Page:Last of the tasmanians.djvu/85

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58
THE LAST OF THE TASMANIANS.

they thought no more of shooting a Black than bringing down a bird. Indeed, in those distant times, it was common enough to hear men talk of the number of black crows they had destroyed. Well may Mr. Melville exclaim in his Van Diemen's Land Almanac: "If it were possible in a work like this to record but a tittle of the murders committed upon these poor harmless creatures, it would make the reader's blood run cold at the bare recital." As an evidence of the wantonness of the attacks, we have the assertion of Jorgenson, the Dane, who, when out in 1830, "saw traces in numerous places," where "many had been wantonly shot by spiteful and vindictive stock-keepers." In another part of his remarkable autobiography this passage occurs: "Ignorant and vindictive stock-keepers often wantonly fired at and killed many of them when there was no danger in the way."

The editor of a Wellington paper writes: "We have ourselves heard 'old hands' declare to the common practice of shooting them to supply food for dogs." He had heard of the employment of poisoned rum. Such conduct was manifested from the very settlement of the colony. One great source of mischief was the liberty given to the prisoners about 1806, &c. to disperse themselves in search of food, during a season of famine. Even the Government received kangaroo meat at the stores, and paid for the same at the rate of eighteen pence per pound. We can readily imagine the effect of letting loose in the Bush a number of reckless bad men, who had been previously subjected to the rigour of prison discipline, and who now with inflamed passions were undeterred in the commission of crime by the presence or knowledge of the authorities.

At first kindly treated by the dark men of the forest, they repaid their hospitality by frightful deeds of violence and wrong. Shrieks of terrified and outraged innocence rose with the groans of slaughtered guardians, in the hitherto peaceful vales of Tasmania. One wonders not at the quotation of the Rev. John West, from the Derwent Star newspaper of 1810: "The Natives, who have been rendered desperate by the cruelties they have experienced from our people, have now begun to distress us by attacking our cattle." One extract from the Star of the same year, 1810, painfully illustrates the subject: "The unfortunate man, Russell, is a striking instance of Divine agency, which has