A familiar sight for many who lived in the mid-19th century in Sydney's Rose Bay area, was the form of William Warrell, better known as Ricketty Dick.
As a young man Ricketty Dick was named Warrah Warrah or William Warrah and carried nicknames such as 'King of the Woolloomooloo Tribe and 'Chief of the Rose Bay Tribe'. His mother belonged to the Botany Bay tribe and his father was a member of the Five Island, or Illawarra tribe.
William Warrell. Portrait by Charles Rodius, Mitchell Library, State Library of NSW.
As he got older, he became synonymous with the Rose Bay area and it was declared that he and his wife, known as 'Mrs Snowball' were the last of their tribe. He was a cousin of Cora Gooseberry, the second wife of Bungaree and 'Queen of Botany Bay'.
Warrell earned his nickname Ricketty Dick when a debilitating disability saw his legs not work properly. He suffered from alcoholism and lived in a 'gunyah' on the side of the road on Sir Daniel Cooper's Point Piper estate, where he would beg for money from passers-by.
It is a far cry from the young Aboriginal man he was when he had been described as a stout, able young fellow by Cooper's caretaker, George Rawlingson, who had known him for 36 years. Rawlingson had built the gunyah for Warrell, but the Aboriginal man would never sleep inside it, always preferring to be out in the elements.
Explorer William Wentworth paid Rawlingson half a crown a week to supply Warrell with two meals a day. Before taking up camp at Rose Bay, Warrell had 'escaped' from the Benevolent Society and refused to go back there, even when he took sick. He was found lying dead outside his gunyah on 11 June, 1863.
Plaque in memory of William Warrell. Courtesy Woollahra Municipal Council
Ten years later a medal was made with Warrell's face on one side and sold at the 1873 Sydney Intercolonial Exhibition. A plaque has since been unveiled on 30 May, 2022 on the Rose Bay promenade in memory of him and the people he represented.
'William Warrell', Woollahra Municipal Council, accessed 15th October, 2022, https://www.woollahra.nsw.gov.au/library/local_history/woollahra_plaque_scheme/plaques/william-warrell
Laila Ellmoos, 'Dick, Ricketty (1795–1863)', Indigenous Australia, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, https://ia.anu.edu.au/biography/dick-ricketty-18144/text29717, accessed 15 October 2022.
'Rose Bay: A Jewish Times Supplement', The Australian Jewish Times, Friday, 30 September 1988, Page 31
'Death of old Ricketty Dick', Empire, Tuesday 16 June 1863, Page 4