The Aborigines of Australia/Chapter 14

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THE "RISING" OF 1842-4.

The simultaneous aggressive movement of the aborigines throughout the entire colony and along its boundaries, which commenced in 1842, and continued through the two or three succeeding years, belongs to the history of the country. For more than two years the warfare which the blacks waged upon the stations situate along the boundaries of the colony, from one extreme to the other, was universal, implacable, and incessant. So simultaneous, indeed, and so general was the movement that, did we not know from the habits and conditions of the blacks that such a thing would be impossible, a belief would be encouraged that the onslaught of the aborigines on the lives and property of the settlers was the result of a perfect organization, effected with all the aids of negotiation, secret intrigue, and general assemblies. From Wide Bay to Port Phillip the organization seemed to extend, and scarcely a day elapsed without tidings reaching the city of some remote station being driven in, some flock driven away or speared, some shepherd or hutkeeper being wounded or killed. To add to the horror excited in the minds of the people on the several stations by the alarming situation in which they found themselves placed, tribes of blacks who had hitherto lived on the most peaceful or friendly terms with the whites became all at once transformed into their most bloodthirsty enemies, while other tribes, hitherto unknown or unheard of within the limits of the colony, came in from the wilderness to join in the war which their brethren were waging.

Many and various were the opinions entertained and expressed at the time in reference to the cause of the outbreak of the aboriginal race, and the violent warfare carried on on the frontiers of the colony with spear and musket was followed by no less violent war of words among those in Sydney and elsewhere whose interests, duties, or sympathies led them to take an interest in the contest. The settlers and their friends openly attributed the blame to the "Protectorate of the Aborigines," established in 1838, the object of which was to rescue the aboriginal tribes from the misery in which their association with the colonists had plunged them, and to save them from that extermination which threatened the entire race. The residents in the interior attributed the outbreak of the blacks to a misconception on their part of the functions of the Protectors, many of whom they also alleged were unfit for the offices to which they had been appointed. They received their appointments in England, whence they directly came, and coming into the colony unimpressed with those feelings of dread and resentment which the occasional depredations of the blacks had excited in the minds of the great bulk of the colonists, it is more than probable that they entered on the performance of their functions biassed in some degree in favour of the aborigines, with whose sufferings they had previously been made familiar. The settlers alleged, moreover, that the conduct of the Protectors was such as to impress the blacks with the belief that they were to be saved from violence under all and every circumstance, and that a feeling had sprung up among them that from some mysterious cause they were thenceforward especial objects of care with the King of Great Britain, whose name, it is said, they became accustomed to mention with familiarity as their patron and friend. The Protectors among their other functions, were empowered to act as magistrates in all cases in which the aborigines were concerned, and it is alleged that in their decisions a strong leaning towards the aborigines was always evinced. This partiality became the subject of conversation in every hut, and on every station. The civilized blacks soon gleaned from the discourses of the shepherds and hutkeepers the facts of the matter, and with that shrewdness in which they are by no means deficient, they perceived that the tide had turned in their favour. The blacks resident on the stations transmitted the welcome intelligence to their wilder brethren; these communicated it to their neighbours, and those again despatched the news to the remotest tribes. Then followed the general onslaught on the Europeans along the entire border of the colony. These were the views of the colonists whose interests were involved in the matter, and that they were not altogether groundless is shown by a passage which occurs in a despatch of Sir George Gipps, dated in May, 1842, to Earl Grey, then Secretary for the Colonies. It is as follows:—"It would be difficult, I think, to find men less equal to the arduous duty of acting as Protectors of the aborigines than those who were selected for the purpose in England in 1838. Their course has been, from the beginning, one of feeble action and puling complaint. Possessing the power to command the respect of the settlers, they have failed to make themselves respected, and I greatly fear that their measures have tended rather to increase than to allay the irritation which has long existed between the two races."

The Protectors, on the other hand, and the friends of the aborigines in general, maintained that the outbreak of the blacks was nothing more than the explosion of long-pent feelings of revenge and hatred towards the whites, resulting from a long course of violence and injustice on the part of the latter towards them. A large amount of evidence in support of this view of the matter is found in some official papers in reference to the aborigines printed and laid on the table of the Legislative Council in October, 1843, on the motion of one of the members. The papers consist in a great degree of letters and reports to the officers of the Government from the Protectors and the missionaries then engaged throughout the country in endeavouring to Christianize the blacks. Several of these documents were published in the journals of the day, and to every impartial mind the disclosures which they make in reference to the atrocities which had been for some time committed against the aborigines afford a satisfactory elucidation of the causes which led to the retaliatory warfare which the latter subsequently waged. An Assistant-Protector thus writes to Mr. Robinson, the chief of the Protectorate:—"On the 9th March (1841) I proceeded to the Pyrenees (Victoria) to investigate the circumstances connected with the slaughter of several aborigines by a Mr. F—. On the 9th and 10th I fell in with several parties of natives. From one of these I obtained some distressing statements as to the slaughter of the blacks. They gave me the names of seven individuals shot by Mr. F— within the last six months. I found, however, no legal evidence attainable." The Chief Protector himself writes, in reference to the Port Phillip blacks: —

"The aboriginal natives of Portland Bay and Western Port districts are rapidly decreasing. Appalling collisions have already happened between the white and aboriginal inhabitants; and, although instances may have transpired where natives have been the aggressors, yet it will be found that the majority originated with Europeans. The aboriginal natives known to have been destroyed are many; and if the testimony of natives be admissible, the amount would be great indeed." An Assistant-Protector, writing under date 26th February, 1842, says:—"I have the honour to report that, on the afternoon of the 24th, two aboriginal natives, whose names I transmit, returned to this encampment, which they had left with their families on the 22nd, and reported that late on the previous evening, while they, with their wives, two other females, and two children were asleep at a ti-tree scrub called One-one-derang, a party of eight white people, on horseback, surrounded them, dismounted, and fired upon them with pistols. That three women and a child had been thus killed, and the other female so severely wounded as to be unable to stand, or to be removed by them. They had saved themselves and the child named Unibicquiang by flight, who was brought to this place upon their shoulders." The report proceeds to state that on the following morning the writer proceeded to the spot indicated, and found the dead bodies of three women and a child killed by gun-shot, and a fourth woman dangerously wounded, as described by the men. In the report of another Assistant-Protector, Mr. Parker, the names of 43 aboriginals murdered by whites in one of the northern districts, from 1838 till 1841, were given. The superintendent of the Wesleyan Mission to the aborigines, the Rev. Mr. Hirst, writes:—"There is something peculiar in the case of the Tantgort tribe. Two years ago this tribe was a numerous one, but nearly the whole of the fighting men have been butchered in cold blood by Europeans, so that they are so far reduced as to be unable to defend themselves against the inroads of the neighbouring neighbouring tribes." Another annihilating process is thus described by Chief-Protector Robinson:—"T—— was overseer of a station in the Western District, and was notorious for killing natives. No legal evidence could be obtained against this nefarious individual. In the course of my inquiries in my late expedition I found a tribe, a section of the Jarcourts, totally extinct, and it was affirmed by the natives that T—— had destroyed them. The tribes are rapidly diminishing. The Colijans, once a numerous and powerful people, inhabiting the fertile region of Lake Colac, are now reduced, all ages and sexes, to under 40, and these are still on the decay. The Jarcourts, inhabiting the country to the west of the great Lake Carangermite, once a very numerous and powerful people, are now reduced to under 60." The Rev. Mr. Handt, one of the clergymen attached to the German mission in the Moreton Bay district, writes:—"The aborigines have been on the decrease during the past year. Several fights have taken place among them; but this is not the chief cause of this circumstance, as their fights bear rather the character of warlike games, in which seldom more than one, and frequently none at all, is killed, but merely some wounded. One of the principal causes of their decrease is the diseases to which they are subject. I am sorry to state that where the Europeans have established cattle and sheep stations here, some hostilities have taken place between the aborigines and the settlers, in which some on both sides have lost their lives."

Another letter in the same collection speaks of a plan recently proposed for attaching the aboriginals to the several stations throughout the country, as a means of bringing them within the influences of civilization. The writer deprecates the proposal, as certain, if carried out, of being the source of incalculable evil to the entire people, and as likely, in a comparatively short period, to lead to their annihilation, grounding his repugnance to the suggestion on the fact that it was not alone the shepherds and hutkeepers who were the destroyers of the unhappy race, but many of those in a much higher grade of society.

Thus, whatever truth may be in the charges made against the Protectorate and the authorities, it is evident from the facts adduced in the State documents just quoted, that the aborigines had, for a series of years, received sufficient provocation to explain the causes of the attitude of simultaneous hostility which they so suddenly assumed. All the early writers in reference to the colony represent the aboriginal natives as a peaceably-disposed, tractable, and unobtrusive people, seeking in general rather to preserve their old haunts inviolate, and to follow their old pursuits, than to trespass upon the possessions or property of the new-comers. There is no reason whatever for believing that they had subsequently, at the period now in question, so far changed their nature as to assume all at once a sanguinary and implacable disposition towards the colonists, had they not been goaded by the injustice and violence of those from whom they were entitled to expect nothing but the most considerate treatment. The very fact of all the atrocities quoted above having been committed previous to the year 1842 is sufficient evidence in proof of this assumption. But a further proof is found in the fact that previous to that time nothing like combined or general hostility towards the Europeans had shown itself among the aborigines. Sometimes, indeed, a bullock was speared, or a half-dozen sheep were driven off, but even these acts of aggression were never resorted to till the tribes had been utterly deprived of their ordinary means of sustenance by the encroachments of colonization; and there is every reason for believing that for years some of the settlers and their servants had been accustomed to punish such offences in a summary and murderous manner when the offenders were detected.

Of the extent of the depredations committed on the settlers, their men and property, during the border warfare of 1842-4, no comprehensive statistical account is available. Some idea may, however, be formed of the loss of life and property throughout the colony by showing, from a Parliamentary paper of 1844, what the losses were during a very brief period in a small district. The paper in question is quoted in an excellent little work entitled "Recollections of Sixteen Years' Labour in the Australian Backwoods," published in London in 1847, and it thus enumerates the outrages and depredations committed by the blacks in the neighbourhood of Port Fairy during two months in the early part of 1842:—Man killed, 100 sheep taken, and hut robbed of everything it contained, including a double-barrelled gun, with ammunition; 300 sheep and 100 tons of potatoes destroyed; five horses taken and several head of cattle killed; eighty-nine calves killed or driven off; two men wounded—the station attacked four times. Six hundred sheep taken, of which 130 were recovered; hut robbed, and two double-barrelled guns taken; ten cows and forty calves killed; hut attacked several times, and man severely wounded. Three flocks attacked simultaneously, one of which was taken away, and the shepherd desperately wounded; the major part eventually recovered. Man taken, but rescued. Two hundred sheep taken, and shepherd speared. A shepherd fired at. Four horses taken, station and flock of sheep attacked, and shepherd dreadfully wounded. Two horses killed, hut robbed, and men driven off the station. A shepherd killed—found with a spear through his heart. One horse and 330 sheep taken, and man wounded. Six hundred and ten sheep taken, and man killed. Seven hundred sheep taken, but mostly recovered. One hundred and eighty sheep taken, station attacked and robbed, and hutkeeper severely wounded. A very valuable bull killed, and a number of calves. Six cows, three bullocks, twenty calves, 800 ewes and lambs driven off, and man killed.

Here we have a list of four men killed and eight wounded within the brief period of two months in one small district, besides an immense destruction or carrying away of property; but the particulars thus given exhibit only one instance of the results which followed in almost every district of the colony.