Biraban, (-1842)

Also known as
Barabahn
BarabahnEagle HawkMacGilMaggillMagillMcGill, John (-1842)
Biraban
Biraban (1800-1846)
Biraban (1819-1842)
Biriban, (-1842)
Biriban (1800-1846)
Eagle Hawk
MacGil
Maggill
Magill
Magill, (-1842)
Magill (1800-1846)
McGill, John
McGill, Johnny (1800-1846)
McGill, Johnny (-1842)
Field of activity
Artist; Draughtsman; Interpreter; Bush Constable or Tracker
NLA Persistent Identifier
https://nla.gov.au/nla.party-1478836

Biographies

Biraban (flourished 1819-1842), Aboriginal leader, was a member of the Awabakal or Newcastle tribe. From boyhood he was servant to an officer at the military barracks, Sydney, where he learnt to speak...

View the full record at Australian Dictionary of Biography

Biriban or Johnny McGill was best known as a language informant for the Reverend Lancelot Threlkeld a Minister and linguist in the 1830s. Threlkeld thought of Biriban as a 'clever artist' and in 1831 Biriban drew a representation of the steamboat,'Sophia Jane', the location of which is currently unknown.

Biriban or Johnny McGill was born circa 1800 at Bahtahbah (now Belmont), NSW into the Awabagal language group centred on Newcastle and Lake Macquarie. He acquired his name from an army officer, Captain John McGill who brought him up at the Military Barracks in Sydney where he learnt to speak English. By 1819 Johnny was in Newcastle, where he was caricatured as 'Magill’ with his body 'painted-up’ for ceremony, in a watercolour portrait by the convict artist Richard Browne . According to the Rev. L.E. Threlkeld in a report to the London Missionary Society, it is likely that Johnny acquired his totem name Biriban (Eaglehawk in Awaba) when he completed his initiation rites at the age of about 26 during 1826. In 1821 McGill and two other Aborigines, Boatman (also known as Boardman or Jemmy Jackass) and Mongoul or Bob Barratt, were taken to Port Macquarie on the northern coast on NSW by Captain Francis Allman of the 48th Regiment, who commanded the convict settlement. As 'bush constables’ they tracked and captured runaway convicts. At the 1830 Parramatta Conference, Biriban was presented with a brass breastplate or gorget by governor Sir Ralph Darling. As reported in the Sydney Gazette on the 12th January, 1830 the breastplate was engraved with the inscription: Barabahn, or Mac.Gill, Chief of the Tribe of Bartabah, on Lake Macquarie; a Reward for his assistance in reducing his Native Tongue to a written Language. James Backhouse wrote in A Narrative of a Visit to the Australian Colonies ...

Flourished

  • fl. c.1831 - c.1831

View the full record at Design and Art Australia Online

Related people and organisations

Australian Institute of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Studies (AIATSIS)

  • (member of) Awabakal people (S66) (NSW SI56-05)
  • (speaker of) Awabakal language (S66) (NSW SI56-05)

Design and Art Australia Online

Resources for Biraban

Selected resources (15)

Australian Institute of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Studies (AIATSIS)

  1. Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Biographical Index (ABI) Entries

    Please be aware that some ABI records contain language, words or descriptions which may be considered offensive or distressing. These words reflect the attitude of the period in which the item was written and/or that of its author. Please also be aware that ABI records may contain references to deceased people which may cause sadness or distress.

    Names of people mentioned in this source may or may not be Indigenous.

  2. Aboriginal child at school, 1994, Vol 22 no.1
    [1994]

    Summary: Assisted L, Threkeld in translating the Gospel of St Luke 1830.

    Place: New South Wales (NSW)

    Language: Awabakal people (S66) (NSW SI56-05);

  3. Threlkeld and others. An Australian Language. Charles Potter Government printer Sydney 1892
    [1892]

    Summary: Taught Threlkeld structure of Awabakal language. Assisted as interpretor in Criminal Court in Sydney in 1834. Married to Patty. Other biographical information includes portrait by Mr Agate of the US Expedition in 1839

    Place: Sydney (NSW SI56-05)

    Language: Awabakal people (S66) (NSW SI56-05);

  4. Harris, J. Not conquerors but servants. Sower Winter 1992 : 14-15
    [1992]

    Summary: Assisted Threlkelds translation of St Lukes Gospel, 1830.

    Place: Lake Macquarie (NSW N Coast SI56-05)

    Language: Awabakal people (S66) (NSW SI56-05);

  5. Lake Macquarie & District History Society. 1979.B L192.30/Tl
    [1979]

    Summary: Mention & Portrait.

    Place: Lake Macquarie (NSW N Coast SI56-05)

    Language: Awabakal people (S66) (NSW SI56-05);

  6. Australian Dictionary of Biography. Volume 1 : 102-104

    Summary: Aboriginal leader. A member of the Awabakal or Newcastle tribe. Learnt to speak English and was given the name John McGil when he was servant to an officer at the military barracks in Sydney. Biraban returned to Port Macquarie in 1821. Was useful to the penal colony in tracking escaped convicts. Assisted Rev Threlkeld as interpreter in court cases involving Aboriginals. Biraban's wife was known as Patty who predeceased him.

    Place: Sydney (NSW SI56-05); Port Macquarie (NSW N Coast SH56-14)

  7. Bennet, F.C. ed Brisbane Water Historical Society. The story of the Aboriginal People of the Central Coast of New South Wales. Wyong, NSW, 1969.
    [1969]

    Summary: Biographical information.

    Place: Brisbane Water (N Sydney area NSW SI56-05); Wyong (NSW N Coast SI56-05)

    Language: Awabakal people (S66) (NSW SI56-05);

  8. Cunningham, P. Two years in New South Wales. 3rd ed. London, 1828 : 13
    [1828]

    Summary: Mention.

    Place: Newcastle (NSW N Coast SI56-02)

    Language: Awabakal people (S66) (NSW SI56-05);

  9. Backhouse, J. A narrative of a visit to the Australian Colonies. London 1843 : 379
    [1843]

    Summary: Mention.

    Place: Newcastle (NSW N Coast SI56-02)

    Language: Awabakal people (S66) (NSW SI56-05);

  10. Journal de la Société des océanistes
    Gunson, N. Australian Reminiscences. Vol.1 : 6-7
    [1977; 32(53); 327]

    Summary: Mention.

    Language: Awabakal people (S66) (NSW SI56-05);

  11. Australian Dictionary of Biography 1788-1850 (Melbourne, Melbourne Uni Press, 1966) Vol.1 : 102-4
    [1966]

    Summary: Biography of Awabakal man who assisted Rev. L.E. Threlkeld.

    Language: Awabakal people (S66) (NSW SI56-05);

  12. Backhouse, J. Extracts from the letters of J. Backhouse. Part 3, 1838 : 64-67
    [1838]

    Summary: Guide - Lake Macquarie area, L.E. Threlkeld.

    Place: Lake Macquarie (NSW N Coast SI56-05)

  13. Summary: See BIRABAN.

  14. A Key to the structure of the Aboriginal language : being an analysis ... of the language spoken by the Aborigines in the vicinity of the Hunter River, Lake Macquarie, etc, New South Wales,
    Threlkeld, L.E.
    [p. 5-7]
    Published: Sydney, NSW. : Kemp and Fairfax, 1850,

    Summary: He was also called McGill; taught his language to the Europeans having been brought up at the Military Barracks in Sydney; was a tribal leader. His name meant "eagle-hawk". Wife's name was Patty. His likeness is on the page facing the title page.

    Place: Sydney (NSW SI56-05); Lake Macquarie (NSW N Coast SI56-05)

  15. The Aboriginals of Lake Macquarie : a brief history / by John turner and Greg Blyton,
    [39.]
    Published: [S.l.]:Lake Macquarie City Council ,1995,

    Summary: He was a native of Lake Macquarie, spent his early years as an officer's servant in Sydney; in 1821 he was selected to assist Captain Francis Allman in establishment of the penal colony at Port Macquarie, there he acted as a bush constable; he married Patty, or Ti-pah-mah-ah before 1825 and they had one son, Ye-row-wa; he was recognised as king of the Lake Macquarie tribe by the Governor Darling

    Place: Lake Macquarie (NSW N Coast SI56-05)

    Language: Awabakal language (S66) (NSW SI56-05)Awabakal people (S66) (NSW SI56-05);

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