Book now published……to purchase see below……..

mogoer munya


man from the clouds

being a sketch of the Life of James Morrill who resided among the Aboriginals of Northern Queensland for Seventeen Years between 1846 and 1863, and who wrote a narrative of his life, shipwreck, landing on the coast, residence among the Aboriginals, and gave an account of their manners and customs, and mode of living

Within five weeks of his arrival in Brisbane the Sketch of the Residence of James Morrill Among the Aboriginal people of North Queensland for Seventeen Years, etc., was published on April 21st, 1863. And ‘sketch’ it was, running to a mere 24 pages, relating the story of his life up to his being ‘restored to civilisation’ in 17 pages, and leaving only seven pages to describe the Aboriginal world – the world in which he had been immersed for 17 of his 38 years. The reason for this brevity is apparent in the preface:

I have so many invitations to wait on persons for the purpose of narrating my past sufferings, which were painful enough to pass through, without calling them to remembrance day after day, at the wish of anybody who may desire it; and the invitations rather increasing than otherwise, I have deemed it desirable to put on record my experiences in this brief sketchy manner, containing as it does, the principal events and disasters that happened during my forced banishment from civilized life; which will be found to contain too, more than could be expressed in a single interview, with the desire of affording information to those who wish it, to satisfy the curiosity of the many, and also with the hope that it may yield me what I much need—the means of living.

Morrill’s Sketch proved very popular and was republished five times between 1863 and 1896 (once in England), reaching its five-thousandth copy by 1866, and it remains a source of fascination. Aside from the factual telling of a very harrowing and remarkable personal story, the importance of the Sketch has largely been subsequently interpreted as the viewpoint of a man living on both sides of the frontier. Morrill has become both a talisman for the possibility of reconciliation, and an unwitting player in the lost chance of reconciliation – lost in the frontier violence of the 1860’s and 1870’s.

Morrill’s story has been appropriated many times over the years, from Marcus Clarke (1871) to Nathan Colquoun (2022) in numerous romantic guises. These reflect contemporaneous fashions, originating in the literature of Sir Walter Scott, which was so popular at the time. I have tried to separate fact from fiction.

The brevity of Morrill’s Sketch has long been regretted, and it is the intention of this book to reproduce the original 1863 version and augment the narrative of the first 17 pages with historical context and relevant details. Secondly, to compose a detailed account of Morrill’s life in Bowen between 1863 and 1865, and finally to explore the details he gives us of the Aboriginal world at the end of the Sketch, and to attempt to locate this in the Townsville landscape where his residence largely took place.

Unquestionably, the glimpse Morrill gives us of Aboriginal life in the pre-colonial Townsville region is an invaluable insight and record. When connected with all the other fragments of information that can be found for the area and period – more numerous than might be supposed – a much more complete view of his life and times can be revealed.

It is difficult in the 21st century to find any perspective on Aboriginal culture in the Townsville landscape, and it is my hope that by producing this broader picture I can promote a respect of culture and ‘country’, for us all.

Sketch: a rough or unfinished drawing or painting, often made to assist in making a more finished picture.


mogoer munya may be purchased from Mary Who, Townsville, Townsville Museum, Queensland Tropical Museum and Townsville Maritime Museum
and the author…….John Elliott

Sample pages may be seen in this album………….James Morrill