Thompson's list

“…bringing about a better state of things than that prevailing with reference to the relations between the aborigines and the white and coloured races…” NTRS 790, bundle 10441, page 2

Around the turn of the 20th century the Government Resident of the Northern Territory (NT) expressed concerns for the welfare of “half caste” Aboriginal children, the abuse of Aboriginal women and the effect of the trade of opium and liquor on Aboriginal people in and around settled areas of the NT. 

In 1899, Charles Dashwood, Northern Territory Government Resident, proposed a bill in the South Australian Parliament which was intended to provide protection to Aboriginal people. This bill failed to be passed due to concerns over the regulation of employment.

In late 1899 Police Inspector Paul Foelsche, based in Palmerston (now Darwin) anticipating a request for information from the minister, gave instructions to Mounted Constable George H Thompson to “report on the conditions of Aborigines and their relations to other nations” NTRS 790, bundle 10441, page 4.

The instructions given to Thompson referred to the opium and liquor issues, noted that there were no laws for the protection of Aboriginal people, and that no definite instructions relating to this could be given. 

Thompson was advised that circumstances must be his guidance, and to report individual cases of concern to the police inspector. 

He was asked to ascertain the names of all non-Aboriginal persons who were cohabiting with Aboriginal women, with special note taken of cases where such females appeared to be children. 

He was also to compile a list of all half caste children, comprising their names, gender, approximate age, name of mother, mother’s tribe and reported father.

Mounted Constable 3rd Class George H Thompson, accompanied by Police Tracker Paddy and with several horses, commenced his survey in Pine Creek on 18 October 1899, visiting mining camps and other settlements situated between Katherine and Darwin. The task was completed on 9 January 1900.

Thompson kept a daily journal and also reported to Foelsche on several occasions and it is through these documents that an understanding can be gained of the difficulties that he encountered.

Early on, Thompson’s main concern was with the actions of his colleagues who were unaware of the nature of his special duties. 

On 6 November 1899 Thompson wrote to Foelsche to request that he be relieved of his special duties. 

Referring to his fellow police officers, he stated that there was an “undercurrent working against me, urging men to object and protest against my travelling through their districts gathering information that they themselves could give or obtain.” NTRS 790, bundle 10441, page 35 Thompson commented on jealousy among other officers and false rumours that nobody else in the force would take on the special duties but him. 

He felt so 'grieved' over the matter that he was intending to ask for an inquiry to be forwarded south once he could confirm the originator of the rumours. 

Foelsche replied by sending a memo to the various police stations stating that no other constable was asked by him to undertake the special duties and that if any officer interferes with, in any way , the special duties of Thompson he would be brought under the notice of the minister.

In the course of his survey Thompson assisted with general police work. After a report of a break-in at Glencoe Station, Thompson and Paddy attended and arrested two Aboriginal men who had been tied up by station staff. They then found and arrested three other Aboriginal men implicated in the burglary and three Chinamen for receiving the stolen goods and supplying opium.

Thompson’s List of “Half Castes” in the Northern Territory, 1899 to 1900 

Several times Thompson wrote to Foelsche to report on individual cases of abuse of children.

Thompson referred to the information that he collected as the “List of Half Casts (sic) in the Northern Territory”. It shows the locality, name of the child, gender, approximate age, mother’s name, mother’s tribe, reported father’s name and remarks about the living conditions of the child. It totals eleven pages.

The list, daily journal and the correspondence between Thompson and Foelsche are included in a report to the Government Resident Hon Justice Dashwood, from Foelsche, on 7 April 1900. 

This is filed with the inwards correspondence of the Government Resident’s Office. In our list of holdings it appears as Government Resident of the Northern Territory, NTRS 790, Inwards correspondence, 1870-1912. 

A microfilm copy of the Inwards Correspondence is also available. The list is in bundle 10441.

Recently, the 11 pages of the list compiled by Mounted Constable George H Thompson, have been scanned and a typescript has been created which allows for easier reading and the ability to search for names of those included.

This is a valuable resource for those researching Aboriginal family history, or the history of the Northern Territory.

List of half castes collated by Thompson PDF (2.1 MB)

Typescript of Thompson's List PDF (36.5 MB)

The following sources were used for the above story:

  • Government Resident of the Northern Territory, NTRS 790, Inwards correspondence, 1870-1912, bundle 10441.
  • Government Resident’s Report on the Northern Territory, 1899, 1900 and 1901, South Australia, Office of the Government Resident (NT), Government Printer, Adelaide

Contact the Northern Territory Archives Service for more information.

Last updated: 21 April 2016

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