant called out to Forge to bring the car. He brought the tar and feathers too, and poured it on my head. There were only the three. They did not strike me there. They tore off my waistcoat before. William had torn my vest off.  Defendant put the cap on my neck, head, and face, Forge put the feathers on, and defendant rubbed them in through the tar was held, and could no move.

They took me by each arm down the Government road, and called out the people to “Look at the parrot.” This was called out at Mrs. Ryan’s and the canecutters’ camp. Then they let me go, and defendant gave me a push at the back of the head. Then he went to the canecutters to get the tar off his hands. I went to Keneally’s to get the tar off. Mr. Keneally washed the tar off my head. I had a swollen face, and my eye was black for a week.

John Keneally, Palmer’s Island, deposed I am a farmer. I know Mr. Carr and complainant. I remember Sunday, August 5. About dusk I saw complainant; no one but himself. He was all feathers and tar about his face, nose, and eyes, and he frightened me when I saw him. I washed the tar off him. His face was swelled, and he had a black eye. The right side of his face was swelled, apparently from a blow.

It turned out in evidence that the complainant had seduced the daughter of the defendant, and the police magistrate, taking such provocation into consideration, fined Carr is the low penalty of 20s, and costs.


The following is a poem written by local bush poet, Bill Kearns, based on the tar and feathering story:




A true story from an old newspaper clipping from the Grafton Argus dated 14th September 1877 about a local court case.  Only the names have been changed to protect the guilty.


A long time ago, on the Clarence, two families worked on their block

The O’Rourke’s were good Irish Catholics, the McDonalds were good Scottish stock

Although they were not over friendly, there was no enmity to detect,

They were always polite to each other, and each showed the other respect


Now Colin McDonald had three sturdy sons, each of them topped six foot high.

But his heart was stolen by his only daughter, young Jenny, the pride of his eye.

Young Michael O’Rourke from next-door, was a knockabout young Irish buck.

But then Cupid fired his arrows and Michael, and Jenny were struck.


Now the families rejected this union, said McDonald, “I’d rather be dead.”

But Michael met Jenny in secret, and they vowed to each other to wed.

But fate has its own sense of justice and so it transpired one day,

Young Jenny McDonald, to her family’s horror was found in the family way.


When Michael next went to meet Jenny, he was met by her father instead.

Old McDonald roared at him, “You scoundrel, I’ll make you wish that you were dead.”

He grabbed the young man by the collar as he called for his sons to assist,

And while they held Michael defenceless, he pounded his face with his fist.


The old man then grabbed up a Tarpot containing a gallon of tar.

He up-ended the lot over poor Michael’s head, but he wasn’t finished by far.

For he gathered an armful of feathers and plastered them over the lad

Then he booted him off down the roadway, tarred and feathered, he looked really bad.


McDonald was hauled to the courthouse and was facing a charge of assault.

Michael told how he’d been tarred and feathered, McDonald said, “Wasn’t my fault.”

McDonald pleaded provocation; his daughter’s virginity lost.

The Magistrate heeded his reasons, fined him twenty shillings and costs


And when the dust finally settled and all the harsh words had been said,

In the shadow of McDonalds shotgun, young Michael and Jenny were wed.

But it was a wonderful union, with ten children the couple were blessed.

But each of the sons has a birthmark, like a feather upon their right breast.

© Bill Kearns 2020.


John McNamara, Port of Yamba Historical Society.