The Last of the Tasmanians/Chapter 13
An interesting discussion has occupied the minds of the learned. Archbishop Whately gave utterance to the opinion, entertained by most of the so-called religious world, that barbarism was merely the result of lost civilization, and that no instance had occurred of unassisted elevation.
Certainly Australia has given little evidence of self-exaltation; simply preserving, as far as we can discern, that measure of civilization brought by the dark people from the parent-home of India, or wherever else it may have been. It has been usual to allow that the ingeniously constructed boomerang was a remnant of previously existing civilization, or, at least, copied from the Egyptians when their fathers were their neighbours; but Sir John Lubbock regards it as a step in advance, and urges, "We cannot look upon it as a relic of primeval civilization." Sir Thomas Mitchell once said of the Australians, "Perhaps the iron tomahawk is the only important addition made to their implements during the last three or four thousand years." Mr. Tylor favours the idea of gradual progression from within. He sees the evidence of this in some of the lowest tribes, and talks of "a growth in man's power over nature, which no degrading influences have been able permanently to check." Mr. George Roberts, the geologist, assumes something of the same, when he writes, "A small amount of anthropological data accumulated already by travellers, shows that the manners, customs, and other features of the Stone Age are still existent, and that a separate scheme of progress throughout time must be drawn for every people in every land."
The "Degradation Theory" of Archbishop Whately has been contested by Sir John Lubbock, one of the ablest ethnologists of the day. He cannot see reason in the argument presented on the other side that climatic circumstances influence men, as Abbé Domenech represents in his work on the Deserts of North America, where he says: "A country rich in the beauties of nature, possessing a mild climate and a fertile soil, abounding in natural resources, influences the moral character of its inhabitants to a considerable extent, by diminishing their physical wants, and the labour necessary to supply them, and by leaving more leisure and more strength for the development of their intellectual faculties." Sir John replies that the Tasmanians, &c., were "living in countries eminently suited to our domestic animals and to the cultivation of cereals, and were yet entirely ignorant both of the one and the other."
He then turns to the pre-civilization doctrine, remarking, "It is, I think, improbable that any race of men who had once been agriculturists and herdsmen should entirely abandon pursuits so easy and so advantageous; and it is still more improbable that, if we accept Usher's very limited chronology, all tradition of such a change shall be lost." He instances the fact that no fragment of pottery has ever been found belonging to Australia before the occupation by Europeans. He sees five stages of civilization: 1st, Omnivorous; 2d, the Hunting condition; 3d, the Pastoral; 4th, the Agricultural; 5th, when Letters and Coins were used. Sir John Lubbock, at the British Association at Dundee, carries out hopefully his views. "We shall not," said he, "be the less inclined to adopt them on account of the cheering prospect which they hold out to the future. If the past history of man has been one of deterioration, we have but a groundless hope of future improvement; but if, on the other hand, the past has been one of progress, we may fairly hope that the future will be so too,"Captain Grey, the explorer of Western Australia, saw the same result. "We cannot argue," said the traveller, "that this race was originally in a state of civilization, and that from the introduction of certain laws among them, the tendency of which was to reduce them to a state of barbarism, or, from some other cause, they had gradually, sunk to their present condition; for, in that case, how would those laws, which provide solely for the necessities of a people in their present state, have been introduced amongst them?"
Being desirous of learning the opinion of that excellent missionary and judicious scholar, the Rev. Mr. Ridley, upon the question, I wrote to ask him if he knew anything in the condition of the Australian natives that would sanction Archbishop Whately's argument. In his reply he says: "It is difficult to reconcile their actual ignorance of the use of clothes and houses, and no tribes that I ever saw had any idea when first discovered by white men of the use of either, with the supposition of pre-existing civilization." And yet he thought the highly developed language afforded a clue to another and higher condition formerly.
Dr. Von Martins, the Brazilian traveller, rather favoured the degeneration theory. Mr. Tylor, a philosophical writer, says: "I do not think that I have ever met with a single fact which seems to me to justify the theory." He could rather, with Sir John Lubbock, look forward hopefully to the rise of the race. "The course of development," said he, "of the lower civilization has been on the whole in a forward direction, though interfered with occasionally and locally by the results of degrading and destroying influences."The idea of a previously existing civilization known to the Australians and Tasmanians receives some support from the inquiry into their superstitions. Although that subject will be treated in extenso in a subsequent work upon the ethnology of those two races, it is sufficient to say that customs were retained, and traditions were taught, which evidently were fragments of knowledge belonging to other climes. The language, from its beauty and grammar, has been long regarded as the chief argument. The Rev. Dr. Lang says of it: "There is an adaptation for the expression of shades of thought decidedly indicative of a mental power and accuracy far beyond what the present habits of the people would lead one to suppose." But he cannot be so readily followed when he speaks of them as "originally a comparatively civilized people, strongly addicted to maritime pursuits, &c." He esteems them a race driven from "their own happy home," and "forced to become wild men," adopting as a matter of choice a mode of life originally one of necessity. Then he exclaims in wonder—"How has he completely lost his superior skill in navigation? How has he ceased entirely to be a cultivator of the soil?"
The non-progression of some races has been accounted for on geological grounds. Mr. C. S. Wake contends that the Asiatics are inferior to the Europeans, as inhabiting an older formation; while the Africans are still more degraded, because dwelling in a region so long undisturbed by geological changes. On this supposition he places the Australians lowest in the scale, because he has been informed that New Holland is the oldest country, geologically considered, on the face of the earth. He assumes, too, that our southern races were, in the infancy of their career, placed most unfortunately as to climate and soil; that this retarded their progress when they might have grown, until they became so stunted in intellect as to transmit ever since a low and enfeebled condition. Once it was supposed that nothing but primary and tertiary rocks existed, the secondary being absolutely unknown in Australia. But recently a sufficiency of the last formation has been discovered to place that continent on a level with the civilized world of Europe. There is nothing so lithologically sui generis as to put the Australians and Tasmanians out of court. Do the Laurentian rocks of Scotland presuppose the existence there of the primitive people of the world?
But Sir Samuel Baker, the author of one of the most interesting books of travel ever published, has contended for the uncivilization of his very rude equatorial Blacks on a geological plea. He first claims for them a lofty antiquity, upon the idea of their country—mostly of secondary rocks—having been undisturbed while other regions were convulsed with change. He finds them so ignorant of a Supreme Being, so lost in brutishness, that he regards them as being "cut off from that world, lost in the mysterious distance that shrouded the origin of the Egyptian Nile." Assuming that "the historical origin of man, or Adam, commences with a knowledge of God," he proceeds: "Historic man believes in a Divinity; the tribes of Central Africa know no God. Are they of our Adamic race?"
The same argument can be applied to our Tasmanians with even greater force. Mr. Logan says: "The ultra-Indian and Indian races, whose migrations gave the earliest known population to the Eastern Isles, had not advanced beyond the Australian grade of culture when these migrations commenced." As they were, so they remained. Disconnected, we may say, as the equatorial negroes, they never advanced, as they could not raise themselves. There is this difference, however, between them: the Tasmanian had no way of contact with higher cultivation, while the African, with the great Nile highway, must have had the shadow of old Ethiopian culture, although he failed to be impressed with its value. The latter never tamed the elephant; the former never improved native fruits by culture. Both simply belong to the unadvancing races.
On the aptitude of the Tasmanians and Australians, Dr. Davis has some observations, after an inspection of some of their skulls. He assumes that they were "rendered by nature utterly devoid of the power to receive that which is designated civilization by the Europeans—i.e. an extraneous and heterogeneous cultivation, for which they have no taste or fitness, but which has to be thrust upon them by the high hand of presumed philanthropy, and under the influences of which their own proper endowments are constantly injured, and they themselves are inevitably destroyed."
When lately examining the splendid collection of crania in the Jardin des Plantes of Paris, I took up a skull of a Tasmanian, and requested the opinion of an eminent French anthropologist upon it. He was pleased to describe it as equal to that of most civilized people of Europe, and superior to many crania of the educated. No phrenologist could object to its development, or doubt the civilization of the man on whose shoulders it once rested. Van der Hoeven had noticed that the skulls of Tasmania and New Caledonia equalled those of Europe in size, though they were different in shape. This induced a writer in the Anthropological Review to say: "Have we not in this fact a key to the psychological peculiarities which discriminate the two races? Is it not the different conformation of brain, running through all its organization, that lies at the basis of the great essential diversities of the two peoples?—one of which may be called the civilizable, or ceaselessly and almost endlessly progressive; the other, savage and stationary—if moved, moved only to destruction."
The American Indians were of old placed with the Tasmanians among the unimprovable races. Both roamed the forests, clad in skins of beasts, and subsisting upon the produce of the chase. The wigwam was preferable to the gunyah; but the seasons of the beaver-land were sterner than the soft airs of Tasmania. The cultivation of the ground and the tending of cattle were despised by both peoples. The settlers believed both of them incapable of labour, and unqualified for improvement. And yet nations of refinement have arisen in the depths of the forest, and left vast memorials of intellectual greatness. The conformation of mummy skulls in Peru, and the crania of ancient Mexico, alike indicate the identity of the past with the present Indians. How then did these barbarians of so low a physical type become raised to such a social eminence?
It is said in their legends that white and bearded men from the mountain lake Titicaca, and the pale-faced Quetzalcoatl from the plateau of Central America, brought the general blessings of civilization to the Red man. The savages were humanized by a few strangers of a superior order and benevolent character, and not by the inroad of an extensive emigration, like that of the English in Australia. Numbers, unless governed by good motives, rather repel than attract the barbarian.
Something has been done in more modern days to raise the rude Indian. Some Christian boys in white surplices, led by a venerable monk, walked quietly through an Indian encampment, sweetly chanting a service of the Church. The entranced warriors and their squaws gazed and listened, till wonder and pleasure brought tears to their eyes, and their knees to the stranger. A marvellous change was wrought by these Jesuits in Paraguay; but the Spanish authorities interfered with the mission, confiscated the property, expatriated the fathers, and gave the lands to greedy colonists. The pueblo is in ruins, the churches are lost in tangled thickets, the fields are a wilderness, and the converts are naked savages of the rocks or pampas again.
We often speak of the Primitive man; where is he? The very despised Tasmanian had advanced in one respect, according to our notions of civilization, beyond the age of Abraham. We read of him marrying his half-sister; a practice which, though recognised as proper with his people, was abhorrent to the customs of Diemenese. The primitive man owned no family, for the children were the mother's only. With the wild race in the South, the father had a place in the community.
The Tasmanians had already advanced. But why had they not done more? Not certainly because of the fright their escaped ancestors got at the Deluge, according to Dr. Martius; nor because, as Schlegel considered, they were so doomed by the law of nature. Why should they not have formed some rude pottery, when able to construct nets? But how did it happen that their clever neighbours of New Zealand and the South Seas were equally ignorant of clay moulds? It was not because, according to Klemm, they belonged to the Passive formation. Ritter once said of the Africans: "Must it be that civilization is to be brought from the exterior and inoculated, so to say, upon the inhabitants of the Soodàn, because, to judge according to the entire development of history, the others are called upon to give, and these to receive!" It was in this way that Eichthal would regard them as a portion of the female element of humanity in organization. It could not be because of their deficiency in physical beauty, as Courtet de l'Isle supposed, for perfection of form is a matter of taste. Other authors have regarded their inertness from the inauspicious position in which nature placed them. But, as Dr. Waitz properly observes, "The white man is not less dependent on external circumstances in his progress toward civilization than the black man." Mr. Buckle makes the civilization of Egypt, India, and Mexico, to arise from fertility of soil, while others see the advance of Europe from the rigour of climate and the inhospitality of soil. A German author declares for the state "where a people living in a healthy climate is master of the soil." But this was the condition of the Tasmanian.
The antagonism to progress, according to that thoughtful anthropologist, Mr. Wake, F.A.S.L., lies in the "permanent arrest of mental development." They were, to use the familiar expression of farmers, bark-bound, so as to present no perceptible growth. But Dr. Waitz, while acknowledging the tendency of the uncultivated, "be it European or African," to resist progress, according to the law of inertia, wishes it to be understood that the state "does not irresistibly lead to the conclusion that savage peoples are irreclaimable." Mr. Wake takes this hopeful view: "The explanation of the arrested development of the Chinese will be also that of the degradation of the negro and the native Australian; and an examination of the subject will show that both may be accounted for by the influences of the external conditions of existence, without requiring in either case an original inferiority of physical or mental development." Lauzun, 200 years ago, saw the chaos of Genesis in the condition of Ireland. And Desgrigny calls the Irish "such beasts that they have hardly a point of humanity. Nothing moves them. Menaces astonish them not. Even interest cannot engage them in work!" Is not this a case of "special stolidness," or of "arrest of mental development"?
While the Native has been too readily pronounced incapable of civilization—that is, the acceptance of our form of civilization—sufficient apology has not been made for the conservative influence of tribal usages. Bound by the chain of custom, and swayed by the practice of forefathers, it is no less difficult for us to engraft our manners upon the naked savage, than upon the cultivated Hindoo. How could we expect to change the course of thought in such barbarians, when we have succeeded so ill in our teaching elsewhere? and that with races accustomed to think, and dependent upon us! The antagonism of aboriginal traditions and unwritten enactments to our projects of civilization has been thus expressed by Captain (now Sir George) Grey:
"He is in reality subjected to complex laws, which not only deprive him of all free agency of thought, but, at the same time, by allowing no scope for the development of intellect, benevolence, or any other great moral qualification, they necessarily bind him down in a hopeless state of barbarism, from which it is impossible for him to emerge, so long as he is enthralled by these customs, which, on the other hand, are so ingeniously devised as to have a direct tendency to annihilate any effort that is made to overthrow them."
To break through these, after having been subject to such laws, would require the self-denying, self-sacrificing courage which a Jew must exercise to become a Christian. The rarity of success with the latter class should teach us modesty and patience when attempting the civilization of savages.
The effects of our civilizing processes have not always been happy, and have not proved very enduring. The first Aborigines with whom the English were brought in contact were the Indians of North America, and after that Hottentots, Australians, and Tasmanians. The language of Mr. Commissioner Bigge, as applied to Africa, has much force when used in other directions: "I am not aware," wrote he, in 1830, "if any attempt have been made or sanctioned by the Colonial Government to instruct the Hottentots, or to promote their improvement." Although a redeeming feature is prominent in the Australian and New Zealand Governments, especially since 1840, still the civilization of Natives has been left to chance influences, or to mere contact of the white and coloured man. The effort to raise the latter has been made without the direction of reason, conducted without system, and led by no benevolent impulse.
Not to refer at present to the extent of this civilization, let us look to the effects upon the race supposed to be benefited by its blessings. Although one branch of this subject is brought under notice in the chapter on "Decline," a few words upon the broad basis may be expedient. M. Rienzi, like many others, saw light and hope for the future of the Aborigines in the use of such means, and thus dwells upon the prospective advantages to the Van Diemen's Land Natives: "They have no other means of safety than to adopt the civilization of those whom they have unhappily learnt to despise; therefore they will finish by disappearing from the soil which belonged to them. A glory bright enough is reserved to the English; it is to enlighten and soften these ferocious islanders; it is to ameliorate their condition, in expiation of the evils which they have done to them."
The Rev. J. H. Hagenauer, Moravian Missionary to the Blacks of Victoria, in answer to one of my questions, as to the effect of our civilization upon them, gave the key to the difficulties of our work in saying: "In general it has thrown them back into a sort of despair." They are oppressed by our weighty and sink under the burden. This leads them to drink, as affording them a relief from their sense of abasement. This renders families unfruitful. This lowers the nervous tone, predisposing to disease, and arresting the progress of recovery. This robs of energy, so that they become feeble hunters, relinquish exercise, and depend upon the food of charity.
Men are accustomed to talk about the virtues of national elevation, without realizing the meaning of the term. One has written these thoughtful words: "Progress is a taking word, and civilization, like a cardinal's red hat, covers a multitude of sins and crimes. It is a tinkling cymbal, which drowns the noise of all other discordant things." We appropriate the land of a people, and gratify our self-love, while silencing the accusations of conscience by promising them all the delights and exaltations of our civilization in return. How ill we perform our part of the bargain, history can tell. They did not ask for bread, but we promised it, and then we gave them stones. Though not fascinated by our fruit of knowledge, we gave them some, and it proved to their taste but the apple of Sodom, with its ashes, that filled them with pain and disgust. The learned Austrian savan, Dr. Hochstetter, gave utterance to a sad experience when he wrote: "Despite the many advantages it has brought to the Natives, the European civilization and colonization acts upon them, after all, like an insidious poison, consuming the inmost marrow of their life." Mr. Consul Pritchard contends that, "just as the white man and the influences which accompany him intrude upon the home of the Pacific Islanders, so the latter, accepting the habits of the former, gradually but too surely wane."
There must indeed be something terribly wrong in our teaching, or faulty in our principles. Civilization indicates advancement, and has with it associated all that can enhance the happiness, purify the nature, and elevate the being of man. But much of that which is extolled is too often of a pseudo character; else, why is it that, at the present epoch of our national progress, so many authors lament the curses of our refinement? One has said, "Whatever civilization has done, it has not, to all appearance, materially diminished the sum of human misery and crime. Is all civilization, then, but a vicious circle, and our efforts, from century to century, but the oscillations of a pendulum?—Is it only a change of form in man and in states, not an essential change of nature or condition?" At any rate, we may say with Sir John Lubbock, "In reality we are but on the threshold of civilization."
To expect, therefore, from barbarians raised to civilization, a great exhibition of the virtues, and a considerable accession of enjoyment, may be hoping for that which we cannot observe among our own selves. They wear our clothes, and lose their grace and health. They eat our food, and suffer indigestion and idleness. They learn our language, and assimilate our vices.
May it not be that the very great contrast between our state and theirs strikes them with awe, and appals them by its magnitude? Might we not more wisely, and more successfully, introduce some of our maxims and practices which could be easily engrafted upon theirs, without requiring them absolutely to resign their own, or contemptuously deride the ways of their forefathers?
It must be confessed, to the shame of our age and progress elsewhere, that we know not how to treat the Aborigines. "Search history," says Mr. F. Boyle, F.R.G.S., "and in the north and south, east and west, the story is ever the same,—we come, we civilize, and we corrupt, or exterminate." We attempt too much at first. If we meet with a hunting tribe, we seek to make them farmers and clerks at once. In the processes of nature, it took, perhaps, thousands of years to effect this transformation with our own ancestors, when we would fain accomplish it in a year with others.
Mr. Brooke, jun., of Borneo, had no such great expectations of immediate returns, when—speaking of the Bakatans—he writes: "who have become sufficiently civilized to build habitations, although they will be little able to appreciate them for at least a generation to come." De Maistre exhibits our folly and failure with Natives. "For three centuries," exclaims that author, "we have been there with our laws, our arts, our sciences, our civilization, our commerce, our luxury; what have we gained upon the savage state? Nothing! We destroy these unfortunates with the sword and brandy; we thrust them insensibly into the desert interior; until, at last, they disappear entirely, victims of our vices as much as of our cruel superiority."
Our striking failure with both Australians and Tasmanians has brought forward many apologies for our ill-success, and some commiseration for the Blacks themselves. Mr. ex-Protector Dredge exclaims indignantly, "They have been treated empirically; and, because the nostrums have proved valueless, their failure is attributed to some latent, inherent incompetency in the patients, which places them beyond the reach of ameliorating appliances; and we are upon the point of pronouncing their case hopeless, and abandoning them to their wretched fate."
This outburst of virtuous indignation is hardly justifiable. Mr. Dredge and several other gentlemen were sent to Port Phillip about 1840 to act as Assistant Protectors under Mr. G. A. Robinson, the Tasmanian hero of the Conciliatory Mission. They had their own plans, they had the support of the Home Government, they had abundant supplies of money, and they failed. Even Mr. Robinson—who tried so desperately to civilize the Tasmanians on Flinders Island, and was held forth to be the very man to raise and save the Blacks—when removed to a new colony, under the most favourable circumstances, with a good staff, and the smile of the authorities, hardly ever attempted anything for the civilization of the Port Phillip Natives, and lived there long enough to witness the extinction of several important tribes under his protection, and the miserable decline of all others.
Count Strzelecki takes another view of the case in these words: "The Natives appeared unable to comprehend civilization, which to them consisted in a routine of irksome labours; and a critical examination of their religious views and attainments was ever a ludicrous and deplorable exposure. Why, then, continue that vegetative existence upon the isolation principle, which, if partially successful in one point of view, was yet wholly the reverse in every other, as it took from these poor creatures every hope and joy, every object and motive of exertion and of life, and gave them nothing they either understood or cared for in return? Why tear children from their clamorous parents, training them in spite of both parties into habits which they are ready on the first opportunity to abandon."
Lord John Russell having once said, "The best chance of preserving the unfortunate race lies in the means employed for the training their children," a great impetus was given to native schools. I have seen the Polish count's language illustrated in life. Once, in particular, I was much affected at seeing a Lubra at the door of the Black School, crying out piteously, with tears flowing down her maternal cheeks, "Jemmy, you come. No you stop along there. Jemmy—you come along a me." The English words were more intended for the softening of the heart of the Protector than reaching the ear of the child. And what was the result? Simply this, that the boys and girls, after all the care and training, took to the Bush. And when the excellent Archdeacon Hale succeeded in forming his depôt at Port Lincoln on a new principle—the association of schooled and civilized Blacks on a station by themselves—while the immediate results seemed Christian and satisfactory, it was soon perceived that nothing but new importations could support the colony, for hardly ever was a child born, while the deaths were sad indeed.
Some complaint having been made in the colonies of native lads, brought up by the settlers, taking themselves off to the Bush, and delighting in the rude habits of the tribe, the editor of the Gazette in 1819 thus moralizes:—"In all this was nothing to be wondered at; that state among the white population that was assigned them was positively little better than the one they had forsaken; the meanest offices of drudgery, always reflecting on their minds a picture of debasement, a want of attention to their common wants, of which our very dogs and horses have not to complain. Such treatment could not be considered a fair trial of their capacities or fixed inclinations. Out of the woods the poor half-civilized Native has no chance of a mate; no chance of ever sharing in the tender feelings of a parent, which the very crocodile evinces."
The great obstacle to our civilizing exertions lies in the introduction of intoxicating liquors. Who can adequately describe the effects of strong drink upon aboriginal people? The prison, the asylum, the many spectre-haunted homes of civilization tell what it has done for us. Its history unfolds more horrors than pestilence, more miseries than famine, more destruction than war. But we have some resisting media to its attack; the remedies of medicine, counteracting stimuli, moral antagonisms, the forces of education, the voice of affectionate warning, the pleading example of self-denying ones. But what has the savage? It comes as a friend to relieve his ennui, and it supplies the lack of previously existing natural excitements. It represses energies, now no longer required, and it deadens sensibilities, now out of exercise. No shame stays its ravages, for the stranger has stolen native pride. No conscience struggles against its influence, for the canker of new vices has consumed his heart. He is too despised to hear the cautionary word of kindness, and the common moral fall of the tribe drags him quicker, deeper, down to ruin.
Alas! how many a tale could I tell of the ravages of this element of civilization! How full are the narratives of travellers of reference to its effects! How many a missionary enterprise has been arrested or overturned by its introduction! How happily did real civilization progress till the arrival of this dreadful foe to peace! It came with the settlers into colonies. The Jesuit missionaries suffered from it in Paraguay as soon as the Spanish Government permitted settlements in the country. One of them says of his Indians: "They were not only made to contract a liking for brandy there, but even prevailed upon to bring quantities of it home with them, unknown to the missionaries. By this means drunkenness was introduced into the Reduction (Mission), and caused in it all those disorders that might naturally be expected from barbarians so lately reclaimed." In fact, it destroyed the influence of the padres, and was the principal cause of the ruin of so fair and promising a moral structure. Piotrowski assures his readers that the Ostiacks of Siberia, "although they exhibit no sympathy for the better influences of civilization, are all ready to accept its vices; without exception, they have the true savage love of spirits, and instances have not unfrequently occurred when its victims have drunk themselves to death at a single sitting." Similar records can be written of other races.
The Tasmanians were affected as others by its use. Mr. G. Robertson, the leader of a roving party, says of them: "You must not judge of their capability by what you have seen of those who have been caught and trained to rum-drinking, smoking, and swearing among the most abandoned of our prisoner population." As early as Nov. 7th, 1818, there was a Government order against giving the Natives "Bull," or spirits, "whereby the said Natives have become riotous and offensive by their fighting in the streets, and committing wanton barbarities on each other."
But it is useless to descant further upon evils admitted by all to be the product of drink among the Aborigines.
As at the time of writing this part of the work I am being whirled round the tempest-torn shore of Cape Horn, I am reminded of the swarthy race paddling from islet to islet of Terra del Fuego.
Of their lack of civilization Captain Fitzroy and others have informed us, of their pre-existing civilization we can see no trace, of their ultimate civilization we have little hope. Their origin is set in darkness, their fate is gloomy extinction. Patagonia, with its vast plains of glacial loose rocks and pebbles, presents few attractions for colonization, leave alone the savage audacity and proud independence of its gigantic Indians. Fuego, though so much more southward, though stormed by western gales, and though oft wrapped in wintry fogs, has so much greater geological advantages, that it may before long be appropriated by Europeans, who will till its rich valleys, fish in its prolific waters, and raise their homesteads to leeward of its wood-crowned hills.
What will then be the fate of its dark tribes? Without a faith, they are little likely to accept of one. Migratory, they will not dwell in huts, or cultivate the soil. Like the Tasmanians, they will have no other land to fly to. They may retire before the white faces more southward from Magellan's Strait, more westward from the sheltered valleys, till the rigour of an inclement coast, and the melancholy of evil days, sink them from sight and memory. As fishers, not bold hunters, they may not, like our islanders, resist the stranger, and oppose the axe and gun with spear and waddy, but pass away in silence, leaving one race less of coloured Aborigines.
From general views of civilization let us descend to particular ones. A writer in the Christian Recorder for 1824 gives no flattering picture of Tasmanians when he says, "Though they have now been accustomed for several years to behold the superior comforts and pursuits of civilized men, they have not advanced one step from their original barbarism. All that they have imbibed from us is a smattering of our language, and a fondness for tobacco and spirituous liquors." But there are a few instances where the Tasmanians have been brought up from infancy in the homes of colonists, and have received a good training as well as fair education. But the ingrained barbarism often glanced through the superficial gloss of our civilization.
A good story is told by Mr. Gideon Lang, of Melbourne, about an Australian of his acquaintance, which will apply to the case of the home-taught children of the forests of Van Diemen's Land, and exemplify the difficulty of overcoming the savage instincts. A certain Jemmy, who had been brought up from mere infancy by the missionaries, was able to read his Bible, and was reputed as a fair-going sample of a Christian. One day Mr. Lang found him reading the "Sermon on the Mount," but looking very fierce and gloomy. Upon inquiry, it was learnt that the man's mother was dead. "Bogan black fellow kill her," said the fellow; that is, though she had died from a lingering disease, he insisted, according to native superstition, that the neighbouring tribe had bewitched her, and occasioned her decease. Resolving upon revenge, and quite forgetting the practical lessons of which he had been reading, Jemmy waylaid and murdered an old friend, but one who, unfortunately, belonged to the other tribe.
The first account of attempting Tasmanian civilization I saw in the Sydney Gazette of Sept. 2, 1804. It is related that a child was found in the Bush near Risdon, that had been lost by its native mother, and was taken care of by a gentleman residing at Sullivan's Cove, or Hobart Town. "In compliment to his native soil," says the paper, "and in remembrance of the month upon which it was the will of fate that he should be released from a state of barbarous insignificance, he has been baptized Robert Hobart May." In all probability the little foundling was picked up after the massacre of the tribe in May, 1804. The parents had been, perhaps, murdered, and the little one was to be brought up, like a transplanted flower, under uncongenial and unnatural circumstances.
In the course of the work several instances are mentioned of half-civilized Blacks. Few girls were taken into households, for, before their arrival at puberty, their instincts led them to the camp in the Bush, or the tribe stole or decoyed them away. But several persons whom I knew in the island had tried to train up boys.
The children placed at the Orphan Schools of New Town, near Hobart Town, do not appear to have turned out well, though some laudable efforts were made by kind, Christian people to do them good. They could not be happy at the school, and they were not content with their position in a family. However English lads may reconcile themselves with a life of subordinate servitude, it was too opposite to the instincts of the Aborigines, and they fretted under restraint. As a writer in a colonial paper of 1818 observed: "A poor native boy in a kitchen was worse than in a state of solitude; for he had constantly, and the more so as he improved in faculty, to lament a debasement which Nature alone had stamped upon him." Two lads, Joey Tamar and Teddy Flinders, had been placed at the Orphan School at nursing age; but, as they grew up, they were wearied at the irksome life, and repeatedly broke loose from bounds. Several times they were captured far off in the forest. It was found impossible to tame them, and so they were sent off to their native companions on Flinders Island.
In the Hobart Town paper of August 23, 1823, there is a story of partial civilization. A native girl had learned the equestrian art, and made use of her acquirements to assume the Bushranging profession, having stolen a splendid horse, worth one hundred guineas. The Gazette went on to relate that "the animal was rode at a full gallop down a valley, in view of Allanvale House, by a black native girl, with a long tether rope round the horse's neck. A servant was immediately sent on horseback in pursuit of the fair Tasmanian jockey (the first of her race, perhaps, who has ever before been seen on a horse at full speed); but, owing to her riding the animal so wonderfully fast, the man could not come up with her, after a pursuit of four days."
A few have been so civilized as to contract marriages after the approved fashion of Europeans. The first took place at Launceston. Two, who had long resided in the families of colonists, were formally united in St. John's Church, Launceston, August 16, 1830. On Flinders Island marriages were duly celebrated, though rather an unnecessary form with the free-and-easy living Natives; but it pleased the Whites, and got the pair some extra indulgences.
The civilization practices of Flinders are particularized under the head of "Flinders Island." They belonged rather to the forced bed process, and produced a few abortions. Without doubt a great outward change was apparent. Messrs. Backhouse and Walker, in their official report to the Governor of their visit to the place in 1833, expressed much satisfaction. "The women," said they, "are constantly clothed, and are more cleanly in their persons than formerly. They sweep their cottages regularly, rub their tin ware bright, and wash their own clothes, and those of the men, once a week." A moral change appeared: "They attend the public worship on that day (Sunday), and conduct themselves with great decorum; and, however little they may understand the nature of that institution, by their attendance they at least evince a readiness to conform to the wishes of those whom they regard."
A criticism appeared some few years ago in a leading article of the Melbourne Argus, which rather too extravagantly reviewed the Flinders Island system, but which expresses the sentiments of not a few colonists:—
"Look at the means had recourse to in the case of the remnant of the aboriginals of Tasmania! They were beguiled to the number of some hundreds from their native haunts, and transferred to an island in Bass's Straits, where a system of restraint and plodding methodised daily pursuits was imposed upon them, which would be perfectly unbearable to our own people, and has terminated in those savages pining away, and dying en masse. They were, in the most literal sense, 'civilized off the face of the earth' by that process of 'vegetable existence' which the European finds too irksome to subscribe to himself, but which he thinks quite good enough to be the preliminary step for introducing and reconciling the wild denizen of the woods to the new condition proffered to him—proffered in so uncongenial, or rather absolutely revolting, a manner that it is impossible of acceptance."
The "Penny Cyclopædia" has no friendly notice of the civilization of Flinders Island. This is the article:—
"It would be tedious to detail the features of the 'civilizing' system pursued there. It is sufficient to mention that every habit and amusement peculiar to the Aborigines has been discouraged; the cumbrous and uncongenial forms and incidents of advanced civilization have been enforced in everyday life; the native language has been as much as possible suppressed; native names have been made to yield to those of the Cæsars, the Hannibals, and the Scipios; a disposition to indulge in the pleasures of the chase has been recorded as a delinquency; and the verbal repetition of the Commandments and the Catechism is alleged as the evidence of religious progress, and a confutation of all disbelief as to the capacity of uncivilized races to appreciate the doctrines of Christianity."
There is no doubt that the over-sanguine mind of Mr. Robinson, his intense energy, and his overwhelming will, did multiply tasks ad nauseam, and expect the barbarism of thousands of years to be exorcised by his own word. Too much exultation was manifested at exterior change, and too high an estimate was attached to learning by rote. But it is not less true, that a decided improvement was conspicuous in the tribes that had been brought there untutored savages, and that they were, on the whole, as happy and contented as could have been expected of such exiles by necessity. The fatal extinction of the race was wrought out there by causes engendered long before. They came there a dying people.
We will hear what Captain Stokes, the explorer, has to say of some who were trained on Flinders Island. He visited the place soon after my arrival in Hobart Town. He speaks thus of two whom I afterwards knew:—"Walter and Maryann, a married couple who had recently returned from Port Phillip, where they had been living in the family of the former superintendent, Mr. Robinson, were so civilized and proficient in all the plain parts of education, that they possessed great influence over their countrymen, who, incited by the contemplation of their superiority, were apparently desirous of acquiring knowledge. The barracks in which the Natives dwell form a square of good stone buildings; but Walter and his wife have a separate cottage, with a piece of land attached. Maryann is a very tolerable needle-woman, and capable of teaching the others." In Dr. Jeauneret's time the pair dwelt in a hut apart from the rest.
I have now before me the original letter addressed by Walter George Arthur, commonly called King Walter, when he sought to buy a piece of land near the aboriginal station of Oyster Cove. When I knew him, he was keeping a boat there, taking charge of the mail, and waiting upon passengers desirous of landing from the steamer. The letter occupies more than three pages of note-paper, and has been rather roughly struck off in a hurry. It has been kindly presented to me by Sir Richard Dry, who thus permitted Mr. Surveyor-General Calder to keep a certified copy in the office. Walter entreats Dr. Milligan, the Protector, to get a certain eight-acre block for him, and, as he says, "ascertain from the Government what would they charge for it, the 8 acres." He gives his reasons for the purchase, and is generous enough to use the plural number in the first person; for his wife, Maryann, being a scholar, and weighing nearly twenty stone, was a partner demanding consideration. "We would very much like to have it," he continues, "to make it a little homestead for ourselves. My reasons for Troubleing you so much is that there is no distance from the water's edge, and that it is more Dryer than the other Piece of ground up the creek by Claytons, and not only that, if we put anything into the ground up the creek it either gets trodden to Pieces or otherwise rutted up by somebody, or spoiled in some way so that we can't do any good by it." He is too independent to solicit eight acres of the soil seized by the Whites from his nation, but adds: "I mean for to buy it out."
The same person, believing himself possessed of sufficient means to keep a man, applied to Government in 1856 for a convict servant This was his letter:—
"I beg respectfully to apply for permission to hire a Passholder Servant man subject to existing regulations."
Although many a white man who had been exiled for his country's good, and who had been utterly illiterate, obtained this privilege, it was not thought expedient to place a Christian Englishman under the authority of a savage, and the application was refused. Mr. Calder, who knew him well, gives this report, in 1868, of my aboriginal acquaintance, as it is in reply to a question of my own:—
"Mr. Bonwick asks if the Blacks of Tasmania were capable of true civilization. My reply is, 'Yes, undoubtedly;' and I give as an example the case of Walter George Arthur, a Tasmanian aboriginal, whom I knew well, who was captured when a mere infant, and brought up and educated at the Queen's Orphan School (at Hobart Town). His ideas were perfectly English, and there was not the smallest dash of the savage in him. He was a very conversible man, fond of reading, and spoke and wrote English quite grammatically. His spelling was also quite correct This man had a hundred acres of land, and knew his rights in relation thereto quite as well as you do yours. An instance of this, quite as creditable to his acuteness, sense of right, and of honourable feelings, was related to me by our old friend Bennison, the surveyor. One of Arthur's neighbours was a grasping and rather unprincipled fellow, who mistook Arthur for a person with whom he might do as he pleased, and encroached on a cultivated part of his land, which Arthur had no idea of suffering. So, after expostulating with him to no purpose, he employed and paid Bennison to resurvey his land, which was done in presence of both litigants. This operation proved that Arthur was right, and that he knew his proper boundaries quite well. And when he saw that his opponent was satisfied, he said to him, 'Well, Mr. ——, though you have tried to wrong me, I will treat you very differently from what I believe you would have done to me, if I were in your place. You can come on to my land and remove your crop when it is ripe.'"
He was not quite civilized after all, for such conduct was scarcely that generally adopted by our enlightened countrymen.
In the chapter on "Flinders," it is mentioned that, under the auspices of the Rev. Mr. Dove and Mr. Robinson, the Superintendent, a sort of newspaper was established by the Aborigines. One of these papers, consisting of an Address to his fellow-countrymen, was written by Thomas Brune, on Flinders Island, February 19th, 1838. I find appended to the same these words, "Thomas Brune, an aboriginal youth. Editor and Writer." It is presented entire, with the exception of some correction of the spelling, and the use of punctuation.
"And now, my friends, let us love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, with all thy soul, and with all thy strength, and with all thy might, and with all thy mind. Love thy neighbour as thyself. And now, my friends, we ought to keep these things, because these are things that we must be to them that love God.
"And now, my friends, in again a place where he taught us when we approach the throne of thy grace, when we pray, to say, 'Our Father which art in heaven, hallowed be thy name, thy kingdom come, thy will be done in earth as it is in heaven, give us this day our daily bread, and forgive us our trespasses, and lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil, for thine is the kingdom, and the power and the glory for ever and ever.
"And now, my friends, this is the prayer of God Almighty, which we pray. Pray to God with sincerity and truth.
"And now, my friends, you know that Mr. Dove, speaking to you upon the subject about the prayer of God Almighty, and if you, my friends, pray with sincerity and truth, then you will have that glory which is in Jesus Christ the Son of the living God."And now, my friends, pray with sincerity and in truth. Pray well—it is time. Now is the expected time. Now is the day of Salvation. My friends, we must pray always, for it is appointed out that men ought to pray, and our blessed Lord came upon earth to teach us about the doctrines of God and himself. He came upon earth to do the will of Him that sent Him. My friends, don't you believe that He died for poor, guilty sinners? Yes, my friends, we must believe that Jesus Christ came to save sinners.
"Oh, my friends, when we was lying at the brink of Hell's dark door, Jesus Christ came to save that which was lost. Now, my friends, don't you know that Mr. Dove, speaking to you about the prayer of God, said we must pray with sincerity and truth. And, also, my friends, Mr. Clark, speaking to you about the sower went to sow. Some fell on stony rock, and it growed up, and then it withered away. And some fell among the thorns, and they spring up, and the thorns choked them. And some fell by the wayside, and the fowls came and devoured them. And some fell on good ground, and they spring up, and brought forth hundred fold, some sixty fold, and some seventy fold. My friends, they that are on the rocks, they first hear the word of God, and then in temptations fall away. And those that are on the wayside they hear the word of God, and then cometh the devil, taketh them out of their hearts. My friends, that is the way that the devil takes the good words out of our hearts.
"My friends, who was it wrote the ten Commandments? I will tell you, my friends. It was God that wrote these ten Commandments. He wrote them with His fingers, and there is ten of them which we must obey. It is certain that we must obey these laws. These are the laws which the Israelites obeyed, which they had obeyed in the wilderness. They had manna to eat which rained from heaven, and they tempted God in the desert. And they also worshipped two calves, in the which God was displeased.
Editor and Writer.
Further particulars of the editor and writer may be found in the report of the examination on Flinders Island. His interesting discourse unfolds the character of his mind, and displays his theological acquirements. Perhaps the obscurity of his ideas on dogmatic faith may not be more obvious than might be observed in many village frequenters of church, were they to attempt to put their conceptions of truth on paper, after the manner of Thomas Brune.
The Hon. J. H. Wedge has given me a pleasing story of an aboriginal youth brought under the influence of civilization. While engaged in a survey on the west coast, to the south of Cape Grim, he met with the following adventure:—"My attention," said he, "was arrested by an object, which I at first took to be the stump of a tree, being so perfectly motionless. I was soon made aware of my mistake, for I had no sooner stopped and directed my attention to it, as it struck me that it somewhat resembled the figure of a man, than the object walked off, and disappeared behind the opposite rising ground I called out to put my men on their guard, and told them the Native had taken the direction toward the beach. The men went, accordingly, and in about a minute saw, as they said, for I did not see them, about fifteen or sixteen Natives coming stealthily towards them with their spears poised. One of them (Peter Lennon, an old Bushranger) fired off his gun, as he said, over their heads. The Natives at once disappeared, as though by magic, and we saw no more of them. On going to the beach we saw the boy I have alluded to swimming amidst surf that was rolling and foaming in upon the beach. We in vain beckoned him to come out. There he swam in a wonderful manner amongst the breakers, floating over them like a sea-gull, till he was exhausted, and washed ashore apparently dead. I had him taken and laid before the fire, and continued rubbing his body and limbs, which gradually restored him. When sufficiently recovered, I gave him some warm tea and something to eat. In about an hour he was able to accompany us. At first, when I took hold of his hand to lead him, he evinced great fear, fancying, as he afterwards told me, that we were going to kill him. He made one, and only one, attempt to escape. On ascending the steep, rocky northern side of Mount Cameron, he slipped from the man who was leading him, when nearly at the top of the mount, and bounded actively down over the rocks. He was followed and overtaken when nearly at the bottom by Peter Lennon. When brought to me, I caressed and led him down the mount. During this, and the four or five following days, we had a plentiful supply of kangaroo, of which he partook to his heart's content. The quantity he consumed during this time was surprising, and almost incredible—not less than from eight to ten pounds daily. He acquired confidence in, and attached himself to, me after the first 'heavy feed;' and, of his own accord, would take hold of my hand, and walk by my side, sit by me when we took our meals, or stopped to rest, and roll himself in his blanket and lie next to me when we camped at night. He remained with me for a little more than two years, till he died of a pulmonary attack.
"I did not allow him to live with or associate with the servants, but had him to live with me in my tent. He accompanied me in all my surveying excursions, during which he always met with the greatest kindness from the settlers, and was allowed to sit at their table when I dined with them. His conduct was always correct and well-behaved, and would compare favourably with most European boys of the same age. On one occasion, when in Hobart Town, he was present at a mixed party of ladies and gentlemen. During the evening one of the gentlemen tried to persuade him to kiss a young lady in the room. He hesitated, and said, 'No good—no good,' meaning, 'not right.' But after being importuned for some time, he watched his opportunity, went behind the lady, and gently touched the neck, and then kissed his fingers. On another occasion, when a party of young ladies were escorted by their parents on their way home for the holidays, they called at the residence of a gentleman near Campbell Town, near which my tent was pitched. The family had shown great kindness to 'May-day' (he was taken on the first of May), and he was invited into the room. The lady of the house requested him to hand refreshments to the ladies, pointing to the eldest lady to be helped first. But one of the youngest had secured his admiration, and, notwithstanding the remonstrance of the kind lady of the house, he persisted in politely handing the viands to the young lady of his choice, to the amusement of all present.
"Having acquired our language tolerably well, I was on the point of teaching him to read, &c., when the severe inflammatory attack of the lungs carried him off. He was faithful, and became very attached to me; and I scarcely think, had his life been spared, that he would ever have returned to lead the uncivilized life from which he was rescued."
At Oyster Cove I witnessed the end of all this civilization. With the exception of Walter and Maryann, the work had been in vain. The others, nearly all old women, were ignorant, almost to brutishness. They lived wretchedly in dirt and neglect Their food was cooked in a pot from which I saw the dogs allowed to eat. They lay in their clothes, with a dirty blanket in the cold season. They could not read, and they were never read to. They cared not for prayer, and had no one to pray with them. They bartered food and blankets with disreputable neighbours to obtain drink. They sat about on the ground with their mangy dogs, smoking their filthy pipes, and cackling over stories of their past.
So was it with Jemmy Button of Terra del Fuego. In 1830, at the age of fifteen, he was bought for a button from his father, and brought to England by Captain Fitzroy. There he was petted and schooled Great were the expectations of his usefulness among his benighted countrymen. Married to a girl that had, also, been educated, and who spoke English and Portuguese well, he was sent off with quite a cargo of good things, even to toilet services. A garden was made and stocked, and the Dandy Jemmy was left with his treasures. A year after Captain Fitzroy returned. The garden was destroyed, the treasures were scattered, and Jemmy was all but naked, with matted, filthy hair. Captain Snow saw him in 1855, "a wild, naked, and shaggy-looking savage." "The man of many hopes," wrote Mr. Snow, "of much talk, and of great name in getting an interest in the mission (while it brought large sums to the account), yet none the less a nude savage like his brethren." He adds, "yet that same poor creature had been the petted idol of his friends here and at home, had been presented to royalty, and finally sent back to Fuego as a passably finished man."
Mr. Dandridge, who is at present in charge of the one Tasmanian woman alive, gave me some intelligence of Mathinna, a girl of singular beauty and mental capacity for an Aborigine. Attracting the notice of the benevolent and literary Lady Franklin, the child was removed to Government House, and carefully and kindly trained by her ladyship. Mathinna pursued her studies with diligence, and became almost accomplished. Her good looks suffered no deterioration by her change of life, but were refined by education and developed by art. The age of early womanhood found her attractive in mind and body. But for whom were these charms to bud? On whom could she bestow her affections, and preserve her virtue? Could she, who had been indulged in the drawing-room of the Governor, who had become used to the luxuries of civilization, be content to be the bride of ever so handsome a Black? Dare she hope to be the mate of an Englishman whose tastes and education were equal to her own. Her moral danger had been foreseen by her kind friends, and many a lecture had she received upon duty. Ladies had warned, and ministers had preached. But the wild pulses of the girl were speaking too, and the very reading of her tasks had quickened the growth of love. When Lady Franklin went to England, Mathinna was sent among the Blacks, and had the squalid children of the tribe as her companions. With her developed nature, and her being cast down among the refuse of a White population, the consequences may be understood. In a short time she died at Oyster Cove, friendless and hopeless; but affording another opportunity for some to deplore the depravity of human nature, and to lament mistaken kindness to a degraded race.
When, in 1841, Mr. Robert Clark brought to my house in Hobart Town four Tasmanian youths, my feelings of the prospective civilization and happiness of the race were of the most buoyant character. The dear lads were so interesting and artless as to gain my heart. They were clean, cheerful, and intelligent. Dressed in comfortable, and even respectable, European attire, with their fine open countenances, their languid smile, their beautiful eyes, I could not recognise them as the sons of degraded savages. Their replies to my questions were given in such correct English, they read the Testament so fluently, and conversed so agreeably, that I was ready to proclaim their civilization from the very housetop. But when, twenty years after, I saw a company, consisting chiefly of dirty, ignorant, drunken, and ugly old men and women, the last of the race, my sentiments changed most uncomfortably. I sighed for the lads that went childless to their graves. I thought of the dark-eyed maidens, all gone, after a miserable and barren life. I felt, amidst the chill of the present, a melancholy despondency seize me, and all hope of civilization for Aboriginal races seemed to die within me.
The last story to be brought forward, though relating to an Aborigine of New South Wales, is enough to depress the most sanguine worker. I give it in the words of my friend the Rev G. Ridley:—
"Bungaree, who, after taking prizes at the Sydney College, speaking good Latin, and behaving as a gentleman in elegant society, returned to the Bush, and then entered the Black police, once said, in a melancholy tone, to Lieutenant Fulford (who repeated the remark to me at Surat on the Condamine), 'I wish I had never been taken out of the Bush, and educated as I have been, for I cannot be a white man; they will never look upon me as one of themselves; and I cannot he a black fellow, for I am disgusted with their way of living.'"
Is this not enough to make one echo the language of Judge Baron Field, of Sydney, in 1822?—
"Yet deem not this man useless,
But let him pass,—a blessing on his head!
The apparent hopelessness of civilization with some races strikes the most careless observer. Forty years ago, a Hobart Town writer despairingly exclaimed of the Aborigines: "Had they any affinity to the African negro we might entertain some distant hope of the possibility of civilizing them." Count Strzelecki, with all his chivalrous regard for the poor creatures, admits the work no easy one, saying: "From what has been observed of the two races, one may affirm, without dread of contradiction, that it would be easier to bring down the Whites to the level of the Blacks, than to raise the latter to the ideas and habits of our race." He presents this apology for his dark friends: "The Christianity which was offered to him was stripped of its charity, and the civilization embraced no recognition of his rights of property. He, therefore, rejected both." The Van Diemen's Land Courier, of August 1830, had a lingering hope, after all the failures, that something yet might be done; saying,—when noticing a project to introduce Chinese labourers into the colony,—"but it is by no means improbable or hopeless that we shall ultimately be enabled to tame or instruct these poor people to habits of useful industry."
Had the editor an idea of converting them to habits of industry, as had the Spaniards of the Indians, from the expectancy of getting good labourers out of them? The connexion of the passage with the importation of Coolies would imply as much. The Chinese were to be introduced in the failure of the other, as African negroes were carried to America to do the work of the non-labouring Indians. It is to be feared that much of the benevolent outcry of "civilization!" has an association with selfishness. While many urged expeditions to the interior of Africa, under the guise of rooting out slavery, and introducing a better faith, not a few thought of increased Birmingham and Manchester trade. It was a bitter sarcasm of Bayle's: "It is good to preach the Gospel to savages, because they ought to teach them as much Christianity as to make them walk clothed, as that would be a great benefit to English manufactures." The advocacy of low, mercenary motives to support missions has contributed not a little to this idea.
The noble army of missionaries have ever been the true and best civilizers of men in all ages. These were they who plunged into the marshes of Germany, to rescue the Goths from heathendom. These were they who penetrated the oak-forests of Britain, the bog-paths of Ireland, the sweet vales of Gaul, and the wilds of Russia, that they might raise man. These are they who go now to the desert, to the jungle, to the snows, to fever-haunts, to storm-girt coasts, to dreary wastes—among men, repulsive by their habits, disgusting in their persons, cruel in their hearts—and all to do good to their fellows, to bless them in the world, and lift their heads to God. All honour to these self-sacrificing, earnest ones!
Mistrust of the Whites has ever been the marked feature with the Papuan people everywhere. The only exception has been in the pacific work of the missionary; and the most notable one is seen in the method adopted by that extraordinary hero, the Bishop of Melanesia. I have heard him describe it in Melbourne. Approaching a wooded Papuan isle, he would put off in a boat toward the shore. The Natives were there gesticulating defiance, and brandishing their arms at the advancing stranger. Standing up in the boat, he would throw open his arms to show the absence of weapons upon his person. Then, stripping off his outer dress, he leaped into the ocean, and swam toward the astonished wild men. Rising from the water, he singled out the most formidable-looking warrior, and, with a smiling face, he held out the hand of friendship. It was not in the nature of man to injure so confiding and courageous a being. They would gaze at him as if he were from another world. Then, stroking the head of a youngster, and admiring the beauty of a baby barbarian, he won the heart of the tribe. Though ignorant of the many varied dialects of the Melanesians, he would manage by signs, pointing to sun, ship, and a boy, to say: "Let me have the lad for six months and I will bring him back to you." Who that looked upon the noble, loving, and manly countenance of the Bishop, could mistrust him? He got the consent of the tribe, and gained the lad as well. Six months at the Mission School in New Zealand would give the language to an English missionary, and the lad returned improved to his isle, accompanied by a Gospel messenger. So far the experiment has been singularly successful.
That there was some hope at one time of something being done for the spiritual development of the Tasmanians appears from a letter addressed by the Rev. Mr. Mansfield to the Wesleyan Missionary Society. That gentleman had called in at Hobart Town, on his way to his own sphere of labour in New South Wales, about 1824. Naturally excited by the degraded condition of our Aborigines, he had endeavoured to interest others, especially the Colonial Chaplain, the Rev. Mr. Bedford, in the mission work. An extract from the letter is appended:—
"A considerable interest for them was at that time excited among the inhabitants at large, and in the mind of the Lieut.-Governor in particular. The Rev. Mr. Bedford and myself were appointed by his Honour to draw up a code of rules and regulations for the government of a Native Institution, to be supported partly by the Government, and partly by the public. This task we speedily executed, and the result of our labours received the approbation of the Lieut.-Governor, and of a large meeting held in the church. But I am sorry to add, nothing further has been done. I by no means think the interest has declined; but the agricultural and commercial distresses of the colony, together with the formidable ravages of a banditti of convicts, who have ever since been at large among the interior settlements, have completely absorbed the public attention. I am fully satisfied that were a missionary sent out expressly for the Natives, he would receive the most liberal encouragement from all classes of the community." As to opposers, he says: "What has been done to try the validity of these objections? The Natives have confessedly fallen into a deep abyss; but what friendly arm has been stretched forth to rescue them? Is it benevolent to leave the sick to die, ere the power of medicine has been tried? It is agreed with all that the attempt must be made with the young."
But the mere attempt was never made.
In December 1826, the Hobart Town paper, in proposing to catch the contending Blacks, and send them to King's Island, suggests that there might be sent with the soldiers "a Gospel missionary or two;" and adds, "Volunteers for such a service, we are convinced, even in this colony, would be readily found."
There is another interesting extract from the Gazette of 1826, of an earlier date (Feb. 4th). The editor writes: "We should rejoice to see here, as at Sydney, a clergyman exclusively devoted to promote their conversion; and we think, if no Missionary Society has done it, the Government will be instrumental to promote so laudable an object." Elsewhere he nobly says: "It will be the brightest diadem in the crown of our future greatness if we can civilize and perpetuate this singular people, so as to render them an accession to the labour and strength of society. With this view, we think a portion of productive land ought to be preserved for their use."
This really Christian appeal met with no response from Christian colonists and a Christian Government! In 1829 we have Mr. Widowson exclaiming, in his work on Van Diemen's Land, "I have never heard, nor do I believe, that any teacher of the Gospel ever went half a dozen miles from Hobart Town to inquire into their condition."
But even at an earlier date, in the neighbouring colony of New South Wales, the press had called attention to the religious wants of the Blacks of both settlements. The chief chaplain of all the English stations there, the Rev. S. Marsden, who had inaugurated the mission to New Zealand, was entreated to do something for a people nearer home. A writer in the Sydney Gazette ventures to ask, in the paper of January 1817, why that latter gentleman should be so eager for the conversion of Maories, and so indifferent to the salvation of the New Hollanders and Van Diemen Landers. A discussion ensued, and lasted for two or three issues of the Gazette. But as that was the glorious era of colonial slavery, and when a strict and more than Napoleonic surveillance of the press was maintained, with very heavy impending penalties, a notice appeared that the subject was not agreeable, and must be discontinued!
The first Wesleyan minister in Australia, the Rev. Samuel Leigh, appealed earnestly on behalf of missions at Port Jackson, and on the Derwent; but his voice was unheeded. A series of letters appeared in the Sydney Gazette of 1819, enforcing the claims of the Aborigines. "Are they not," asks the writer, "entitled to the first regards of Old England? And to a reflecting mind must it not appear strange that no body of Christians has yet commiserated their case? Ought we not to show piety at home, in the first case? And then, if after a fair and reasonable trial they should reject every entreaty, and despise all the grace of the Gospel, turn to the islanders at a distance? Who will undertake to send out a plain, zealous Christian missionary for the Aborigines of New Holland?"
British Christians were too busy with savages removed from the Whites, or with the more tractable and convertible negro slaves, to heed the cry from Sydney and Hobart Town.
The last effort made to excite an interest in the spiritual state of the Tasmanians, while they were free in the forests, was by the earnest Archdeacon Broughton, subsequently the first Protestant Bishop of Australia. The settlers of the south were placed under the episcopal charge of the Bishop of Calcutta, and once had a visit from the Archdeacon of Bombay, in 1835, under pressure of ill health. To the Duke of Wellington is Australia under obligations for affording the followers of the Church of England a local head. Archdeacon Broughton came as a learned and faithful minister of their Church. It was on the 1st of April, 1830, that he delivered his primary charge to the clergy of Van Diemen's Land, in St. David's Church, Hobart Town. One object of the excellent man's concern was the condition of the poor Native. This was his earnest language upon the subject:—
THE CORRA LINN OF NORTHERN TASMANIA.
"These hopeless human beings continue to this day in their original benighted and degrading state. I may even proceed further, so far as to express my fears that our settlement in their country has even deteriorated a condition of existence, than which, before our interference, nothing more miserable could easily be conceived. While, as the contagion of European intercourse has extended itself among them, they gradually lose the better properties of their own character, they appear, in exchange, to acquire none but the most objectionable and degrading of ours. The most revolting spectacle which presents itself to a stranger newly arriving on these shores is the sight of their natural occupants reduced to a state of worse than barbarian wildness, by that fondness for intoxicating liquors which they imbibed from our example; and in a reckless addiction to which they are encouraged by many whose superiority in knowledge ought to have been directed to some less unchristian work."
But the war was raging in the island. Bloodthirsty deeds occupied the minds of both races. The day had passed for such a mission. The hope of Christian men had gone.
The failure, however, of all the public efforts to convert the Aborigines in these colonies is enough to dishearten further enterprise. Missions had been organized in New South Wales from 1826, and all had failed. The Lake Macquarie Mission under Mr. Threlkeld lasted till 1841, and then expired. The Church of England Mission at Wellington lived from 1832 to 1843, costing several thousands of pounds, and failed. The Lutheran attempt seemed at first most hopeful, from the enterprise and self-denial of the German teachers; but it sunk in despair. The Roman Catholic Mission, under able Italian monks, on an island removed from settlers, failed as miserably. The Wesleyan Mission flourished for a while, but suddenly collapsed like the rest. Lately the Government Guardian of the Aborigines at Perth, Western Australia, is forced to acknowledge that the Protestant schools have all failed, and that the once hopeful school of the Sisters of Mercy now only contains six little girls. The Committee of Council, Queensland, in their report to the Legislature in 1861, reluctantly concludes:—"The evidence taken by your Committee shows beyond doubt that all attempts to Christianize or educate the Aborigines of Australia have hitherto proved abortive." The simple-hearted German missionary there, the Rev. J. L. Zillman, acknowledges: "I have found it very hard to make them understand divine things."
Such failures are not confined, however, to our gum forests. Perhaps a few millions of practical heathens may be found in Great Britain and Ireland, with all the array of preaching power. "Did the missionaries of New France," asks the historian of Labrador, "after 150 years of zeal and exertion, leave behind them a single Indian tribe whom they had actually converted to Christianity?" While missionaries were jubilant of success, and Père Lallemont wrote, "We have this year baptized more than a thousand, most of them afflicted with small-pox, of whom a large proportion have died, with every mark of having been received among the elect, and of whom there are more than three hundred and sixty infants—gathered by the angels as flowers in Paradise"—we have Baron de la Houtan writing: "Almost all the conquests gained to Christianity by the Jesuits, are those infants who have received the rites of baptism, and those old men who at the point of death find no inconvenience in dying baptized."
The Austrian Mission at Gondokoro among the Blacks of the Upper Nile, after continuing fruitless for thirteen years, was abandoned in utter despair. The Protestant Mission to the Fuegians, conducted by Captain Allan Gardiner, came to an ignominious end in 1851.
But they who ground an argument, upon the failure of such missions, that the tribes are wholly incompetent to receive scriptural truth, are mistaken. Many are the instances to the contrary. I have had personal experience in Australia of the power of religion on the hearts and lives of Aborigines. There is nothing to prove that the Australians and Tasmanians were not human beings, and as such qualified to understand the goodness of God, and feel a love toward Him. There is a poetical account of a dying Karen missionary, from the pen of the Rev. Mr. Mason, which may be pleasing to the reader of this chapter, as furnishing an illustration of the success of endeavours to convert a black race kindred to the Tasmanians:—
"As soon as the sun sank beneath the linden-leaved wood-oil trees, Quala, with the other Karens, lifted up his couch, and laid him down beneath their tall shadows. The mountains, which he was first to cross with the message of salvation, loomed up before him as he reclined amid the fragrant koempferas, whose large stemless purple and white flowers rise in crowds from the bare earth without a leaf, typical of the resurrection; while the stream, whose noisy, bubbling sources had been his pathway through the gorges, resting at his feet in a quiet cove, and formed a transparent baptistery, encircled by an amphitheatre of floating water-lilies, where thirty-four of those for whose salvation he had prayed and laboured were baptized in his presence. When they looked to place him in that canoe that was waiting for him, 'he was not, for God had taken him.' "
The first supposed Christian convert of Australia was a fine lad, the particulars of whose death I read in the early Sydney papers of 1804. In the very year of the foundation of the colony, 1788, a little abandoned Native child was found by a prisoner of the name of Watt, who kindly took charge of the little thing, naming him James Bath. The Gazette, noticing his death, December 15, 1804, adds that he "gave proof of Christian piety, fervently repeating the Lord's prayer shortly before dissolution." At a missionary meeting held in Sydney, in September 1822, there were sitting on the platform two Christianized Aborigines,—the fruit of private religious exertion.
Not to multiply instances, but to show the adaptation of the aboriginal mind to receive a higher faith, one more case may be mentioned. It is that of Edward Warruban, brought to England by Governor Eyre, and confided to the Christian care of that distinguished philanthropist Dr. Hodgkin. He very soon died of consumption. Of his character his excellent friend writes: "We found him a peaceable and innocent character, and we do not remember, at any period, his ever having intentionally done wrong. In meetings for worship. Scripture readings, and other serious opportunities, his deportment was thoughtful and suitable for the occasion." About an hour before he expired, he exclaimed, "The white robe! oh! the white robe!"
Tasmania had its Christian monuments among the dark skins. I was much affected with the story of one dying in Christian hope at Oyster Cove; and the last Protector of the Aborigines, Dr. Milligan, will forgive my saying that I learnt, to his honour as a man, that he was not ashamed to kneel weeping beside the dying Tasmanian, who was calling upon Jesus as his friend.
Messrs. Backhouse and Walker, who paid the exiles a religious visit at Flinders Island, were not indifferent to some exhibition of good feeling among them. Going to see them at their Sunday exercises, they said, "There was something peculiarly moving in seeing nearly all the remaining Aborigines of Van Diemen's Land, now a mere handful of people, seated on the ground listening with much attention to the truths of the Gospel." Mr. Walker, many years ago, gave me a narrative of what he, with all the caution of a Quaker, regarded as a genuine conversion there.
Father Clark, as that beloved friend was called by bis aboriginal disciples, often spoke to me of his "dear black fellows," and their heartfelt reception of truths which their intellects failed to comprehend. It is now seven-and-twenty years ago since he related, with freely-flowing tears, some stories of his success, the particulars of which have passed from my remembrance. In talking of the mission, he did not find fault with schemes: he would not say, as the Rev. John Williams did of the Australian efforts, "The means used were not, perhaps, well adapted, and not followed up with sufficient energy:" but he admitted the ordinary want of power in the Native mind to understand the mysteries of religion, and their disinclination to inquire. Yet, while he acknowledged this, he said that whenever he spoke simply, and with undisguised emotion, of the love of God, he found willing auditors, and sometimes tearful sympathisers. When he appealed to the affection of their own natures, he observed no want of interest. "And if," said the worthy man, "so few died joyfully blessing their God, are they singular in that respect? Do we find so many of our own people in the colony departing in lively hope?"
In a letter I received from Oyster Cove just twenty years ago, Mr. Clark again referred to his work, and said:—
"Several have given testimony, in their own simple manner, that they knew for what purpose the Lord Jesus Christ came into the world. One of the last persons who died before we left Flinders, and one who for more than two years had been correct and well-behaved, was in the habit of praying regularly; and, when suffering from disease, which kept him awake at night, spent three nights in prayer when dying, and conscious he was so. His last words were, 'Lord Jesus Christ, come, and take me to thyself.' This was in the hearing of the greater portion of the people who are yet alive. He was a good man."
Though the civilization of the race proved a failure, the death-bed story of the Tasmanians proves that they had an inner nature, that they could live the life of Christians, and that they could die their death. May we, with all our knowledge, grope in no greater darkness than these at last!