Life and Adventures of William Buckley/Chapter VIII
NEWS OF ANOTHER SHIP.—LANDING OF SETTLERS.—MY REFLECTIONS.—LIBERTY OR CAPTIVITY? THAT'S THE QUESTION.—VISIT THE NEW COMERS.—RECEIVED KINDLY BY THEM.—MESSRS. WEDGE AND BATMAN.—HOPES FOR THE FUTURE.—EXPLORING EXPEDITION.—BUCKLEY'S FALLS.—RECEIVE A FREE PARDON.
"Sleep, to the homeless, thou art home.
One day when the old man just mentioned as having remained with us, was out with me gathering roots, we discovered two young natives coming through the marshes, and in our direction: each having a coloured cotton handkerchief fastened to the end of his spear. These they held up as high as they could, waving them about to and fro, for me to see—knowing me to be in that neighbourhood. It was evident they had met with civilized people; and, on coming up, it was explained that they had met with three white, and six black men, they had never seen before. I enquired if the strangers had any boat? and was told they had a Koorong, meaning a ship, but that she was gone, leaving the men behind;—that they had erected two white houses, which I supposed to be tents;—that they had plenty of provisions, blankets, tomahawks, and such articles;—that they had asked for some of the Kallallingurks (tomahawks), but were refused; although presents were made to the tribe near Indented Heads, of knives, and scissors, and other things.
The next piece of intelligence was very alarming,—the men saying they were in search of another tribe, to enable those they had left behind to murder the white people the more easily, and by doing so to get possession of their property.
That night was one of great anxiety to me, for I knew not how, without danger, to apprise the strangers of their perilous situation—as the least appearance of such an intention would, to the natives, have seemed like treachery. My reflections were very painful, for I was, of course, aware of having long since forgotten the language of my youth. I was at a loss what to do for the best, but at length determined on hazarding my life by going to them at the earliest opportunity, for their protection. So when the two men who brought the intelligence had left us to go in search of the other tribe, I hastened off on my journey to where the strangers were—which, as the natives had described, was about fifteen miles distant; but it must have been much more, for I did not reach it until the next day; the weather beiag cold and very tempestuous. At length I arrived in sight of a long pole, or staff, with the British colours hoisted upon it; and there I also saw a sort of camp. I now was overwhelmed with feelings connected with the past, the present, and the future. My being an absconder from the operations of the sentence imposed upon me by the authorities, and the consequences of having so done; the present, with reference to my then unmistakable liberty, and perfect freedom from all such consequences; and, as to the future, there was what before me?—captivity, and probable punishment; who could tell?
Whilst sitting in deep thought musing over all these matters, I saw one of the white men take a bucket and go with it to a well some way off, and when he had left it with his load, I went there also, in order to gradually recover my senses, and act upon my ultimate determination, whatever it might be.
From the well I had a good view of all about me, and observed that the natives had pitched their tents near those of the white men—the former being seated round their fires, evidently in great excitement. Presently some of the natives saw me, and turning round, pointed me out to one of the white people; and seeing they had done so, I walked away from the well, up to their place, and seated myself there, having my spears and other war and hunting implements between my legs. The white men could not make me out—my half-cast colour, and extraordinary height and figure—dressed, or rather undressed, as I was—completely confounding them as to my real character. At length one of them came up and asked me some questions which I could not understand; but when he offered me bread—calling it by its name—a cloud appeared to pass, from over my brain, and I soon, repeated that, and other English, words after him, Somehow or other I soon made myself understood to them as not being a native-born, and so the white men; took me to their tents, and clothed me, giving me biscuit, tea, and meat; and they were indeed, all very kind in every, way. My sensations that night I cannot describe, and before I closed my eyes I offered up to God fervent prayers of thankfulness for my deliverance; for although I saw great danger to the new comers, in consequence of their weakness in numbers, compared, with the strength which could be brought against them, yet I thought it certain they had resources in reserve, which might be made available, even if the first party was doomed to be sacrificed.
As I have already said, I was very anxious, but at the same time grateful, believing the period had arrived for my deliverance. My sensations I cannot describe; and, as I could not explain them in my mother tongue, I showed the initials W B on one .of my arms by, which they began readily to sympathize and look upon me as a long lost cast-away seaman—treating me accordingly, by giving me well cooked food, shelter, and raiment. Word by word I began to comprehend, what they said, and soon understood— as if by instinct—that they, intended to remain in the. country;—that they had seen several of the native chiefs, with whom—as they said—they had exchanged all sorts of things for land; but that I knew could not have been, because, unlike other savage communities, or people, they have no chiefs claiming or possessing any superior right over the soil: theirs only being as the heads of families. I also knew that if any transactions had taken place, it must have been because the natives knew nothing of the value of the country, except as hunting grounds, supplying them with the means of present existence. I therefore looked upon the land dealing spoken of, as another hoax of the white man, to possess the inheritance of the uncivilized natives of the forest, whose tread on the vast Australian Continent will very soon be no more heard, and whose crimes and sorrows are fast fading away amongst other recollections of the past.
In a day or two I was quite at home with the strangers, to whom I made myself useful in any way I could, by giving them useful information about the country. They said the vessel which had landed them would be back again from Launceston in a few days; bringing—they thought—a great many people, and a further supply of provisions and working tools. By their desire, I remained at the camp with them constantly, night and day; and I did so with considerable anxiety, knowing that the tribe the two men had gone to fetch, would soon arrive, and might be disposed to follow up their murderous intentions. At length these people came in great numbers, and seeing the very few English, and small party of Sydney natives, their determination to destroy them was communicated to me, with a positive desire that I should aid them, and with a threat that I should be. sacrificed with the weaker party on my refusing to do so.
I knew not how to act for the best; if I acquainted the new settlers of their great danger, they might, in the excitement, have had recourse to violence, which would have made matters in all probability worse, they being so few in number. The policy I adopted therefore, was, to seem to fall in with the views of the savages, but to induce them to delay carrying them out until the ship arrived, when I said, in support of my argument, the amount of plunder would be much increased.
This manoeuvre succeeded for a few days, but at the end of that time they became very impatient, so that I told the white men to be on their guard; and arming myself with a gun, I threatened, in strong language, the life of the first native who raised a hostile hand against the strangers; telling them afterwards, that on the arrival of the vessel they should have presents in abundance. This pacified them, and they turned their thoughts from mischief to fishing and hunting: our party, for so I must now speak, keeping a good look out every night, relieving each other at intervals, to prevent surprise. At length the vessel was made out by me whilst anxiously gazing across the bay, and I lost no time in giving the pleasing intelligence to both parties;—as for the natives, they made great rejoicings, jumping round and round me in the wildest manner, tapping me on the shoulders to show their delight at my not having deceived them; and, of course, at the arrival of the expected presents. No doubt, their guilty consciences touched them up a little; for, remembering and referring to their murderous designs, they asked me if I thought it would be sale for them to remain, or more advisable to run away into the bush? I told them tor stay where they were, as they had done no wrong, but had they done so, it would hare been a very different matter; for in that case, they would, to a certainty, all have been, shot or hanged.
The vessel—her name I do not recollect—kept standing up the bay until she touched upon a sand-bank, about three miles off, when Mr. Batman and Mr. Wedge, who were on board; left her in a boat; and, in order to prepare for their landing in safety, I went up to the native camp, and addressed the tribes as to the conduct they should pursue; The gentlemen I have named, on coming up to where we were—whites and black—appeared to be very much astonished at seeing me, and at my height, as I rose at their approach. There was a person named Gunn, who had been left in charge of the party during their absence, and he soon explained who I was, and other matters. Mr. Batman asked me many questions, and I told him I arrived in a ship, the name of which I had forgotten; and, as I thought, about twenty years before—but that I could only guess, having lost all recollection of time? He then asked me if I would remain altogether with his party, and what presents it would be most advisable to give the natives? The first artide I recommended was bread; so the boat was immediately sent off for two bags of biscuits, and these were distributed at a great Corrobberree we had that night; which entertainment—if it may be so called—very much delighted the visitors.
My task now was to keep alive the good understanding which existed; in that I succeeded: and in the mean time, the vessel had floated off the sand-bank and we landed from her, provisions, blacksmiths', carpenters', and other tools.
As Mrs. Batman with her family had arrived in the vessel, they were landed also, as soon as the best accommodations that could be prepared had been made ready for their reception.
The brig sailed the following day, leaving Messrs. Batman, Wedge, and the whole party behind making permanent arrangements for a settlement.To Mr. Wedge I had fully explained all the circumstances of my case, and my anxiety about my position, an a runaway from the Calcutta. That gentleman said he would represent them in the most favourable light to Lieutenant-Governor Arthur, so that I might feel safe in returning to Van Diemen's Land; for I was resolved on not doing so as a prisoner, after so many years' suffering. Mr. Wedge kindly promised to use all the interest he had to procure me a free pardon; and go I waited the next arrival of the vessel, employing myself in the meantime as an Interpreter, and as the friend of both parties, seldom leaving the camp, in ease any unfortunate dispute might arise during my absence.
At length Mr. Wedge expressed a wish that I should accompany him on an exploring excursion inland; so we started with two others, and three of the Sydney blacks, reaching Keingeang (as the natives called an extensive lake) the first night; and the next day Booneewang, a rising ground of considerable height, from whence may be seen a great extent of country. Mr. Wedge here took some sketches, and I pointed out to him the falls, near a place called Woorongo, where I had caught a vast quantity of eels. Of these falls he also took a view, calling them Buckley's Falls, out of compliment to me. We passed, the next day and the following, over a great extent of fine country; now jotted with the homesteads of many an industrious and wealthy settler.
It would be useless for me to describe a country at this time so generally known; suffice it to say, Mr. Wedge was surprised and delighted with the magnificence of its pastural and agricultural resources, making, I suppose, his reports accordingly.
I must state, however, that on this excursion we visited my old fishing hut, at the Karaaf River, and, on more than one occasion, we shot wild fowl on the rivers and lakes, in the presence of the natives; so as to occasion them to entertain great dread of the use of fire arms. I was authorised to tell those I met with, that if they would go to the settlement, presents would be made to them of blankets, knives, &c., and many promised to visit us.
For some time I found it as much as I could do to keep down their inclination for thievery, and their continual grumbling at some plan not being acted upon for seizing all they saw before them—they thinking it altogether my fault that an attack had not been made; for, although they dreaded the fire arms, they desired to surprise the party, and beat them by their numbers.
At length the vessel arrived from Hobart Town, anchoring about two miles off the land, and the boat we had left with us being launched and manned, Mr. Batman went on board.
On leaving us he told me he would make a signal by firing off his gun, if there was any good news in which I was interested. He was not long on board before he did so, and that I was delighted may be easily imagined; and I had great reason to be more so, when, on landing, he handed me a letter to Mr. Wedge, who told me all was right. The next matter of importance was, to remind him of my promise to the natives, which, as the ship had arrived, ought to be performed promptly, in order to avoid dissatisfaction. The boat was accordingly sent off again to the vessel for two more bags of biscuit, but it did not return until late, so that I was obliged to defer sharing them out that night. The next morning I did so, and Mr. Wedge showed me at the same time a free pardon from Governor Arthur, and a very flattering testimonial of thanks for my services to the settlers. These documents were dated the twenty-fifth of August, One thousand eight hundred and thirty-five; which, strange to say, was exactly thirty-two years from the date of my landing from the ship Calcutta. I take this opportunity of publicly acknowledging tile great kindness shewn me by Mr. Wedge, in thus procuring me my freedom, so immediately after my becoming known to him in such an extraordinary manner; and also my gratitude to Sir George, then Colonel Arthur, for his having so readily responded to the appeal made on my behalf. It was more than I had reason to expect from any Governor, without a previous reference to the Home Authorities; and the confidence thus placed in my future exertions to benefit the first settlers, gratified me exceedingly.
Allow me, generous reader, to throw my mind back upon the hour when I thus, received deliverance from the past and present, and my long hoped for freedom for the future. Thus, in effect, I expressed myself:—"I can now, once more, raise my thoughts—my unshackled mind and hands—to Heaven, as a free man. I can now offer up my prayers of praise and thankfulness to God, for my extraordinary deliverance, and for His wonderful preservation of me during so long a period.—My heart beats high with joy, almost to its bursting,—and, I ask, whose heart, bounding from so many long years of solitude and captivity into freedom, could, or can, beat like mine?"Who, after reading this brief history of my early life, and of my thirty-two years' perils and wanderings in the wilderness, whatever may be his position, will not—
Hope on!—Live on!—Hope to the last.