Aboriginal Witnesses Act

The Aboriginal Witnesses Act was a series ordinances and amendments enacted by lieutenant Governor George Grey, Governor of South Australia during the early colonial period of South Australia. The act was established "To facilitate the admission of the unsworn testimony of Aboriginal inhabitants of South Australia and parts adjacent".

Original Aboriginal Witnesses Act 1844-no8

Despite the act's stated aims being to facilitate Aboriginal testimony, it had the opposite effect, creating a situation where the massacre of Aboriginal peoples by European colonisers could not be tried solely on the evidence of Aboriginal witnesses.

HistoryEdit

The lieutenant Governor George Grey was responsible for the act, and later lieutenant Governor Frederick Robe was responsible for the acts amendments.[1] While its stated aim was to make provisions for unsworn testimony by "uncivilised people" to be admissible in court, the act made it possible for a judge to dismiss the testimony of an "uncivilised person or persons" as insufficient unless corroborated by other evidence - that the court could not base the conviction of a White man on the testimony of an Aboriginal witness alone.[2] Although it was a progressive law for the time, the act decreed that the credibility of the evidence be left to the discretion of "the justice of the court, or jury under direction of the judge". The act also made Aboriginal testimony inadmissible in trials that carried the penalty of death.[1]

Effectively, the act created a situation where settler solidarity and the law of evidence ensured that the murder and massacre of Aboriginal Australians by European colonisers could not be tried solely on the evidence of Aboriginal witnesses.[2] Possibly in response to the Avenue Range Station massacre, where three Tanganekald women, two teenage girls, three infants, and an "old man blind and infirm" were murdered by Australian mass murderer and pastoralist James Brown, the Aboriginal Witnesses Act of 1848 was amended in July 1849 to allow a person to be convicted on the sole testimony of an Aboriginal person, though this rarely occurred.[2][1]

The act remained in force until 1929.[3]

See alsoEdit

ReferencesEdit

  1. ^ a b c The acts:
    • "Aborigines' Evidence Act (No 8 of 7 and 8 Vic, 1844)". South Australia Numbered Acts. South Australian Government. Retrieved 24 February 2019. CS1 maint: discouraged parameter (link)
    • "Aborigine's Evidence Act (No 5 of 10 Vic, 1846)". South Australia Numbered Acts. South Australian Government. Retrieved 24 February 2019. CS1 maint: discouraged parameter (link)
    • "Aboriginal Witnesses Act (No 3 of 11 and 12 Vic, 1848)". South Australia Numbered Acts. South Australian Government. Retrieved 24 February 2019. CS1 maint: discouraged parameter (link)
    • "Aboriginal Witnesses Act (No 4 of 12 and 13 Vic, 1849)". South Australia Numbered Acts. South Australian Government. Retrieved 24 February 2019. CS1 maint: discouraged parameter (link)
  2. ^ a b c Foster, Robert; Hosking, Rick; Nettelbeck, Amanda (2000). Fatal Collisions : the South Australian frontier and the violence of memory (first ed.). Kent Town, South Australia: Wakefield Press. pp. 79–80. ISBN 9781862545335.
  3. ^ Peter Vallee, Peter (2006). God, Guns and Government on the Central Australian Frontier (first ed.). Restoration. pp. 77–78. ISBN 0977531201. Retrieved 24 February 2019. CS1 maint: discouraged parameter (link)