The History of Tasmania , Volume II (of 2)
by John West
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Minister of St. John Square Chapel, Launceston.


Tasmania: Henry Dowling, Launceston. 1852.

Tasmania: Printed By J. S. Waddell, Launceston

Facsimile edition 1966



SECTION I. p. 1.

Tasman's account of the natives—Cook's—Labillardiere's—Flinders'.


Conflict at Risdon—cruelty to natives—tribe visits Hobart Town—child-stealing.


Causes of conflict—Musquito—execution of blacks—unavailing attempts to civilise—ill-treatment by bushrangers—cruelty to the women—effects of civilization—the food destroyed—abduction of the women—natives not naturally cruel.

SECTION IV. p. 26.

Proclamation against them—forbidden to enter the colony—martial law proclaimed—captures—escape—efforts of Mr. Batman—commandoes.

SECTION V. p. 32.

Murders committed by natives—instances of female courage—odd expedients—difficulty of capture—humane efforts of Arthur—list of atrocities.

SECTION VI. p. 44.

Conciliation proposed by Mr. Robinson—project to drive them into Tasman's Peninsula—forces assembled—line of posts fixed—great preparations—martial law proclaimed—advance—line crossed by natives—Walpole's party—white man traced—plan unsuccessful.


Mr. Robinson's efforts—his plan reasonable—well-timed—opinions of the press—aborigines' committee—proposal to destroy the natives—Robinson goes round the island—Sydney natives—captures—instances of intrepidity—murder of Captain Thomas—Robinson takes the murderers—rewards given to Mr. Robinson—further success.


Disposal of the natives—removal to Flinders' Island—opinions of Sir John Pedder—Backhouse's visit—Robinson's management—removal to New Holland—some executed.

SECTION IX. p. 71.

Rapid extinction—original number—cause of decline—clothing—change of habits—restraint—bad water—sight of Van Diemen's Land—notion of Strzelecki—brought back to Van Diemen's Land—Arthur's opinion of the natives.

SECTION X. p. 76.

Origin of the natives—consanguinity—stature—general appearance—families—infanticide—half-caste—tribes—huts—food—dress and ornaments—arms and implements—corrobories and dances—language—disposition—religious ideas—the sick—funeral—conclusion—right of occupation—native rights—exposure to robbers—necessity for protecting the whites—lamentable results of colonization—inevitable.


SECTION I. p. 101.

Exile—Roman custom—abjuring the realm—Spaniards the first who transported—practice in the time of Elizabeth—James—Charles the second—James the second—George the first—America—kidnapping—America resists—numbers transported.

SECTION II. p. 106.

State of English gaols—Howard—labor bill.

SECTION III. p. 108.

Bentham's project—New South Wales occupied.

SECTION IV. p. 111.

Voyage—surgeon-superintendents—convict ship—treatment of women—abuses—systems of management—Dr. Reid—Cunningham—Browning—general safety of convict vessels—loss of the George the Third—the Neva—the Governor Phillip.

SECTION V. p. 123.

Early difficulties of convict management—assignment established—disposal of the prisoners.

SECTION VI. p. 129.

Origin of bushranging—Howe—his career.

SECTION VII. p. 138.

Habits of convict population—1824.


The colonies re-act on each other—N. S. Wales—state of Parramatta—rocks—allurements of transportation—Macquarie's views—wealth and claims of emancipists—Biggs's views—pardons—emancipists form associations—petition parliament—their alleged reformation—Bigge's commission—Macquarie's recall—character—Rev. S. Marsden.

SECTION IX. p. 172.

Bigge's recommendations—his reports—Macquarie Harbor—emigration proposed—demand for labor.

SECTION X. p. 186.

Land granted to settlers employing convicts—large immigration of capitalists.

SECTION XI. p. 188.

Assignment established in America—debarkation of prisoners—their identification—curious practice—law of assignment—transfer of servants.

SECTION XII. p. 194.

Escapes from Macquarie Harbor—Brady—executions—state of colony—causes of bushranging.


Macquarie Harbor—visit of Backhouse and Walker—seizure of the CyprusFredericBadger.

SECTION XIV. p. 222.

Escape of prisoners—seek for China—curious narrative—the Young Lachlan seized—penalty of escape.

SECTION XV. p. 228.

Arthur's principles of penal government—number reclaimable—Arthur's system—view of the real state of prisoners—representation of society—of transportation—idea of New South Wales at home—writings of Archbishop Whately—Mr. Secretary Stanley's "certain and severe" system—tickets-of-leave.

SECTION XVI. p. 240.

Disposal of mechanics and specials—convict clerks—wives of prisoners—Savary—Port Arthur—Boothe's system—Point Puer—young convicts.


Views of ministers—certain severe system—conduct of overseers—retaliation—executions—effects of immigration—colonial protests—curious contrast.


Convict system of New South Wales—Governor Bourke—corporal punishment—Major Mudie—Watt—abuses—Burton's charge—its effect—Molesworth's motion.

SECTION XIX. p. 263.

Franklin's appointment—Maconochie's commission—his reports—his opinions—his system—board refute him—different sources of his system—Dr. Henderson's scheme.

SECTION XX. p. 274.

Remarks on Maconochie's system—partly erroneous—useful results of assignment—Franklin's opinions.

SECTION XXI. p. 278.

Sir Wm. Molesworth's committee—stoppage of transportation to New South Wales—Archbishop Wheately's opinions—Bourke's views—exaggerations—Captain Wood—remonstrance—new plan for Norfolk Island—Maconochie appointed commandant—his mark system—the birthday—the Governor Phillip seized—failure of his system—opinions of Sir G. Gipps—of Captain Forster.


Lord John Russell's plan—Sir Wm. Molesworth's proposal to anticipate the land fund—Mr. Innes's pamphlet—resolutions of the Commons—Captain Montagu's visit to England—assignment stopped—gangs formed—evils—Franklin's representations.


Lord Stanley's probation system—effects at Norfolk Island—insurrection—murders—Major Childs—cruelties—Earl Grey's orders.


System in Van Diemen's Land—large arrivals—incompetent officers—errors on which the system-was founded—Lord Stanley's defiance of the settlers—re-emigration—hiring depots—representations of Forster—Hampton—Boyd—Fry—crimes increase—laxity of discipline—Mr. Bishton's views—North Australia—Mr. Latrobe—his representations—ticket system.

SECTION XXV. p. 318.

Treatment of female prisoners—their transportation a great evil—numbers—Sir G. Murray's scheme.


Lord Stanley's directions for the disposal of women—Mrs. Bowden—married female prisoners.


Views of transportation often governed by interest—old system—incompatible objects sought—frequent changes—every theory contradicted by results—Arthur's opinion—progress from 1830—capital expended—value of convict labor—sacrifices of the settlers—effects of transportation—public works—numbers transported—character of convicts—repetition of crimes—views of statesmen—moral effects of transportation—cause of opposition to transportation.


p. 339.

History of Tasmania a type of the Australasian world—early despotism unavoidable—American and Australian colonists—the despotism moderated by home associations—by the press—the union of the colonists—advances of liberty at home—changes required—advantages of the connection with Great Britain—its dangers—federal government—importance of political influence—social state—wonderful prospects—resources—position—exports —gold discovery—the happiness of the people in their own power.


p. 355.





[1643.] At the era of discovery by Tasman, Van Diemen's Land was inhabited. He heard, or thought he heard, the voices of people and the sound of a trumpet: he noticed the recently cut notches, five feet asunder, on the bark of the trees, and he saw the smoke of fires. He inferred that they possessed some unusual method of climbing, or that their stature was gigantic. In the sound, the colonist recognises the vocal cooey of the aborigines, and learns from the steps "to the birds' nests," that they then hunted the opossum, and employed that method of ascent, which, for agility and daring has never been surpassed. Thus, during more than 150 years, this country was forgotten; and such were the limits of European knowledge, when the expedition of Cook was dispatched by Great Britain to explore this hemisphere. No navigator brought larger views, and a temper more benevolent, to the task of discovery. To some nations he opened the path of civilisation and religion: to this race he was the harbinger of death.

[1773.] Furneaux, Captain Cook's second in command, first visited this country. He saw the fires of the natives, ten miles off. They had left their huts, formed but for a day, in which were fragments of fish, baskets, and spears. The British deposited gun-flints, barrels, and nails, in payment for the relics they removed; and they left Adventure Bay, concluding that a most miserable race of mortals inhabited a country capable of producing all the necessaries of life, "and the finest climate in the world."

One year before, Captain Marian, a Frenchman, according to the authors of his country, visited this island. The intercourse was hostile and left traces of blood; and to this may be attributed the absence of the natives when Furneaux appeared on the coast.

[1777.] The descriptions of Cook are founded on his own observations, and are, on the whole, favorable to the natives. The English, while wooding and watering, were surprised by the visit of eight men and a boy. They were unarmed, except that one of them carried a stick, pointed at the end. They were of middling stature, slender, and naked. On different parts of their bodies were ridges, both straight and curved, raised in the skin: the hair of the head and beard was smeared with red ointment. They were indifferent to presents; they rejected bread, and the flesh of the sea elephant, but accepted some birds, which they signified their intention to eat. Cook prevailed on a native to throw the stick at a mark thirty yards distant, but he failed after repeated trial. The Otaheitian, Omai,[1] to exhibit his skill, fired off a musket: at the report they fled, and so great was their fear, that they dropped the axe and knives they had received.

A dead calm retarded the departure of the vessels next day, and the parties sent ashore, were accompanied by Cook. About twenty natives soon joined them: one, who was conspicuously deformed, amused them by the drollery of his gestures, and the seeming humour of his speeches. Some, wore three or four folds round the neck, made of fur; and round the ancles a slip of the skin of kangaroo. Captain Cook returned to the vessel, leaving Lieutenant King in charge: soon after, the women and children arrived: they were introduced by the men to the English. The children were thought pretty; of the beauty of the women the account was not equally favorable. They rejected with disdain the presents and freedoms of the officers, and were ordered by an elderly man to retire—a command, to which they submitted with reluctance.

Dr. Anderson, the surgeon of the Resolution, describes the natives as a mild, cheerful race, with an appearance less wild than is common to savages. He considered them devoid of activity, genius, and intelligence; their countenance, he delineates as plump and pleasing.

[1792.] But though later on the spot, assisted by the remarks of previous observers, Labillardiere, of all, was the most assiduous and exact. The naturalist of D'Entrecasteaux's expedition, he saw mankind with the eye of a philosopher. He was pleased to examine the passions of a race, least of all indebted to art; yet the prevailing notions of Citizen Frenchmen, perhaps, gave him a bias, when estimating an uncivilised people. He left Europe when the dreams of Rousseau were the toys of the speculative, and before they became the phantoms of the populace. His observations were, doubtlessly, correct; but his grouping is artistic, and not without illusion. In his work, the Tasmanian blacks appear in the most charming simplicity, harmless and content; an extraordinary remnant of primitive innocence. At first they fled from the French: an old woman they chased, took a leap which, if credible, was terrific; she dashed over a precipice forty feet high, and was lost among the rocks!

Labillardiere having landed, with several companions, proceeded towards a lake; hearing human voices, they followed the direction of the sound; the sudden cry of the natives induced them to return for their arms. Then proceeding towards the woods, they met the tribe—the men and boys in a semicircle, with the women and children behind. Labillardiere offered a piece of biscuit, and held out his hand, which a savage chief accepted, and smiling drew back one foot, and bowed with admirable grace. He gave to the French a necklace, which he called cantaride, formed of wilk shells, in exchange for articles of dress, a poll-axe, and knives.

The proportions are worth remarking: in a party of forty, there were eight men and seven women; of forty-eight, there were ten men and fourteen women. Thus the females were most numerous, and the rising generation nearly one-third more than the adults. They were generally healthy; one only suffered from cutaneous disease, one from a defect of vision, and several from slight wounds. It will be told, that a sad reverse was afterwards their fate. The French, supposing they subsisted on fish, expected to find leprosy, and concluded, not that other food was procured, but that the doctors were mistaken. The women and girls were the fishers: they plunged amidst sea weed, and raised the shell fish from rocks by the spatula. They killed the cray fish before landing. They could endure the water twice as long as Europeans. In the intervals of diving they roasted their spoil, and warmed themselves between two fires; sometimes feeding their children, or themselves. Thus they continued alternately fishing and cooking, until all were satisfied.

The men seemed indolent; nothing could persuade them to dive: they sauntered about, with the right hand passed behind, and holding the left fore-arm in its grasp. As the elders moved with gravity on the beach, the girls romped and raced with the seamen—repelling, without resenting, their rudeness. They were sprightly and voluble, and chatted on without intermission. On one occasion they were missed, when, turning to a tree, they were seen perched naked in the branches, about nine feet from the ground: an interesting group, remarks the naturalist.

In the incidents of their social life, he saw their character. The children cried! their mothers soothed them with those maternal caresses, which art has not improved. They held them to be decorated by the French, and placed them in their arms. A father corrected a little boy for the ancient diversion of throwing stones at another, and the culprit wept! A lad concealed a basket from a seaman, to amuse by his perplexity and its dexterous replacement! The clothes given by the French they hung on the bushes, but they valued the tin ware, the axes and saws. The liberality of their visitors induced them to take more than was given; but they seemed unconscious of offence, and whatever was required they restored without reluctance. A girl, refusing the French a skin they desired to possess, retreated to the woods: her friends were distressed at her ill-nature. She, at last, complied. A pair of trousers were given in exchange; she stood between two Frenchmen, leaning on the shoulder of each, while they guided her errant legs into these novelties of Europe.

Their refusal of food, for themselves and children, was from distaste rather than distrust; and they only discovered suspicion, when the French penetrated the country. They posted a guard, to give notice of any movement, and when an attempt was made, it was interrupted by the loud screams of the women, and the entreaties of the men. They resisted the intrusion with displeasure, and even menace.

On other occasions, they tended on the French with great kindness, removing fallen branches from their path; and when the ground was sloping and slippery, they walked beside them, and held them up.[2] They rested every half mile, saying medi, "sit down;" then rising again, after a few minutes' rest.

They themselves first saw the French: who, having travelled several miles, lay down for the night near a brook: their fires betrayed them. A native, next morning, pointed to their resting place: laid his head on his hand, and closed his eyes. The good-nature of these people never languished: twice, when the French lost their way, they directed them to their ships. They welcomed their visits by raising their hands over their heads, shouting and stamping on the ground. They greeted them as often as their wanderings brought them in sight of the vessels, and with the same friendly sounds bade them adieu.

[1798.] We owe to Captain Flinders and Dr. Bass the next description of the natives. They were saluted by voices from the hills which border the Derwent; one of these they ascended and saw a man, and two women, who, catching up their baskets, scampered away. The man met them with confidence: they tried, in vain, to converse with him in the dialects of New Holland. They desired him to lead them to his hut; but he hesitated, and moved slowly in the direction to which he had pointed. Consulting his apparent feelings they desisted, and parted in friendship. This was the first man they had seen in the island. His countenance, they describe as unusually benignant; his features less negro-like than common, and his manners frank and open. He exhibited neither curiosity nor fear, nor did he seem attracted by any part of their dress, except their cravats!

Mr. Bass made several expeditions into the country, attended only by his dogs, and meeting no inhabitants he concluded that their numbers were inconsiderable.

The accounts descriptive of native customs, by these authorities, are full of errors; but they are the errors of inference, not of observation: it is useless to repeat, in order to correct them. The colonists have possessed better opportunities, and their acquaintance with aboriginal habits supplies more accurate information, than could be expected in the volumes of navigators.

Such as we have given, is their testimony to the social aspect of the native character: nothing unfavorable is omitted. In a people so gentle and affable, it is difficult to recognise the race afterwards covered with sores, wasted by want and vice, or animated with revenge; and who filled the colony with disgust and terror.


[Footnote 1: This Otaheitian was returning from England to his native country. In London, he was the lion of the day: he was introduced to the first circles, and saw whatever in a great city could elevate his ideas: his manners acquired the polish of society. Grenville Sharpe (he who secured the decision that the soil of Britain gives freedom to the slave that touches it) endeavoured to improve his moral sentiments. He pointed out the practical injustice of polygamy. Omai replied, "one wife, good—two wife, very good—three wife, very very good;" but he had not misunderstood the argument. Taking three knives, he put two of them side by side, and the other at a distance, and referring to a nobleman who had left his wife for a mistress, said—"there Lord A., and there Miss ——; and there Lady A. lie down and cry." (Life of G. Sharpe.)

But the moment he landed, he resumed all the customs of his countrymen, and employed his knowledge of arms to destroy them. This was the only trace of his civilisation which survived the voyage: he had seen regal grandeur and mercantile power, but he retained his preference for the habits of his then heathen race.]

[Footnote 2: "But these good savages took hold of our arms, and supported us."]


The party dispatched from Sydney, to take possession of the island, and who landed in August, on their arrival at Risdon saw nothing of the natives. A solitary savage, armed with a spear, afterwards entered the camp, and was cordially greeted. He accepted the trinkets which they offered, but he looked on the novelties scattered about without betraying surprise. By his gestures they inferred that he discharged them from their trespass. He then turned towards the woods, and when they attempted to follow, he placed himself in the attitude of menace, and poised his spear.

On the 3rd of May, 1804, during the absence of Lieutenant Bowen, the officer in command, the first severe collision occurred. Five hundred blacks, supposed to belong to the Oyster Bay tribe, gathered on the hills which overlooked the camp: their presence occasioned alarm, and the convicts and soldiers were drawn up to oppose them. A discharge of fire-arms threw them into momentary panic, but they soon re-united. A second, of ball cartridge, brought down many; the rest fled in terror, and were pursued: it is conjectured that fifty fell.

The accounts of this affair differ greatly. By one party they are said to have assailed a man and woman living in advance of the camp, and to have burned their hut. William White, who saw them earliest, and gave notice of their approach, declared they then exhibited no hostility, and were not near the hut before the collision. They came down in a semicircle, carrying waddies but not spears; a flock of kangaroo hemmed in between them. The women and children attended them. They came singing, and bearing branches of trees.

This curvilinear mode of marching was noticed by Labillardiere: they probably assembled for a corrobory. "They looked at me," said the witness, "with all their eye;" but they did not attempt to molest him.

For the British, it may be alleged that customs, afterwards understood, were then less known. They were ignorant of the language and temper of the blacks, and the preservation of the settlement was the first military duty of Lieutenant Moore, who directed the fire. The action was sudden, and perhaps no statement is exact. The natives were provoked, by the occupation of their common place of resort, and it is no discredit to their character, if even they attempted to expel the intruders.

A current report, respecting a conflict on the site of the hospital at Hobart Town, received a curious exposition from the Rev. Mr. Knopwood. It was a tradition, that a party of blacks assembled there, were dispersed by a volley of grape shot, and that several fell. Human bones and grape shot were found; but the reverend gentleman stated that the bones were the remains of persons who came from India, and who were buried there; and that the shot were accidentally dropped when the stores, once kept there, were removed.

The consequences of these events were lamentable. The losses of the natives, in their ordinary warfare, rarely extended beyond two or three; but the havock of their new enemy awakened irremediable distrust. The sorrows of a savage are transient: not so, his resentment. Every wrong is new, until it is revenged; and there is no reason to suppose these terrible sacrifices were ever forgotten.

In these collisions, no British subject had fallen; but in the succeeding year (1805) a prisoner of the crown was speared, while following a kangaroo; and two years after (1807) another, named Mundy, met with a similar fate. The black had received presents from his hands, and approaching him in pretended amity, trailed between his toes the fatal spear. These facts are given to illustrate the cruelty of the natives; and it may be presumed that, from the slaughter of Risdon, not many could be added to the number. These were, however, the acts of individuals, and without concert or much premeditation. It is conjectured that the first European who perished was Mange, the surgeon of the Geographe, in 1802. The attack was unprovoked, and it is said unavenged.

The scarcity of food compelled the British to adopt a mode of life somewhat resembling that of the aborigines. Germain, a marine, was employed, from 1805 to 1810, in procuring kangaroo, which he hunted with dogs: he but rarely carried a gun, slept on the ground in the summer, and in the winter on the branches of trees. During his wanderings, he often encountered the natives, but they offered no violence; and he stated, as the result of his experience, that until bushrangers excited them by cruelties, "there was no harm in them." The daughter of a settler of 1804, was left sometimes in their care; their kindness was among the recollections of her childhood.

The prisoners were dispersed. The government, unable to supply the common necessaries of life, gave them license to forage: labor could not be exacted, nor discipline enforced; and when circumstances altered, it was difficult to recall the wanderers, or to recover authority so long relaxed. In their intercourse with the natives, licentious and cruel outlaws committed every species of atrocity which could be suffered by the weak in contact with the wicked.

Lord Hobart, under whose auspices the colony was planted, directed the Lieutenant-Governor to conciliate the natives: to preserve them from oppression, and to encourage them to resort for protection to his authority. Their natural rights were recognised, but unhappily no provision was made to define their interest in the soil of their country. Their migratory habits were unfavorable to official supervision, and the success of humane suggestions depended on the doubtful concurrence of ignorant cotters and wandering shepherds.

In 1810, an order was issued by Governor Collins, forcibly describing the wrongs of the natives, and the revenge to which they were prompted. They had pursued an officer, residing at Herdsman's Cove, and failing to capture him they fired his premises. Two persons, George Getley and William Russell, had disappeared: it was supposed, the victims of resentment, awakened by the "abominable cruelties and murders" (such is the language of Collins) perpetrated by the white people. This Russell was himself notorious for skill in their torture—the subject of his boast. The government declared that persons who wantonly fired on the natives, or murdered them "in cold blood," should suffer the last penalties of the law.[3]

The official treatment of the aborigines was not always judicious, or calculated to impress the whites with the notion of civil equality. A native, whom it was deemed desirable to detain, was fettered by Colonel Collins. Notwithstanding, he escaped, and was seen long after with the iron on his leg; nor can the punishments inflicted for crimes committed against the blacks, unusual as those punishments were, be given in proof that both races were valued alike. It is not, however, true, that cruelty was always unpunished. A man was severely flogged for exposing the ears of a boy he had mutilated; and another for cutting off the little finger of a native, and using it as a tobacco stopper.[4]

The natives continued to shun the settlement for many years, but their confidence was easily renewed by gentle treatment; it was, however, capricious, or more probably it was soon shaken by insult, unknown to all but themselves. It was desired by Colonel Davey to establish a friendly intercourse, and he instructed the men to invite the tribes they might encounter. A servant of this governor, employed at South Arm, suddenly came on a tribe of thirty-six persons. A native woman, living with a white, willingly went forth to communicate the wishes of the Governor. They consented to visit Hobart Town, to which they were transferred by water. Davey endeavoured to win their confidence, and they remained about town for weeks. Having received some offence from worthless Europeans, they retreated to their woods, and never returned. This party attempted to reach Brune Island, and all were drowned, except one woman.

Mr. Knopwood remembered that, in 1813 and 1814, the natives were fed at his door. A number of children were forcibly taken from them, and they disappeared from the camp.

Colonel Davey bears witness to the continuance of cruelty, which he censured in the strongest language of indignation. Certain settlers established a species of juvenile slavery: they followed up the mother, retarded by the encumbrance of her children, until she was compelled in her terror to leave them. Well might the Governor declare, that crime so enormous had fixed a lasting stigma on the British name. These provocations produced their usual consequences: by spearing cattle, and other acts of hostility, a tribe at the Coal River revenged the robbery of their children; surely, a slight retaliation for such incredible wickedness.

An expedition to Macquarie Harbour, in 1817, discovered a tribe hitherto unknown. They received the first visit with the usual friendliness—a feeling which was, however, of short duration.

The Oyster Bay tribe are mentioned. They had begun to exhibit that spirit of hostility which made them a terror to the colony, and armed the entire community against them. They had speared one man, and killed another; but the origin of this feeling is distinctly stated: a native had been shot in an expedition to capture some aboriginal children.

Sorell prolongs the testimony that tells so mournfully in behalf of the natives. He speaks of firing on the blacks as a habit; that child-stealing was practised in the remoter districts; that settlers had adopted groundless prejudices against the unfortunate people, as alike incapable and unworthy of conciliation; that they offered no serious discountenance to the cruelty of their servants. Thus several whites had perished, and cattle had been speared, in revenge.[5] He reminded the colonists that, as their flocks increased and the shepherds extended their range, this obvious method of retaliation, then rarely adopted, would multiply the loss both of property and human life. The danger was proved by examples:—In 1819, a collision occurred; a man on each side killed, and cattle and sheep were speared; but, the account continues, the stock-keepers detained and maltreated the wife of a chief. Either on this, or some such occasion, they were pursued by a party of the 48th regiment, and seventeen were slain. He maintains very strenuously the opinion of his predecessors, that the aborigines were not often the aggressors, and that the injuries they inflicted were committed under the impulse of recent provocation.

Sorell provided for the native children, except those committed to private hands by their parents, or retained with the express sanction of himself. There is no reason to doubt, that several of these were orphans, and adopted and reared with the utmost humanity. Among the expenses of the times, it is gratifying to observe one item, in the rental of a house for the entertainment of the aborigines. The sentiments of Governor Sorell are honorable to his character, and cannot be doubted; but we are startled to find, that when charges, so solemnly imputed, must have been founded upon particular facts, no equal punishment seems to have overtaken the crimes proclaimed. The government disapproved of oppression, but it was either too weak, or too indolent, to visit the guilty.

Mr. Commissioner Bigge, who came to the colony 1820, in his voluminous reports, rarely alludes to the natives of these seas. Those of Van Diemen's Land engaged a very small share of his attention, and in two brief paragraphs he describes their character, and disposes of their claims. He remarks, that an act of unjustifiable hostility had awakened their resentment, passes over an interval of sixteen years, and expresses his conviction that no obstacle they could oppose to colonisation, need excite alarm. It is probable, that his instructions would but briefly touch on questions relating to these children of the soil; but considering that the notices and orders of government must have apprised him of their sufferings, he dismisses their case with astonishing indifference.[6]

Several Wesleyan missionaries visited this island during the years 1821 and 1822. The natives attracted their notice: they described, with brevity, their moral and social state; but they did not intimate the smallest apprehension of their malice.

For several years reference to the aborigines is of rare occurrence. The year preceding the first series of outrages, furnished no incident worth contemporary record. We are reminded, however, that they survived, by an act of equestrian audacity. Mr. Risely, looking down Allan Vale, saw a naked girl dashing off at full speed, on a valuable horse, which she bridled by the tether—the first of her race ever known to gallop. Horsemen pursued her for two days, without overtaking her.

In those numerous publications, which precede 1824, the aborigines are always represented as originally friendly, and only dangerous when excited by cruelty. It was the boast of the times, that the whole island could be crossed in safety by two persons armed with muskets; and Curr, who wrote latest, does not even mention their existence. It is difficult to imagine more decided proof, that at this time the depredations of the blacks were neither numerous nor sanguinary.

It is the general opinion, however, that the remonstrances of Sorell had been attended with some success, and that the settlers and stock-keepers were not unimpressed with his predictions of a more concerted and continuous revenge; nor can we doubt that many persons of humanity even exaggerated this peril, to restrain those brutal natures which are sensible only of personal risk.


[Footnote 3: "The natives, who have been rendered desperate by the cruelties they have experienced from our people, have now begun to distress us by attacking our cattle. Two were lately wounded by them at Collins-vale; and three, it is reported, belonging to George Guest, have been killed at Blackman's Bay. As this tribe of natives have hitherto been considered friendly, the change in their conduct must be occasioned by some outrage on our part, No account having been received up to this time of William Russell and George Getley, there can be no doubt of the miserable death they have been put to. This unfortunate man, Russell, is a striking instance of divine agency, which has overtaken him at last, and punished him by the hands of those very people who have suffered so much from him; he being well known to have exercised his barbarous disposition in murdering or torturing any who unfortunately came within his reach."—The Derwent Star, January 29th, 1810.]

[Footnote 4: Eye-witness.]

[Footnote 5: "ORDER.—From the conduct of the native people, when free from any feeling of injury towards those who have held intercourse with them, there is strong reason to hope, that they might be conciliated. On the north-eastern coast, where boats occasionally touch, and at Macquarie Harbour, where the natives have been lately seen, they have been found inoffensive and peaceable, and they are known to be equally inoffensive, where the stock-keepers treat them with mildness."—March 19, 1819.]

[Footnote 6: Dual, mentioned by Bigge, was transported from Sydney, for chopping off the right arm of his wife: he said she should "make no more dough-boy." The whites persuaded the natives, that the lighter hue of their half-caste children resulted from the too free use of flour.]


It would be useful to mankind, to trace the causes which led to that long and disastrous conflict, in which so many lives were sacrificed, and a people, all but a fading fragment, became extinct. Among those mentioned by the government, was the admission into the colony of Sydney blacks, and the ascendancy which one of them acquired.

The emigrants of 1822 remember a number of natives, who roamed about the district, and were known as the "tame mob;" they were absconders from different tribes, and separated from their chiefs. They often entered the town and obtained bread, tobacco, and even rum from the inhabitants. Their importunity was troublesome, and their appearance offensive: the eruptive disease which covered their skin, especially on the legs, most exposed to the heat of their fires, added to their squalor and wretchedness. They are thus described by the Rev. Mr. Horton: he saw them at Pittwater, crouching round their fires, and entirely naked—a company of demoralised savages.

Musquito became their head. He was transported from Sydney to this colony for the murder of a woman. For some time he acted as a stock-keeper; he was then employed as a guide, in tracking the bushrangers, having the keenness of vision, and almost canine instinct, by which in the slightest traces he discovered a certain clue. For this service, it is said, he was promised restoration to his country—a promise, unhappily, forgotten. He was odious to the prisoners, who taunted him as a nose for the hangman; his resentful nature could not brook the insult, and he struck down a convict who thus reviled him. He was then taken into custody; in alarm, he escaped to the bush. The muscular strength and superior skill of this man were supposed to have recommended him to the natives as their chief. He was seen, by Robertson, to cut off the head of a pigeon with a stick, while flying. Musquito answered Mr. Horton with intelligence, when that gentleman represented the misery of a vagrant life; he said that he should prefer to live like the white man, tilling the ground, but that none of his companions would join him. Before he united with the natives, he was accustomed to pursue them with all the virulence of a savage. In company with a convict servant he would face the darkness, and go out "to storm the huts" he had seen in the day. On one such occasion, in spite of prohibitions, he set out at night; but the natives had observed him, and decamped, leaving behind them large fires to deceive their enemy. Returning at midnight, he was mistaken for a Tasmanian black; and, but for discovery at the moment, would have suffered the fate he deserved.

It was said by Mr. G. Robertson, that the first murders of Musquito were committed in self defence. He associated with the Oyster Bay tribe, and his power over them was great: he even prevailed on them to perform some rude agricultural labor. He had high notions of his own worth: he would stalk into the cottages of the settlers, seat himself with great dignity: his followers, to the number of one or two hundred, patiently awaiting his signal to approach.

As the influence of Musquito enlarged, it became more pernicious. He not only misled his immediate followers, but propagated his spirit. Deeds of great enormity were committed at his direction; several by his own hand. He drew a man from his house at Pittwater, by the cooey, and then speared him to death. A servant of Mr. Cassidy, and another of Mr. Evans, met a similar fate. In concert with Tom, a Tasmanian black, he became a terror to the colony. Their parties moved in large bodies, and acted under a common impulse. In carrying on their depredations, their tactics aimed at military unity and skill. A party of sixty appeared before the premises of Mr. Hobbs, at the Eastern Marshes (1824): they watched the servants deliver their fire, and before they could reload their muskets, they rushed upon them, and by weight of numbers drove them off the ground. A few days after, the natives again appeared: a small party came forward first, and reconnoitred; then returning to a hill, they made signals to a body of a hundred and fifty, in an opposite direction. Both divisions bore down on the establishment. The English were now well armed, and maintained the post for five hours; but escaped when they saw the natives prepare to surround the dwelling with fire. Overcome with terror, for several days they refused to return, and the property was left to its fate. Mr. Hobbs was specially unfortunate: his house lay in the track, both of the natives and bushrangers, and thrice in one season his premises were pillaged.

The arrest of Musquito became an object of importance, and Colonel Arthur, then Governor, offered a reward for his capture. Teague, an aboriginal boy, brought up by Dr. Luttrel, was dispatched with two constables. They overtook Musquito at Oyster Bay: he resisted, but was shot in the groin, and being unarmed was captured, with two women, and conveyed to Hobart town.

It was resolved to bring him to justice. By the care of Dr. Scott he was cured, and transferred from the hospital to gaol. Black Tom was subsequently taken, and both were tried for the murder of William Holyhoak and Patrick M'Arthur. Of the last of these offences the Tasmanian was found guilty, but Musquito was convicted of both.

Marmoa, an Otaheitian, was killed with Holyhoak: Musquito had lingered in their neighbourhood, and watched their movements for days; he had visited their hut, and received provisions from their hands; but on the morning of the murder he purloined the guns and removed the dogs. Mamoa fell instantly; but the Englishman endured the misery of long pursuit and several wounds, and dropped at last, pierced through and through with spears.

A murder, ascribed to black Tom, for which he was not put on trial, displayed extraordinary perfidy. This black went to the residence of Mr. Osborne, of Jericho, demanding bread. His appearance excited great alarm: Mrs. Osborne was there alone; he, however, left her uninjured. Next morning her husband ran into the house, exclaiming, "the hill is covered with savages." He stood at the door on guard, and endeavoured to soothe them. "What do you want—are you hungry?" "Yes, white man," said Tom. Mrs. Osborne requested them to put down their spears. Tom consented, if the gun were laid aside: this was done. On returning the second time with food, Osborne missed his musket, and then said, "I am a dead man." Two blacks came forward, and, as if in friendship, each took him by the hand. At that moment, a savage behind him thrust a spear through his back; he uttered a loud shriek, sprang convulsively forward, and fell dead!

Such were the men who, in February, 1825, suffered death with six European criminals. They were unassisted by counsel, and perhaps the evidence was not fully understood by them. It is useless, however, to extenuate their treachery: and their execution, whether politic or not, can scarcely be accounted unjust. But, unhappily, these deeds of barbarity were not left to the vengeance of the law. The colonists, of higher grades, preserved the distinction between the guilty and the innocent, which it is the object of public trials to establish; but the lower orders, and especially the dissolute and the worthless, justified hatred to the race, and finally, systematic massacre by the individual acts of such men as Musquito.

It is instructive, if not amusing, to observe how nicely the theory of some philosophers and the sentiments of the lowest European robbers, meet together; how, what one predicts, the other executes. The supposed eternal laws of nature are accomplished by the wild license of an English savage. It became the serious conviction of stockmen, that blacks are brutes, only of a more cunning and dangerous order—an impression which has long ceased in this colony, but which still flourishes in Australia Felix.

Bent, the proprietor of the only newspaper published at that time, referring to the outrages of the hostile blacks, seemed to dread these doctrines. With great consideration he detaches Musquito's guilt from the tribes in general: a distinction by no means trite or universally recognised. "Until corrupted by the Sydney natives they were," he asserts, "the most peaceable race in existence." These suggestions deserve more praise than the highest literary skill.

The disposition to conciliate the blacks eventually contributed to the same disastrous consequences. A tribe, of sixty, appeared in Hobart Town, November, 1824: they came in a peaceable manner, their visit was unexpected, and its cause unknown. On the first notice of their approach, the Governor went forth to meet them: he assigned three places for their fires, supplied them with food and blankets, and appointed constables to protect them. They departed suddenly, and on their journey attempted to spear a white man. Whether the abrupt retreat resulted from caprice or distrust, it did not prevent a similar visit to Launceston in the following December. There were 200 in this party. When crossing Patterson's Plains they were wantonly fired on by the whites, and in their return some of their women were treated with indescribable brutality.[7] When they reached the Lake River, two sawyers, who had never before suffered molestation, were wounded by their spears. The recent cruelty they had experienced fully accounted for their rage.

It was the anxious desire of the Governor to establish a native institution, deriving its funds partly from the public purse and partly from private benevolence. A code was prepared by the Rev. Messrs. Bedford and Mansfield; and a public meeting held in the church of St. David, the Governor presiding, approved the regulations; but at that time the colony was distracted by the ravages of robbers, and its financial resources were depressed: and the prevailing opinion that civilisation was impossible, still further embarrassed the project, and confined the hopes of the most sanguine to the rising generation. Mr. Mansfield rested his expectation rather on the power of God than upon human probabilities.

The civilisation of a barbarous people is, perhaps, impossible, in the presence of organised communities of white men. The contrast is too great, and the points of contact too numerous and irritating. Never have colonists civilised aborigines; but the failure is easily explained, without recourse to egotistical superstition, that the white man's shadow is, to men of every other hue, by law of Heaven, the shadow of death.

The children of aborigines, adopted by the whites, when they grew to maturity, were drawn to the woods, and resumed the habits of their kindred. A black girl, trained in Launceston, thus allured, laid aside her clothing, which she had worn nearly from infancy. It was thus with many: a sense of inferiority to the youth about them, united with the mysterious interest which every heart feels in kindred sympathies, is sufficient to account for these relapses. Examples will crowd upon the memory of the reader, in which the polish and caresses of the British capital did not disqualify the savage to re-enter with zest on the barbarous pursuits of his forefathers.

The desire for sugar, bread, and blankets, could only be regularly gratified by an abandonment of migratory habits.

When remote from the government stores, the natives still coveted what they could not obtain, but as spoil. They had learned to prefer articles of steel to the crystal, and they acquired an imperfect mastery of fire-arms. Some were, however, exceedingly expert; a chief, conciliated by Robinson, brought down an eagle hawk, with all the airs of a practised sportsman. Thus their untutored nature could not resist the temptation created by new wants: they watched the hut of the stock-keeper, which they stripped during his absence; till, growing more daring, they disregarded his presence; and even the populous districts, and establishments of considerable force, were not safe from their depredations.

At the time when they first became formidable, armed bushrangers scoured the colony; sometimes the allies of the natives, much oftener their oppressors.[8] Outlaws themselves, they inculcated the arts of violence. The improved caution and cunning of the natives, so often noticed by the government, were ascribed, in no small degree, to the treacherous lessons of degraded Europeans. But when the bushranger did not employ these people as the instrument of his designs, by fear or cruelty, often he destroyed them: thus Lemon and Brown set up the natives as marks to fire at. The irritated savage confounded the armed, though unoffending stock-keeper, with his marauding countrymen, and missing the object of his premeditated vengeance, speared the first substitute he encountered. This conclusion is amply supported by facts. The common principles which affect the minds of nations towards each other; the reprisals, which are vindicated in civilised war, only differ in circumstance. A thousand injuries, never recorded, if stated in a connexion with these results, would enable us to see how often the harmless settler was sacrificed to passions, provoked by his robber countrymen.

In 1826, a remarkable instance was brought under the notice of government. Dunne, who at length met the punishment he deserved, seized a woman, and forced her to the hut of Mr. Thompson, on the Shannon, where he detained her with violence; she, however, escaped to her people, and roused them to avenge her. Dunne, next morning, suddenly found himself in their midst: his musket protected him, and after hours of such torture as his conscience and fears might inflict, he managed to get off. On the following day, the woman led her tribe, vociferating threats, to the hut in which she had been maltreated, where they massacred James Scott, a man with whom they had lived in friendship for many years, and who, when warned a few days before to be on his guard, smiled at the notion of danger.

The treatment of some of these women was such, as no one can be expected to credit, until prepared by extensive acquaintance with human depravation. A monster boasted that, having captured a native woman, whose husband he had killed, he strung the bleeding head to her neck, and drove her before him as his prize. Had not this fact been guaranteed by formal enquiry, it could only have been admitted as a specimen of brutal gasconade, and in proof of how much a cruel fancy could exceed the actual guilt of mankind. It sometimes happened, that an unfortunate servant would receive the spear intended for his predecessor in the same employ, to whom it was justly due. Among the whites, there were men distinguished for the malicious vigour with which they tracked and murdered the native people. A lad, on his arrival from England, was sent into the interior, and warned never to wander from his dwelling; but he forgot the danger he did not see, and straying a short distance, he was murdered. He had never injured his destroyers; but then he lived on the lands just before in charge of a villain, and who, like a Roman warrior, took his name of "Abyssinian Tom," from the locality of his exploits.

The infliction of judicial punishments, interrupted the friendly intercourse of the tribe that visited Hobart Town, and who were encouraged to resort to Kangaroo Point, where huts were erected for their use. The arrest of two of their number filled them with apprehension. The aborigines, Jack and Dick, were executed on the 16th September, 1826, an event which terminated all present hope of amicable relations. The murder of a shepherd at Oyster Bay, Great Swan Port, was proved against them by the evidence of convict stock-keepers; a topic of contemporary complaint: but the courts regularly relied on the same class of witnesses, and in this case there is no special reason for suspicion. The fact was not questioned: the culprits had been treated with kindness by the government, and efforts had been made by Colonel Arthur to acquaint them with the obligations of British subjects. He asserts that, by personal interviews, he was fully convinced that they understood the benevolent views of the crown. One of these blacks was so far civilised, as to be admitted to the sacrament of the English church. His companion was a youth, and denied his guilt. The old black was carried to the scaffold, and resisted the execution: the younger, disentangled his arms, and struggled for his life. It was, indeed, a melancholy spectacle. Successive Governors had witnessed crimes against their race, atrocious and unpunished: hundreds had fallen unavenged by that public justice which treated them as murderers.

On the day of their execution, the Governor addressed the colony. He vindicated this act of severity, as requisite to intimidate the blacks; but he solemnly pledged his government to equal justice, and that the law should take its course on individuals of either race, who might violate "the common law of mankind."

The discussions which followed, proved the division of public opinion on the propriety of this measure. It was not clear, to many, that the natives were legally accountable, or that their punishment was just. Grotius and Vattel were quoted; writers, who have discoursed upon the relations of man, and distinguished the felon from the enemy. It was, however, simply a question between judicial and private vengeance: the interference of the court could alone prevent a general proscription. In the heat of anger, no provocation would be weighed—no palliative admitted; and the innocent would perish with the guilty.[9]

The impression on the aborigines was unfavorable: they saw only the death of an unfortunate countryman, and, perhaps, the last act of the white man's warfare. Its moral influence was not great on either race: it neither softened the resentment of the British, nor intimidated the blacks: it was a mere variety in the forms of destruction. The brother of one of these men led the Oyster Bay tribe, and prompted the murders which, in 1830, filled the colony with wailing.

The rapid colonisation of the island from 1821 to 1824, and the diffusion of settlers and servants through districts hitherto unlocated, added to the irritation of the natives, and multiplied the agents of destruction. Land unfenced, and flocks and herds moving on hill and dale, left the motions of the native hunters free; but hedges and homesteads were signals which even the least rationality could not fail to understand, and on every re-appearance the natives found some favorite spot surrounded by new enclosures, and no longer theirs.

The proclamations of the government assumed the fixed relations of the different tribes to particular districts. Oyster Bay and the Big River were deemed sufficiently precise definitions of those tribes, exposed to public jealousy and prosecution. It is true, they had no permanent villages, and accordingly no individual property in land; but the boundaries of each horde were known, and trespass was a declaration of war.

The English, of modern times, will not comprehend joint ownership, notwithstanding the once "common" property of the nation has been only lately distributed by law. The rights of the aborigines were never recognised by the crown; yet it is not less certain that they saw with intelligence the progress of occupation, and felt that the gradual alienation of their hunting grounds implied their expulsion and extinction.

Native topography is, indeed, limited; but it is exact. Every mountain, valley, and river, is distinguished and named. The English have often been indebted to these primitive surveyors, for guidance through the forests which they came to divide. The tribes took up their periodical stations, and moved with intervals so regular, that their migrations were anticipated, as well as the season of their return. The person employed in their pursuit, by the aid of his native allies, was able to predict at what period and place he should find a tribe, the object of his mission; and though months intervened, he found them in the valley, and at the time he had foretold. Expectations of this sort could only be justified by the regularity of their movements, and the exact knowledge of the guides.[10] Nor were they indifferent to the charms of a native land. A visitor enquired of a native woman at Flinders, whether she preferred that place to several others mentioned, where she had lived at times, and she answered with indifference; but when, to test her attachment to her early haunts, the querist said, "and not Ringarooma?" she exclaimed, with touching animation, "Oh yes! Ringarooma! Ringarooma!"

A chief accompanied the commandant to Launceston in 1847. At his own earnest request, he was taken to see the Cataract Basin of the South Esk, a river which foams and dashes through a narrow channel of precipitous rocks, until a wider space affords it tranquillity. It was a station of his people; precisely the kind of spot which gypsies, on the "business of Egypt," would choose for their tents. As he drew nigh, his excitement was intense: he leaped from rock to rock, with the gestures and exclamations of delight. So powerful were his emotions, that the lad with him became alarmed, lest the associations of the scene should destroy the discipline of twelve years exile: but the woods were silent: he heard no voice save his own, and he returned pensively with his young companion. These examples shew, that the native was not an indifferent spectator of that rapid occupation, which must have appeared prodigious to scattered tribes.

A further cause of exasperation, consequent on the preceding, was the destruction of game. The extent to which it was carried was enormous. The skin of the kangaroo sold for a few pence, was the perquisite of the stock-keepers, and long the chief object of their daily enterprise. Their rugs, their clothing, were composed often of these spoils, and the pursuit did not slacken until the persecuted animal retired. Jeffery, describing the field sports of his day (1810), tells us that flocks of emu and kangaroo were found at short intervals, and that a cart might be loaded with their flesh by the sport of a morning; but he remained long enough, to observe a sensible diminution, and proposed limitations by law to the havoc of the whites; an idea, subsequently entertained by the Aborigines' Committee, which sat in 1830. The dogs, trained to hunt the kangaroo, were at first serviceable to the natives, but they often increased the destruction by their spontaneous ravening. It is observed by a writer of 1827, that forty or fifty would be found within short distances, run down by the dogs, and left to rot.

Thus the food, on which the people depended for subsistence, was diminished, and the temptation to rob the settlers was regularly augmented at every return. Sir George Arthur, in his letter to the Secretary of State in 1828, notices this topic as a complaint of the natives against the intrusion of the whites, and seems to admit its truth; but three years after, he affirms that game was still abundant in the districts appointed for the tribes. It is, however, to be observed, that he wrote when the blacks, as a people, were dead; and when the high value of labor had withdrawn many from the chase; and that he implies a local, rather than a pervading abundance. As the natives passed through the settled districts to the sea shore, if numerous, their requirements would be great; but, by scattering themselves abroad, to obtain a sufficiency, their dangers would increase, and every evening they would muster fewer than in the morning.[11]

Among the causes of enmity, referred to by writers of every period, the abduction of the women by sealers and others, is noticed the earliest, and continued to the last. The sealers were, chiefly, either convicts whose sentences had expired, or such as contrived to escape. In the islands of the Straits, they indulged the boundless license of their passions, blending the professions of the petty pirate and the fisherman. A chain of rocks enabled them to rove to a considerable distance, picking up the refuse of the sea, and feeding on the aquatic birds which frequented the islets in great abundance. Many, however, perished, with the frail boats to which they committed their lives. Their first stage was known as "Clarke's Island;" from thence they made "Preservation Island:" a succession of rocks formed land marks in their course to New Holland, from which many found their way to Kangaroo Island, the Ultima Thule of their geography. In these places, they engaged in sealing; the produce of which they sold to the small craft trading among them, for guns, spirits, and tobacco. When the season was over, they retired to the interior, and passed their days in alternate slumber and intoxication.

So secure were some of these retreats, that they justified the apprehension, that formidable pirates would be trained up in their lawless and licentious communities. They were perpetually disturbed by violence. One old man spent thirteen years on an island, alone. He cultivated a plot of ground, and sold the produce to the boats which floated about. Several times robbed of his crops and clothing, by these contemptible spoilers, he, at last, was compelled to renounce his rude independence. In King's Island, families sat down; but Colonel Arthur, sensible of the great danger of these associations, sent the harbour master to the Straits, who arrested absconders, and released native women from slavery.

By these men, the black women and female children were captured in excursions to this island, and were liable to the ill-treatment, which might be expected from men who regarded them with passion and contempt. They were employed as slaves on some islands, to strip the mutton bird, and in whatever irksome labor was within their capacity. It is said that one man (Harrison), had fourteen women in his service, whom he flogged with military severity, and some of whom he put to death.

Boatswain, an aged woman, stolen in her youth, related the manner of her abduction. She was induced to enter a boat, without suspicion of the design, when her captors rowed away, and confined her on an island in the Straits. She told her treatment, in broken English and expressive pantomime; first spreading forth her hands, as if fastened to the wall; then, with loud cries, gradually becoming fainter, she fell down into a pretended swoon: thus describing the mode and severity of her torture.

These men acquired an extraordinary dominion over the fears of the women, sufficient to induce them to dissemble in the presence of strangers. Backhouse relates, that two girls, Jumbo and Jackey, pretended, while in the company of their masters, either by silence, or feigned anger, to resent the proposal to take them away; but when they were assured that their liberty would be protected, they embraced it with joy.

Jeffreys, whose narrative is tinged with romance, depicts the fondness and contentment of the women in lively colors. Glad to escape the tyranny of their countrymen, they displayed to these amiable white men, warm, though jealous, affection;—whose occasional absence they regretted, and for whose speedy return they invoked some imaginary deity in plaintive melodies! It is not improbable, that they were sensible of kindness, but it is very certain that this was not their ordinary lot. Unanimous testimony permits no doubt that they experienced the severity, which men of low intellect, and of fierce and capricious passions, inflict on women of an inferior race.

The sealers, when they came to the main land, rarely brought their captives: they were in danger of losing them. Their fickleness or revenge, was sometimes fatal: in 1824, a party, engaged in an expedition to entice the girls of a tribe, took with them one who had a half-caste infant, and sent her on shore as a decoy. She returned, bringing promises from her countrywomen to appear the following day; but at that time the blacks descended in great force, and all the adventurers, except one, were slain.

The sealers, by the names they gave the women, which were rarely feminine, and were sometimes ludicrously absurd, indicated the notions which prevailed. However slight their apparent importance, it has been justly observed, they betray the low civilisation of the persons who invented, and the degraded condition of those who bore them.

The intercourse of the stockmen was generally confined to the periods of migration: sometimes with the connivance, at others, the express consent of the men; but the detention was often compulsory. Dr. Ross found a stock-keeper seated on a fallen tree, exhausted with hunger. He had chained a woman to a log, "to tame her;" but she escaped, with his only shirt, which he had bestowed in his fondness. For five hours he had pursued her, catching glimpses of his shirt through the breaks of the forest: at last, this signal disappeared; and having lost his way for two days, he was in danger of starvation.

Such were the various causes, which combined first to alarm, and then to goad into madness, this unhappy people. They were troublesome, and were repelled. Wantonly wounded and shot down, they retaliated. Fresh wrongs produced their kind: at length, every white man was a guerilla, and every black an assassin. The original temper of both parties was changed. Dread detestation and treachery embittered every mind: even the humane yielded to the general sentiment. It became a question, which race should perish, and every man's verdict was in favor of his own.

From this, however, it is not to be inferred, that the natives were originally treacherous and cruel. It was stated by the Aborigines' Committee, in the middle of the conflict, that such dispositions were the substratum of their character, which, though disguised, only waited for time and opportunity. The colonists in general, at last, believed them to delight in blood, by an innate cruelty of temper—to find pleasure in the terrors they excited, and the convulsive agonies of the dying; but the records of mankind are full of such moral transformations. The Indians of America, we are informed by Dr. Dwight, became corrupt, to a degree "enormous and dreadful: full of malice, cruelty, and murders." But he himself, elsewhere remarks, that within his observation white men, commonly sober, moral, and orderly, on joining a mob, lost every one of these qualities; and, in a few hours of excitement, exhibited more vice than he had witnessed for years. The causes of degeneracy are not examined, when its mischief is suffered. Sir George Arthur, in his despatches, asserted that the natives were, and had been, "a most treacherous race,"—a view, which the Committee adopted: these opinions were afterwards greatly modified; nor would it be just to admit their truth, without stronger evidence than history affords. Among the aborigines, some were distinguished for ferocity: such was a woman who led on the Big River tribe, and who was called by Mr. Robinson, the "Amazon." A few were guilty of the crimes imputed to the race: and who were often their oppressors, rather than their avengers.

Though individuals, undoubtedly, displayed the vices imputed, who will condemn the natural disposition of a people for actions committed at lone intervals, by solitary assassins and marauders? The English alone could preserve a record of the past, and after a careful examination no other conclusion is possible, than that whoever continued acts of ferocity and cruelty, the impulse and the example were European.

Dr. Ross, arriving in 1822, passed into the interior, and settled on a farm. He was soon visited by the natives, whom he entertained with the consideration due to their ignorance and their rights. They had kindled their fires in perilous contiguity, and the flames threatened to destroy his crops. He pointed out his danger, and they instantly combined to extinguish the flame, and transferred their temporary resting place to a spot, from which no harm could be communicated. Dr. Ross stood by, and watched their cookery, and they offered him a part of their food: he suffered himself to be amused with their loud merriment, and their evolutions in the water. They often renewed their visits, and rather contributed to his safety, by assisting in the pursuit of white robbers: and even when they inflicted dreadful outrages on many others, provoked by extraordinary mal-treatment, they still preserved their kindness for this amiable man, until they were finally removed to Flinders' Island.

These incidents were not uncommon:—the cross lights, which seem to exhibit variously the character of a race, but in reality identify the family of man. To judge of a people, during a season of extraordinary excitement, must tend to erroneous conclusions: thus, when we turn to contemporary writings, we are amazed at the ferocity of expression—the sweeping and sanguinary appeals, by which they are disfigured; but this astonishment is corrected, when we examine the incidents they record, and recollect how little qualified men are to reason, when they are doomed to suffer. So with the native: the delirium of rage, and the taste for blood, had been produced by causes of long operation; and he appeared to be a fiend full of mischief and spite, marked out by his crimes for utter extinction.[12]


[Footnote 7: The ruffians who maltreated them were, indeed, punished with 25 lashes!]

[Footnote 8: Whether from policy or humanity, Michael Howe formed an exception. He did not allow them to be molested, except "in battle;" and he flogged with the cat one of his comrades, who had broken "the articles," by wantonly wounding a native.—Stated by a companion.]

[Footnote 9: In sentencing Rodger, at Port Phillip, 1842, Judge Willis told him that he had been tried by an intelligent jury; that he could have challenged any of them; that to say he had never been in a court of justice before, was a common plea with white malefactors, and that he knew as much on the subject as many immigrants. When he was sentenced, the Rev. Mr. Hurst explained to him, that he would be hanged! This was requisite, as the judge's address was utterly unintelligible.]

[Footnote 10: "The natives are tenacious of their hunting grounds, as the settlers are of their farms, and are displeased when they find houses upon them. This caused the attack of live stock and huts."—R. O'Connor, Esq.

"When a chart of Tasmania is presented to them, it seems only to embody the form and dimensions, which their own fancy enabled them to sketch."—Tasmanian Journal—Rev. T. Dove.

"It was a great oversight, that a treaty was not made with the natives; that feeling of injustice, which I am persuaded they have always entertained, would have then had no existence."—Sir George Arthur's Despatch to Lord Glenelg, 1835.]

[Footnote 11: "The extension of the settled districts upon their usual hunting grounds, has either driven them entirely from them, or removed the kangaroo. They are quite disappointed of their usual supplies. We have never known them to eat the flesh of either sheep or cattle."—Courier, 1830.

The extent of their consumption, might be inferred from the increase after their exit. To preserve their crops, some settlers were obliged to employ hunters. In 1831, from Bothwell only, 100,000 skins were sent to Hobart Town, bearing a value of L2,000.]


The violence of the natives seemed to require some extraordinary means for its repression, and (in November, 1826) it was resolved to capture the leaders, by the usual methods of arrest. The magistrates were authorised, by the Governor, when danger was feared, to drive them to a safe distance by force: to repress their attempts at disturbance, by treating them as rioters; to seize those charged with felonies, whether known by marks or by names, or by the denomination of their tribe; and any person was authorised to raise the neighbourhood, on witnessing the commission of a crime. This notice was renewed the following year, and the military stationed in the interior, were instructed to render such assistance as might be necessary, for its practical application.

But these measures were not attended with much success, and in April, 1828, the natives were forbidden to enter the settled districts of the colony. They were permitted to pass through them, when on their passage to the shore, provided their chiefs guaranteed their quietness, and possessed a pass under the hand and seal of the Governor. A line, drawn from Piper's River to St. Patrick's Head, separated the regions allotted to them on that side; another, included Tasman's Peninsula; a third, southward of Mount Wellington to the ocean; and the fourth, from the Huon, by Western Bluff, south-west to the sea. Thus the proclamation cut out the centre of the island: a square at the north-west, belonged to the Van Diemen's Land Company, and others; southward, from Ben Lomond, including most of the rivers, plains, and lagoons. Into these, they were forbidden to intrude. There remained, the forests of the south-west; the western coasts, where the skies for ever weep; and the barren shores of the north-east. To drive them on these regions was the duty of the forces, and their employment for years. The natives returned regularly with the season, like birds of passage—avenging the losses of their last retreat: they retired at the usual time—diminished, but unsubdued.

In looking at these orders and proclamations, it is impossible to regard them in any other light than as plans of military operation. That the natives would surrender to a warrant or a challenge; that they would remain in remote regions, from which they had always been accustomed to come forth; that their chiefs had power to enforce the mandates of the Governor, or that they would preserve an official document, they could neither read nor understand—these were contingencies which, though desirable, were certainly not probable. The precise and legal language of the instruments, provoked much ridicule, and might justify a smile. They were chiefly dictated by a gentleman, whose mental aberration led to his removal from office. It is, however, difficult to suggest more explicit forms, and the announcement of the plans of government was a proper preliminary to their execution.

It was the desire of the Governor, earnestly expressed, to protect the settlers, and yet to mitigate their resentment. The use of arms was forbidden, while other means were untried, and rewards were offered to any person who might venture into communication with the natives, to explain the objects of the government. They were invited to seek redress of their grievances; and pictures were suspended in the wood, in which the white man was represented shooting the native, and the Governor hanging the white.

These remedies were, however, ineffectual; and in November, 1828, the settled districts were placed under the protection of martial law. Nine parties, under Messrs. G. Robertson, Batman, and Jorgenson, consisting of seven persons each, and assisted by the military when requisite, were employed to enforce the proclamation. Mr. Anstey, the magistrate, directed the operations in the centre of the island, and volunteers not unfrequently joined in the repulsion or pursuit of this unhappy people.

The celebrated chief, Eumarrah, was captured by Mr. Gilbert Robertson, in the Eastern Marshes, in 1828. This euphonius name, which so interests the ear, it is said, was a corruption or improvement of the name of a colonist, Hugh Murray, and adopted by the savage. A strong party, consisting of military and constables, surrounded the hut, in which this chief and others were sheltered. Five furious dogs rush towards Mr. Robertson, the foremost of the party: having fired off his piece, and seized a lad scrambling away, by him he was directed to a sheet of bark, under which Eumarrah was concealed. While prostrate, a shot was fired at him, which inflicted a flesh wound, and the musket of a soldier was broken by beating him. Such is Robertson's indignant account of his capture. With the chief, three others, Jack, Dolly, and Jemmy, were taken: the portrait of the last has rather an innocent expression, and has been honored with publication. This party, removed first to Richmond, and then to Hobart Town, soon appeared reconciled to their captivity: all, but Eumarrah. He was pensive and reserved, and, for a time, resented his bondage. It is said, the outrages he had committed, would have forfeited his life, had not his captor earnestly maintained that he was a prisoner of war; and that to put him to death, would be to equal his crimes.

The expeditions were attended with the same general incidents, and it would be tedious to multiply examples. The number of prisoners was lamentably disproportioned to the many that perished. To identify a particular offender was impossible, nor was it of much importance, since the natives now were animated by one spirit. The amazing agility with which they moved; their magical powers of self concealment; their destitution of dress, the greasing of their skin, and the vigilance of their watch-dogs, rendered it nearly impossible to seize them in open day.

An alarm would be given, that the blacks were approaching, and a party, commissioned to repress them, would immediately advance; often blundering and incautious, shouting, smoking, and straggling about; carelessly firing their pieces, and affording abundant information of their approach. Thus, after a fatiguing march, the natives, whom they were sent out to meet, would be observed in their rear, having already committed the premeditated depredation. Not that it was easy to elude their observation, if they were conscious of pursuit, and it was nearly impossible to overtake them.

Mr. Gilbert Robertson, after capturing Eumarrah, was twelve months without success. One tribe he followed with pertinacity, were not far off through the whole chase. Their fires were visible: they were, for several days, on the hills, not more than four miles from the British; but they "beat round and round, like a hare." A tribe, after a hot pursuit, concealed their tracks, and suddenly vanished. They regularly posted sentinels: passed over the most dangerous ground, and, on the margin of fearful precipices: they would lie down beside a log—stone dead, and could not be distinguished from the charred fragments of the forest. Those who imagined that their eyes had never been averted, would yet lose sight of the subtle enemy. They could not catch them, except by stratagem; or, when they were caught, they could not hold them.[13] The few captives that were obtained, when they thought proper, easily made their escape. They confined them in a room: next morning, they had passed through the flue into the open air, and freedom.

The extreme difficulty connected with their arrest by day, led to their rapid destruction. The pursuers would watch, as the evening gathered in, the thin smoke of the distant fires: they would cautiously advance, and conceal themselves till midnight. The superstitious terror of the black, prevented his wandering from the camp, lest the evil spirit that haunted the darkness should carry him away. Thus, stretched around the fire, the natives were easily seen, and musketry told with terrible effect. Their dogs, instead of promoting their safety, sometimes led to their sacrifice. A party, preparing to surround and capture them without bloodshed, would move with quiet steps, without giving notice to the aborigines; but just when all was prepared for the last movement, some cur of ill omen would start up, and rouse them. They would seize their spears and attempt to flee; and the whites, now disappointed of a bloodless capture, would commence the slaughter.

In 1828, a tribe of natives threw stones at the constables, from a hill. They returned a volley of shot; then charged with the bayonet: the whole were slain. The excuse for the massacre was, that having no more ammunition, the constables had no other means of defence, and that to retreat was dangerous. An exploit, claimed by a corporal and party of the 40th regiment, is disputed. They professed to have discovered a tribe lodged on the shelf of a rock, inclosed by wall-like heights. They poured in their fire, and dragged the women and children from their shelter: all perished. This was stated to be a mere tale of pretended success, and devised to satisfy the neighbourhood, that the men had done their duty. It proves, at least, that such achievements were in request. How fearful a condition for the government to tolerate, or for a colony to approve.

In these expeditions, natives were often the guides, and were enabled to follow up the track of their countrymen, when the English were confounded. In those troublesome times, individuals of the tribes were often left behind. It was the custom to fix small pieces of stick at short distances, to assist the stragglers in rejoining their main body. For a time, these signals being understood by the black guides, brought them quickly on the route of the fugitives; but the guides soon betrayed or exhausted this device, and though they continued to leave direction sticks, they reversed their meaning, and distracted their pursuers.

The Tasmanian allies themselves, were exceedingly uncertain, and prone to escape. They disclosed to their countrymen the plans adopted for their capture, related the expeditions they had witnessed, and added new excitements to rage. Sydney natives were obtained, to assist in the capture: Pigeon and John Crook, under the care of Mr. Batman, promoted the success of the undertaking. Pigeon narrowly escaped being shot: he wandered from his party, and was seen by a stockman in a tree, who fired, in spite of his endeavours to explain. Pigeon then slipped down, and reached his friends, only in time to avoid the second charge of his pertinacious antagonist. The story is worth relating, not on account of the actors, but because it displays how cheap, at that hour, was the life of a native, although peaceably living in the forests of his country.

Among those distinguished for the knowledge of the bush, compassion for the natives, and skill in pursuing them, Mr. Batman was the subject of frequent and approving mention. It is said by Backhouse, that his parties killed thirty, and captured five. Occasionally, natives were found in the neighbourhood of Ben Lomond. In one instance, it is recorded, that ten fell, and that two were taken; and in another, that forty received the fire, and left behind them trails of blood, but no captives. On another, fifteen or sixteen were said to fall, out of a party of seventy: three hundred buck shot were poured into an encampment, at twenty yards distance. It would be endless to recite conflicts of this kind: they probably were but a multiplication of a short bulletin, referring to an expedition—"five shot, and one taken." Looked at alone, even in the mildest form, these measures are revolting; but to Mr. Batman belongs the praise of mingling humanity with severity: of perceiving human affections in the creatures he was commissioned to resist. His mission cannot be compared with that of his successor, but he certainly began in the midst of conflict and bloodshed, to try the softer influences of conciliation and charity. He received a party into his house, endeavoured to win their regard; fed, clothed, and soothed them; and when some of them disappointed his hopes, by throwing off their garments and retiring into the bush, he still persevered in attempting their reclamation.

But if the authorised system was attended with a sad sacrifice of native life, no one will question the atrocities committed by commandoes, first formed by stock-keepers, and some settlers, under the influence of anger, and then continued from habit. The smoke of a fire was the signal for a black hunt. The sportsmen having taken up their positions, perhaps on a precipitous hill, would first discharge their guns, then rush towards the fires, and sweep away the whole party. The wounded were brained; the infant cast into the flames; the musket was driven into the quivering flesh; and the social fire, around which the natives gathered to slumber, became, before morning, their funeral pile.[14]

A detail of such facts, is in the hand of the writer, the recital of which would disgrace, without improving mankind; and it is rather in deference to a general principle than personal considerations, that the crimes of amateur assassins are left to oblivion.[15]


[Footnote 12: "Unless the blacks are exterminated, or removed, conciliation is in vain. Shall the sons of a country give way before the aborigines, after having repulsed the arms of France? They are now shot, with as little remorse as so many crows!!"—Col. Advocate, 1828.]

[Footnote 13: A party, under Major Grey, went out in pursuit: overtook a few blacks; one was seized; but he was so smeared with grease, that he slipped through the hands of his captors. A paper of the day recommends, that the arms of the pursuer be thrust under the arms of the black; and, the hands being raised, to be firmly clasped over the back of the fugitive's neck—an expedient, that reminds us of the salt specific for catching birds, with which most children have been delighted and disappointed.]


However just these representations of individual conduct, and with whatever severity the measures of government bore upon the aborigines, that unhappy people afforded ample reason for apprehension, and even abhorrence. Their crimes were fearful, and the effect of their outrage on the colonial mind can only be imagined. The fierce robbers, of European origin, who had infested the land, were not half so terrible: these were at least restrained by early associations and national sympathies; often by conscience, and even by each other. But the natives now united the antipathy of a national foe, and the rapacity of a banditti, with the spite of individual revenge: they were at once a people in arms, and a distributed band of assassins.

The correspondence between the local and imperial authorities exhibits the feelings of the Governor, and his full consciousness, that however necessary his proceedings might seem on the spot, surveyed from the distance, they would wear the aspect of cruelty. In 1828, he apprised Lord Goderich, that the proposal to remove the natives from the island, had not met his concurrence; and that the commissioners for lands had pointed out the north-east coast as adapted to their wants, well sheltered and warm, abounding with game, accessible by water, and easy to guard. It was stated by Colonel Arthur that harsh measures were demanded by the colonists; but that he could not dismiss from his recollection, that the whites were the aggressors, and that every plan should be tried before treating the natives as accredited enemies. Three months after, he forwarded another communication, which referred to the murders recently committed, and justified the proclamation which he had issued for their expulsion. So exasperated were the settlers, that the safety of the blacks themselves seemed to demand this precaution. He had, however, found it impossible to assign one district, owing to the animosities of the tribes against each other, and therefore he resolved to expel them to the remoter portions of their several territories. In two other communications of the same year, the Governor reported the temporary retirement of the natives, in search of marine subsistence, and their return from their winter quarters in the November following, when their animosity had not abated: a dark catalogue of murders, including every age, condition, and sex, attested their subtlety and sanguinary spirit. He still declared that no means were neglected to conciliate and reclaim them, consistent with the interests of the colony at large; but their indiscriminate attacks were equally directed against their benefactors and their enemies. Communication had become difficult, a risk of life, and almost impossible.

These statements are, unhappily, sustained by ample proof. It would be a waste of time even to condense, in the most succinct relation, all the incidents that occurred. Narrative is tedious by the monotony of detail, and the events themselves were recorded by those who witnessed them, with ominous brevity. Such crimes were of daily occurrence; perhaps sometimes multiplied by rumour, but often unheard of and unrecorded. The perils of the stockmen were constant: many of them were repeatedly wounded; and one, named Cubit, was nine times speared, and yet survived. Death assumed new forms daily: the poet of the Iliad did not describe more numerous varieties, in the slaughter of his heroes.

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