The Extinct Tasmanians
Death of Queen Gooseberry
Wild White Men – Romances of the Bush – Murrells, Davis, Bracefell, Fahey and Baker
Aboriginal Death Bone
THE EXTINCT TASMANIANS
LONDON DAILY NEWS.
SYDNEY MORNING HERALD
The gravel beds of England, for example, near the Thames and the Exe, often contains the rudest known stone implements. They are roughly trimmed and pointed by chipping off flakes, never by grinding, and it is probably that they were used, unhefted by their owners, and, like the hammer of Thor, without a handle.
These weapons are called Paleolithic, to distinguish them from the daintier polished stone implements and exquisitely shaped arrow heads of stone, which are called Neolithic.
They are of incalculable antiquity, and it is natural to wonder what kind of life the men led who manufactured them. These artisans were, at all events, very human. You can cut as well, or better, with an casual bit of edged flint as with the old implements on which some amount of artistic thought has been bestowed. Man, in fact, was bent on perfection and improvement, even when he dwelt in England with extinct beasts and birds. How he lived we can now partly conjecture.
Mr. Ling Roth has gathered into a volume all that is known about the very last people who “tooled” with rudely chipped flints, and who have been destroyed by English rifles, blankets and alcohol.
Of course, we cannot conclude that because two sets of men in England many thousand years ago, and in Tasmania yesterday, were on the same level of culture in weapons, therefore their ways and ideas were similar throughout. Probably our own predecessors, so ill equipped for the struggles of life, may have belonged to the white race, with all its superior endurance, and intelligence, or capacity of becoming intelligent. It is only certain that, in such respects as their relics testify to, the inhabitants of Britain were not more civilised than the black Tasmanians.
These tribes were discovered, in 1642, by Abel Jansen Tasman. The country was next visited in 1772, by Marion du Fresne, a French sailor, and in 1777, By Captain Cook. Baudin landed there in 1802, and in 1803, an English settlement was formed, and, of course, shooting began. Our people killed a friendly, or seemingly friendly, party of blacks, men, women, and children.
In 1818, the blacks nearly evicted the whites; by 1835, the wretched remnant of Paleolithic men surrendered.
In 1876, when Truganina died, the representatives of the earliest known humanity ceased to exist.
The Tasmanians were not beautiful in European eyes, though a French naturalist mentions a pretty flirt who kindly blackened the faces of his party, by way of raising them to her own standard of the becoming. They were naked, except for a kangaroo skin in cold weather. They made a kind of hut, better than the Australians of the continent do, and their sepulchres were sometimes very curiously erected. They were swift over a short distance of ground, but had no endurance. Like the Australians, they were wonderfully skilled trackers, and could tell any man by his footsteps. Unlike the Veddahs of Ceylon, they were fond of laughter and buffoonery. Some were curious about European novelties, others were indifferent.
M. la Billardière (1792) behaved very kindly to them, and found them most friendly to them, and found them most friendly and helpful. They even presented the French with their ornaments of pierced shell. One young lady was offered a pair of trousers, and shown how to wear them, which she did with grace. The men almost at once learned to use European axes and saws. One of them made experiments of a painful nature on his own body with a burning glass, which he had seen used to light a fire. They were astonished at finding the French white all over.
M. Pèron talks of “the sweet confidence which the natives had in us, the affectionate proofs of goodwill which they lavished on us, the frankness of their manner, and the touching ingenuousness of their caresses.”
They were not cannibals, it seems, but we have “eaten them up.”
One sent the ears of all the blacks he shot as trophies in a pickle tub. A soldier pitched a black baby with his bayonet into a fire. Yet we have never forgiven the Spaniards in the West Indian Islands. The truth is that, even with the early French explorer, misunderstandings arose.
A Frenchman was asked by the natives to light a fire they had piled up. He did so, and did not understand that this was the native way of asking you to tread on the tails of their coast. They at once began to throw their long pointed spears, and to whack with their short heavy clubs, or waddies. Europeans never knew where to have them; easily fell into panic, fired, and made all the blacks enemies of all the whites by the act.
Convicts, too, behaved as they might be expected to do. There were quarrels about women. The natives were evicted from their hunting grounds, and speared the sheep and cattle which had superseded them. They attacked isolated houses, they mutilated the slain, and this is a deed which Europeans never forgive. Women who had lived with whites became barren when they returned to their tribes. The occasional habit of wearing blankets gave the natives deadly chills. So they perished utterly, victims of the ignorance and ferocity of rude, or even criminal, early settlers.
It is an old story, and something very much like it is being told in Queensland today, if we may believe many accounts. In family matters, this lost people were polygamous, old men having more than their due share of wives. Unlike what we are told about the primitive predominance of women – the “matriarchate”- these Tasmanians made their wives do all the work of fishing and cooking. Woman was a slave; but a woman led the remnants of the tribes in their last war. The chief, if chief there existed, was apparently the strong man with the bad temper. In this respect society has usually been rather Tasmanian. As to fire, they lit it either by sparks from flint or by rubbing one stick on another – the most prevalent ancient practice. They also carried lighted fuel about. It is curious how inexpert the Greeks always were at fire lighting. Not only in Homer does a man in a lonely house keep a smouldering brand, that he may not have to walk to the nearest neighbour for a light, but in “Daphnis and Chloe,” 400 years after our era, the hero wanders far in search of a fire. Apparently, he could not strike or rub a light for himself. As to food, they ate enormously when there was anything to eat. A native woman ate more than 50 eggs to size of a duck’s egg. A baby of eight months tucked into a whole kangaroo rat, and topped up with a crawfish. Twelve pounds of meat and a gallon of train oil was an adult’s dinner. They had no sort of agriculture, but were fond of vegetables and roasted fern roots. They hunted the kangaroo by the Scotch method of the “Tincel”-
We’ll quell the savage mountaineer,
As their tincel quells the game;
They come as fleet as forest deer,
We’ll drive them back as tame.
They drove the wild beasts into a narrow space and then clubbed them. Their manufactures were string, basket work, and the flaking of flints. The Australians, more advanced, grind their stone weapons to an edge, leaving the rest of the stone in its natural condition. About Tasmanian religion accounts differ. They seem to have recognised a good spirit of the day and an evil one of the night, and to have been qualified as members of the Psychical Society by seeing ghosts. Probably they would never have improved much, for nature gave them necessaries, and they were highly disinclined to work.
“Their expression is fearful and wild when roused, restless and treacherous when in doubt, and, when laughing, of a made and almost convulsive gaiety. Among the aged the expression is sorrowful, hard, and gloomy,” says Pèron.
The Tasmanians, in fact, like Goldsmith’s Ned Purdon’-
Led such a terrible life in this world,
We don’t think they’ll wish to come back.
But this experience is not peculiar to savages, They had sport and lived in the open air.
Queen Gooseberry, widow of King Bungaree, was found dead on Friday night at Mr. Barton’s House, Castlereagh Street, Sydney. She had been drinking at the kitchen the previous night. Inquest was held on 31st July 1852. Verdict – death from natural causes.
Sydney Morning Herald 1 August 1852.
ROMANCES OF THE BUSH
MURRELLS, DAVIS, BRACEFELL, FAHEY, AND BAKER
With the exception of Buckley who was out with the Victorian blacks from 1803 to 1835, there is no record of any wild white man among the blacks of the other Australian states.
In Queensland, we have five, whose periods of wild life were as follows:
1849 to 1863
1828 to 1842
1832 to 1842
1842 to 1854
1832 to 1839
Fahey came out as a convict in the Clyde in 1838, escaped from a road gang on New England in 1842, and was taken to the Bunya Mountains by a tribe of blacks on their way to the triennial bunya feast. Among the blacks of that region, Fahey remained for 12 years. He was adopted by the Bunya blacks, given the name of “Gilburri,” and had his breast and stomach ornamented with the raised “Moolgarra” scars.
In December, 1854, Lieutenant Bligh, of the Native Bligh, brought him into Brisbane. Like Murrells and Davis he had nearly forgotten his own language, and spoke the “Wacca-Wacca” dialect of the Bunya tribes as fluently as an aboriginal. He was taken to Sydney, identified by the Superintendent of Convicts, and actually received a sentence of 12 months for absconding 12 years before he was discovered. He was adopted by the Bunya blacks in the year in which Davis and Bracefell were brought back to civilization.
Bracefell escaped from the Moreton Bay convict settlement in 1832, and was passed along from one tribe to another until finally adopted by the Noosa blacks.
In his case, as in that of Davis and Fahey, he owed his life to a real or fancied resemblance to a dead aboriginal.
Another convict who escaped with Bracefell was killed because he took a dilly bag from a hollow tree, and emptied out the bones of a defunct black so as to fill it with oysters.
Such a desecration of the dead proved that he could not be a reincarnated aboriginal, so he was promptly speared.
After being three years with the Noosa tribe, who named him “Wandi,” a word for wild and also a name of the dingo, Bracefell met Mrs. Fraser, the sole survivor of the Stirling Castle.
She had been passed along from Fraser’s Island with her husband and Brown, the mate of the vessel. According to her statement, the two men were speared and she alone remained.
Bracefell waited for a chance to sneak away to the convict settlement, where he hoped the deed would secure a pardon for his act of absconding in 1832, four years before.
On arrival within sight of the settlement, Mrs. Fraser threatened a serious charge before the superintendent, and Bracefell’s courage failing him, he pointed the way for her to go, and began his journey back to the Noosa blacks, with whom he remained for another six years, until brought back with Davis by Andrew Petrie and party in 1842.
He was killed in after years by a falling tree when felling for Dr. Simpson at Goodna.
As for Davis, so far I have found no account of his life among the aboriginals. The absence of any one interested in saving so valuable a record from oblivion seems incredible.
James Davis, son of a Glasgow blacksmith, was sent out as a convict at the age of 18, and in 1828 escaped from the Brisbane convict station, like so many more before and after, preferring to face the unknown solitudes and cannibal blacks, to the horrors of the penal code, and the tyranny and ferocious cruelty of his own countrymen.
The blacks passed him along northwards where some one might recognise him as a dead relative returned to life, and finally, he was adopted by a black called Pambi Pambi, who regarded him as a son killed in a fight.
With this “Jinjinburra” tribe, speaking the “cabbi-cabbi” dialect, Davis remained until rescued by Petrie’s party in 1842. He had nearly forgotten his own language, was absolutely wild, and could climb a tree, and use the spear, nulla, and boomerang, as well as the blacks. His tribe’s headquarters were in the vicinity of Mount Bopple (the name of the sleeping lizard), and near there he was found by Bracefell, who acted as guide for Petrie in 1842.
With the exception of a brief vocabulary obtained from Davis by the Rev. Wm . Ridley in 1851, a few very meager particulars by Dr. Lang, and some desultory paragraphs, there is no record of the remarkable life this man must have lived for 14 years among the primitive savage cannibal tribes of the Mary River.
He was of a morose and uncommunicative disposition, and avoided the subject of his past life. In three short interviews I got some interesting particulars, but he had nearly forgotten all the language and his memory was not reliable. In 1842 he could have conversed with the blacks from the Brisbane River to the Burnett, but nowhere North or South. That was the area of the Cabbi and Wacca dialects, which the tribes of that region mutually understood. He had been speared through one thigh, the usual wound in a row over women, and had a boomerang cut on one knee. He also referred to many other scars from wounds in battle or single combats.
Twenty five years ago two old Mary River blacks assured me that Davis had become a savage, even to the inclusion of cannibalism. One had a very bitter memory of Davis, whom he accused of having eaten his sister! Possibly she was his sweetheart, and “sweet enough to eat,” a threat often made by the young men of today to some dainty little maiden. He acted as interpreter for the black trackers in the notorious murder of Cox, at Kangaroo Point, in 1848, a case in which a perfectly innocent man was tried and hanged in Sydney.
Davis prospered in Brisbane and died worth about £10,000, leaving £800 as a gift to the Catholic Church, and a large amount to a well-known maiden lady who had always been a consistent friend of himself and wife. He gave £750 to the Brisbane Hospital. The only picture left is a remarkably clever sketch from memory, by Oscar Fristrom.
One half-caste son was the only descendant he left among the aboriginals.
In 1832 a convict named Baker escaped from the settlement, and was adopted by the Upper Brisbane River blacks, who called him “Borallehn.” He came in of his own accord in 1839, and acted as a guide to Lieutenant Gorman on a vehicle journey to the Downs in 1841.
A Mount Esk black who visited Brisbane was decorated with a brass plate announcing that the wearer was “King” of his tribe. When he returned the blacks gathered round him and asked Baker to explain the brass plate.
When the “king” business was described they told Baker they were “not taking any kings,” and that the new monarch would either have to lose his brass plate or his life!
He preferred to discard the plate, and thus ended the first attempt to start a royal family among the Queensland blacks.
In the year 1846 a barque called the Peruvian, from Sydney to China, was wrecked on some reef far east of cape Cleveland. Seventeen years afterwards, the terrible tale of that wreck was first told to the world by James Murrells, the white man who lived among the blacks of the Burdekin from 1846 to 1862. The Captain’s brother was the first to perish. All the others left the vessel on a raft, which carried three ladies, 2 children, 2 male passengers, the Captain, carpenter, sailmaker, cook, 4 able seamen, 4 apprentices, and 2 stowaway West Indian blacks, a total of 21.
The food and water lasted for a brief period. They drank the blood and ate the flesh of captured birds.
James Quarry and his child died, and were thrown off to the attendant sharks. Then Mrs. Wilmot and two children died, and were followed by others, until only seven miserable survivors remained. They used the severed leg of a corpse tied to the end of an oar to capture sharks, the raw flesh of which was greedily eaten by the starving people. After 48 awful days, through terrors and horrors beyond the imagination, the remaining survivors landed at Cape Cleveland.
In 1881 I stood on that same spot and heard the tale told by a son of one of the aboriginals who first appeared on the scene 14 days after the raft was stranded. I also slept in the same cave. Those who came ashore were Captain Pitkethly and his wife, George Wilmot, James Gooley, Jack Millar, James Murrells and one of the two boys.
Wilmot and Gooley died within two days, and Millar went away in a blacks’ canoe and perished on Cape Upstart.
The blacks treated the rest with great kindness, the Captain and wife being kept by the Cape Cleveland tribe, and Murrells and the boy being taken to Mount Elliott, which they called Bung-go-lung-ga (Bunggolunga) a mountain 4050 feet in height, 20 miles south of Townsville.
Within two years, the Captain and wife and the boy died, leaving Murrells sole survivor.
On the 25th of January 1863, he walked up to two white men forming the first station on the Burdekin.
One took him for an aboriginal, and called to the other to bring his gun.
Murrells shouted out, “Don’t shoot, I’m a British object!”
He was sent to Brisbane, and finally given a billet in the Customs at Bowen.
He married and had one son, who sold in 1887, for £10,000 an allotment bought for his father at the first land sale of Townsville land at Bowen.
History owes a heavy debt of gratitude to Edmund Gregory, late Government Printer, for nearly all the existing history of Murrells, in a 43 page pamphlet published by him shortly after Murrell’s death. Anything beyond that I found scattered widely over newspapers and various publications, apart from what I obtained form reliable old pioneers who knew Murrells. There is much cause for regret over the too brief vocabulary preserved by Mr. Gregory.
In 1881 I checked it among the Burdekin blacks, and found it exactly as recorded. Mr. Gregory says, “Murrells was short, and thickset, with sunken eyes, and a wide mouth. His teeth had been worn nearly to the gums. He suffered much from rheumatism, which had left terrible marks on him.”
He died at Bowen on Monday, 30th October 1865, being only 41 years of age. It is strange that Mr. Gregory forgot to record Murrells’ name among the blacks.
They called him “Munbawalba,” from Munba – a man, and walba – white. They also gave him the name of “Woolgoora,” a canoe or ship, as he came from the sea on a raft. Mr. Gregory has the words Woolgoora and Munpa which he spells Munbah. He left no half caste children, although he had a first and second partner, both of whom were childless. That is the tale told to me on the Burdekin by the old blacks in 1881.
Murrells’ son could have no recollection of his father, being only a child when the father died.
Such is the brief reference to the history of five men whose experiences can never again be repeated in Australia.
Their adoption and consistent kind treatment by wild tribes who had never before seen a white man, can be added to the numerous other proofs that the Australian aboriginals were among the least aggressive, the most inoffensive, and the least treacherous of all savage races of mankind.
Nearly every outrage by Australian blacks was caused by the offence of whites misled by ignorance or impelled by evil intent, the retaliation under the law of lex talionis including unfortunately the guilty and the innocent.
To the Editor of the Queenslander,
Sir,- Five correspondents have asked me to make this subject a little clearer while it is still fresh in the public mind in connection with the recent trial at Roma.
In J. D. Woods’s introduction to the “Tribes of South Australia” there is a case closely resembling the one at Roma. Woods says: “A curious instance of sorcery and its effects upon the native imagination was brought to light recently in the Supreme Court of Adelaide on the trial of a black for the murder of another named Chunkey. This Chunkey was one who, contrary to the custom of his race, had accumulated some money and become the proprietor of a dray and some bullocks with which he had followed the calling of a carrier. This effect of civilization had not, however, weaned him from the influence of the common savage customs, for he had at different times carried off three women as wives from another tribe.
A man belonging to the “Bimburrie” tribe endeavoured to rescue the women, but in doing so, was put under enchantment by Chunkey, who pointed a human bone at him. This bone is generally part of the femur, scraped to a point, smeared with red ochre and human kidney fat, and having a ball of fat and ochre rolled together at one end. The natives believe that if this is pointed at any member of a tribe nothing on earth can save the victim from death. They are so convinced of this that immediately it is done, his spirits droop, he becomes melancholy, his appetite fails, and gradually he pines away and dies. Such an act of witchcraft is never forgiven.
Chunkey was pursued for nearly two years, and eventually overtaken and killed by the friends of the enchanted victim. The murder was discovered in consequence of the murderers being found in possession of the dead man’s property and his wives.
The murderers were sentenced to death, but the sentence was commuted to one of imprisonment. It was proved on the trial that amongst the Northern tribes a blackfellow who was known to have pointed the bone at another would be pursued for 500 miles, in order that revenge might be taken upon him for the crime.
The Moreton Bay blacks had one peculiar in which a bone was used in a different fashion. It is verified by Thomas Petrie, the best authority on the subject. When the bones of a fleshless skeleton were taken down from the exposed platform the oldest relatives burned the ribs and spine, and one old gin, after cleaning and polishing the hip bone, would tap it with a stone tomahawk in the presence of all the tribe. Before each tap, she would call out the name of some blackfellow suspected of causing the death of the original owner of the skeleton. Finally she came to the name of some one on whom suspicion was strongest – probably also specially disliked by herself – and she gave the bone a tap hard enough to make it crack. The whole tribe called out, “That’s the man who killed him!” And the individual thus proclaimed by this aboriginal Witch of Endor was doomed, for he would surely be killed by some of the dead man’s relatives.
I have known a case where a blackfellow used the ordinary death bone, made from the small bone of the legislation, and then went as stockman on a station 150 miles away. He came back in two years, and on the night he arrived, was killed by an uncle of the man he bewitched. The bone practice was never forgotten or forgiven. It was common in some form or other to all Australian tribes.
The first writer to mention the use of the bone in Australia was the Rev. L. E. Threlkeld, who was stationed as a missionary at Port Macquarie in 1824 on a reserve of 10,000 acres granted by Governor Macquarie. The tribe there (the “Awabakal”) called the magic crystal “Mooramai,” and the “bone” was “Murrocun.” The crystal was used for healing wounds and curing sickness, the “bone” for causing death by enchantment. The same process was common to the tribes among whom I resided when a boy. The native doctors slept all night on a grave, and the corpse concealed a small bone in the flesh of each of their legs. These bones the doctors could use for killing anybody without even touching them.
At Moreton Bay, the natives had a profound reverence for the “magic stone,” sometimes a piece of agate, quartz crystal, or polished black basalt. A famous chief of the Gatton tribe, “Woonamba,” had a crystal he carried in a small bag under the armpit, and believed that no one could kill him while the crystal was there. It was a rather peculiar coincidence (according to the late Fred Campbell) that Woonamba was shot on the first day that he went from camp without his crystal.
Many of the “bone” customs were identical with those of the witches of England and Scotland, and the faith in magic crystals was common to all the Eastern nations. In Ireland the Curraghmore Crystal, owned by the Waterford family, is still employed to cure sick people and cattle with murrain ailments.
The Irishman who dreaded to meet a woman with red hair, or a red petticoat, first thing in the morning, had his parallel in the aboriginal who feared some terrible disaster if he met a gin carrying a female opossum.
The ancient arrowheads, regarded as “elf stones,” were reverenced by the Irish and Scottish peasantry, and our aboriginals cured with the magnetic passes exactly the same as recorded in Irish and Scottish folklore, except that they used no incarnations. It is likely that the aboriginal had the clearest knowledge of the actual physiological effect.
So far I have traced no aboriginal superstition that had not a counterpart in Scotland, Ireland or Norway. There is certainly nothing new in the “death bone” practice.
The superstitions of the Australian races were far less in number, and infinitely less degrading, than those of the uneducated classes of what we call civilised races in the old countries. There is no new thing under the sun in the nobleness, baseness, or eccentricity of human nature, savage or civilised.
Even the legend concerning Fion Ma Coul’s wife, who was alive in the daytime and dead at night, was repeated by a tradition among the tribe at Cape Byron. This tribe also had a very close copy of the Greek story of Prometheus; and fierce-eyed, loud-voiced gins incited the aboriginal warriors in the battle just as Ethna the poetess fired the valour of the Tuatha-de-Dananns at the battle of Moytura, or as Colna-dona sang her war song to the Icenians of Boadicea.
But this reminds me that we are drifting away from the original subject, so it may be well to conclude with the remark that there is no new ethnological thing under the Australian sun, except the boomerang- and that is likely to be a source of controversy.
As a youth of 22, my first visit by land was paid to Queensland, coming along the coast from the Clarence, via the mouths of the Richmond, Brunswick, Tweed and Nerang. Hundreds of the Clarence and Richmond blacks were then living, and there were many blacks still on the Tweed and Nerang.
Four years before that time, when only 18, I came to Queensland in the West Hartley No 2, a dish bottomed centre board iron schooner that finished in after years on the rocks at the mouth of the Brunswick. She came to Brisbane with a cargo of maize from Maclean, then called Rocky Mouth, on the Clarence.
We cleared the Clarence heads in a thunderstorm, which practically continued all the way to Cape Moreton. When round the Cape, and inside in smooth water, we anchored close to the shore for three days before going on to Brisbane. The master of the ship was Captain James Holden, who in after years kept the Commercial Hotel at Ballina, and finally died a few years ago at Petersham, in Sydney. He was a genial, fine, fellow, and a skilful navigator. There being a large party of blacks camped on the shore, I landed to interview them, and was astonished to find them speaking a dialect quite different from the one with which I was familiar, that extensive dialect which extended from the south side of the Logan to midway between the Clarence and the Bellenger, And over nearly all New England from Armidale to Stanthorpe. It was the most widely spread dialect in Australia, and over all that that area there was the one negative, “Yoocum” or “Yucum.” Wyndham, whom I knew very well, spelled it Ucum. But the Moreton blacks knew in a moment what dialect I was speaking, and two or three of them understood enough of the Nerang Creek language to enable us to understand each other.
Apart from that, there were several who could speak enough English to enable us to converse. They were a race of fine men and women, with an abundance of food, including oysters, crabs, dugong, and unlimited fish. They called Moreton Island “Gnoor-gann-pin,” the negative was “goah.” There is no sound in English, or the nha, nhee, nui, and nhin, of the aboriginal, the nearest being nah, nee, nye, and nin.
Instead of “Gnoogee,” an Englishman says “Noogee,” quite a different sound. The tribal name of the Moreton blacks was “booroo-geen-meerie,” and when the first white man arrived they probably numbered about six or eight hundred.
No other tribe was distinguished by such uniform friendship for the white man.
There was not one murder to their credit, and, when the Sovereign steamer was wrecked on the outer bar of the Amity Passage in 1847, they made heroic efforts at rescue, and practically saved all who survived.
They also kindly treated Pamphlet, Parsons, and Finnegan , the three Illawarra timber getters who landed on Moreton Island in 1823, and passed them on to the Amity Point blacks, who sent them along to where they were canoed across to the mainland, at the Russell Island of today, the “Woongolpa,” of the blacks. They still believed they were south of Illawarra, and started to walk North, discovering the Brisbane River at least eight months before Oxley, and crossing it on a catamaran somewhere about Lytton.
So that when Oxley met Pamphlet and Finnegan 8 months afterwards at Bribie Island they told him of the river, and piloted him into the mouth. The Moreton Islanders had the mermaid story, and the name was exactly the same as in the myths of the blacks of Botany Bay. They called the mermaid Warrajamba, and there is a small river running into Botany Bay called Warragamba, the name of the ancient mermaid of that locality.
The blacks told me of the visit by the H.M.S. Rattlesnake, in 1847, and amicable terms between them and the Rattlesnake people, who included the afterwards famous Huxley, the scientist, and McGillivray, the naturalist, but that visit will be enlarged on when coming to a week spent by me on the south end of Moreton three months afterwards. In these three days I ate my first piece of dugong, my first tailor fish, and first mangrove mullet. Then came a fair wind, and we sailed away for the mouth of the Brisbane, passing about the site of the present Pile Light, the Government steamer Kate, Captain Page, with a very noisy and hilarious Parliamentary party on board. The vessel being unable to round kangaroo Point, the Captain anchored on the lower side, and we landed and walked over to cross the boat ferry, which landed where the punt comes across today at the foot of Creek Street.
Close to the landing, where there is a vacant space today, stood the Steam Packet Hotel, kept by Harry Biggs, a fine, genial, good looking Englishman, and a general favourite with all classes. That was my first residence hotel in Brisbane. Next day Biggs sent a man to show me where the blacks were camped, in what is now Victoria Park.
There were about 60 blacks there at the time, and we had a long and friendly interview. They were very astonished at so young a white man knowing so much about their class divisions, their Bora ceremony, their habits and customs, and, being so expert with the boomerang. There were four dialects spoken in that camp, the “Turrubul” of Tom Petrie, in which the negative was “Waccah,” the dialect north of Caboolture, in which the negative was “Cabbee,” the “Cateebil,” of Ipswich, where the negative was “Yungarr,” and the Bribie dialect, where the negative was “Nhulla.”
We may digress here to discuss the probable number of aboriginals in the Moreton Bay district, when Oxley ascended the Brisbane River. At best, the early men of the penal days could only make wild guesses at the number, having no reliable source of information, and only a small fraction of the aboriginals ever came near the settlement.
The first mission to the Brisbane natives was that organised by Dr. Lang, and the members arrived in March 1838, and settled six miles from Brisbane, at a place afterwards known as German station.
The missionaries were German Lutherans, and included 11 men, eight women, and 11 children.
Lieutenant Gorman’s report on that mission, on February 8, 1841, said: “There were no natives there, and no good had been done.”
The Germans did not understand the blacks, and the blacks did not understand the Germans.
Carlyle says that “all war is a misunderstanding,” and in the case of the German missionaries, it led to the robbery of the Mission station by the blacks, and the shooting of the blacks by the missionaries.
The letter from the Rev. Johann Schmidt to the Commandant on March 25, 1840, admitted firing at the blacks and wounding two of them.
This missionary, Schmidt, accused the whites of poisoning 50 aboriginals in 1842, presumably the dreadful tragedy at Kilcoy station.
Even so early as 1841, the Rev. J. S. C. Handt wrote complaining of the whites introducing vice and disease among the aboriginals!
Handt’s Mission ended on March 3, 1843, and he went away to Sydney, having accomplished nothing.
Crown Lands Commissioner Simpson said, in his report of 1843, there were about 3000 blacks on the coast and 1500 “wild hill tribes.”
He gave the number who came in to Brisbane as 200, and Ipswich 150.
In 1843 Commissioner Rolleston, stationed at Cambooya, on the Darling Downs, reported the blacks as numerous and warlike, and hostile to the whites.
Commissioner Simpson reported, in 1843, 5000 in his district of Moreton Bay, and Rolleston, in 1845, reported six tribes of 100 each on the Darling Downs.
In 1848, he reported many murders by the blacks, and that they were driving the settlers away.
Simpson, in 1845, reported 4000 in the Morton Bay district, and that “the coast tribes were the worst!”
In 1846 Colonel Barney spent £10 in presents for the blacks, and in 1849 Captain Gray was killed by the aboriginals of Bribie Island.
Clearly, all the estimates of the number of aboriginals were quite unreliable.
The late Fred Campbell, of Amity Point, son of Campbell, who took up Westbrook Station in 1841, and started the first boiling down at Kangaroo Point, in 1843, told me that he saw a fight near Ipswich in 1854, when about 800 aboriginals were engaged, and Campbell was a reliable authority on the habits and customs of the blacks, and could speak a fair amount of three dialects.
Other old hands estimated the number at 1200.
Brisbane people of today have no coherent idea of the number of blacks of the early days, or what a splendid race of people they were, physically and mentally. Physically they were far superior to the average white man.
Of the Darling Downs blacks in 1827, the botanist, Alan Cunningham wrote: “These three natives were young men of the ordinary stature of the aborigines of Moreton Bay, namely, six feet, and appeared very athletic persons of unusually muscular limb, and with bodies in exceedingly good case.” Major Lockyer, in 1825, said of the Brisbane River blacks “the natives are naked, stout, clean skinned, well made people, a really fine people.”
Of the Amity Point blacks, in 1836, Backhouse, the Quaker, said they were a “tall fine personed people, compared with the Sydney black.”
In 1823, Uniacke, of Oxley’s party, said of the Bribie Island blacks: “Tall, straight fine boned women, superior in beauty to the men; in fact, to any natives in this country I have ever seen, two of them as handsome as any white women.”
Leichhardt, in his letter to Lynd, in 1843, wrote: “The Moreton Bay blacks are a fine race of men, tall, and well made, and their bodies individually, as well as the groups which they formed, would have delighted the eye of an artist. Their average height is about six feet.”
In a lecture in Sydney, he said: “The Moreton Bay blacks were fine, well made men, and so are the coast blacks of the Alligator River.”
Of the Moreton Bay blacks, in 1846, Dr. Lang wrote in his “Cooksland”: “They are strong, athletic, able bodied men, remarkably athletic, and well proportioned, and far more of them were over five feet eight, than under. Their height would average five feet ten.”
Old Brisbaneites would remember Durramboi, the escaped convict Davis, brought in from the Mary River, by Andrew Petrie in 1842, after 14 years among the wild blacks.
They gave him the name of Durramboi, their word for “little,” because he was a small man among the aboriginals of those days.