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The Aborigines
1642. - At the era of discovery by Tasman, Van Diemen's Land was in-habited. He heard, or thought he heard, the voices of people and the sound of a trumpet: he noticed the recently cut notches, five feet asunder, on the bark of the trees, and he saw the smoke of fires. He inferred that they possessed some unusual method of climbing, or that their stature was gigantic. In the sound, the colonist recognises the vocal cooey of the aborigines, and learns from the steps "to the birds' nests," that they then hunted the opossum, and employed that method of ascent, which, for agility and daring has never been surpassed. Thus, during more than 150 years, this country was forgotten; and such were the limits of European knowledge, when the expedition of Cook was dispatched by Great Britain to explore this hemisphere. No navigator brought larger views, and a temper more benevolent, to the task of discovery. To some nations he opened the path of civilisation and religion: to this race he was the harbinger of death.
1773. - Furneaux, Captain Cook's second in command, first visited this country. He saw the fires of the natives, ten miles off. They had left their huts, formed but for a day, in which there were fragments of shell-fish, baskets and spears. The British deposited gun-flints, an old barrel, and nails, in payment for the relics they removed; and they left Adventure Bay, concluding that a most miserable race of mortals inhabited a country capable of producing all the necessaries of life, "and the finest climate in the world."
One year before, Captain Marion, a Frenchman, according to the authors of his country, visited this island. The intercourse was hostile and left traces of blood.
1777. - The descriptions of Cook are founded on his own observations, and are, on the whole, favorable to the natives. The English, while wooding and watering, were surprised by the visit of eight men and a boy. [259] They were unarmed, except that one of them carried a stick, pointed at the end. They were of middling stature, slender, and naked. On different parts of their bodies were ridges, both straight and curved, raised in the skin: the hair of the head and beard was smeared with red ointment. They were indifferent to presents; they rejected bread, and the flesh of the sea elephant, but accepted some birds, which they signified their intention to eat. Cook prevailed on a native to throw the stick at a mark twenty yards distant, but he failed after repeated trial. The Otaheitian, Omai, to exhibit his skill, fired off a musket: at the report they fled, and so great was their fear, that they dropped the axe and knives they had received.
This Otaheitian [Tahitian] was returning from England to his native country. In London, he was the lion of the day: he was introduced to the first circles, and saw whatever in a great city could elevate his ideas: his manners acquired the polish of society. Granville Sharp (he who secured the decision that the soil of Britain gives freedom to the slave that touches it) endeavoured to improve his moral sentiments. He pointed out the practical injustice of polygamy. Omai replied, "One wife, good - two wife, very good - three wife, very very good;" but he had not misunderstood the argument. Taking three knives, he put two of them side by side, and the other at a distance, and referring to a nobleman who had left his wife for a mistress, said - "There Lord A., and there Miss - ; and there Lady A. lie down and cry."
But the moment he landed, he resumed all the customs of his countrymen, and employed his knowledge of arms to destroy them. This was the only trace of his civilisation which survived the voyage: he had seen regal grandeur and mercantile power, but he retained his preference for the habits of his then heathen race.
A dead calm retarded the departure of the vessels next day, and the parties sent ashore were accompanied by Cook. About twenty natives soon joined them: one, who was conspicuously deformed, amused them by the drollery of his gestures, and the seeming humour of his speeches. Some wore three or four folds round the neck, made of fur; and round the ankles a slip of the skin of kangaroo. Captain Cook returned to the vessel, leaving Lieutenant King in charge: soon after, the women and children arrived: they were introduced by the men to the English. The children were thought pretty; of the beauty of the women the account was not equally favorable. They rejected with disdain the presents and freedoms of the officers, and were ordered by an elderly man to retire - a command, to which they submitted with reluctance.
Dr. Anderson, the surgeon of the Resolution, describes the natives as a mild, cheerful race, with an appearance less wild than is common to savages. He considered them devoid of activity, genius, and intelligence; their countenance, he delineates as plump and pleasing.
1792. - But though later on the spot, assisted by the remarks of previous observers, Labillardière, of all, was the most assiduous and exact. The naturalist of d'Entrecasteaux's expedition, he saw mankind with the eye of a philosopher. [260] He was pleased to examine the passions of a race, least of all indebted to art; yet the prevailing notions of Citizen Frenchmen, perhaps, gave him a bias, when estimating an uncivilised people. He left Europe when the dreams of Rousseau were the toys of the speculative, and before they became the phantoms of the populace. His observations, doubtlessly, correct; but his grouping is artistic, and not without illusion. In his work, the Tasmanian blacks appear in the most charming simplicity, harmless and content; an extraordinary remnant of primitive innocence.
Labillardière having landed, with several companions, proceeded towards a lake; hearing human voices, they followed the direction of the sound; when the sudden cry of the natives induced them to return for their arms. Proceeding towards the woods, they met the tribe - the men and boys in a semicircle, with the women and children behind. Labillardière offered a piece of biscuit, and held out his hand, which a savage chief accepted, and smiling drew back one foot, and bowed with admirable grace. He gave to the French a necklace, which he called cantaride, formed of whelk shells, in exchange for articles of dress, a poll-axe, and knives.
The proportions are worth remarking: in a party of forty-two, there were seven men and eight women; in another of forty-eight, there were ten men and fourteen women. Thus the females were more numerous, and the rising generation nearly one-third more than the adults. They were generally healthy; one only suffered from cutaneous disease, one from a defect of vision, and several from slight wounds. It will be told, that a sad reverse was afterwards their fate. They could endure the water twice as long as Europeans. In the intervals of diving they roasted their spoil, and warmed themselves between two fires; sometimes feeding their children, or themselves. Thus they continued alternately fishing and cooking, until all were satisfied.
The men seemed indolent; nothing could persuade them to dive: they sauntered about, with the right hand passed behind, and holding the left forearm in its grasp. As the elders moved with gravity on the beach, the girls romped and raced with the seamen - repelling, without resenting, their rudeness. They were sprightly and voluble, and chattered on without intermission. On one occasion they were missed, when, turning to a tree, they were seen perched naked in the branches, over ten feet from the ground: an interesting group, remarks the naturalist.
In the incidents of their social life, he saw their character. The children cried, their mothers soothed them with those maternal caresses, which art has not improved. They held them to be decorated by the French, and placed them in their arms. A father corrected a little boy for the ancient diversion of throwing stones at another, and the culprit wept! A lad concealed a basket from the seamen, to amuse by his perplexity and its dexterous replacement! The clothes given by the French they hung on the bushes, but they valued the tin ware, the axes and the saws. The liberality of their visitors induced them to take more than was given; but they seemed unconscious of offence, and whatever was required they restored without reluctance. [261] A girl, refusing the French a skin they desired to possess, retreated to the woods: her friends were distressed at her ill-nature. She, at last, complied. A pair of trousers was given in exchange; she stood between the Frenchmen, leaning on the shoulder of each, while they guided her errant legs into these novelties of Europe.
Their refusal of food, for themselves and children, was from distaste rather than from distrust; and they only discovered suspicion, when the French penetrated the country. They posted a guard, to give notice of any movement, and when an attempt was made, it was interrupted by the loud screams of the women, and the entreaties of the men. They resisted the intrusion with displeasure, and even menace.
On other occasions, they tended on the French with great kindness, removing fallen branches from their path; and when the ground was sloping and slippery, they walked beside them, and held them up; - "these good savages took hold of our arms, and supported us." They rested every half mile, saying medi, "sit down"; then rising again, after a few minutes' rest.
They themselves first saw the French: who, having travelled several miles, lay down for the night near a brook: their fires discovered them. A native, next morning, pointed to their resting place: laid his head on his hand, and closed his eyes. The good-nature of these people never languished: twice, when the French lost their way, they directed them to their ships. They welcomed their visits by raising their hands over their heads, shouting and stamping on the ground. They greeted them as often as their wanderings brought them in sight of the vessels, and with the same friendly sounds bade them adieu.
1798. - We owe to Captain Flinders and Dr. Bass the next description of the natives of Tasmania. They were saluted by voices from the hills that border the Derwent; one of these they ascended and saw a man, and two women, who, catching up their baskets, scampered away. The man met them with confidence: they tried, in vain, to converse with him in the dialects of New Holland. They desired him to lead them to his hut; but he hesitated, and moved slowly in the direction to which he had pointed. Consulting his apparent feelings they desisted, and parted in friendship. This was the first man they had met in the island. His countenance, they described as unusually benignant; his features less negro-like than common, and his manners frank and open. He exhibited neither curiosity nor fear, nor did he seem attracted by any part of their dress, except their cravats!
Mr. Bass made several expeditions into the country, attended only by his dogs, and meeting no inhabitants he concluded that their numbers were inconsiderable.
The accounts descriptive of native customs, by these authorities, are full of errors; but they are errors of inference, not of observation: it is useless to repeat, in order to correct them. The colonists have possessed better opportunities, and their acquaintance with aboriginal habits supplies more accurate information, than could be expected in the volumes of navigators. [262] Such as here given, is their testimony to the social aspect of the native character: nothing unfavorable is omitted. In a people so gentle and affable, it is difficult to recognise the race afterwards covered with sores, wasted by want and vice, or animated with revenge; and who filled the colony with disgust and terror.

The party dispatched from Sydney, to take possession of the island, who landed in September 1803, on their arrival at Risdon saw nothing of the natives. A solitary savage, armed with a spear, afterwards entered the camp, and was cordially greeted. He accepted the trinkets which they offered, but he looked on the novelties scattered about without betraying surprise. By his gestures they inferred that he discharged them from their trespass. He then turned towards the woods, and when they attempted to follow, he placed himself in the attitude of menace, and poised his spear.
On the 3rd of May, 1804, during the absence of Lieutenant Bowen, the officer in command, the first severe collision occurred. Five hundred blacks, supposed to belong to the Oyster Bay tribe, gathered on the hills which overlooked the camp: their presence occasioned alarm, and the convicts and soldiers were drawn up to oppose them. A discharge of fire-arms threw them into momentary panic, but they soon re-united. A second, of ball cartridge, brought down many; the rest fled in terror, and were pursued: it is conjectured that fifty fell.
The accounts of this affair differ greatly. By one party they are said to have assailed a man and woman living in advance of the camp, and to have burned their hut. William White, who saw them earliest, and gave notice of their approach, declared they then exhibited no hostility, and were not near the hut before the collision. They came down in a semicircle, carrying waddies but not spears; a flock of kangaroo hemmed in between them. The women and children attended them. They came singing, and bearing branches of trees.
This curvilinear mode of marching was noticed by Labillardière: they probably assembled for a corroboree. "They looked at me," said the witness, "with all their eye;" but they did not attempt to molest him.
For the British, it may be alleged that customs, afterwards understood, were then less known. They were ignorant of the language and temper of the blacks, and the preservation of the settlement was the first military duty of Lieutenant Moore, who directed the fire. The action was sudden, and perhaps no statement is exact. The natives were provoked, by the occupation of their common place of resort, and it is no discredit to their character, if even they attempted to expel the intruders.
The consequences of these events were lamentable. The losses of the natives, in their ordinary warfare, rarely extended beyond two or three; but the havoc of their new enemy awakened irremediable distrust. [263] The sorrows of a savage are transient: not so, his resentment. Every wrong is new, until it is revenged; and there is no reason to suppose these terrible sacrifices were ever forgotten.
In these collisions, no British subject had fallen; but in the succeeding year (1805) a prisoner of the crown was speared, while following a kangaroo; and two years after (1807) another, named Munday, met with a similar fate. The black had received presents from his hands, and approaching him in pretended amity, trailed between his toes the fatal spear. These facts are given to illustrate the cruelty of the natives; and it may be presumed that, from the slaughter of Risdon, not many could be added to the number. These were, however, the acts of individuals, and without concert or much premeditation.
The scarcity of food compelled the British to adopt a mode of life somewhat resembling that of the aborigines. Germain, a marine, was employed, from 1805 to 1810, in procuring kangaroo, which he hunted with dogs: he but rarely carried a gun, slept on the ground in the summer, and in the winter on the branches of trees. During his wanderings, he often encountered the natives, but they offered no violence; and he stated, as the result of his experience, that until bushrangers excited them by cruelties, "there was no harm in them." The daughter of a settler of 1804, was left sometimes in their care; their kindness was among the recollections of her childhood.
The prisoners of the crown were dispersed. The government, unable to supply the common necessaries of life, gave them license to forage: labor could not be exacted, nor discipline enforced; and when circumstances altered, it was difficult to recall the wanderers, or to recover authority so long relaxed. In their intercourse with the natives, licentious and cruel outlaws committed every species of atrocity which could be suffered by the weak in contact with the wicked.
Lord Hobart, under whose auspices the colony was planted, directed the Lieutenant-Governor to conciliate the natives: to preserve them from oppression, and to encourage them to resort for protection to his authority. "You are to endeavour, by every means in your power, to open an intercourse with the natives, and to conciliate their good will - enjoining all persons under your government to live in amity and kindness with them; and if any person shall exercise any acts of violence against them, or shall wantonly give them any interruption in the exercise of their several occupations, you are to cause such offender to be brought to punishment, according to the degree of the offence." Their natural rights were recognised, but unhappily no provision was made to define their interest in the soil of their country. Their migratory habits were unfavourable to official supervision, and the success of humane suggestions depended on the doubtful concurrence of ignorant cotters and wandering shepherds.
In 1810, an order was issued by Governor Collins, forcibly describing the wrongs of the natives, and the revenge to which they were prompted. [264] They had pursued an officer, residing at Herdsman's Cove, and failing to capture him they fired his premises. Two persons, George Getley and William Russell, had disappeared: it was supposed, the victims of resentment, awakened by the "abominable cruelties and murders" (such is the language of Collins) perpetrated by the white people. This Russell was himself notorious for skill in their torture - the subject of his boast. The government declared that persons who wantonly fired on the natives, or murdered them "in cold blood", should suffer the last penalties of the law.
The natives, who have been rendered desperate by the cruelties they have experienced from our people, have now begun to distress us by attacking our cattle. Two were lately wounded by them at Collins-vale; and three, it is reported, belonging to George Guest, have been killed at Blackman's Bay. As this tribe of natives have hitherto been considered friendly, the change in their conduct must be occasioned, by some outrage on our part. No account having been received up to this time of William Russell and George Getley, there can be no doubt of the miserable death they have been put to. This unfortunate man, Russell, is a striking instance of divine agency, which has overtaken him at last, and punished him by the hands of those very people who have suffered so much from him; he being well known to have exercised his barbarous disposition in murdering or torturing any who unfortunately came within his reach."
The official treatment of the aborigines was not always judicious, or calculated to impress the whites with the notion of civil equality. A native, whom it was deemed desirable to detain, was fettered by Colonel Collins. Notwithstanding, he escaped, and was seen long after with the iron on his leg; nor can the punishments inflicted for crimes committed against the blacks, unusual as those punishments were, be given in proof that both races were valued alike. It is not, however, true, that cruelty was always unpunished. A man was severely flogged for exposing the ears of a boy he had mutilated; and another for cutting off the little finger of a native, and using it as a tobacco stopper.
The natives continued to shun the settlement for many years, but their confidence was easily renewed by gentle treatment; it was, however, capricious, or more probably it was soon shaken by insult, unknown to all but themselves. It was desired by Colonel Davey to establish a friendly intercourse, and he instructed the men to invite to Hobart Town the tribes they might encounter. A servant of this governor, employed at South Arm, suddenly came on a tribe of thirty-six persons. A native woman, living with a white, willingly went forth to communicate the wishes of the Governor. They consented to visit Hobart Town, to which they were transferred by water. Davey endeavoured to win their confidence, and they remained about town for weeks. Having received some offence from worthless Europeans, they retreated to their woods, and never returned. This party attempted to reach Bruni Island, and all were drowned, except one woman. [265]
Mr. Knopwood remembered that, in 1813 and 1814, the natives were fed at his door. A number of children were forcibly taken from them, and they disappeared from the camp.
J Colonel Davey bore witness to the continuance of cruelty, which he censured in the strongest language of indignation. Certain settlers established a species of juvenile slavery: they followed up the mother, retarded by the encumbrance of her children, until she was compelled in her terror to leave them. Well might the Governor declare, that crime so enormous had fixed a lasting stigma on the British name. These provocations produced their usual consequences: by spearing cattle, and other acts of hostility, a tribe at the Coal River revenged the robbery of their children; surely, a slight retaliation for such incredible wickedness.
An expedition to Macquarie Harbour, in 1817, discovered a tribe hitherto unknown. They received the first visit with the usual friendliness - a feeling which was, however, of short duration.
The Oyster Bay tribe are mentioned at this time by the press. They had begun to exhibit that spirit of hostility which made them a terror to the colony, and armed the entire community against them. They had speared one man, and killed another; but the origin of this feeling is distinctly stated: a native had been shot in an expedition to capture some aboriginal children.
Sorell prolongs the testimony that tells so mournfully in behalf of the natives. He speaks of firing on the blacks as a habit; that child-stealing was practised in the remoter districts; that settlers had adopted groundless prejudices against the unfortunate people, as alike incapable and unworthy of conciliation; that they offered no serious discountenance to the cruelty of their servants. Thus several whites had perished, and cattle had been speared, in revenge. He reminded the colonists that, as their flocks increased and the shepherds extended their range, this obvious method of retaliation, then rarely adopted, would multiply the loss both of property and human life. The danger was proved by examples: - In 1819, a collision occurred; a man on each side killed, and cattle and sheep were speared; but, the account continues, the stock-keepers detained and maltreated the wife of a chief. Either on this, or some such occasion, they were pursued by a party of the 48th regiment, and seventeen were slain. Governor Sorell maintained very strenuously the opinion of his predecessors, that the aborigines were not often the aggressors, and that the injuries they inflicted were committed under the impulse of recent provocation.
Sorell provided for the native children, except those committed to private hands by their parents, or retained with the express sanction of himself. There is no reason to doubt, that several of these were orphans, and adopted and reared with the utmost humanity. Among the expenses of the times, it is gratifying to observe one item, in the rental of a house for the entertainment of the aborigines. The sentiments of Governor Sorell are honorable to his character, and cannot be doubted; but we are startled to find, that when charges, so solemnly imputed, must have been founded upon particular facts, no equal punishment seems to have overtaken the crimes proclaimed. [266] The government disapproved of oppression, but it was either too weak, or too indolent, to visit the guilty. -
Mr. Commissioner Bigge, who came to the colony 1820, in his voluminous reports, rarely alludes to the natives of these seas. Those of Van Diemen's Land engaged a very small share of his attention, and in two brief paragraphs he describes their character, and disposes of their claims. He remarks, that an act of unjustifiable hostility had awakened their resentment, passes over an interval of sixteen years, and expresses his conviction that no obstacle they could oppose to colonisation, need excite alarm. It is probable, that his instructions would but briefly touch on questions relating to these children of the soil; but considering that the notices and orders of government must have apprised him of their sufferings, he dismisses their case with astonishing indifference.
Several Wesleyan missionaries visited this island during the years 1821 and 1822. The natives attracted their notice: they described, with brevity, their moral and social state; but they did not intimate the smallest apprehension of their malice.
For several years reference to the aborigines is of rare occurrence. The year preceding the first series of outrages, furnished no incident worth contemporary record. We are reminded, however, that they survived, by an act of equestrian audacity. Mr. Risely, looking down Allan Vale, saw a naked girl dashing off at full speed, on a valuable horse, which she bridled by the tether - the first of her race ever known to gallop. Horsemen pursued her for two days, without overtaking her.
In those numerous publications, which precede 1824, the aborigines are always represented as originally friendly, and only dangerous when excited by cruelty. It was the boast of the times, that the whole island could be crossed in safety by two persons armed with muskets; and Curr, who wrote latest, does not even mention their existence. It is difficult to imagine more decided proof, that at this time the depredations of the blacks were neither numerous nor sanguinary.
It is the general opinion, however, that the remonstrances of Sorell had been attended with some success, and that the settlers and stock-keepers were not unimpressed with his predictions of a more concerted and continuous revenge; nor can we doubt that many persons of humanity even exaggerated this peril, to restrain those brutal natures which are sensible only of personal risk. [267]

It would be useful to mankind, to trace the causes which led to that long and disastrous conflict, in which so many lives were sacrificed, and a people, all but a fading fragment, became extinct.
1st. Among those mentioned by the government, was the admission into the colony of Sydney blacks, and the ascendancy which one of them acquired.
The emigrants of 1822 remember a number of natives, who roamed about the district, and were known as the "tame mob." They were absconders from different tribes, and separated from their chiefs. They often entered the town and obtained bread, tobacco, and even rum from the inhabitants. Their importunity was troublesome, and their appearance offensive: the eruptive disease which covered their skin, especially on the legs, most exposed to the heat of their fires, added to their squalor and wretchedness. They are thus described by the Rev. Mr. Horton: he saw them at Pittwater, crouching round their fires, and entirely naked - a company of demoralised savages.
Musquito [Mosquito] became their head. He was transported from Sydney to this colony for the murder of a woman. For some time he acted as a stock-keeper; he was then employed as a guide, in tracking the bushrangers, having the keenness of vision, and almost canine instinct, by which in the slightest traces he discovered a certain clue. For this service, it is said, he was promised restoration to his country - a promise, unhappily, forgotten. He was odious to the prisoners, who taunted him as a nose for the hangman; his resentful nature could not brook the insult, and he struck down a convict who thus reviled him. He was then taken into custody; in alarm, he escaped to the bush. The muscular strength and superior skill of this man were supposed to have recommended him to the natives as their chief. He was seen, by Gilbert Robertson, to cut off the head of a pigeon with a stick, while flying. Musquito answered Mr. Horton with intelligence, when that gentleman represented the misery of a vagrant life; he said that he should prefer to live like the white man, tilling the ground, but that none of his companions would join him. Before he united with the natives, he was accustomed to pursue them with all the virulence of a savage. In company with a convict servant he would face the darkness, and go out "to storm the huts" he had seen in the day. On one such occasion, in spite of prohibitions, he set out at night; but the natives had observed him, and decamped, leaving behind them large fires to deceive their enemy. Returning at midnight, he was mistaken for a Tasmanian black; and, but for discovery at the moment, would have suffered the fate he deserved.
It was said by Mr. Robertson, that the first murders of Musquito were committed in self defence. He associated with the Oyster Bay tribe, and his power over them was great: he even prevailed on them to perform some rude agricultural labor. He had high notions of his own worth: he would stalk into the cottages of the settlers, seat himself with great dignity: his followers, to the number of one or two hundred, patiently awaiting his signal to approach. [268]
As the influence of Musquito enlarged, it became more pernicious. He not only misled his immediate followers, but propagated his spirit. Deeds of great enormity were committed at his direction; several by his own hand. He drew a man from his house at Pittwater, by the cooey, and then speared him to death. A servant of Mr. Cassidy, and another of Mr. Evans, met a similar fate. In concert with Tom, a Tasmanian black, he became a terror to the colony. Their parties moved in large bodies, and acted under a common impulse. In carrying on their depredations, their tactics aimed at military unity and skill. A party of sixty appeared before the premises of Mr. Hobbs, at the Eastern Marshes (1824): they watched the servants deliver their fire, and before they could reload their muskets, they rushed upon them, and by weight of numbers drove them off the ground. A few days after, the natives again appeared: a small party came forward first, and reconnoitred; then returning to a hill, they made signals to a body of a hundred and fifty, in an opposite direction. Both divisions bore down on the establishment. The English were now well armed, and maintained the post for five hours; but escaped when they saw the natives prepare to surround the dwelling with fire. Overcome with terror, for several days they refused to return, and the property was left to its fate. Mr. Hobbs was specially unfortunate: his house lay in the track, both of the natives and bushrangers, and thrice in one season his premises were pillaged.
The arrest of Musquito became an object of importance, and Colonel Arthur, then Governor, offered a reward for his capture. Teague, an aboriginal boy, brought up by Dr. Luttrell, was dispatched with two constables. They overtook Musquito at Oyster Bay: he resisted, but was shot in the groin, and being unarmed was captured, with two women, and conveyed to Hobart Town.
It was resolved to bring him to justice. By the care of Dr. Scott he was cured, and transferred from the hospital to gaol. Black Tom was subsequently taken, and both were tried for the murder of William Hollyoak and Patrick M'Arthur. Of the last of these offences, the Tasmanian was found guilty, but Musquito was convicted of both.
Mammoa, an Otaheitian, was killed with Hollyoak: Musquito had lingered in their neighbourhood, and watched their movements for days; he had visited their hut, and received provisions from their hands; but on the morning of the murder he purloined the guns and removed the dogs. Mammoa fell instantly; but the Englishman endured the misery of long pursuit and several wounds, and dropped at last, pierced through and through with spears.
Such were the men who, in February, 1825, suffered death with six European criminals. They were unassisted by counsel, and perhaps the evidence was not fully understood by them. It is useless, however, to extenuate their treachery: and their execution, whether politic or not, can scarcely be accounted unjust. [269] But, unhappily, these deeds of barbarity were not left to the vengeance of the law. The colonists, of higher grades, preserved the distinction between the guilty and the innocent, which it is the object of public trials to establish; but the lower orders, and especially the dissolute and the worthless, justified hatred to the race, and finally, systematic massacre, by the individual acts of such men as Musquito.
It is instructive, if not amusing, to observe how nicely the theory of some philosophers and the sentiments of the lowest European robbers, meet together; how, what one predicts, the other executes. The supposed eternal laws of nature are accomplished by the wild license of an English savage. It became the serious conviction of stockmen, that blacks are brutes, only of a more cunning and dangerous order - an impression which has long ceased in this colony, but which still flourishes in Australia Felix.
Bent, the proprietor of the only newspaper published at that time, referring to the outrages of the hostile blacks, seemed to dread these doctrines. With great consideration he detaches Musquito's guilt from the tribes in general: a distinction by no means trite or universally recognised. "Until corrupted by the Sydney natives they were," he asserts, "the most peaceable race in existence." These humane suggestions deserve more praise than the highest literary skill.
2nd. The disposition to conciliate the blacks eventually contributed to the same disastrous consequences. A tribe of sixty, appeared in Hobart Town, November, 1824; they came in a peaceable manner, their visit was unexpected, and its cause unknown. On the first notice of their approach, the Governor went forth to meet them: he assigned three places for their fires, supplied them with food and blankets, and appointed constables to protect them. They departed suddenly, and on their journey attempted to spear a white man. Whether the abrupt retreat resulted from caprice or distrust, it did not prevent a similar visit to Launceston in the following December. There were 200 in this party. When crossing Paterson's Plains they were wantonly fired on by the whites, and in their return some of their women were treated with indescribable brutality; the ruffians who maltreated them were, indeed, punished with 25 lashes. When they reached the Lake River, two sawyers, who had never before suffered molestation, were wounded by their spears. The recent cruelty they had experienced fully accounted for their rage.
It was the anxious desire of the Governor to establish a native institution, deriving its funds partly from the public purse and partly from private benevolence. A code was prepared by the Rev. Messrs. Bedford and Mansfield; and a public meeting held in the church of St. David, the Governor presiding, approved the regulations; but at that time the colony was distracted by the ravages of robbers, and its financial resources were depressed: and the prevailing opinion that civilisation was impossible, still further embarrassed the project, and confined the hopes of the most sanguine to the rising generation. Mr. Mansfield rested his expectation rather on the power of God than upon human probabilities. [270]
The civilisation of a barbarous people is, perhaps, impossible, in the presence of organised communities of white men. The contrast is too great, and the points of contact too numerous and irritating. Never have colonists civilised aborigines; but the failure is easily explained, without recourse to egotistical superstition, that the white man's shadow is, to men of every other hue, by law of Heaven, the shadow of death.
The children of aborigines, adopted by the whites, when they grew to maturity, were drawn to the woods, and resumed the habits of their kindred. A black girl, trained in Launceston, thus allured, laid aside her clothing, which she had worn nearly from infancy. It was thus with many: a sense of inferiority to the youth about them, united with the mysterious interest which every heart feels in kindred sympathies, is sufficient to account for these relapses. Examples will crowd upon the memory of the reader, in which the polish and caresses of the British capital did not disqualify the savage to re-enter with zest on the barbarous pursuits of his forefathers.
The desire for sugar, bread, and blankets, could only be regularly gratified by an abandonment of migratory habits. When remote from the government stores, the natives still coveted what they could not obtain, but as spoil. They had learned to prefer articles of steel to the crystal, and they acquired an imperfect mastery of fire-arms. Some were, however, exceedingly expert; a chief, conciliated by Mr. G. A. Robinson, brought down an eagle hawk, with all the airs of a practised sportsman. Thus their untutored nature could not resist the temptation created by new wants: they watched the hut of the stock-keeper, which they stripped during his absence; till, growing more daring, they disregarded his presence; and even the populous districts, and establishments of considerable force, were not safe from their depredations.
At the time when they first became formidable, armed bushrangers scoured the colony; sometimes the allies of the natives, much oftener their oppressors. Outlaws themselves, they inculcated the arts of violence. The improved caution and cunning of the natives, so often noticed by the government, were ascribed, in no small degree, to the treacherous lessons of degraded Europeans. But when the bushranger did not employ these people as the instrument of his designs, moved by fear or cruelty, often he destroyed them: thus Lemon and Brown set up the natives as marks to fire at. The irritated savage confounded the armed, though unoffending, stock-keeper, with his marauding countrymen, and missing the object of his premeditated vengeance, speared the first substitute he encountered. This conclusion is amply supported by facts. The common principles which affect the minds of nations towards each other; the reprisals, which are vindicated in civilised war, only differ in circumstances. A thousand injuries, never recorded, if stated in a connexion with these results, would enable us to see how often the harmless settler was sacrificed to passions, provoked by his robber countrymen.
In 1826, a remarkable instance of this was brought under the notice of government. Dunne, who at length met the punishment he deserved, seized a woman, and forced her to the hut of Mr. Thomson, on the Shannon, where he detained her with violence; she, however, escaped to her people, and roused them to avenge her. [271] Dunne, next morning, suddenly found himself in their midst: his musket protected him, and after hours of such torture as his conscience and fears might inflict, he managed to get off. On the following day, the woman led her tribe, vociferating threats, to the hut in which she had been maltreated, where they massacred James Scott, a man with whom they had lived in friendship for many years, and who, when warned a few days before to be on his guard, smiled at the notion of danger.
The treatment of some of these women was such as no one can be expected to credit, until prepared by extensive acquaintance with human depravation. A monster boasted that, having captured a native woman, whose husband he had killed, he strung the bleeding head to her neck, and drove her before him as his prize. Had not this fact been guaranteed by formal enquiry, it could only have been admitted as a specimen of brutal gasconade, and in proof of how much a cruel fancy could exceed the actual guilt of mankind. It sometimes happened, that an unfortunate servant would receive the spear intended for his predecessor in the same employ, to whom it was justly due. Among the whites, there were men distinguished for the malicious vigour with which they tracked and murdered the native people. A lad, on his arrival from England, was sent into the interior, and warned never to wander from his dwelling; but he forgot the danger he did not see, and straying a short distance, he was murdered. He had never injured his destroyers; but then he lived on the lands just before in charge of a villain, and who, like a Roman warrior, took his name of "Abyssinian Tom," from the locality of his exploits.
3rd. The infliction of judicial punishments, interrupted the friendly intercourse of the tribe that visited Hobart Town, and who were encouraged to resort to Kangaroo Point, where huts were erected for their use. The arrest of two of their number filled them with apprehension. The aborigines, Jack and Dick, were executed on the 13th September, 1826, an event which terminated all present hope of amicable relations. The murder of a shepherd at Oyster Bay, Great Swan Port, was proved against them by the evidence of convict stock-keepers; a topic of contemporary complaint: but the courts regularly relied on the same class of witnesses, and in this case there is no special reason for suspicion. The fact was not questioned: the culprits had been treated with kindness by the government, and efforts had been made by Colonel Arthur to acquaint them with the obligations of British subjects. He asserts that, by personal interviews, he was fully convinced that they understood the benevolent views of the crown. One of these blacks was so far civilised, as to be admitted to the sacrament of the English church. His companion was a youth, and denied his guilt. The old black was carried to the scaffold, and resisted the execution: the younger, disentangled his arms, and struggled for his life. It was, indeed, a melancholy spectacle. Successive Governors had witnessed crimes against their race, atrocious and unpunished: hundreds had fallen unavenged by that public justice which treated them as murderers.