Denny Day, the Life and Times of Australia's Greatest Lawman, Terry Smyth

Reviewed By
Karen Chisholm

It's been way too long for such this book to garner a mention hereabouts. Circumstances have intervened which means I've got notes, review documents, and bits and pieces of things that should have been done stacked up to the ceiling and am now going to really make an effort to get my act together.

DENNY DAY is an account of the lawman who, amongst other things in his life, tracked down the perpetrators of the Myall Creek Massacre which occurred on the 10th June 1838.

Details of Denny Day himself might be a tad on the sketchy side, but that is more than made up for by the revelations that this book brings with it in terms of attitudes and beliefs. There's been a sneaking tendency on the part of some lesser public figures to suggest that we don't owe apologies for the past because "attitudes were different then". Well I'm sorry but not only is that appallingly shortsighted and unstatesmanlike, if the "attitudes" displayed by Denny Day and his companions in this account of the tracking down of killers anything to go by - a flat out lie.

For this reader it came across as well-researched with verified references, a true account, without gloss, in a readable style that's accessible and interesting. There's no attempt to dress up the story, or pad out what's missing - and there are details that would not have been available given the passage of time. This is history, told in an engaging manner, adhering to the need for accuracy and verification.

DENNY DAY combined with Mark Tedeschi's book MURDER AT MYALL CREEK (in that order) certainly gave me considerably more background and information than I had ever been provided with before and I'm very grateful for the chance to have read it - and come to understand just a little bit of the truth of our past.  

Year of Publication

Captain Edward Denny Day – the only law 'from the Big River to the sea' – was Australia’s greatest lawman, yet few have heard of him. This is his story.

Once there was a wilderness: Australia’s frontier, a dangerous and unforgiving place where outlaws ruled the roads and killers were hailed as heroes. It was here, in 1838, that one man’s uncompromising sense of justice changed history and shocked the world.

Denny Day was a vicar’s son from Ireland. A member of the Anglo-Irish ruling class, as a young man Day joined the British Army before resigning to seek his fortune in New South Wales. There he accepted the most challenging role in the young colony: keeping the peace on the frontier.

Denny Day’s abiding legacy is the capture of the perpetrators of the Myall Creek Massacre – the most infamous mass-murder in Australian history, and the first time white men were convicted of the murder of Aborigines. Yet Day won no praise for bringing to justice the killers of 28 innocent men, women and children at Myall Creek. Rather, he was scorned and shunned, fiercely attacked by the press, by powerful landowners who hired the colony’s top lawyers to defend the killers, and by the general public.

The 11 men tracked down and arrested by Day faced two sensational trials, and seven of them were eventually found guilty of murder and hanged. The case sparked an international outcry, resulting in stricter government policies protecting the rights of Indigenous peoples.

There are many colourful characters, heroes and villains, in Denny Day’s story: inspirational frontier women; outlaws captured in a desperate firefight; brave and wily Aboriginal resistance leaders; gormless colonial officials; privileged English nobles and persecuted Irish immigrants; convicts and freemen; and, for good measure, an American pirate.

Denny Day was commended for bravery during his lifetime, but only in regards to taming the frontier settlements. Even in his obituary, Myall Creek is not mentioned.

Add new comment

This is a book review site, with no relationship whatsoever with any of the authors mentioned here.

We do not provide a method for you to contact authors for any reason and comments of this nature are automatically deleted.

This question is for testing whether or not you are a human visitor and to prevent automated spam submissions.