A monument in West Kempsey cemetery in the form of a broken column is a tribute to Wabra Charlie, a stockman and servant of the Panton family of Wabra Station (also spelt Warbra, Warbro, Wabbra) on the Upper Macleay.
It is one of the earliest known graves of an Aboriginal person on the Macleay.John Panton was one of the sons of Sydney's first Postmaster-General, George Panton who had arrived from Scotland in 1818 with his wife and four children.
Together with John Betts, John Panton obtained a licence to occupy land at Warbra Brook which they named Wabra Station on the upper Macleay.
According to Enoch Rudder, John Panton arrived on the Macleay in the same year (1836) as he himself founded the first white settlement on the Macleay which he named Kempsey.
Estimated at 32,000 acres, Wabra soon became the largest cattle station on the Macleay running 3,000 head of cattle and 1,000 horses.John Panton moved to Queensland in 1851, leaving his two young brothers William Wemyss Panton and Frederick Goulburn Panton to assist Campbell Ker in running the station.
Campbell Kerr was John Panton's uncle, his mother Maria's brother.
Widowed in 1829, Maria later joined her sons at Warbra. After a trip to Queensland in 1853, the two younger Panton brothers returned with a 20 year old Aboriginal man whom they named Charlie. Charlie had been working on a property in Ipswich where John Panton had set up a business.Charlie worked on Warbra Station for twenty-three years and was extremely popular and well loved by Frederick, his wife Clementina and their eight children all of whom had been born at Warbra.
In Kempsey Museum we are fortunate to possess a daguerreotype portrait of Wabra Charlie as he was known, donated by the Panton family.
This was one of the first types of photographic processes and was popular in the 1840s and 1850s.
The photographic image was created on a sheet of silver plated copper treated to make it light sensitive. Daguerrotypes only produced a single positive image and were expensive.
The Panton family may have had to take Charlie to Sydney to be photographed and the daguerreotype is evidence of the esteem in which Charlie was held.
Relations between the local Aboriginals and the white settlers in the Wabra area however had been uneasy since the earliest days of settlement and Charlie's favoured position in the Panton family may have been a source of resentment among the Macleay Aboriginals. In a bar room brawl in a Kempsey Hotel on 29 December 1876, Wabra Charlie was struck on the head with a bottle and killed.
The Pantons had Charlie buried in West Kempsey cemetery in a plot on the western boundary.
They erected a fluted column, broken along its length to signify a life cut short.
The inscription read in part: Erected to the memory of the Aboriginal Wabra Charlie by F G and W W Panton whom he served faithfully for 23 1/2 years at the Wabra Station, Macleay River. Died 29 December 1876 aged 43 years.
Other reports suggest the monument was originally erected at Wabra Station but was moved to town as it was thought to be safer from vandalism there.
Other Panton family members are buried in nearby plots including Mrs Maria (Mary) Panton who passed away in 1869.
Our journalists work hard to provide local, up-to-date news to the community. This is how you can continue to access our trusted content: