Page:Last of the tasmanians.djvu/53

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CHAPTER II.

THE BLACK WAR.

The Tasmanians have been presented to the reader. Voyagers have spoken of them in their wild condition, while roaming free over their own undisputed territory. The strangers departed, and left them at liberty. The Natives pursued their old habits, as they had done for thousands of years. The monotony of their lives was only disturbed by the hunt, the laughing corrobory, or the tribal conflict. But a change was at hand. Their peace was but the calm before the storm. Their pleasant days were to be clouded by sorrow and terror. The Whites came again. They came not as curious visitors, but to make a home in the land. They came not to share the soil with the dark men, but to appropriate it.

The wild men had two courses before them. They could prostrate themselves beneath the feet of the usurpers, and quietly submit to slavery; or they could refuse to sell their birthright of freedom, and take the consequences. They preferred to continue as they had been. As this involved collision with a people who assumed possession of their hunting grounds, they had to endure the consequences of their retiring or defiant policy. Thus arose the celebrated "Black War of Van Diemen's Land."

The formalities of a herald, or the very last ultimatum, would let slip the dogs of war, according to approved civilized ways. As no such courtesies were shown, or expected, in the relations between the naked Tasmanians and the British settlers, the precise line of actual hostility cannot be determined. All that can be done is to trace the history of the race, as resulting from contact with the Europeans in their own beautiful isle.

A reference to the preceding chapter will indicate the consequences of this juxtaposition of two opposing natures. Almost