John Dunmore Lang.

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

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haps led her to suspect the reality of the white man's
relationship to her family ; for she actually instigated
her husband to murder Darumboy in revenge for the
loss of her dog ! This, it seems, the old man was not
indisposed to do ; for scowling at Davies, and working
himself up into a ft'enzy of passion at him, he told him
he was not Darumboy, but Mawg^oy^ a spirit or ghost,
which he intended, of course, as a term of great re-



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THE ABOBIGIKBS OF AUSTRALIA. 421

proach. At all events Davies saw that his life was no
longer in safety, and that his only security lay in put-
ting the old black-fellow in bodily fear of him. So
being a short, stout, powerful man, he " turned to," as
he termed it, and gave the old savage a sound beating —
I presume with his fists, which he had probably learned
to use at the Broomielaw, and which even the savage, who
had no idea of such close quarters, was not accustom-
ed to use in that way, preferring a stick •r club like
the Irish. Having thus effectually subdued the old
man, he exerted himself for sometime thereafter in
procuring a liberal supply of food for the family ; and
by this means he conciliated their affections once more,
and succeeded in keeping the peace. In regard to the
word Mawgooy^ I may mention, as an additional illus-
tration of the singular diversity of languages among
the Aborigines of Australia, that it is not known
among another tribe of black natives whom Davies vi-
sited, considerably farther northward ; the word there
for the ghost of a man being Muther, and for that of a
woman Tarccm, The synonyme for a ghost in another
tribe which he visited was Bdhoyeh.

I met with Davies quite accidentally at Captain
Griffin's station, on the Pine River, where he arrived
on one of the evenings I was there, along with four
black natives. He was then in the performance of a
most benevolent action. For a person of the name of
Thomson having gone sometime before, along with his
wife and three men, in a boat, on an expedition to the
northward, where a vessel had been wrecked on the
coast, in the expectation of finding something valuable
at the wreck, and having never returned — ^there was a
report in circulation at the Settlement, that the four
men had all been murdered by the black natives, and
that the woman was still alive among the natives.
Davies had known the parties, and commiserating the
case of the poor woman, he had generously offered to
proceed to the spot, a distance of about 260 miles, and
to bring her back, or ascertain the truth concerning
her. In the event of his succeeding he was in hope



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422 COOKSLAND.

tor his expectations were of the most moderate charac-
ter — that the inhabitants of Brisbane would contribute
a trifle to enable him to purchase some iron to set-up
as a blacksmith at the Settlement, on his own account.
Captain Wickham, the Police Magistrate, had given
him a gun and some ammunition, and Captain Griffin
gave him an excellent kangaroo dog. The four na-
tives he intended to take with him only about 100
miles of the way, as he conceived they would be in
greater danger in proceeding farther than himself.
On the morning of their departure. Captain Griffin
had a large potful of rice boiled for the natives, which
they seemed to relish very much, as one of the young
men had supplied them with sugar to render it more
palatable ; and as there was much more than sufficient
for a single mess, I gave them some spare article of
apparel to pack the remainder in for a meal by the way.
We all felt very much interested in the object ; and as
Darumboy struck into the forest, with the gun over his
shoulder, and the kangaroo-dog in a leash by his side,
followed in Indian file by the four black-fellows, I believe
each offered a silent prayer to the Almighty for their
success. Not to return to the subject, I may add, that
Davies had returned to Brisbane sometime before I
left the Colony, having proceeded to the spot where
the murder was said to have happened, and ascertained
beyond a doubt that the report had been unfounded —
the boat having swamped, and all on board having
perished before reaching the land.

During his residence among the black-fellows, Da-
vies had travelled as far, he thought, as 500 miles to
the northward of Moreton Bay ; being passed along
from tribe to tribe, like a blind man soliciting charity,
from one farm-house to another, in Scotland. He de-
scribed the country he had pa.ssed over as being gene-
rally well-watered, having had to cross a river every
second or third day the whole way. He spoke parti-
cularly of an extensive tract of country, cjdled by the
natives Eurabunba, equally available for pasture and
agriculture to the north-westward, beyond the Wide



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THE ABORIGINES OP AUSTRALIA. 423

Bay River. The climate to the northward he did not
feel at all sensibly hotter than that of Moreton Bay,
and the capabilities of a large extent of country in that
direction, both for agriculture and grazing, he spoke
of in the highest terms. By every tribe, however,
which he visited in his journey, he was uniformly taken
for a deceased native returned to life again ; and his
arrival among any tribe that had never seen a white
man before, was generally an event of intense interest
to the natives. They would gather around him in a
crowd, and gaze at him for a time apparently in silent
awe and veneration— endeavouring to discover some
likeness between him and any particular deceased na-
tive whom they supposed he resembled, asking him
whether he was not that native come to life again.
And when any such resemblance was recognised, the
relatives of the deceased, if not at hand, were apprised
of the fact, and a scene of mingled lamentation and re-
joicing, such as one might anticipate in such circum-
stances, immediately succeeded ; the relations of the de-
ceased native cutting themselves with shells or sharp-
edged weapons till the blood would stream down, and
the supposed dead man come to life again being thence-
forth treated with the very best the tribe could furnish.
On some occasions, however, the black natives could
not discover any resemblance between the white stran-
ger and any of their deceased friends, and in these cases
the onus probancU in regard to the identity of his per-
son was thrown upon himself, as in such instances he
was usually asked who he had been, or what had been
his name when he was a black-fellow, and before he
died. This was rather a difficult question for Davies
to answer, without getting himself into scrapes, either
by betraying his ignorance of the nomenclature of the
tribe, or by exhibiting no resemblance to the individual
whom he might otherwise have pretended to personate.
I could not help admiring, therefore, the ingenuity with
which he extricated himself out of this dilemma — for
(being naturally remarkably shrewd and intelligent)
his uniform answer in such cases was, that it was so



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424 COOKSLIND.

long since he died, that he had quite forgotten what
name he had had when he was a black man ;* and with
this answer the simple natives were always satisfied.

But the manner in which the Aborigines of the north-
em districts genendlj dispose of the dead, appeared
to me to be the most important point on which the evi-
dence of Davies could be brought to bear ; and it will
doubtless be horrifying to the reader to learn from that
evidence, corroborated as it is by independent and un-
questionable testimony, that in that part of the Austra-
lian territory the bodies of the dead, whether they fell
in batde or die a natural death, are, with the excep-
tion of the bodies of old men and women, uniformly
eaten by the survivors. Finnegan's account of the fight
he witnessed at Moreton Bay in the year 1823,t is re-
markably accordant with the account given me by
Davies of what usually takes place on such occasions,
the dead of each party being carried off and skinned
by their respective friends ; but when Finnegan sup-
posed that the bodies of the two men who fell on that
occasion were consumed by fire, his imagination fell



* It is singular enough that Darumboy should thus have been
unconsciously guided under the spur of necessity, to one of the
leading principles of the ancient Metempsychosis, or doctrine of
the Transmigradon of souls.

Turn pater Anchises : Animae, quibus altera fato
Corpora debentur, Lethaei ad fluminis undam
Securos latices et longa oblivia potant

ViRG. ^NBID, vi. 716.

Then thus the Sire : The souls that throng the flood
Are those to whom by fate are other bodies owed.
In Lethe's lake they long oblivion taste,
Of future life secure, forgetful of the past.

Drtden's Yibgil.
Or thus : —

The souls, Anchises said, that here await
Their future bodies, as ordained by Fate,
Must drink, in copious draughts at Lethe's stream,
A long oblivion of their past life's dream.

f See above, p. 411.



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THE ABORIGINES OP AUSTRA^JA. 425

far short of the sad reality, for there can be no doubt
that they were roasted and eaten by their friends and
relatives. Davies has seen as many as ten or twelve
dead bodies brought off by one of the parties engaged,
after such a fight as Finnegan describes, all of which
were skinned, roasted, and eaten by the survivors. And
when I observed that so large a quantity of human flesh
could not surely be consumed at once, he replied, that
there were so many always assembled on such occa-
sions, that the bodies of the dead were cut up and eaten
in a twinkling, there being scarcely a morsel for each.
I do not suppose that it was a feeling of shame at being
seen by a white man at such orgies, that induced the
natives in Finnegan's case to take such pains to prevent
him from witnessing what they were about. I suspect
it was merely the superstitious idea that his presence
would have been either improper or unlucky.

When the dead body of a person who has either fal-
len in battle or has died a natural death is to be sub-
jected to this horrid process, it is stretched out on its
back, and a fire lighted on each side of it. Firebrands
are then passed carefrdly over the whole body, till its
entire surfece is thoroughly scorched. The cuticle, con-
sisting of the epidermis or scar&kin, and the reticulum
mucoaum, or mucous membrane of Malpighi, in which
the colouring matter of the skin is contained, is then
peeled off, sometimes with pointed sticks, sometimes
with muscle-shells, and sometimes even with the finger
nails, and then placed in a basket or dilly to be pre-
served. And as the (mtis vera, or true skin, is, in all va-
rieties of the human frunily, perfectly whit^ the corpse
then appears of that colour all over ; and I have no
doubt whatever, that it is this peculiar and ghastly ap-
pearance which the dead body of a black man uni-
formly assumes under this singular treatment, and with
which the Aborigines must be quite familiar wherever
the practice obtains, that has suggested to them the
idea that white men are merely their forefathers re-
turned to life again; the supposition that particular
white men are particular deceased natives, known to



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426 COOKSLAND.

the Aborigines when alive, being merely this idea car-
ried out to its natural result, under the influence of a
heated imagination. There is reason also to believe, e
converso, that wherever this idea prevails, the practice in
which it has originated — that of peeling off the cuticle
previous to the other parts of the process to be described
hereafter — ^is still prevalent also, or has been so, at
least, very recently.

After the dead body has been subjected to the pro-
cess of scorching with firebrands, it becomes so very
stiff as almost to be capable of standing upright of
itself. If the subject happens to be a male, the subse-
quent part of the process is performed by females, but
if a female, it is performed by males. The body is then
extended upon its face, and certain parties, who have
been hitherto sitting apart in solemn silence, (for the
whole affiiir is conducted with the stillness of a funeral
solemnity,) step forward, and with a red pigment, which
shows very strongly upon the white ground, draw lines
down the back and along the arms from each shoulder
down to the wrist. These parties then retire, and
others who have previously been sitting apart in solemn
silence, step forward in lie manner, and with sharp
shells cut through the cutis vera, or true skin, along
these lines. The entire skin of the body is tiben stript
off in one piece, including the ears and the finger-nails,
with the scalp, but not the skin of the face which is
cut off. This whole process is performed with incredi-
ble expedition, and ^e skin is then stretched out on
two spears to dry, the process being sometimes hastened,
as in the case described by Finnegan^ by lighting a fire
under the skin. Previous to this operation, however,
the skin is restored to its natural colour, by being
anointed all over with a mixture of grease and char-
coal.

When the body has thus been completely flayed, the
dissectors step forward and cut it up. The legs are
first cut off at the thighs, then each arm at the shoulder,
and last of all the head ; not a drop of blood appearing
during the process. The larger sections are then subdl-



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THE ABORIGINES OF AUSTRALIA. 427

vided and portioned out among the expectant multi-
tude, each of whom takes his portion to one or other
of the fires, and when half-roasted, devours it with great
apparent relish. The flesh of the natives in the northern
country generally is very fat, and that of children, which
are never skinned like adults, particularly so. Davies
has often seen a black-fellow holding his portion of his
fellow-creature's dead body to the fire in one hand, on
a branch or piece of wood stuck through it like a fork
or skewer, with a shell or hollow piece of bark under it
in the other, to receive the melted fat that dropped
from it, and drinking it up when he had caught a suf-
ficient quantity to form a draught, with the greatest
gusto. In this way the body disappears with incredible
rapidity, the bones being very soon cleaned of every
particle of flesh.

The bones are then carefully collected, and placed in
a dilly or basket, and forwarded by a trusty person to
all the neighbouring tribes, in each of which they are
mourned over successively, for a time, by those to whom
the deceased was known. They are then returned to
the tribe to which the deceased belonged, and carried
about by his relatives for months, or even years, till at
length they are deposited permanently in a hollow tree,
from which it is esteemed unpardonable sacrilege, as
appears from the fate of Davies' companion, to remove
them.

K the deceased has fallen in battle there is no Coro-
ner's inquest, so to speak, held on the subject of his
death ; but if he has died a natural death, in the vigour
of youth or manhood, it is always presumed by the na-
tives that his dissolution has been brought about by
some unfair means — by witchcraft or sorcery, of course
— and an inquiry into the cause of it is instituted ac-
cordingly. With this view the soothsayer or exorcist
of the tribe, or some person corresponding to the priest
Chalcas in the Grecian army under the walls of Troy,
(for superstition is remarkably consistent with itself in
its development in all ages,)carries round the skin, along
with certain attendants, with the two spears on which



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428 COOKSLAND.

it has been stretched out and dried, in the Corrobbory,
or general assembly of the natives, which is always held
on these occasions ; and stopping at every step, as he
comes up to another and another black native in the
extended circle, he pretends to ask the skin if this was
the man who killed him. If the answer which the skin
is alleged to return, and which of course is audible to
the soothsayer exclusively, declares the innocence of
the individual, the procession passes on, and the question
is repeated before the next native. At length there is
some unfortunate individual found, whom the skin of the
dead man is alleged by the soothsayer to have accused
of killing him, and the fact is significantly announced
to the Corrobbory, by the soothsayer striking the two
spears into the ground, with the skin distended upon
them, before the alleged culprit The latter is thence-
forth marked out for death, and though nothing should
be done to him at the time, he is sure to be eventually
surprised and killed, and his body to be disposed of in
the same way. The skins of the deceased are carefully
preserved among the tribe, and, as I have already ob-
served, are frequently placed either under or over sick
persons, as an effectual specific against witchcraft or
sorcery.

The Aborigines of Australia are, therefore, decided
cannibals ; the general mode of disposing of the dead
being the one I have described^ and the exceptions being
merely the cases of old men and women dying of the
infirmities of age.* In the latter cases the bodies are
either buried, burned, suspended on trees, or left to
dissolve into their original elements, in the hollows of
trees. Davies acquits the northern natives of infanti-
<»de, of which some of those elsewhere are certainly
guilty, and denies that they ever put old people to death ;
Uieir relatives generally providing for them, and holding
them in great reverence. He mainttdns, also, that they

* According to the testimony of Davies, the natives assemble
for twenty miles round to be present at one of these feasts upon
the dead.



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THE ABORIGINES OF AUSTRALIA. 429

never put any one to death merely for the love of hu-
man flesh ; but the customs of their country and their
race, from time immemorial, render it incumbent upon
them, and a sacred duty, to devour the dead bodies of
their relatives and friends in the manner I have de-
scribed ; even the dead body of an enemy slain in bat-
tle is never eaten by his enemies, but by his own tribe
and friends.* In one instance, within his own know-
ledge, the child of a black man and woman having died
in the evening, its parents had devoured nearly the
whole body by the morning.t



* It is indeed curious to observe the dififerent modes of bury-
ing, adopted by the natives on different rivers. For instance, ou
the Bogan, they bury in graves covered like our own, and sur-
rounded with curved walls and ornamented ground. On the
Lachlan, under lofty mounds of earth, seats being made around.
On the Murrumbidgee and Murray, the graves are covered with
well-thatched huts, containing dried grass for bedding, and en-
closed by a parterre of a particular shape, like the inside of a
whale-boat. And on the Darling, the graves are in mounds,
covered with dead branches and Umbs of trees, and surrounded
by a ditch, which here we found encircled by a fence of dead
limbs of branches.'

It is worthy of observation, however, that Sir Thomas Mit-
chell unconsciously affords strong corroboration of the account I
have given of the practice of the natives on the eastern coast to
the northward in devouring the dead, as also of the vast extent
of country over which the horrid practice has formerly obtained.
Speaking of the country near the junction of the Darling and
the Murray, he observes: — ^ On reaching the firm ground beyond,
we came upon several old graves which had been disturbed, as
the bones were seen protruding from the earth. Piper [a black
native from the neighbourhood of Bathurst, who accompanied the
expedition, and occasionally acted as interpreter] said that the
d-ead men were sometimes dug up and eaten, but this I could not
believe.'** I have no doubt, however, that Piper was perfectly
in the right.

f Intercourse with Europeans may probably modify the habits
and customs of the natives in these respects, or they may vary
considerably in different districts. A black jin or woman came
to Captain Griffin's Station while I was there, with a half-caste

1 Three Expeditions into the Interior of Eastern Australia, Ac. By Sir Tho-
mas MitcheU, F. Q. S. and M. B. G. S., Surreyor-Oeneral of New South Wales.
Vol. n., p. 113.

« Ibid. p. 117.



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430 COOKSLAND.

At the Corrobbories that are always held on the oc-
casion of these feasts upon the dead, the women chaunt
songs or dirges, and strike upon their thighs with the
palms of their hands by way of accompaniment. At



child, of about a fortnight old. She had been mbbing over its
face, eyes, and ears, with a mixture of charcoal and grease, to
bring it to what she doubtless considered a proper and more cre-
ditable colour. Mr. GrifiSn, jun., told me that when a month old
she would in all likelihood murder the infant, by knocking it on
the head with a waddy or club, as she had done with another
child she had had of the same colour, whose skull she neverthe-
less carried about with her for a considerable time afterwards in
her basket or dilly.

An old native woman, to whom Mr. Griffin, jun., had one day
given some tea and bread, was reported to him as dead on the
afternoon of the same day. On going to the place where the old
woman was said to have been in the interval, he found a number
of bushes thrown together in a particular spot. This excited his
suspicion of what had really occurred ; and, accordingly, on re-
moving the bushes, he found the dead body, the skull having
been fractured by the stroke of a waddy.

In regard also to the allegation of Da vies, that the Aborigines
never practise cannibalism on the bodies of their enemies, nor
kill any person from the mere love of human flesh, there are
certainly exceptions to this general rule. The German Mission-
aries having attempted to establish a subsidiary Mission Station
at a place called Umpie Bung, or the dead houses, where there
had once been a Government Settlement, now long abandoned,
about thirty miles from their head-quarters; the hut they had
erected for the purpose was attacked by the natives and broken
intOj when there was only one of the missionaries, Mr. Hausmann^
a lay-brother, in charge of it. Mr. Hausmann was speared and
severely wounded, but escaped into the bush, while the natives
were busy collecting some flour and other articles of food which
they found in the hut, and ultimately made his way to the head
station. While they were endeavouring to efifect an entrance,
however, Mr. H. learned that they had a fire kindled to roast him,
and he heard them observing to one another, in their own lan-
guage, that << he was fat and would eat well."

The Rev. Mr. Tuckfield, also, the Wesleyan Missionary to the
Aborigines at Buntingdale, in the Western District of Port Phil-
lip, told me of a case which had fallen within his own observation,
in wliich two natives of one tribe, who had a grudge against a
third native of another tribe, and had surprised and killed him,
had cut off a portion of his dead body, and cooked and eaten it

These, however, appear to have been all remarkable cases and



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THE ABORIGINES OF AUSTRALIA. 431

Captain Griffin's Station there were three interesting
native girls, about ten or eleven years of age, the grand-
daughters of old Brandy Brandy, the chief of the dis-
trict, who, by way of compliment to me, struck up a
song of this kind as they were sitting on a bench close
by the door of the house at which I was standing at
the time, striking their thighs in the way I have de-
scribed, and standing up together and leaping and
clapping their hands in concert, as they became ani-
mated. The cadence was very simple, wild, and
melodious, and reminded me strongly of some of the
plaintive airs of the Highlands of Scotland. The name
of one of the girls was Margaret, and that of each of
the other two was Mary.

In corroboration of the account given me by Davies,
I was informed by Mr. William Kent, at Brisbane, that
several of the black natives having repeatedly robbed
a settler's garden at Breakfast Creek, a few miles from
the Settlement, the settler at last fired at them, and shot
one of them, without intending, as it appeared, to wound
any of them severely. The settler seeing one of the
black-felloWs fall and the others carrying him off across
the creek, went to Captain Wickham, the Police Ma-
gistrate, on the following morning, to report what had
happened. Captain W. immediately despatched two
constables to the neighbourhood, who were to ascertain
what had become of the wounded man, and to bring
him up to the Court to give evidence in the case. But



Online LibraryJohn Dunmore LangCooksland in north-eastern Australia: the future cottonfield of Great ... → online text (page 41 of 47)