In the Chamber of Horrors
Tales of Old Brisbane Town
DAILY MAIL FRIDAY JUNE 22, 1923
IN THE CHAMBER OF HORRORS
Madame Tussaud, the famous waxwork exhibition, had one section called the “Chamber of Horrors,” as it contained a choice collection of some of the most notorious scoundrels on the face of the earth.
A close observer noticed that a large section of the visitors went direct to that chamber, and among them there were usually the most cheerful and lighthearted, more so than the somber and melancholy and misanthropic.
Byron says that “quiet to quick spirits is a hell”, and is responsible for much of the crime in the world, and much of human sorrow.
Far west it has been my fate to meet men who, in drought time, had seen a whole year of beautiful blue sky, without a cloud, and they would have joyfully have welcomed the wildest, maddest, thunderstorm that ever swept over the land, even if it blew their house down.
So these cheerful people who went direct to the Chamber of Horrors were actually heart sick of the monotony of cheerfulness, and so sought for ever the briefest respite, and, for once, at least, a swift descent from the zenith to the nadir of their emotions.
The happiest people in the world have periodic phases of melancholy, for which usually no rational reason cane be given.
The correspondents who want a series of morbid tragedies are really actuated by the same hatred of monotony as Grimaldi.
Three of them want to know if it has been my lot to be present when people are hanged, what the scenes were like and how the condemned acted! We shall see how one or two of these pictures appear on this page. The poet says of Death- “Many are the ways which lead to the grim cave, all dismal.”
It has been my lot to see death in many shapes, and they were all nearly dismal. The first executions seen by me were in the old Brisbane gaol in Petrie Terrace, and the two victims, who were hanged together, were a white man and a Chinaman. The white man was a teamster from the west, a man of splendid physique, a fine looking fellow, who had deliberately shot one of his mates, at whom he fired five times before killing him.
He was only 32 years of age, and bore the name of an old time honoured English family.
It was a mournful sight to see that perfect specimen of manhood, brought out of the grim cell on that glorious morning, when the life of the city was just beginning, and the birds were singing their morning songs on the somber pines outside the gaol yard.
He had only his arms pinioned across his back, by the elbows, his legs being free, but a strong policeman held him on each side.
As he passed us he cast one swift sidelong glance, as if looking for some friendly face, then passed on to the foot of the gallows.
Arrived there he gave one look and actually ran up the steps to the platform, where he stood on the drop, and the hangman fastened his ankles.
When the rope was being adjusted, he gave his head an impatient jerk, and we heard him say, “Put the knot farther round!” Those were his last words. He was absolutely fearless and defiant, evidently his one desire being to have to over as soon as possible. He had really gone through the horrors of it all in his imagination in the condemned cell, and it was a positive relief to face the stern reality.
The Chinaman was in mortal terror, and had to be partly carried up to the platform. They stood side by side about 2ft apart, on a trap door hinged at the back, and held by a sliding bolt in front.
At a signal the hangman drew the bolt, with a lever, and the trap door fell, the two men gliding down off it into space, ending with just such a sound as any heavy object would make under the same conditions. The white man was about 12 stone in weight, and he fell stone dead, without making the slightest movement.
Both gave a slight convulsive start when they felt the trap door going from under them. The Chinaman struggled for about a minute, and kicked both his shoes off.
When cut down, his body was handed to Baron Mikhoule Macleay, a visiting Russian scientist, who had to cut John’s head off, a privelege given by the Home Secretary, and he asked Jack Hamilton and myself, the only two members of Parliament present, to remain and witness the act of decapitation. The Baron took the head away to a back room in the Museum, for anatomical purposes, to decide if the skull of the Mongolian was built the same as that of the European. That, of course, was all bunkum, as hundreds of Mongolian skulls were familiar to comparative anatomists long before that date.
Was present when a notorious aboriginal known as “Johnny Campbell” was hanged. His native name was “Parpoonya” a very powerful determined man, who showed no fear whatever upon the gallows. Like the Western teamster, it was a relief to get away from the monotony of gaol, and brooding over the final catastrophe. He, too, fell stone dead and his body was given to the Russian scientist Baron Macleay, who dumped it in a cask of rum, or as much rum as Johnny left room for, labeled it “Dugong Oil,” and consigned it to a St. Petersburg scientific society.
When going up the Baltic, and the Gulf of Finland, the Russian sailors could only understand the word “oil”, and having a weakness for fat or oil of any sort, and assuming that Dugong oil must be a special and expensive brand to be sent so far with such care, they decided to “tap the Admiral,” and so bored a gimlet hole in the cask, and drank everything inside, except Johnny Campbell. When the corpus delicti of the redoubtable Queensland aboriginal was delivered to the scientific society, and they knocked out the end, the perfume was wafted over St. Petersburg in a thick cloud, and the members of the Scientific Society drove rapidly out of town in two horse droskys to get some fresh air.
There has only been one woman hanged in Queensland, a woman who assited a man to murder her own husband on the Mosman River, near Port Douglas.
THE WORLD NEWS
TRAGEDIES AND COMEDIES
MEDLEY OF REMARKABLE FACTS
The following facts are likely to be interesting or instructive, or both, to a majority of “The World’s News” readers. They are from the experiences of our early explorers by sea and land, some from the adventures of the pioneers, and two or three recorded in my own career.
Recently a writer in a Victorian paper gave an erroneous origin of the name of the Huon pine of Tasmania.
That pine was named from Huon Kermadee, commander of the Esperance, a ship in the expedition of D’Entrecasteaux, in 1792. He was the first white man who saw that pine, and he also shot the first black swan ever seen or heard of in Tasmania, on May1, but they saw hundreds of swans on their return there in December of the same year. He mentions that the blacks of Tasmania used a double-ended spear, hardened in the fire, that they had no front teeth knocked out, and “hated the sound of a violin,” so the fiddler was probably not a Camilla Urso, or Paganini, and our own love or hatred of a fiddle depends on the performer, so we sympathise with the Tasmanian of 1792.
Huon mentions the remarkable fact of seeing seven fruit trees which had been planted by Captain Bligh – three figs, two pomegranates, one quince, and one apple – so the blacks had evidently not touched them.
Sir Thomas Mitchell mentions in his journal that the blacks never meddled with any marks he made on trees, or any temporary bridges he built, and it may be mentioned here that the wild blacks never touched the tree marks, pegs or posts of the early surveyors.
In a recent article by me on our birds, there was a mention of their rising in such numbers as to make a noise like a storm or surf.
Sir Thomas Mitchell, referring to the waterfowl rising from “Tooring-orra” Lagoon, on the Warran, wrote that “their rising all at once was like the sound of thunder, heard remote.”
On my first visit to Armidale, as a boy, it was my fate to be witness of a very tragical episode on the racecourse, on the day of the races. Two fine young fellows, Allingham and Proctor, started off for a friendly gallop, Proctor riding a grey horse with a dash of the Arab.
The grey bolted off the track to the inside, and, when being pulled back on to the track, he crossed at right angles in front of Allingham, whose horse struck Proctor’s grey on the flank, turned a complete somersault, and fell on top of Allingham, killing him on the spot. There was no blame for Proctor, whose horse was really out of control. That is my recollection of the tragedy, and, being a spectator, not more than 100 yards away, it is probably correct.
An amazing accident was seen by me on another New England racecourse in the same year, but was it Inverrell or Uralla? Some “World News” reader will remember.
In this case the course was round a lagoon, and two mad wags, one a butcher, the other a blacksmith, started from the grandstand in opposite directions to decide who would be first at an equidistant point at the back of the course. Approaching each other, they were evidently not versed in the rule of the road, and so pulled from side to side, in fatal uncertainty, until the foreheads of both horses came together on the same track, and then the waters came down at Lodore!
Both horse fell back stone dead, and the two riders were shot into space as if fired by a gigantic catapult. The butcher landed first, and so described a pirouettes curves and slides finally coming to repose without more ado than an unusual shock and a belief that he had been through two earthquakes and a boiler explosion!
His fat had acted as a safety buffer, but the lean son of Vulcan had no lard concealed about him, and so he struck the ground like his own sledge hammer, and had his collar bone broken.
Had one been fired into the other they would certainly have been killed as dead as their horses.
Also in the same year, on the Glen Innes racecourse, there was quite a different episode. My attention was drawn to a very plainly dressed bushman with a horse and cart, two or three bags of chaff, and a little lucerne. He was addressing the spectators in a loud voice, while standing in the cart, and soon had a big audience. He told them their racehorses were only imitations, and nothing like the brilliant Barbs and Eclipses of his young days.
Finally he expressed a firm opinion that his old cart horse could beat the lot of them. This evoked much mirth and a good deal of sarcasm, and he made a fine artful show of being “real wild”, and said he would enter his cart horse for the half mile race, and back him for all he was worth, as he had a few hundred to spare. He had a confidential friend who offered to bet him a level fifty that the cart horse would be fifty yards behind and the bet was promptly accepted. Caught by this simple device genuine bets that the horse would not win came in, to the amount of about £300, and when they were all recorded the simple bushman took his steed out of the cart, removed the harness, got a jockey’s saddle and bridle, and then asked presumably a strange youth looking on if he would ride for him. The strange youth consented, and the cart horse rubbed his nose on that youth as if they were old friends. Then the gentlemen who were in a hurry with their bets observed that the cart horse was a beautiful animal, about 16 hands, with all the action of a first class racer, and they began to feel as if slightly seasick, a complaint which increased when they saw the cart horse with the jockey on his back and on his way to the starting post. There were, as far as my memory is concerned, about 15 starters, and the cart horse took prompt leave of all at the start, and came in hard held, with about 50 yards to spare between him and the second horse! That cart horse was one of the fastest half mile sprinters in New South Wales, and the artless youth who rode him was one of the most experienced jockeys. It was all artistically done, and there can never fade from my memory the picture of that innocent looking cart horse, the simple unsophisticated bush man, the allegedly amateur jockey, and the seasick “smart Alicks” who were prepared to take the simple bushman down for all he was worth!
When McIntyre and his party, in search of runs in 1864, were going north from the Paroo to the Gulf, they found the bodies of Curlewis and McCulloch, pioneer squatters, who were killed while asleep by the blacks. They then went west for three weeks, on the way to Cooper’s Creek, and followed Burke and Wills’ track north to the Cloncurry River. Some distance west of Burke’s track, and about 300 miles south from the Gulf, they saw two old saddle-marked horses near a creek, traces of two camps, and two L marked trees. That was the McIntyre selected as leader for the expedition, to be paid for by the ladies of Victoria, and to go in search of Leichhardt, but, unfortunately, he contracted the malarial fever of the Gulf at that time, and died.
In any case, what the hope of finding Leichhardt 16 years after he was lost?
A full history of Torres would be one of the most fascinating and tragical volumes ever written. On no other part of the Australian coast have there been so many tragedies and thrilling historical scenes, since the days of Torres and de Quiros, to the wreck of the Quetta. And in fine weather today, you can sail among those glorious “green islands in glittering seas where fragrant forests perfume the breeze,” and imagine yourself in a marine Paradise where truly every prospect pleases, and it seems impossible for even man himself to be vile. Yet these beautiful islands were inhabited by merciless cannibal savages, quite a distinct race from the Australian aboriginal and there are dreadful records of the fate of shipwrecked mariners, and cannibal feats at one of which 18 men-o’-wars-men were killed and eaten. But how many awful tragedies have never been recorded; those that forever must remain hidden in the imperious silence of Time?
Among all that procession and panorama of ancient mariners, who are now only shadowy phantoms to us, silhouetted far off on the horizon or for ever vanished years there passes Captain Bligh, one of the immortals in that Bounty launch, in which, in 1791, he passes through Torres Strait and steers away for Coepang. It is all now only a wild romantic wondrous dissolving view, a mysterious fascination phantasmagoric picture, visible only on the spectral canvas of the Imagination, or in that celestial and wondrous art gallery which fertile fancy peoples with the divine creations worthy of the immortal gods!
Port Phillip, the harbor of Melbourne, was discovered by Lieutenant Murray in the brig Nelson in 1802. It is very remarkable that Captain Cook missed discovering Sydney Harbor, when he passed it so near the coast, and yet, if you look at the entrance today, from even five miles out to sea, you can readily understand the great navigator dismissing a sight of the Heads by merely writing, “Saw an opening in ye land.”
But Phillip had a copy of Cook’s Chart, and when he found Botany Bay was not a fit place for settlement, he thought of Cook’s “opening in ye land,” and on the 22nd of January 1788, he and Captain Hunter went away with a party and three boast to have a look, and found it one of the finest harbors in the world. Cook discovered Moreton Bay in 1770, but he called it “Glass House Bay,” from the Glass House Mountains, and the name of today is a mistake. Cook’s Morton Bay was the great sweep in the coast from Point Danger to Cape Moreton.
How many people know that “Donkin’s Hill,” on the Australian coast, was named in 1820, by Captain King of the Mermaid, in honor of Donkin, the inventor of preserved meats? And how many people have ever heard of Donkin?
Yet King writes: “I named it Donkin’s Hill in honor of Donkin, the inventor of preserved meats, on a tin of which I and our party dined.”
“We had lately used a case preserved in 1814, equally good as some packed in 1818. This was the first time it was used on our boat excursions, and the result answered every expectation, as it prevented that excess of thirst and distress from which we suffered in all other previous expeditions.”
And that was 109 years ago, when Donkin preserved beef apparently as well as today!
Newcastle, the great coal centre of New South Wales, was called “Kingstown,” in 1818, and not Newcastle for some years afterwards. Illawarra for years was known as the “Five Islands District,” and the Lake Illawarra of today was “Lake Alowrie” of the early days. In that dialect, “Illa” was water, and “warra,” was bad, so that “Illawarra” was actually “bad water,” and was probably the name of some unclean lagoon.
Recently met a fine old fellow, whose father was drowned in the Gundagai flood of June 25, 1852, when 77 people lost their lives, that and the recent flood at Clermont, in Central Queensland, being the worst in Australian history in the sacrifice of life.
On Myall Creek Station, near Warialda, in November, 1838, there were 28 aboriginals murdered by white men, ex-convict stockmen and shepherds. At first nine were arrested, tried, and got off, but seven were again arrested, tried, and hanged together on the gallows on Brickfield Hill.
They were defended by Foster A’Beckett and Windeyer, prosecuted by Plunkett and Therry, afterwards judge and author of “Therry’s Reminiscences.”
THE DAILY MAIL, BRISBANE. 7 JANUARY 1924
TALES OF OLD TIMES
IDENTITIES OF THE DOWNS
SOME LACONIC GENTLEMEN
LURID COMMENT IN THE ASSEMBLY
Many hundreds of Queenslanders still living will clearly remember all the men mentioned in these anecdotes’ men whose family names will long be familiar in Queensland history. With myself they were all personal acquaintances in the years that have gone.
A once well-known man, squatter, and politician, and nearly 10 years Postmaster General, was Thomas Lodge Murray Prior, who took up Maroon station, near Mount Lindesay, and became in after years father of Mrs. Campbell Praed, the brilliant Queensland novelist.
One of his sons, Tom Prior, was one of the two first white men to reach the top of Mount Lindesay, the other being Mr. Pearse, then a tutor on Maroon, and who in after years acted as Police Magistrate at Warwick in the 1870s.
When the diggings started in 1851, in New South Wales, the next two or three years saw a stampede of all classes of men from all parts of Australia. Among them were the shepherds, stockmen, shearers, cooks, and bullock drivers, so that the squatters were driven to many devices to overcome the labour problem.
One of these was the introduction of Chinese shepherds, of whom there were 300 on the Darling Downs alone in 1854.
But John was no use as a bullock driver or stockman, though he was at home as cook, shepherd, and shearer.
If the aboriginals occasionally regarded John as some strange animal with his tail on the back of his head, instead of in the kangaroo position, and speared him, there was no fuss about it. The fact was not even reported, and another John took his place, all going as serenely as if nothing had happened.
Among the squatters who acted as their own bullock drivers was Murray Prior, who spoke with a decided Oxford “hah,” and had all the proud airs of a Plantagent. He was in every sense a gentleman, with the respect of all classes, and so the “hah” was forgiven him.
He was driving his team on the occasion from Maroon to Brisbane, and about where Goodna is today he met a team going to the Downs.
The driver, not knowing Prior, and taking him for any ordinary teamster approached him familiarly, and said, “Look here, me blanky covey, can you spare a quart of rum!”
And Prior, with great dignity, replied, “How dare you address mew in that vulgar manner, when you ought to see that I am a gentleman driving my own team!”
That was a permanent joke against Prior, and was a source of much merriment among the bullock drivers who frequently had a burlesque rehearsal among themselves.
William Henry Traill, one of the ablest of Australian journalists, and for some years editor and part proprietor of the “Bulletin,” told an amusing story of Murray Prior.
Traill was his guest at Maroon, and they were all at supper, among those present being the beautiful 16 year old girl who afterwards became Mrs. Praed, the novelist. She was a daughter of a mother, who was one of the handsomest women in Queensland, even when I was her husband’s guest in 1874. (Norah Barton).
When Prior started to talk, everybody else could do nothing but sit and listen. Traill declared to me that Prior, at the start of the dinner, cut off a small piece of mutton, intended for the first mouthful, poised it on his fork, and started to talk. He was still talking with the mutton on his fork when the dessert was being cleared away! He did exactly the same when he was his guest.
The Thorns, of Ipswich, were an historic family in Queensland, the first being old George Thorn, who had been a sergeant of militia in England, and came out in charge of a lot of convicts. He finally became superintendent of the first convicts sent up to start a settlement at what was called “Limestone,” from the rock formation, the site of the present Ipswich. When the convict settlement was abolished, and the convicts were withdrawn to Sydney in 1839, those at Limestone were included, so that George Thorn’s official position ended, and he decided to remain and become the first free settler in what is now Ipswich.
He was fine, genial old fellow, a general favourite, and he built and kept the first public house in Ipswich, a substantial slab building roofed with stringy bark. He had four sons, Harry, George, Charley, and Willie, and George became member for Ipswich, and Premier of Queensland when Arthur Macalister resigned the Premiership and went to London as Agent-General in 1874. The others were all squatters, one of their stations being Normanby, in the Fassifern district. Harry went west to Dalby, and took up Warra station, and was living there when the line west from Dalby was being constructed. Harry was a genial, good natured fellow, very generous to the navies, who swore by him; and George persuaded him to stand as a candidate for the Northern Downs. George was a political and electioneering artist of the first water, and he knew that a solid navy vote would put Harry in, in calm defiance of the fact that Harry had never spoken in public in his life, and could not make an eloquent speech to anything except a bullock, to save his immortal soul.
At his first address to the electors, Harry stood on a grey gum stump, and the chairman, who told me the story, sat on the butt log. Around Harry were gathered as wild a collection of red blooded democrats as ever faced a Queensland orator. They had a fixed purpose to return Harry, regardless of his opinions, or even if he had no opinions at all. Likewise that free and independent crowd knew that Harry had ordered three hogsheads of beer from Brisbane, and that all that beautiful beer was housed in a shanty not far off.
So when Harry rose to remark “Gentlemen!” a hundred voices yelled in chorus, “Three blanky cheers for Harry Thorn!”
And there were cheers that scared every bird and animal for a mile.
Harry tried three times to start with “Gentlemen,” and never got any further, being at once drowned in those terrible cheers.
Finally he said to the chairman on the butt of the log: “Mr. Chairman, I can’t go on with my speech; let us finish the whole blanky business, and everybody come and have a drink!” The cheers at this stage made cracks in the earth, and they drank Harry’s health until nothing was left of those three hogsheads except the staves. And Harry went in at the head of the poll, and sat in Parliament without ever saying a word.
The member who made the next shortest speech was the late James Lalor, a strong McIlwraith supporter from the Maranoa. Taking emphatic exception one night to a remark from some member on his own side, he rose and said, “Mr. Speaker, I tell the honourable member it is a … lie.” James was the “Single Speech Hamilton” of our Parliament. Being present at the occasion, and hearing that speech, there is no doubt about its accuracy, and it was also duly reported in Hansard. Morehead rose to observe that “after that eloquent speech of the honourable member for Maranoa the House might adjourn for refreshments!” Whereas there was a considerable ripple of hilarity.
In Ipswich, in my time, when editing the “Ipswich Observer” in the 1870s, there were two doctors, one being Dr. William McTaggart Dorsay, and the other Dr. Von Lossberg.
One of Dr. Dorsay’s daughters married Sir Joshua Peter Bell and another married Robert Gray, who was for a long time Under-Secretary in the Home Secretary’s Office, and for years one of the three Railway Commissioners. Von Lossberg was a Prussian, and a big six feet, 15 stone man like Dorsay.
Between them there was an Orsini and Colonna vendetta, and to me it was a source of considerable entertainment. Both were good fellows and my personal friends, but in that wild period of my wayward youth, the love of mischief overcame me.
I informed Lossberg confidentially that Dorsay’s father was a notorious pirate, and that his mother was a McTaggart, who came from one of the most blood thirsty of the Scottish clans, who were all cannibals.
This gave much joy to Lossberg, who increased in weight for a week or two.
Dorsay was informed by me also confidentially, that the name Lossberg came from the words “loss” a man, and “berg” a stone, and was the name of a blood thirsty tribe of cannibal Prussians who lived in the dark depths of the Black Forest, made periodic raids on peaceable tribes, whom they murdered and roasted on hot stones for a cannibal feast. Dorsay, on hearing this, would insist on shouting with great enthusiasm!
There was once no better known sea captain on the East Australian coast than Captain Lake, whose name will strike a sympathetic chord through hundreds of Australian hearts. Lake never lost but one vessel, a small vessel, called the “Sable Chief,” on the way from the Fitzroy River to Gladstone with a cargo of wood.
Among my researches in old newspapers, I find the following letter addressed to “N. Towns and Co.” from Gladstone on December 31, 1857, in the Sydney “Empire,” Henry Parkes’ paper, on January 5, 1858.
The letter says: “The vessel was lost about six miles off Gatcombe Island, on my way from Fitzroy River to Gladstone. On the 26th we went out to the wreck, if possible to save more cargo. After going about three miles outside Gatcombe Head it began to blow so hard that we were compelled to go back and anchor inside. We walked across the island to see what remained. We found the masts gone, and the vessel breaking up. On Saturday we found the vessel had quite gone. Several bales of wool were on shore, and on Sunday we got 13 bales, slept on the island and got 40 more, making 50 bales recovered. On Tuesday we went out again but could see no more, so I went at once to Gladstone. The Sable Chief is fully insured.”
LIFE AMONG THE BLACKS
SAVAGE AND CIVILISED MAN
What we are pleased to call “civilisation” is only a very thin veneer on the surface of the old savage man underneath. The average man, in a rage, is purely the primeval savage. If civilized man goes to war, he becomes a savage and more, and all the accumulated artificial veneer of thousands of years is rubbed off in his first battle, and he is just as ferocious and merciless, and bloodthirsty as any tribe of cannibal savages in Central Africa.
It is one of these cold-blooded, unsentimental facts, which are not pleasant, but which it is well for us to ponder over occasionally, and learn a little wisdom thereby – if possible! We have seen how soon Duramboi went back to a wild state, and even to cannibalism. He was a pure savage, when Stuart Russell found him among the blacks of the Mary River. Buckley was merely a white savage when found among the blacks in 1836, after 33 years, but his intellect was much inferior to that of the aboriginal.
In the year 1832 a convict named Bracefell escaped from the Moreton Bay penal settlement, two years after the murder of Logan by his own men.
Duramboi had gone north, and Bracefell took the same direction, finally being adopted by the Noosa River tribe, by whom he was called “Wandye,” the word for “wild,” and also one of the names of the dingo. He had been 10 years with the blacks when found by Andrew Petrie and Stuart Russell in 1843, when they were on their way to Wide Bay.
Bracefell knew the story of Duramboi, and had met him at various meetings of the Mary and Noosa tribes, so he told Petrie and Russell, and acted as pilot across the Wide Bay bar, along Sandy Strait, and up the Mary River, to the tribe with whom Duramboi was camped.
Bracefell was one of the most intelligent of all that escaped white men, and after his return to Brisbane he prepared a map, giving a remarkably accurate feature survey of the country, from Noosa to the Mary, and it was sent to the Governor of New South Wales. Where is that map today? It ought to be in the Mitchell Library.
Bracefell had a mate when he escaped, and some aboriginal woman regarded him as the reincarnation of a long lost son until one day, when down at the beach, gathering yugarie, he took a bark coolamin out of the hollow of a tree, emptied all the bones and carried it back to the camp full of yugarie. The coolamin was at once recognised, and the relatives of the dead man killed the convict, regarding him as an imposter, quite certain that no genuine aboriginal would desecrate the bones of the dead, which were always regarded with great reverence by all aboriginals.
Bracefell, even in the ten years, had become a savage, and could throw the spear and boomerang with great dexterity. When he had been about three years with the blacks, the ship Stirling Castle was wrecked on Elizabeth Reef, far away to the East, on her return from Sydney to London, and the survivors, including Captain Fraser, and his wife, finally reached the shore of Fraser Island, - the “Great Sandy Island” of the early maps, where the blacks treated them kindly, and passed them over to the mainland at Inskip Point, so that the coast tribes could pass them along to the penal station at Moreton Bay.
We have only Mrs. Fraser’s story for what happened after that, but she must have either had a serious quarrel with truth, or else her head was badly affected by her experience, for she told one tale at the penal settlement, quite a different story to Sydney, and a different version in London.
Certainly she gave a wildly improbable tale in Brisbane, accusing the blacks of deeds quite foreign to their known character, and quite unheard of before or since, in aboriginal annals. She also behaved towards Bracefell with an ingratitude inconceivable in any sane woman under the circumstances.
Bracefell deliberately risked his own life by getting her away secretly from the blacks, and traveling south along the beach, where the tide would wash out their tracks, successfully avoiding all other blacks on the way, until he and Mrs. Fraser safely reached within sight of Brisbane, or on to the track from Eagle Farm to the settlement.
Bracefell was of opinion that his action in rescuing the white woman from the blacks would be rewarded by a full pardon for his escape, but when she found herself in sight of white people, and fairly safe, she threatened Bracefell to make a serious charge against him to the authorities, and this so scared him that he put her on the Eagle Farm track, and went back his lonely way to the blacks, with whom he resided for another seven years until found by Petrie and Russell.
Bracefell and Duramboi both declared that Mrs. Fraser’s tales in Brisbane, Sydney, and London, were evolved from her own imagination, and old blacks at Noosa and Fraser Island, in 1874, told me a story very different from that of the lady, and 1874 and 1836 were only 38 years apart. Her subsequent actions clearly showed that she was certainly not quite sane, so she may be forgiven.
Bracefell took Petrie and Russell to the rescue of Duramboi, and they all came back together to Brisbane. In after years, Bracefell was killed by a falling tree when felling scrub at Goodna.
In the year 1838 a man named Fahey came out on a life sentence prisoner in the ship Clyde.
Four years afterwards a party of convicts, including Fahey, were working on the public road near the present Armidale of New England.
The overseer was one of those heartless savage human devils who treated the convicts as if they were ferocious wild beasts, and goaded them to desperation by frequent, merciless floggings on the most trivial pretences. But there came a day of reckoning, and it seems the two soldier guards joined in the transaction, as it was not possible without their acquiescence.
The convicts first tied the overseer very securely to a hurdle, and then laid him carefully on top of a big nest of soldier ants, the real red warriors that stood on their hind legs and pawed the air in their fierce anxiety to get at you. When they had done with that overseer there was only a nice clean, white skeleton suitable for an anatomical museum.
Fahey told Lieutenant Bligh of the Native Police, in 1854, that he could still hear the yells of that overseer, and that date was 12 years after the event!
After the soldier ant episode, Fahey and three others escaped, and were passed along by the “Yoocum” speaking blacks of New England, finally to the “Waccah” speaking blacks of the Bunya Mountains, where Bligh and his troopers found him in 1854, and brought him to Brisbane.
Fahey had gone “wild”, could throw the spear and boomerang, speak the language fluently, and had his breast tattooed with the “Moolgarra” scars, so they must have passed him through the Boar ceremony, a distinction not claimed by any of the other Australian white men. Fahey was taken to Sydney, identified by the superintendent of convicts, and actually was given 12 months’ hard labour for absconding 12 years before!
The blacks had given him the name of “Gillburri,” of the names of the spine-tailed swift. He was adopted by the blacks in the same year Duramboi and Wandye were brought back to civilisation, so that in another year these three wild white men might have met at the great triennial festival at the Bunya Mountains.
The three men who escaped with Fahey were never seen or heard of again, probably being killed by blacks, whose anger they had excited by a breach of some law, whose violations meant death.
In the year 1846 a barque, called the Peruvian, bound from Sydney for China, with a cargo of timber, mostly red cedar, was wrecked on a reef far east of Cape Cleveland, which is near Townsville.
It was one of the most terrible tragedies in the history of wrecks, and yet not one sentence of that awful story was given to the world for 17 years afterwards, when the sole survivor at that time was found living among the wild blacks of the Burdekin River.
After the wreck the captain’s brother perished next morning, and the others were washed away from the vessel on a raft, which carried three ladies, two children, two men passengers, the captain, carpenter, Sailmaker, cook, four able seamen, four apprentices, and two black men – a total of 21.
Their food and water rapidly diminished. They caught a few birds, drank their blood, and ate the flesh.
Then James Quarry and his child died,, to be at once thrown over and eaten by the sharks, which followed the raft day and night.
Then two of the children and Mrs. Wilmot died, and one by one followed them to the jaws of ravenous sharks.
The survivors cut a leg from a dead man, tied it up to the end of an oar, and caught a shark, which they ate raw.
It was such a scene as Dante, the gloomy Florentine, might have sketched in his Inferno.
After 42 days on that awful raft through horrors that baffle the imagination, seven miserable survivors, landed on the southern end of Cape Cleveland, including Captain Pitketchly and wife, George Wilmot, James Gooley, Jack Millar, James Murrells, and one of the boys.
Wilmot and Gooley died soon after landing, and Millar went away in a black’s canoe, and died of starvation at Cape Upstart.
After 14 days the others were found by the blacks, who treated them kindly, and gave them plenty to eat.
The Cape Cleveland blacks took the captain and his wife,, and Murrells and the boy went with another tribe to Mt. Elliott, the Bunggolungga of the blacks of the Burdekin, which they called “Mal-Mal.”
Two years afterwards the captain, his wife, and the boy died, and Murrells, who had come from Maldon, in Essex, was left alone, of all the party.
He was 17 years with the blacks, spoke their language fluently, and was expert with all their weapons.
On January 25, 1863, he walked up to a newly forming cattle station on the Burdekin, and was nearly shot by one of the men, in mistake for an aboriginal. He called out, “Don’t shoot. I’m a British object!” having forgotten his own language.
At the time of his death he was a warehouseman in the Customs at Bowen.
He married a white woman, and had a son, who sold in 1887 for £10,000 an allotment bought for him at the first sale of Townsville land, in Bowen for £8, the upset price.
W. O. HODGKINSON
QUEENSLANDER’S GREAT WORK
Of all the old explorers, Hodgkinson was the best known to Queenslanders, having lived the best part of his life in this State, been for some years a member of the Queensland Parliament, and a Minister of the Crown in one of the Griffith Ministries.
He first appears on the page of history as a member of the Burke and Wills Expedition, which left Melbourne on August 20, 1860, with 17 white men, three Indian camel drivers, 26 camels, and 28 horses, all under the command of Robert O’Hara Burke, with Landell and Wills as second and third officers.
At Menindie, on the Darling, Burke foolishly divided his party, leaving the majority there to follow and join him at Cooper’s Creek.
At Menindie, Landell resigned, his place being taken by Wills, whose position was given to a man named Wright, manager of a station in the district. This man was an evil genius of the whole party, and responsible for all the disasters that followed.
Burke and Wills, with six men, half the camels and horses, arrived at Cooper’s Creek on November 11, to remain there until the arrival of Wright’s party, but as there was no appearance of Wright up to December 16, Burke decided to take Wills, King and Grey, six camels, one horse, and three months’ provisions, and start for the Gulf.
Wright wasted three months’ valuable time at Menindie, where four of his men died with fever, Becker, Purcell, Stone, and Paton.
One of the party was W. O. Hodgkinson, and if he had been placed in charge, instead of Wright, the Burke and Wills tragedy would never have happened, for he was a man prompt of speech and rapid in action, and would likely have been at Cooper’s Creek as soon as Burke and Wills. As a final excuse for delay, Wright decided on sending Hodgkinson on a 500 mile journey to Melbourne, by himself, for more money to buy horses and sheep, and Hodgkinson went and returned in 21 days, being only one day in Melbourne when he started back, so he must have ridden at least 50 miles daily for 20 days.
He told me the whole journey cost him only 2s, as no one would charge him for anything, and his whole expenses represented 2s punt ferries for himself and horse.
The next appearance of Hodgkinson is the second in command of John McKinlay’s expedition sent out in search of Burke, of Burke and Wills, leaving Adelaide on August 16, 1861, with 10 men, 24 horses, 4 camels, 12 bullocks, and 100 sheep, arriving at Cooper’s Creek on December 6,, Burke’s grave next day under a tree, with his initials and the date, 21-9-61.
As the fate of Burke and Wills had been settled by A. W. Howitt, who buried the remains, and rescued King, who had been kindly treated by the blacks, there was no further search to be made, so McKinlay decided to start for the Gulf across the Australian continent.
McKinlay was a stern, determined Scot, swift to think and act when there was stern work to do, like his fiery old Highland ancestors who wore the McKinlay tartan, with its red, white, green and blue pattern. The Irish branch spelt the name McKinley and MacKinley.
Before finally leaving the Central area, McKinlay took Wylde and Hodgkinson in a rapid trip to the westward for 50 or 60 miles, where they saw only dry lakes, dry creeks, red sandhills, and stones. They crossed part of Sturt’s Desert, which showed a weird spectacle of floods and mud, very different from the scene presented to Sturt. They passed Sturt’s Ponds and Lake Hodgkinson, named by McKinlay, and when about 50 miles from Lake Yamma Yamma, McKinlay was doubtful about his position, and asked Hodgkinson to take their latitude and longitude.
He himself had no scientific knowledge whatever, and a sextant, a prismatic compass, or an artificial horizon was no more use to him than a gridiron in deciding his locality.
Hodgkinson and Middleton were the only members of the party capable of taking the latitude. McKinlay had packed the instruments among the tea and sugar and flour, and they were somewhat out of order.
So after Hodgkinson had adjusted his horizon, and given a critical glances at Alpha Centauri, or Cygni, or Aldebaran, he solemnly assured his astonished leader that “we are now 60 miles west of Bangkok, the capital of Siam!”
Then McKinlay rose from his seat on a gidya log, and walked sadly away to tell Middleton, that Hodgkinson had gone mad, and would he find their latitude? Middleton was also a humorist, so he adjusted his horizon, took calm survey of Cor- Borealis, Arcturus, or Vega, then turned to the astounded McKinlay to say, “We are about 50 miles east of Christchurch, New Zealand!”
Then McKinlay spent the next five minutes cursing the evil fate that sent him across the Australian continent with a pair of scarlet lunatics.
Their route took them across the Cloncurry River to the Leichhardt, and the Albert, which they reached on May 13, and on the 21st they started away south-east for Port Denison and Bowen, taking two days to get the party over the Burdekin. They had more or less continuous sickness on the journey, and much suffering from fever and gastric troubles.
On July 30 they killed their last camel, “Siva,” and ate him, though in a country swarming with game.
They reached Harvey and Somer’s station on the Bowen, and nearly killed themselves by eating roast beef and new damper.
In his journal, McKinlay wrote: “The flour, during the night, and for some days after, had the most astonishing effect on all of us, as our digestive organs could not digest the bread, being so accustomed to the easily digested meat. We were in great pain, and our legs and feet swelled very much.”
A month after Landsborough reached Melbourne from the Gulf, after his search for Burke and Wills, news came of McKinlay’s arrival at Bowen, the first news since he had discovered Grey’s grave on Cooper’s Creek.
On arrival in Melbourne he and Landsborough had a great public reception at the Exhibition, and highly eulogistic speeches were made by Dr. Cairns and the Hon. M. Hervey.
McKinlay had a high opinion of Hodgkinson, his energy, courtesy, and intelligence.
Now we come to the time when W. O. Hodgkinson went out as leader of the “North-West Expedition” for the Queensland Government in 1870.
This man, who had been in the Burke and Wills Expedition, and second in command with McKinlay in 1861, was now to be the supreme leader of an expedition into far North-West Queensland.
His party included Norman McLeod, a German named Kayser, William Carr Boyd, and a black trooper named Larry.
Carr Boyd, who was well known to me, was a son of Dr. Carr Boyd, one of the best classical scholars of his time, and for years editor of the “Queensland Times,” of Ipswich, and was a tall, athletic Queenslander, about six feet two and a good, all round, genial, fine fellow, slightly eccentric.
The party went from the Cloncurry copper mine to Lake Coongi, in South Australia, and thence by the western boundary of Queensland to the Gulf of Carpentaria, returning to the east coast via Cloncurry, Normanton, and the Flinders.
No Australian explorer – not even Sir Thomas Mitchell, or Sir George Grey – has given more graphic or poetic pictures of the country passed over, or the scenes surveyed. On page 22 of his diary, we have the following perfect picture of a scene on a lonely waterhole on Manner’s Creek, in a period of severe drought:- “A naturalist might here procure specimens of the whole fauna and aiv-fauna of the district. Thirst, which conquers fear, brings them all together. These two daily decreasing pools are the resort of every living creature for miles around. The timid emu and plain turkey, the stealthy native dog, await their opportunity. A passing pelican pauses to see if a fish is left, and a couple of herons and a spoonbill stand motionless for hours, while four or five shags actively search every square foot, most of the water so shallow that their attempts to dive are ridiculous. Cockatoos, galahs, and other noisy members of the parrot family, scream loudly in the adjoining trees, while countless finches, and parroqueets, and Java sparrows, chirp and twitter from dawn to sunset. Birds of prey swoop down upon the flights at the water, pursuer and pursued, impelled by hunger and terror, dashing wildly into the thick, poligonum around. Grave, but active, the ubiquitous crow walks warily about, now seizing some morsel from the camp, or securing some unfortunate wounded bird, disabled, but not clutched, by the swooping falcon. Night too, has its active nocturnal army, for then the smaller marsupials travel their well worn tracks, nightjars swoop with noiseless wing, and strange cries rise above the ceaseless murmur of the foliage.
The very timber bordering the creek reveals the nature of the climate. Warped in all fantastic shapes, thick of bark and meager of foliage, it is formed equally to resist the rushing torrents of floods, or the burning sun and scorching winds, of droughts. All is in extremes – fiery heat or chilling cold.”
Not one of all the other explorers has left to us so graphic a picture as that; but Hodgkinson had often an eloquent pen, and was capable of being also eloquent of speech.
They left the Cloncurry River in April, 1876, and on May 12 passed over rolling downs in sight of Mounts Aplin, Birnie, Bruce, Murray, and Merlin, named 15 years before by Robert O’Hara Burke.
Blacks were very numerous, but a strict watch was kept, as Hodgkinson was not the man to take any foolish chances. From start to finish he never fired a shot at an aboriginal, and maintained amicable terms throughout the journey, though several times strongly tempted to hostile acts by the threatening demeanour of some of the blacks.
On May 16 they were on the Diamantina, crossing rolling plains of sun cracked calcareous soil, tessellated by patches of trapped rocks and ironstone pebbles. Emus and bustards (plain turkeys) were very numerous. Passed hills of red sand, through gidya scrubs, and over undulating downs. On the 19th, heavy rains, and game in great abundance, including black duck, wood duck, teal, and the crested bronzewing pigeons, with many dingoes howling in the night. Began on the 17th to eat a thick leaved plant called portulae, known to bushmen as “pigface,” and found it a useful vegetable food, and excellent anti-scorbutic, and the verdict is quite correct.
On May 31, they caught many splendid fish the blacks called “Ulderra,” known to Western men today as the yellow perch, one of the best fish in Australia. They also got a rock cod called “Cooeeya,” and he says the blacks called the Diamantine “Gnappera,” but that was merely from their word “gnappa” for water, and said it ran into a lake called “Thirda” one of the native names of Lake Eyre.
A lot of friendly blacks presented them with two clay ovens full of a roasted root called “Wantye,” shaped like a radish, and tasting like a sweet potato. Then on across spinifex covered sandhills, flooded creeks, claypan flats, open downs, through scrubs of mulga, gidya, and poligonum, past lagoons covered by wild fowl and cork trees crowded with nests of Java sparrows, passing numerous tribes of blacks, and he and his party dieting on portulae, fish, ducks, pelicans, pigeons, and salt beef, sometimes with food in abundance, and occasionally very hungry, with more than a fair share of heavy rain.
In July they reached Lake Hodgkinson, named by McKinlay, swarming with fish and wildfowl, a beautiful sheet of water set in a glorious border of emerald clover, with an outer ring of handsome box gums, all enclosed by a circle of picturesque sandhills. They saw their first swan on that lake, and near there were some huge native graves, one 18ft long, 10ft wide, and 4ft high, made of sand, boughs, and logs. They camped by a lagoon on the Mulligan, with ducks, swans, pelicans, and fish in abundance.
On August 28, they surprised a party of blacks, who fled and left 1218 dead birds, mostly shell parrots and Java sparrows they had caught in nets. Finally they had traced the Diamantina to the border, and traveled from Cloncurry to Lake Conginiu South Australia, the journey extending from April 13 to September 27, 1876.
The name W. O. Hodgkinson has not, in Queensland history, been so prominent as it deserved. He was a remarkable man. He had done very fine work on the Burke and Wills expedition of 1860, and splendid work on the McKinlay expedition, when second in command in 1816. His career is a romance. He was born at Wandsworth, in England, in 1836, entered the mercantile marine as a middy in 1851; came out to Australia, went back and entered the War Office in 1854, returned to Victoria in 1859, becoming at first reported, and then sub-editor of the Melbourne “Age.”
Then his expeditions with Burke and Wills, and McKinlay, his expedition of 1876, his position as police magistrate on the Hodgkinson and Palmer from 1877 to 1884, then member for Burke, from 1874 to 1876; finally a member again in the 1880s, and a Minister of the Crown, in the Griffith Ministry, in charge of the Education Department. And this man, who had done such fine patriotic work for Queensland and Australia, died among strangers in a house on Petrie Terrace, North Brisbane, his many friends knowing nothing until he was gone.
Go, think of it, in silence and alone,