John Dunmore Lang.

Cooksland in north-eastern Australia: the future cottonfield of Great ... online

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ago ; and in conversing on the subject with a Scotch
runaway convict from Moreton Bay, whom I shall have
occasion hereafter to introduce to the reader, and who
had resided and been naturalized and domesticated
among the natives of that part of the territory for up-
wards of fourteen years, 1 was much pleased with the
good feeling exhibited by the man, who appeared sin-
cerely to regret this loss of life as well as of property,
and who assured me that if he himself, or any other per-
son at all acquainted with the habits and feelings of the
natives had been at the Squatting Station at Wide Bay,
there would not have been a single head either of
sheep or of cattle lost, and peace and harmony would
have been maintained between the Squatters and the
natives. The Station had ultimately to be abandoned
at a great loss to the proprietors ; but other Stations
have since been formed, under better management, and
with corresponding success, much farther to the North-
ward.

This state of mutual distrust and apprehension on the
part of the two races, on certain of the frontier Sta-
tions, has given rise to a horrible practice, which, I fear,
however disgraceful to the British name, has been but
too extensively practised within the Colonial Territory
— I mean, that of mixing up arsenic or corrosive subli-
mate in the dampers or hominy^ the imleavened wheaten
cakes baked in the ashes, or the maize-meal porridge
with which the Settlers and Squatters of the Colony



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274 COOKSLAND.

occasionallj treat the natives. The idea that such a
thing had been done in any part of the British Empire
has doubtless been scouted in certain quarters ; but I
have no doubt whatever that it has been done again
and again. Nay, it is consistent with my own knowledge
that it has been openly justified and defended in the
Colony by people who have had not less than " ten
years* experience in the bush in New South Wales,"
and whose education, whose profession, and whose sta-
tion in society ought to have taught them better things.

The subject of the poisoning of the black natives hap-
pened to be mentioned at a meeting of a Committee jof
the Legislative Council of New Souih Wales, on the state
of the Aborigines during the Session of 1845, of which
I happened to be a member ; and one of the members
having expressed a doubt as to whether such an atro-
city had ever been practised in the Colony, W. Suttor,
Esq., M.C. for the county of Roxburgh, stated, that
he had hired a free immigrant from England some
time before, either as a shepherd or hut-keeper, at a
station to the westward of Bathurst, and as the black
natives had been rather troublesome in the neighbour-
hood shortly before, he asked the man when ready to
start, whether he was under any apprehensions from
the natives 1 " Oh no," replied the man, with an air
of confidence, and going to his box which was just
<'\bout to be placed on a dray to proceed to the station,
and producing a brown-paper parcel, he added with a
sort of triumph, '' I have got something here that will
keep them quiet." Mr. Suttor thought thcpaper might
contain powder and shot, but he found to his horror,
on further inquiry, that it contained arsenic ! I need
scarcely add, that Mr. S. took the paper from the man,
and told him he could allow no such practices at any
station of his. This man had been little more than six
months in the country at the time, but he had been
long enough in it to have learned how the black natives
were treated, when they were at all troublesome, at
certain other stations in the Colony.

In answer to the following questions, addressed in a



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THE SQUATTING SYSTEM. 275

circular to various magistrates and other influential
persons throughout the Territory, by the Committee of
the Legislative Council on the Aborigines, to which
I have just referred, the subjoined replies were given
by G. A. Robinson, Esq., Chief Protector of the Abori-
gines for the District of Port Phillip : —

What is the probable number of Aborigines in your District,
distinguishing males, females, and children 1 The probable esti-
mate of the Aboriguial population is upwards of 5000, thirty -five
per cent, being males, twenty-eight females, and thirty-seven
children.

Has the number diminished or increased, and if so, to what
extent, within the last five or ten years 1 The number of Abo-
rigines in the settled districts has decreased within the last six
years to the extent probably of twenty per cent.

To what cause do you attribute the decrease I The decrease
is attributable to collisions with Europeans, to intestine strife, to
feuds, but principally to the effect of European disease ; and, in
tome instances, there ii reason to fear the Aborigines hate been
poisoned, and ike ends of justice defeated, for want of legal evi-
dence ; the only witnesses to be obtained in such cases being the
Aborigines, who are disqualified on account of their legal ina-
bility.

A case of alleged poisoning of black natives, to the
extent of from thirty to fifty, which was noticed at the
time, although very vaguely, both in the Colony and
in England, occurred in the northern portion of the
district of Moreton Bay in the year 1842. And as it
was I who caused it to be noticed at all, although I
was unable at the time from want of definite informa-
tion to follow it up, and as I unexpectedly obtained
some additional infoimation during my visit to More-
ton Bay, in the months of November and December
1845, I shall simply state what I have learned respect-
ing it, and leave the reader to form his own opinion.

The Rev. Mr. Schmidt, and one of his lay -brethren,
of the German Mission to the Aborigines of Moreton
Bay, having occasion to proceed about fifty miles to the
north-west of the Mission Station, near Brisbane, in the
year 1842, to ascertain the practicability of establishing
a branch of the Mission in the Bunya-Bwnya country in
that direction — a measure which had been strongly re-



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276 COOKSLAND.

commended to the Governor, who then contributed a
portion of the general expenditure of the Mission from
the Public Treasury, and who had therefore a right to
interfere in its affairs — was astonished to find, that when
he reached a particular part of the route, the black
natives who were along with him, as guides and com-
panions, refused to proceed any fm^her ; alleging that
they were in danger of their lives, from the tribe into
whose territory they were then on the point of entering,
as a large number of the natives of tiiat tribe had re-
cently been poisoned at a Squatters Station in the
District, and as either white or black men coming
from that part of the country, would be sure to be
murdered by the exasperated natives in revenge. An
intelligent native of Mr. Schmidt's party, standing upon
the stump of a tree at the place where they had halted,
related to Mr. S. how the affair happened, evidently
exhibiting a deep interest in the matter. A band of
natives had appeared at the Squatter's Station, and the
latter had given them, professedly as a treat, a large quan-
tity of ^omm^^, or maize meal pudding, which they aU like
very much, but in which a white stuff like flour was mixed.
The natives, (to the number of upwards of thirty, it
was alleged,) who partook of it died very soon after their
feast, and the impression, on the part of the survivors,
was that they had been poisoned — with arsenic, know-
ingly and designedly administered by the Squatter.
The very same report had been brought to the Mission
Station, before Mr. S. had set out on his expedition,
by two of the lay-brethren, who had received the in-
telligence from the natives of another tribe, and Mr. S.
had heard the report himself at Brisbane, from re-
spectable Europeans. After a day or two's delay, the
black natives of Mr. Schmidt's party expressed their
willingness to proceed, if two or three natives of the
tribe of which they were apprehensive could be got
to bear them company, and this arrangement having
been made, the party proceeded to the Bunya-Bunya
country, and returned in safety.

As I was the Secretary of the German Mission at



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THE SQUATTINa SYSTEM. 277

the time, Mr. Schmidt's journal of the expedition to
the Bunya-Bunya country, containing an allusion to
the case of the alleged poisoning of so many of the
natives, was forwarded to me ; and as the expedition
had been undertaken with the approbation and con-
currence of the Governor, Sir George Gipps, I for-
warded it to His Excellency, without alluding in any
way in my communication to the affair of the poison-
ing. It was some time before the journal was returned,
and when I received it, I found the passage containing
the report of the black natives underlined in red — a
very appropriate colour for an affair of blood. This
was the very thing I wished ; it showed that the cir-
cumstance had attracted the notice of the Local Go-
vernment, without subjecting either my friend Mr.
Schmidt, or myself, to the odious charge of being an
informer : it also showed that the G<»vemment contem-
plated some proceeding on the subject. To strengthen
this resolution, therefore, to stir up His Excellency's
pure mind by way of remembrance, and to bind him
over to prosecute the contemplated inquiry to the ut-
most, by making him amenable to public opinion, I
immediately published the journal, with the underlined
portion in italics, in a department of the Colonial Press
to which I had access at the time. The following is
the passage I refer to : —

Extract from Observations made on a journey to the Bwdya-
Bwnya tree country, from the 1st to the I8th Jv/ne, 1842,
by the Rev, W. Schmidt.

Our nine natives were rather undecided whether they would
accompany us any farther, being very much afraid the strange
mountain natives might attack and kill us and them. This fear
arose from the circumstance, that one of the mountain tribe, (a
brother of a chief,) was lately killed in a fight, by one of the fish-
ing-tribes. Mr. Archer himself stated, that he was afraid we
might meet with some disaster, as the relatives of that unfortu-
nate man were very angry, and would revenge themselves.

There was also another reason, which influenced greatly our
natives against going any farther, viz. : a large number of natives,
(about 60 or 60,) having been poisoned at one of the SqticUtert* Sta-
tions* The neighbouring tribes are going, we are told, to attack



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278 COOKSLAND.

and to kill the whites wherever they meet with any. Under
these circumstances, of coarse, there was a strong faith necessary
to counteract their fear, and to pursue our plan in spite of all the
hindrances which already commenced rising against us.

The circumstance naturally attracted some notice
in the other Colonial Journals, although I am sorry to
say not much ; the zeal of those who deemed the sub-
ject at all worthy of their comments being chiefly ex-
pended in vituperating Mr. Schmidt, as being the
originator of a report, so utterly unfounded as it was
alleged to be, and so injurious to the high character of
the Squatters. But Mr. Schmidt was in no way the
originator of that report. It was the common talk at
Moreton Bay at the time, and as the Governor himself
had visited that settlement by the same vessel by which
Mr. S. had just returned to it, after an absence of
several months in Sydney on the business of the Mis-
sion, he had heard the report himself on the spot as
soon as Mr. S., although I have been told, he remarked,
when he did so, that " it had been got up purposely to
annoy him !" Annoy him, forsooth ! — as if the Go-
vernor of a British Colony, the representative of
Majesty, could with any propriety consider it an cmnoy-
ance to be called on to do his duty in a case in which
the national honour, and the lives of the most defence-
less of Her Majesty's subjects, were concerned ! But
whatever may have been the private feelings of the
Head of the Local Executive in the case, the public
mention of the circumstance in the Colonial Press ren-
dered it necessary to do something in the matter, to
save appearances ; and accordingly a letter was written
by the Colonial Secretary to Dr. Simpson, Commissioner
of Crown Lands for the Moreton Bay District, desiring
him to ascertain the grounds on which the Rev. W.
Schmidt made the statement contained in his Journal.
Mr. Schmidt, of course, had no other grounds to offer
than the report of the black natives, corroborated as it
was by their own procedure on the journey to the
Bunya-Bunya country. And in saying so, he re-
minded the Governor, in his letter on the subject to



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THE SQUATTING SYSTEM. 279

the Colonial Secretary, that His Excellency had heard
the report from the same qaarters as himself, when at
Moreton Bay. At all events, it was not Mr. Schmidt's
duty as a Missionary, but the Grovernor's as the foun-
tain of justice, to search out the matter to the bottom.
But nothing further was done in it, although the offi-
cers of the settlement were in daily expectation at the
time of the appointment of a Commission of Inquiry
to have it thoroughly investigated. If, therefore, it is
a fundamental principle of all law, whether human or
divine, that the Ruler or Judge who has a case of atrocity
like the one in question brought before him, and neglects
to vindicate the majesty of the law and to secure the
high ends of justice, is to be held partic^s crimims, Sir
George Gipps has still this black blood upon his hands;
and now that Her Majesty has at length relieved him
of the task of misgoverning the most important of Her
Australian Colonies, he may wipe it off, if he can.*

The following Journal of an Expedition to the Wide
Bay River, in latitude 26°, undertaken at the instance
of the Local Authorities, in the year 1842, and con-
ducted by Mr. Andrew Petrie, whom I have had occa-
sion to mention in a former chapter of this work, will
show how deep an impression this affair of the poisoning
of the natives had made upon the Aborigines over a
wide extent of country to the northward, and how
powerful a hold it had taken of the native mind. The
expedition was undertaken to discover and to bring
up to the Settlement certain runaway convicts from
Moreton Bay, who, it was well known, had been liv-
ing among the native tribes to the northward, some
of them for many years ; and in order to induce them
to return, Mr. Petrie was authorized to assure these
runaways, if he found them, that they would be treated
as freemen at the Settlement, which was no longer a
Penal Establishment, and that no punishment would



* Sir George Gipps was alive when this was written. He
has since gone to his account. 1 see no reason, however, why I
should expunge a sylUble of what I had written in the case.



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280 COOKSLAND.

be awarded them for having effected their escape. The
affair of the poisoning, it will be seen, is alluded to in
the journal quite incidentally, but in a way which can
leave no doubt upon the mind as to the reality of the
deeply disgraceful and damning fact. I may add, that
at the time when Mr. Petrie gave me the journal, I
had never spoken to him on the subject of the poison-
ing of the natives in 1 842, and he could have had no
means of knowing that I had ever taken any further in*
terest in the matter than might have been expected from
a Christian minister and an honest man. Indeed, when,
on reading the journal for the first time after my return
to Sydney, and discovering the strong corroboration
it contained of the fact alleged in Mr. Schmidt's jour-
nal, over which the Local Government had so strangely
thrown the mantle of concealment, I wrote to him. for
additional information, he seemed rather shy about
giving it, — ^which, as an old employe of Government,
I thought quite natural ; for I have uniformly observed
that when the Head of a Colonial Government has
signified his wish in any way that any subject or cir-
cumstance should pass into oblivion, the burden of the
song of all his subordinates is —

** Oh no I we never mention it ! "

JouBNAL of an Expedition to the Wide Bay Riteb, in the year
1842, by Mr. Andrew Petrie.

May ithf 1842. — Left Brisbane Town at day-break ; set sail
at Breakfast Creek, wind from the south-west ; made the north
end of Bribie's Island Passage at dusk. Lay at anchor and
sleep in the boat till day-break.

btk, — Made sail for the river Marootchy Doro, or the Black
Swan River; arrived there at two o'clock, but was afraid to
enter, it being low water at the time, and a heavy surf on the
bar. Made way for Madumbah Island, distant about two miles
from the river, but could not effect a landing, from the surf.
Set sail for Bracefield Cape, and arrived shortly after sunset in
the bay or bight. There was a very heavy swell, which made it
difficult landing. Before leaving the boat we were surprised to
see twenty or uiirty Aborigines running along the beach, coming
to meet us. I made signs to them to carry us ashore, and they
immediately jumped into the water up to the arm-pits. I was



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THE SQUATTING SYSTEM. 281

the first who mounted their shoulders. They appeared hold and
daring, and I immediately suspected that this must he the place
where several shipwrecked seamen had been murdered hy
these hhick cannibals. Little did I think at the time that the
one who carried me ashore was the principal murderer. The
moment he put me off his shoulders he laid hold of my blanket,
but I seized him and made him drop it. He then took hold of
a hag of biscuit, and would have taken it away, had I not taken
strong measures to prevent him. There were no guns on shore,
and those on board were not loaded ; so I called for my rifle, and
loading it, kept them at bay, and at the same time made them
carry our luggage on shore. We then gave them a few biscuits,
and ordered them off to their camp, retaining the murderer and
another, and keeping regular watch all night, each of us taking
an hour in turn. During supper I made inquiries after Wcmdie,
the bush name of the runaway Bracefield, and was informed by
the natives that he was only a short way off.

6th. — £arly this morning I despatched our two blacks and one
of this tribe with a letter to Bracefield. He could not read, but
one of the blacks mentioned my name to him when he gave him
the letter, and he started instantly to join us, accompanied by
three of his tribe, — his adopted father^ and two of his friends.
About eleven o'clock the blacks observed them coming about five
miles off, and Mr. Jolly, myself, Joseph Russell, and the black
fellow went along the beach to meet them. Bracefield, when we
met him, had the same appearance as the wild blacks ; I could
only recognise him [as a European] from having known him before.
When I spoke to him he could not answer me for some time ;
his heart was full, and tears flowed, and the language did not
come ready to him. His first expression was to thank me for
being the means of bringing him back to the society of white
men again. He was anxious to hear about the Settlement, and
whether anything would be done to him ; but I assured him that
no punishment would be inflicted on him. On coming along to
our camp, Bracefield said to me, *^ I suppose. Sir, you are not
aware that the black you have got with you is the murderer of
several white men." The moment he observed us talking about
him, he darted off into the bush in an instant, just as I was
looking round at him, intending to shoot him. This bay or inlet
has a river in the bight, which forms several large lakes, or
sheets of water. A few miles inland from one of these lakes,
Mrs. Frazer* was rescued from the blacks by Graham, and con-
veyed to the boats which were anchored at the same place where
we encamped.



* The wife of Captain Frazer, of the Stirling Castle, already
mentioned, who was murdered by the black natives at Frazer^s
island.



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282 COOKSLAND.

7th, — Set sail about 8 a.m., wind S.E., taking Braeefield with
us, and landed about 4 o'clock ; distance 30 miles.

Stk. — Set sail across the bay with a south-east wind, about 11
A.M., and about 3 p.m. were in the passage leading into what is
called Wide Bay. Landed for the purpose of getting a black
fellow, then sailed down the passage about six miles, and encamp-
ed on Frazer's Island.

9th, — Started at sun-rise, taking the direction from the strange
black fellow. A dense fog continued until 11 o'clock. We
steered N. W., and the wind springing up from the N.E., we con-
tinued sailing and pulling about among the islands, looking out
for the river, but without success.

lOth. — Started early, circumnavigated Gammon Island, and
landed nearly where we started from. Observing a black's fire
on Frazer's Island, I proposed making for that point, intending
to take bearings from the high land, from which I also thought I
might see the river. While engaged in taking beaiings, I de-
scried the river accordingly. It is called the Wide Bay River.
While I was on the hill, the rest of the party procured some
fresh water, and tried all they could to persuade one of the
natives to accompany us across to the river, but were not
successful. They appeared afraid of us, more especially of Mr.
Wriothesley's red shirt. We left the island about 3 p.m , reached
the mouth of the river at sun-down and encamped on Jolliffe's
Head. This point of land is of marine formation ; the strata
are peculiarly laid up and intermixed ; they lie at an angle of 70®,
forming a ridge of land, covered with scrub, along the north shore.
In this scrub I found a species of pine, not known before. It is
similar to the New Zealand Cowrie Pine, and bears a cone. It
forms a valuable timber. The blacks make their nets of the in-
ner bark of this tree.

1 Ith. — Ascended the river about twenty miles ; next day, about
twenty-five miles higher ; and the following day, about four miles
— about fifty in all, where we found the navigation stopped with
rocks and shingly beds. After we landed, I despatched Braee-
field and our black Ullappah, to see if they could find any
natives, but they did not succeed. After their return, Ullapp^
speared a fine fresh- water mullet, with flat mouth and red eyes,
about 24 lbs. weight. Shortly after, I took a stroll, but without
my gun, and quite alone not expecting to meet with any blacks;
I had not gone above half a mile from the camp, when I heard
the sound of natives, who appeared to be numerous. I imme-
diately went back to the camp, and sent off Braeefield and the
black to them. They were absent about an hour and a half, and
reported on their return that they were afraid to go near their
camp, as they were so numerous. Braeefield was sure there were
some hundreds of them. He and the black were both very much
frightened. Braeefield informed me the man we were in quest
of, Davies, or Darumboy, which was his bush name, was sure to
be with ihia tribe; on which I offered to accompany him and as-



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THE SQUATTma SYSTEM. 283

sist him in procuring him. Braeefield said it would he much
hetter for me to remain at the camp, as I should otherwise he run-
ning a great risk, and proposed that two of our party, Clark and
Russell, who were both prisoners of the Crown, [convicts,] should
go along with him, as if they succeeded in bringing him into our
camp, something might be done for these men in the way of mi-
tigating their punishment. I assented, arranging with them to
go to their assistance if we should hear their guns fire, and they
went off accordingly, about half-past 4 p.m., and about sun-down
returned with Davies. Braeefield behaved manfully in this
transaction. He directed Russell and Clark to remain at a dis-
tance, while he and the black fellow should steal in upon the
strange blacks. Soon after the two got in among them, the two
white men were observed, and the strange blacks immediately
snatching up their spears were running off to murder them,
when Davies and Braeefield prevented them, and no doubt saved
the lives of the two men. By this time Braeefield had been
recognised by a great number of the Wide Bay blacks, who
knew him, and told him [as the reason of their murderous inten-
tions towards the two white men] that tA« white feUotos had pot-
toned a number of their tribe. But he explained to them that we
knew nothing of it, and that we were come to explore the river
and country. During this time Davies darted off to Russell and
Clark, and gave himself up to them, without waiting for Brace-



Online LibraryJohn Dunmore LangCooksland in north-eastern Australia: the future cottonfield of Great ... → online text (page 26 of 47)