Fred Briggs, a Gumbaynggirr man, was born at Farquarhar’s Creek near Nymboida in about 1866 to Thomas Briggs and Mary. His tracking prowess came to prominence when he found Edward Blaxland, his employer, in mountainous country on Marengo Station in the mid-1880s. Briggs was working as a stockman at the time. His first official employment as tracker was at Blicks River between 1886 and 1888. He was sent to pursue a notorious outlaw known as the “Hairy Man” in wild country near Dorrigo. Briggs arrested the “Hairy Man” at his bush lair and took him to Dorrigo Police Station. The criminal promptly escaped and Briggs was put on the trail again. He tracked the fugitive through a forest, over a ridge and into a ravine before recapturing him [ref] Guyra Argus 14 March 1935: 4; Death Certificate of Frederick Briggs 1935/005098[/ref].
Briggs was soon seconded to Grafton Police Station. His most prominent case was the pursuit of Tommy Ryan. He first arrested Ryan at Cunglebung in 1889 who was wanted for assaulting another Aboriginal man named Napoleon. Ryan escaped Grafton Gaol in January the following year and Briggs was sent after him again. He was part of the team that arrested Ryan at Yulgilbar on the Clarence River.
Fred Briggs never worked officially as a tracker again. He settled with his wife Mary Harvey and son James Briggs on the Nymboida Aboriginal Reserve several kilometres to the south of the village. The police station sat on a rise overlooking the reserve (see photograph). The local constable sometimes called upon Briggs to look for people lost in the bush, including two forestry officers who had walked into a remote wooded area. In 1932, the police relied on Briggs’ supreme bush skills to locate the body of a miner who had drowned at Clouds Creek, about 25km from Nymboida[ref]Richmond River Herald and Northern Districts Advertiser 16 February 1932.[/ref]. The inaccessible country meant that the miner had to be buried close by to where he was found. Briggs remained a resident of the Nymboida Aboriginal Reserve until passing away at Grafton Hospital in February 1935. He was buried in Nymboida Cemetery.
Drone photograph of Nymboida Aboriginal Reserve and Police Station is courtesy of Helmut Eder.
This website explores the history of Aboriginal trackers in NSW from 1862 when the current NSW Police Force was established through to 1973 when the last tracker, Norman Walford, retired. You can read about the lives of individual trackers and some of the incredible tracking feats they...Learn More ►
There were over 200 NSW police stations that employed Aboriginal trackers between 1862 and 1973. Many were concentrated in the central-west and north-west of the state, the agricultural and pastoral heartland of NSW. This is because one of the main jobs of trackers was to pursue sheep, cattle and horse thieves. Trackers sometimes lived in small huts out the back...Learn More ►
Pathfinders book Pathfinders, A history of Aboriginal trackers in NSW, written by Dr Michael Bennett and published by NewSouth, is now available from all good bookstores. Click on the link below to order your copy. https://www.abbeys.com.au/book/pathfinders-a-history-of-aboriginal-trackers-in-nsw.do Early History Since the beginning of the colony, government agencies, explorers, surveyors and members of the general public called upon the tracking...Learn More ►