The Last of the Tasmanians/Chapter 8
The removal of the Aborigines from the island of Tasmania to one of the islands in Bass's Strait, had been spoken of before the appointment of the Capture Parties. The Colonial Times of December 1, 1826, counselled the Government to send them to King's Island. "We make no pompous display of philanthropy," says the editor; "we say unequivocally, 'self-defence is the first law of nature!' The Government must remove the Natives; if not, they will be hunted down like wild beasts and destroyed."
But the semi-official Hobart Town Gazette, a month before, had made that suggestion in this language, "Were the tribes here alluded to, and one or two others, on whose heads perhaps all the mischief is to be charged—were they to be collected and removed to some island in the Straits, where they could have an equal chance as here of animal support without the molestation of white men, we think the happiest results would ensue."
It was the general feeling of insecurity that prompted this sentiment, while the few who espoused the cause of the hunted tribes desired the change, as they foresaw the difficulties coming, and the impending destruction of the whole race. It was this impulse that induced Colonel Arthur to establish a depôt on Bruni Island, and appoint Mr. Robinson as guardian of such poor creatures as could be prevailed upon to remove there. Mr. Chief Justice Pedder protested vigorously against the scheme of transportation. He declared it an unchristian attempt to destroy the whole race, as once taken from their ancient haunts they would, he said, soon die. Sir John Pedder, in after years, saw the fulfilment of his prophecy.
In 1826 the public mind was much excited about the question. Some were for entrapping the people, and shipping them off to the neighbouring shores of Port Phillip. Others objected to this on two grounds: that it would be cruel to place them in the way of the barbarous tribes there, who would certainly destroy many of them, and that such a wretched, sandy, barren country would not furnish them with sufficient food. A writer in the Gazette of that year takes a canine view of the question: "They cannot, he says, "continue in their present state. The daily extension of the inhabited districts, and the vast increase of their dogs, must besides conspire to shorten their present means of subsistence, and to render their repeated attacks of aggression on the Whites still more probable." He suggests that the Government shall take advantage of the season when they go to the east coast for swans' eggs, seize them, conduct them to the capital, and carry them thence to King's Island.
King's Island, lying half-way between the Cape Otway of Victoria, and the north-west corner of Tasmania, is thirty miles in length and from twelve to fifteen in breadth. The first regular survey of it was made in 1827, when Mr. Barnard recommended it as a site for the punishment of reconvicted felons, as there was little chance of their escape, and no inducement to take to the Bush there, because of the extreme sterility of the soil, and the utter impenetrability of the country. He pronounced it certain death to attempt to cross the island without a compass, and reported that "none of the sealers could ever accomplish it, even aided by black women as guides." On the east coast a small stream enters Sea Elephant Bay; so called from the number of those gigantic seals found there. But a tremendous surf beats against a basaltic barrier outside, in one part of the island, or rolls against a low and harbourless shore in the other.That King's Island was not improperly called the "dread of seamen," will appear from the account of several fearful shipwrecks. The convict ship Neva went ashore there, and out of three hundred female prisoners but eight were saved In 1845 the Cataraqui was lost on the south-west coast of the island, and only nine of four hundred and twenty-three persons survived. On nearing the island the captain had slackened sail, and exhibited due caution. The surgeon superintendent of the vessel ridiculed the prudence, and openly jeered at the skipper's want of courage. Stung with the remark, the thundering order came forth, "Shake out the reefs, and stand on." On flew the ship, and, in the darkness of midnight, struck upon the rocks.
The Bishop of Tasmania, whom I heard preach one of his most thrilling and eloquent discourses upon the occasion of this catastrophe, revisited King's Island years several after, and thus refers to that awful night: "The surgeon was the first to perish; the poor, unhappy girls were tossed into the ocean as they were, unclad, unprepared; the wild, screaming death shriek mingling with the wilder storm." The good man walked along the beach, accompanied by the sealer who had found the wreck two days after the accident. He heard him say, "Yonder I dragged on shore the bodies of eighteen poor girls; some were locked in each other's arms, others as tranquil as though asleep, others bent and twisted with the most distorted forms; and here I dug their grave and buried them." In one place he buried fifty; in another, twenty; and in a third, two hundred and forty-five bodies.
Such a place, though favourable on account of difficulty of approach, was not suitable as a home for the Aborigines, as it was held of great importance to have them under some civilized control.
The Kent's Group, named after H.M.S. Kent, presented some advantages at first, and were recommended by the Aborigines' Committee as early as December 1st, 1829, because of their utter isolation from the Main, and as possessing wood, water, mutton-birds, and some game. But they were exposed to terrific southerly gales, and were cold and wet. Deal had water in its granite crevices, but Erith, four miles in extent, was utterly barren. Passing them this year I was struck with their repulsive appearance. A lighthouse stands on Deal, 1,600 feet above the sea. A pyramidal granite rock rears 300 feet high in the midst of the sea.
Cape Barren Islands, south of Flinders, was suggested by the Committee, on May 26th, 1831, but was also objected to; though twenty miles long, it is a hopeless country. Clark Island, ten miles from the Main, and south of Cape Barren Island, next rose in favour, but was found by Mr. Robinson without anchorage, water, soil, or food.
Maria Island was the one most approved by Mr. Robinson. It possessed charms to alleviate the sorrows of banishment. It was a lovely spot, abounding in picturesque scenery, noble forests, undulating downs, mountain streams, and fertile valleys. The soil was known to be remarkably adapted to cultivation; and the Hobart Town philanthropists, desirous of the civilization of the scattered ones, hailed the proposition with delight. There was something in its aspect which would rather suggest the idea of an Isle of Calypso than of a St. Helena. When Tasman, the Dutchman, first beheld its wooded, hilly shores in 1642, he could think of no better appellation for that Isle of Beauty than the name of a distant charmer, Maria Van Diemen, the daughter of the Batavian Governor.
But they were not to go to Maria Island. All its attractions were admitted, but objections ruled. In 1825 it had been made a penal settlement. Darlington station stood on the north side, near the curious rocks of the Bishop and Clerk, hanging one over the other. There a coarse woollen cloth was made by the men, and afterwards manufactured into garments by the convict women of the Hobart Town Factory. Though suggested by Mr. Robinson, recommended by the chaplain, and hoped for by many, the design was not carried out. Apart from the loss in relinquishing the works of the penal settlement, it was contended that the island had no good harbour, and that its proximity to the eastern main, three miles, would render it no secure encampment, as the Natives could readily cross the water and renew their distressing ravages. The Aborigines' Committee reluctantly disallowed the proposition in February 1831.
When, however, the roving parties had collected some of the unfortunate Blacks, it became imperative to find an asylum. Swan Island was, therefore, selected. This lies between Clark Island and the mainland of Cape Portland, being only three miles from the parent island. It had little in its favour, as its water was brackish, its soil most hopeless, and its size but a mile and a half in length. It was asserted also that the imprisoned ones could easily swim the little strait, and gain their old quarters. But this would not have been easy, as a very rapid current passes between. The Bishop of Tasmania described it in 1854 as "little more than a succession of sand-heaps, covered here and there with tussock and stunted shrubs."
At any rate it would do for a depôt. Mr. Robinson placed twenty-three there on November 20th, 1830, and thirty-three more on December 13th. They were not unhealthy on this desolate granite rock. One little incident occurred there which illustrates the melancholy condition of the captives. Among them was an intelligent and faithful female guide of Mr. Robinson's. When the second party of Blacks arrived on the island, the earlier transports were eager to learn the fate of their friends. Among the many sad tales rehearsed by the new-comers was the intelligence of the murder by the Whites of the two brothers of the guide. It were vain to picture the harrowing sorrow of the unfortunate woman, or to describe her regret at the part she had taken with the Mission, and the indignant reproaches she cast upon the enemies of her people.
The limited area of Swan Island soon compelled the Government to find another home. Vansittart, or Gun Carriage Island, was then talked of.
The supposed resemblance of a hill there to the carriage of a gun procured it its name by the sealers. Lying half a mile on the north side of Cape Barren Island, and four miles south of Flinders, one is at a loss to know why the poor captives were to be taken to that miserable little place, which was only half a mile broad. It is nearly surrounded by dangerous rocks, and the surf rolls with tremendous fury on its granite shore. On the 4th of February, 1831, the Aborigines' Committee officially recommended it, and on the 3d of March the Chief Secretary, Mr. Burnett, directed Mr. Robinson to occupy it. He sailed in the brig Charlotte to execute the order.
But there lay an impediment in the way. Sealers had occupied the only suitable locality, and were living there with their families. In those days of despotic irresponsibility such difficulties were but as cobwebs in the path. Mr. Robinson had authority to remove the Straitsmen; and he was not accused of refinement in his mode of executing the order. They were enjoined to leave immediately, and under no pretence to approach the island again.
Sulkily did these primeval settlers prepare for their departure. In the meanwhile, the impetuous Mr. Robinson brought his black charge from Swan Island to the Great Dog, a little islet between Flinders and Gun Carriage. One cannot but sympathise with the evicted sealers. Gathering up their little property, their goats, their household stuff, their children, they put off upon the stormy ocean in their whale-boats, to seek another home. The hut, the little garden, the potato plot, the scene of so many years' labour and pleasure, were deserted, and no compensation was awarded. Bitterly, indeed, did they complain of their arch-enemy, and heavy were the charges made against him for unnecessary haste, and for the wanton destruction by fire of property left behind.
The settlement was formed in April 1831, in a little bay on the western side of Gun Carriage, and Dr. Maclachlan was left in charge of the sixty people. Sergeant Wight was ordered there in June, with a small military party, to take charge of the stores, to protect the females from ill-treatment, to keep off the sealers, and to govern in the absence of Mr. Robinson.
It was not long before the utter unsuitability of the location became intelligible to all. It is true that, though so small, the island was but half a mile from Cape Barren Island, in whose wooded retreats it was thought the men would find superior hunting-grounds. But the passage was too full of rocks, and too often boiling with contending currents, to tempt the swimmers. The unfortunate creatures, having no motive for exercise—for little game ran within those narrow boundaries—used to sit day after day on the beach, casting tearful glances across the stormy sea toward the mountains of their native land. Those denizens of the thicket and the forest, with no maritime tastes, with nothing at every turn but the ever-restless, hateful waters, pined in their rocky prison. Their officers were as dissatisfied with the dungeon-like residence. Strong representations were made as to the wretchedness of the climate, and the barrenness of the ground. No means existed tot the arrest of the terrible home sickness which was carrying off so many of the Natives. An Old Hand assured me that they "died in the sulks, like so many bears." This was in allusion to the Kaola, or tailless opossum, which rarely survives its capture, but mopes at its chain, refuses its food, and dies.
This was the Elysium contemplated by Hobart Town in the distance, and described by the Courier as presenting "the most favourable openings for a safe receptacle," and possessing "much fine open tracts of rich and fertile soil." No kangaroos were there, and the whole colony of the place would have perished for want of supplies, had not a sealer's boat, laden with potatoes, most providentially called in for shelter in a storm.
This second refuge must be abandoned, and that after so short a trial. The sealers, whose huts and crops had been so cruelly and unnecessarily destroyed, might soon return to their old quarters.
Great Island, afterwards called Flinders Island, was to be selected. Sergeant Wight was sent to report upon it on November 2d, 1831, upon the special recommendation of the site to Government by Captain Jackson, and named by the Aborigines' Committee before Colonel Arthur, September 28th, 1831. In October the Launceston Independent has this notice:—"The Natives, when caught, are to be placed upon an island in the immediate vicinity of the one at present occupied as a depôt for the Aborigines, known by the name of Great Island, being about fifty miles in length, Gun Carriage Island being too circumscribed to afford a livelihood for those placed thereon."
The island is forty miles long, and from twelve to eighteen broad. It rises boldly from the sea, and has some prominent mountain ranges. Strzelecki, to the south-west, is 2,550 feet high. Three peaks to the east are called the Patriarchs. They are near the Babel Isles, where Flinders was so confounded by the noise of sea-birds. A massive breastwork of hills opposes a defiant, abrupt front to the prevailing west wind. Like the rest of the Bass's Strait Isles, it is substantially of granite, though the sedimentary primary rocks are not wanting. The metamorphic, especially mica schist, is in great force. In this respect its conformation is similar to the northern coast of Tasmania. Precious stones have been reported, especially diamonds of good size; but the lapidary would not estimate them very highly. A magnificent crystal was discovered in the ancient days on the top of a mountain. It was two feet in height, and had the appearance of seven pillars. So great a curiosity was presented to Governor Sorell upon his departure from the colony in 1824.
But however attractive to the lover of the picturesque, or the student of geology, it had no charms to the farmer or grazier. Without rivers, it had vast morasses. Without fine forests, it was overrun with grass-tree (Xanthorrhoea) scrub and tea-tree thickets. Without alluvial deposits of good soil, the interior was rock, where it was not sand or swamp.
The place chosen for the settlement was called The Lagoons, as to the rear of a dreary tea-tree (Melaleuca) scrub, nearly bordering the sandy shore, was a salt lagoon, or shallow lake. Fresh water was only to be found in the hollows of granite rock, or dug for in morasses, or in the white sea-sand.
Is it to be wondered at that the chilling aspect of the locality struck to the heart of the simple captives? Captain Bateman and others have described to me the despairing look of the people at their new home. A Government surveyor, engaged on the island at the time of the first arrivals,—the party from Gun Carriage,—informed me that when they saw from shipboard the splendid country which they were promised, they betrayed the greatest agitation, gazing with strained eyes at the sterile shore, uttering melancholy moans, and, with arms hanging beside them, trembling with convulsive feeling. They were not reconciled even when, upon landing, they found plenty of kangaroos in the interior, as the Straits' climate followed them. They were located on the south-western side, exposed to the ever-boisterous western breeze, unsheltered by forests, and unprotected by rising ground near. The winds were violent and cold; the rain and sleet were penetrating and miserable. With their health suffering from chills, rheumatism and consumption diminished their numbers, and thus added force to their forebodings that they were taken there to die.
The Charlotte carried thirteen females, twenty-six males, and one infant, from Gun Carriage, on January 25th, 1832, and landed them near the south-western point of Flinders, opposite the Green Island, at the Hummocky Point of the sealers. The east coast was more sheltered, but almost entirely unapproachable by reason of shoals. Some sheep, which had been presented to the Natives by Captain Dixon and other kind settlers, were taken to feed upon the Barilla, or Salt Bush, of Green Island.
Old Sergeant Wight reigned on the island. His soldiers had been directed to put up some long huts of wattle-and-daub (branches and mud), about twenty-five feet long each, leaving an entrance at one end, and a hole in the roof to let out the smoke of their fires. The Blacks were expected to keep these clean. But the commander, however fitted to govern military men, was ill able to control the contending elements around him. Though sixty-six years of age, it was said that he possessed considerable energy, with strength of will and passions.
Difficulties beset him at the outset in the hostility of the various tribes. Certain coalitions existed; but bitter quarrels, proceeding to blows, were of daily occurrence. The Ben Lomond and Big River tribes were at open issue. The Western would side with either, according to caprice. The Cape Grim Mob, the most remote and barbarous of all, kept completely aloof from the rest. All was in chaos. The native women went about wholly naked, and the greatest disorder prevailed. To add to their trouble, fresh people kept landing, supplies were not flourishing, and the climate put all in bad temper.
A rebellion broke out. The old Sergeant adopted summary measures. He enlisted the services of the sealers, who mounted guard over the Natives. He seized fifteen of the most powerful, or quarrelsome, of the men, and put them upon a granite rock in the ocean, without food, water, or wood, although he had been directed to employ no restraint. Captain Bateman told me that, passing near in the Tamar, he descried the wretched people and rescued them in an almost dying state, they having been exposed to rough weather, without shelter or rations, for five days. Their tale was a simple one. They declared they had been carried off that the soldiers might have no interruption in their criminal commerce with the women.
Mr. Wight's story was that he had discovered a rebellious attempt to upset his government, and to murder the Whites. The Opossum cutter had landed a dozen Aborigines on January 22d. These, with forty others on shore, were to come to the huts of the Europeans by night and kill them. Some native women betrayed the plan to their military friends. A search in some huts was made, and fresh-made spears and waddies were found concealed. Black Tom, the interpreter to the authorities, had informed the Sergeant that the Opossum men were growling. The Blacks were to have seized the boats, and taken their way back to their beloved native country.
The acting Commandant had made up his case. He had got up a statement, certified by Robert Gamble, Joseph Mason, and John Strange, his mark, purporting to be the evidence given on the 30th of January, by no less distinguished a person than Piucommiuminer, more commonly known as Wild Mary. It was as follows:—
"That Broom-teer-lang-en-er was the first who proposed taking the boat away that was on Green Island, belonging to the sealers. She, also, stated that Cantityer, her husband, meant to have put a fire-stick in the thatch of the hut where the surgeon sleeps—that they intended to call at other islands, and to take the females from the sealers, as also the boat belonging to John Smith, and to kill two half-caste children belonging to this man—to take his woman also."
We may smile at this harmless manifestation of the great Rebellion of Flinders; but it is certain that the fright did good for the Natives, for the Governor immediately despatched a suitable officer to rule them. This was Lieutenant Darling, a brother of the late Governor of Victoria.
He was the first Commandant of Flinders. Attached to the 63d Regiment, he combined the firmness and discipline of a military officer, with the intelligence and urbanity of a gentleman, and the benevolence and sympathy of a Christian. He arrived in March 1832, and immediately adopted such measures as tranquillized the minds of the excited savages, and disposed them to listen to their first lessons in civilization.
The primary difficulty was the want of water; this he relieved by digging in the Lagoon, and in the white sand of the shore. His policy, with respect to the sealers, was very decided. He ordered their absolute withdrawal from every part of the island, and put written notices on posts around the coast, warning them, under penalty, from approaching the place. Great irregularities must have been known, when the Launceston Advertiser, in an article, before the advent of Mr. Darling, while noticing the disgraceful conduct of a boat's crew at Green Island, asks whether the Aborigines are really to be treated as prisoners of war, or have an opportunity of being schooled into habits of industry.
Now came the humanizing processes. The Commandant, by his kind, persuasive manner, succeeded in effecting some change in the rough habits of his charge; while, by his determined character, he kept the turbulent in check, and shielded the gentle and weak. He sought to engage the men in employment, and the women in domestic cares. His solicitude about the elevation of the gins testified to the intelligence of his plans. In one of his earliest official communications, he said: "Good motherly women who could instruct the aboriginal women would be very useful." The encouragement is indicated in the assertion that "the greatest part of the females are young, and are willing and anxious to learn." Would that the counsel of this worthy young officer had been adopted! With the means at hand he greatly improved the comfort of the captured, and secured the approval of his chief. In a despatch home on April 6th, 1833, Colonel Arthur thus acknowledges the work:—
"The benevolent exertions of Ensign Darling of the 63d Regiment have accomplished more than I could have anticipated, in happily conciliating the poor creatures entrusted to his charge, and in developing many excellent qualities in their character, for which few persons are willing to give them credit. He has engaged in the duties which his appointment as Commandant rendered incumbent upon him, with an ardour bordering on enthusiasm, but tempered with much judgment and discretion."
It was during the period of his excellent government that the two Quaker missionaries, Messrs. Backhouse and Walker, paid their interesting visit to the island. We have in their narrative no exhibition of Rousseau sentimentality for savages, or Quixotic, whining philanthropy, but the genuine display of simple, fervid, Christian feeling, and matter-of-fact, practical benevolence. They were certainly disposed to look upon the aboriginal side of the picture; but, by the very expression of their sympathy, they got a readier access to the hearts of the Natives, and a clearer conception of their habits and condition.
They found the settlement removed from the Lagoons, a dozen miles farther, to a spot called Civilization Point, or Wybalenna, the Black Man's House, and formerly known to the sealers as Pea Jacket Point. There were twenty cottages for the Blacks; but eleven were tenantless. They were of wattle and plastered clay, well whitewashed, with roofs of coarse grass thatch. They were extended in the form of a crescent, and placed about a quarter of a mile from the encampment of the Whites. There were there forty-seven male adults, forty-eight female adults, seven boys, four girls, one male little one, and four female children under five years. They were not only protected from sealers, but from a worse foe—Strong Drink.
In their published narrative of their religious visit to the Cape Colony, Mauritius, and the Australian colonies, the excellent "Friends" give us a humorous account of a tea-party on the island, which affords us an insight into the moral and elevating designs of the officer. The surveyor, Mr, Woodward, assured me that every Sunday Mr. Darling and the doctor would invite some of the Natives to dine with them. On this particular occasion, a singular compliment was paid to the benevolent travellers; for they tell us: "A large party of the Native women took tea with us at the Commandant's. They conducted themselves in a very orderly manner; and, after washing up the tea-things, put them in their places." It would have been gratifying to have been present at the party of the Government official in his regal state, the two smiling Quaker gentlemen, and the ebon fair ones. One wonders what they talked about. If among themselves, over the scandal cup, the ladies might have been traducing the character of their absent lords, showing some waddy marks upon the skull, or detailing slights to one and favours to another. But before three such gentlemen, and in the palace of Flinders too, they must have "conducted themselves in a very orderly manner." It is not usual, however, to invite company, and then to leave them to wash up.
A formal Report of this visit was made to the Governor, at his request From this a few extracts are given. "Little," said they, "can be said of the religious state of the establishment; yet there is reason to believe the pains that have been taken have been successful in producing attention to the most prominent points of morality." The good men had little belief in the machinery of religion, and even doubted the efficacy of knowing the Catechism and prayers by rote. One point of improvement they notice: "Nearly the whole of them are associated as married couples. No marriage ceremony is used among them; but when the parties agree to be united, they are thenceforth recognised as husband and wife, and are not allowed to change." The latter provision must have struck the aboriginal mind from being novel to their habits, and at variance with their traditions.
The moral work attracted much of their attention, and the Friends dilate upon it satisfactorily. "The Catechist," they write, "has taken great pains to inform the Aborigines of the existence and character of the Deity, and most of them now have some idea of these important truths. He has translated into one of the dialects a large portion of the first three chapters of Genesis. The Natives are daily instructed either in the house of the Catechist or in their own huts, amid the interruptions to which both of these places are subject."
Anyhow, sufficient was seen to satisfy one that the civilizing agencies were at work under Lieutenant Darling, and not commenced, as supposed, under Mr. Robinson two years after. Appended to the Report were certain suggestions for the good of the people. They recommended a further supply of cows, of shoes for wet weather, of boxes for clothing, and of stools for seats. They urged the erection of a church or school-house, and thought the women should be provided with checked cotton bed-gowns, stuff petticoats, checked aprons, and neckerchiefs.
There is a pleasant notice in Dr. Ross's Almanack, written only a few months after, in which there is reference to the things suggested by the pious visitors: "Every little family has a hut, built by their own hands, with a fireplace and window. They have tables, chairs, and bedsteads, neatly manufactured of the timber of the island, imitating as closely as they can the customs of their White associates. The females attend to the domestic duties, keeping their little family parlours clean, and washing clothes. In their hunting excursions, they bring home the skins of the wallabies and kangaroos, which they stretch out with pegs on the grass to dry, and send to Launceston, to be exchanged for knives, handkerchiefs, and other useful little articles. They cultivate one large garden in common, moving the hoe to the tune of one of their wild melodies." Really, after reading this romantic account of the Flinders' residents, especially of the musical agriculturists, we quite fancy we are listening to the entranced Frenchman, and expect to behold the rosy cheeks of the innocent and modest Ourâ-ourâ.
Dr. Ross, the editor of the Courier, wished to see the sunny side of the Flinders' experiment, and dilated upon the happiness and security enjoyed by the favoured there. The Rev. Dr. Lang, of Sydney, took up his Hobart Town press friend rather smartly: "Happiness and security. Dr. Ross! The security of death, you mean!—the happiness of leaving their unburied bones to be bleached by the sun and rain in every nook and dell of that island, where they fell, unpitied, by the bullets of Europeans! In thirty years—the period which it required, under the iron rod of Spain, to exterminate all the native inhabitants of Hispaniola—the numerous tribes into which the Aborigines of Van Diemen's Land were divided have been reduced, under the mild sway of Britain, to 118 souls, imprisoned on an island in Bass's Strait! May the Lord long preserve this miserable remnant of a race so nearly extinct! And, in the mild spirit of Christian charity, may they forget the wrongs of their nation, and exemplify in their own persons and characters the triumphs of Christianity!"
In 1834, Mr. Henry Nickolls was appointed Superintendent, at 182l. 10s. salary; Mr. Robert Clark, Catechist, at 120l; Mr. Loftus Dickenson, Store-keeper; and Mr. Allen (who subsequently married a daughter of Mr. Robinson's), the Surgeon of the establishment. In that year there were, not less than 30 Whites to look after the 120 Blacks.
It is evident that Governor Arthur did not feel satisfied with his prisoners being kept in the Straits; for he made a proposition to the Home Government to let them loose on the southern shore of the continent of New Holland, on the site of the present colonies of Victoria and South Australia, founded directly after the suggestion made by Colonel Arthur. The Secretary for the Colonies, Lord Glenelg, objected on humane grounds. Varying his scheme, we find the Governor next proposing that Mr. Robinson, who had just brought in his last party of wanderers, should proceed to that opposite coast, with some of the Flinders Island Aborigines, to civilize the wild Australian Blacks. That idea being abandoned, he resolved to send Mr. Robinson to take charge of the island prison. He took command in November 1835.
Agreeably to his temperament, he came with a clash of trumpets. Nothing had been done before him, and he would and could do all that was necessary. With his accustomed energy, he threw himself into the work of reformation, and certainly revived the spirits of the decaying tribes.
At a public meeting, in 1838, held at Sydney, he is reported to have brought testimony to show the dreadful state on the island before he went there; showing that the place had more the appearance of a menagerie, than the habitation of human beings. He then gave the following narrative of his success on the island:—"Their present condition could best be described by reading some replications to certain queries which had been addressed to him by the Government. The tribes formerly most opposed to each other were now the most friendly. If excited to anger, a look was sufficient to allay their feelings. They were placed under no kind of restraint, but enjoyed every degree of personal freedom consistent with a due regard to their health, and the formation of religious and civilized habits. They were instructed in the Christian religion. Their attendance was perfectly voluntary: all, however, attended, and their conduct would be a pattern to many congregations of civilized Europeans. In sacred melody they had displayed great proficiency.—He had established three schools on the settlement—a day-school for boys, a day-school for girls and women, an evening-school, and a Sunday-school. They had neat stone cottages, with gardens, in which they raised their own vegetables; with cooking utensils and other useful articles."
In 1861, reviewing the past, Mr. Robinson said: "I established at Flinders Island an Aboriginal Fund, which was raised from the proceeds of work performed, and the sale of various articles prepared by them; such as salted mutton-birds, birds' skins, &c.—which were generally sold at Launceston. I also formed an Aboriginal Police, to preserve order, and to decide all disagreements which might arise among them. I also established a circulating medium amongst them, which was attended with the happiest effects, as it gave them a knowledge of the rights of property; and lastly, and consequent upon the latter, I established a market, to which they brought their produce. Thus they acquired the habits of civilized life, and felt an interest in the acquisition of property, which rendered them industrious and cleanly."
Dr. Ross intimated, in his Courier of October 8th, 1836, that "Mr. Robinson has been the means of establishing a weekly newspaper among them. It is entirely written by the Aborigines, and is published under the name of the Aboriginal Flinders Island Chronicle, on half a sheet of foolscap, every Saturday, price twopence each, and the profits arising from the work are equally divided among the editors." Concerning this, the subsequent Superintendent, Dr. Jeanneret, writes: "I have no knowledge of the newspaper you refer to. None, in my time, were capable of such a work."
We cannot pause in this glorious career of civilization, and again introduce Mr. Robinson as the speaker:—
"At the periodical examination of the schools, some of the native youths were able to answer questions in the leading events of Scripture history. Christian doctrine and duty, arithmetic, the principal facts of geography, and also on several points of useful information. Some very fair specimens of handwriting were exhibited on such occasions; one, in particular, was worthy of notice, being an original address from the writer—a native youth of fifteen years of age, who was employed by me in my office—to his countrymen. It was expressed in simple and tolerably correct language, and breathed a warm spirit of gratitude to myself. In the schools they were taught various handiwork, such as knitting in worsted, sewing, &c.; and they proved to be apt and industrious scholars." In his Progress Report, dated May 17th, 1837, he wrote: "The schools and religious services are still maintained, and the Natives are constant and regular in their attendance. They are rapidly acquiring industrious habits. The settlement is in a very powerful, tranquil state."
What more could be wanted? It was an age of steam. Flinders rose at once, under Mr. Robinson, to its highest development, like Athens, under Pericles; and it sank more rapidly into barbarism upon the departure of its master.
A little must be placed to that love of "high talk" which ever accompanied the declarations of the Commandant; as the examination, to be detailed hereafter, hardly indicates so lofty an intellect, or exhibits so marvellous a moral result.
The last passage of the celebrated Sydney speech is a painful commentary upon this work of progress: "The only drawback on the establishment was the great mortality amongst them." But even then his exultant spirit hopefully cries: "But those who did survive were now happy, contented, and useful members of society." In 1861 he saw the non-fulfilment of his prophecy. This is his remarkable expression:—
"The most serious drawback to the success of the establishment was the great mortality among them, which has continued to so lamentable an extent, that at the present time there are but a small remnant living. Had the poor creatures survived to have become a numerous people, I am convinced they would have formed a contented and useful community."
Alas! it is the story of the Frenchman's horse, that died just when he had acquired the power of living without eating. In the process of regeneration they lost the life they had. Even the Committee of the Aborigines' Society were at last sensible of the folly of this over-legislation; for, in their Report for 1839, they regretted that "from the first a system had not been applied more suitable to the habits of a roving people, instead of the highly artificial one whose details have been referred to " (in Mr. Robinson's report).
A colonial writer of the period comments upon the system in 1838. "The Commandant," he writes, "has an establishment of thirty-two convicts to wait on the Aborigines, and supply the deficiency of their own labour, and is rewarded by a great deal of reading, writing, singing, rehearsal of the Catechism, tailoring, submission, attachment, decorum, tranquillity—everything, in a word, which gratifies superficial examination; and he persuades himself that he is eminently successful with them; but they have no free agency, are mere children at school, and they cannot escape from their prison. They cannot subsist at a distance from it; they must not break its rules; it must be a place of extensive ennui to them: as moral agents now, they are lower than when they were savages, and they die, I fear, the faster for this kindness. The Commandant imputes the mortality among them to the situation and climate, and wishes to transport them to the south coast of New Holland; but in six months, I am persuaded, they would be on this place happy savages in the Bush."
The more civilized they became, the more dependent were the Blacks upon their masters for supplies, and the less disposed were they to exert themselves. Listless and good, they wanted energy to pursue the bounding kangaroo, or clamber after an opossum. In Mr. Robinson's letter, March 8th, 1836, we have this announcement: "It has been intimated to the Natives that they are shortly to be supplied with fresh meat, which intelligence affords them much pleasure." It would, certainly; though it doubtless puzzled their unarithmetical heads what became of the several hundreds of sheep given to them by settlers in 1833, and increasing on Green Island, &c. Besides, the Government had sent cattle and more sheep. Before the receipt of the Commandant's letter, three hundred breeding sheep and ten cows were forwarded. And yet not once in six months did the Blacks eat of their own mutton! Some other people preferred fresh meat to salted rations. In 1838 there were still 1,800 sheep and 62 head of cattle.
Among the singular crotchets of Mr. Robinson's was that one of altering the names of the Natives. Certainly, surrounded as he was, with a host of white servants who could not catch the long and liquid words of the native tongue, it might seem necessary to make a change, but hardly to form so absurd a catalogue as he did. It would be interesting to know whose philological and literary assistance he obtained; some one of his convict servants might have been an M.A. But he evidently imagined he had performed an important and useful service, making it the subject of a special report on September 14th, 1836. He presented two lists—his own nomenclature, classical and grand; and beside it, the aboriginal, or the absurd English, name.
These are the males:—
|Bonaparte||Little Jacky||Peter Pindar||Peter|
|Constitution||Big Jacky||Robert||Big Tenry's Jemmy|
|Edward||Little Billy||Samuel||Kit's Jemmy|
|Francis||Big Mary's Jemmy||King William||Governor|
|King George||Old Tom||Walter George Arthur||Friday|
The others were with but one name each: George, Davey, Peter, Thomas Thompson, Peter, Charley, Manune, Teddy. These were the fifty-nine males. The females were as follow:—
|Queen Adelaide||Governor's Lubra||Princess Clara||Teddeburric|
|Queen Charlotte||Big Tenry||Queen Elizabeth||Big Bet|
|Juliet||John||Eliza Robinson||Charlotte's daughter|
|Princess Lalla Rookh||Trugenanna||Susan||Lock Jaw Poll|
The one-named females were Daphne, Fanny, Jessy, Wild Mary, Maria the Second, Petuck, Tingenoop, Tidderap, Tarehamenneve, Tinedeburric, Maryann, Bessy, Cowlim, Mary Thompson, Wyree, Puepedar, Pillah, Moicrune, and Nomyuncric. Why the latter of the fifty-seven should not be supplied with more manageable, if not queenly, names, may be subject of inquiry. Perhaps the philological conclave became exhausted at this juncture.
The following is a list of some of the names of the men on the island in 1834 They are given as spelt in the original document, as Mr. Robinson would also spell them, though subsequently changes have been made—as a for er. There were Worethetitatilargener and Moullteerlargener, chiefs of the Ben Lomond tribe; Calamaroweyne, the supposed murderer of Captain Thomas; Marenerlarger, Teelapana, Walentirloona, Panacoona, Wowee, Mackamee, Paropa, Nicamenie, Tymethie, Preropa, Pyntharyne, Toinchonc, Peey, Boobyinthie, Toindeburic, Rowlapana, Toby Langta, Lamaima, Conapanny, Packabanny, Wymeric. Three of them were husbands of Wild Mary, and who all died in a fortnight.
Because of the difference of dialects, there naturally grew upon the island a sort of Lingua Franca,—a commingling of tongues, native and English. There was a difficulty in pronouncing our d and s.
The man who entered most into the feelings and sympathies of the Aborigines of Flinders, was the well-known catechist, Mr. Robert Clark—the Father Clark of the Natives.
My first acquaintance with this devoted man was in the beginning of 1842, when he brought to my house several of his juvenile pupils, well clothed, with smiling faces, who read to me, with correct intonation, several verses from the New Testament. They looked up to him with the same filial regard which his own children felt for him.
Appointed to his position of schoolmaster and catechist in 1834, he, for a little time, gave place to the Rev. T. Dove, Presbyterian clergyman, and assumed a secular office, without diminishing his efforts for the moral good of his dark-coloured friends. He was obliged to resign, from the adoption of schemes he considered opposed to the welfare of the Aborigines. On his coming to Hobart Town I became intimately acquainted with him, and attached to his person. After a year or two, to the joy of his old friends, he was restored to his situation as catechist, which he retained until his departure for a better world, in 1850. Often have I listened with deep emotion to his sad stories of the sufferings of his charge, while his tremulous voice and moistened eyes declared the depth and sincerity of his sympathy.
He gained the confidence of all. He would sit down on the ground with the men, and smoke his pipe with them, while listening to their yarns of hunting and war, when he would appeal to them, in their own soft tones, about Him who loved the dark-skinned race, and yearned over them for good. With the gins he was ever a favourite; having the ready kind word and smile for each, with a bit of ribbon for one, a piece of tobacco for another, a joke for a third, and good counsel for all. Mrs. Clark was a helpmate to her husband, and their children were schoolmates and playmates with the Natives.
Mr. Robinson appreciated his help. When, in April 1838, the Rev. T. Dove was appointed catechist—a regular clergyman being supposed essential to the importance of the establishment—Mr. Clark acknowledged the kindness of Government in bestowing on him the position of storekeeper, and thus expresses his sentiments to the Colonial Secretary: "Its value is doubly enhanced by our continuance among our dear black friends, in whose welfare and instruction we are so deeply interested, and for whose moral and physical improvement our energies will continue, with God's blessing, to be exercised."
It was of him that Mr. Robinson wrote on the 2d of May: "I have found him a faithful, zealous, and efficient officer, amply qualified for the duties he had to perform, and one willing to render services that had for their object the amelioration and improvement of the Natives." He added a word, also, for Mrs. Clark: "She has been instrumental in initiating the female Aborigines in the first principles of the Christian religion. The marked results attendant thereupon have been mainly attributed to her personal exertions." Captain Stokes, the explorer, when visiting Flinders in 1842, refers to the lasting effects produced by Mr. Clark upon the Aborigines, "for whom," he says, "they all continue to feel great veneration, and to exhibit that respect which is due to a parent." Elsewhere he remarks: "We heard all the Natives of both sexes, old and young, sing several hymns taught them by this excellent person."
Mr. Dove, though without the susceptible and genial nature of my Irish friend, was an earnest, faithful man. The restraint of his ecclesiastical habits, perhaps, prevented him fraternizing, so to speak, with the people; and not even the orthodoxy and sincerity of his discourses could save them from a certain amount of dryness and doctrinal rigidity, which, however agreeable to a Scotch congregation, was scarcely to be appreciated by his ignorant, fickle, and child-like audience in the Straits. He was better fitted for the charge at Swanport, to which he retired, and where he has resided for so many years. A pleasing story is told of the good man attending the death-bed of King George, alias Old Tom, and taking such real interest in the poor fellow, that the last effort of the dying man was affectionately to smile at the pastor, and squeeze his hand.
I have now before me a manuscript book, presented to me by the widow of the venerated Rev. Frederick Miller, of Hobart Town, which had been prepared by my old friend Mr. Robert Clark, giving full particulars of an examination held in February 1838, when the Rev. T. Dove, chaplain, presided, and Mr. George Augustus Robinson, Mr. Dickenson, storekeeper, and Dr. Walsh, were spectators.
Young Mr. William Robinson's class first came forward, under the monitorship of Thomas Thompson, and consisting of the following remarkable characters:—Isaac, Edward, Washington, Albert, and Leonidas. Edward is pronounced imperfect in the alphabet, and goes down. Washington attempts to spell; but brave Leonidas, more ambitious, makes a trial of reading from the spelling-book. Leonidas, the hero of the class, repeats the Lord's Prayer, the Collect, the names of the months and days of the week, in addition to counting up to one hundred. His theological knowledge was sounded. I copy a few of the questions and answers:—
"Do you like the Devil?"—"No."
"Do you like God?"—"Yes."
"Can you see God?"—"No."
"What is the Devil?"—"The father of lies."
"What did God do with Adam's rib?"—"Make a woman of it."
"Who did God take the woman to?"—"To Adam."
"Do you pray to God?"—"Yes."
In Mr. Charles Robinson's class, Neptune attempts to read, and Peter Pindar is pronounced perfect in the alphabet. Neptune is fluent upon early Scripture history, and his creed may be taken as the orthodox of the period. A few of the questions are appended:—
"What will God do to this world by and by?"—"Burn it."
"What did God make us for?"—"His own purpose."
"Who are in heaven?"—"God, angels, good men, and Jesus Christ."
"What sort of a country is heaven?"—"A fine place."
"What sort of a place is hell?"—"A place of torment."
"What do you mean by 'a place of torment?'"—"Burning for ever and ever."
"What is the seventh day called?"—"Sunday." (?)
"What do you love God for?"—"God gives me everything."
Though apt in the general catechism, he fails to count beyond ten. His memory was not mathematical.
Peter Pindar again came before the gentlemen. Of him it is said in the Report: "Similar questions were put to Peter Pindar as to Neptune, which he answered in a similar manner. He named the days of the week. This individual has family worship every evening." Though only knowing his letters, he was superior to others in morals.
Albert was not examined in detail; but his teacher answered for his being as perfect in all the answers as Washington or Leonidas. Noemy, Albert, and Eugene did as the foregoing. Alexander, I regret to say, attempted to read; but, like his ambitious namesake, did not succeed in all his ventures. Tippoo Saib sought to spell a little, while Arthur struggled through the alphabet. Tippoo went over the approved questions, giving the approved answers according to rote. Most of the class could repeat the Lord's Prayer, and the Collect for the Second Sunday after Advent. Alexander reckoned up to sixteen, but Tippoo and Arthur only got to ten. The organ of number was always deficient in that poor race.
The junior class then appeared. Frederick attempts to spell, and Bonaparte to read, while Rodney and Adolphus attempted nothing, and King Alfred was too sick to exhibit. The Report adds: "At this stage of the examination, Mr. G. A. Robinson referred to the former notes for questions to find the class." Then follows the same series of "Who made you?" "Who was the first man?" "What is heaven?" &c. &c. Young "White fellows," who smile at reading this account, may know that the Poll Parrot system is not quite extinct in their day.
Bonaparte answered eight questions, and appeared to have a more decided and satisfactory faith than the Emperor. Being asked, "Do you like God?" he promptly answered, "Yes." A man named Augustus was able to read a little in the New Testament, and counted up to one hundred. It is furthermore mentioned concerning him, "can add a little." This was the Dux of the class. In another class, two were perfect in the alphabet, and one was ill.
The boys' class taught by the catechist formed, of course, the prominent feature of the examination. Bruni, Thompson, and Walter could read, write, and even cipher a little. The two first died soon afterwards. The last was subsequently known to me. He was far above the average of the Aborigines. He could converse with intelligence, and reason with ability. I saw his Bible on the side-table, when I took tea with him and his wife, in their own neat little hut.
Walter and Bruni having read the first chapter of the Hebrews, the Rev. Mr. Dove questioned them upon it. According to the Report, one man "spelled and attempted to read in a part he had committed to memory at the Orphan School for the purpose." Such an effort ought to have been successful, but was not. Although there is a reflection upon the professional ability of another teacher, it must be admitted that much of the learning paraded on Flinder's Island was obtained at the Government Orphan School, near Hobart Town.
The following are some of the questions put to the Upper Form:—
"Where was Jesus Christ before He came on earth?"—"In heaven with His Father."
"What should Cain have done when he knew he was wrong?"—"He should have prayed to God."
"Did God make man in His own image?"—"Yes."
"How did they lose His image?"—"By eating the forbidden fruit."
"What was the text Mr. Dove preached from last Sunday?"—"The Parable of the Ten Virgins."
"What happened to the Five Foolish Virgins?"—"They were kept out of the Bridegroom's Chamber." (?)
"Do you remember the Prodigal Son?"—"Yes, sir."
They answered well upon the life and death of Jesus Christ.
The examination of the males—thirty being present—terminated in two days.
The female intellect was now to be exhibited, and twenty-three candidates for honours were found. Mrs. Dickenson's class was the first. I regret to say that the report, though brief, is not commendatory: "Clara reads—Daphne attempts to read—Emma attempts to read—Rose attempts to spell—Sophia attempts to spell—Sabina imperfect in the alphabet—Henrietta imperfect in the alphabet—Lucy imperfect in the alphabet—and Wild Mary imperfect in the alphabet." It may be presumed that Wild Mary was a step above Queen Adelaide, as that lady, though present, did not enter the lists. My particular friend, Lalla Rookh or Truganina, was not examined in literature.
In the course of questions a slight variation once appeared, evidencing the superior originality of the feminine mind, as the sable lords never altered their replies. When it was asked, "Will you die?" Caroline cried out, "I will;" while Lalla Eookh contented herself with "Yes." Again, "Have you a soul?" Daphne said, "I have;" and Wild Mary uttered "Yes." All the questions on Scripture History were very simple. Several of the pupils repeated the Lord's Prayer and the approved Collect.
The senior women's class, under Mrs. Clark, distinguished themselves. Bessy reads the whole of No. 1 Spelling-book. Patty attempts to read. Paulina spells words of three letters, Juliet reads four easy pages. Semiramis knows her English letters—a feat the Assyrian queen could not have performed.
Some of the interrogations were more advanced.
"What was Jesus Christ for us?"—"Our righteousness."
"What is the Devil?"—"A roaring lion seeking whom he may devour."
"Who is the Devil?"—"The enemy of souls."
"How did sin enter into this world?"—"By Adam."
"What did Jesus Christ do for you?"—"He died for our sins, according to the Scriptures."
"Who is in heaven?"—"God, angels, Jesus Christ, good men and women."
"What did God make beside the light?"—"He made everything."
"What is an ark?"—"A bigmee ship."
"How long did Jesus stay in the grave?"—"Three days and three nights."
"What must you get before you go to heaven?"—"A new heart and a right spirit."
"What was Jesus made for us?"—"Sin for us."
"Who crucified Jesus Christ?"—"The Jews"
"Who were the Jews?"—"The people of God."
"Do you love God and wish to pray to Him?"—"I do, sir."
"Did you know anything of God before you came to this settlement?"—"No, sir."
"Did the sealing men tell you anything about God?"—"No, sir."
"Did you know anything about God before Mrs. Clark taught you?"—"No, sir."
The last three questions were, perhaps, impromptu ones. How far the women comprehended some of the questions and answers cannot be known. How Jesus was made sin for them might have puzzled them, and they might have wondered how the people of God could be so bad as to crucify the Saviour. But it is more probable that they did not trouble their faculties to inquire. It is enough that the examiners were satisfied.
Then follows a singular passage in the Report: "School adjourned at 3 o'clock. On the resuming of the examination of Mrs. Clark's class, they appeared very sulky, and it was with some difficulty they were induced to answer the questions proposed to them; several questions they would not, which are omitted here." What could have been the matter? What had been done to put the dark beauties out of temper? Did some get more praise and pudding than others? One thing we do know—the gentler sex won the day, for the young men had to come to the rescue, and take up the questions.
After more Scripture, the lads were taken to the secular. They were examined in addition, and information was volunteered to the chairman that some could write large hand.
The examination ought to have proceeded next day, but for circumstances mentioned in the story: "Reassembled this morning at 10 o'clock. Maryann (afterwards the half-caste wife of Walter) did not attend with her class, and information was received that the females were washing their clothes, and the native men were at a distance from the settlement, where they had remained all night, making a road. Adjourned till tomorrow."
It may be that some officials thought the catechism, after lasting three or four days, was too much for the men, and had sent them off to work; while the women, obeying the laws of feminine civilized nature, had embraced the opportunity of attending to their linen, which important personal duty could not give place to literature.
A crowd of sovereigns appeared on the following day. The truth must be told that they least distinguished themselves. King Alfred, however, was perfect in his alphabet, and could tell who made him. King George knew the first man, and who made the trees and tall mountain, but was not troubled with more questions. King Alpha was content with playing ditto to his royal brother George, and said that God made the tall mountain. But Napoleon rushed boldly forth to the front, with ready replies, after attempting to spell. It is very unsatisfactory, however, to quote a remark upon this conqueror: "This native attends school but very seldom, and is not improving. Mr. Dove addressed him very feelingly on his neglect of instruction." Poor fellow! he lived but little time to profit by the White man's teaching.
One Andrew is made to say that he likes to be a good man, that he loves to go to heaven, and that he prays in his house every night. He counts to eighteen, and repeats the Lord's Prayer, Collect, and General Confession. Several were brought up to answer one question only—"Who made you?"—"God." Among those not examined were Eliza, Helen, Eve, Tidderup, and old Maria.
This is the closing certificate:—
"Chaplain of Flinders."
The history of the last few years of Flinders is soon told. It is chiefly the story of death. Captain Stokes found that, of 200 that had been captured, 150 had perished. Governor Arthur wrote home, on January 27th, 1835, deploring the rapid decline, and adding, "Their number has been reduced to only 100." To save the younger ones, fourteen were sent from the island to the Orphan School of Hobart Town. One of the earliest victims was Mungo, the guide to the parties of Messrs. Robertson, Jorgenson, and Batman. Poor Manalagana, the noble chief, died in March 1836. Surgeon Allen officially reported, Sept. 20th, 1837: "On my arrival I found one-fourth of the Natives on the sick list, and since then more than one-half have been ill." Dr. Story gives it as his opinion to me, that "the deaths at Flinders Island and the attempt at civilizing the Natives were consequent on each other."
No wonder that Mr. Robinson was anxious to remove the people from the island, when he was appointed Protector in Port Phillip, and that his suggestion was received with acclamation by the pent-up islanders. A petition, signed by the twenty-nine living men, was addressed to Governor Sir John Franklin, on Aug. 12th, 1838, begging for translation to Port Phillip. His Excellency's heart was moved, and he directed Mr. Montague, then Colonial Secretary, to open up a correspondence with the Government of New South Wales about their reception. Some opposition being presented, the question was referred home, when Lord Glenelg objected to their removal. The Rev. Dr. Lang thus comments upon the circumstance: "But even this miserable boon has been refused them, on the ground of their not being sufficiently civilized and christianized yet, by a committee of the Legislative Council of New South Wales, with a Protestant Bishop for their chairman."
After the departure of Mr. Robinson, and the failure of their hopes of transmission to Port Phillip, the Aborigines sank into an apathy from which they never emerged. Captain Smith officiated for a time, and then Mr. Fisher; but Dr. Jeanneret received the appointment of Superintendent in 1842, at the hands of Governor Sir John Franklin, who, like his benevolent and learned lady, was ever interested in the condition of the Blacks.
Dr. Jeanneret was much shocked at the island affairs. He found the rations inadequate for his charge, and even tampered with by the small military party still esteemed necessary for the safety of the settlement. Of an impulsive, energetic nature, and highly sensitive in his conscientiousness, he was led from the rebuke of wrong-doing to active denunciation, and was early involved in personal collision with the soldiers, whom he accused of malpractices with the Natives; he, also, engaged in voluminous correspondence with Government. The officials, long tired of the Native question, and never appreciating the pertinacious exhibition of abuses in any of their departments, preferred to get rid of the difficulty by the suspension of the Superintendent, in 1844.Not made of yielding material, the Doctor fought out the battle in England, and was reinstated by Lord Derby in 1846. His triumph over the local authorities did not lessen the spleen of his enemies, nor silence the voice of calumny and reproach. Almost immediately upon his return to Flinders, a petition against him was got up by somebody, and signed by eight of the Natives. He was charged with frivolous offences against their personal comfort. The poor men afterwards repudiated their own act, and attributed it to bad counsel. Inflexible in justice, the Doctor needed suavity to soothe. Earnest in the discovery of a wrong, he may have lacked that judicious prudence which refuses to see everything, or which perceives extenuating and ameliorating circumstances. His very integrity dissociated him from the sympathies of his subordinates, and the rigidity of his righteous rule perhaps increased the restlessness and discontent of his little state. Yet, knowing him well, and honouring him much, I am sure he misrepresented himself; for, of all men, I know of few with more real kindliness of nature, or more profound regard for duty to his God. For his pious and gentle lady the Natives cherished tender feelings Dr. Nixon, Bishop of Tasmania, was ever a friend to both.
The Catechist he accused of cruel treatment and neglect of the children under his care, and he therefore removed the young people from his roof, and suspended the officer from service. Mr. Clark did not deny his having flogged the girls, but declared he had done so in religious anger at their moral offences. One in particular had been seduced into improper society, and was long kept in rigid seclusion. With all my admiration for the Catechist, I regret that his excitable temperament should have led him to such excess of discipline. It is not a solitary instance of benevolence held in abeyance through respect to Solomon's counsel of using the rod.
The Superintendent was right in principle, though the Government failed properly to support his authority. He was zealous in the performance of his duties to the Natives, but was aware of the hostility rising against him. In a letter, answering some inquiries of mine about the Blacks, he wrote, in the bitterness of his disappointment, on March 10th, 1847: "The official directions of the Government provide amply for their handsome provision, though hitherto a faction has often interfered with the instructions furnished. I think, so far from being neglected, they are, and have been, plagued by too much interference." Elsewhere he assigns a reason for the non-progression of the people—"the withering uncertainty of the principles of their superiors."
It was a month after the date of that letter that the following communication was addressed to Dr. Jeanneret: "His Excellency has it in contemplation to break up the aboriginal establishment at Flinders Island at an early period, and that, should his intention be carried into effect, your appointment as Superintendent would probably cease, as your services would not be required." No charges are here named, no reference is made to maladministration. On May 4th he was directed to replace the children with Mr. Clark. On the following day a letter was sent, intimating the appointment of a successor—Dr. Milligan—"for the express purpose," added the document, "of effecting the removal of the Aborignes to the mainland. As this is to be accomplished without any unnecessary delay, Mr. Milligan's arrival will take place on or about the first proximo, when you will have the goodness to hand over the charge to that gentleman, and be prepared to return to Van Diemen's Land by the same vessel which conveys him to the settlement."
In vain ever since has Dr. Jeanneret sought compensation for the harshness of his treatment. It may be some satisfaction for him to know that, when I was at Oyster Cove a dozen years after, his name was spoken of with respect by the Natives. Even one of them, who had before opposed him, declared him to be a just and good man; and another asserted that he kept the bad men from troubling them there, and that they were far happier on Flinders than ever they had been since. But the easy, jovial, rotund Irishman, with his laughing wit, his demonstrative sympathy, his affectionate language, his companionable nature, was naturally preferred to the more scholarly, upright, but externally colder. Superintendent.
Dr. Jeanneret was virtually the last Superintendent of Flinders Island. He remained to see the embarkation of the Natives under his successor. Dr. Milligan, all bound for Oyster Cove, in D'Entrecasteaux Channel.
After the departure of the people, the island was let with the stock to Captain Smith, at a rental of 100l. a year. The Bishop in 1854 thus moralized over the past: "Nearly eleven years have passed since I landed on the self-same rocks with Sir John Franklin. How changed the scene! Then, the beach was covered with the Aborigines, who greeted their kind and loved benefactor with yells of delight; capering and gesticulating with movements more indicative of exuberant, wild joy, than of elegance or propriety. Now all this is still. It was painful to witness the scene of ruin in the once neat and well-ordered settlement. Desolation stared me in the face, wherever the eye was turned: the comfortable house of the Superintendent rapidly falling to decay; the gardens well-nigh rooted up; the range of buildings in which the Aborigines were formerly hutted, untenanted, broken, and tumbling down."
But a more indignant letter was published in 1862, describing the visit of Mr. Nantes. Arriving at Settlement Point, he exclaims: "This is the spot that was chosen by the Van Diemen's Land Government for the settlement of the Natives when banished from Van Diemen's Land. It bore traces of having been at one time a large settlement, but now exhibited only neglect, dilapidation, and decay; the roofs fallen in; doors and windows without existence, or fallen down; the chapel, once dedicated to the service of the Almighty, used as a barn and a store for farm implements; and the fences torn down and disappearing, evidently for firewood; the cemetery, where lay the remains of our uncivilized but still brethren, trodden down, and turned into a stockyard and sheepfold. The whole bore such a pitiable sign of wanton neglect and destruction, that it was hard to conceive that some few years before life, numerous life, had in its active state been busy and employed, and now so silent and desolate. Although foreign to the purpose of these notes, I cannot but remark on the shameful neglect that could allow a building dedicated under God, and the last resting-place of these poor exiles, to be thus desecrated."Such is the last sad scene of the Flinders' drama. Since the departure of the Aborigines, I have passed by the island some half a dozen times; and not many weeks ago from the moment of writing this passage, I sailed along the western and northern shores for forty miles. As I gazed upon its storm-torn coast, and my eyes rested upon its bleak and fantastic hills, the whole story, in all its varied and stirring phases, came before me, and I felt quickened in my resolution to tell my countrymen the sorrows of the Tasmanians.