"I have, etc. (Signed) "C. W. SIEVEWRIGHT." James Croke, Esq., Crown Prosecutor," etc. etc. etc.
Description of Gun-shot Wounds upon the bodies of three Aboriginal Women and One Male Child found dead, and an Aboriginal Woman found wounded in a tea-tree scrub, near the Station of Messrs. Osbrey and Smith, Portland District, upon the 25th of February, 1842, by Assistant-Protector Sievewright.
"No. 1. Recognised by the assistant-protector as 'Wooi-goning,' wife of an Aboriginal native 'Pui-bui-gannei;' one gun-shot wound through the chest (a ball), and right thigh broken by a gun-shot wound (a ball).
"No. 2. Child (male); one gun-shot wound through the chest (a bullet), left thigh lacerated by some animal.
"No. 3. Woman big with child; one gun-shot wound through the chest (a bullet), left side scorched.
"No. 4. Woman; gun-shot wound through abdomen (a bullet), by right hip; gun-shot wound, left arm broken, (a bullet.)
"No. 5. Woman wounded; gun-shot wound in back (a ball), gun-shot through right hand (a ball).
"(Signed) "C. W. SIEVEWRIGHT."]
[Note 48: The belief on the part of the Home authorities that such deeds did occur, and their opinion, so many years ago, regarding them, may be gathered from the following extract from a despatch from Lord Glenelg to Governor Sir James Stirling, dated 23rd of July, 1835. "I perceive, with deep concern, that collisions still exist between the colonists and the natives.
"It is impossible, however, to regard such conflicts without regret and anxiety, when we recollect how fatal, in too many instances, our colonial settlements have proved to the natives of the places where they have been formed.
"It will be your duty to impress upon the settlers that it is the determination of the Government to visit any act of injustice or violence on the natives, with the utmost severity, and that in no case will those convicted of them, remain unpunished. Nor will it be sufficient simply to punish the guilty, but ample compensation must be made to the injured party, for the wrong received. You will make it imperative upon the officers of police never to allow any injustice or insult in regard to the natives to pass by unnoticed, as being of too trifling a character; and they should be charged to report to you, with punctuality, every instance of aggression or misconduct. Every neglect of this point of duty you will mark with the highest displeasure."
Such were the benevolent views entertained by the Government in England towards the Aborigines ten years ago, and it might be readily proved from many despatches of subsequent Secretaries of State to the different Governors, that such have been their feelings since, and yet how little has been done in ten years to give a practical effect to their good intentions towards the natives.]
Were other evidence necessary to substantiate this point, it would be only requisite to refer to the tone in which the natives are so often spoken of by the Colonial newspapers, to the fact that a large number of colonists in New South Wales, including many wealthy landed proprietors and magistrates, petitioned the Local Government on behalf of a party of convicts, found guilty on the clearest testimony of having committed one of the most wholesale, cold-blooded, and atrocious butcheries of the Aborigines ever recorded [Note 49 at end of para.], and to the acts of the Colonial Governments themselves, who have found it necessary, sometimes, to prohibit fire-arms at out-stations, and have been compelled to take away the assigned servants, or withdraw the depasturing licences of individuals, because they have been guilty of aggression upon the Aborigines.
[Note 49: Seven men were hanged for this offence, on the 18th of December, 1838. In the Sydney Monitor, published on the 24th or next issue after the occurrence, is the following paragraph:—
"The following conversation between two gentlemen took place in the military barrack square, on Tuesday, just after the execution of the seven murderers of the native blacks, and while General O'Connell was reviewing the troops of the garrison.
"COUNTRY GENTLEMAN.—So I find they have hanged these men. "TOWN GENTLEMAN. —They have." "COUNTRY GENTLEMAN.—Ah! hem, we are going on a safer game now. "TOWN GENTLEMAN. —Safer game! how do you mean?" "COUNTRY GENTLEMAN.—Why, we are poisoning the blacks; which is much better, and serve them right too!"
"We vouch for the truth of this conversation, and for the very words; and will prove our statement, if public justice should, in our opinion require it."
The following letter from His Honour the Superintendent of Port Philip shews, that even in 1843, suspicions were entertained in the colony, that this most horrible and inhuman cruelty towards the Aborigines had lately been practised there.
"Melbourne, 17th March, 1843.
"SIR,—I have the honour to report, for his Excellency's information, that in the month of December last, I received a letter from the Chief Protector, enclosing a communication received from Dr. Wotton, the gentleman in charge of the Aboriginal station at Mount Rouse, stating that a rumour had reached him that a considerable number of Aborigines had been poisoned at the station of Dr. Kilgour, near Port Fairy.
"I delayed communicating this circumstance at the time, as I expected the Chief Protector and his assistants would find it practicable to bring the crime home to the parties accused of having perpetrated it; but I regret to state, that every attempt to discover the guilty parties has hitherto proved ineffectual, and that although there may be strong grounds of suspicion that such a deed had been perpetrated, and that certain known parties in this district were the perpetrators, yet it seems nearly impossible to obtain any legal proof to bear on either one point or the other.
"I beg leave to enclose copies of two communications which I have received from Mr. Robinson on the subject.
"I have, etc. "(Signed) "C. J. LATROBE." "The Honourable the Colonial Secretary, etc. etc. etc."
Rumours of another similar occurrence existed in the settlements north of Sydney, about the same time. To the inquiries made on the subject, by the Government, the following letters refer.
"Moreton Bay, Zion's Hill, 14th January 1843.
"Sir,—In reply to your inquiry respecting the grounds on which I made mention in my journal, kept during a visit to the Bunga Bunga country, of a considerable number of blacks having been poisoned in the northern part of this district, I beg leave to state, that having returned from Sydney in the month of March 1842, I learnt, first, by my coadjutor, the Rev. Mr. Epper, that such a rumour was spreading, of which I have good reason to believe also his Excellency the Governor was informed during his stay at Moreton Bay. I learnt, secondly, by the lay missionaries, Messrs. Nique and Rode, who returned from an excursion to "Umpie-boang" in the first week of April, that natives of different tribes, who were collecting from the north for a fight, had related the same thing to them as a fact. Messrs. Nique and Rode have made this statement also in their diary, which is laid before our committee in Sydney. I learnt, thirdly, by the runaway Davis, when collecting words and phrases of the northern dialect from him, previous to my expedition to the Bunga Bunga country, that there was not the least doubt but such a deed had been done, and moreover that the relatives of the poisoned blacks, being in great fury, were going to revenge themselves. Davis considered it, therefore, exceedingly dangerous for us to proceed to the north, mentioning at the same time, that two white men had already been killed by blacks in consequence of poisoning. I ascertained likewise from him the number, 50 or 60.
"When inquiring of him whether he had not reported this fact to yourself, he replied, that both he, himself, and Bracewell, the other runaway, whom Mr. Petrie had brought back from the Wide Bay, had done so, and that you had stated it fully in your report to his Excellency the Governor, respecting himself and Bracewell.
"4. The natives who had carried our provisions up to Mr. Archer's station, made the same statement to us, as a reason why they would not accompany us any farther to the Bunga Bunga country.
"When writing down, therefore, my journal, I considered it unnecessary to make a full statement of all that had come to my knowledge since the month of March, concerning that most horrid event, or even to relate it as something new, as it was not only known several months since to the respective authorities, but also as almost every one at Moreton Bay supposed that an investigation would take place without delay.
"I have, etc. "(signed) "WILLIAM SCHMIDT, "Missionary.""S. Simpson, Esq., "Commissioner of Crown Lands, "Eagle Farm."
"WOOGAROO, MORETON BAY, 6TH MAY, 1843.
"Sir,—I have the honour to report, for the information of his Excellency, that during my excursion to the Bunga country, I have taken every opportunity of instituting an inquiry as to the truth of the alleged poisoning of some Aborigines at a sheep station in the north of this district. A report of the kind certainly exists among the two tribes I fell in with, namely, the Dallambarah and Coccombraral tribes, but as neither of them were present at the time, they could give me no circumstantial information whatever on the subject. The Giggabarah tribe, the one said to have suffered, I was unable to meet with. Upon inquiry at the stations to the north, I could learn nothing further than that they had been using arsenic very extensively for the cure of the scab, in which operation sheep are occasionally destroyed by some of the fluid getting down their throats; and as the men employed frequently neglect to bury the carcases, it is very possible that the Aborigines may have devoured them, particularly the entrails, which they are very fond of, and that hence some accident of the kind alluded to may have occurred without their knowledge.
"I have, etc. "(signed) S. SIMPSON, "Commissioner of Crown Lands."
"The Honourable E. D. Thomson, "Colonial Secretary."
For the sake of humanity I would hope that such unheard of atrocities cannot really have existed. That the bare suspicion even of such crimes should have originated and gained currency in more than one district of Australia, is of itself a fearful indication of the feeling among the lowest classes in the colonies, and of the harrowing deeds to which that might lead.
Extract from South Australian Registe, 10th of July, 1841, after the return of Major O'Halloran and a party of sixty-eight individuals, sent up the Murray to try and rescue property stolen by blacks. "In the mean time we cannot but think that the DISAPPOINTMENT SO GENERALLY EXPRESSED, because Major O'Halloran has returned 'WITHOUT FIRING A SHOT,' is somewhat unreasonable, seeing that in his presence the natives DID NOTHING TO WARRANT AN EXTREME MEASURE, and that there were no means of identifying either the robbers of Mr. Inman, or the murderers of Mr. Langhorne's servants. It is quite clear that a legally authorised English force could not be permitted to fire indiscriminately upon the natives AS SOME PERSONS THINK they ought to have done, or to fire at all, save when attacked, or under circumstances in which any white subject of the Queen might be shot at. We KNOW that many overland parties HAVE NOT HESITATED TO FIRE AT THE NATIVES WHEREVER THEY APPEARED; and it is possible that the tribes now hostilely disposed may have received some provocation."]
The following extract from a letter addressed by the Chief Protector of the Port Phillip district, Mr. Robinson, to his Honour the Superintendent at Melbourne, shews that officer's opinion of the feeling of the lower class of the settlers' servants, with regard to the Aborigines in Australia Felix.
"Anterior to my last expedition I had seen a large portion of this province; I have now seen nearly the entire, and, in addition, have made myself thoroughly acquainted with the character of its inhabitants.
"The settlers are, for the most part, a highly respectable body of men, many, to my knowledge, deeply commiserating the condition of the natives; a few have been engaged in the work of their amelioration; these, however, are but isolated instances; the majority are averse to having the natives, and drive them from their runs.
"Nothing could afford me greater pleasure than to see a reciprocity of interest established between the settler and aborigine, and it would delight me to see the settlers engaged in the great work of their amelioration; and though on the part of the settlers, a large majority would readily engage, I nevertheless feel persuaded that, until a better class of peasantry be introduced, and a code of judicature suited to the condition of the natives, its practicability, as a general principle, is unattainable.
"In the course of my wanderings through the distant interior, I found it necessary, in order to arrive at a correct judgment, to observe the relative character of both classes, i. e. the European and the Aborigine. The difficulty on the part of the Aborigine by proper management can be overcome; but the difficulty on the part of the depraved white man is of far different character, and such as to require that either their place should be supplied by a more honest and industrious peasantry, or that a more suitable code of judicature be established, to restrain their nefarious proceedings with reference to the aboriginal natives.
"I found, on my last expedition, that a large majority of the white servants employed at the stock stations in the distant interior were, for the most part, men of depraved character; and it was with deep regret that I observed that they were all armed; and in the estimation of some of these characters, with whom I conversed, I found that the life of a native was considered to be of no more value than that of a wild dog. The settlers complained generally of the bad character of their men. The saying is common among them, 'That the men and not we are the masters.' The kind of treatment evinced towards the aboriginal natives in remote parts of the interior by this class of persons, may be easily imagined; but as I shall have occasion more fully to advert to this topic in the report I am about to transmit to the Government, I shall defer for the present offering further observations.
"The bad character of the white servants is a reason assigned by many settlers for keeping the natives from their stations. At a few establishments, viz. Norman M'Leod's, Baillie's, Campbell's, Lenton's, and Urquhart's, an amicable and friendly relation has been maintained for several years; the Aborigines are employed and found useful. I visited these stations; and the proprietors assured me the natives had never done them any injury; the natives also spoke in high terms of these parties. There are other settlers also who have rendered assistance in improving the condition of the natives, and to whom I shall advert in my next report.
"Whether the proprietors of these establishments devote more attention, or whether their white servants are of less nefarious character than others, I am not prepared to say; but the facts I have stated are incontrovertible, and are sufficient to shew the reclaimability of the natives, when proper persons are engaged, and suitable means had recourse to. I cannot but accede to the proposition, namely, that of holding out inducements to all who engage in the amelioration of the aboriginal natives. Those who have had experience, who have been tried and found useful, ought to have such inducements held out to them as would ensure a continuance of their appointments, the more especially as it has always been found difficult to obtain suitable persons for this hazardous and peculiar service."
The following extract from another letter, also addressed to his Honour the Superintendent, shews the opinions and feelings of the writer, a Magistrate of the Colony, and a Commissioner of Crown Lands, in the Geelong district.
"In offering my candid opinion, I submissively beg leave to state, that for the last three years, on all occasions, I have been a friend to the natives; but from my general knowledge of their habits of idleness, extreme cunning, vice, and villany, that it is out of the power of all exertion that can be bestowed on them to do good by them; and I further beg leave to state, that I can plainly see the general conduct of the native growing worse, and, if possible, more useless, and daily more daring. One and all appear to consider that no punishment awaits them. This idea has latterly been instilled into their minds with, I should think, considerable pains, and also that the white men should be punished for the least offence.
"In reply to the latter part of your letter, I beg leave to bring to your notice that, at considerable risk, two years ago, I apprehended a native for the murder of one of Mr. Learmonth's men, near Bunengang. He was committed to Sydney gaol, and at the expiration of a year he was returned to Melbourne to be liberated, and is now at large. In the case of Mr. Thomson's, that I apprehended two, and both identified by the men who so fortunately escaped. It is a difficult thing to apprehend natives, and with great risk of life on both sides. On the Grange, and many parts of the country, it would be impossible to take them; AND IN MY OPINION, the only plan to bring them to a fit and proper state is to insist on the gentlemen in the country to protect their property, AND TO DEAL WITH SUCH USELESS SAVAGES ON THE SPOT."
Captain Grey bears testimony to similar feelings and occurrences in Western Australia. In speaking of capturing some natives, he says, vol. 2. p. 351. "It was necessary that I should proceed with great caution, in order not to alarm the guilty parties when they saw us approaching, in which case, I should have had no chance of apprehending them, and I did not intend to adopt the popular system of shooting them when they ran away." And again, at page 356, he says, "It was better that I, an impartial person, should see that they were properly punished for theft, than that the Europeans should fire indiscriminately upon them, as had lately been done, in another quarter."
Even in South Australia, where the Colonists have generally been more concentrated, and where it might naturally be supposed there would be less likelihood of offenders of this kind escaping detection and punishment, there are not wanting instances of unnecessary and unprovoked, and sometimes of wanton injury upon the natives. In almost all cases of this description, it is quite impracticable from the inadmissibility of native evidence, or from some other circumstances, to bring home conviction to the guilty. [Note 50 at end of para.] On the other hand, where natives commit offences against Europeans, if they can be caught, the punishment is certain and severe. Already since the establishment of South Australia as a colony, six natives have been tried and hung, for crimes against Europeans, and many others have been shot or wounded, by the police and military in their attempts to capture or prevent their escape. No European has, however, yet paid the penalties of the law, for aggressions upon the Aborigines, though many have deserved to do so. The difficulty consists in legally bringing home the offence, or in refuting the absurd stories that are generally made up in justification of it.
[Note 50: Vide Chapter 9, of Notes on the Aborigines.]
A single instance or two will be sufficient, in illustration of the impunity which generally attends these acts of violence. On the 25th January, 1843, the sheep at a station of Mr. Hughes, upon the Hutt river, had been scattered during the night, and some of them were missing. It was concluded the natives had been there, and taken them, as the tracks of naked feet were said to have been found near the folds. Upon these grounds two of Mr. Hughes' men, and one belonging to Mr. Jacobs, another settler in the neighbourhood, took arms, and went out to search for the natives. About a mile from the station they met with one native and his wife, whom they asked to accompany them back to the station, promising bread and flour for so doing. They consented to go, but were then escorted AS PRISONERS, the two men of Mr. Hughes' guarding the male native, and Mr. Jacobs' servant (a person named Gregory) the female. Naturally alarmed at the predicament they were in, the man ran off, pursued by his two guards, but escaped. The woman took another direction, pursued by Gregory, who recaptured her, and she was said to have then seized Gregory's gun, and to have struck at him several blows with a heavy stick, upon which, being afraid that he would be overcome, HE SHOT HER. Mr. Hughes, the owner of the lost sheep, came up a few moments after the woman was shot, and heard Gregory's story concerning it, but no marks of his receiving any blows were shewn. On the 23rd of March, he was tried for the offence of manslaughter; there did not appear the slightest extenuating circumstances beyond his own story, and his master giving him a good character, and yet the jury, without retiring, returned a verdict of Not Guilty!
At the very next sittings of the Supreme Court Criminal Sessions, another and somewhat analogous case appeared. The following remarks were made by His Honour Judge Cooper, to the Grand Jury respecting it: "There was also a case of manslaughter to be tried, and he called their attention to this, because it did not appear in the Calendar. The person charged was named Skelton, and as appeared from the depositions, was in custody of some sheep, when an alarm of the rushing of the sheep being given, he looked and saw something climbing over the fence, and subsequently something crawling along the ground, upon which he fired off his piece, and hit the object, which upon examination turned out to be a native. The night was dark, and the native was brought into the hut, where he died the next day. He could not help observing, that cases of this kind were much more frequent than was creditable to the reputation of the Colony. Last Sessions a man was tried and acquitted of the charge of killing a native woman. That verdict was a very merciful one, but not so merciful, he trusted, as to countenance the idea that the lives of the natives are held too cheaply. The only observation that he would make upon this case was, that it was ONE OF GREAT SUSPICION."
[Note 51: I believe this case was not brought to trial.]
Other cases have occurred in which some of the circumstances have come under my own notice, and when Europeans have committed wanton aggressions on the Aborigines, and have then made up a plausible story to account for what had taken place, but where, from obvious circumstances, it was quite impossible to disprove or rebut their tale, however improbable it might be. In the Port Phillip District in 1841, Mr. Chief Protector thus writes to the local Government.
"Already appalling collisions have happened between the white and aboriginal inhabitants, and, although instances, it is possible, have transpired when natives have been the aggressors, yet it will be found that the largest majority originated with the Europeans. The lives of aboriginal natives known to have been destroyed are many, and if the testimony of natives be admissible, the amount would be great indeed; but even in cases where the Aborigines are said to be the aggressors, who can tell what latent provocation existed for perpetrating it? Of the numerous cases that could be cited, the following from a recent journal of an assistant protector, Mr. Parker, of the Lodden, will suffice to shew the insurmountable difficulty, I may add the impossibility, of bringing the guilty parties to justice, for in nine cases, I may say, out of ten, where natives are concerned, the only evidence that can be adduced is that of the Aborigines.
"This evidence is not admissible. Indeed the want of a code, suited to the Aborigines, is now so strongly felt, and of such vital importance to the welfare and existence of the natives, that I earnestly trust that this important subject may be brought under the early consideration and notice of Her Majesty's Government.
"The following is the extract from Mr. Parker's journal referred to: 'On the 8th of March 1841, I proceeded to the Pyrenees to investigate the circumstances connected with the slaughter of several Aborigines, by a Mr. Frances. On the 9th and 10th I fell in with different parties of natives. From the last of these I obtained some distressing statements, as to the slaughter of the blacks; they gave me the names of seven individuals shot by Mr. Frances within the last six months. I found, however, no legal evidence attainable. The only persons present in the last and most serious affair with the Aborigines, which took place in December of last year, were Frances, a person named Downes, and a stock-keeper in Melbourne. No other admissible evidence of the death of these poor people can be obtained than what Frances's written statement conveys. In that he reports that he and the person before named WENT OUT IN CONSEQUENCE OF SEEING THE BUSH ON FIRE, AND FELL IN SUDDENLY WITH SOME NATIVES, ON WHOM THEY FIRED AND KILLED FOUR. The natives say six were slain, and their information on that point is more to be depended on. Owing to the legal disabilities of the Aborigines, this case must be added with many others which have passed without judicial notice. I cannot, however, but wish that squatting licenses were withheld from persons who manifest such an utter disregard of human life as Mr. Frances, even on his own shewing, has done.'
"And in this latter sentiment, under existing circumstances, I most cordially agree. In Frances' case, the PERPETRATOR ADMITS his having SHOT FOUR ABORIGINES, and for aught that is shewn to the contrary, it was AN UNPROVOKED AGGRESSION. The natives, whose testimony Mr. Parker states, can be relied upon, affirm that six were slain, and these within the brief period of six months.
"In my last expedition I visited the country of the 'Barconedeets,' the tribe attacked by Frances; of these I found a few sojourning with the "Portbullucs,' a people inhabiting the country near Mount Zero, the northernmost point of the Grampians. These persons complained greatly of the treatment they had received, and confirmed the statement made to the sub-protector by the other natives. The following are a few of the collisions, from authentic documents brought under the notice of this department, that have happened between settlers and Aborigines, and are respectfully submitted for the information of the Government.
"CASES.—CHARLES WEDGE AND OTHERS.—Five natives killed and others wounded at the Grampians.
"AYLWARD AND OTHERS.—Several natives killed and others wounded at the Grampians. In this case Aylward deposed, 'that there must have been a great many wounded and several killed, as he saw blood upon the grass, and in the tea-tree two or three dead bodies.'
"MESSRS. WHYTE'S FIRST COLLISION.—William Whyte deposed that 30 natives were present, and they were all killed but two, and one of these it is reported died an hour after of his wounds.
"DARLOT.—One native shot. Two natives shot near Portland Bay by the servants of the Messrs. Henty.
"HUTTON AND MOUNTED POLICE.—The written report of this case states, 'that the party overtook the aborigines at the junction of the 'Campaspee;' they fired, and it is stated, that to the best of the belief of the party, five or six were killed.' In the opinion of the sub-protector a greater number were slain.
"MESSRS. WINTER AND OTHERS.—On this occasion five natives were killed.
"One black shot by Frances.
"MUNROE AND POLICE.—Two blacks shot and others wounded.
"The following from Lloyd's deposition:—'We fired on them; I have no doubt some were killed; there were between forty and fifty natives.'
"BY PERSONS UNKNOWN.—A native of the Coligan tribe killed by white persons.
"MESSRS. WEDGE AND OTHERS.—Three natives killed and others wounded.
"Names of Taylor and Lloyd are mentioned as having shot a black at Lake Colac.
"WHYTE'S SECOND COLLISION.—ALLAN'S CASE.—Two natives shot.
"Taylor was overseer of a sheep station in the Western district, and was notorious for killing natives. No legal evidence could be obtained against this nefarious individual. The last transaction in which he was concerned, was of so atrocious a nature, that he thought fit to abscond, and he has not been heard of since. No legal evidence was attainable in this latter case. There is no doubt the charges preferred were true, for in the course of my inquiries on my late expedition, I found a tribe, a section of the Jarcoorts, totally extinct, and it was affirmed by the natives that Taylor had destroyed them. The tribes are rapidly diminishing. The 'Coligans,' once a numerous and powerful people, inhabiting the fertile region of Lake 'Colac,' are now reduced, all ages and sexes, under forty, and these are still on the decay. The Jarcoorts, inhabiting the country to the west of the great lake 'Carangermite,' once a very numerous and powerful people, are now reduced to under sixty. But time would fail, and I fear it would be deemed too prolix, were I to attempt to particularise in ever so small a degree, the previous state, condition, and declension of the original inhabitants of so extensive a province."
Upon the same subject, His Honour the Superintendent of Port Phillip thus writes:—
"On this subject, I beg leave to remark that great impediments evidently do interpose themselves in the way of instituting proper judicial inquiry into the causes and consequences of the frequent acts of collision between the settlers and the aboriginal natives, and into the conduct of the settlers on such occasions. I am quite ready to lament with the Protectors, that numerous as the cases have unfortunately been in which the lives of the Aborigines have been taken in this district, IN NO SINGLE INSTANCE HAS THE SETTLER BEEN BROUGHT BEFORE THE PROPER TRIBUNAL."
Many similar instances might be adduced to shew the little chance there is of evidence enough being procurable, even to cause the aggressor to be put upon his trial, still less to produce his conviction.
Independently of the instances of wanton outrage, which sometimes are perpetrated on the outskirts of the settled districts by the lowest and most abandoned of our countrymen, there are occasions also, when equal injuries are inflicted unintentionally, from inexperience or indiscretion, on the part of those whose duty it is to protect rather than destroy, when the innocent have been punished instead of the guilty [Note 52 at end of para.], and thus the very efforts made to preserve peace and good order, have inadvertently become the means of subverting them.
[Note 52: Upon collisions of this character, Lord John Russell remarks in his despatch, 21st December, 1839, to Sir G. Gipps: "In the case now before me the object of capturing offenders was entirely lost sight of, and shots were fired at men who were apparently only guilty of jumping into the water to escape from an armed pursuit. I am, however, happy to acknowledge that you appear to have made every practicable exertion for the prevention of similar calamities in future, and I approve the measures adopted by you for that purpose. You cannot overrate the solicitude of Her Majesty's Government on the subject of the Aborigines of New Holland. It is impossible to contemplate the condition and the prospects of that unfortunate race without the deepest commiseration. I am well aware of the many difficulties which oppose themselves to the effectual protection of these people, and especially of those which must originate from the exasperation of the settlers, on account of aggressions on their property, which are not the less irritating, because they are nothing else than the natural results of the pernicious examples held out to the Aborigines, and of the many wrongs of which they have been the victims. Still it is impossible that the Government should forget that the original aggression was our own; and that we have never yet performed the sacred duty of making any systematic or considerable attempt to impart to the former occupiers of New South Wales, the blessings of Christianity, or the knowledge of the arts and advantages of civilized life."]
Several very lamentable instances of this kind, have occurred in Port Lincoln. The following is one among others. Soon after the murder of Messrs. Biddle and Brown, a party of soldiers was sent over to try and capture the aggressors. In one of their attempts a native guide was procured from the Eastern tribe, who promised to conduct them to where the murderers were. The party consisting of the military and their officer, the police, a settler, and the missionary, in all twelve or fourteen persons, set off towards Coffin's Bay, following as they supposed upon the track of the murders. Upon reaching the coast some natives were seen fishing in the water, and the party was at once spread out in a kind of semicircle, among the scrub, to close upon and capture them; the officer, missionary, and guide, being stationed near the centre. As the party advanced nearer, the guide saw that he was mistaken in the group before him, and that they were not the guilty parties, but friends. The officer called out not to fire, but unfortunately from the distance the men were at, and the scrubby nature of the country, he was not heard or attended to. A shot was fired, one of the natives sprung up convulsively in the water, walked on shore and fell down, exclaiming whilst dying, "me Kopler, me good man," and such indeed it proved. He was one of a friendly tribe, and a particular protege of the missionary's, having taken the name of Kopler from his German servant who was so called.
The other natives at once came forward to their dying friend, scornfully motioning away his murderers, fearless alike of the foes around them, and regardless of their ill-timed attempts to explain the fatal mistake. Will it be credited, that at such a scene as this the soldiers were indulging in coarse remarks, or brutal jests, upon the melancholy catastrophe; and comparing the last convulsive spring of the dying man to a salmon leaping in the water. Yet this I was assured was the case by the Government Resident at Port Lincoln, from when I received this account.
Another melancholy and unfortunate case of the same nature occurred at Port Lincoln, on the 11th of April, 1844, where a native was shot by a policeman, for attempting to escape from custody, when taken in charge on suspicion of being implicated in robbing a stranded vessel. An investigation was made into this case by the Commissioner of Police, when it was stated in the depositions, that attempts at rescue were made by the other natives. Upon these grounds, I believe, it was considered that the policeman was justified in what he did.
The following extract relating to this subject, is from a letter addressed to a gentleman in Adelaide, by the Rev. C. Schurmann, one of the German Missionaries, who has for some years past been stationed among the Port Lincoln natives, and is intimately acquainted with their language.
[Note 53: Without adopting the tone of this letter, and which in some respects I cannot approve of, I believe the writer to be deeply interested in the welfare of the Aborigines, and strongly impressed with a conviction of the evils and injuries to which they are subject from our anomalous position with regard to them. I have quoted it, therefore, not for the purpose of casting imputations on the Government, but to shew how powerless they are, and how frequently, under the existing system in force with respect to the Aborigines, those very measures which were conceived and entered upon with the best intentions, produce in their result the most unmitigated evils.]
"You will probably recollect, that some time ago (I think it was in the month of May) the Adelaide newspapers contained a short notice of a Port Lincoln native having been shot by the police in self-defence, and a letter in the 'Observer,' mentioned another as being shot by Mr.——, but as the charitable correspondent added, 'Unfortunately only in the arm, instead of through the body.' From these statements one would infer that the parties concerned in these transactions were without blame, being perfectly justified—the one to protect his life, and the other his property. However, since my return to Port Lincoln, I have learned that both tales run very differently when told according to truth. I address myself, therefore, to you, with the true facts of the transactions, as I have learned them. partly from the settlers themselves, partly from the natives. My motive for so doing is to case my own mind, and to gratify the interest which I know you take in the Aborigines of this country.
"The man shot by the police was named Padlalta, and was of so mild and inoffensive a disposition, that he was generally noticed by the settlers on that very account, several of whom I have heard say since, it was a pity that some other native had not been hit in his stead. The same man was captured last year by Major O'llalloran's party, but was set at liberty as soon as I came up and testified his innocence, for which the poor fellow kissed my hand near a dozen times.
"The day before he met his death he was as usual in the town, doing little jobs for the inhabitants, to get bread or other food. On the evening when he was killed, he had encamped with about half a dozen other natives on the northern side of Happy Valley, a short mile from the town. The police who were sent by the Government Resident to see what number of natives were at the camp state, that while searching the man's wallet, he seized hold of one gun, and when the other policeman came up to wrest it from him, he the native grasped the other gun too. In the scuffle that ensued, one of the guns went off, when the other natives who had fled returned and presented their spears. They then shot the native who held the gun.
"Now this statement is a very strange one, when it is considered that the native was a very spare and weak man, so that either of the police ought to have been able to keep him at arm's length; but to say that he seized both their guns is beyond all credibility. The natives were sitting down when the police arrived. How they could therefore find a wallet upon the murdered man, I cannot conceive; since the natives never have their wallets slung, except when moving; and it certainly is not probable, that the man, in spite of the fright he is admitted to have been in, should have thought of taking up his wallet.
"The wallet is said to have contained some sovereigns, taken from the cutter Kate, which was wrecked some time previous to this affair, about forty miles up the coast, and to have been one of those marked by the police, at a native camp near the wreck from which the natives had been scared away, leaving all their things behind. But if the murdered native had taken the sovereigns, why were they not then in his wallet, or why was the wallet not examined the day before when he was in town? [Note 54 at end of para.] I think that there is little doubt that the police found no wallet at all upon the native, and that they coined away one of those found at the camp upon him, with a view to incriminate him."
[Note 54: There cannot be a greater act of injustice towards the natives than that of applying the English law to them with respect to stolen property. Any one who knows any thing of their habits, and the custom prevalent amongst them, of giving any European clothing, or other articles they may acquire, from one to another, must be fully aware how little the fact of their being found in possession of stolen property is just evidence against them. Articles such as I have mentioned, often pass, in a very short time, through the hands of three or four individuals, and perhaps even through as many tribes.]
"Another native, Charley, who was present when the said affair took place, tells me, that the police sneaked upon, and fired at them, while sitting round the fire; [Note 55 at end of para.] that he jumped up, and endeavoured to make himself known, as a friendly native, by saying, "Yarri (that is the name the natives have given to one of the police), Yarri, I Charley, I Charley,"—but that the effect produced had been the pointing of a gun at him, when of course he ran away. That any of the natives returned, and poised their spears, he firmly denies; but accounts for the murder, by supposing that the dead man made resistance, and offered to spear his assailants. He moreover says, that Padlalta would not have died in consequence of the first shot, but that the police fired repeatedly, which agrees with the settlers, who say they heard three shots. When the bloody deed had been committed (a ball had passed right through his body), the cruel perpetrators ran home, leaving the murdered man helpless."
[Note 55: There must, I think, be some mistake here in the phrascology. I cannot think any of the police would fire upon a small party of friendly natives whilst unresisting. The probability is, that they surrounded the natives to make prisoners, and fired upon being resisted. This must generally occur if the police have positive orders to make captures. Natives, not very much in contact with Europeans, will almost always resist an attempt to make prisoners of them, or will try to escape. Very many have, at various times, met their death under such circumstances; and too often it has occurred, that the innocent have been the suffering parties. This shews the absurdity of applying European customs and laws to a people situated as the Australian natives are. It shews, too, the necessity of altering our present system and policy towards them, to one that will exercise sufficient influence over them to induce them to give up offenders themselves. I believe such a system may be devised.—Vide Chapter IX.]
"Some time after, a party of three settlers went to the spot, one of whom he recognized, and claimed his acquaintance, and perhaps assistance, by mentioning the party's Christian name; but, alas! no good Samaritan was found amongst these three; they all passed by on the other side, without alleviating his pain, moistening his parched lips, warming his shivering limbs, or aiding him in any way whatever. There he lay a whole cold and long winter night, without a fire to warm him, or a soul to talk to him. Next morning he was found still alive, but died on the way into town, where he was buried in the jail yard, like a condemned felon.
"What awful and melancholy reflections crowd upon one's mind in thinking on this transaction. But what conclusians must a poor people, whom a Christian and civilized nation calls savages, arrive at, with such facts before them.
"The other native, wounded by Mr.—in the arm, was doubtless of the party who attacked the flock; but it must have been some hours after that he was shot, for the shepherd had to come home with the flock to inform him of the occurrence, and then search and pursuit had to be made, during which he was overtaken. He is a stupid idiotic sort of man, so that the natives have not deemed him worthy of receiving the honours of their ceremonies, and still call him a boy, or youth, although he is an oldish man.
"On another occasion, when an uninhabited hut, with some wheat in it, had been broken into by some unknown natives, a party went in search of the offenders. It was night when they came on a camp, on the opposite side of the lake to where the hut stands; the natives, acting upon the first impulse, and warned by frequent examples, ran away, when two of the party snapped their pieces, but providentially both guns missed fire. The natives, however, soon took confidence, and returned, when it was found that two of the most orderly and useful men would have been shot if the guns had gone off. The party took upon themselves to make one of them prisoner, but of course did not venture to bring him before the magistrate.
"These facts incontestably prove, that, notwithstanding the Aborigines are called British subjects, and in spite of the so-called protection system, there is no shadow of protection for them, while they are debarred from the first and most important of all liberties, namely, that of being heard in a Court of civil Justice.
"Several instances have occurred during my residence in this district, in which natives have been arraigned before the administrators of the law, although I was morally convinced of their innocence; in other cases, they have sought redress through me, for wanton attacks on their person and lives, without being listened to.
"Only a few weeks ago a native was very nearly being taken up, on the charge of having thrown a spear at Mr. Smith's shepherd, without, however, any felonious intent, the distance being too great. This circumstance saved the man, or else he would, no doubt, have been tried and found guilty on the shepherd's evidence, who would not allow that he could be mistaken in the individual, although the accused native came boldly into town and court (a circumstance that has never before occurred since I have known these natives), although he was an intimate friend of the shepherd and his wife; and although all the other natives could prove where he had been at the time of the attack on the flock, and state who were the guilty parties.
"For those who have had an opportunity of observing the Aborigines in their original state, it is not very difficult to distinguish the guilty from the innocent, for they are a simple-minded race, little skilled in the arts of dissimulation.
"It is bad enough that a great part of the colonists are inimical to the natives; it is worse that the law, as it stands at present, does not extend its protection to them; but it is too bad when the press lends its influence to their destruction. Such, however, is undoubtedly the case. When Messrs. Biddle and Brown were murdered, the newspapers entertained their readers week after week with the details of the bloody massacre, heaping a profusion of vile epithets upon the perpetrators. But of the slaughter by the soldiers, (who killed no less than four innocent natives, while they captured not one guilty party), among the tribes who had had nothing to do with the murders—of the treachery of attacking in the darkness of the night, a tribe who had the day before been hunting kangaroo with their informers, when one of the former guides to the magistrates' pursuing party was killed amongst others; of the wanton outrage on the mutilated body of one of the victims;—of these things the press was as silent as the grave."
Without attempting to enlarge more fully upon the subjects entered upon in the preceding pages, I trust that I have sufficiently shewn that the character of the Australian natives has been greatly misrepresented and maligned, that they are not naturally more irreclaimably vicious, revengeful, or treacherous than other nations, but on the contrary, that their position with regard to Europeans, places them under so many disadvantages, subjects them to so many injuries, irritates them with so many annoyances, and tempts them with so many provocations, that it is a matter of surprise, not that they sometimes are guilty of crime, but that they commit it so rarely.
If I have in the least degree succeeded in establishing that such is the case, it must be evident that it is incumbent upon us not only to make allowances when pronouncing an opinion on the character or the crimes of the Aborigines; but what is of far greater and more vital importance, as far as they are concerned, to endeavour to revise and improve such parts of our system and policy towards them as are defective, and by better adapting these to the peculiar circumstances of this people, at once place them upon juster and more equal terms, and thus excite a reasonable hope that some eventual amelioration may be produced, both in their moral and physical condition.
[Note 56: "We say distinctly and deliberately that nothing comparatively has yet been done—that the natives have hitherto acquired nothing of European civilization, but European vices and diseases, and that the speedy extinction of the whole race is inevitable, save by the introduction of means for their civilization on a scale much more comprehensive and effectual than any yet adopted."—Leading Article in South Australian Register, 1st August, 1840.]
I shall now proceed to give an account of the appearance, habits, mode of life, means of subsistance, social relations, government, ceremonies, superstitions, numbers, languages, etc. etc. of the natives of Australia, so as to afford some insight into the character and circumstances of this peculiar race, to exhibit the means hitherto adopted for, and the progress made in attempting, their civilization, and to shew the effects produced upon them by a contact with Europeans.
PHYSICAL APPEARANCE—DRESS—CHARACTER—HABITS OF LIFE—MEETINGS OF TRIBES—WARS—DANCES—SONGS.
The Aborigines of Australia, with whom Europeans have come in contact, present a striking similarity to each other in physical appearance and structure; and also in their general character, habits, and pursuits. Any difference that is found to exist is only the consequence of local circumstances or influences, and such as might naturally be expected to be met with among a people spread over such an immense extent of country. Compared with other aboriginal races, scattered over the face of the globe, the New Hollander appears to stand alone.
The male is well built and muscular, averaging from five to six feet in height, with proportionate upper and lower extremities. The anterior lobes of the brain are fairly developed, so as to give a facial angle, far from being one of the most acute to be found amongst the black races. The eyes are sunk, the nose is flattened, and the mouth wide. The lips are rather thick, and the teeth generally very perfect and beautiful, though the dental arrangement is sometimes singular, as no difference exists in many between the incisor and canine teeth. The neck is short, and sometimes thick, and the heel resembles that of Europeans. The ankles and wrists are frequently small, as are also the hands and feet. The latter are well formed and expanded, but the calves of the legs are generally deficient. Some of the natives in the upper districts of the Murray, are, however, well formed in this respect. In a few instances, natives attain to a considerable corpulency. The men have fine broad and deep chests, indicating great bodily strength, and are remarkably erect and upright in their carriage, with much natural grace and dignity of demeanour. The eye is generally large, black, and expressive, with the eye-lashes long.
When met with for the first time in his native wilds there is frequently a fearless intrepidity of manner, an ingenuous openness of look, and a propriety of behaviour about the aboriginal inhabitant of Australia, which makes his appearance peculiarly prepossessing.
In the female the average height is about five feet, or perhaps a little under. The anterior part of the brain is more limited than in the male; the apex of the head is carried further back; the facial angle is more acute; and the extremities are more attenuated. The latter circumstance may probably be accounted for from the fact, that the females have to endure, from a very early age, a great degree of hardship, privation, and ill-treatment. Like most other savages the Australian looks upon his wife as a slave. To her belongs the duty of collecting and preparing the daily food, of making the camp or hut for the night, of gathering and bringing in firewood, and of procuring water. She must also attend to the children; and in travelling carry all the moveable property and frequently the weapons of her husband. In wet weather she attends to all the outside work, whilst her lord and master is snugly seated at the fire. If there is a scarcity of food she has to endure the pangs of hunger, often, perhaps, in addition to ill-treatment or abuse. No wonder, then, that the females, and especially the younger ones, (for it is then they are exposed to the greatest hardships,) are not so fully or so roundly developed in person as the men. Yet under all these disadvantages this deficiency does not always exist. Occasionally, though rarely, I have met with females in the bloom of youth, whose well-proportioned limbs and symmetry of figure might have formed a model for the sculptor's chisel. In personal appearance the females are, except in early youth, very far inferior to the men. When young, however, they are not uninteresting. The jet-black eyes, shaded by their long, dark lashes, and the delicate and scarcely-formed features of incipient womanhood give a soft and pleasing expression to a countenance that might often be called good-looking—occasionally even pretty.
The colour of the skin, both in the male and female, is generally black, or very darkly tinged. The hair is either straight or curly, but never approaching to the woolliness of the negro. It is usually worn short by both sexes, and is variously ornamented at different periods of life. Sometimes it is smeared with red ochre and grease; at other times adorned with tufts of feathers, the tail of the native dog, kangaroo teeth, and bandages or nets of different kinds.
[Note 57: The same fondness for red paint, ornaments of skins, tufts of feathers, etc., is noticed by Catlin as prevalent among the American Indians, and by Dieffenbach as existing among the New Zealanders.]
When the head of the native is washed clean, and purified from the odour of the filthy pigment with which it is bedaubed, the crop of hair is very abundant, and the appearance of it beautiful, being a silken, glossy, and curly black. Great pains are, however, used to destroy or mar this striking ornament of nature.
Without the slightest pride of appearance, so far as neatness or cleanliness is concerned, the natives are yet very vain of their own rude decorations, which are all worn for EFFECT. A few feathers or teeth, a belt or band, a necklace made of the hollow stem of some plant, with a few coarse daubs of red or white paint, and a smearing of grease, complete the toilette of the boudoir or the ball-room. Like the scenery of a panorama, they are then seen to most advantage at a distance; for if approached too closely, they forcibly remind us of the truth of the expression of the poet, that "nature unadorned is adorned the most."
The body dress is simple; consisting of the skins of the opossum, the kangaroo, or the wallabie, when they can be procured. A single garment only is used, made in the form of an oblong cloak, or coverlet; by the skins being stretched out and dried in the sun, and then sewn together with the sinews of the emu, etc. The size of the cloak varies according to the industry of the maker, or the season of the year. The largest sized ones are about six feet square, but the natives frequently content themselves with one not half this size, and in many cases are without it altogether. The cloak is worn with the fur side outwards, and is thrown over the back and left shoulder, and pinned on in front with a little wooden peg; the open part is opposite the right side, so as to leave the right arm and shoulder quite unconfined, in the male; the female throws it over the back and left shoulder, and brings it round under the right arm-pit, and when tied in front by a string passing round the cloak and the back, a pouch is formed behind, in which the child is always carried. [Note 58 at end of para.] In either if the skin be a handsome one, the dress is very pretty and becoming.
[Note 58: A similar custom prevails among the women of the American Indians.—CATLIN. vol. ii. p. 132.]
On the sea coast, where the country is barren, and the skins of animals cannot readily be procured, sea-weed or rushes are manufactured into garments, with considerable ingenuity. In all cases the garments worn by day constitute the only covering at night, as the luxury of variety in dress is not known to, or appreciated by, the Aborigines.
No covering is worn upon the head, although they are continually exposed to the rays of an almost tropical sun. In extreme seasons of heat, and 'when they are travelling, they sometimes gather a few green bunches or wet weeds and place upon their heads; but this does not frequently occur.
The character of the Australian natives is frank, open, and confiding. In a short intercourse they are easily made friends, and when such terms are once established, they associate with strangers with a freedom and fearlessness, that would give little countenance to the impression so generally entertained of their treachery. On many occasions where I have met these wanderers in the wild, far removed from the abodes of civilization, and when I have been accompanied only by a single native boy, I have been received by them in the kindest and most friendly manner, had presents made to me of fish, kangaroo, or fruit, had them accompany me for miles to point out where water was to be procured, and been assisted by them in getting at it, if from the nature of the soil and my own inexperience. I had any difficulty in doing so myself.
I have ever found them of a lively, cheerful disposition [Note 59 at end of para.], patiently putting up with inconveniences and privations, and never losing that natural good temper which so strongly characterizes them. On the occasion of my second visit from Moorunde, to the Rufus natives in 1841, when I had so far overcome the ill-feelings and dread, engendered by the transactions in that quarter, in 1840, as to induce a large body of them to accompany me back to the station, they had to walk a distance of 150 miles, making daily the same stages that the horses did, and unprovided with any food but what they could procure along the road as they passed, and this from the rapidity with which they had to travel, and the distance they had to go in a day, was necessarily limited in quantity, and very far from sufficient to appease even the cravings of hunger, yet tired, foot-sore, and hungry as they were, and in company with strangers, whose countrymen had slain them in scores, but a few months before, they were always merry at their camps at nights, and kept singing, laughing, and joking, to a late hour.
[Note 59: Such appears usually to be the characteristic of Nature's children, than whom no race appears more thoroughly to enjoy life.—Vide character of the American Indians, by Catlin, vol. 1. p. 84.]
On falling in with them in larger numbers, when I have been travelling in the interior with my party, I have still found the same disposition to meet me on terms of amity and kindness. Nor can a more interesting sight well be imagined, than that of a hundred or two hundred natives advancing in line to meet you, unarmed, shouting and waving green boughs in both hands, men, women, and children, the old and the young, all joining in expressing their good feelings and pacific intentions. On such occasions I have been often astonished at the facility with which large bodies, have by a little kindness and forbearance been managed, and kept from being troublesome or annoying, by a party of only six or seven Europeans. I have occasionally had upwards of 150 natives sitting in a long line, where I placed them, and as orderly and obedient almost as a file of soldiers.
At other times, when riding with only a native boy over the plains of the interior, I have seen the blue smoke of the native fires, curling up through the distant line of trees, which marked some yet unvisited watercourse, and upon making towards it, have come suddenly upon a party encamped in the hollow, beneath the banks upon which I stood. Here I have remained, observing them for a few moments, unseen and unthought of. A single call would arouse their attention, and as they looked up, would draw from them a wild exclamation of dismay, accompanied by a look of indescribable horror and affright, at beholding the strange, and to them incomprehensible beings who stood before them. Weapons would hastily be seized, baggage gathered up, and the party so lately buried in repose and security, would at once be ready either to fight or to evacuate their camps, as circumstances might seem to render most expedient. A few friendly gestures and a peaceable demeanour would however soon dissipate their terror, and in a few moments their weapons would be thrown aside, and both invaders and invaded be upon intimate and confiding terms.
I have always found the natives ready to barter their nets, weapons, or other implements, for European articles, and sometimes they will give them unsolicited, and without any equivalent; amongst themselves they constantly do this.
In their intercourse with each other, natives of different tribes are exceedingly punctilious and polite, the most endearing epithets are passed between those who never met before; almost every thing that is said is prefaced by the appellation of father, son, brother, mother, sister, or some other similar term, corresponding to that degree of relationship which would have been most in accordance with their relative ages and circumstances. In many instances, too, these titles are even accompanied by the still more insinuating addition of "dear," to say nothing of the hugs and embraces which they mutually give and receive.
The natives are very fond of the children they rear, and often play with, and fondle them; but husbands rarely shew much affection for their wives. After a long absence, I have seen natives, upon their return, go to their camp, exhibiting the most stoical indifference, never take the least notice of their wives, but sit down, and act, and look, as if they had never been out of the encampment; in fact, if any thing, they are more taciturn and reserved than usual, and some little time elapses before they enter into conversation with freedom, or in their ordinary manner.
[Note 60: For the existence of similar customs amongst the American Indians, vide Catlin, vol. i. p. 56.]
Upon meeting children after a long absence, I have seen parents "fall upon their necks, and weep" bitterly. It is a mistaken idea, as well as an unjust one, that supposes the natives to be without sensibility of feeling. It may often be repressed from pride or policy, but it will sometimes break forth uncontrolled, and reveal, that the best and genuine feelings of the heart are participated in by savage in common with civilized man. The following is an instance in point:—A fine intelligent young boy, was, by his father's consent, living with me at the Murray for many weeks; but upon the old man's going into Adelaide, he took his son away to accompany him. Whilst there, the boy died, and for nearly a year I never saw any thing more of the father, although he occasionally had been within a few miles of my neighbourhood. One day, however, I was out shooting about three miles from home, and accidentally fell in with him. Upon seeing me he immediately burst into tears, and was unable to speak. It was the first time he had met me since his son's death, and my presence forcibly reminded him of his loss. The same circumstance occurred when he accompanied me to the house, where every thing he saw recalled the memory of his child.
Innate propriety of behaviour is also frequently exhibited by the Aborigines in their natural state, in the modest unassuming manner in which they take their positions to observe what is going on, and in a total absence of any thing that is rude or offensive. It is true that the reverse of this is also often to be met with; but I think it will usually be found that it is among natives who have before been in contact with Europeans, or where familiarities have been used with them first, or an injudicious system of treatment has been adopted towards them.
DELICACY of feeling is not often laid to the charge of the Aborigines, and yet I was witness to a singular instance of it at King George's Sound. I was looking one evening at the natives dancing, and who were, as they always are on these occasions, in a state of complete nudity. In the midst of the performance, one of the natives standing by a spectator, mentioned that a white woman was passing up the road; and although this was some little distance away, and the night was tolerably dark, they all with one accord crossed over to the bushes where their cloaks were, put them on, and resumed their amusement.
It has been said, and is generally believed, that the natives are not courageous. There could not be a greater mistake, at least as far as they are themselves concerned, nor do I hold it to be any proof that they are cowards, because they dread or give way before Europeans and their fire-arms. So unequal a match is no criterion of bravery, and yet even thus, among natives, who were labouring under the feelings, naturally produced by seeing a race they were unacquainted with, and weapons that dealt death as if by magic, I have seen many instances of an open manly intrepidity of manner and bearing, and a proud unquailing glance of eye, which instinctively stamped upon my mind the conviction that the individuals before me were very brave men.
In travelling about from one place to another, I have always made it a point, if possible, to be accompanied by one or more natives, and I have often found great advantage from it. Attached to an exploring party they are frequently invaluable, as their perceptive powers are very great, and enable them both to see and hear anything at a much greater distance than a European. In tracking stray animals, and keeping on indistinct paths, they display a degree of perseverance and skill that is really wonderful. They are useful also in cutting bark canoes to cross a river, should such impede the progress of the party, and in diving for anything that may be lost in the water, etc. etc. The Aborigines generally, and almost always those living near large bodies of water, are admirable swimmers and divers, and are almost as much at home in the water as on dry land. I have known them even saw a small log or root at the bottom of a deep river. In a locality, however, which is badly watered, it sometimes happens that they cannot swim. At Meerkap, in Western Australia, while crossing with some friends, from the Sound to Swan River, we met with some who were in this predicament, and who seemed a good deal astonished at our venturing into the small ponds at that place. I have been told that the natives at the Sound could not swim before that settlement was occupied by Europeans—this seems hardly probable, however, upon the sea-coast; at all events, be this as it may, they all swim now.
In habit they are truly nomadic, seldom remaining many weeks in one locality, and frequently not many days. The number travelling together depends, in a great measure, upon the period of the year, and the description of food that may be in season. If there is any particular variety more abundant than another, or procurable only in certain localities, the whole tribe generally congregate to partake of it. Should this not be the case, then they are probably scattered over their district in detached groups, or separate families.
At certain seasons of the year, usually in the spring or summer, when food is most abundant, several tribes meet together in each other's territory for the purpose of festivity or war, or to barter and exchange such food, clothing, implements, weapons, or other commodities as they respectively possess; or to assist in the initiatory ceremonies by which young persons enter into the different grades of distinction amongst them. The manner and formalities of meeting depend upon the cause for which they assemble. If the tribes have been long apart, many deaths may have occurred in the interim; and as the natives do not often admit that the young or the strong can die from natural causes, they ascribe the event to the agency of sorcery, employed by individuals of neighbouring tribes. This must of course be expiated in some way when they meet, but the satisfaction required is regulated by the desire of the injured tribe to preserve amicable relations with the other, or the reverse.
The following is an account of a meeting which I witnessed, between the natives of Moorunde (comprising portions of several of the neighbouring tribes) and the Nar-wij-jerook, or Lake Bonney tribe, accompanied also by many of their friends. This meeting had been pre-arranged, as meetings of large bodies of natives never take place accidentally, for even when a distant tribe approaches the territory of another unexpectedly, messengers are always sent on in advance, to give the necessary warning. The object of the meeting in question was to perform the initiatory ceremonies upon a number of young men belonging to both of the tribes. In the Murray district, when one tribe desires another to come from a distance to perform these ceremonies, young men are sent off with messages of invitation, carrying with them as their credentials, long narrow news, made of string manufactured from the rush. These nets are left with the tribe they are sent to, and brought back again when the invitation is responded to.
Notice having been given on the previous evening to the Moorunde natives of the approach of the Nar-wij-jerook tribe, they assembled at an early hour after sunrise, in as clear and open a place as they could find. Here they sat down in a long row to await the coming of their friends. The men were painted, and carried their weapons, as if for war. The women and children were in detached groups, a little behind them, or on one side, whilst the young men, on whom the ceremonies were to be performed, sat shivering with cold and apprehension in a row to the rear of the men, perfectly naked, smeared over from head to foot with grease and red-ochre, and without weapons. The Nar-wij-jerook tribe was now seen approaching. The men were in a body, armed and painted, and the women and children accompanying them a little on one side. They occasionally halted, and entered into consultation, and then, slackening their pace, gradually advanced until within a hundred yards of the Moorunde tribe. Here the men came to a full stop, whilst several of the women singled out from the rest, and marched into the space between the two parties, having their heads coated over with lime, and raising a loud and melancholy wail, until they came to a spot about equi-distant from both, when they threw down their cloaks with violence, and the bags which they carried on their backs, and which contained all their worldly effects. The bags were then opened, and pieces of glass and shells taken out, with which they lacerated their thighs, backs, and breasts, in a most frightful manner, whilst the blood kept pouring out of the wounds in streams; and in this plight, continuing their wild and piercing lamentations, they moved up towards the Moorunde tribe, who sat silently and immoveably in the place at first occupied. One of the women then went up to a strange native, who was on a visit to the Moorunde tribe and who stood neutral in the affair of the meeting, and by violent language and frantic gesticulations endeavoured to incite him to revenge the death of some relation or friend. But he could not be induced to lift his spear against the people amongst whom he was sojourning. After some time had been spent in mourning, the women took up their bundles again, and retiring, placed themselves in the rear of their own party. An elderly man then advanced, and after a short colloquy with the seated tribe, went back, and beckoned his own people to come forward, which they did slowly and in good order, exhibiting in front three uplifted spears, to which were attached the little nets left with them by the envoys of the opposite tribe, and which were the emblems of the duty they had come to perform, after the ordinary expiations had been accomplished.
In advancing, the Nar-wij-jerooks again commenced the death wail, and one of the men, who had probably sustained the greatest loss since the tribes had last met, occasionally in alternations of anger and sorrow addressed his own people. When near the Moorunde tribe a few words were addressed to them, and they at once rose simultaneously, with a suppressed shout. The opposite party then raised their spears, and closing upon the line of the other tribe, speared about fifteen or sixteen of them in the left arm, a little below the shoulder. This is the generally understood order of revenge; for the persons who were to receive the wounds, as soon as they saw the weapons of their assailants poised, at once put out the left foot, to steady themselves, and presented the left shoulder for the blow, frequently uttering the word "Leipa" (spear), as the others appeared to hesitate.
Whilst this was going on, the influential men of each tribe were violently talking to each other, and apparently accusing one another of being accessory to the death of some of their people. Disclaimers passed on each side, and the blame was imputed to other and more distant tribes. The manes of the dead having been appeased, the honour of each party was left unsullied, and the Nar-wij-jerooks retired about a hundred yards, and sat down, ready to enter upon the ceremonies of the day, which will be described in another place. [Note 61: Chapter V.]
If the meeting of the tribes be for the purpose of war, a favourable situation is selected by one of the parties, and notice is sent to the other, who then proceed to the place of meeting, where both draw out their forces in opposing parallel lines. Day-break, or nearly about sunset in the evening, are the times preferred for these engagements, as the softened light at those hours does not so much affect the eyesight, and the spears are more easily seen and avoided. Both parties are fully armed with spears, shields, and other weapons, and the fight sometimes lasts for three or four hours, during which scarcely a word is spoken, and but little noise of any kind is heard, excepting a shrill cry now and then, when some one is wounded or has a narrow escape. Many are injured generally on both sides, and some severely so; but it rarely happens that more than one or two are killed, though hundreds may have been engaged.
The fights are sometimes witnessed by men who are not concerned in them, by the women and the children. The presence of the females may be supposed probably to inspire the belligerents with courage and incite them to deeds of daring.
The most dangerous and fatal affrays in which the natives engage are those which occur suddenly amongst tribes who have been encamped near one another on amicable terms, and between whom some cause of difference has arisen, probably in relation to their females, or some recent death, which it is imagined the sorcerers have been instrumental in producing. In the former case a kind of melee sometimes takes place at night, when fire-brands are thrown about, spears launched, and bwirris [Note 62 at end of para.] bran-dished in indescribable confusion. In the latter case the affray usually occurs immediately after the body is buried, and is more of a hand-to-hand fight, in which bwirris are used rather than spears, and in which tremendous blows are struck and frightful wounds inflicted.
[Note 62: A short, heavy, wooden stick, with a knob at one end.]
In wars males are always obliged to join their relatives by blood and their own tribe. Women frequently excite the men to engage in these affrays to revenge injuries or deaths, and sometimes they assist themselves by carrying spears or other weapons for their husbands. I am not aware that women or children are ever butchered after a battle is over, and I believe such is never the case. Single camps are sometimes treacherously surprised when the parties are asleep, and the males barbarously killed in cold blood. This generally takes place just before the morning dawns, when the native is most drowsy, and least likely to give his attention to any thing he might hear. In these cases the attack is generally made under the belief that the individual is a desperate sorcerer, and has worked innumerable mischiefs to their tribe. In their attacks upon European parties I believe the natives generally advance in a line or crescent, beating their weapons together, throwing dust in the air, spitting, biting their beards, or using some other similar act of defiance and hostility. I have never witnessed any such collision myself, but am told that the attack is always accompanied by that peculiar savage sound produced by the suppressed guttural shout of many voices in unison, which they use in conflicts amongst themselves, and which is continued to the moment of collision, and renewed in triumph whenever a weapon strikes an opponent.
When hostilely disposed from either fear or from having been previously ill-treated, I have seen the natives, without actually proceeding to extremities, resort to all the symptoms of defiance I have mentioned, or at other times, run about with fire-brands in their hands, lighting the bushes and the grass, either as a charm, or in the hope of burning out the intruders. When much alarmed and rather closely pressed, they have run up the trees like monkeys, and concealed themselves among the boughs, evidently thinking they were secure from pursuit there.
If tribes meet simply for the purpose of festivity, and have no deaths to avenge on either side, although they appear in warlike attitude, painted and bearing spear and shield, yet when they approach each other, they all become seated upon the ground. After which, the strangers, should there be any, undergo a formal introduction, and have their country and lineage described by the older men. At these meetings all occurrences of interest are narrated, information is given as to the localities in which food is most abundant, and invitations are issued by the proprietors of these districts, to their relations and friends to accompany them thither.
The position of one tribe towards another, whether on friendly terms or otherwise, is talked about, and consultations are held on the existing state of affairs, whether hostilities shall be continued or withdrawn, and future plans of operation are marked out.
Whilst the men are occupied in discussing these matters, the females engage in a narration of family occurrences, such as births of children, marriages, deaths, etc., not omitting a sprinkling of gossip and scandal, from which, even these ebon sisters of a fairer race, are not altogether exempt.
In the evening, the huts of the different tribes are built as near to each other as practicable, each tribe locating itself in the direction from whence it came. The size and character of the huts, with the number of their occupants, vary according to the state of the weather, and the local circumstances of their position. In fine weather, one hut will contain from two to five families, in wet weather more, each family however having a separate fire.
The amusements of the natives are various, but they generally have a reference to their future occupations or pursuits. Boys who are very young, have small reed spears made for them by their parents, the ends of which are padded with grass, to prevent them from hurting each other. They then stand at a little distance, and engage in a mimic fight; and by this means acquire early that skill in the use of this weapon, for which, in after life, they are so much celebrated. At other times round pieces of bark are rolled along the ground, to represent an animal in the act of running, at which the spears are thrown for the sake of practice.
Another favourite amusement among the children, is to practise the dances and songs of the adults, and a boy is very proud if he attains sufficient skill in these, to be allowed to take part in the exhibitions that are made before other tribes.
String puzzles are another species of amusement with them. In these a European would be surprised to see the ingenuity they display, and the varied and singular figures which they produce. Our juvenile attempts in this way, are very meagre and uninteresting compared to them. [Note 63: An amusement of the New Zealand children.—Dieffenbach, vol. 2. p. 32.]
Other gratifications enjoyed by children, consist in learning the occupations and pursuits of after life, as to make twine, and weapons; to ascend trees; to procure food; to guide the canoe, and many other things, which enter into the pursuits of a savage.
The elder boys engage more extensively in similar occupations, as they are more particularly interested in them, and by their exertions have to provide chiefly for their own support. Mock combats frequently take place amongst them, in which they are encouraged by the adults, that they may acquire the dexterities of warfare, in which they are soon to be more seriously engaged. [Note 64: For an account of a similar practise among the American Indians, vide Catlin, vol. 1. p. 131.]
An amusement of the adults, is a large bunch of emu feathers tied together, (fig. 1. Pl. 1.) which is held out and shaken as if in defiance, by some individual, whilst the others advance to try to take it out of his hands. This occasions an amusing struggle before the prize is gained, in which it is not uncommon to see from ten to twenty strong and lusty men rolling in a heap together. This is a sort of athletic exercise amongst them, for the purpose of testing each other's strength. On such an occasion they are all unarmed and naked.
At nights, dances or plays are performed by the different tribes in turn, the figures and scenes of which are extensively varied, but all are accompanied by songs, and a rude kind of music produced by beating two sticks together, or by the action of the hand upon a cloak of skins rolled tightly together, so as to imitate the sound of a drum. In some of the dances only are the women allowed to take a part; but they have dances of their own, in which the men do not join. At all times they are the chief musicians, vocal and instrumental. Sometimes, however, they have an old man to lead the band and pitch the tunes; and at others they are assisted by the old and young men indiscriminately.
The natives have not any war-dance, properly so called, though sometimes they are decorated in all the pomp and circumstance of war. Being excellent mimies, they imitate in many of their dances the habits and movements of animals. They also represent the mode of hunting, fighting, love-making, etc. New figures and new songs are constantly introduced, and are as much applauded and encored, as more refined productions of a similar kind in civilized communities; being sometimes passed from tribe to tribe for a considerable distance. I have often seen dances performed to songs with which I was acquainted, and which I knew to belong to distant parts of the country where a different dialect was spoken, and which consequently could not be understood where I heard them. Many of the natives cannot even give an interpretation of the songs of their own districts [Note 65 at end of para.], and most of the explanations they do give are, I am inclined to think, generally very imperfect, as the measures or quantities of the syllables appear to be more attended to than the sense.
[Note 65: "Not one in ten of the young men who are dancing and singing it, know the meaning of the song they are chaunting over."—Catlin, vol. 1. p. 126. Also the case in New Zealand, with respect to some of the songs.—Vide Dieffenbach, vol. 2. p. 57.]
Of these amusements the natives are passionately fond; and when once they have so far overcome their naturally indolent disposition as to be induced to engage in them there is no knowing when they will give over. Dances are sometimes held during the day, but these are of rare occurrence, and seem to be in some way connected with their ceremonial observances or superstitions, since rude figures, and lofty branches of trees, decorated with tufts of feathers, emu plumes, swan's down and red ochre, occupy a prominent part in the exhibition, although never met with in the dances by night.
The dances vary a great deal among the different tribes, both as to figures and music; the painting or decoration of their persons, their use of weapons, and the participation of the females in them. Throughout the entire continent, as far as it is known. there are many points of resemblance in the dances of all the Aborigines, such as the practice of painting the body with white and red ochre, carrying boughs in their hands, or tying them round their limbs; adorning the head with feathers or down, bearing bunches of feathers, tied in tufts in their hands, the women singing and beating time upon folded skins, the men beating time upon sticks or some of their smaller weapons, an old man acting as leader of the band, and giving the time and tune to the others; the dances representing the actions of animals, the circumstances of the chase, of war, or of love; and the singular and extraordinary quivering motion of the thighs when the legs are distended, a peculiarity probably confined to the natives of the continent of Australia.
The most interesting dances are those which take place at the meeting of different tribes. Each tribe performs in turn, and as there is much rivalry, there is a corresponding stimulus to exertion. The dances usually commence an hour or two after dark, and are frequently kept up the greater part of the night, the performers becoming so much excited that, notwithstanding the violent exercise required to sustain all their evolutions, they are unwilling to leave off. It is sometimes difficult to induce them to commence a dance; but if they once begin, and enter into the spirit of it, it is still more difficult to induce them to break up.
The females of the tribe exhibiting, generally sit down in front of the performers, either irregularly, in a line, or a semicircle, folding up their skin cloaks into a hard ball, and then beating them upon their laps with the palm of their hand, and accompanying the noise thus produced with their voices. It is surprising to see the perfect time that is kept in this way, and the admirable manner in which the motions of the dancers accord with the music. There is no confusion, irregularity, or mistake. Each person is conversant with his part; and all exhibit a degree of elasticity and gracefulness in their movements which, in some of the dances, is very striking and beautiful.
In many of the figures, weapons are carried, such as the waddy, the shield, the spear, etc. and in these it is amazing to behold the facility and skill with which they form in close array, spread into open rank, change places, and thread through the mazes of the dance, without ever deranging their plans, or coming in contact with each other.
The tribes who are not engaged in dancing, are seated in a large semicircle as spectators, occasionally giving a rapturous exclamation of delight, as any part of the performance is well gone through or any remarkable feat of activity exhibited. Where natives have not much acquaintance with Europeans, so as to give up, in some measure, their original habits, if there is any degree of jealousy between the respective tribes, they are sometimes partitioned off from each other by boughs of trees, whilst they look at the dance. On one occasion I saw five tribes met together, and the evening was of course spent in dancing. Each tribe danced in turn, about forty being engaged at once, besides sixteen females, eight of whom were at each corner of the male performers. The men were naked, painted in various devices with red and white, and had their heads adorned with feathers. The women wore their opossum cloaks, and had bands of white down round their foreheads, with the long feathers of the cockatoo sticking up in front like horns. In the dance the men and women did not intermingle; but the two sets of women who were dancing at the corners of the line, occasionally changed places with each other, passing in this transit, at the back of the men. All sung, and the men beat time upon their smaller weapons whilst dancing, the whole making up a wild and piercing noise, most deafening and ungrateful to the ears.
The natives of the Rufus and Lake Victoria (Tar-ru) have a great variety of dances and figures. One of these, which I witnessed, representing the character, habits, and chase of the kangaroo was admirably performed, and would have drawn down thunders of applause at any theatre in Europe. One part of this figure, where the whole of the dancers successively drop down from a standing to a crouching posture, and then hop off in this position with outstretched arms and legs, was excellently executed. The contrast of their sable skins with the broad white stripes painted down their legs; their peculiar attitudes, and the order and regularity with which these were kept, as they moved in a large semicircle, in the softening light of the fire, produced a striking effect; and in connection with the wild and inspiriting song, which gave an impulse to their gesticulation, led me almost to believe that the scene was unearthly.
In some of the dances the music varies rapidly from slow to quick, and the movements alter accordingly. In some they are altogether measured and monotonous, in others very lively and quick, keeping the performers almost constantly at a double quick march, moving in advance and retreat, crossing past or threading through the ranks, and using a kind of motion with the feet in unison with the music, that bears a strong resemblance to the European mode of dancing. At particular points the figures terminate by some simultaneous motion of the whole performers, accompanied by a deep, gutteral "Waugh," [Note 66 at end of para.] uttered by all together; at others by the actors closing in a dense circle, and raising and pointing their weapons upwards with the same exclamation.
[Note 66: This very peculiar sound appears to be common among the American Indians, and to be used in a similar manner.—Vide Catlin, vol. 2. p.136.]
The "Paritke," or natives inhabiting the scrub north-west of Moorunde, have quite a different form of dancing from the river natives. They are painted or decorated with feathers in a similar way; but each dancer ties bunches of green boughs round the leg, above the knees, whilst the mode of dancing consists in stamping with the foot and uttering at each motion a deep ventral intonation, the boughs round the knees making a loud rustling noise in keeping with the time of the music. One person, who directs the others in the movements of this dance, holds in his hands an instrument in the form of a diamond, made of two slight sticks, from two and a half to three feet long, crossed and tied in the middle, round this a string, made of the hair of the opposum, is pressed from corner to corner, and continued successively towards the centre until there is only room left for the hand to hold the instrument. At each corner is appended a bunch of cockatoo feathers. With this the chief performer keeps a little in advance of the dancers, and whisking it up and down to the time of the music, regulates their movements.
In another dance, in which women are the chief performers, their bodies are painted with white streaks, and their hair adorned with cockatoo feathers. They carry large sticks in their hands, and place themselves in a row in front, whilst the men with their spears stand in a line behind them. They then all commence their movements, but without intermingling, the males and females dancing by themselves. There is little variety or life in this dance, yet it seems to be a favourite one with the natives.
The women have occasionally another mode of dancing, by joining the hands together over the head, closing the feet, and bringing the knees into contact. The legs are then thrown outwards from the knee, whilst the feet and hands are kept in their original position, and being drawn quickly in again a sharp sound is produced by the collision. This is either practised alone by young girls, or by several together for their own amusement. It is adopted also when a single woman is placed in front of a row of male dancers to excite their passions; for many of the native dances are of a grossly licentious character. In another figure they keep the feet close together, without lifting them from the ground, and by a peculiar motion of the limbs advance onwards, describing a short semicircle. This amusement is almost exclusively confined to young females among themselves.
It has already been remarked, that the natives, on particular occasions, have dances which they perform in the day-time, which are different from others, and seem to have some connection with their ceremonial observances or superstitions. I have only witnessed one of these. It took place at Moorunde, in March 1844, on the occasion of a large number of distant natives coming to visit the place; and the visitors were the performers. The Moorunde natives were seated upon the brow of a sand-bank; the strangers, consisting of two tribes, down in a hollow a little way off, among a few bushes. When ready, they advanced in a line towards the others, dancing and singing, being painted and decorated as usual, some having tufts of feathers placed upon their heads like cockades and others carrying them in their hands tied to short sticks. Nearly all the males carried bunches of green boughs, which they waved and shook to the time of the song. The women were also painted, and danced in a line with the men, those of each tribe stationing themselves at opposite ends of the line. Dancing for a while, they retired again towards the hollow, and after a short interval advanced as before, but with a person in the centre carrying a curious, rude-looking figure, raised up in the air. This singular object consisted of a large bundle of grass and reeds bound together, enveloped in a kangaroo skin, with the flesh side outwards, and painted all over in small white circles. From the top of this projected a thin stick, with a large tuft of feathers at the end to represent the head, and sticks were stuck out laterally from the sides for the arms, terminating in tufts of feathers stained red to represent the hands. From the front, a small stick about six inches long was projected, ending with a thick knob, formed of grass, around which a piece of old cloth was tied. This was painted white and represented the navel. The figure was about eight feet long, and was evidently intended to symbolise a man. It was kept in its elevated position by the person who carried it, and who advanced and retired with the movements of the dancers. The position of the latter was alternately erect and crouching, whilst they sang and beat time with the green boughs. Sometimes they stretched out their right arms simultaneously, and at other times their left, apparently for the purpose of marking the time at particular parts of the song. After dancing for a while in this way, they again retired to the hollow, and for a few moments there was another pause; after which they again advanced as before, but without the image. In the place of this two standards were exhibited, made of poles, about twelve feet long, and borne by two persons. These were perfectly straight, and for the first eight feet free from boughs; above this nine branches were left upon each pole, having at their ends each a bunch of feathers of the hawk or owl. On the top of one of the standards was a bunch of emu feathers. The branches were stripped of all their smaller twigs and leaves, and of their bark. They were painted white, and wound round with the white down of the black swan, twisted into a rope. This also extended for a considerable distance down the pole, below the undermost branch.
Having again retired towards the hollow, they remained there for a few minutes, and then advanced for the third time. On this occasion, however, instead of the image or standards, they all carried their spears. After dancing with these for some time, they went forward towards the Moorunde natives, who sprang upon their feet, and seizing their weapons, speared two or three of the strangers in the shoulder, and all was over. I was anxious to have got hold of the rude figure to have a drawing made of it, but it had been instantly destroyed. The standards I procured.