Edward John Eyre - Aborigines Ch 1
Preliminary Remarks — Unjust Opinions Generally Entertained of the Character of the Native — Difficulties and Disadvantages he Labours Under in His Relations with Europeans — Aggressions and Injuries on the Part of the Latter in Great Degree Extenuate His Crimes
- Written by Edward John Eyre
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Upon bringing to a close the narrative of an Expedition of Discovery in Australia, during the progress of which an extensive portion of the previously unknown parts of that continent were explored, I have thought it might not be uninteresting to introduce a few pages on the subject of the Aborigines of the country.
It would afford me much gratification to see an interest excited on their behalf proportioned to the claims of a people who have hitherto been misjudged or misrepresented.
For the last twelve years I have been personally resident in one or other of the Australian Colonies, and have always been in frequent intercourse with the aboriginal tribes that were near, rarely being without some of them constantly with me as domestics.
To the advantages of private opportunities of acquiring a knowledge of their character were added, latterly, the facilities afforded by my holding a public appointment in South Australia, in the midst of a district more densely populated by natives than any in that Colony, where no settler had ventured to locate, and where, prior to my arrival in October 1841, frightful scenes of bloodshed, rapine, and hostility between the natives and parties coming overland with stock, had been of frequent and very recent occurrence.
As Resident Magistrate of the Murray District, I may almost say, that for the last three years I have lived with the natives. My duties have frequently taken me to very great distances up the Murray or the Darling rivers, when I was generally accompanied only by a single European, or at most two, and where, if attacked, there was no possibility of my receiving any human aid. I have gone almost alone among hordes of those fierce and blood-thirsty savages, as they were then considered, and have stood singly amongst them in the remote and trackless wilds, when hundreds were congregated around, without ever receiving the least injury or insult.
In my first visits to the more distant tribes I found them shy, alarmed, and suspicious, but soon learning that I had no wish to injure them, they met me with readiness and confidence. My wishes became their law; they conceded points to me that they would not have done to their own people, and on many occasions cheerfully underwent hunger, thirst, and fatigue to serve me.
Former habits and prejudices in some respects gave way to the influence I acquired. Tribes that never met or heard of one another before were brought to mingle in friendly intercourse. Single individuals traversed over immense distances and through many intervening tribes, which formerly they never could have attempted to pass, and in accomplishing this the white man’s name alone was the talisman that proved their safe-guard and protection.
During the whole of the three years I was Resident at Moorunde, not a single case of serious injury or aggression ever took place on the part of the natives against the Europeans; and a district, once considered the wildest and most dangerous, was, when I left it in November 1844, looked upon as one of the most peaceable and orderly in the province.
Independently of my own personal experience, on the subject of the Aborigines, I have much pleasure in acknowledging the obligations I am under to M. Moorhouse, Esq. Protector of Aborigines in Adelaide, for his valuable assistance, in comparing and discussing the results of our respective observations, on matters connected with the natives, and for the obliging manner in which he has furnished me with many of his own important and well-arranged notes on various points of interest in their history.
By this aid, I am enabled, in the following pages, to combine my own observations and experience with those of Mr. Moorhouse, especially on points connected with the Adelaide Tribes. In some cases, extracts from Mr. Moorhouse’s notes, will be copied in his own words, but in most I found an alteration or rearrangement to be indispensable to enable me to connect and amplify the subjects: I wish it to be particularly understood, however, that with any deductions, inferences, remarks, or suggestions, that may incidentally be introduced, Mr. Moorhouse is totally unconnected, that gentleman’s notes refer exclusively to abstract matters of fact, relating to the habits, customs, or peculiarities of the people treated of, and are generally confined to the Adelaide Tribes.
[Note 38: Some few of these notes were printed in the Colony, in a detached form, as Reports to the Colonial Government, or in the Vocabularies of the Missionaries, and since my return to England I find others have been published in papers, ordered to be printed by the House of Commons, in August 1844. From the necessity, however, of altering in some measure the phraseology, to combine Mr. Moorhouse’s remarks with my own, and to preserve a uniformity in the descriptions, it has not been practicable or desirable in all cases, to separate or distinguish by inverted commas, those observations which I have adopted. I have, therefore, preferred making a general acknowledgment of the use I have made of the notes that were supplied to me by Mr. Moorhouse.]
In the descriptions given in the following pages, although there may occasionally be introduced, accounts of the habits, manners, or customs of some of the tribes inhabiting different parts of Australia I have visited, yet there are others which are exclusively peculiar to the natives of South Australia. I wish it, therefore, to be understood, that unless mention is made of other tribes, or other parts of the continent, the details given are intended to apply to that province generally, and particularly to the tribes in it, belonging to the districts of Adelaide and the Murray river.
As far as has yet been ascertained, the whole of the aboriginal inhabitants of this continent, scattered as they are over an immense extent of country, bear so striking a resemblance in physical appearance and structure to each other; and their general habits, customs, and pursuits, are also so very similar, though modified in some respects by local circumstances or climate, that little doubt can be entertained that all have originally sprung from the same stock. The principal points of difference, observable between various tribes, appear to consist chiefly in some of their ceremonial observances, and in the variations of dialect in the language they speak; the latter are, indeed, frequently so great, that even to a person thoroughly acquainted with any one dialect, there is not the slightest clue by which he can understand what is said by a tribe speaking a different one.
The only account I have yet met with, which professed to give any particular description of the Aborigines of New Holland, is that contained in the able papers upon this subject, by Captain Grey, in the second volume of his travels. When it is considered, that the material for that purpose was collected by the author, during a few months interval between his two expeditions, which he spent at Swan River, and a short time subsequently passed at King George’s Sound, whilst holding the appointment of Government Resident there; it is perfectly surprising that the amount of information amassed should be so great, and so generally correct, on subjects where so many mistakes are liable to be made, in all first inquiries, when we are ignorant of the character and habits of the people of whom information is to be sought, and unacquainted with the language they speak.
The subject, however, upon a portion of which Captain Grey so successfully entered, is very extensive, and one which no single individual, except by the devotion of a life-time, could hope fully to discuss. The Continent of Australia is so vast, and the dialects, customs, and ceremonies of its inhabitants so varied in detail, though so similar in general outline and character, that it will require the lapse of years, and the labours of many individuals, to detect and exhibit the links which form the chain of connection in the habits and history of tribes so remotely separated; and it will be long before any one can attempt to give to the world a complete and well-drawn outline of the whole.
It is not therefore to satisfy curiosity, or to interrupt the course of inquiry, that I enter upon the present work; I neither profess, nor could I attempt to give a full or matured account of the Aborigines of New Holland. Captain Grey’s descriptions on this subject are limited to the races of South-western, as mine are principally directed to those of Southern Australia, with occasionally some remarks or anecdotes relating to tribes in other parts of the Continent with whom I have come in contact.
The character of the Australian native has been so constantly misrepresented and traduced, that by the world at large he is looked upon as the lowest and most degraded of the human species, and is generally considered as ranking but little above the members of the brute creation. Savages have always many vices, but I do not think that these are worse in the New Hollanders, than in many other aboriginal races. It is said, indeed, that the Australian is an irreclaimable, unteachable being; that he is cruel, blood-thirsty, revengeful, and treacherous; and in support of such assertions, references are made to the total failure of all missionary and scholastic efforts hitherto made on his behalf, and to many deeds of violence or aggression committed by him upon the settler.
[Note 39: I cannot adduce a stronger proof in support of the position I assume, in favour of the natives, than by quoting the clear and just conclusions at which the Right Honourable Lord Stanley, the present Secretary of State for the Colonies, arrived, when considering the case of some collisions with the natives on the Ovens River, and after a full consideration of the various circumstances connected with the occurrence. In a despatch to Governor Sir G. Gipps, dated 5th October, 1841, Lord Stanley says, “Contrasting the accounts of the Aborigines given by Mr. Docker with those given by Mr. Mackay, and the different terms on which those gentlemen appear to be with them in the same vicinity, I cannot divest myself of the apprehension that the fault in this case lies with the colonists rather than with the natives. It was natural, that conduct so harsh and intemperate as that of the Messrs. Mackay should be signally visited on them, and probably also on wholly unoffending persons, by a race of uninstructed and ignorant savages. At the same time the case of Mr. Docker affords a most satisfactory instance of natives entering into permanent service with white men, and working, as they appear to do, steadily for wages.”]
With respect to the first point, I consider that an intimate knowledge of the peculiar habits, laws, and traditions, by which this people are governed, is absolutely necessary, before any just opinion can be formed as to how far the means hitherto pursued, have been suitable, or adapted to counteract the influence of custom and the force of prejudice. Until this knowledge is attained, we have no right to brand them as either irreclaimable, or unteachable. My own impression, after long experience, and an attentive consideration of the subject, is, that in the present anomalous state of our relations with the Aborigines, our measures are neither comprehensive enough for, nor is our system sufficiently adapted to, the singular circumstances they are in, to enable us successfully to contend with the difficulties and impediments in the way of their rising in the scale of civilization.
Upon the second point it is also necessary to make many inquiries before we arrive at our conclusions; and I have no doubt, if this be done with calmness, and without prejudice, it will be generally found that there are many extenuating circumstances which may be brought to modify our judgment. I am anxious, if possible, to place a few of these before the public, in the hope, that by lessening in some degree the unfavourable opinion heretofore entertained of the Aborigines, they may be considered for the future as more deserving our sympathy and benevolence.
Without assuming for the native a freedom from vice, or in any way attempting to palliate the many brutalising habits that pollute his character, I would still contend that, if stained with the excesses of unrestrained passions, he is still sometimes sensible to the better emotions of humanity. Many of the worst traits in his character are the result of necessity, or the force of custom — the better ones are implanted in him as a part of his nature. With capabilities for receiving, and an aptness for acquiring instruction, I believe he has also the capacity for appreciating the rational enjoyments of life.
Even in his present low and debased condition, and viewed under every disadvantages, I do not imagine that his vices would usually be found greater, or his passions more malignant than those of a very large proportion of men ordinarily denominated civilised. On the contrary, I believe were Europeans placed under the same circumstances, equally wronged, and equally shut out from redress, they would not exhibit half the moderation or forbearance that these poor untutored children of impulse have invariably shewn.
It is true that occasionally many crimes have been committed by them, and robberies and murders have too often occurred; but who can tell what were the provocations which led to, what the feelings which impelled such deeds? Neither have they been the only or the first aggressors, nor has their race escaped unscathed in the contest. Could blood answer blood, perhaps for every drop of European’s shed by natives, a torrent of their, by European hands, would crimson the earth.
[Note 40: “The whites were generally the aggressors. He had been informed that a petition had been presented to the Governor, containing a list of nineteen murders committed by the blacks. He could, if it were necessary, make out a list of five hundred blacks who had been slaughtered by the whites, and that within a short time.”— Extract from speech of Mr. Threlkeld to the Auxiliary Aborigines’ Protection Society in New South Wales. Abstract of a “Return of the number of homicides committed respectively by blacks and whites, within the limits of the northwestern district (of Port Phillip), since its first occupation by settlers —”
“Total number of white people killed by Aborigines 8
“Total number of Aborigines killed by white people 43.”
This is only in one district, and only embraces such cases as came to the knowledge of Mr. Protector Parker. For particulars vide Papers on Aborigines of Australian Colonies, printed for the House of Commons, August 1844, p. 318.]
Let us now inquire a little, upon whose side right and justice are arrayed in palliation (if any such there can be) of deeds of violence or aggression on the part of either.
It is an undeniable fact, that wherever European colonies have been established in Australia, the native races in that neighbourhood are rapidly decreasing, and already in some of the elder settlements, have totally disappeared. It is equally indisputable that the presence of the white man has been the sole agent in producing so lamentable an effect; that the evil is still going on, increased in a ratio proportioned to the number of new settlements formed, or the rapidity with which the settlers overrun new districts. The natural, the inevitable, but the no less melancholy result must be, that in the course of a few years more, if nothing be done to check it, the whole of the aboriginal tribes of Australia will be swept away from the face of the earth. A people who, by their numbers, have spread around the whole of this immense continent, and have probably penetrated into and occupied its inmost recesses, will become quite extinct, their name forgotten, their very existence but a record of history.
It is a popular, but an unfair and unwarranted assumption, that these consequences are the result of the natural course of events; that they are ordained by Providence, unavoidable, and not to be impeded. Let us at least ascertain how far they are chargeable upon ourselves.
Without entering upon the abstract question concerning the right of one race of people to wrest from another their possessions, simply because they happen to be more powerful than the original inhabitants, or because they imagine that they can, by their superior skill or acquirements, enable the soil to support a denser population, I think it will be conceded by every candid and right-thinking mind, that no one can justly take that which is not his own, without giving some equivalent in return, or deprive a people of their ordinary means of support, and not provide them with any other instead. Yet such is exactly the position we are in with regard to the inhabitants of Australia.
[Note 41: “The invasion of those ancient rights (of the natives) by survey and land appropriations of any kind, is justifiable only on the ground, that we should at the same time reserve for the natives an AMPLE SUFFICIENCY for THEIR PRESENT and future use and comfort, under the new style of things into which they are thrown; a state in which we hope they will be led to live in greater comfort, on a small space, than they enjoyed before it occurred, on their extensive original possessions.”— Reply of His Excellency Colonel Gawler, to the gentlemen who objected to sections of land being appropriated for the natives, before the public were allowed to select.]
Without laying claim to this country by right of conquest, without pleading even the mockery of cession, or the cheatery of sale, we have unhesitatingly entered upon, occupied, and disposed of its lands, spreading forth a new population over its surface, and driving before us the original inhabitants.
To sanction this aggression, we have not, in the abstract, the slightest shadow of either right or justice — we have not even the extenuation of endeavouring to compensate those we have injured, or the merit of attempting to mitigate the sufferings our presence inflicts.
It is often argued, that we merely have taken what the natives did not require, or were making no use of; that we have no wish to interfere with them if they do not interfere with us, but rather that we are disposed to treat them with kindness and conciliation, if they are willing to be friends with us. What, however, are the actual facts of the case; and what is the position of a tribe of natives, when their country is first taken possession of by Europeans.
It is true that they do not cultivate the ground; but have they, therefore, no interest in its productions? Does it not supply grass for the sustenance of the wild animals upon which in a great measure they are dependent for their subsistence?— does it not afford roots and vegetables to appease their hunger?— water to satisfy their thirst, and wood to make their fire?— or are these necessaries left to them by the white man when he comes to take possession of their soil? Alas, it is not so! all are in turn taken away from the original possessors. The game of the wilds that the European does not destroy for his amusement are driven away by his flocks and herds. [Note 42 at end of para.] The waters are occupied and enclosed, and access to them in frequently forbidden. The fields are fenced in, and the natives are no longerat liberty to dig up roots — the white man claims the timber, and the very firewood itself is occasion ally denied to them. Do they pass by the habitation of the intruder, they are probably chased away or bitten by his dogs, and for this they can get no redress. [Note 43 at end of para.] Have they dogs of their own, they are unhesitatingly shot or worried because they are an annoyance to the domestic animals of the Europeans. Daily and hourly do their wrongs multiply upon them. The more numerous the white population becomes, and the more advanced the stage of civilization to which the settlement progresses, the greater are the hardships that fall to their lot and the more completely are they cut off from the privileges of their birthright. All that they have is in succession taken away from them — their amusements, their enjoyments, their possessions, their freedom — and all that they receive in return is obloquy, and contempt, and degradation, and oppression. [Note 44 appears after note 43, below]
[Note 42: “But directly an European settles down in the country, his constant residence in one spot soon sends the animals away from it, and although he may in no other way interfere with the natives, the mere circumstance of his residing there, does the man on whose land he settles the injury of depriving him of his ordinary means of subsistence.”— GREY’S TRAVELS, vol. ii. p. 298.
“The great question was, were we to give them no equivalent for that which we had taken from them? Had we deprived them of nothing? Was it nothing that they were driven from the lands where their fathers lived, where they were born and which were endeared to them by associations equally strong with the associations of more civilsed people? He believed that their affections were as warm as the Europeans.” “Perhaps he obtained his subsistence by fishing, and occupied a slip of land on the banks of a river or the margin of a lake. Was he to be turned off as soon as the land was required, without any consideration whatever?” “Had any proper attempt been made for their civilization? They had not yet had fair play — they had been courted by the missionaries with the Bible on the one hand, and had at the sametime been driven away and destroyed by the stock-keepers on the other. He thought that they might be reclaimed if the proper course was adopted.”— EXTRACTS FROM THE SPEECH OF SYDNEY STEPHEN, ESQ., AT A MEETING ON BEHALF OF THE ABORIGINES IN SYDNEY, OCTOBER 19, 1838.
I have myself repeatedly seen the natives driven off private lands in the vicinity of Adelaide, and their huts burned, even in cold wet weather. The records of the Police Office will shew that they have been driven off the Park lands, or those belonging to Government, or at least that they have been brought up and punished for cutting wood from the trees there. What are they to do, when there is not a stick or a tree within miles of Adelaide that they can legally take?]
[Note 43: I have known repeated instances of natives in Adelaide being bitten severely by savage dogs rushing out at them from the yards of their owners, as they were peaceably passing along the street. On the other hand I have known a native imprisoned for throwing his waddy at, and injuring a pig, which was eating a melon he had laid down for a moment in the street, and when the pig ought not to have been in the street at all. In February 1842, a dog belonging to a native was shot by order of Mr. Gouger, the then Colonial Secretary, and the owner as soon as he became aware of the circumstance, speared his wife for not taking better care of it, although she could not possibly have helped the occurrence. If natives then revenge so severely such apparently trivial offences among themselves, can we wonder that they should sometimes retaliate upon us for more aggravated ones.]
[Note 44: The following are extracts from an address to a jury, when trying some aboriginal natives, by Judge Willis. They at least shew some of the BLESSINGS the Aborigines experience from being made British subjects, and placed under British laws:—”I have, on a recent occasion, stated my opinion, which I still entertain, that the proprietor of a run, or, in other words, one who holds a lease or license from the Crown to depasture certain Crown lands, may take all lawful means to prevent either natives or others from entering or remaining upon it.” “The aboriginals of Van Diemen’s Land were strictly commanded, by Governor Arthur’s proclamation of the 15th of April 1828 (a proclamation of which His Majesty King George the Fourth, through the Right honourable the then Secretary of State, by a dispatch of the 2nd of February, 1829, under the circumstances, signified his approval,) “to retire and depart from, and for no reason, and no pretence, save as therein provided, (viz. travelling annually to the sea coast in quest of shellfish, under certain regulations,) to re-enter the settled districts of Van Diemen’s Land, or any portions of land cultivated and occupied by any person whomsoever, under the authority of Her Majesty’s Government, on pain of forcible expulsion therefrom, and such consequences as might be necessarily attendant on it, and all magistrates and other persons by them authorized and deputed, were required to conform themselves to the directions and instructions of this proclamation, in effecting the retirement and expulsion of the Aborigines from the settled districts of that territory.”]
What are they to do under such circumstances, or how support a life so bereft of its wonted supplies? Can we wonder that they should still remain the same low abject and degraded creatures that they are, loitering about the white man’s house, and cringing, and pandering to the lowest menial for that food they can no longer procure for themselves? or that wandering in misery through a country, now no longer their own, their lives should be curtailed by want, exposure, or disease? If, on the other hand, upon the first appearance of Europeans, the natives become alarmed, and retire from their presence, they must give up all the haunts they had been accustomed to frequent, and must either live in a starving condition, in the back country, ill supplied with game, and often wanting water, or they must trespass upon the territory of another tribe, in a district perhaps little calculated to support an additional population, even should they be fortunate enough to escape being forced into one belonging to an enemy.
Under any circumstances, however, they have but little respite from inconvenience and want. The white man rapidly spreads himself over the country, and without the power of retiring any further, they are overtaken, and beset by all the evils from which they had previously fled.
Such are some of the blessings held out to the savage by civilization, and they are only some of them. The picture is neither fanciful nor overdrawn; there is no trait in it that I have not personally witnessed, or that might not have been enlarged upon; and there are often other circumstances of greater injury and aggression, which, if dwelt upon, would have cast a still darker shade upon the prospects and condition of the native.
Enough has, however, perhaps been said to indicate the degree of injury our presence unavoidably inflicts. I would hope, also, to point out the justice, as well as the expediency of appropriating a considerable portion of the money obtained, by the sales of land, towards alleviating the miseries our occupation of their country has occasioned to the original owners.
[Note 44a: “That it appears to memorialists that the original occupants of the soil have an irresistible claim on the Government of this country for support, inasmuch as the presence of the colonists abridges their means of subsistence, whilst it furnishes to the public treasury a large revenue in the shape of fees for licences and assessments on stock, together with the very large sums paid for land seized by the Crown, and alienated to private individuals.
“That it appears to memorialists that the interests at once of the natives and the colonists would be most effectually promoted by the government reserving suitable portions of land within the territorial limits of the respective tribes, with the view of weaning them from their erratic habits, forming thereon depots for supplying them with provisions and clothing, under the charge of individuals of exemplary moral character, taking at the same time an interest in their welfare, and who would endeavour to instruct them in agricultural and other useful arts.”— Extract from Memorial of the Settlers of the County of Grant, in the district of Port Phillip, to His Excellency Sir G. Gipps, in 1840.]
Surely if we acknowledge the first principles of justice, or if we admit the slightest claims of humanity on behalf of these debased, but harshly treated people, we are bound, in honour and in equity, to afford them that subsistence which we have deprived them of the power of providing for themselves.
It may, perhaps, be replied, and at first it might seem, with some appearance of speciousness, that all is done that can be done for them, that each of the Colonial Governments annually devotes a portion of its revenue to the improvement, instruction, and maintenance of the natives. So far this is very praiseworthy, but does it in any degree compensate for the evil inflicted?
The money usually voted by the councils of Government, towards defraying expenses incurred on behalf of the Aborigines of Australia, is but a very small per centage upon the sums that have been received for the sales of lands, and is principally expended in defraying the salaries of protectors, in supporting schools, providing food or clothing for one or two head stations, and perhaps supplying a few blankets once in the year to some of the outstations. Little is expended in the daily provisioning of the natives generally, and especially in the more distant country districts least populated by Europeans, but most densely occupied by natives, and where the very thinness of the European inhabitants precludes the Aborigines from resorting to the same sources to supply their wants, that are open to them in a town, or more thickly inhabited district. Such are those afforded by the charity of individuals, by the rewards received for performing trifling services of work, by the obtaining vast quantities of offal, or of broken victuals, which are always abundant in a country where animal food is used in excess, and where the heat of the climate daily renders much of it unfit for consumption in the family, and by others of a similar nature.
Such resources, however humiliating and pernicious they are in their effects, are not open to the tribes living in a district almost exclusively occupied by the sheep or cattle of the settler, and where the very numbers of the stock only more completely drive away the original game upon which the native had been accustomed to subsist, and hold out a greater temptation to him to supply his wants from the superabundance which he sees around him, belonging to those by whom he has been dispossessed. The following appropriate remarks are an extract from Report of Aborigines’ Protection Society, of March, 1841, (published in the South Australian Register, 4th December, 1841.)
“Under that system it is obvious to every coloured man, even the least intelligent, that the extending settlements of the Europeans involve a sentence of banishment, and eventual extermination, upon his tribe and race. Major Mitchell, in his travels, refers to this apprehension on the part of the Aborigines —”White man come, Kangaroo go away”— from which as an inevitable consequence follows —”black man famished away.” If, then, this appears a necessary result of the unjust, barbarous, unchristian mode of colonization pursued in New Holland, over-looking the other incidental, and more pointedly aggravating provocations, to the coloured man, associated with that system, how natural, in his case, is an enmity which occasionally visits some of the usurping race with death! We call the offence in him MURDER; but let the occasion be only examined, and we must discover that, in so designating it, we are imposing geographical, or national restrictions, upon the virtue of patriotism; or that in the mani-festations of that principle, we make no allowances for the influence on its features of the relative degradation or elevation of those among whom it is met.
“Our present colonization system renders the native and the colonizing races from necessity belligerents; and there can be no real peace, no real amity, no mutual security, so long as that system is not substituted by one reconciling the interest of both races. Colonists will fall before the spears and the waddies of incensed Aborigines, and they in return will be made the victims of ‘summary justice.’
“In cases of executive difficulty, the force of popular prejudice will be apt to be too strong for the best intentioned Governor to withstand it; Europeans will have sustained injury; the strict forms of legal justice may be found of difficult application to a race outcast or degraded, although ORIGINALLY in a condition fitted to appreciate them, to benefit by them, and reflect their benefits upon others; impatient at this difficulty, the delay it may occasion, and the shelter from ultimate punishment, the temptation will ever be strong to revert to summary methods of proceeding; and thus, as in a circle, injustice will be found to flow reciprocal injury, and from injury injustice again, in another form. The source of all these evils, and of all this injustice, is the unreserved appropriation of native lands, and the denial, in the first instance of colonization, of equal civil rights. To the removal of those evils, so far as they can be removed in the older settlements, to their prevention in new colonies, the friends of the Aborigines are invoked to direct their energy; to be pacified with the attainment of nothing less; for nothing less will really suffice.”
Can it be deemed surprising that a rude, uncivilized being, driven from his home, deprived of all his ordinary means of subsistence [Note 45 at end of para.], and pressed perhaps by a hostile tribe from behind, should occasionally be guilty of aggressions or injuries towards his oppressors? The wonder rather is, not that these things do sometimes occur, but that they occur so rarely.
[Note 45: “If you can still be generous to the conquered, relieve the hunger which drives us in despair to slaughter your flocks and the men who guard them. Our fields and forests, which once furnished us with abundance of vegetable and animal food, now yield us no more; they and their produce are yours; you prosper on our native soil, and we are famishing.” — STRZELECKI’S N. S. WALES, p. 356.]
In addition to the many other inconsistencies in our conduct towards the Aborigines, not the least extraordinary is that of placing them, on the plea of protection, under the influence of our laws, and of making them British subjects. Strange anomaly, which by the former makes amenable to penalties they are ignorant of, for crimes which they do not consider as such, or which they may even have been driven to commit by our own injustice; and by the latter but mocks them with an empty sound, since the very laws under which we profess to place them, by their nature and construction are inoperative in affording redress to the injured.
[Note 46: “To subject savage tribes to the penalties of laws with which they are unacquainted, for offences which they, very possibly, regard as acts of justifiable retaliation for invaded rights, is a proceeding indefensible, except under circumstances of urgent and extreme necessity.”— Fourth Report of the Colonization Commissioners, presented to the House of Commons, 29th July, 1840.
“The late act, declaring them naturalized as British subjects, has only rendered them legally amenable to the English criminal law, and added one more anomaly to all the other enactments affecting them. This naturalization excludes them from sitting on a jury, or appearing as witnesses, and entails a most confused form of judicial proceedings; all which, taken together, has made of the Aborigines of Australia a nondescript caste, who, to use their own phraseology, are ‘neither black nor white.’”— Strzelecki’s N. S. Wales.]
If, in addition to the many evils and disadvantages the natives must necessarily be subject to from our presence, we take still further into account the wrongs they are exposed to from the ill feeling towards them which has sometimes existed among the settlers, or their servants, on the outskirts of the country; the annoyances they are harassed by, even where this feeling does not exist, in being driven away from their usual haunts and pursuits (and this is a practice often adopted by the remote grazier as a mere matter of policy to avoid trouble or the risk of a collision); we shall find upon the whole that they have often just causes of offence, and that there are many circumstances connected with their crimes which, from the peculiar position they are placed in, may well require from us some mitigation of the punishment that would be exacted from Europeans for the same misdeeds.
Captain Grey has already remarked the strong prejudice and recklessness of human life which frequently exist on the part of the settlers with regard to the natives. Nor has this feeling been confined to Western Australia alone. In all the colonies, that I have been in, I have myself observed that a harsh and unjust tone has occasionally been adopted in speaking of the Aborigines; and that where a feeling of prejudice does not exist against them, there is too often a great indifference manifested as to their fate. I do not wish it to be understood that such is always the case; on the contrary, I know that the better, and right thinking part of the community, in all the colonies, not only disavow such feelings, but are most anxious, as far as lies in their power, to promote the interests and welfare of the natives. Still, there are always some, in every settlement, whose passions, prejudices, interests, or fears, obliterate their sense of right and wrong, and by whom these poor wanderers of the woods are looked upon as intruders in their own country, or as vermin that infest the land, and whose blood may be shed with as little compunction as that of the wild animals they are compared to.
By those who have heard the dreadful accounts current in Western Australia, and New South Wales, of the slaughter formerly committed by military parties, or by the servants [Note 47 at end of para.] of the settlers upon the Aborigines, in which it is stated that men, women, and children have been surprised, surrounded and shot down indiscriminately, at their camps at night; or who have heard such deeds, or other similar ones, justified or boasted of, it will readily be believed to what an extent the feeling I have alluded to has occasionally been carried, and to what excesses it has led. [Note 48 appears after Note 47, below]
[Note 47: The following extract from a reply of his Honour the Superintendent of Port Phillip to the representation made to his Honour by the settlers and inhabitants of the district of Port Fairy, in March 1842, shews that these frightful atrocities against the natives had not even then ceased.
“That the presence of a protector in your district, and other means of prevention hitherto employed, have not succeeded better than they have done in repressing aggression or retaliation, and have failed to establish a good understanding between the natives and the European settlers, is greatly to be deplored.
“As far as the local government has power, every practicable extension of these arrangements shall be made without delay; but, gentlemen, however harsh, a plain truth must be told, the destruction of European property, and even the occasional sacrifice of European life, by the hands of the savage tribes, among whom you live, if unprovoked and unrevenged, may justly claim sympathy and pity; but the feeling of abhorrence which one act of savage retaliation or cruelty on your part will rouse, must weaken, if not altogether obliterate every other, in the minds of most men; and I regret to state, that I have before me a statement presented in a form which I dare not discredit, shewing that such acts are perpetrated among you.
“It reveals a nightly attack upon a small number of natives, by a party of the white inhabitants of your district, and the murder of no fewer than three defenceless aboriginal women and a child, in their sleeping place; and this at the very time your memorial was in the act of signature, and in the immediate vicinity of the station of two of the parties who have signed it. Will not the commission of such crimes call down the wrath of God, and do more to check the prosperity of your district, and to ruin your prospects, than all the difficulties and losses under which you labour?” Mr. Sievewright’s letter gives an account of this infamous transaction.
“WESTERN ABORIGINAL ESTABLISHMENT, THOLOR, 26TH FEBRUARY, 1842.
“Sir,— I have the honour to report that on the afternoon of the 24th instant, two aboriginal natives, named Pwe-bin-gan-nai, Calangamite, returned to this encampment, which they had left with their families on the 22nd, and reported ‘that late on the previous evening, while they with their wives, two other females, and two children, were asleep at a tea-tree scrub, called One-one-derang, a party of eight white people on horseback surrounded them, dismounted, and fired upon them with pistols; that three women and a child had been thus killed, and the other female so severely wounded as to be unable to stand or be removed by them;’ they had saved themselves and the child, named ‘Uni bicqui-ang,’ by flight, who was brought to this place upon their shoulders.
“At daybreak yesterday I proceeded to the spot indicated, and there found the dead bodies of three women, and a male child about three years of age; and also found a fourth woman dangerously wounded by gunshot wounds, and severely scorched on the limbs by the discharge of fire-arms.
“Having proceeded to the station of the Messrs. Osbrey and Smith, distant about 700 yards from where the bodies were found, and requested the presence of those gentlemen as witnesses, I proceeded to view the bodies, upon which were found the wounds as set forth in the accompanying report.
“All knowledge of this barbarous transaction is denied by the proprietors, overseer, and servants at the home station, so near to which the bodies were found, nor have I as yet obtained any information which may lead to the discovery of the perpetrators of these murders.
“I have, etc.
(Signed) “C. W. SIEVEWRIGHT.”
James Croke, Esq.,
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).
“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.
“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,
“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,
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 phraseology. 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.