Eleven days after they arrived at Cullin-la-ringo, on the 17th October, 1861, there took place Australia's biggest-ever massacre of whites by blacks.
Wills's party of 25 had been on the road for 8 months. The expedition was the best equipped party ever to set out for that part of the country, and the blacks must have been most impressed by the numerous drays and wagons, horses, cattle, bullocks and dogs, not to mention their 10,000 sheep. Though Horace Wills had had great experience of the blacks in Victoria, and was on very friendly terms with those round his property there, - he even spoke their language - he was nevertheless suspicious of new tribes, and his party was equipped with the most complete lot of firearms ever taken out by any of the early squatters.
Small parties of blacks, all looking peaceful enough - and doubtless all looking exactly alike - kept coming and going round his camp. Wills had treated them well in the short time he had been there. On the day in question, little groups of athletic blacks gradually appeared, until they numbered about 50. They mingled with the whites, and all had their hands behind their backs, and were careful to face the party. Suddenly one old black gave the cry of the black cockatoo - " Karr-nah-karr-nah" and in a flash each native's hand brought out the nullah it held, and Wills's people were struck down in one swift act.
Tom Wills and 4 others were fortunately absent at the time. The story reached civilisation through one man, John Moore, who escaped. He had been lying down in a hut after lunch, but finding the heat very oppressive, he went out and lay down a few yards away in a thicket in the shade. He dozed off, but was awakened by the shouting; he saw a native push someone, whom he took to be Mrs Baker, to the ground. He heard a shrill cry of "Murder!", and the sound of heavy blows. Fortunately, a mob of unattended sheep came by, and by crawling on all fours in the centre of them, he was able to reach a creek bed unobserved. Will's horse was nearby, tied to a tree, but he feared to make a rush for it in case he was seen and caught. He spent the night making his way to Rainworth Station, owned by a Mr Gregson; he arrived about 7 o'clock in the morning and told his terrible story.
Mr Gregson was shearing at the time, and promptly mustered a party and set out for Cullin-la-ringo, but they did not arrive till late that night. Nothing was done till morning, when a truly ghastly sight met their horrified gaze. Horatio's body was 2 or 3 yards in front of his tent, with a revolver near his right hand and a double-barreled gun bear the left. One shot had been fired from the revolver. Some of the women still had sewing in their hands and the little children, with their skulls battered in, were lying near their dead mothers, to whom they had obviously run for protection. The cook, who occupied the hut which Moore had left, was lying dead near the fire. One of the bullock drivers, who had been drawing logs for the sheep yards the men were making, was found dead near his bullocks with his whip still in his hand. The bullocks were still yoked up, but three were strangled. A man who had been helping with the logs was also dead, and another man was found dead a mile and a half away, where they had been making a yard for ewes and lambs. They had fought hard for their lives with tent poles. Their bodies were terribly mutilated. In all they found 19 dead.
The first thing to do was to bury the bodies. The sheep were then collected, all but 300 being found. The camp was a complete wreck, and the only things left were tea and tobacco, flour, sugar, and some pieces of zinc and iron. Cases and boxes had been opened, and blankets, all kinds of clothing, axes, tools, knives, pistols, bullets and even books carried away. A canister of powder had been emptied close to the fire, but did not ignite. All the loaded firearms had been placed on the fire.
The next thing to do was to find the black murderers. In a few miles, Gregson and his party of 9 shearers had passed a number of halting places, where the spoil had apparently been divided, and a lot of things left behind. About 25 miles away they came to the blacks' camp, but waited a mile or two away until morning. At daybreak on the third morning after the massacre, they left their horses behind and crept stealthily up to their camp. There were about 200 to 300 of them, and an attack was made at once, but the blacks climbed up a precipitous hill where the whites could not follow. They found a lot of plunder in the camp, and a lot of native weapons which they proceeded to burn. The blacks, who had been watching closely, raised loud cries at this and threw stones. The natives then spread out and began to descend, and the whites, fearing they would be cut off, retired towards their horses, the natives following.
By this time Mr Macdonald of Yamba had got a party together and set off for Cullin-la-ringo to render what help he could. Native police were also on the tracks of the murderers, and a little over a week after the massacre, a large party of police, native police and civilians tracked down the suspected tribe and herded it into the inescapable gorge at Mount Wnadoo, on the western boundaries of Cullin-la-ringo, a native phrase meaning 'sought and found'.
Between 60 and 70 natives were killed before the police ran out of ammunition. Firearms and other stolen property were recovered.