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2-204 (Original)

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addressee,male author,female,Thomas, Mary,52
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Private Written
Private Correspondence
Hale, 1950
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2-204.txt — 7 KB

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February 17. I believe I did not tell you that we had been at Glenelg about a month before we saw any of them. Then a man and a boy were discovered by a person of the name of Williams, a fellow-passenger with us, while out shooting about five miles distant. They did not observe him. He therefore reloaded his gun and then called to them, at the same time advancing. They immediately started up (as they were in the act of making a fire) and seized their spears. Mr. Williams held out his hand with a biscuit, whereupon they cautiously came forward to meet him, and signs of a-mutual friendship having been exchanged he induced them to accompany him to the tents at Glenelg. He went round the village, as we may call it, with them. It did not appear that they had ever seen white people before, judging by the astonishment they expressed at all they beheld. [177] They peeped into the tents and examined everything that came in their way with perfect good humour, and highly delighted. They shook hands with everyone, male and female, without being at all abashed. They were both stark naked, but we thought it most prudent not to appear shy, especially in the first interview. They were afterwards taken to the Commissioner's stores and clothed with a pair of trousers, a flannel shirt, and a woollen cap each, as a great many of such articles were sent out expressly for the natives. No monarch in his robes could be prouder than they were of their dress. This man and boy remained with Mr. Williams three days, sleeping at night by his fire on the bare ground, and before he left he again brought the boy to our tent. I endeavoured to excite his wonder by showing him such things as I thought he had not seen. He was greatly astonished at the opening and shutting of an umbrella, the effect of a lucifer box, and seeing the water run out of a filtering machine. But what most of all surprised him was a large telescope drawn out to its full length, which he at first took to be a gun. He said "Boof!" meaning that it would make a noise. But I shook my head and said "No boof!" Then with some difficulty I persuaded him to look through it, when he expressed his astonishment by lifting up his hands and exclaiming "Mawny! Mawny!" which is their word for anything wonderful.
Those who have learned a little English generally make use of that phrase "very good" to whatever is said to them, and consequently one of them, who, it was supposed, had killed a white man, on being told that he would be hanged for it, replied as usual, "Very good."
They have committed some depredations, such as spearing a few sheep and such-like. Otherwise their conduct has hitherto been peaceful and orderly, and they very logically exculpate their own misdemeanours by saying, "White man come kill black man kangaroo. Black man kill white man sheep. Very good."
But the greatest mischief they have as yet done the settlers is not from any design on their part to injure us, but from a custom they have of burning the grass during the hot weather in order to drive the kangaroos where they may be caught and to force the snakes, which are part of their subsistence, out of their holes. [178] Frequently they set large trees on fire in order to catch the opossums, in the hollows of which these animals generally live. Many trees are found still standing, with cavities burnt out in this way large enough to contain eight or ten persons. Their fires on the hills are quite awful. We have frequently seen fires this summer which have reached for twenty or thirty miles in circumference, for they light them at distances so that they shall enclose a large space, sod the grass being so exceedingly dry, it may be truly said to burn like wildfire. We have seen three or four such fires as these on the hills, which are about five miles sway, at the same time, so that Adelaide has been nearly ambushed with flames. Some of these fires have done much damage to the stock stations by destroying the grass on which the bullocks and sheep were pastured, sod which, as we bad a very dry summer and nearly five months of hot weather, is rather scarce. Consequently the stock-keepers have been put to great inconvenience.
I have now given you a long account of the native inhabitants, whose appearance, though disgusting in the extreme to an [sic] European, calls for our pity and compassion, and whose condition, though not us yet greatly amended by their intercourse with white men, yet I trust will be undoubtedly so in time. They are considered as British subjects, and have all protection from injury quite equally with any person in the colony. They are provided with anything they may require by applying to the Protector of the Aborigines, either for their comfort or advancement, and it is intended to impress on their minds that they must not do an injury to white men, as none will be allowed to hurt them. But there is some difficulty in making them understand the principle of justice as distinguished from retaliation, which they consider as indispensable. When two black men in one of the neighbouring colonies were hanged for murdering a white man, the other natives could not be brought to comprehend why two men should suffer for one, though both were concerned in the matter.
We shall have another newspaper to print, 'The Port Lincoln Herald,' as you will see advertised in last week's 'Gazette and Colonial Register.' Port Lincoln is now all the talk as being one of the finest harbours in the world. [179] Several gentlemen have already gone there to form a settlement, and a great deal of land has been sold, which already bears a high premium. The first number is to appear on the 27th of this month, and in consequence of our having it to print we shall want more hands.
Mr. Thomas desires me to say that if you know of any good compositors who are desirous of emigrating, steady and sober men, they will be sure here of good wages and constant employment. If they have families, so much the better, as their children, whether boys or girls, will get employment likewise as soon as they are able to earn anything. Indeed, for mechanics and labourers of every kind a new field is here opened for their exertions, which, if well directed, cannot fail with the industrious and persevering to realize an independence. But to those who have been accustomed to something superior to a life of labour it offers little encouragement in the way of comfort, though prosperity may be equally within their reach.
I cannot say that I much relish working so hard as I do now at my time of life, especially as I see little prospect at present of its being otherwise, for the climate is such that cleanliness and comfort, according to English ideas, are entirely out of the question and incompatible with the country altogether. For I cannot call any place comfortable where the clouds of dust cover all your furniture three or four times a day, driving through every crevice; where you are incessantly hunting fleas and bugs and are overrun with ants, spiders of an enormous size, and flies or some other teasing insect, and where the water, which in England is generally plentiful and delicious to drink, is here both scarce, comparatively speaking, and never palatable as a beverage without an infusion of some kind. In short, I am determined, if ever I have it in my power, to quit this country and return to my native land, and I trust that Heaven will grant me this petition if it be only that I may lay my ashes with my native dust.