Distribution of blankets to Mandandanji people at the Court House, Roma (Queensland), 24 May 1880.
Albumen print photograph, 150 x 205 mm, laid down on a nineteenth-century album page (split card); manuscript caption in negative at lower left: ’24TH MAY COURT HOUSE, ROMA’; mount with sequence number ‘114’ in manuscript at bottom margin (presumably written by the album compiler), and later identification in biro ‘Roma’ at top margin. The print has very good tonal range and clarity; some insignificant pale spotting to print and mount.
In the 1840s and 50s the resistance of the Mandandanji people under their leader, Bussamarai (c.1795-1852) to occupation by white settlers of their lands around the Balonne, Maranoa and Condamine Rivers on Queensland’s Western Downs had been fierce and bloody.
This rare photograph shows a very large assembly of well over one hundred Mandandanji people – including two senior men wearing king plates – with white officials outside the Court House at Roma, south-central Queensland, on 24 May 1880. The only other example of this photograph we can trace is a (later) glass lantern slide of the same image held in the Queensland State Archives, which is firmly dated to 1880.
‘From 1860, blankets were distributed annually on the Queen’s Birthday by the colonial government to aboriginals. It was initially conducted by medical staff and then by pastoralists, but due to abuses of the system by the late 1860s the blankets were instead distributed by police magistrates at local court houses.’ (Queensland State Archives)
It is possible the photograph was taken by travelling photographers Reckitt and Mills. As the Queensland Photo Company, they had certainly documented Roma and the pastoral properties of the surrounding district around 1877. (See Trove for numerous examples).