John Dunmore Lang.

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

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the unfortunate native having received the ball in his
head had died almost immediately, and his body had
been roasted and eaten that evening ; his bones, packed
up in a dilly, having actually been forwarded to his

exceptions to the general rule. At the same time, I would not
have the reader to suppose that the practice of devouring the
bodies of the dead, although generally prevalent to the northward,
is at all univei^l in Australia. Even at the Logan River, within
Moreton Bay, the dead are generally buried, as an intelligent
squatter in that district informed me, and in other parts of the
territory they are placed in hollow trees, or suspended in tlie
forks ot trees.



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432 COOKSLANP.

friends on the Logan River to afford them an oppor-
tunity of mourning over them before the constables
appeared on the spot !

Mr. Griffin, jun., of the Pine River, informed me
that a native woman in that neighbourhood, who was
well known in the district, had died rather suddenly,
being stout and fat at the time. Happening to pass
along a valley immediately thereafter, he saw the dead
body extended beside a fire, and a number of black
natives around it, with pointed sticks, tearing off the
outer skin and carefully placing it in a dilly. After-
wards the arms and legs were cut off, he believed, to
be roasted and eaten.

The following is an account of two cases illustrative
of the different modes of disposing of the dead at More-
ton Bay, witnessed and described by the Rev. K. W.
Schmidt, of the German Mission. It does not appear
that the body was eaten in the first instance, the indi-
vidual having died of an odious disease ; but the second
case strongly corroborates the account given me by
Davies : —

There are dififerent modes of disposing of the dead. As one in-
stance, a man, who had died of a venereal disease, was wrapped up
in tea-tree bark, and, after being brought to a solitary spot, was put
on a frame- work, which was erected for this purpose, about eight or
nine feet high ; the place underneath was carefully cleared, and
a large fire made close by Before the corpse was put thereon,
three men took it on their shoulders, and after an old man had
made a hole in the bark, near the ear, and spoken a few words
to the corpse, the men ran in the greatest hurry a short distance,
and before leaving the place cried and rubbed their eyes till tears
ran down their cheeks. I'he meaning of the words the old man
spoke to the corpse was, << If thou comest to the other black-fel-
lows and they ask thee who killed thee, answer, * none, but I
died/'* This shows plainly that they believe in immortality.

At another time I witnessed the following ceremony: — A boy of
about twelve years of age had died of a liver complaint ; the
corpse was carried by the father to an open place in the forest,
a large number of the tribe being in attendance. Three mourn-
ing women cleared the place, on which the father put the corpse,
and after the women had made a fire close by, six old men phiced
themselves around the corpse, and touched it carefully wita fire-
brands ; the whole party had placed themselves in a semi-circle,
and the mother stood at a distance of four or five yards, howling
and leaping.



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THE ABORIGINES OF AUSTRALIA. 433

The six men then plucked off the thin skin, and put it into a
small bag, which was handed over to the master. Thereafter the
whole corpse, which naturally looked now quite white, was blackened
with charcoal, and then properly skinned with great expertness,
except the hands, feet, and head. The whole skin was likewise
put into a dilly, and handed over to the mother. After the shoul-
ders and legs were cut off, and carefully roasted, the men left
the belly, and the father, on opening it, and taking out the en-
trails, observed that the lungs were covered with sores, which he
recognised at once as the cause of the death. The ribs, and some
part of the entrails, were roasted ; the rest were put into a little
hole, upon which a few sticks were erected, with flowers betwixt
them. During this ceremony, all present got up several times,
and beat their heli,ds with tomahawks, in such an awful manner,
that the blood was streaming down their shoulders. The mother
stood all the while — about three hours — ^leaping and howling.
The branches of the surrounding trees were then broken, in order
to let other people know what had taken place here. Then they
returned to the camp, and' the parents feasted upon the flesh of
their own child, as I was informed next morning by other natives.
The skin was afterwards dried on a spear, over a fire.

A further corroboration of the account given by
Davies, and perhaps explanatory, also, of the purpose
for which the stage, mentioned in the first of the two
cases described by Mr. Schmidt, was intended, is con-
tained in the following extract dt a newspaper report,
by Roderick Mitchell, Esq., one of the Commissioners
of Crown Lands, for the district of Liverpool Plains, in
New South Wales, of an excursion he had taken to the
Bolloon River, in the north-western interior of that
colony. The locality referred to by Mr. Mitchell, is
south-west from Brisbane, distant, probably, about
400 miles.

*< The habits of all the natives of this river are of the most dis-
gusting character, involving a refinement upon cannibalism too
sickening for your columns. Suffice it to say, that this tribe of
blacks carried with them two bodies, from which they had extracted
and consumed what is termed the adipose matter. When a party
dies, a stage is immediately erected, consisting of a sheet of bark,
drilled with holes like a sieve, fixed upon three posts. The body
is placed upon tiiis, and an opossum cloak being closely wrapped
round the upper portion of it, small fires are kept burning at the
two ends of the stage, and one underneath it. A large "cotUataan ''
receives the matter thus exixacted by the heat, and the tribe
close round, and greedily consume, and rub their persons with,
this horrible retract. After this, the bones and skin are closely
2 E



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434 OOOKSLAND.

wrapped in an opossnm cloak, and then rolled in a sheet of freshly
■tripped bark. The whole, covered with net-work, is then carried
about by the tribe for a considerable time, and is ultimately de-
posited in some hollow log. Numbers df these stages are to be
found on the Bolloon, and high up the Mooni Creek."

It is worthy of remark, as indicatiye, in all likeli-
bood, of the course which, in one instance, at least, the
Aborigines of Australia have pursued, in their ancient
migrations to the southward, ^at there are a river and
a creek, or chain of ponds, in the country visited by 3Mt.
Mitchell, on the occasion referred to in the report, from
which the preceding paragraph is extracted, distin-
guished respectively by the same native names as an-
other river and creek, nearly a thousand miles distant,
in the Port Phillip district. The Barwan River, in the
north-western interior, which had been known for
years previous as a Squatting District, has recently been
identified by Mr. Mitchell with the Darling, the general
receptacle of the western waters, that flow by the river
Murray^ into the Great Southern Ocean; and the
Mooni Creek is one of the tributaries of liiat river.
But in the Port Phill]|> District we find another Bar-
won River, flovnng into the Southern Ocean, near
Geelong, and another Moonee Creek, or chain of ponds,
near Melbourne. Now, as the proper names of the
Aborigines are always significant, and descriptive of
the natural features, or qualities, of the localities to
which they are applied, it is evident that the language
originally spoken by the natives of these localities in
Port Phillip, must have been identical with that of the
Aborigines of the country recently visited by Mr. Mit-
chell, a thousand miles (distant ; and the only explana-
tion of the fact I can suggest is, that the Port Phillip
country was originally occupied by a tribe of Aborigines
that had swarmed off from the tribes inhabiting the
country at the sources of the Darling, and follovring
down that- river to the Murray, into whidi it disem-
bogues, had afterwards ascended the latter river to the
junction of the Goulbum, and proceeded up that stream
to the southward and eastward, to Port Phillip, where



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THE ABORIGINES OF AUSTRALIA. 435

they at length gave the well-known names of the in-
terior to the riyer and creek of the new region.*

But whether this conjecture is well founded or not,
it is at least certain that |he practice of devouring the
dead is not unknown among the tribes on the Southern
Ocean, a thousand miles from Moreton Bay. During
my visit to Port Phillip in the month of January 1 846,
immediately aftw my return to Sydney from Moreton
Bay, I visited the Wesleyan Mission Station at Bun-
tlngd£de,on the Upper Barwon River, about thirty-seven
miles to the westward of Geelong, and ascertained from
the Rev. Mr. Tuckfield, the able and zealous missionary
at that Station, that a case of the kind had £edlen under
his own observation. A native woman whose child
had died at a considerable distance, came to the Mis-
sion Station, carrying something on her back. From
some remark of one of the other natives who were pre-
sent at the time, his suspicions in regard to the nature
of her load were awakened, and with great difficulty he
persuaded her to shew it him. It was the dead body of
her child, of which she had already consumed a portion,
the marks of her teeth being visible in its flesh. He
requested her to give him the remaining portion of the
body that he might bury it, but she refused. He
offered her a quantity of flour for it, but she was still
extremely reluctant to part with it. Mr. Tuckfield per-
severed, however, and she gave it him at last, receiving
the flour in lieu of it. Mr. T., of course, buried the
body ; but the other natives, who knew the power of this
most unaccountable superstition, on the minds of their
race, told him she would be sure to dig it up again, and
eat it notwithstanding. It is evident that it was not
the mere amount of food, which the dead body of a
child would form, that constituted the ruling passion of •
the mother in this case. The poor creature was under

* A singular confirmation of this theory has recently been af-
forded by Sir. Bunce of Port Phillip, a naturalist attached to Dr.
Leichhardt's Expedition to Swan Biver, who has found many of
the words used by the natives of the interior, towards Moreton
Bay, to be identical with those in use among the Aborigines in
the neighbourhood of Melbourne.



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436 COOKSLAND.

the belief and conviction that she was dischai*ging*the
bounden duty of a parent towards her child by devour-
ing its remains ; and if ever she reproached herself there-
after for having been an unnatural mother, I am per-
suaded it would be because she had given away a por-
tion of the dead body of her child for a quantity of flour.
In short, from the extensive prevalence of this horrific
practice among the Aborigines of Australia, it cannot
be doubted that it originates in the same ancient super-
stition which led the Scythians of antiquity, agreeably
to the testimony of Eliny, to consider it not only an act
of propriety, but of the greatest piety, to eat the dead
bodies of their relatives. There is no doubt that this
practice may have led many to relish human flesh, who
would never otherwise have thought of the horrid re-
past, and to practice cannibalism, without such an ex-
cuse for it. There are indications of this having been
the case even among the cannibals of New Zealand,
where it has been the notorious practice from time im-
memorial to feast upon the dead bodies of enemies slain
in battle. In certain cases it is held incumbent upon
the relatives or clansmen of certain chiefs to eat some
portion of their entrails after their death, and when the
body of the chief has been in a state of putrefaction,
before those who are under this obligation have seen
it, they have endeavoured to fulfil the demands of the
revolting superstition, by thrusting a stick into the
bowels of the chief, and afterwards into the fire, and
then chewing the stick. I do not pretend to explain
either the origin or the object of the superstition in
question ; all I contend for is its extensive prevalence,
and its high antiquity.

Another, and a most affecting instance of this super-
stition, and one that proves its perfect consistency with
the strongest natural affection, was mentioned to me by
the Eev. Mr. Tuckfield, as having occurred under hw
own eye. An interesting young Aboriginal native of
the Western District in fort Phillip, of about seventeen
years of age, had died of consumption. Mr. T. was
not aware how the body had been disposed of at the
time, and had never ttiougbt pf piaking any inquiries

Digitized by VjOOQ IC



THE ABORIGINES OF AUSTRALIA. 437

on the subject ; but eleven months thereafter, he found
the mother of the young man, carrying his bones about
with her in a bag on her back, as she had been doing
during the whole period that had elapsed from his death,
wherever she went. The probability is that the body
had' been devoured.

A considerable degree of mystery has all along pre-
vailed in New South Wales Proper, or the Middle
District, in regard to the disposal of the dead among
the natives. They are very unwilling to give any in-
formation on the subject, and very few of the settlers
know anything about it. That they bury the dead
occasionally is unquestionable, but it is very difficult to
ascertain whether they do so universally. The horror
that all Europeans have at every thing like cannibalism,
is soon observed by the natives, and tends to force the
ancient practice, wherever it still obtains, into disuse ;
but it is rather a suspicious circumstance in regard to
the Aborigines of that part of the Territory generally,
that whenever they wish to create a bad impression on
the minds of the European Colonists, in reference to
any other tribe besides their own, they uniformly accuse
the other tribe of cannibalism. At all events, pieces of
human flesh have occasionally been found in their bags.

Before noticing any other peculiar feature in the
social system of the Papuan race in Australia, I would
request the reader's permission to make a few addi-
tional remarks on the subject of cannibalism generally.
Cannibalism, in its worst form, appears, therefore, to
have been at one time very prevalent in the ancient
world. Mr. Bryant observes, that Philostratus, in the
life of Apollonius, and Aristotle in his Ethics, both
mention the fact of its extensive prevalence, and in-
timate their own belief of it. The testimony of Aris-
totle on the subject is very remarkable. —

** IleXXet ^ tern retv ifinetv, & 9r^»s vo xruntf, km 9r^ot rw
ttyf^otvro(pet'yt»v iu^t^aif *x**» *a^'^*^ fotf fri^i rov Hovrov A^ettot rt
xai Hu»;^oi, xett nftu^urixaiv thuv irt^oi,^* " There are many na-
tions, who do not scruple to kill men, and afterwards to feed upon
their flesh. Among these we may reckon the nations of Pontus ;



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438 COOKSLAKD.

such M the AebaeanSy and the Heniochiy as well as other people
upon that coast."

Euhemerns, a native of Magna Graecia, whose his-
tory of his country was translated into Latin by En-
niusy relates that, " Saturn and Ops, and the men of
that period generally, were accustomed to eat human
flesh.'** The Lamiae and Cyclopes, two ancient na-
tions inhabiting Italy and Sicily, whom Mr. Bryant re-
gards as a branch of the Cuthaean race, or as children
of Cush, were notorious for this horrible practice, if we
can credit the general voice of antiquity ; and the poeti-
cal fables of the Cyclops and of Scylla appear to have
originated in the fear and horror which the notoriety
of the fact produced among other and more civilized
contemporary people. Euripides, in his Play, en-
titled The Cyclops, puts the following words into the
mouth of one of his Dramatis Personie : —

Ovittt fitXMf )<v^*, ifT$s §¥ xmrt^myn.

Euripides, Cyclops V. 126, quoted by Bryant.

^ The flesh of strangers who visit them, forms their sweetest re-
past : no pers(m comes within their reach who is not deyoured.''

Or as it is translated by an unknown author, in one
of the Monthly Magazines : —

Ulysses. — How like they strangers t are their manners bland !
8il€nus» — Like them ! ihey think them exceUent when fresh.
Ulysses. — What, are they cannibals, and eat their flesh t
SUinus. — None ever came here but they ate them up.
Ulysses, — Ate them !
Silenus, — Aye, bones and all, so well they sup.

Homer also makes his hero Ulysses, give the follow-
ing account of the doings of one of these Cyclops : —
« His bloody hand
Snatched two unhappy of my martial band,
And dashed like dogs against the rocky floor ;
The pavement swims with brains and mingled gore.
Tom limb from limb, he spreads the homd feast,
And fierce devours it like a mountain beast.

* <*Satumum et Opem, eaeterosque turn homines^ humanam
camem solitos esitare."

£nnii Hist. Saa quoted by Lactantius apud Bryant



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THE ABORIGINES OF AUSTRALIA. 439

He Bucks the marrow, and the blood he draihs ;
Nor entrails,* flesh, nor solid bone remains.
We see the death, from which we cannot move,
And humbled groan beneath the hands of Jove/'

Pope's Hom. Odyss., I. 389.

And in regard to Scylla, Mr. Bryant observes, that
Seneca in Ins 79tli Epistle, states that ^< Scjlla is a
rock, and by no means formidable to inariners.*'t " It
was the temple," Mr. K adds, with great probability,
''built of old upon that eminence, and the customs
which prevailed within, that made it so detested."
The dogs, it seems, were priests who seized ship-
wrecked mariners, and offered them up in sacrifioe to
their infernal Divinities, and afterwards feasted upon
their bodies. There were many of these temples, it
would appear, around the Mediterranean, and they were
dreaded and detested by '' the ancient mariner," as
well they might.

It is not necessary, however, to go back to the ages



* Virgil alleges, in accordance with the quotations already
given respecting the cannibalism of the ancient Scythians, that
that of the Cyclopes had some particular reference to the entrailM
of the yictims ; for in describing the feat of Polyphemus, referred
to both by H<»ner and Euripides, he uses the following expres-
sion —

Viteeribus miserorum et sanguine vesdtur atro.

^neid III. 622.
The horrid monster greedily devours
Their quivering entrails, and their streaming blood.

The eating of the entrails of an animal ofifered in sacrifice was,
in the case of certiun gods, a necessary part of the sacrifice.
^ The Pinarii happening to come too late to the sacrifice, after
the entrails were eaten up, (extit adesU) were, by the appoint-
ment of Hercules, never after permitteid to taste the entnuU."
Adam's Roman Antiq. Art, Ministers of Religion. In other
cases thev were otherwise disposed of. Thus ^neas, when em-
barking for Italy from Sicily, is represented as throwing the en«
trails of the saonfice into the sea.

Stans proeul in prora pateram tenet, extctgue taUot
PorrieU influ6hu. Virg. V. 775.

t Scyllam aaxum esse, et quidem non tenibile navigantibus.



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440 COOK8LAND.

of fable to find proofs of the existence of the horrid
practice of cannibalism in ancient Europe. It appears
to have prevailed to a comparatively late period, even
among ^e ancient Romans. In the first ages of the
Eepublic, human sacrifices were ofiered annually, and
Pliny observes, in reference to a decree of the Senate
that finally abolished them, but not until the year of Rome
657, that it was customary on such occasions to eat the
victims. Sustul^re monstra, in quibus hominem occi-
dere religiosissimum erat, mancU vero etiam saluberrmum.
Lib. XXX.

Nay, the historian Gibbon seems to think it not im-
probable that cannibalism was practised even in Scot-
land^ so late as in the fourth century of the Christian
era. His words are as follows : —

** A valiant tribe of Caledonia, the Attacotti, the enemies and
afterwards the soldiers of Yalentinian, are accused by an eye
witness of delighting in the taste of human flesh. When they
hunted the wo<^ for prey, it is said that they attacked the shep-
herd rather than his flock, and that they curiously selected the
most delicious and brawny parts, both of males and females,
Nvhich they prepared for their horrid repast. If in the neigh-
bourhood of the commercial and literary town of Glasgow, a race
of cannibals has really existed, we may contemplate in the period
of the Scottish history, the opposite extremes of savage and civi-
lized life. Such reflections tend to enlarge the circle of our
ideas ; and to encourage the pleasing hope that New Zealand
may produce in some future age, the Hume of the Southern
Hemisphere.'' — Gibbon's Decline and Fall of the Roman Em-
pire, Vol. III., p. 290.

Let the reader recollect, therefore, that although the
Papuans are decided cannibals, in so far as the eating
of human flesh is concerned, they are guiltless of the
atrocities with which that horrific practice was anciently
both accompanied and preceded, in the very heart of
Europe, — the hunting and slaying of men for their flesh;
and especially let us not subject them to a general sen-
tence of excommunication from the pale of humanity,
because — ^in compliance with the demands of a supersti-
tion of powerful influence, and of the highest antiquity,
but of the origin and object of which history has left



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THE ABORIGINES OF AUSTRALIA. 441

US no trace, and reason can offer no satisfactory solution —
they eat the dead bodies of their relatives and friends,
whether they have fallen in battle, or under the stroke
of disease. If there is nothing absolutely sinful in the
practice — and it would be difficult to prove that there
is — we should, at least, recollect the maxim, De ffustibus
non disputandum.

The Aborigines of Australia never mention the name
of a deceased native, and they seem distressed when
any European happens to do so ;* but at Moreton Bay
they usually carve the emblem or coat of arms of the
tribe to which he belonged on the bark of a tree close
to the spot where he died. The first of these affecting
memorials of Aboriginal mortality which I happened
to see was pointed out to me near Breakfast Creek,
by Mr. Wade, on our return to Brisbane from the Pine
River. The rain was pouring down in torrents at the
time, but I immediately reined up my horse to the tree,
and remained fixed to the spot for a few minutes, till I
fancied I could identify the rude carving on the bark
with the raised figures on the breasts of the Aboriginal
tribe of the Brisbane District. So very interesting a
circumstance naturally gave rise to a peculiar train of
thought, and I endeavoured to embody in the following
epitaph the intelligence and feelings which this simple
monumental emblem of the Papuan race would doubt-
less convey to the wandering Aborigines : —

STOP, TBAVBLLBB, AND DROP A TEAR !

HERE DIED,

OF WOUNDS HE HAD RECEIVED IN BATTLE,

WHEN FIGHTING GLORIOUSLY FOR THE HONOUR OF HIS DISTRICT,

TELLAHUNDT,

A FREE BORN, INDEPENDENT, AUSTRALIAN BRAVE,

OF THE TRIBE, WHOSE DISTINCTIVE EMBLEH, OR ARMORIAL BEARING,

THOU BEHOLDEST ENGRAVEN ON THIS TREE.

HIS FLESH

WAS CONSUMED IN SORROW BT HIS KINDRED AROUND THE FUNEREAL

FIRES,



* It was deemed a violation of propriety in ancient Athens to
mention the word decUh in genteel society. ^^



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442 COOKSLAND.

IN AGOOUOAlfCS WITH THE AVCIMST AND HALLOWED CUSTOKS

OF THE CHILDREN OF GUSH :

HIS BONES

WERE DULT MOURNED OYER BT THE NEIGHBOURING TRIBES,

AND THEN BORNE ALONG WITH THEK BT HIS KINDRED, IN ALL THEIR

MIGRATIONS,

FOR MANY A MOON ;

TILL, THE DATS OF APPOINTED MOURNING BEING ENDED, THET WERE

DEPOSITED AT LENGTH,

IN THEIR LAST RESTING-PLACE,

A HOLLOW TREE :

BUT HIS SKIN,

DRIED AND TANNED, AFTER THE MANNER OF HIS COUNTRY,

IS STILL PRESERTED BT THE WARRIORS OF HIS TRIBE,

AS A CHERISHED MEMORIAL OF THEIR ONCE FAITHFUL COMPANION,

AS WELL AS A POWERFUL SPELL

AGAINST WITCHCRAFT AND SORCERY.

I have already adverted to the wonderful diversity
of languages observable among the Aborigines of Aus-
tralia — a phenomenon so remarkable in itself, and so
remarkably similar to what has been observed and
commented on so very unwarrantably by Dr. Von



Online LibraryJohn Dunmore LangCooksland in north-eastern Australia: the future cottonfield of Great ... → online text (page 42 of 47)