1933 poem in the Gazette reveals distorted views of Aboriginal people

Windsor Downs historian, Barry Corr, continues his history of contact between Aboriginal people and settlers on the Hawkesbury.

George Reeve's grave at Ebenezer cemetery is at bottom left. His poem published by the Gazette "used all the elements of the language of settlement: silence, omission, denial, distortion and self-interest".

George Reeve's grave at Ebenezer cemetery is at bottom left. His poem published by the Gazette "used all the elements of the language of settlement: silence, omission, denial, distortion and self-interest".

As the settlement of NSW began with the Reverend Richard Johnston’s thanksgiving sermon on the 3rd of February 1788, it is appropriate that this article concludes with George Reeve’s 1933 thanksgiving ballad, ‘St Matthew’s Church, Windsor, with a fragment of “Windingshore” history’.

Reeve used all the elements of the language of settlement: silence, omission, denial, distortion and self-interest to celebrate St Matthew’s Anglican church and its graveyard as the focus of settlement, race, religion and empire in the Hawkesbury.

George Reeve probably didn’t read Virgil’s poem, the Aeneid, about the Trojans fleeing from the destruction of Troy. Virgil’s “Winding shores” were on the island of Strophades where the prophetess Celaeno told the fleeing Trojans that they were in the wrong place and would suffer as a result of killing her oxen.

However, George Reeve did borrow the image “Windingshore history” from Alexander Pope’s 1713 poem ‘Windsor Forest’. Pope used the royal hunting forest of Windsor as a platform to celebrate British history, closing with a prophetic vision of Empire, that “Earth's distant ends our glory shall behold”.

George Reeve drew upon one particular verse of Pope’s poem as a basis for St. Matthew’s Church:

“Oh would'st thou sing what Heroes Windsor bore,

What Kings first breath'd upon her winding shore,

Or raise old warriours, whose ador'd remains

In weeping vaults her hallow'd earth contains!”

Reeve placed the church as the centrepiece of settlement. He aged the church and graveyard to create a sense of heritage, longevity and dynasty. Racial integrity was an important aspect of Reeve’s poem. The choir were “fair children”, the graves held dynasties “in race and line unbroken”.

Biblical scenes in “stain’d glass” both filtered and illuminated the lives of the pioneers. “Conscience” was in Reeve’s eyes the instrument of correcting the gloom and error of the convict system. “Peace on earth” was claimed by Reeve as the worthy reward for the sacrifices of the “old times grim”.

Reeve created a continuum of defenders of Church and Crown, from George Cupitt, a NSW Corps soldier, buried in the church grounds, to those killed in the Great War.

Reeve pre-empted the “invasion” debate by about 60 years, casting an Aboriginal person, “Little George”, as an invader: “And Freebody, who shot a black invader, That menac'd Windsor town”. Reeve would have known through the Historical Records of New South Wales and Historical Records of Australia that Simon Freebody was one of five settlers found guilty of the murders of Little George and Little Jemmy in 1799.

Little George and Little Jemmy had returned a musket after the killings of Hodgkinson and Wimbow. They were tied up and slaughtered by Freebody and others. The trial transcript contained evidence that Simon Freebody “killed Little George by thrusting a cutlass into him”.

Reeve’s focus on the centrality of the church in the history of Windsor is exaggerated. Reeve ignores the discrimination practised against the Catholic convicts by the Church of England. Reeve exaggerates the influence of the church in transforming the convicts. This transformation was largely carried out by the convicts themselves as they gained access to land.

Self-interest must also be taken into account when examining Reeve’s obsessive interest in the local churches. Reeve had been admitted to Windsor District Hospital with a heart condition and it was known “that the end was merely a matter of time”.

St. Matthew’s Church, Windsor was Reeve’s last work, printed in the Windsor and Richmond Gazette two days before he died. Before his death Reeve “expressed a wish to be buried at Ebenezer Presbyterian cemetery, and it was fitting that his mortal remains should be laid to rest in that historic God's Acre, among the early pioneers concerning whom he loved to write about”.

While there was little support for a gravestone for Martha Everingham; the local community quickly rallied to raise funds for George Reeve’s gravestone in Ebenezer cemetery.

Barry’s online history can be found at www.nangarra.com.au.

ST. MATTHEW’S CHURCH, WINDSOR WITH A FRAGMENT OF “WINDINGSHORE” HISTORY

By GEO. G. REEVE

The Apse is quaint and starr’d and olden,

The sunlight streams in splendour golden,

On each and every morn;

Through stain’d glass scenes from Bible glories,

Of foremost pioneers whose homely stories,

The walls adorn.

The rays are shed in brilliant splendour,

On many a dead and gone defender,

Of Church and Crown;On Cupitt, a brave soldier,

And Freebody, who shot a black invader,

That menac’d Windsor town.

Old-time Officer George Loder,

Rests near, in race and line unbroken,

Of years long past;

And dames and maidens, proud and stately,

Lie here with folded arms sedately,

And eyes shut fast.

Upon their graves the sunlight lingers.

Then shines again on anthem singers,

Of old times grim;

For these amidst many a sacred relic,

Fair children sing the song angelic,

The annual anniversary hymn.

The song .of peace — these gentle voices,

These glad young hearts that life rejoices,

My fancy thought;

Are paying homage to the minister,

To all the peoples foes disaster,

And military tyrants wrath.

Gone are the days of gloom and error,

Conscience breaks the rod of terror,

By Hawkesbury’s winding shore

And as the children sing their message,

Of peace on earth — the joyful presage,

Old Windsor brightens more. 

Windsor and Richmond Gazette, 21 April 1933