July 11, 1833
Belhus, Perth, Western Australia
Yagan, an Indigenous warrior, is killed and decapitated, his head smoked and put on display as an “anthropological curiosity”
Yagan had a bounty placed on him, dead or alive, for killing a white servant. The killing of the servant was an act of retaliation after a different white settler shot at a group of Noongar people (the group Yagan belonged to), which resulted in one casualty.
Two brothers, William and James Keates, both teens, found Yagan and suggested he stay with them to avoid arrest. The brothers decided in the morning to kill Yagan and claim the bounty. Before Yagan and his group departed, William shot and killed Yagan while James shot another Noongar named Heegan. The boys tried to flee but James was overtaken and speared to death. William managed to escape, bringing armed settlers back to the site. They found Yagan dead and Heegan dying, “groaning and his brains were partly out when the party came, and whether humanity or brutality, a man put a gun to his head and blew it to pieces.”
After Yagan’s death, his head was removed to claim the bounty, sent to London as an “anthropological curiosity,” then sent to a museum in Liverpool where it was kept in storage for over a century. His head was buried with other remains in an unmarked grave in 1964. In 1997, Yagan’s head was exhumed and returned to the Noongar people by the Australian government. After much debate by the Noongar people, the head was buried in a traditional ceremony in June 2010.