Page:The life of Matthew Flinders.djvu/124

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89
THE RELIANCE AND THE TOM THUMB

and clean their weapons. The natives, who increased in number to about twenty, gathered round and watched with curiosity. Some of them assisted Bass in repairing a broken oar. They did not know what the powder was, but, when the muskets were handled, so much alarm was excited that it was necessary to desist. Some of them had doubtless learnt from aboriginals about Port Jackson of the thunder and lightning made by these mysterious pieces of wood and metal, and had had described to them how blackfellows dropped dead when such things pointed and smoked at them. Flinders, anxious to retain their confidence (because, had they assumed the offensive, they must speedily have annihilated the three whites), hit upon an amusing method of diverting them. The aboriginals were accustomed to wear their coarse black hair and beards hanging in long, shaggy, untrimmed locks, matted with accretions of oil and dirt. When the two Botany Bay blacks were taken on board the Tom Thumb as pilots, a pair of scissors was applied to their abundant and too emphatically odorous tresses. Flinders tells the rest of the story:—

"We had clipped the hair and beards of the two Botany Bay natives at Red Point,[1] and they were showing themselves to the others and persuading them to follow their example. Whilst therefore the powder was drying, I began with a large pair of scissors to execute my new office upon the eldest of four or five chins presented to me, and as great nicety was not required, the shaving of a dozen of them did not occupy me long. Some of the more timid were alarmed at a formidable instrument coming so near to their noses, and would scarcely be persuaded by their shaven friends to allow the operation to be finished. But when their

  1. Near Port Kembla; named by Cook.