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are absolutely naked, and have only a small piece of
seal-skin hanging down and covering part of their
hacks. Their women are much of the same features,
colour, and form as the men, and have generally long
hanging breasts, and, besides the seal-skin on their
backs, a small patch of the skin of a bird or seal in
front. All have a countenance announcing nothing but
their wretchedness. They seem to be good-natured,
friendly, and harmless, but remarkably stupid, being in-
capable of understanding any of our signs, which, how-
ever, were very intelligible to the nations of the South
Seas. They stank immoderately of train-oil, so that we
might smell them at a distance, and in the finest days
they were shivering with cold. Human nature appeared



* Strzelecki, p. 336.

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THE ABORIGINES OF AUSTRALIA. 351

nowhere in so debased and wretched a condition as with these
miserable, forlorn, and stupid creatures,"*

And again, " The Pesserais whom we saw were with-
out any other covering than that of a small piece of
seal-skin, or a part of a guanacoe skin, hung over their
backs, and seemed not the least concerned upon expos-
ing the rest of their persons. The women had only a
piece of white bird's skin, about six inches square,
hardly sufficient to be called a badge of modesty; nor
was this custom universal, for some of them were seen
without it. They have no other shelter than a few
poles stuck in the ground, or small trees which they
find on the spot, tied together by leather straps or bast,
and a few bundles of brushwood fixed over them, by
way of covering, all which is encompassed by some
seal-skins ; this kind of hut is open at least one-fifVh
or one-sixth of the whole circumference, and in this
opening the fire is made, so that they remain exposed
to the iijclemency of the weather and to the rigour of the
climate, which was far from being mild in the height of
their summer. Notwithstanding all this, it appears to
me to be very singular that a people, having a great
quantity of tiie finest wood, should be so much at a
loss to make their situation a little more comfortable,
by employing this timber in building with it more con-
venient houses and stronger boats."t

But the wretched inhabitants of Tierra del Fuego,
whose bleak island is only a few hundred miles to ^e
eastward of our vessel, as I am writing this paragraph,
are not the only portion of the Indo- American race
that has reached the same low, and apparently hope-
less, position in the social scale, as the aborigines of
New Holland and Van Dieman's Land, or their con-
geners of the Papuan race, in the Indian Archipelago.
The whole of the aboriginal population of the Brazils,
appears, on the testimony of Dr. Von Martins, a re-
cent and highly accomplished traveller in that country.



* Observations, &c., p. 250. f Observations, &c., p. 312.

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352 COOKSLAKD.

to be in precisely the same social condition ; insomuch
that the eloquent description which that traveller has
given of this large portion of the Indo- American race
might, mutatis mutandis, be applied, in almost every
particular, to the aborigines of Australia. In the
one case, as well as in the other, there is the singular
moral phenomenon, of ^' a thinly scattered population
of aboriginal natives" occupying a vast extent of ter-
ritory, and '^ agreeing in bodily make, temperament,
dispositions, manners, customs, and modes of living,"
but presenting " a truly astonishing discordance of
languages." In both cases there is the same ** disruption
of society into innumerable fragments, each animated
with a feeling of distrust, or of positive hatred and
hostility towards every other." In both cases there is
the same general, if not universal, prevalence of can-
nibalism ; although, in the case of the aborigines of
Australia, it occurs in circumstances that invest the
horrid practice with an interest which almost redeems
its character, and which it certainly cannot claim in
that of the Indo- Americans. In both cases there are
the same unequivocal evidences of the extreme anti-
quity of the race, as well as of an extinct and long-
forgotten civilization, on which there is no traditionary
poetry, or other memorial of the past, to shed a solitary
gleam of light. And in both cases there is the same
passive resistance, to -every attempt from without, at
the social elevation of the race, and the same rapid,
visible, and gloomy progress towards its ultimate
annihilation.

The interesting passage to which I refer, and which
the reader will find in a note, at the bottom of the
page,^ forms a quotation in a small work which I pub-



* The intelligent Bavarian traveller to whom I have already
referred, finding the existence, and the past and present condi-
tion of man in £e forests of America, a problem too difficult for
his own philosophy to solve, has adopted the unphilosophical
hypothesis which we Roman historian, Tacitus, had advanced so
long before in regard to the existence of his own German fore-



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THE ABORIGINES OF AUSTRALIA. 353

Hshed in London, in the year 1834, entitled, View of
the Origin and Migrations of the Polynesian Nation, cfe-
monstrating their ancient discovery, and progressive settle^
ment of the continent of America, In that work, which

fathers in the ancient Hercynian forest Dr. Von Martins be-
lieves the Indo- Americans indigenous. He regards them as a
race peculiar to the continent they inhabit — an inferior and un-
finished specimen of humanity — the abortive effort, perchance, of
some ancient demiurgus, emulous, but yet utterly unable, to copy
the noblest work of the Supreme Creator, — ^the Caucasian, or
European man. The German philosopher's description of. his
unhappy subject is highly interesting, highly eloquent ; and, as
it serves to form the groundwork of one of the most recently
erected superstructures of infidelity, it may not be unprofitable
for the reader to find that that superstructure has already fallen
to the ground, and that each of those mysterious peculiarities in
the . character and condition of the Indo- American, to which
philosophy proudly and triumphantly appeals in her eagerness to
give the lie to Pivine Revelation, strongly and strikingly corro-
borates the truth of the ancient declaration of Holy Writ, that
^* God hath made of one blood all the nations of men for to dwell
an all the face of the earth "

^ The indigenous race of the New World," observes Dr. Von
Martins, ^ is distinguished from alt the other nations of the earth,
externally by peculiarities of make, but still more internally, by
their state of mind and intellect. The aboriginal American is at
once in the incapacity of infancy and unpliancy of old age ; he
unites the opposite poles of intellectual life. This strange and in-
explicable condition has hitherto frustrated almost every attempt
to reconcile him completely with the European, to whom he gives
way, so as to make him a cheerful and happy member of the
community ; and it is this, his double nature, which presents the
greatest difficulty to science, when she endeavours to investigate
his origin and those earlier epochs of his history in which he has,
for thousands of years, moved indeed, but made no improvement
in his condition. But this is far removed &om that natural state
of child-like serenity which marked (as an inward voice declares
to us, and as the most ancient written documents affirm,) the
first and purest period of the history of mankind. The men of
the red race, on the contrary, it must be confessed, do not appear
to feel the blessing of a Divine descent, but to have been led by
merely animal instinct and tardy steps through a dark Past to
their actual cheerless Present Much, therefore, seems to inti-
mate that the native Americans are not in the first stage of that
simple— -we might say, physical — development, that they are in
a secondary regenerated state.

** We behold in Brazil a thinly scattered population of aborigi*
z



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354 COOKSLAND.

had reference exdusively to the lighter race of the
Pacific, I endeavoured, and still think successftilly, to
prove, that America had been originally reached, in
the infancy of the post-diluvian world, and, by mere

nal natives, who agree in bodily make, temperament^ disposition,
manners, customs, and mode of living ; but their languages pre-
sent a truly astonishing discordance. We often meet with one
used only by a few incUviduals connected with each other by re-
lationship, who are thus completely isolated, and can hold no
communication with any of their other countrymen far and near.
Out of the twenty Indians employed as rowers in the boat in whidi
we navigated the streams of the interior, there were often not
more than three or four who understood any common language;
and we had before our eyes the melancholy spectacle of indivi-
duals labouring jointly, though entirely isohited with respect to
everything which contributes to the satis&ction c^ the first wants
of life. In gloomy silence did these Indians ply the oar together,
and join in managing the boat, or in taking their frugal meals;
but no common voice or common interest cheered them as they
sat beside each other, during a journey of several hundred miles,
which their various fortunes had called them to perform to>-
gether."

After mentioning the fact that one hundred and fifty different
languages and dialects are spoken in Brazil, and that more than
two hundred and fifty different names of nations, hordes, or
tribes, are at present found in that country. Dr. Von Martius ob-
serves : *^ To guide the inquirer through the intricades of this
labyrinth, there is not a vestige of history to aff(M:tl any due.
Not a ray of tradition, not a war-song nor a funeral-lay can be
found to clear away the dark night in which the earlier ages of
America are involved." And again, ** To the north of the river
of Amazons there is an extraordinary number of small hordes and
tribes bearing the most dissimilar appellations, as if the original
population, displaced by still more ^quent emigrations, wars,
and other unknown catastrophes, had here been broken up and
split into feebler aggregations. These hordes are found consist-
ing of only one, or at most a few families, entirely cut off from
all communication with their neighbours ; cautiously concealed
in the gloom of their primeval forests, from which they never
issue except when terrified by some external cause ; and speak-
ing a highly impoverished and crippled language — the a£9icting
image of that hapless state in which man, oppressed with the
curse of his existence, as if striving to fly from himself, shuns the
approach of his brother."

« While, in other parts of the world, we see various degrees
of intellectual development and i*etardation simultaneously and
proximately occurring — the ever-varying consequences of the



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THE ABORIGINES OP AUSTRALIA. 365

accident, across the broadest part of the Pacific, by
meaos of the stepping-stones of the South Sea Islands
'. — the same causes that had led, in the course of ages,
to the gradual dispersion of the Malayan race over Uiat

changing course of events, the whole aboriginal population of
America, on the contrary, exhibits one monotonous poverty of
intellect and mental torpor ; as if neither internal emotions, nor
the impression of external objects, had been able to rouse and
release them from their mom inflexibility. This is the more
astonishing, as it appears to extend from pole to pole, and appties
to the inhabitants of the tropics as well as to the natives of the
frozen zones. Yet, this rude and melancholy condition is, be^
vend a doubt, not the first in which the American was placed — it
IS a degenerate and debased state. Far beyond it, and separated
by the obscurity of ages, lies a nobler past, whi<^ he once en-
joyed, but which can now be only inferred from a few relics.
Colossal works of architecture, comparable in extent to the
monuments of andent B^pt, (as those of Tiahuanacu on the lake
Titicaca, which the Peruvians, as far back as the time of the
Spanish conquest, beheld with wonder as the remains of a much
more ancient people — ^raised, according to tradition, as if by
magic, in a single night ; and similar creations, scattered in
enigmatic fragments, here and there, over both the Americas,)
bear witness l^at their inhabitants had, in remote ages, developed
a moral power and mental cultivation which have now entirelv
vanished. A mere semblance of them — an attempt to bring back
a period which had long passed b}* — seems perceptible in the
kingdom and institutions of the Incas. In Brazil no such trace
of an earlier civilization has yet been discovered ; and if it ever
existed here, it must have been in a very remotely distant period ;
yet still, even the conditi<m of the Brazilians, as of every other
American people, furnishes proems that the inhabitants of this
New Continent, as it is caUed, are by no means a modem race,
tren suppoHna ice could iissume our Christian chronology as a
measure for the age and historical^ development of their country.
This irrefragable evidence is furnished by Nature herself, in the
domestic anmials and esculent plants by which the aboriginal
American is surrounded, and which trace an essential feature in
the history of his mental culture. The present state of these
productions c^ nature is a documentary proof, that in America
she has been already, for many thousands of years, influenced by
the improving and transforming hand of man.'' After pursuing
this idea at considerable length. Dr. Von Martius states his « con-
viction, that the first germs of development of the human race in
America can be sougfu nowhere except in that quarter of the globe."
^ Besides the traces of a primeval, and, in like manner, ante>
historic culture of the human race in America, as well as a very



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356 COOKSLAKD.

vast ocean, from the Sandwich Islands in the Northern,
to New 2iealand in the Southern Hemisphere; and from
the latter island in the Western, to Easter Island, in
the Eastern Pacific, having also led to the fiirther mi-



early influence on the productions of nature, we may also adduce,
as a ground for these views, the basis of the present state of
natural and civil rights among the aboriginal Americans ; — I
mean precisely, as before observed, that enigmatical subdivison
of the natives into an almost countless multitude of greater and
smaller groups, and that almost entire exclusion and excommu-
nication with regard to each other, in which mankind presents
its different families to us in America, like the fragments of a
vast ruin. The history of the other nations inhabiting the earth
furnishes nothing which has any analogy to this.

" This disrupture of all the bands by which society was hut
ciently held together, accompanied by a Babylonish confusion of
tongues multiplied by it — the rude right of force, the never-end-
ing tacit warfare of all against all, springing from that very dis-
rupture — appear to me the most essential, and, as far as history
is concerned, the most significant points in the civil condition of
the Brazilians, and, in general, of tlie whole aboriginal population
of America. Such a state of society cannot be the consequence
of modem revolutions. It indicates, by marks which cannot be
overlooked or disputed, the lapse of many ages.

*^ Long-continued migrations of single nations and tribes have
doubtless taken place from a very early period throughout the
whole continent of America, and they may have been especially
the causes of dismemberment and corruption in the languages,
and of a corresponding demoralization of the people. By assum-
ing that only a few leading nations were at first, as was the case
with the Tupi people, dispersed like so many rays of light,
mingled together, and dissolved, as it were, into each other by
mutual collision ; and that these migrations, divisions, and safy-
sequent combinations have been continued for countless ages^ the
present state of mankind in America may assuredly be accounted
for ; but the cause of this singular misdevelopment remains, no
less on that account, unknown and enigmatical. Can it be con-
jectured that some extensive Convulsion of nature — some earth*
quake rending asunder sea and land, such as is reported to have
swallowed up the far-famed island of Atalantis — has there swept
away the inhabitants in its vortex ) Has such a calamity filled
the survivors with a terror so monstrous, as, handed down from
race to race, must have darkened and perplexed their intellects,
hardened their hearts, and driven them, as if flying at random
from each other, far from the blessings of social life ! Have,
perchance, burning and destructive suns, or overwhelming floods,
threatened the man of the red race with a horrible death by



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THE ABORIGINES OP AUSTRALIA. 357

gration of a few solitary individuals, iu all likelihood
from the last-mentioDed of these islands, to the Ameri-
can land. This theory, which occurred to me in tra-
versing the Southern Pacific, in the year 1830, satis-
factorily explains, not only the peculiar and thoroughly
Polynesian character of Indo-American civilization,
but the fact that that civilization had its seat and origin
near the Pacific, and towards the equator ; and that
the farther we recede from that cradle of the nation,
either to the trackless forests of the Brazils, or the in-



famine, and armed him with a rude and unholy hostility, so that,
maddened against himself by atrocious and bloody acts of canni-
balism, he has fallen from the godlike dignity for which he was
designed, to his present degraded state of darkness ! Or is this
if^umannessihe consequence of deeply-rooted preternatural vices,
inflicted by the genius of our race (with a severity which, to the
eye of a short-sighted observer, appears throughout all nature
like cruelty) on the innocent as well as the guilty f

The conclusion which the learned Bavarian draws from these
premises, is, ** that it is impossible entirely to discard the idea
of some general defect in the organization of the red race of men ;
for it is manifest, that it already bears within itself the germ of
an early extinction. The Americans, it cannot be doubted, exhibit
symptoms of approaching dissolution. Other nations will live,
when these unblessed children of the New World have all gone
to their final rest in -the long sleep of death. Their songs have
long ceased to resound ; the immortality of their edifices has
long been mouldering ; and no elevated spirit has revealed itself
in any noble effusion& from that quarter of the globe. Without
being reconciled with the nations of the East, or with their own
fortunes, they are already vanishing away : yes, it almost ap-
pears as if no other intellectual life were allotted to them, than
that of calling forth our painful compassion ; as if they existed
only for the negative purpose of awakening our astonishment, by
the spectacle of a whole race of men, the inhabitants of a large
portion of the globe, in a state of living decay.

** In fact, the present and future condition, of this red race of
men, who wander about in their native land, without house or
covering - whom the most benevolent and brotherly love despairs
of ever providing with a home — is a monstrous and tra^cal
drama, such as no fiction of the poet ever yet presented to our
contemplation. A whole race of men is wasting away before the
eyes of its commiserating contemporaries : no power of princes,
philosophy, or Christianity, can arrest its proudly gloomy progress
towards a certain and utter destruction/'



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358 COOKSLAND.

hospitable shores of Tierra del Faego, we find the race
gradually degenerating towards absolute barbarism.
For the comparatively easy passage which the Missis-
sippi and its tributary streams, would afford to the
vast regions of the north, as well as the more open
character of the country in North America^ as com-
pared with the dense forests of the Brazils, appears to
have prevented the tribes of the Northern continent
from degenerating in the same ratio, or to the same
extent. The mass of evidence that can be brought in
support of this theory — from the manners and customs
of those two great divisions of the family of man, the
Indo- Americans and the Polynesians of the lighter
race ; from the type of their extinct civilization, so
unlike every thing in the European world ; from cer-
tain peculiarities in their languages ; from their archi-
tectural remains, and from the prevalence of habits
acquired from necessity, in the course of those miser-
able voyages that had scattered the race over the vast
Pacific — is incredible to those who have hitherto allowed
themselves to be amused with theories on the subject
of the original discovery and settlement of America,
that have neither a tittle of evidence in their favour, of
the kind to which I have referred, nor a shadow of
probability. In addition to all this, I may state, in
conclusion, that my friend Dr. Moreton of Philadelphia,
the author of a work of great merit, entitled, Crcmm
Americana (in which he has demonstrated that the
Indo-Americans, Northern and Southern, ancient and
modem, civilized and savage, are all of one common
origin, with the exception of the Esquimaux, who, in
all likelihood, crossed over from the continent of Asia
by Behriug's Straits), has informed me that the portion
of the human race to which the Indo- American bears
the strongest resemblance, in the conformation of his
skull, is the South Sea Islander.

To return to the Papuan race, — ^if the same causes
will, in similar circumstances, infallibly produce the
same effects, we are warranted, c converso, to infer the
operation of the same causes frx)m similar effects.



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THE ABORIGINES OP AUSTRALIA. * 359

Whatever canses, therefore, may have produced the
extreme degeneracy and degradation of the Indo-
American, or red race, in the instances I have adduced,
the same causes must have been in operation in pro-
ducing the extreme degeneracy and degradation of the
Aborigines of Australia. In short, it wete altogether
unphilosophical, in such circumstances, to pre-suppose
an original inferiority of intellect on the part of the Pa-
puan negro, or to give him credit for a greater capacity
for sinking in the scale of humanity than other tribes
of men.

I trust, however, the reader will agree with me in
thinking, that this subject is too important, and that
the practical considerations involved in the question,
whether the Papuan race of Australia is, or is not, a
radically inferior species of the genus man (as is so
often arrogantly asserted in New South Wales, by in-
dividuals who have a direct interest in vilifying the
unfortunate Aborigines of that colony, and in keeping
them down), too deeply affect the rights of humanity,
and the character of the British nation, not to warrant
still further investigation. In regard, then, to the con-
dition of certain of the tribes of Southern Africa, it is
evident, from the testimony of that intelligent and de-
voted missionary, Mr. Moffat, who has recently pub-
lished a work on the subject, that the Bechuanas, or
Bushmen, of that country, are in an equally abject
state with that of any of the Aborigines of Australia.
" It is impossible," observes Mr. Moffat, " to look at
some of their domiciles, without the inquiry involuntarily
arising in the mind — are these the abodes of human
beings ? In a bushy country they will form a hollow,
in a central position, and bring the branches together .
over the heaid ; here the man, his wife, and probably
a child or two, lie huddled in a heap, on a little grass
in a hollow spot, not larger than an ostrich ; but when
bushes are scarce, they form a hollow under the edge .
of a rock, covering it partially with reeds or grass ; and
they are often to be found in fissures, and caves of the
mountains. When they have abundance of meat, they
do nothing but gorge and sleep, dance and sing, till

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360 COOKSLAND.

their stock is exhausted ; but hunger soon again drives
them to the chase."

" There is some reason to think," observes the dis-
tinguished philosopher and historian Mr. Hume, ^'that
all the nations which lie beyond the polar circle, or
between the tropics, are inferior to the rest of the
species, and are incapable of all the higher attainments



Online LibraryJohn Dunmore LangCooksland in north-eastern Australia: the future cottonfield of Great ... → online text (page 34 of 47)