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Title: Thirty Years Among The Blacks of Australia
Author: William T Pyke
eBook No.: 2100161h.html
Date first posted: 2021
Most recent update: 2021
This eBook was produced by: Maurie and Lyn Mulcahy
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EVERYONE who has lived in Australia any length of time has heard of Buckley, "The Wild White Man," as he was familiarly called by the early settlers. Two separate accounts were published during the 1850's, purporting to give to the curious reader Buckley's savage life among the native black wanderers and hunters. Both these books have been out of print for over twenty years, during which period inquiries for them at the booksellers have been numerous and continuous, though, of course, unsatisfied.
The present chapters are an attempt to make use of the life of Buckley as a groundwork for imparting a readable, reliable, and fairly complete description of the manners and customs of the strange people with whom he lived for more than a generation. In compiling it many books and pamphlets have been consulted and, I think, every statement contained herein may be verified by reference to the best acknowledged authorities.
It is a strange fact, but nevertheless true, that no cheap work on the Australian Aboriginal black is procurable. Students and specialists are recommended to read Curr's Australian Race, 2 vols., £2 2s.; Brough Smyth's Aborigines of Australia, 2 vols., £3 3s.; Dawson's Australian Aborigines, 13s 6d.; Beveridge's Aborigines of Victoria and Riverina, 5s. In addition to these publications there are some pamphlets and reports in the Public Library, Melbourne, where also may be seen the journals, &c., of various Australian explorers, which contain incidentally information on the blacks.
WILLIAM T. PYKE. Melbourne.
CHAPTER I.—SOLDIER AND CONVICT.
CHAPTER II.—THE PORT PHILLIP CONVICT SETTLEMENT OF 1803-4.
CHAPTER III.—THE RUNAWAY CONVICTS.
CHAPTER IV.—BUCKLEY'S CRUSOE LIFE.
CHAPTER V.—ADOPTED BY THE BLACKS.
CHAPTER VI.—FIGHTING AND HUNTING.
CHAPTER VII.—TRIBAL AMENITIES.
CHAPTER VIII.—DOMESTIC AND TRAGIC.
CHAPTER IX.—WITCHCRAFT & VENGEANCE.
CHAPTER X.—TERPSICHOREAN AND COMMERCIAL.
CHAPTER XI.—HOPES OF RESCUE.
CHAPTER XII.—RESTORED TO CIVILISATION.
CHAPTER XIII.—THE ABORIGINES AND THE WHITES.
ANECDOTE BY MR. GIDEON LANG.
BUCKLEY'S EARLY LIFE—TAKES THE KING'S SHILLING—FIGHTS THE KING'S ENEMIES—HIS DISGRACE—TRANSPORTED TO PORT PHILLIP.
ONE of the most curious and romantic incidents connected with the early history of the Colony of Victoria is the story of the life and adventures of William Buckley, a runaway convict, and his thirty-two years' wanderings with the blackfellows of Port Phillip.
I purpose in the present narrative to give a short account of William Buckley's life, and to interweave with it a description of the manners and customs of his black companions, together with a brief sketch of the history of the founding and settlement of the great Colony of Victoria.
Our hero, if we way presume to call the object of our tale a hero, was born near Macclesfield in the county of Cheshire, England in the year 1780, ten years after the discovery by Captain Cook of the great south land* of which poor Buckley was destined to become the sole though unwilling British colonist for more than a generation; perhaps not monarch of all he surveyed but at any rate with no other white man to dispute his right to the title if he had claimed such an exalted dignity.
[* The land first discovered on the Continent of Australia by Captain Cook's expedition was Cape Everard, within the boundary of the Colony of Victoria. Captain Cook named it Point Hicks, in honour of Lieutenant Hicks, of the Endeavour, who first sighted it on Thursday, April 19th, 1770.]
Buckley the elder, his father, tilled a small farm in the neighbourhood of Macclesfield and tried to raise his domestic crop of boys and girls as respectably as his very limited means would allow him. He was fairly successful with the others, but William seems to have been the tare among the wheat. The seeds of good advice falling in his case on stony ground did not take root, and therefore brought forth no fruit in the shape of improved conduct. So his father, like a good husbandman, plucked him out, and transplanted him from his own family circle into that of the boy's grandfather.
His grandfather took him in hand, and sent him to a small night-school, where he received the rudiments of reading and writing.
When the lad was about fifteen years of age, he was apprenticed to a brick-layer; but work did not agree with him: he seems to have been born tired, like the lazy man in the story. Disliking restraint, or continuous exertion, he often quarrelled with his master, who endeavoured to make him industrious and useful. These frequent attempts to shirk or scamp his work brought well-merited punishment upon his shoulders, which he submitted to with a very bad grace. For two or three years a continuous warfare waged between master and man.
At length the sullen and rebellious boy resolved to quit the employment of his taskmaster on the first opportunity which might present itself. And the opportunity came when he was about nineteen years of age.
In those troublous times when every nation of Europe was embroiled in Napoleon's wars, the recruiting-sergeant was to be found in every likely village in England, beating up yokels and other simpletons as food for powder, or candidates for glory. Attracted by the brilliant and gorgeous uniforms of the soldiery, and inspired by plenty of beer, the patriotism of the sergeant's victims was very easily aroused.
To William Buckley, lazy, stupid, and discontented with his condition, the sergeant's glowing descriptions of a soldier's life and the glorious pomp and circumstance of war opened to his mental vision a bright vista of future greatness, or perhaps swaggering independence and pot-house popularity. The King's shilling and the large bounty of ten guineas were gladly accepted by him, and he enlisted in the Cheshire Militia. After serving about a year in the Militia, he volunteered into the 4th or King's Own Regiment, receiving another bounty, for soldiers were badly wanted in those days.
In a few weeks his regiment was ordered to Holland, where the English and Russian forces were fighting the French and Dutch republicans. The privations and dangers of a disastrous campaign, rendered still more terrible by the severities of a Dutch winter, were passed through. Buckley's regiment suffered heavily, the elements assisting the enemy not a little in harassing its movements and reducing its numbers. A shot from a Frenchman's gun wounded Buckley in the right hand, and rendered him for some time unfit for duty.
When the war was over his regiment returned to England and was quartered in Chatham Barracks.
After having been in the army about four years, Buckley received a third bounty, this time for extended service. His officers were pleased with his attention to duty and general conduct, and perhaps were proud of him, for he was a fine-looking fellow, probably the biggest man in his regiment, being nearly six feet six inches in height and splendidly proportioned.
The dull monotony of barrack life at length had a demoralizing effect upon poor Buckley's character. An inactive existence tests every man's moral backbone, and Buckley's was not one of the strongest. He became associated with some of the worst men in the regiment, with a result that blasted his whole future career.
Returned from six weeks furlough, during which he had visited his relatives and old acquaintances in the country, he was arrested and tried for receiving stolen goods. The charge against him was proved, and the smart soldier who had helped to fight the King's enemies had now to serve His Majesty in a more menial capacity. His bright scarlet uniform was exchanged for one of a more sombre colour, decorated with broad arrows and other insignia of degradation and servitude; and the daily routine of barrack life for the arduous and not at all congenial task of trundling a heavy wheelbarrow full of stones and earth at the fortification of Woolwich.
Six months had slowly passed at this work, when he was drafted with the first batch of prisoners, selected by the Government, to found a new penal settlement in Australia, on the shores of Port Phillip.
This expedition, which had been several months in preparation, was originally destined for Port Jackson, or Botany Bay as it was then popularly called, the parent settlement in Australia; but political and commercial reasons had induced the Government to alter their decision, and fix upon Port Phillip as a more suitable place. Jealousy of England's historic enemy, France, and the fear of Napoleon founding a rival colony somewhere on the Australian coast, which had only recently been explored in detail by the great French navigator, Baudin, were good political reasons for starting another colony, 500 miles away from the old one.
An additional incentive to such a proceeding was also given by the report that valuable forests of timber suitable for shipbuilding purposes abounded on the southern coast. England was then projecting a very large increase to her navy, and her own forests of British oak had shown signs of not meeting the large demands made upon them during the long naval wars in which she had been engaged, and which were about to be renewed with increased vigour.
Commercially, it was thought the new settlement ought to prove very valuable as a station or emporium for the numerous vessels employed in the sealing industry, for at that time the neighbouring coasts abounded with thousands and thousands of that useful amphibian, an animal which had become very scarce and difficult to obtain in northern latitudes.
By the 26th day of April, 1803, the convicts, their keepers, and a few free settlers, were embarked, and the doleful expedition set sail out of Portsmouth Harbour. It consisted of two vessels, the Calcutta, a fifty gun frigate, under the command of Captain Daniel Woodriff, and a chartered East Indiaman named the Ocean.
To Lieutenant-Colonel David Collins of the Royal Marines, who had had some colonial experience as Judge-Advocate of the elder colony for the first ten years of its existence, was given the position of supreme command, under the title of Lieutenant-Governor, his superior officer being Governor King of the Port Jackson settlement.
The convicts numbered 307, all males; and there were 17 free women on board, prisoners' wives who had offered to share the hard lot of their worse halves. Seven children of the convicts also accompanied their exiled parents. It may be mentioned that one of these children was John Pascoe Fawkner, who afterwards became one of the founders of the City of Melbourne, and figured in political life for many years in the Colony of Victoria.
Besides officials, seamen, and soldiers, only twelve free people (eleven men and one women) were on board—a very little quota of goodness to leaven so huge a mass of human iniquity and misery.
The voyage out was not marked by any extraordinary events. On the whole the prisoners behaved very well, and were treated with consideration by their keepers. But any insubordination or breach of regulations was promptly punished by the free application of that most useful instrument, the cat-o'-nine-tails. In those days anything like tender-heartedness in the treatment of convicts would have been regarded as a direct incentive to mutiny. Two prisoners died, and the wife of another one also succumbed to the severities of ship life. The usual ports of call were touched at, the usual storms were weathered, and on October 10th, 1803, land was sighted by the look-out man of the Calcutta—King Island, in Bass Straits, being the first point descried within Australian waters.
A raging gale which came on shortly afterwards compelled them to stand off till next day. Then the entrance to Port Phillip was made, and the Calcutta glided through its narrow and shallow opening and dropped anchor just inside the Heads near where is now situated the popular holiday resort of Sorrento. The Ocean was already there, riding at anchor, having anticipated the arrival of her crime-laden consort by a few days.
STARTING A COLONY—TROUBLES WITH THE BLACKS—LIFE IN THE CONVICT CAMP—FREQUENT ESCAPES OF CONVICTS—BUCKLEY TAKES TO THE BUSH—ABANDONMENT OF THE SETTLEMENT.
BUT little time was lost in preparing for the disembarkation of the ships' companies. Soon the place was lively with the hum of busy people engaged in felling trees, constructing huts, making paths, landing provisions and stores, and all the other manifold duties attending the formation of a new settlement in the primeval wilds, where hitherto none but the stealthy and suspicious black, the timid kangaroo, or the feathered denizen of the woods had broken the deep solitude.
In three weeks everything had been got ashore, and the Ocean transport was discharged from His Majesty's Service and free to resume her voyage to China as soon as she was able to take in ballast.
The black inhabitants seemed to regard the invaders of their dominions with but very little apprehension, and showed not the slightest desire to contest the right or the power of the new-comers to settle amongst them. They manifested the childish curiosity common to all inferior peoples, and took with great avidity and delight the presents of biscuits, trinkets, blankets, etc., proffered to them by the white men. Generally, after receiving the gifts, they immediately departed into the seclusion of the bush, to more thoroughly enjoy them, or to make known their good fortune to their friends.
The first act of impropriety on their part was committed by one of their number who stole the wash-streak of a boat, and made off with it behind some neighbouring bushes. But the delinquent and his conniving companions were very soon brought to their bearings. All the presents which had just been given to them were forcibly taken back again, and they were made to understand by signs that they would not receive anything more until the stolen article was restored to its rightful owners—a very practical and humane way of teaching the poor ignorant creatures the difference in meum and tuum.
A few weeks later a serious affray with the natives took place, in which, it is to be regretted, some blood was shed. With it the conflict of the two races may be said to have had its beginning. It happened while Tuckey, First-Lieutenant of the Calcutta, and Mr. Harris, the Surveyor of the settlement, were exploring the shores of the bay in company with two boats' crews. They had landed on the western side of Port Phillip, near the entrance to what is now named Corio Bay. We will describe what occurred in Lieutenant Tuckey's own words, as recorded in his journal :—
'The N.W. side of the port, where a level plain extends to the
northwards as far as the horizon, appears to be by far the most
populous. At this place, upwards of two hundred natives assembled
around the surveying boats, and their obviously hostile intentions made
the application of firearms absolutely necessary to repel them, by
which one native was killed and two or three wounded.
'Previous to this time, several interviews had been held with separate parties, at different places, during which the most friendly intercourse was maintained, and endeavoured to be strengthened on our part by presents of blankets, beads, &c. At these interviews they appeared to have a perfect knowledge of firearms, and as they seemed terrified even at the sight of them, they were kept entirely out of view.
'The last interview which terminated so unexpectedly hostile, had at its commencement the same friendly appearance. Three natives, unarmed, came to the boats, and received fish, bread, and blankets. Feeling no apprehension from three naked and unarmed savages, the First-Lieutenant proceeded with one boat to continue the survey, while the other boat's crew remained on shore to dress dinner and procure water.
'The moment the first boat disappeared, the three natives took leave, and in less than an hour returned with forty more, headed by a chief,* who seemed to possess much authority. This party immediately divided, some taking off the attention of the people who had charge of the boat (in which was Mr. Harris the Surveyor of the colony), while the rest surrounded the boat; the oars, masts, and sails of which were used in erecting the tent.
'The intention to plunder was immediately visible, and all the exertions of the boat's crew were insufficient to prevent them possessing themselves of a tomahawk, an axe, and a saw. In this situation, as it was impossible to get the boat away, everything belonging to her being on shore, it was thought advisable to temporise and await the return of the other boat, without having recourse to firearms, if it could possibly be avoided; and, for this purpose, bread, meat and blankets were given them. These condescensions however, seemed only to increase their boldness, and their numbers, having been augmented by the junction of two other parties, amounted to more than two hundred.
'At this critical time the other boat came in sight, and observing the crowd and tumult at the tent, pushed towards them with all possible despatch. Upon approaching the shore, the unusual warlike appearance of the natives was immediately observed; and as they seemed to have entire possession of the tent, serious apprehensions were entertained for Mr. Harris and two of the boat's crew, who it was noticed were not at the boat.
'At the moment that the grapnel was hove out of the Lieutenant's boat, to prevent her taking ground, one of the natives seized the master's mate, who had charge of the other boat, and held him fast in his arms.
'A general cry of "Fire sir; for God's sake, fire!" was now addressed from those on shore to the First-Lieutenant. Hoping the report only would sufficiently intimidate them, two muskets were fired over their heads. For a moment they seemed to pause, and a few retreated behind the trees, but immediately returned, clapping their hands, and shouting vehemently. Four muskets with buckshot and the fowling-pieces of the gentlemen with small shot, were now fired among them, and from the general howl, very different from their former shouts, many were supposed to be struck. This discharge created a general panic, and, leaving their cloaks behind, they flew in every direction among the trees.
'It was hoped the business would have terminated here, and orders were therefore given to strike the tent, and prepare to quit the territory of such disagreeable neighbours. While thus employed, a large party were seen again assembling behind a hill, at the foot of which was our tent. They advanced in a compact body to the brow of the hill, every individual armed with a spear, and some carrying bundles of them.
'When within a hundred yards of us they halted, and the chief, with one attendant, came down to the tent, and spoke with great vehemence, holding a very large war spear in a position for throwing. The First-Lieutenant, wishing to restore peace if possible, laid down his gun, advanced to the chief and presented him with several cloaks, necklaces, and spears, which had been left behind in their retreat. The chief took his own cloak and necklace and gave the rest to his attendant. His countenance and gestures all this time betrayed feelings more of anger than of fear, and his spear every moment appeared on the point of quitting his hand.
'When the cloaks were all given up, the main body on the hill began to descend, shouting and flourishing their spears. Our people were immediately drawn up, and ordered to present their muskets loaded with ball, while a last attempt was made to convince the chief that, if his people continued to approach, they would be immediately fired upon. These threats were either not properly understood, or were despised, and it was deemed absolutely necessary for our own safety to prove the power of our firearms, before they came near enough to injure us with their spears.
'Selecting one of the foremost, who appeared to be the most violent, as a proper example, three muskets were fired at him, at fifty yards distance, two of which took effect, and he fell dead on the spot. The chief, turning round at the report, saw him fall, and immediately fled among the trees; a general dispersion succeeded, and the dead body was left behind.'
[*Lieutenant Tuckey is wrong. The Australian blacks had no chiefs, in the ordinary sense of the term. The husband was the chief of his own household; but the people, as a tribe, recognised no personal authority. Each man or family was under no restraint but that imposed by custom. As in all communities, civilised or savage, some men in every tribe were naturally looked up to by the others, on account of superior intelligence or physical strength. These might be taken for chiefs by white strangers.]
But the native blacks were not the only trouble which the authorities had to encounter and overcome. The convicts were not easily amenable to discipline, and their red-coated janitors, in many respects, were not much better. Drunkenness was extremely rife. The Lieutenant-Governor regarded its prevalence with indignation and dismay, and issued orders for its abatement or suppression, but with little effect. The soldiers constantly appearing on parade in most unsoldierly unsteadiness evoked his strong reprobation, and consequently after a time no one was allowed to take his allowance of spirits into the privacy of his tent, but was obliged to drink it while standing in the presence of his superior officer. Thus the thrifty teetotallers, if there were any teetotallers among them, were prevented from trading their allowance to their more thirsty or convivial comrades.
Rumour sayeth that the Governor himself was rather fond of the ruddy wine, and that he had an able confrére in his chaplain 'Old Bobby Knopwood,' as that reverend gentleman was familiarly called by the unrighteous or facetious. But as Shakespeare has it —'What in the officer is but a choleric word, is in the soldier rank blasphemy;' and in those days it was no uncommon thing for a 'gentleman' (God save the mark) to drink himself under the table. The old saying that example goes further than precept does not seem to have been thought of by those in authority in the little settlement.
However, it was not all beer and skittles with the convicts. They were aroused from their slumbers at sunrise, and immediately set to work at their several tasks, which they were kept at till seven in the evening, with about two hours and a half of intervals for rest and refreshment. But in extenuation of the hard labour, the discipline to which they had to submit was not very severe when we take into consideration all surrounding circumstances; their food was good, and there appears to have been plenty of it—in fact, the convicts in this respect fared quite as well as their keepers.
But the excessive heat constantly referred to, and complained of, by the Rev. Robert Knopwood, made continuous work irksome to men who had been enjoying or enduring a forced idleness on shipboard for so many months. To escape from this uncongenial toil, many convicts eluded the vigilance of their guards, and took to the bush. But they found out that by doing so they had jumped out of the frying-pan into the fire. The surrounding country was so barren that absconders were soon compelled to return. Yet, notwithstanding the non-success of these, hardly a day passed without one or more of the others running away, the object of most of them being to reach Port Jackson. A very hazy idea of the geography of their position prevailed among the convicts, it being generally imagined that the older colony was but a short distance off.
To correct this mistaken notion and lessen the number of escapes, the Governor printed notices warning all of the difficulties and dangers of such a desperate course, and the utter impossibility of men, almost naked and totally inexperienced in bush craft, being successful in an attempt to reach a settlement 1,000 miles away along the coast; and adding, that even should they by any chance elude the lynx-eyed and blood-thirsty natives, they would be immediately brought to justice and severely punished on their arrival at their destination.
In the month of November a batch of six convicts absconded, but in a few days returned in a very sorry plight, repentant and crestfallen. On this occasion the Governor determined to make a striking example of the culprits, and teach a solemn lesson to every convict in the encampment. He therefore ordered a general parade of troops and prisoners, and gave instructions to the chaplain to read his official commission as Lieutenant-Governor. After the ceremony he sentenced each of the miserable delinquents to a public castigation of 100 lashes each.
But this brutal punishment acted as no deterrent to their companions in durance, for it is reported that even so early as the next day some others made a bold dash for liberty. Three of these came back in such an exhausted state that the punishment cat could not safely be administered to them. In fact, their strength was so far gone that it was found necessary to place them under the care of the doctor. They stated to the authorities that their companions had levanted with the provisions while they were searching for water. This story proving the falsity of the old proverb about there being honour among thieves, the Governor attempted to draw a moral from the treachery, and hoped that so strong an indignation and mutual distrust would be aroused as to prevent in future any such combinations to break away from their lawful keepers.
Graver delinquencies broke out during the next month, among which were store-breaking and plundering. Even the tents of the sick were robbed of their provisions. On Christmas Eve a raid was made on the commissary's tent, and, besides other articles, a gun was made off with.
Christmas day came. The smiling sun shining in a brilliant Australian sky contrasted strongly with what our exiles had experienced in northern climes. But old associations and customs were not wholly forgotten or neglected under these new conditions, and a slight indulgence was offered to the prisoners in the shape of 1 lb. of raisins each for Xmas plum-pudding, so that all could enjoy this time-honoured Christmas luxury.
Our hero, Buckley, now appears on the records in a new light. He had started well. His behaviour on shipboard was exemplary, and a considerable amount of liberty was accorded him in consequence. Most of his time was spent on deck, where he made himself useful in a variety of ways among the seamen. The Governor took notice of him, being, no doubt, attracted by his fine upstanding soldierly appearance, and promoted him to the rank of his own body-servant, which position he held till his services were required to assist in the erection of the more substantial structures of the settlement—the powder magazine and storeroom—skilled labour, such as he possessed by virtue of his early training as a brick-layer, being lamentably wanting in the little community.
His ingrained hatred of hard or continuous labour again showed itself. Bricklaying had not agreed with him in his youthful years, and now in his manhood the old aversion marked another turning-point in his career. Perhaps the sudden change from flunkey to artisan had something to do with it this time. Anyhow, once more he listened to the voice of the tempter, and became a party to a carefully prepared plot, which was devised in company with five other black-sheep of the convict fold who longed for fresh fields and pastures new.
The work they were employed upon frequently took them outside the line of sentinels, and they availed themselves of any little opportunity that might offer itself to 'plant' provisions or any other articles they thought would come in useful to them in the bush. On the 27th December they were ready, and agreed to make a start for freedom that night.
When the shades of evening had given place to the deep gloom of night, and the last weary convict had at length fallen into a troubled slumber, and naught broke the solemn stillness but the drowsy sentinels on their watchful rounds, or the weird cry of a native bird or animal in the ghost-like bush around, then did the six conspirators quietly steal forth from the presence of their comrades into the outer air, pass the line of sentinels, and make for their secreted hoard. But—
"The best laid schemes o' mice and men
Gang aft a'gley,
And leave us naught but grief and pain
For promised joy."
and Buckley and his friends found this out to their cost.
They managed to 'spring their plant,' as getting away with hidden booty is called in convict parlance, but the authorities, suspecting that a number of the convicts had concerted a plot amongst themselves to break away, had that night stationed an extra line of outposts beyond the confines of the settlement. Unfortunately for the fugitives, these piquets were on the qui vive, and opened fire just as the retreating men began to feel that they had completely eluded the vigilance of their guards, with the result that one man was brought down by a well aimed bullet. Another one was so terrified and dazed at seeing his comrade fall that he paused in his flight and was immediately surrounded and captured.
Shot after shot reverberated through the woods, but none of the other runaways were hit. Dodging behind trees and bushes and any inequalities of the ground that they could take advantage of, they gradually got out of range and made good their escape.
We will now leave them for a time, and follow the fortunes of the settlement. The success of this daring outbreak greatly alarmed the authorities, who considered that so large a number of the exiles being free in the bush, was a strong menace to the maintenance of order within the boundaries of the settlement. It was feared that others would strive to emulate the enterprise of Buckley and his party.
The night-watch was immediately strengthened, and shortly afterwards a voluntary association of civil officers and free settlers was formed to assist the military in their police functions. The officers of this kind of special constabulary carried firearms, and the men were armed with batons. Their self-appointed duties consisted of a patrol of the encampment, independently of the military rounds. Being irregular in their movements, and not wearing a uniform like the soldiers, it could never be foretold by the convicts when or where they would turn up next, and consequently they soon became very useful in checking crime; and many an unfortunate misdemeanant was pounced upon by them, and promptly brought to justice.
In consequence of large fires being seen at some distance from the encampment, it was concluded that the escapees were still in the neighbourhood. It was therefore determined that an effort should be made to retake them.
With this object an expedition was organised on the 6th of January, 1804, in which the civil association and several marines joined their forces. They managed to follow the tracks of the fugitives for several miles, but could trace them no further, and perforce had to come back unsuccessful. No other attempt was made in this direction, as the Governor thought that it was unnecessarily harassing to the small force under his command, and he felt sure that the runaways would return or else perish by starvation.
A week after this fruitless expedition one of Buckley's companions surrendered himself at the camp, after having, according to his own account, accompanied his fellow fugitives almost around Port Phillip, a distance of one hundred miles. He brought back the stolen gun with him and stated that he had subsisted almost entirely on shell-fish and gum—a very inferior bill of fare, even for a convict.
The last days of the settlement were now drawing nigh. Lieutenant-Colonel Collins had never liked Port Phillip. He had pitched upon probably the worst spot upon its shores; and although he had sent out many exploring parties, these had performed their duties in so very perfunctory a manner that no practical good came of them. It is true that he was told of the existence of a large stream* at the head of the bay, but this he considered to be too far away from the entrance for the safety of such an establishment as his.
[* The Yarra]
Collins seems to have had an extreme dread of the natives, and they were reported to be very numerous and ferocious around the northern shores. The small body of troops at his command were scarcely sufficient to keep his unruly charges in check, and he deemed it too great a risk to venture further from the open sea, to a place where he would in all likelihood have a large body of black foes without his walls, to contend with, as well as the many white blackguards within.
Excessive prudence seems to have been a very noticeable feature of Collins's character. To us looking back over the past, and knowing what has been done by but poorly equipped later comers, his cautious conduct may be said to have amounted to timidity, and quite unworthy of the leader of a colonizing expedition.
Within a month after landing he was already seeking to quit Port Phillip. He had an idea that Van Diemen's Land would be superior both from a commercial and a military point of view. The following quotation from a despatch to Governor King clearly conveys his opinion of Port Phillip and at the same time shows what a bad prophet he was. He writes:—
'I am well aware that a removal hence must be attended with much difficulty and loss; but, upon every possible view of my situation, I do not see any advantage that could be thereby attained, nor that by staying here I can at all answer the intentions of the Government in sending hither a colonial establishment. The bay itself, when viewed in a commercial light, is wholly unfit for any such purpose, being situated in a deep and dangerous bight, between Cape Albany Otway* and Point Schanck, to enter which must ever require a well-manned and well-found ship, a leading wind, and a certain time of tide, for the ebb runs out at the rapid rate of from five to seven knots an hour, as was experienced by the store-ship. The Calcutta had fortunately a fair wind, and the tide of flood when she came in, and she experienced a very great in-draught, which had brought her during the night much nearer than she expected. With a gale of wind upon the coast, and well in between the two above-mentioned points, a ship would be in imminent risk of danger.'
[*Now Cape Otway.]
He writes further under date 14th November, 1803, to Lord Hobart, the Secretary of State, as follows:—
'I regret that I have not a better report to make to your lordship of the probable success of an expedition, equipped under your lordship's auspices with a liberality that inspired every one concerned in the undertaking with the most sanguine hopes of success. You may rest assured that what is possible shall be done by me to ensure it, if it should be Governor King's opinion that I am to remain here. I have suggested to that gentleman, in a private letter which I wrote to him, that Port Dalrymple, on the northern side of Van Diemen's Land, appears to possess those requisites for a settlement in which this very extensive harbour is so wholly deficient. Every day's experience convinces me that it cannot, nor ever will, be resorted to by speculative men. The boat that I sent to Port Jackson was three days lying at the mouth of the harbour before she could get out, owing to a swell occasioned by the wind meeting the strong tide of ebb. A ship would undoubtedly find less difficulty, but she must go out at the top of the tide and with a leading wind, which is not to be met with every day. When all the disadvantages attending this bay are publicly known, it cannot be supposed that commercial people will be very desirous of visiting Port Phillip.'
He was vested with discretionary power to remove the settlement, if he considered the site unfit, and he resolved to communicate with Governor King at Port Jackson, in order to find whether any port likely to be suitable for a colony had been discovered along the south coast of Australia.
It was, however, a difficult matter to convey his dispatch, as the Calcutta was wanted in the bay, and the transport Ocean, having completed her charter, could not be utilised without additional expense to the government.
In this emergency a cousin and namesake of the Lieutenant-Governor gallantly volunteered to make the voyage to Sydney in an open boat. His offer was gladly accepted, and he started, with a crew of six convicts, upon what turned out to be a most tempestuous and perilous voyage. After nine days' buffeting of wind and wave he and his plucky crew arrived within 60 miles of Sydney heads, when they were overtaken by the Ocean, which took them on board and carried them on to their destination. The despatches were duly delivered, and Governor King thus received the first intimation of the arrival of the expedition within the boundaries of his extensive dominions.
Governor King concurred with his coadjutor Collins, as to the advisability of removing the settlement to the island of Van Diemen's Land. Should the French attempt to form a colony in the neighbourhood he thought that they would more likely select that island than the mainland. He accordingly re-chartered the Ocean to assist Collins in the removal of his establishment across the water from Port Phillip, either to Port Dalrymple on the northern coast, or to Storm Bay on the southern coast, whichever he preferred.
The return of the Ocean on the 12th of December, with Governor King's reply was therefore gladly welcomed. The agreeable news brought by it was, however accompanied by the very disagreeable and disturbing intelligence, that war was again raging between England and France.
Captain Woodriff of the Calcutta, on learning this, resolved, with the true patriotism characteristic of a British sailor, to leave the colony, and bring his vessel within the fighting arena without any loss of time. Its departure, less than a week afterwards, somewhat inconvenienced the authorities of the settlement, and delayed arrangements for the removal; so that it was not till the end of January that the first shipload, consisting of one hundred and twenty convicts and twenty marines where taken on board the Ocean.
After sailing through Port Phillip Heads, it took her twenty days to reach the river Derwent, truly a very tardy voyage. She left again on March the 22nd, and did not arrive at Port Phillip till April 17th, a voyage of almost a month.
In three days the remainder of the establishment was embarked, and again sail was set. This time, owing to the very tempestuous weather prevailing, the voyage occupied the long period of thirty-five days, more than is now taken to steam half-way round the globe. The very elements seem to have protested against the abandonment of the settlement.
Thus the attempted colonisation of Victoria was finally relinquished by our colonel of marines and his recreant crew, and the native inhabitants were left for another generation to roam in the primeval solitudes of the pathless woods, or along the lonely beach of the sea-girt shore undisturbed by the unruly intrusion of the white invader.
THE FOUR ABSCONDERS—A GLIMPSE OF THE BLACKS—SUFFERINGS IN THE BUSH—SIGNALLING THE 'CALCUTTA'—BUCKLEY'S COMRADES LEAVE HIM.
HAVING seen the last of our first colonisers, we will now return and follow the footsteps of William Buckley. That worthy and his three companions kept close together, and made rapid progress in their flight through the bush. Fear lent them wings, and by the morning a considerable space had been placed between themselves and their late prison home. They then slackened their speed, feeling now very little apprehension of being pursued and retaken, as it was not customary for Governor Collins to prosecute a search to any such distance as they had by this time reached. However, to make assurance doubly sure they continued on till the shades of evening began to fall, when coming to a small creek they concealed themselves within a clump of tangled bushes, and lay down thoroughly fagged with their strenuous exertions.
They slumbered till daybreak. On awaking, they felt much refreshed, and relieved to find that they had not been disturbed during the night. They then unpacked their provisions, and ate a hearty breakfast. How to reach Sydney was the next question for consideration. Their instincts urged them to seek the haunts of fellow white men, and at Sydney they thought they would be able to mingle unobserved with the general population, and perhaps be enabled to earn a living as free men, or mayhap in time escape the country altogether and return to old England once more.
The creek on the bank of which they had slept now barred their progress. They travelled along it some distance, seeking a suitable crossing place, but could not find one. A number of natives suddenly appeared a little distance off, completely blocking the way and causing a fearful dread in the minds of the not over-courageous convicts. The blackfellows advancing towards them warily with spears poised and boomerangs ready for throwing, looked formidable indeed; but they were really as frightened of the unknown trespassers on their domains as our runaways were afraid of them, so that when Buckley discharged his gun they all made off with a terrified howl into the inner recesses of the woods.
Much relieved at this unexpected retreat of their black foes, the convicts determined to cross the creek without more ado. One of their number, however, had had enough of this perilous liberty, and refused to go any further. He therefore took the gun and began to retrace his steps. In spite of his faint-heartedness the others were not deterred. Buckley, being a splendid swimmer, stripped, and jumping into the water helped each of his companions over separately, and then returned for their clothes and the provisions.
A cumbrous iron pot or kettle which had been carried by the party all along was here thrown into the scrub, being no longer of any use to them, as they had eaten the provisions with which it had been filled, and they possessed no tea, that prime necessity to every true bushman nowadays. Buckley mentions in his autobiography that this pot was picked up thirty-two years after by a party of men who were clearing ground for agricultural purposes.
The creek crossed, their march was continued. By night time they were within a few miles of the present site of Melbourne. The Yarra was reached during the morning of the third day of their flight, and by the friendly aid of some fallen giant gums which had been caught by a natural bed of protruding rock they passed safely over to the other side.
The prospects of the party were now becoming ominous. Their original scanty stock of stolen provisions not having been supplemented by wild food of any kind, was by this time almost exhausted. Hunger stared them in the face, unless they could devise some means of obtaining sustenance.
They arrived at the foot of the You Yangs after a lengthy tramp over miles and miles of flat country. Here they ate the last morsels of their provisions.
They were now on the same footing as the native dweller of the soil, but without his experience in the art of providing for his daily wants.
Morning come, and they were assailed by the sharp pangs of hunger, but were without the wherewithal to satisfy them. Buckley proposed that they should make for the sea-shore, because to remain where they were meant certain death to all from starvation. Acting on his suggestion they turned their steps coastwards and reached the beach after a long and weary tramp. Here they found a few shell-fish which they devoured ravenously, and thus in a measure appeased their hunger.
Journeying on, they at length were fortunate enough to meet with a water hole, at which they quenched their thirst and then lay down beside it for the night.
Now their struggle for a merest existence began. They wandered despairingly along the shore, toilfully gathering such shell-fish as they could pick up on the sand or tear off the rocks, and now and then varying their diet with a crab or lobster, and supplementing these with gum which they found oozing from the trunks of trees.
This miserable and unwholesome fare soon injuriously affected their health, and they were forced by sheer exhaustion and pain, to halt for several days. When recovered a little, they resumed the march, on the way sighting several native camping-places, luckily deserted by their owners, much to the satisfaction of our runaways, for they were now less able than ever to cope with the savage native.
One morning they were surprised by discovering the white sails of the Calcutta, which was riding at anchor in the offing. They then knew that, instead of being on the road to Sydney, they had completely travelled round the bay to a point directly opposite the site of their old quarters.
Broken down as they were with their privations, they hailed the sight of the ship with wild exclamations of delight. If they could only get aboard the old ship again they would risk any punishment which might be inflicted upon them, rather than continue where they were, and suffer as they now suffered. To attract the attention of those on board they stripped off their tattered clothing, and waved it from branches of trees, the while gesticulating and shouting like madmen.
But it was of no avail; no one saw them. When evening came on they gathered a huge pile of timber and bushes, and made an enormous fire. But this had no better effect. Even if the blaze had been seen by the Calcutta people, they probably thought that the natives were the originators of it.
For several days they continued making the same signals, and at last were rewarded by seeing a boat put off from the ship's side and steer towards them, as they imagined. Deliverance then seemed so near that fear of the brutal punishment of the lash meted out to returned or recaptured absconders arose in their breasts, and nothing but the instant dread of death by starvation kept them from hiding themselves in the bush. However, this conflict of feeling did not last long, for the boat, after advancing some distance in their direction, turned its head towards the ship, and then both hope of rescue and fear of punishment vanished.
They continued signalling for a short time, but at length gave it up. Then, in desperation at their woeful predicament, Buckley's two companions signified their determination of retracing their steps around the bay, and surrendering themselves to the authorities. They argued that the lash of the taskmaster could not inflict greater suffering upon them than they were then enduring, and in the convict settlement they certainly had been served with a plentiful and regular supply of food, even if they had been compelled to work laboriously for it.
Buckley was earnestly urged to accompany them, but he obstinately repelled their entreaties, and said he would stay where he was, and risk any suffering and privation rather than surrender his liberty. The two men then reluctantly left him. Neither of them reached the settlement. They, no doubt, perished miserably in the bush, for they were never again heard of.
ALONE—SEES SIGNS OF THE NATIVES—RETREATS TO THE SHORE—DISCOVERED BY THE NATIVES—THEY TAKE HIM AWAY—ALONE ONCE MORE—TERRORS OF SOLITARY LIFE—RESOLVES TO GIVE HIMSELF UP—PERILS AND PRIVATIONS—TAKES SPEAR FROM NATIVE GRAVE—LIES DOWN TO DIE.
LEFT to himself we can imagine that Buckley's rejections were none of the happiest. Although not naturally of a social or a friendly disposition, yet he bitterly felt the loss of his companions in misfortune, and fain would have followed them, had not pride or stubbornness kept him back. Perhaps he thought they would return to him and urge him once more.
As the evening came on and melted into night he experienced a desolateness almost unbearable. The silent horror of his whole surroundings terrified and appalled him. Every moving shadow or gentle sigh of the breeze as it rustled through the branches of the overhanging trees, awakened within his mind an awful sense of his utter loneliness, and his distance from human help, at his own powerlessness, and a gloomy foreboding of the future.
Sleep he could not. Once or twice he fell into a sort of troubled slumber disturbed with dreams of his past life—every event of his fitful career obtruded itself upon him—his childhood's home, his disobedience of his parents' wishes, his old master the brick-layer, the recruiting sergeant, his soldier days when gallantly fighting his country's enemies; and so on to his disgrace, the convict ship, and the hard life at the settlement. All these passed vividly in succession before him as he lay there that night.
The rising sun at length told him that another day had broken. He got up and searched the beach in quest of shell-fish for breakfast.
After several days of mental prostration, during which he felt like one bereft of his reason, he somewhat recovered, and began to adapt himself to his new circumstances. Once more the old idea of reaching Sydney asserted itself, and he resumed his journey along the coast, still going however in a southerly direction, towards Cape Otway.
His movements for several days were accompanied by great privations, his staple article of diet being nothing better than shell-fish. Fresh water becoming scarce, he was forced to go a considerable distance inland to find some. Here he almost stumbled on an encampment of the dreaded natives, but he eluded them by swimming across a stream.
That night he had to sleep in his wet clothing, and awoke next morning suffering severe pains, and it was not till the day had well advanced that he was sufficiently recovered to be able to move about. To add to his discomfort a lighted piece of bark which he had carried with him was extinguished in the stream, and he had not the wherewithal to light a fire.
Another deserted camp again aroused his alarm but this time no natives appeared to be in the neighbourhood.
Thinking he would be safer on the shore, he made for it again, passing on his way a burning tree which had probably been set afire by the natives, where he obtained another torch. Here he also found some berries growing on a bush, and on taking his fill of them he felt much refreshed at such a welcome change in his diet.
For months this sort of life continued. Sometimes he had much ado to escape the watchful aborigines. At times starvation stared him in the face. On one occasion he was nearly drowned by the advancing ocean while he was asleep beneath the shelter of a huge rock.
At last he settled down to a listlessness born of despair, and instead of attempting his self-allotted journey, he wandered aimlessly to and fro within a radius of a few miles, with no other object than to procure his daily food. A low fever attacked him, and laid him prostrate for weeks. Luckily he happened at the time to be camped in a more sheltered spot than usual, having the protection of several shelving rocks around and above him, and a plentiful supply of fresh water trickling from a spring at a short distance off.
The fever gradually wore off. But he kept to the place, as it was the best he had come across in his wanderings.
Buckley called this nook his 'Sea-beach Home.' The place was to him what the fertile oasis in the desert is to the wandering Arab. He was there well provided with food, for besides having an abundant supply of shell-fish lying about on the rocky shore, there grew over the cliff a creeping plant, which in season, offered him numerous water-melons of a luscious taste, and there were also bushes in the neighbourhood which produced currants, both black and white. Faring daily on this variety of food, he continued to dwell there content with his lonely lot, or, at least, in a not unhappy apathetic condition.
At length the even tenor of his Robinson Crusoe-like life was rudely disturbed. Solitude had engendered a brooding habit, and in this he was one day indulging, and gazing in a meditative mood out to sea, taking little heed of the sights or sounds around him, except, perhaps, the ripple of the wavelets over the low rocks and shingly beach at his feet, when the sound of human voices broke on his ear and startled him from his reverie.
Standing up and turning quickly round he beheld three blackfellows on the cliff directly over him. A sudden impulse led him to hide himself, and he darted precipitately into a deep fissure between the rocks. Never perhaps had the slow-going Buckley moved with such celerity, and he fervently hoped, and half believed, he had escaped observation by the blacks. He was, however, soon bitterly disappointed. Bounding lightly down from rock to rock, they were in a few moments at the narrow opening, in the deepest recess of which he was crouched, and by shouting and beckonings they so worked upon his fears, that he thought it would be good discretion to creep out and stand before them.
The natives seemed wonder-stricken at beholding him. No doubt Buckley was the first white man they had viewed so closely, or, perhaps, ever seen at all. They examined him curiously, opening his shirt to see whether all of his body was white, and, uttering the while a sort of whine, caught hold of both his arms, and pulled here and there at his tattered garments. The scrutiny was after a few minutes completed by their striking their own breasts several times, and then that of their captive, who, still trembling from the first shock, thought their strange behaviour must be the prelude to some personal injury.
None of the three blackfellows were of very powerful build. Their limbs, from the elbows and the knees, tapered off towards the extremities, more than is the case with the average white man. However, they were wonderfully agile in appearance, and, moreover, carried spears of portentous length, which Buckley eyed with fear, for had they made a target of his massive frame, his naturally gigantic strength would have availed little. Over their fairly proportioned shoulders each wore a cloak of furred skin, the fur inside next the body. This garment reached almost to the knees.
When the astonishment of the trio had somewhat subsided, they made an inspection of the rough shelter-hut which the lonely man had constructed, and after a time one of them, without any apology for the liberty he was taking with another man's property, used some of the material in making a roaring fire. Another threw off his only garment, and waded to some rocks a short distance off shore, and soon returned with a good-sized lobster, which he threw alive into the flames.
When it was roasted to his own satisfaction, he broke it in four portions, and generously gave the largest and best to Buckley, who felt greatly relieved in his mind by this evidence of hospitality. He had hitherto fancied that the first act of the savage natives on getting hold of him, would be to kill him for the purpose of banqueting upon the daintiest portions of his huge body. The lobster was eaten ravenously to the last morsel, and then the natives made signs to Buckley that he must go away with them. He was scarcely yet free from misgivings as to their intentions, and held out some time before he would understand their signs.
At last he was led quietly around the cliff and into the bush under their vigilant guidance until dusk, when they all halted beside two very rudely constructed bark and turf shelters. These were the mia-mias of the natives, and consisted merely of three stems stuck in the ground and inclined so as to support a few slabs of bark, which, with one end on the ground, leaned a contrary way so as to rest on the tree stems, the interstices between the bark slabs being filled up with tufts of grass. They were entirely open on one side, and of about sufficient height to allow a native to sit in them but not to stand, and the depth of each was just enough to afford shelter to a couple of natives lying side by side at full length.
The party divided and went to rest in these primitive habitations. Buckley, whose position was next the bark, was rather cramped by his bed-fellow, who was altogether an extremely offensive individual to pass the night with in such close quarters. Dirt and grease, with which he was bedaubed, increased the disagreeable odour natural to his black skin, and he kept awake throughout the night, muttering to himself as if in fear of some enemy; or was it the nightmare, brought on by an undigested portion of the lobster he had digested some hours before? This wakefulness prevented Buckley from slipping away as he intended to do in the darkness of the night; but at dawn when the natives wished to resume the march, he put his foot down against going any further.
The blacks on this had some warm wranglings between themselves, and much violent gesticulations with their obstinate captive; but finally the victory remained with Buckley. They consented to leave him, but signified that they wished to have his tattered socks, probably as a pledge or maybe a souvenir. Luckily for him that he had Australian blacks to deal with. Had he been in the hands of the wild Red-men they might have insisted on taking a lock of his hair, with a goodly portion of his scalp attached. However, Buckley would not take the socks off, and although the blackfellows stamped their feet, struck their breasts, and looked disappointed and fierce, still he was obdurate. His determined opposition was in this instance also a complete success, for presently they went away. After several minutes one of them came back bringing with him a rush basket full of berries, which he offered in exchange for the much coveted convict hose. But Buckley, who, as we have seen more than once, could be very resolute at times, kept to his first determination, and the black, seeing that he could not gain his object, departed, leaving the basket of berries in the mia-mia.
This basket was a skilfully contrived article; the rushes of which it was made having been split and ingeniously entwined so as to make a small open basket of neat appearance. The berries, most likely the native cherry, were fresh and wet with the morning dew, and made a very acceptable breakfast to our unsocial and friendless wanderer.
Buckley waited a few hours, and finding himself again quite alone, made off as fast as he could towards the coast. He reached a spot where the sea beat violently upon a rocky and shingly beach. A short distance out were several seals, some sporting about, some sleeping on a cluster of rocks. He trudged along the sea-shore, and as the day drew to a close he looked about in vain for a supper, and then regretfully bethought him of the previous day's repast with the natives. He decided to return to them and started off in search of them, but lost his way in the endeavour, and went hungry to bed that night within the hollow trunk of an old gum tree.
During the day he had picked up a fire-stick—a torch of bark about two feet long, commonly carried by the native women from one camping place to another in order to ignite the domestic fire. With this Buckley lighted a fire in front of his natural bedroom, for the weather was chilly. The blaze attracted a number of wild dogs, opossums, and native bears, and the horrid howls of the one mingling with the shrill childlike cries of the others, kept the highly wrought man in a tremulously nervous state. Only once throughout that blood-curdling night did he peer into the darkness, and then, seeing nothing around him but the phantom-like trees, he turned his head and tried to shut out the hideous noises which seemed as a weird chorus in which he was the central figure, with invisible forms flitting everywhere above him and around him.
Towards morn the fire had burned low, and he cared not to venture out from his shelter to replenish it. A fitful slumber consequent on his thorough exhaustion from his long watching came over him, but it did not last long. Suddenly a hideous noise from the overhanging branch of a tree close by broke forth on the crisp morning air, and awoke him with a terrified stare. Gazing upwards in his fright he descried a number of brown sombre-looking birds rather larger than a pigeon, with clumsy heavy bodies and disproportionately large heads. Their widely distended beaks gave forth the unearthly combination of chuckle, hoot, and bray, which had aroused him from his sleep. The birds, to his imagination, seemed to be jeering at him, as just before each outburst they looked at him curiously and knowingly, with their heads slightly bent as if intent on peering into his very marrow. They were laughing jackass birds which have a delightful habit of arousing with their fiendish cachinnation just before sunrise, all lie-a-beds, human or feathered. Presently the other birds in the forest took up the strain, and the whole air was filled with the warblings and chatterings of thousands of the feathered race inhabiting the neighbourhood, and thus was heralded in the birth of another day.
As soon as the sun shed sufficient light, Buckley again essayed to track the natives, but ere the day was out he was completely bewildered by the labyrinth of gums and similar trees, and the general sameness of the landscape which has not unfrequently been noticed by later travellers. Consequently, for several days, he rambled distractedly through a thick bush, finding no food, and only occasionally getting any water. Every night he was visited with the same seemingly unearthly noises which had banished sleep when first heard. A man of average strength would, under such circumstances, have been completely tired out and unable to move; the giant Buckley, however, although gradually becoming more dazed, continued in a dreamy manner to wander here and there, sometimes obtaining a few roots or berries with which to stay the gnawings of his empty stomach.
At length he came to a large lake* at a spot where ducks, black swans, and other wild fowl in great numbers swam, dived, and hovered about its surface. In their very live condition they were a very tantalizing eye-sore to the hungry, helpless, and hopeless wanderer. He noticed that a stream of considerable size ran out of the lake, and believing that it emptied itself into the ocean, on the shores of which he would surely come across some creatures of a catchable kind, such as lobsters, mussels, and other shell-fish, he dragged his weary way along the river's bank and ultimately arrived at the beach, near to the place from which he had seen the seals gliding off the slippery rocks.
[*Probably Lake Connewarre.]
Somewhat cheered at recognizing the spot after the perplexities of his struggle through the bush mazes, he made another endeavour to reach the native huts. This time his efforts were successful, and lying down in one of them he indulged himself in a long, and much needed, refreshing sleep. On waking, he went out and picked handfuls of berries of the kind the natives had left him, and these sustained him for several days. His next movements took him back to his 'Sea-beach Home,' where he again settled down for a long period.
Winter came again, and the weather grew so inclement that the bleak beach became a miserable dwelling-place. As the cold increased, his chief food, shell-fish, became more and more difficult to find, and he began to think he had eaten out the neighbourhood. His clothes, too, after their long and rough services were worn to shreds, and afforded him hardly any warmth. The accumulating weight of these hardships was too much for the animal spirits of Buckley. His long sojourn in the bush by himself at last told terribly upon him, and completely cowed his stubborn nature. He longed for a change. Anything would be better than his present position. He therefore determined, like the prodigal son in the parable, to arise and go unto his legal keepers, and once more endure the thraldom of the convict settlement. With this intention he set off, bitterly regretting that he had not done so many months ago, when his more sensible companions had made up their minds to return.
One evening, when worn out with many days' trudging on the sands, he found himself hemmed in by the inflowing tide against an almost perpendicular rise of rock. To escape a watery grave he clambered into a large cavern just above high water mark, and was about to seek repose there for the night, when several seals or seal-elephants came splashing, snorting, sprawling in at the opening of his retreat. Being a close prisoner till the sea should go down he was horrified at their arrival. Fear caused him to spring up and utter a wild yell, and in so doing he struck terror into the slimy invading monsters. Scrambling one over the other they tumbled back again into their native element, leaving Buckley an easy victor, and sole possessor of their rocky lair. They did not again disturb him during the night, and when the tide receded next morning he resumed his return journey.
He made but little progress. His strength was failing fast, and he could keep up for only very short stages. After several days he got back to the river in which his first fire-stick had been extinguished, and on its banks he dragged himself into a thick scrub.
Here he constructed a rude shelter to protect himself in a measure from the icy coldness which severely affected him, and then he went to sleep. Waking early in the morning his eyes lighted on a mound of earth with part of a native's spear stuck upright on top of it. He was in want of a strong staff to support his enfeebled body, and, therefore, feeling no compunctions in desecrating the grave, if indeed he knew at the time that it was a grave, he appropriated the spear. This spear subsequently proved a veritable staff of life to him, as we shall see later on.
Next day he nearly lost his life in crossing the river, which was running with a swift and flooded current. He was carried some way down stream, but by good fortune an eddy or cross current drew him near enough to the oppose bank to enable him to clutch an overhanging branch, and with its assistance he struggled out. After these great exertions, so exhausted was he, that it was with the utmost difficulty he managed to crawl on his hands and knees to the shelter of a few bushes, where, bitterly cold and miserable, he lay down and passed a most wretched night.
He felt that his last hours had now surely come. The dismal dingoes' horrible howls in the surrounding darkness, awakened anew in his breast the old superstition common all over England, that a dog's howling always forebodes death; and he felt that it could be none other than he who would now be the victim of the grim and gaunt messenger of eternity.
But when morning broke, the instinct of self-preservation asserted itself, and he determined to postpone for a day at least the feast which the dogs seemed to presage they would have on his carcase. He hobbled about from tree to tree picking gum bit by bit, and eating it as he went. However, the exertion soon became too much for him, and he was presently forced to abandon his search for food and sink to the ground at the foot of a large Eucalyptus. In blank despair he lay there, he knew not how long, awaiting death to end his sufferings. With his spear clutched convulsively in one hand, he at length swooned away.
SAVED FROM DEATH—JUMP UP, WHITE-FELLOW—PERSONAL APPEARANCE OF HIS NEW FRIENDS—THEIR ECCENTRIC BEHAVIOUR—THE BLACK ENCAMPMENT—A TRIBAL JOLLIFICATION—PRIMITIVE ANGLERS—'POSSUM HUNTING—CLAIMED AS A RELATIVE—PRESENTED WITH NATIVE GARMENTS.
ALTHOUGH hope was gone, help was close at hand. While he was thus lying there, the sharp eyes of two dusky daughters of the forest perceived him, and, with the truly universal curiosity of their sex, approached closer to get a better view. It is not surprising that they were greatly astonished, if not alarmed, when the closer inspection revealed to their gaze a man different from any they had ever beheld. To convey to their husbands the intelligence that they had discovered a monstrous man with white features and limbs, did not take them long, and very soon those worthies returned with their better, and uglier, halves to the spot where the object of their discovery lay prostrate.
With a caution quite natural, although there were four to one, they surrounded him. Then, seeing that he was utterly helpless and bearing the marks of long privation, they summoned up sufficient courage to touch him. This aroused Buckley from his stupor, and he struggled into a sitting posture with the help of the spear, which had all this time been clutched by him as a dying man clutches a straw.
As he gazed in a dazed sort of a way at them, he looked like one just arisen from the dead. And this idea seems to have taken hold of the minds of his black discoverers, for these simple-minded children of nature, on seeing the familiar spear in his hand, thought they recognised in Buckley the re-embodied ghost of a departed warrior belonging to a neighbouring and friendly tribe, at whose burial they had only lately assisted. According to aboriginal theology, the spirit of the late lamented man ought to be still hovering around. It was also an article of popular belief that the black-fellow after death jumped up white-fellow, and here, truly, was a case in confirmation. *
[* "They have a belief that when they die, they go to some
place or other and are there made white men, and that they then return
to this world for another existence. They think all the white people
previous to death belonged to their own tribes. In cases where they
have killed white men, it has generally been because they imagined them
to have been originally enemies, or belonging to tribes with whom they
were hostile. In accordance with this belief, they fancied me to be one
of their tribe who had been recently killed in a fight, in which his
daughters had been killed also."
Some observant writers on the aborigines dispute this. They aver that it is a modern notion derived from intercourse with the whites since the first settlement of Port Jackson in 1788. Other reliable authorities hold with the statement here quoted from Buckley's autobiography.
The belief or idea probably is a very old one, at least among the tribes whose territory bordered on the sea coast. It may have taken its rise from the fact of white men occasionally landing. The blacks, not knowing how to account for their appearance from the illimitable ocean, settled the matter by inventing as an explanation the legend expressed in the words: "Go down black-fellow, jump up white-fellow."]
They laid hold of the worn-out Buckley by the arms, and, after greeting him with friendly thumps on the chest, managed to set him on his feet. Then the women got one on each side and helped him along, while the men marched on ahead shouting, making hideous noises, and wildly tearing their hair, and behaving in a very extraordinary, not to say extravagant, manner generally. Whether these gesticulations and outcries denoted joy or sorrow, Buckley does not say.
They proceeded thus for a short distance and came to a couple of mia-mias where the women obtained a bowl or calabash, a rough sort of basin made by the natives out of the knotty excrescence of a tree by the aid of fire and a flint stone, and into it put gum and water which they mixed into a pulp and offered to the almost expiring Buckley, who devoured the mixture eagerly. Next they gave him some large fat grubs, which the women procured at the roots of trees and underneath decayed logs. These grubs completed his meal, and such was his famishing condition at the time that he thought them delicious, and a luxury equal to the sweetest marrow he had ever tasted. The meal ended, Buckley felt greatly revived, although still very weak.
Notwithstanding the hospitality shown to him, he had no confidence in a continuance of the good offices of his black benefactors, and would have left them had he been able.
He did not like their looks. Certainly they were not beauties. More foreboding countenances could scarcely be imagined. The nose was flat, with widely distended nostrils, and had through its septum, as an effort at ornamentation, a short stick or reed, which certainly did not add to their attractiveness in Buckley's eyes. Their mouths were large and cavernous, with hanging heavy thick lips; below these a large underjaw denoted great strength, very necessary for the tearing asunder and mastication of the coarse food they had to subsist on, their teeth performing many offices which civilized people delegate to knives and forks. Remarkably quick eyes, sunken afar back and overhung by bushy brows, bespoke a watchful and suspicious, if not a treacherous, nature. Retreating foreheads and high cheekbones completed the delineation of their features. Surmounting all was a luxuriant growth of jet black hair on the head of both men and women, and rather longer on the latter. Both men had thick shaggy beards, and on shoulders and chest the hair also grew strong and thick. Each had a band made of bark fibres wound round the head, either for ornament or to keep the hair within bounds. Their faces might be described as speaking faces; every mood was reflected in them as in a mirror. In repose they bore a very sullen, not to say morose, aspect, but when interested in anything this completely vanished, and in its place a most animated and bright expression revealed to the onlooker that the blacks had within them considerable vivacity and nerve.
They could not boast of extravagance as regards dress. The women's attire was bunches of feathers tied with a bark cord at the waist, and hanging around the loins in form of a skirt somewhat shorter than that of a stage fairy; while the men were content with wearing strips of furred skin depending about 12 inches before and behind from a skin belt.
Both sexes had slim limbs and walked pigeon-toed, but with a graceful and an active step. The bodies, it might also be mentioned, were plentifully bedaubed with the fat of some animal; this probably served a utilitarian as well as an ornamental purpose, for the greasy coating must, in a measure, have warded off the inclemencies of the weather from their otherwise almost bare skins.
During the night Buckley was continually disturbed by the moans of the women, who seemed to him to be lamenting deeply over something that had happened. Next morning he observed that their faces and limbs were frightfully lacerated. Their natural ugliness had been largely augmented by the wounds from which blood was flowing freely. It was a frightfully sickening sight to him, and made him still more eager to quit such undesirable company. If, thought he, they could thus inflict such pain or torture upon themselves without any apparent reason, what might they not do to him should they choose to consider him as enemy.
Early next day the men by signs told Buckley they were going a journey on which he must accompany them. The start was soon afterwards made, the men in front with Buckley in the middle between them, the women, carrying the baggage, following at a little distance. The blacks were all watchful that their captive should not escape them, and marched along in silence until a river (now called the Barwon) was reached. After a while they forded the river, and on the other side of it entered on a marshy plain, where Buckley, to his great dismay, detected the forms of numbers of natives moving about among the scrub. On seeing him and his captors, whom they evidently expected, fully one hundred natives emerged and steered towards them. Presently Buckley, quivering from head to foot with anxiety for his future safety, was closely regarded by their enquiring and interested looks, while his rescuers told with a great deal of volubility the story of their wonderful discovery.
This introduction to the tribe was a trying ordeal to the runaway convict, but at length his fears were in a measure allayed when he noticed that no blood-thirsty passions seemed to be awakened in their black breasts by the recital. He was soon conducted to the native encampment. This was on a rising ground, and consisted of a number of rude bark-and-bough dwellings, built in similar manner to those already described in which he had previously lodged. Besides these, there were other shelters in the camp which gave no protection at all on top, they were merely boughs and bark heaped up to a yard or so in height to form a screen or shelter of a semicircular form, and might properly be described as 'break winds,' for they were nothing more. Before each of these primitive structures was a little fire, notwithstanding that the day was rather warm, for the aborigines were partial to heat, and also never neglected to keep the domestic cinders in readiness for a chance broil.
Buckley's first friends in the tribe made signs for him to be seated, but being still distrustful he kept standing in order that he might the better watch the movements of the others, and guard against any treachery. While thus on the qui vive, he witnessed a disturbance among some of the women who had gone to the marsh to dig for roots. In this occupation they used poles about five feet long, which were burnt to a hard round point at one end. These implements, so necessary in pulling up tubers, were now diverted from their proper and peaceful purpose and used as weapons—and dangerous ones too—in an all round fight that had begun in a squabble about dividing the roots. The men, however, did not allow the combat to continue, but rushing to the spot soon stopped the fray in no gentle manner, and drove their quarrelling mates to their respective mia-mias. The roots collected were directly afterwards thrown on the smouldering ashes of the several fires, and taken off to be eaten when they were warmed not quite through.
Buckley was regaled with this food and found it very palatable, resembling a sweet carrot, as near as he could tell. It was the first cooked vegetable food he had tasted since he had run away from the settlement so many months ago. He ravenously ate his fill notwithstanding his latent fears, and his black benefactors deemed highly gratified at his doing so well.
When he could eat no more, the whole tribe gathered around him and began to manifest signs of great excitement. He could not understand whether sorrow or joy was the cause of it. Perhaps it might be described as extravagant joy at recovering him whom they thought to be dead and lost to them for ever, coupled with intense sorrow for the awful and unknown suffering he must have undergone, in that bourne whence no traveller is supposed to return.
Their feelings, congratulatory and condolatory, were expressed in savage fashion by what might be called the ceremony of self-infliction. The men wildly beat their breasts, and hammered their heads with heavy clubs, the violent genuineness of their grief being made evident by the loud thuds which were very clearly audible. The women gave vent to their feelings by demoniacal shrieks, and by each pulling out her own hair in handfuls, and by other equally mad actions. These striking demonstrations were mingled with moanings and bewailings and were continued for some time, even until many seemed quite giddy and dazed with the blows and injuries which they had inflicted upon themselves.
At length, much to Buckley's mental comfort, the ceremony ended, and the participators in it, much the worse for the performance, dispersed, and sought retirement in the shade of their rude shelters, where they soon were engaged in recouping and refreshing themselves with roasted roots. Buckley was left with the people who had discovered him, and the whole tribe settled down into a state of domestic quietude.
Towards evening, however, the peaceful scene was again changed, and a great deal of bustling and hurrying to and fro told the apprehensive Buckley of preparations for something on a large scale, probably, he thought, the carrying out of one of their savage customs in which he would be the central figure; perhaps they were going to offer him as a sacrifice to some blood-thirsty deity; perhaps they would now change their vegetarian diet of the day and regale themselves with roast Englishman for supper.
The young people of both sexes busied themselves in gathering together broken wood and bark into a huge heap. When the darkness of night had settled over the camp, this pile was lighted, and soon flared up into an enormous bonfire. Buckley, on seeing this, withdrew and ensconced himself in his friend's mia-mia; but his two custodians followed him into his retreat, and led him forth towards the blazing mass accompanied by all the women of the tribe. In trembling suspense, for he half believed the hour for roasting him had now come, he intently watched every movement around him. The women then seated themselves by the flaring pile, and its bright glare revealed to him that they were innocent of any kind of clothing, though each one had a furred skin or small rug rolled up in her hand. Presently from the surrounding darkness outside the environs of the camp, came the men carrying clubs about two feet long, and with pipeclay plentifully bedaubed over their naked bodies. On some the pipeclay was only smeared here and there so as almost to cover their black skins; but others were 'got up' quite artistically—round the eyes, down each cheek, along the nose, and so on to points meeting at the chin; other streaks again ran fantastically over the body and down each leg. The runaway convict could not have been more horrified had a number of skeletons suddenly sprung up in front of him.
The women, at the approach of their lords, stretched the rugs, skin side up, tight across their knees, and thus improvised a sort of drum. One of the old men sat himself in front and led them in chanting and playing a monotonous kind of music, in which the men joined by knocking their clubs one against the other in time with the singing. The ears of Buckley, just from the quietude of his lonely life, were not yet adapted to catch the air of such wild strains, and, instead of appreciating the ensemble, he considered it to be a frightful din. By-and-bye the master of the drum and voice band, took upon himself to conduct the whole of the ceremonies, and at his pleasure, and with seeming ease and an air of authority, kept the entire mob of men, women, boys, and girls, playing, dancing, and marching backwards and forwards for fully three hours, in a manner that would have satisfied the most fastidious admirer of a theatrical corps de ballet. The culmination of this wild fantastical display of leg, arm, and lung power, was reached by the actors in it giving three tremendous shouts and simultaneously raising their clubs towards the heavens. They then rushed towards Buckley and surrounded him, beating their breasts the while, apparently as a token of friendliness.
These agreeable greetings both surprised and relieved the helpless white man, and made him feel much safer than he had previously felt, and, moreover, engendered some thoughts of gratitude towards those who had discovered him and rescued him from his desolateness and slow starvation.
The company now separated and went towards their several mia-mias, leaving him with his four friendly guardians, who soon followed their example. He ate of more roots which they handed him, and then sought slumber on some dried twigs and grass which were laid for him in a sheltered spot. Very necessary repose soon settled on him, and the morning was well advanced ere he awoke, very much refreshed in body and reassured in mind.
No traces of the previous night's orgie could he detect. All was as calm as anyone could wish, each man and woman being engaged in some peaceful pursuit. One of his custodians was sent off early in the day with a message to a neighbouring tribe on business connected with himself, so he was given to understand by their signs. The other strolled with Buckley down to the river side where some of the men were engaged in fishing.
It would have done our old friend the gentle Isaac Walton good to have seen the adroitness with which they handled their very rude appliances, for luring to destruction the finny inhabitants of the water. The bait they used was large earth worms, which were strung on pieces of long grass fixed at the end of a length of elastic bark. This primitive line was tied to a rough rod and dropped into the stream; the want of a hook being made up for by the dexterity of the aboriginal angler, who, when he had a good bite, jerked the line adroitly on the bank, and as the fish generally kept a tenacious hold for a moment, it was almost always successfully landed. Shortly afterwards Buckley saw the natives fishing for eels at night, with the aid of a torch to attract the fish, and the haul then made was larger than any he witnessed during daytime. On the present occasion several fine specimens were captured, and portions of these, after being cooked on the embers of his companion's domestic fire, supplied Buckley with a most delicious repast.
All the blacks he now came across evinced good feeling towards him, and he on his part endeavoured to keep up the friendly relationship and make himself useful to them. In this spirit he gallantly assisted the women in fetching water, carrying wood, and in other ways domestic—proceedings which, no doubt, surprised the whole camp, and might even have shaken their belief in his being their quondam associate, for it was very exceptional to see one of the male sex employed in such drudgery. The aboriginal 'lords of creation' usually expended their energies during peaceful periods in 'pot hunting,' and this, owing to the bounty of nature in the district where Buckley was placed, was not an arduous occupation. The principal diet provided by the hunters at this time was the flesh of the opossum. It was substantial, though tough and only half cooked, but these being the only 'square meals' he had partaken of, except fish and tree-grubs, since running away from his prison home, he relished them exceedingly.
Numbers of the animal that afforded Buckley such gustatory gratification had their abode in the branches of some large trees which grew by the river side. In shape, they reminded him of a large cat, and, indeed, the resemblance is a good one in many respects, only that the tail of an opossum is longer and thicker, and is often used by its owner to catch at a branch and hang by, whereas the swinging of poor puss would cause her considerable pain.
One morning Buckley stole away to the river for the purpose of having a bath and a swim in private, but his black friends missed him and were soon on his heels. In returning he saw, for the first time, a native after an opossum. The animal was hidden in a hollow high up in a gum tree, their usual place of daily ensconcement, and the huge trunk was marked with many small scratches made at different times, by various animals in going up and coming down. But the sharp-eyed black-fellow at once detected some very recent ascending claw-marks. These were a sufficient guide for him, and with a stone hatchet in one hand he essayed to reach the animal's lofty retreat.
First he cut in the bark of the tree at about a yard from the ground a notch, in which he put his big toe, and pulled himself up; then, after making a second notch, he lifted himself up further in a similar way; a third time he did the same, and so on again and again, embracing the tree with one arm, while with the other he wielded his primitive hatchet, and made notches to receive the ball of his big toe, on which he rested and mounted until he had climbed the great long straight trunk and was on a level with the opossum. Then he examined the decayed branches and other portions near him, and seeming satisfied that his prey was inside at the bottom of a hollow, he quickly chopped through the bark and wood; and sure enough brought to light a blinking opossum, holding it by the tail, and before it could bite or scratch him had bashed its head against the tree, and then flung the stunned animal from the giddy height to the ground.
While Buckley was wholly engrossed in the doings of the agile black-fellow up the tree, a slight commotion was occasioned among his companions by the return of the messenger, whom we have said was sent out on the day after Buckley's arrival among them. He was accompanied by a strange native, who, it turned out, was the bearer of an invitation from the tribe visited. The whole of Buckley's friends therefore left their mia-mias, and after travelling a few miles came up to the other tribe. It was the tribe to which had belonged the fallen warrior whose spear Buckley had appropriated.
The object of the meeting was soon completed. Buckley was given over to the strangers to take up the position occupied in the tribe by his supposed predecessor when in the flesh. A man, a woman, and a youth, claimed relationship as a brother, sister-in-law, and nephew, respectively, and took him under their special charge. Everybody seemed friendly, and amid the general rejoicing which ensued Buckley was led up to the family mia-mia, where the fatted calf, or rather opossum, was roasted.
Like the prodigal in the parable, Buckley was also provided with soft raiment, to wit, an opossum rug or cloak. He was highly gratified in receiving it at their hands, and its warm fur made him feel quite comfortable. He noticed that many other of the cloaks worn in the camp were each of a single kangaroo hide, with the portion that had covered the animal's hind legs brought over the wearer's left shoulder, and fastened with a bone pin. Such cloaks were far inferior to his handsome and richly-tinted furred one, and being more easy to make, were more numerous.
In manufacturing the opossum-skin cloaks, the natives displayed a good deal of skill and also patience, for the collecting together of the number of small skins requisite in a comfortable cloak took some time. When stripped from the carcasses, the skins were freed from all hanging bits of flesh by cutting and scraping with shells and sharp stones, and then laid out to dry, either pegged on the ground in the sun, or stretched on pieces of bark before the ordinary fire. Preparatory to sewing them together, lines were scratched across each skin to make it more pliable. A fish-bone, deftly handled as an awl, served the aboriginal tailor or tailoress in place of a needle, and the thread used was generally the sinews of the tail of the kangaroo, which were always carefully drawn out and dried for such use whenever that animal was killed. The finishing touches to the cloak were given by daubing the inside with red-ochre.
It might be mentioned en passant that the opossum skin after being clipped and coloured makes at the present day a valuable commercial commodity, mantles made up of it being largely sold as imitation seal-skin. And further, that kangaroo-tail sinews are preferred to the finest silken threads by the leading English surgeons.
Buckley wore the extremely welcome gift á la mode d'aborigènes—fastened at the neck and drawn with thongs so as to leave the right arm free for action. Attired thus, he, no doubt, looked very imposing, if not the beau ideal of a savage chief. Not to be outdone in generosity he reciprocated by throwing his own threadbare convict-jacket over the shoulders of his black sister-in-law. The fact of it being almost as full of holes as a colander did not prevent the dusky Venus from showing that she was highly delighted at receiving it. And the others manifested almost as much pleasure at witnessing this first evidence of friendliness on Buckley's part.
THE TWO TRIBES—NATIVE BATTLE—WOMAN SLAIN—BURNING THE CORPSE—HUNTING THE KANGAROO—THE WILD TURKEY AND THE EMU—NATIVE WEAPONS.
BUCKLEY now recognised that his lot was thrown in with the natives, if not for the remainder of his natural life, at any rate for an indefinite period, and he therefore determined in his mind to propitiate them as much as lay in his power, to become as one of them, and in so doing gain the confidence of all.
The tribe that had brought Buckley to his supposed kinsmen next proceeded to erect some temporary shelters, having apparently decided to make the visit last over the night. Each head of a family got the material for his mia-mia by first finding a tree with bark on it suitable for his purpose; then by the aid of his rude stone tomahawk he deftly stripped the tree of its covering, and soon had the wherewithal to build a temporary home for himself and domestic belongings.
The two tribes, following the usual precautionary custom of the natives of not camping together promiscuously, had formed themselves into separate groups some thirty or forty yards apart at nearest points.
The night passed peacefully. But very early next morning a great tumult aroused Buckley from a sweet dream of peace, and he found to his great surprise that both sides were at violent loggerheads. The tremendous blustering grew hotter and hotter until at length it vented itself in more active hostilities. On seeing the turn affairs had taken, Buckley's new relatives, with careful solicitude for his safety, withdrew with him to an eminence a short distance off. Here he had a good view of everything that happened.
The belligerents on both sides rushed for every available shelter behind shrub and tree, and from their cover glared hatefully, threatened loudly, and awaited an opportunity to do execution with their spears. Presently, as the tension increased, the threatenings ceased, and almost a silence prevailed as each party cautiously sought to draw the other from its vantage ground. At length a spear was thrown, and this was the signal for a general engagement. They all came out of cover, and for a few minutes the spears literally darkened the air, so quickly were they hurled from one side to the other. Never did Buckley see so much lissomness displayed in any battle he had been in. Every spear, so accurately was it thrown, seemed to make for its mark with a deadly certainty; but yet no one was touched, so keen was the perception and judgment of time on the part of all of the combatants. How they could avoid being hit and at the same time carry on activities, he could not understand. The way each one dodged the weapon of his opponent by nimbly jumping aside, or warding it off with the narrow shield of thin wood or bark carried in his left hand, was simply marvellous.
This continued for about half an hour, neither side appearing to get the best of the other, till a well-aimed spear struck a man belonging to Buckley's new tribe in the thigh and remained embedded in it. He fell to the ground, and was dragged into the scrub by one of his friends. A woman was next hit, the weapon striking her under the upraised arm, and killing her instantaneously.
The spear-throwing then ceased; and the side which considered it had gained the victory, rent the air with a hoarse shout, and closed in upon its opponents, club in hand. But the battle was now practically over. A few red-hot members banged each other over their tough heads, but did not do much harm beyond cracking a skull or two, and raising several hard lumps. The others soon interposed and stopped these fiery combatants, and peace once more smiled upon the scene.
Both sides then went their several ways, leaving only about twenty of Buckley's party in possession of the field. The wounded man now had the spear drawn out of his leg, and did not appear much the worse for the mishap, although to Buckley such a wound would seem serious enough to entitle a man to at least a few weeks in a hospital to recover.
The company now collected together a quantity of wood and bark, and heaped it up into a pile. On this they placed the corpse of the woman who had been slain in the fray. They then applied a fire-stick to it and set the whole mass into flames. When the body was sufficiently cremated, they raked the embers of the fire together over what remained of the dead body; then into the mound thus formed they stuck upright the long digging stick with which the deceased used to dig up the roots. No ceremony was performed over the grave, and not the slightest display of feeling was manifested by any of the males, although the women uttered a low mournful wail, but this did not last any time. She was only a woman, and, as among all savage tribes, was not considered of much importance in the body politic. Had a man been killed, the mourning would have been considerable, the whole welkin would have rung with their howls of lamentation.
Soon afterwards the remaining blacks took their departure, leaving there only Buckley's supposed relatives and another family. The ex-convict felt some satisfaction on being left with only these two small families, as his very recent experience of large numbers was to him not at all conducive to a peaceful frame of mind. If their conduct on that occasion was their usual style of expressing a neighbourly feeling, he would greatly prefer to live in seclusion with a single family, than with a tribe that was on visiting terms with any others.
He felt his own weakness in his new surroundings, notwithstanding his being a member of a superior race and trained to the use of arms. He feared that should he become involved in one of their quarrels he would stand but a poor chance against the rapidly and skilfully-thrown spear of a native warrior. His burly and slow-moving body would be a better mark than any afforded by his black companions. In a hand to hand fight with musket and bayonet he could have taken a dozen of them armed likewise; but with their weapons, or against their weapons, he could never hope to do anything either as an aggressor or in defence.
The two families now removed further into the bush, and erected their mia-mias for a lengthened sojourn. Buckley was here made acquainted with some of the more peaceful habits of his black friends. Near the place where they were encamped was a considerable number of kangaroos—animals, which on his first beholding them, filled him with amazement. Such an animal he had never heard of, and its ungainly appearance and peculiar way of hopping on its enormous hind legs awakened his curiosity to the utmost. When one of the party, his self-appointed brother by the way, cautiously sallied forth to spear one, he watched anxiously for the result, and observed every movement of the hunter and his unsuspecting prey.
The native carried in his hand a smooth sharp-pointed spear, about seven feet in length, made out of a ti-tree sapling. It was balanced at the butt end with about two feet of the stalk of a grass tree. He also had with him the indispensable wommera, or throwing-stick: a piece of wood, three-quarters of an inch thick, about thirty inches long, and two or three inches broad in the centre, but tapering off at one end into a long rough handle, and at the other into a hook or projection in front.
A herd of kangaroos were quietly grazing a short distance off. He stealthily approached them from the leeward, out of consideration for the sensitive olfactory nerves of the animals, for if they had scented him they would have been out of shot in a twinkling.
When within sixty or seventy yards of a fine monarch of the forest, the black hunter suddenly and deftly fixed the butt end of his spear against the hook or projection of his throwing-stick, somewhat in the same manner as an arrow in a crossbow. The wommera or throwing-stick thus answered the purpose of an extra section to the arm, and, giving additional leverage, tremendously increased the power of propulsion of that member. In another moment his arm was upraised well over the shoulder, and out sped the light and quivering spear upon its deadly mission. So swift and truly was the weapon aimed, and so well had the animal been stalked, that it met its death almost before it realised the dangerous proximity of its human enemy.
The carcase was pounced upon by the party, and soon skinned and hacked to pieces. Portions were then placed upon the embers of a fire, and one black officiated as cook, expertly using two short sticks as a pair of tongs to pick up coals and drop them upon the frizzling viands as occasion required. The daintiest bits, such as heart, liver, kidneys, and the other portions of the viscera were hurriedly grilled and eaten by the men, while the more substantial parts were being done more leisurely. The tail also was regarded as a very choice portion, and received considerable attention in the cooking operation. The hair was singed off, and the tough sinews, so valuable in a variety of ways to the natives, were carefully drawn out to be dried for future use. Prepared in this fashion the juices were all retained, and the meat when cooked was very savoury and nutritious.
The skull and bones of the beast were broken open, and the brains and marrow contained in them were roasted, and eaten with great gusto as specially toothsome morsels.
What a feast they had! Buckley thought they would never have done eating. They gorged and gorged, at first ravenously, and then more leisurely, till their stomachs visibly distended. At last they had no room for more, and perforce were compelled to lie down to sleep off the effects. He could only compare their condition to that of the state of stupor resulting from a long-continued drunken bout. In this delightful condition they remained for hours.
Buckley's next experience in the hunting field happened a few days later when he witnessed the capture of a wild turkey. His nephew was the hero of the chase on this occasion. The modus operandi pursued, which was very clever, was as follows:—The youth first caught a large moth, and with it in his hand crawled from the clump of trees where they were encamped, over to several clusters of grass tussocks growing a little distance off on an expansive open space, where several wild turkeys or bustards were quietly feeding. Arriving there unobserved by the wary birds, he fixed the moth upon a prominent reed, and dropped down under cover to await results.
He must have been a lineal descendant of Job, for he lay there patiently for hours, the moth all the time quivering and fluttering, and making strenuous endeavours to break loose. At last the curiosity or cupidity of one of the birds was aroused, and it shyly came up to see what was the matter. It approached closer and closer till the moth was almost within gobbling distance. Now was the cunning native's chance. With stick in hand, to which was attached a slip noose made of twisted fibres, he awaited the victim of curiosity. The bird, open-mouthed, stretched out to engulph the insect. Its greed was its destruction. Just at the same moment, with a rapidity and dexterity perfectly astounding to one of Buckley's stolid nature, the noose was thrown round its neck, and the blacks had another and a more sumptuous dish added to their larder.
The blacks shortly afterwards had an opportunity of trying their skill against that feathered monarch of the Australian forest—the emu. Like the turkey bustard, it also proved to be very shy and difficult of approach, and they had to exercise the utmost caution in order to get within spear-throwing distance. The slightest strange sound, or the sight of an advancing man would be the signal for the birds to cut and run—and with amazing swiftness.
To circumvent them, therefore, the huntsman adopted the ruse of procuring a bushy bramble sufficiently large to conceal his whole form from the vigilance of the bird. Behind this leafy sheltering screen he went forth on his stalking expedition. Pausing every now and then to allay any latent suspicions, should the bird have any at seeing a moving tree coming towards it, he gradually crept up till within range. Once there the death of the emu was a certainty. Its fat, oily flesh was, of course, discussed in their usual able manner. The large bird's hair-like feathers were set apart to be used as dress material.
These were indeed halcyon days for Buckley. The two families wandered about within a short radius. Food was plentiful, and they therefore fared well. The weather also was everything that one could wish for. How long this lasted Buckley knew not, but the time passed vary agreeably with him.
He felt a new interest in life. A desire was awakened in him to learn all he could of the habits of these strange people. Day by day he learned more of them. He also found himself dropping almost insensibly into their ways and becoming as one of them.
The blacks noticed this, and showed their gratification by presenting him with a stone hatchet and a couple of spears. These implements, though necessarily of rude workmanship, were greatly valued by the blacks, and cost them much labour and perseverance to manufacture. The hatchet or tomahawk, which was almost always in use, was very hard stone split somewhat in the shape of a wedge, and ground to a rough edge. It was most firmly fixed in its handle, two strong flat pieces of wood, by means of fibres of bark, tendons of animals, and a strong coating of cement made of gum and powdered mussel shells.
One of the spears given to him was of the kind used chiefly for killing game. This has already been described in our account of the killing of the kangaroo. The other spear was a longer and a heavier one, and used only against their human enemies. It was nine feet long and made of iron-bark sapling. His appearance now was truly formidable, dressed as he was in an opossum skin robe and thus armed. But although all that could be desired in appearance, he was very far from having the necessary skill to use his weapons effectively against the veriest tyro among the natives.
Here it may not be out of place to describe the various weapons of offence and defence possessed by Buckley's present companions, and their country-men generally. They were of a great variety of shapes and sizes, and each man took particularly good care of his own, as much time and trouble had to be expended in their manufacture with the very primitive appliances available for his use. In addition to the spears of the kinds just mentioned, they had a very formidable kind about fifteen feet long. Some of these were jagged for a foot from the point with bits of sharp flint or bones of an animal fixed in the shaft by means of gum and cement, or a row of teeth cut in the solid wood in a manner that suggested a refinement of cruelty on the part of their owners.
Many shapes and weights of shillelahs, or waddies, used in hand-to-hand conflicts as skull-crackers were also carried. Some of these were carefully fashioned, others were merely a young ti-tree pulled up by the roots and cut to a handy size, with the root forming the nob or business end. Some ended in a sharp point, and thus combined, in one weapon, the advantages of a club and a heavy blunt dagger.
Perhaps the most dangerous weapon in skilful hands for a close-quarter fight was the leangle, an instrument made of heavy hardwood, straight for about two and a half feet and then curved for about nine inches at almost a right angle to the shaft or handle. In appearance it was somewhat like a wooden pick.
Lighter weapons like walking sticks, straight and crooked, were used as missiles, either to be thrown at enemies or to bring down birds or small animals.
The most curious of all their weapons was the boomerang,* a blade of tough grained wood varying from somewhat like a crescent-shaped leaf to the outline of an obtuse angle. The commonest of them was a wooden blade bluntly edged all round, of irregular thickness, one side flat, the other rounded. In extreme length they were about two feet; in direct line from end to end, about 20 inches, and had an average breadth of two and a quarter inches. They were also twisted throughout their length as though they had been slightly bent, as though strong hands had taken them at the ends and pulled and pushed contrary ways. The battle boomerangs were larger and much heavier, and without this peculiar twist, and did not possess the power of returning to their throwers, which has made the lighter sort the most widely known of all Australian weapons. A weapon more simple in appearance could scarcely be imagined, yet it might be said to be one of the most useful possessed by the blacks.
[* The boomerang is a paradox in missile power. There are two kinds
of boomerangs, that which is thrown a distance ahead, and that which
returns on its own axis to the thrower. I saw a native of slight
frame throw one of them two hundred and ten yards, and much further
when a ricochet was permitted. With the latter he made casts truly
surprising to witness. The weapon, after skimming breast high nearly
out of sight, suddenly rose high into the air, and returning with
amazing velocity towards it owner, buried itself six inches in the
turf within a few yards of his feet. An enemy or quarry ensconced
behind a tree safe from spear, may be taken in the rear and severely
hurt or killed by the recoil of the boomerang. The emu or kangaroo are
stunned or disabled, not knowing how to avoid its eccentric gyrations;
amongst a flight of wild ducks just rising from the water, or a flock
of pigeons on the ground, this weapon commits great havoc. At close
quarters it becomes no bad substitute for a cutlass.
Sir Thomas Mitchell, on observing the motion of the boomerang in the air whirling round a hollow centre, and leaving a vacant centre of gravity, was struck with the idea of adopting its principle to the propulsion of ships, and, if I mistake not, he received in 1848 a patent for the invention. The Times, September 29th, 1852, contains an extract from a Sydney journal stating that the "Boomerang Propeller" had been fitted to a small steamer, and obtained a speed of twelve knots against a head wind.—COLONEL MONDAY.
Sir Thomas Mitchell was most enthusiastic in his admiration of the weapons of the aborigines. In a lecture on the boomerang propeller, which was delivered before the "Australian Society," on December 30th, 1850, he says:—"But it is in the use of such missiles and clubs that these children of nature show how well they know her laws. By means of the wommera, or throwing-stick, the spear is thrown with greater momentum, and, of course, increased velocity. The angular club, the rotary shield, the elastic handle of the stone hatchet all appear very original, but yet strictly consistent with whatever science teaches, and not susceptible of improvement by anything to be learned at colleges.
"The missiles are nicely adapted to resist the laws of gravitation. The boomerang is one of the most remarkable of these. Its flight through the air from the hand of an Australian native seems in strict obedience to his will. In its return after a varied course to the foot of the thrower, this weapon seems so extraordinary that a Vice-President of the Royal Society observed to me, 'that its path through the air was enough to puzzle a mathematician.'"
Such a remark from one of the ablest mathematicians of his time was not forgotten. On the contrary, it was remembered on the next occasion when I had opportunities of studying the flight of boomerangs thrown by the hand of Australian aborigines, and then I perceived that in its rotary motion through the air, a hollow centre of greater or less diameter, but usually of about one-third of the disc, was described by the whirling boomerang. The discovery of this centre, insignificant as it may appear, was still something new, for on attaching a centre to a boomerang, it was possible to show that this centre was not only during its rotary motion the centre of that motion, but also a centre of gravity when in a state of rest, while it was apart from and quite clear of every part of it. Sir Thomas tried a number of experiments with the weapon, the ultimate result of which is the boomerang propeller.—Quoted from R. Brough Smith's work on the Aborigines.]
For defence against the clubs of their enemies, the natives carried heavy convex or bow-shaped shields about three feet long and very narrow, being not more than six inches in the centre. They were very hard and strong, and their handles were formed by hacking and chopping a hole in the solid body of wood. A lighter and wider shield with a handle made of another piece of wood, was used to ward off the spears of their enemies.
A KANGAROO BATTLE—A NATIVE PANTOMIME—A BLACK LOTHARIO—A NATIVE DUEL—MIDNIGHT ASSASSINATION—A BURIAL—LEX TALIONIS—A CURIOUS DUEL.
These peaceful wanderings amidst the lonely glades of the bush were brought to an abrupt termination by the two families falling in with a tribe of about fifty individuals. The tribe was friendly towards them, so they joined their forces, and travelled with it across the country to meet another tribe.
In two or three days they came up with the people they were seeking, or had appointed to meet. Preparations were then made for an extensive raid upon the kangaroos, which ware grazing in large herds upon the lightly timbered plains in the vicinity.
The blacks divided their party, and placed themselves at several vantage points on the confines of the forest, so as to hem in the animals on all sides. They then began making a most horrible din by beating the bushes and yelling vociferously in order to scare their timid prey; and gradually closing in the while, at length forced a considerable number of them into close quarters, whence there was no escape. Then the work of destruction among the entrapped animals took place. Spear and waddy were both brought into requisition, and the spot was converted into a veritable shambles. Some of the marsupials ran into the scrub, and this being set on fire for the purpose of scaring them out, they soon shared the fate of the others.
The jubilant hunters returned to the camping-ground literally groaning under the weight of the spoils of the chase. Their better halves, during their absence, had not been idle, and in anticipation of the results, had busied themselves in preparing ovens for a grand roast.
These ovens were made by digging large circular holes in the earth, and spreading good-sized stones completely over the bottom, on which they lighted fierce fires, and kept them burning till their lords and masters brought home the game. The burning logs and branches were then quickly taken out, and the carcases laid on the heated stones. The smaller animals were put in entire and unskinned, but the larger ones were cut up in pieces. Over them were then spread leaves, branches, and sheets of bark to keep in the heat, with the burning logs and embers replaced on top of all. In these excellent ovens the provisions were cooked in a style that would gratify the palate of a gourmand. Then a great feast followed, in which all the blacks joined with hearty goodwill and tremendous appetite.*
[* Mr. Peter Beveridge, who had many years' personal contact with
the natives, thus describes the way they conducted themselves on the
opportunity offering itself:—
"When food is plentiful they feast and riot to the top of their savage hearts, gorging themselves (as certainly none of the brute creation do) until their abdominal regions become so distended as to be decidedly uncomfortable. Not being so learned in medicine as Heliogabalus was, they do not avail themselves of the relief offered by emetics. To remove their discomfort, however, they lay themselves prone on the ground, face downwards, and get women suffering less from repletion than themselves, to roll up and down on their bodies until the desired end is gained, either by expulsion or extension. When the happy result is successfully achieved, they commence to gorge again, and continue doing so until the rolling process is once more found necessary to animal comfort; and this continues just so long as the feast lasts."]
After they had somewhat slept off the effects of their gluttony, some hilarious spirits among them got up a species of entertainment, which evoked much merriment. It was supposed to represent the kangaroo hunt—a kind of pantomime, mimicking the stirring events of the day. As with a modern troupe of stage actors, they spared no pains to make the representation realistic—to hold the mirror up to nature.
Their preparations included greasing their bodies all over with the fat of the animals, and then plentifully bedaubing themselves with a sort of red ochre. Some small branches were fixed to their girdles in imitation of tails, and then the fun began. Those with the tails hopped about the camp like a scared herd of kangaroos, the tails sticking out, and their peculiar attitudes having a most comical effect; while those personating the hunters followed them closely, hallooing and gesticulating wildly so they pretended to spear them.
Buckley was no less amused than his black companions, and laughed as loud as any of them.
The jollity of the evening gave place next morning to proceedings of quite an opposite character. When Buckley awoke he found the camps in quite a commotion, and the two tribes haranguing each other violently. He gathered, as well as the imperfect knowledge of the language he had by this time acquired could reveal to him, that a gay Lothario of one tribe had kidnapped the wife of a member of the other tribe, or else had persuaded her to elope from her liege lord. The guilty pair had been discovered—hence the tumult.
The injured one demanded satisfaction and the restitution of his property. The abductor refused to do the latter, and was quite willing to oblige him as to the former; in fact he seemed rather inclined to have recourse to the arbitrament of blows and so settle the little affair, and perhaps the husband at the same time. The interposition of the tribes decided that the woman should return to her husband's mia-mia, which she at once did.
The two men thereupon prepared for the fray, each arming himself with a waddy and shield. They entered the lists courageously, being well matched both in size and general strength. With shield and club upraised over the head so as to form a protecting arch, they warily advanced upon each other. The deeply-set eyes of both men glistened beneath their shaggy beetling brows in an extremely vengeful manner, which augured, it seemed to Buckley, a fatal termination to the fight.
The antagonists soon closed, and then blow after blow fell with lightning rapidity. Their shields warded off many, but a sickening thud heard every now and then betokened that they were both being severely punished on head and shoulders. This hammer-and-tong business could not last long, and they soon began to show signs of exhaustion. The blood flowed freely from many wounds in the head and the upper portion of the body.
When the tribes considered that each combatant had had enough for one day, they interposed and separated them, and led them to their different camps, each man looking dazed and half unconscious, and reeling like a drunken man.
This duel revealed to Buckley the astonishing and marvellous thickness of skull possessed by the people he was living with. He knew that any one of the blows which had been showered with so little effect upon their black heads, would have laid his own skull open, and so have placed him hors de combat in one act.
The gay Lothario and his tribe shortly took their departure for fresh hunting grounds. The injured husband, as soon as he had recovered a little from his wounds, sought out his spouse and belaboured her with his waddy in a manner that made Buckley's blood run cold, although the rest of the encampment regarded the conjugal correction with indifference.
The sequel to this love escapade took place a night or two after. The fires had all gone out, and the whole camp was buried in deep slumber, when suddenly a loud cry awakened every one. Each man clutched his spear, and rushed to the spot whence the alarm had come. Buckley was one of the first there, and, by the aid a fire-stick he had snatched up, beheld the lately aggrieved husband transfixed through the body with a spear. The poor fellow was writhing in a death agony. They tried to pull the spear out, but could not, as the weapon was barbed for about six inches from the point. He lingered on till morning, when death put an end to his excruciating sufferings.
His wife had disappeared; and this fact told to the blacks the whole story. It was clearly a case of murder and elopement or abduction.
The friends of the deceased showed much grief, and uttered frightful imprecations against the vile assassin and all his relations.
Early in the day preparations were made for the funeral. The corpse was taken in hand and bent almost round, the knees being tied close to the neck, and the feet and hands brought together and fastened with the arms straight alongside. Their reason for thus rolling up the body and securing the limbs, Buckley afterwards learned, was to prevent the ghost of the departed from arising and revisiting the glimpses of the moon. For the blacks had a mortal dread of spirits, and they believed that the spirit of a man recently dead would work them great harm if he got the chance to break out of the tomb. The opossum rug, which had been his covering by night and mantle by day, was now his shroud. With this wrapped around him he was consigned to the grave—a hole dug to the depth of three or four feet in the soft ground. Then his late companions heaped up the earth over him to the height of two or three feet, and placed logs on top to prevent the wild dogs from rooting up the corpse.
During the ceremony of interment all his male relatives gashed their heads with tomahawks and waddies till the blood streamed forth, and smeared their faces and beards with pipeclay and mud. The women joined in these expressions of deep affliction by scorching themselves on the thigh and stomach with fire-sticks, and also by spreading mud all over their heads. The mother of the dead man was especially demonstrative in her grief, her moans and groans sounding horribly in Buckley ears. Her lamentations were genuine, and for several nights afterwards he heard her giving way to her feelings when by herself, after all the camp had retired to rest.
Poor old woman, she was a miserable and most repulsive-looking specimen of humanity. Her attenuated frame was shrunk almost to a skeleton, so shrivelled and drawn was the skin across her crooked bones. She fared worse than anyone in the tribe, being looked upon rather as a burden. Her clothes consisted of an old dilapidated and worn-out opossum skin. Almost blind and imbecile, none but the children seemed even to notice her, or give her more than a passing thought. Her conduct to these was kind and sympathetic, and she often rendered them such slight services as was within the range of her limited powers. Her only requital was a permission to live, or rather just to exist, upon the very refuse of the food. But she took her hard lot as a matter of course, patiently and uncomplainingly.
Several men of the tribe set out on the tracks of the murderer, but returned before night without having accomplished their object. This man, by his daring and dastardly conduct, had thus embroiled the two tribes in an enmity only to be assuaged by the spilling of his blood or the blood of one of his own tribe.
As Buckley afterwards learned, the blacks always held the whole tribe responsible for the actions of any of its members. Blood for blood was one of their laws, and if they could not bring the actual delinquent to punishment they always endeavoured to wreak their vengeance upon any of his relatives, father, brother or son, or failing them any of his tribe would do; they were not very particular so long as they could in some such way compensate themselves for the injury done.
It was some months before Buckley's party again came across the path of this tribe, and then the trouble commenced anew. Spears, clubs and boomerangs were brought into requisition and a great battle was fought, at least from an aboriginal point of view. Revenge was satisfied by the killing of the murderer's brother and the wounding of his mother, but the actual culprit escaped unharmed.
Shortly after this vicarious sacrifice to justice or vengeance, Buckley witnessed another duel between two men of his tribe. Like the other affair of honour, it was brought about by the faithlessness of a woman, or the jealousy of her husband, he knew not which.
The quarrel began in a wordy way, between a black, who was the lawful owner of three wives, and a young spark who possessed none. The very much married man opened warlike proceedings in a little while by throwing his club towards the other and then bending his body down with his hands on his knees, and in this attitude invited the other to strike him on the head. The younger man picked up the club, raised it in the air, and brought it down with considerable force on the proffered skull. The blow caused the recipient to reel, but he soon recovered, and then took up the club which the other man had flung on the ground. Following the example of the elder, the younger man now in turn postured himself with his head bent forward and received a dose of the same medicine. This curious give-and-take dual lasted till the younger man was felled with a blow that knocked him stiff. There he lay for over an hour, and Buckley thought he was dead. But at the end of that time he slowly sat up, and by the evening had completely recovered, and what astonished Buckley more than anything, there did not appear to be any malice borne between the two late antagonists. In fact, like a couple of schoolboys after a bout of fisticuffs, they seemed the better friends for the quarrel.
BUCKLEY'S BLACK WIFE—WOMAN'S POSITION—MARRIAGE CUSTOMS—BUCKLEY'S FIRST FRIENDS MURDERED—KIDNEY FAT—BLIND BOY AND HIS SISTER—INFANTICIDE—GENERAL TREATMENT OF CHILDREN—CURIOUS CEREMONIES.
BUCKLEY soon lost all notions of the time he had been living with the natives. Indeed, it would have been rather remarkable, all circumstances considered, had it happened otherwise. In the circumscribed sphere in which they moved and lived and had their being, one season brought about very much the same events as another, and thus there was scarcely anything to mark the flight of time.
He gradually learned their language, much to the delight of his dusky teachers, who watched his progress in it with great interest. His fears for his own safety grew less and less, as he became more accustomed to their habits. As time went on, and he knew the blacks better, he was able to mingle with them on equal terms, and stood much the same chance as they did in the struggle for existence.
The family with whom he lived appears to have been of a very unsettled disposition. They wandered about rather promiscuously, sometimes by themselves, and at other times in company with one or more of the many friendly tribes they happened to fall in with.
One day his bachelor life was brought to an abrupt end by the tribe presenting him with a charming young widow as a wife. He says that he was not consulted in the matter, and it is pretty certain that Mrs. Buckley had no say in it either, for among the natives women had no rights. They were simply regarded as chattels, and as such were bought, sold, and exchanged by their parents or responsible guardians.
The usual custom followed, when a man wanted a wife, was for him to exchange his sister or daughter for one. A native never married a woman born in his own tribe; therefore, he generally sought a wife from a neighbouring friendly tribe. The old men frequently had two or three wives, while many young men had to be content with a bachelor existence. There were no such things as old maids among the blacks, for the men generally numbered about two to one of the women. Nor did a widow wear her weeds longer than a week at the outside. She was inherited by her husband's brother, or some other near relation of his, who either took her into the bosom of his family, or exchanged her for another woman. Perhaps if she was old and ugly, he parted with her as a gift to a bachelor friend.
When a woman became so old and decrepit as to trammel the movements of her husband's tribe, she not infrequently received a quietus in the shape of a knock on the head with a waddy, just as we more civilized people kill a dog whose existence has become a misery to himself and an offence to us, or else was abandoned to her fate.*
[* Mr. Curr relates an instance which came under his own observation where the natives placed an old woman on a pile of wood, and then set fire to it, after doing which they all deserted the spot, and left the poor helpless old body to burn slowly to death.]
One peculiarity of the blacks, in connection with their marriage customs was very marked. They never, under any circumstances, married blood relations. Indeed, such an idea would have been regarded with an indignation amounting almost to horror. And to prevent the slightest probability of a black committing such a heinous crime, in their eyes, they had a system of dividing their tribes into classes. All people of one class were counted as being connected by blood, and, therefore, could not intermarry. Thus a man could not marry a woman belonging to his father or his mother's class. Some scientists have noted this custom, and infer from it that the blacks possessed knowledge of the dangers of inbreeding; but they probably, like many other people in this world, have tried to make out a case on insufficient grounds—the scientifically coloured spectacles through which they have regarded these ignorant savages, helping to deceive them.
Mothers-in-law, among us civilized folks, have been made the subjects of much merriment, and are popularly held up as a class of beings to be avoided on every possible occasion by the sterner sex. It is a strange fact that the latter idea prevailed among the male portion of the blacks, in so far as the avoidance of the mother-in-law is concerned; and she, unlike her more aggressive white compeer, showed a singular bashfulness in his presence. She would hide herself at his approach, or, if she had to pass his way, endeavoured to cover herself with her cloak and slink by unobserved; and it was only in extreme instances of pressing necessity that they would open their lips to each other in conversation.
Buckley appears to have lived with his black spouse for several months, if not in a blissful dream of enchantment, at least contentedly. She was distinctly an acquisition to him, as a wife always is to a black-fellow, and Buckley was one practically by this time.
A woman's place in the domestic economy of the blacks was to do as she was told and to ask no questions. When her lord and master went forth in all the dignity of his majestic manhood, carrying his weapons, which added not a little to his stately bearing, she humbly and laboriously followed, bowed down by the weight of the family chattels contained in a large grass bag slung across her shoulders. If she was a mother, her last child was no mean addition to her load. Its fat chubby form could be seen on her back, snugly ensconced within the folds of her opossum skin cloak. In her right hand she usually carried a digging-stick about her own length, with which she had to forage round for vegetables or roots for the family larder. A lighted piece of bark or fire-stick carried in the other hand was no uncommon appurtenance of her outfit when the family were moving from one camping place to another. Failing this fire-stick, to light a fire was a task requiring not a little patience, especially if the weather was at all damp. The method pursued was to rub two pieces of wood together till the friction produced a spark sufficiently lively to be blown into a flame. It usually took about a minute to do this, and the wood chosen was generally a flat piece which was held firmly under his feet by the stooping native while he rapidly twirled round between his palms a long pointed piece, which he pressed against the other in a little indentation till the object was accomplished.
Hard work and hard blows she received in abundance; her husband was sparing only in the amount or quality of food he allowed her. All the choicest portions he kept for himself and gorged to repletion. When he had had enough then his wife might have her share, if there was anything left for her to try her teeth upon. Consequent upon this ill-treatment, and the early age at which they were married, the women were for the most part undersized in proportion to the men, and soon lost the very slight pretentions to good looks ever possessed by them.
A black-fellow never considered that his wife was a relation or that she became one of his own tribe by her marrying into it. On her part, most of her sympathies were with the tribe she had been born in. Her husband was her master, and fear, more than love, inspired her conduct towards him. His power over her was unlimited; within the domestic circle he reigned supreme. The tribe never interfered between man and wife. He could kill her it he so liked, although he seldom went so far in his chastisement of a recalcitrant wife, not because his tribe would prevent it, but because her relatives or some other members of her tribe would take a bloody revenge upon him.
Notwithstanding her hard knocks she managed to live in some degree happily with her better and more powerful half, after she had been broken in to the duties and responsibilities of conjugal existence.
To return to Buckley and his wife in particular. As the old couplet hath it:—
Needles and pins, needles and pins,
When a man's married his trouble begins.
And Buckley's troubles began anew a few months after joining in the holy bonds of matrimony with the young ("tolerably good looking, after a fashion, and apparently mild tempered," as he describes her) widow. Like Mr. Samuel Weller, whose matrimonial venture with a 'vidder' turned out so unfortunately, Buckley was most abominably deceived, though in a different manner.
One night when he had retired to his mia-mia with his dearly beloved, there broke in upon their privacy several men of a neighbouring tribe, and bore her away unresistingly; her willingness to go was so very apparent to Buckley that he made no attempt to detain her.
Next day some amour propre on his part being aroused, perhaps by his black friends' knowledge of what had been done, he went over to the tribe to which the intruders belonged, and complained of his treatment. His friends urged him to challenge the man who now had her in his possession. But he declined, probably because, although he was rather dense, he considered he was not quite thick enough in the skull to resist the onslaught of a waddy.
However, he found someone to champion his cause in the person of another of his tribe—a brother of her former husband. This man made himself judge, jury, and executioner, by summarily felling her with his waddy. The blow was so severe that she died soon afterwards from its effects. Whether it was his intention to thus kill her, or merely to punish her, Buckley knew not. A general scrimmage followed in which many heads were broken.
Buckley took no part in the fight. With his usual caution he kept out of harm's way, but was in readiness to defend himself should it be necessary. He had now been for some time past quite an adept with the spear and boomerang.
As in most of their battles little damage was done beyond a number of ugly bruises and concussions, which would be soon healed, and no lives were lost. The affair ended at last in peace being restored, and to cement the renewal of friendly relations, both sides joined their forces in a grand terpsichorean display in the shape of a large corroboree.
A short time after this eventful incident in Buckley's chequered career, he and his supposed brother-in-law and family, with another family or two, detached themselves from their tribe, as had often happened before, and set out on a wandering expedition on their own account. It may be remarked that a tribe, or several families constituting a tribe, did not keep together under the authority of a leader or the compulsion of a majority. Each head of a family was a free agent, and was at liberty to do as he liked, and go where he liked, of course, within the recognised boundaries of his tribe or the tribes with which it was on friendly terms. To go outside or beyond these limits would be dangerous, and the adventurous man or family would most certainly be killed for such temerity by the tribe upon whose domain they had encroached. "Kill the Stranger" was the motto of every black-fellow.
By the side of a flowing stream they settled down, and for many weeks swimming, fishing and hunting, made the days pass pleasantly enough. But this life was too peaceful to last long, and the quiet of their existence was rudely dispelled by a horrible event unsurpassed in Buckley's previous experience of the ways of his black companions.
They had retired to rest in their several mia-mias, and were all soundly sleeping, save Buckley who had not taken the trouble to construct a shelter for himself, but lay under the shadow and protection of a fallen tree. Strangely troubled was he in his mind this night. Curious forebodings of evil haunted his brain and kept him awake and sensitive to the slightest sound.
The low fires, almost burnt out, cast their fitful flickering shadows around, and these seeming to mingle in an indescribable manner with the sighing of the wind and the humming of insect life, made Buckley unnaturally nervous.
At length he began to doze, but an unexpected spluttering into life of one of the smouldering logs awoke him again, and at the same time revealed to his horrified gaze the forms of several painted and armed savages just within the circle of light. Slight crackling sounds, as of the breaking of twigs underfoot, betokened that others were close in the rear. Their stealthy approach under the shield of the darkness of night would have told him that theirs was no errand of peace, even if the horrible expression of their visages, distorted with looks of murderous intent, had not but too clearly depicted their awful mission.
He felt tongue-tied, paralysed, and unable to move hand or foot. His sleeping friends slumbered on, but he was unable to raise the alarm and warn them of the dangerous proximity of their foes. But even had he been able it was now too late.
Within a moment a frightful yell arose from every throat as each black raised his spear to plunge it into the body of the helpless victim at his feet. But a poor resistance could be made. Before any one of them could raise an arm in self-defence the cruel barbed weapon was thrust savagely through his body, and where it failed to accomplish the foul deed the heavy waddy was brought into requisition. The women and children shared the same fate as the men; in the revolting massacre neither age nor sex was spared. Some of the men with the courage born of desperation resisted valiantly, although transfixed with the assassin's weapon; but so unequal a struggle could not last long.
It was soon over, and the dastardly victors then proceeded to mutilate the bodies of the slain. The sides of the corpses were ripped open and the kidney fat dragged out, and wrapped in pieces of opossum skin as trophies of their exploit.
The blacks believed that the vital principle, the soul, or the strength of a man lay in his kidney fat. Their object in thus appropriating and preserving the fat of an enemy, was for the purpose of anointing their own bodies with it. In doing so they felt that they became possessed of his strength or prowess in addition to their own. Sometimes they carried this fat about with them for months, hanging from their necks as a charm, or perhaps as memento of their bravery, just as a Red Indian wears the scalps of his slain enemies hanging from his moccasins.
After this feast of blood, for it could not be described otherwise, the enemy prepared to depart from the scene of their awful atrocity. Then they vanished almost as silently and stealthily as they had come. A certain blood-guiltiness seemed to overshadow them as they filed slowly away in the grey of the morn, and disappeared one by one from the gaze of the horrified Buckley. Perhaps they had a latent and undefined dread of the enormity of the deed they had committed, and its ultimate consequences to themselves should it be discovered before they had got clear away from the territory of the tribe to which their victims belonged.
When they had been gone sufficiently long, Buckley cautiously crawled out of his hiding-place and examined the bodies of his slaughtered friends. The sun had just arisen, and its brighter light revealed more clearly to him the full extent of the fell night's work. He was completely unmanned, and wept like a child on beholding the mangled remains. Fear for his own safety, which had governed his conduct and so paralysed him during the night, now gave place to feelings of intense grief at the cruel loss of these, his first friends among the wild people he had been living with so long.
While thus lamenting he was startled by a rustling sound of footsteps approaching him. He clutched his spear and waddy firmly, for with the daylight, his craven heart plucked up courage, and he determined to show fight, and, if needs be, sell his own life dearly.
But his alarm was soon allayed. To his great surprise, from out of the scrub there came, not a savage thirsting for his life's blood and kidney fat, but a boy and a girl, who had escaped the general slaughter by little less than a miracle. These children were the offspring of Buckley's soi-distant brother-in-law. The poor boy was blind, and his little sister affectionately led him by the hand as they drew near to the remains of the camp.
Buckley at once dropped his weapons, and advanced kindly towards them, excessively pleased to find that there were any survivors, even though they were but two powerless and defenceless children.
He very soon withdrew with the two children from the painful scene, and determined to place a good distance between himself and it before sundown. His little companions clung to him as the only friend they had in the world, and he, on his part, did all he could to help them along, carrying the helpless boy most of the day.
For several days he journeyed on, keeping a sharp look-out for signs of the tribe to which his late friends had belonged. At length he came upon their tracks, and duly arrived at an encampment of about a hundred of them, among whom he recognised many of his former associates. He soon told his sad tale. His audience listened with bated breath, and, when he had finished, every man among them vowed vengeance upon the murderers.
Next morning the whole camp was on the march to visit the scene of carnage. Arrived there, they found scarce anything but the skeletons of the victims, for the wild dogs and the birds of prey had been feasting on the flesh of the carcases. The blacks gathered up the remains together with their mia-mias, and made a huge pile of the lot, which they set fire to and reduced to a calcined mass.
A camp was then formed a short distance off, and that night a council was held, at which most of the elders spoke in turn. Each man stood up before his little family fire, and forcibly spoke out aloud his sentiments with much volubility, the while punctuating and emphasizing his remarks by means of his throwing-stick or spear which he wielded in his right hand.
Each speech was patiently listened to, and commented upon. Every man had a right to utter his little say; for among the blacks, all men were equal, there being no chief or kings as many people imagine. Of course some among then of stronger natural talents or powers, mental or physical, would occasionally be regarded as leaders in some particular course of action, and would perhaps have a considerable following. But these did not interfere with or coerce the minority, who were always free to follow their several inclinations. In this respect the blacks might be classed among that much abused section of civilised people called anarchists, rather than among the democrats, as the dictum of the right of the majority to rule did not hold sway with them.
The result of the present confabulation was apparent next morning, when about twenty men set out in the track of the foe. On their return, these champions had a proud tale to relate of how they had come up with the enemy; how they had challenged them to mortal conflict; and how they had worsted them in the contest, killing three of their number, and wounding several others. In conclusive proof of these statements they exhibited the kidney fat of those they had slain. The honour of the tribe being thus vindicated, general satisfaction was expressed by all.
Buckley became very much attached to the little boy and girl. He kept them with him for many months. They always attended him on his fishing and hunting excursions, and he shared with them anything he caught. They looked upon him as their protector, which greatly gratified him, and awakened in him quite an interest in their welfare.
At length, much to his regret, he was obliged to part with the little girl, having fallen in with the tribe in which was a man to whom she had been promised in marriage by her father. This man was one of the patriarchs of the tribe, and already the proud possessor of one wife.
Buckley continued to keep the little boy who was so sadly afflicted. A blind child, or in fact anyone unable to take care of himself from physical defect, was so great a rarity among the natives, that such a one might be regarded as a sort of curiosity.
When a child was born the father always asked himself the question whether he was equal to the responsibility of rearing it, or rather if his wife was equal to it. Their mode of life necessitated frequent changing of their camping-places, and as the women were the pack-horses on such occasions, children were always more or less encumbrances. One infant was, therefore, as much as a woman could carry, in addition to the various household goods. Consequently, if number two was born inconveniently soon after its elder brother or sister, it stood a very good chance of an early and a violent death, generally by means of strangulation; its mother or another woman of the tribe doing the deed at the instigation of the father.
A deformed child was never on any pretence allowed to live. Buckley relates that he saw an instance of their brutal aversion to a child that happened to be deformed at its birth. It's brains were dashed out without any ceremony.
As a rule the blacks were kind to their children, and imposed scarcely any restraint upon them. As soon as they could toddle, they naturally began to search for food. The father usually kept a look-out upon the boys, and the girls were instructed by their mother. Of course the boys soon found out that they were members of the superior sex, and acted accordingly, as their mothers and sisters felt to their cost.* They were provided with playthings in the shape of diminutive spears, throwing-sticks, and boomerangs, and other weapons, and also instructed in their use. They were apt pupils, and soon became adepts in all the native accomplishments.
[* "It is a remarkable fact that I never saw, and only once heard of, a native child being corrected by its parents or any other natives, and as a consequence they grow up savagely impatient of any approach to it. Walker told me one case where a native woman indeed did correct a child, a boy about five years old, but the young savage almost immediately stole his father's tomahawk, went stealthily behind his mother, and brained his infant sister. Again, a lady who had adopted a native boy, found it necessary one day to chastise him for some offence, but in an instant he seized her arm with both hands and bit a piece of flesh clean out. On another occasion I saw a young black boy strike his mother savagely. I asked her why she did not correct him. She said, meekly, that by-and-by he would be a man. Having no such respect for his future manhood, I gave him a box on the ear, but had to threaten him with my pistols in order to save myself from being speared on the spot. Whether on war or hunting parties, a few boys always accompany the party, and are more cruel than the men themselves. It is seldom a white man is murdered without boys' spears being found in him. I was told by a gentleman, that on one occasion, in an encounter, he saw a fine powerful black on the ground with his leg broken by a ball, defending himself against two boys belonging to their black allies, who were dancing round him like two young demons, trying to beat his brains out. They killed him at last."—GIDEON S. LANG.]
When arrived at the mature age of nine or ten, the boys were so far advanced that the parental apron-strings no longer tied them, and they were obliged to quit the mia-mia of their childhood, and were transferred to the quarters allotted to the bachelors of all ages belonging to the tribe. Here their lives were not quite so rosy. They had to trust more to their own resources, and were forced to undergo a series of tribal rites, which extended over many years, and which entailed upon them a considerable amount of painful endurance.
The object of all the ceremonies imposed upon the boy or youth was to make a man of him. First he was obliged to be very circumspect in his behaviour to females, and to keep out of their way as much as possible. He had also to suffer many restrictions in the use of food; choice tit-bits being of course reserved for the respectable family-men of the tribe. At one time during this period of probation he had to drink mud and water. At another time his nose was taken in hand, and the septum pierced with an awl made of a bone of a kangaroo. Through the hole thus made, an ornament of bone or reed was thrust, which, no doubt, greatly added to the beauty of his appearance in the eyes of the tribe, but whether it added to the comfort of the neophyte was very questionable.
Another feature of his education was the severe ordeal of scarring his body. This was done with a sharp flint or shell, which was drawn across the chest, the back, and the upper portion of the arms. Frightful open wounds were thus inflicted upon the luckless youth, who was obliged to submit to the custom, although the yells of agony which he could not repress testified how great was the torture he had to endure. The ceremony reminded Buckley of punishment day in the old convict settlement, when a refractory prisoner was taking his regulation allowance of the cat-o'-nine tails. However, there was the difference between the two cases: the white man after his castigation was sullen, and cowed in spirit, and a bigger brute than before; whereas the black proudly regarded his scars as an ornament and a sign of manhood after they had set and showed up in prominent symmetrical lines or ridges on his dark skin. It took several months to complete this operation, for to make the basso-relievo marks indelible, the incisions in the skin had to be kept open, and this was done by frequently rubbing in them powdered charcoal or ashes.
Knocking out the centre tooth of the upper row was also an indignity which the young native had to receive at the hands of his elders in most tribes, although Buckley makes no mention of it as taking place among the people with whom he lived. The ceremony has been minutely described by Collins, who witnessed it in New South Wales, when judge-advocate of that settlement under Governor Phillip.
How all these customs originated it is difficult and impossible to imagine. From time immemorial they seem to have been slavishly followed. No black ever took the trouble to inquire into the why or wherefore. His father complied with them before him, and like a dutiful son he did the same. There is no doubt that such trying practices tested the endurance of the candidate for the honours or responsibilities of manhood, and killed off any who showed the slightest constitutional tendencies to weakness. Perhaps the primary idea underlying them had in view the object of keeping up the physical standard of the race—in other words, the survival of the fittest.
When all these old-time obligations had been safely passed through, the young man was at liberty to take unto himself a wife if he could obtain one by purchase, conquest, or by gift. This was frequently a very difficult matter, for the old men generally managed to monopolise the eligible women and girls.
AN UNFORTUNATE DEATH—CANNIBALISM—BUCKLEY'S DISGUST—A STRANGE REPRISAL—BUCKLEY'S HERMITAGE—FISHING EXTRAORDINARY—NATIVE LANGUAGES—THE BLACK'S MENU— ANOTHER DEATH—SORCERY—AN ELEVATED GRAVE.
THINGS went on very quietly with Buckley and his friends for many months, till, unfortunately, a man from another tribe joined them. The new-comer took up his quarters with Buckley and his blind boy, and lived very amicably with them, sleeping in the mia-mia. By some unaccountable means, however, he was one night taken seriously ill. Every effort was made on the part of the natives and Buckley to cure him. The portions of his body and head which seemed to be affected were scratched with sharp shells till the blood flowed rather copiously from him. They then lit a fire in a hole in the ground and covered it with wet herbage. Over this they held the sick man and threw on top of him and the fire an opossum rug, in order to keep the steam in, thus making a sort of rude vapour bath, which induced profuse perspiration.
Notwithstanding all these strenuous efforts made on his behalf, they failed to bring him round, and after hovering between life and death for a few days he died. The tribe were much concerned, fearing they would be held responsible for his untimely death.
Coming up with the tribe to which the young man had belonged, an explanation of his death was given. The relatives listened with savage incredulity and charged Buckley's party with foul play. A wordy warfare followed, but by a kind of mutual consent this ended, when the aggrieved party seized the little blind boy who unluckily had been sleeping in the same mia-mia with the deceased, and killed him instantly before Buckley's eyes. They then roasted the body, and both tribes proceeded to show that they had settled their little differences by partaking of a friendly banquet composed of the charred remains.
Buckley was so horrified and disgusted at the turn affairs had taken, that, as soon as he had realised what they were about, he plunged into the bush and left them. This loss of the strongest, if not the only tie of affection he had ever had in his life, grieved him so deeply, that he determined never to have anything more to do with the blacks.
Dozens of times he certainly had seen atrocities perpetrated, equal if not greater than what he had just witnessed; but this little fellow's very helplessness which had caused him to cling to the big white man for shelter and protection, had so endeared him to Buckley that the sudden and awful deprivation engendered a feeling of profound hatred and loathing in his mind against those who had thus wrested him away.
In this mood he wandered on, scarcely knowing or caring whither his steps took him. By-and-bye he stumbled across the tribe to which he had transferred the little girl. He told his story to them and they professed indignation and vowed vengeance. Two or three of them afterwards set off to execute it, and returned in two or three days saying that they had killed two children in satisfaction!
But Buckley was tired of savage life, so he forsook this tribe and made once more for the sea-coast. Here he lived a solitary melancholy existence; although so far as food and physical comfort were concerned, he fared well, being now an adept in all the arts of the natives. A native woman who had run away from a tribe while it was fighting with another, came to him one day and offered to share his heart and hearth. She remained with him a long time, and helped him to obtain the necessaries of life. In fact, they lived together over a year, undisturbed by any visitors. They changed their place of habitation frequently, as food became scare in each spot. This recluse life gave mutual satisfaction, but it was at length terminated by a surprise visit of his lady friend's relatives, who took her away with them.
Though the blacks had thus discovered his whereabouts, they did not interfere with his liberty, but allowed him to do as he thought fit. Sometimes he would have a tribe on a visit of friendliness; at others he would be left for weeks together without seeing a soul.
He took up permanent quarters at the mouth of a little stream, where he built a substantial hut with a chimney to it. He had now become quite a Robinson Crusoe. Roots were readily obtainable, and large shoals of fish visited the stream, and kept him supplied with abundance of animal food.
He noticed one day a great shoal of bream come up with the tide to a considerable distance from the stream's mouth. When the tide turned, he also noticed these fish were carried out to sea with it. This suggested to him the idea of constructing a weir across the stream where it was shallowest, so as to arrest the fish and leave them struggling in the shallow water. With this view, therefore, he collected together branches of trees and scrub, and constructed hurdles; poles were driven by him into the bed of the stream, and when the tide began to ebb, the hurdles were placed in position against them, which allowed the water to trickle through, but prevented the departure of the fish. This manoeuvre was a splendid success, and he captured hundreds of the finny tribe. He dried a large number of them in the sun, as he did not know how long the fish would continue to come up the stream.
While he was engaged in this provident occupation, his seclusion was broken into by a small party of natives, consisting of two women with their children. On first seeing them, he rushed into his hut, and made ready to receive them at the point of his spear should they prove enemies. But their language reassured him when he heard them call out. He recognised the words as those belonging to the people with whom he had been living.
One peculiarity of the blacks was that each tribe had a language of its own. In some tribes the difference was merely a difference of dialect, just as in England you find many dialect variations of the English tongue. Intercourse between such tribes was moderately easily carried on; no more difficulty being felt than, for instance, a Yorkshireman would have in making himself understood by a man born and brought up in Dorsetshire or Devonshire. Others, again, were so different as to be almost distinct languages, just as the English and French are.
The natives were overjoyed at beholding Buckley in the flesh once more. He had been so long away from them that they had thought him dead. The men capered about like children, and the women expressed their extreme satisfaction in a very singular fashion by shedding tears copiously.
The leg of a kangaroo was produced from a basket, with a good supply of roots and gum, and offered to him. In return Buckley showed them his stock of fish. The great abundance astonished them. He then recounted all his adventures since last seeing them, and took them to see his weir. When its use was explained, they were delighted beyond measure. The miraculous draught of fishes mentioned in Scripture could not have yielded greater or more profound exaltation to the poor fishers of Galilee than this revelation of the power of poor Buckley did to the blacks. They, among other compliments, said that he certainly deserved three or four wives; but for some reason or other, perhaps fearing that Buckley would take them at their word, at the same time drove their own women away.
Seeing provisions so plentiful, the blacks determined to settle alongside of Buckley, and therefore speedily erected their mia-mias near his hut. A smoke signal was then raised by stuffing a hollow tree full of dry grass and bark, and setting fire to the lot. This summoned the remainder of the tribe, which shortly afterwards arrived, bringing with them a goodly supply of kangaroo flesh.
A peaceful period of several months ensued. Day followed day in quiet succession. The occupations of all were of a useful nature. The men spent a good deal of their time in manufacturing spears, shields, clubs, and boomerangs, for future contingencies, and in making opossum rugs for themselves and children, when not engaged in fishing; with an occasional diversion by way of a change in the shape of a kangaroo hunt.
A little distance upstream was a lagoon in which eels were very plentiful, and on calm nights the blacks often went there to fish. The usual custom followed in the capture of these slimy creatures, was for a party of blacks to wade into the water with torches in left hand, and in the other a hunting spear to which a long sharp bone had been lashed with the sinews of a kangaroo's tail. Attracted by the glare of the burning brands, the eels soon crowded round and were quickly transferred from their native element by the dexterously wielded spears of their dusky hunters.
Fish was prepared for food by roasting. Indeed, roasting, baking, or broiling were their only methods of cooking food, as they had no utensils for boiling purposes. Fish was roasted between two thick layers of green grass, the hot embers of the fire being placed both on top and below.
The occupations of the women were more monotonous and laborious than those of the men. They consisted in digging up roots with their yam sticks, making baskets, bags, and nets, collecting firewood, and attending to the wants of the children. The little daughters generally imitated their mothers so far as they were able, while the boys followed in the footsteps of their fathers.
Mention has been made of the natives digging for wild roots. They occasionally diverted themselves by digging out the wombat, a thick, chubby-shaped, tailless, burrowing animal, which was esteemed a delicacy by them. Its burrows extended a considerable distance in the earth in an oblique direction. When the mouth of a wombat hole was discovered, a native boy or girl was made to crawl in backwards till he or she came to the animal, which would retreat on his or her approach to the far extremity, where it would stand at bay in fear of the intruder. It was a most cowardly animal, and never made any attempt at defending itself. The little fellow, having thus cornered him and cut off his retreat or advance, would yell out, and at the same time tap the earth above so that the listening hunters on top could hear. These would than set to work with their digging-sticks and scoop out the earth over the animal. It would then be hauled to the surface, killed, and cast on the flames, and quickly despatched down the capacious maws of its hungry captors.
Buckley was rather fond of wombat, but turned up his nose at native dog, which was another favourite dish with his black friends. With this exception he appears to have been as omniverous an eater as any of the natives. Their bill of fare included grubs, ants, gum, snakes, lizards, frogs, and other nasty things, according to our more refined imagination or prejudiced taste.
The plentiful food supply and absence of danger had the effect of bringing out the better qualities of the whole camp. Eat, drink, and be merry, was the order of the day when circumstances permitted, among these children of Nature. Buckley's long experience of them had taught him how variable were their moods. One day the black might be a light-hearted, merry and impulsive boy in character; on the next, as by a magic transformation this would be changed, and he would become a vindictive, vengeful, stealthy, and dastardly assassin, sparing neither man, woman or child.
Time passed on and provisions becoming scarce in their immediate neighbourhood, the blacks were compelled to seek fresh fields. On the move once more, they came up with another tribe, who joined their forces with them. Here an incident occurred which illustrated forcibly the terrible hold which the superstition of sorcery or witchcraft had over them.
One of the men while stepping over a log was bitten in the leg by a venomous snake. Buckley, who was close behind, killed his snakeship with a well-aimed blow of his waddy, or club. The man was of course terrified, and immediately dropped to the ground. His two wives rushed forward and did all they could to relieve him by tying strings above and below the wounded spot, and gashing it with shells so as to induce copious bleeding. But these rude remedies were of no avail and the poor fellow gradually sank into a comatose condition.
At this stage, the services of the doctor, priest, or enchanter of the tribe were invoked. This personage was a most important member of every tribe. He was generally an old man of wily nature, whose office partook of the nature of a doctor of medicine, doctor of divinity, government astronomer and astrologer, conjurer, and sundry other functions protective and aggressive to the tribe. He played his part well and did not let the curious know any of his trade secrets; consequently he was regarded by all with as much awe and veneration as a people of this monkey-like nature was capable of feeling.
On the present occasion his reverence breathed, mumbled, and muttered over the poor victim, squeezed the part affected, and behaved in a generally extravagant manner. But these theological, medical, or mystical antics, were no better than the more practical efforts of the victim's wives, and death ensued ere long.
Now the immediate cause of death was most certainly a bite inflicted by the snake that had been killed by Buckley, as they all knew. But the blacks never recognised as natural any death, except that produced by extreme old age, the natural end to a long existence, or that resulting from a wound inflicted by the thrust or throw of a spear, the blow of a waddy or other weapon of defence. Any other mode of dying, such as that of sickness or of accident, was accredited to the machinations of an enemy.
To find out the whereabouts of that enemy was now the duty of the tribe, and to follow him to the death was their next task.
The dead man's body was then laid out on a bare piece of ground and a deep line, or rather a little rut, drawn around it. The natives then carefully watched to see if any insects crawled from the body to this encircling rut. Presently an ant was seen to emerge, walk slowly towards it, and cross over it. This was an indication to them that the enemy would be found in the direction which the insect had taken. Preparations were then soon made for the avenging party to set out, meat was cooked for their journey, so that there would be no necessity to light a fire, which might perhaps warn the enemy of their stealthy approach. By long and cautious marches they arrived at their enemies' camping-ground, and then a scene of butchery was enacted, rivalling in cool atrocity anything that could be conceived of.
Buckley did not make one of this blood-thirsty band, which consisted of about twenty of the men, but stayed behind with the others and assisted in the funeral solemnities of the deceased. As a rule, dead bodies were buried as before described in these pages, but occasionally they were disposed of in another way. The corpse of this man was placed on sheets of bark and lifted up into the branches of a tree, where it was left in a horizontal position.
The tribe moved away and did not return to the spot for several months, when the tree was revisited and the dead man's bones taken down and brought to the camp. Then amid great lamentations and self-torture, inflicted by burning brands being applied to their bodies, for the deceased had been a great favourite, the bones were packed into a compact parcel and given in charge of one of the women to carry. The tribe then set off, and arrived, after promiscuous wanderings, at a large hollow tree where they were finally disposed of by being dropped down the cavity within its trunk.
BARTER—MESSENGERS OR HERALDS—BIG MEETINGS—THE CORROBOREE DANCE.
THOUGH rude and very low in the scale of humanity as were Buckley's black companions, they still had a few primitive commercial relations between tribe and tribe. The exchange or barter of the special products of one track of country, for the productions peculiar to another, was frequently the occasion of large tribal congresses or meetings. Among the articles exchanged might be mentioned flints, shells, stones for tomahawks, gum, stalks of the grass tree, clay for painting the body, and some articles of diet.
Prior to these great gatherings, messengers or heralds were sent out to arrange matters between the tribes. These messengers were very important personages, and might be said to be the most intelligent and talkative members of a tribe. Their linguistic powers were of course necessary, as they had frequently to carry news and information to tribes whose language differed considerably from that spoken by their own.
A solitary black-fellow always ran the risk of being killed if found outside his own tribal domain; therefore, the messenger or courier, was furnished with an insignia of his office as a sort of passport when travelling. This was a stick six or seven inches long and an inch or two broad, though often smaller, curiously carved with primitive hieroglyphic notches and scratches, emblematic of his errand. It was generally stuck in the netted band worn round his head, just as you often see an Irish labourer's pipe drawn through his hat-band. The message bearer usually kept a note of the time occupied in a journey by marking one of his arms with a stripe of clay for each day. Another man in the tribe also kept tally in a similar manner.
On arriving at his destination, the messenger delivered himself of his message, peaceful, warlike, commercial, matrimonial, or terpsichorean, as the case might be, to the most important man of the tribe visited. They listened with great interest, and ordered the women to prepare for him some refreshment. After this he retired to that portion of the camp usually occupied by the single men, where he silently watched for awhile the effect of his communication. If they did not desire to have any intercourse with his people, or were antagonistic to his proposals, a significant hint would be given him to depart.
His non-successful overtures were never productive of any injury to himself, for, like an ambassador from one European court to another, his person was always held sacred, and he was allowed to return in peace; or, at any rate, to get well on his way back to his own people, before any attempt would be made to overtake him in order to wreak vengeance on his head.
Big meetings were always held during the summer months, and on such occasions the opportunity was taken to hold large corroborees. These corroborees were a source of keen enjoyment to the heart of every black-fellow. No schoolboy ever revelled in the delights of a pantomime or harlequinade with half the ecstasy felt by our dusky friends at their grand tribal festival. When several friendly-disposed tribes came together, a party from each tribe took it in turn nightly to give a corroboree, the other tribes meanwhile being the audience.
Great emulation existed among them to produce a good entertainment, and therefore many rehearsals would take place long before the meetings of the tribes. Every black—man, woman and child—closely followed the performance with eager and greedy eyes and ears, in order to learn any new or original tune or antic that might be introduced. So quick were they at learning, and so retentive were their memories, that it was no uncommon thing for a new song or chant that particularly struck the fancy to be carried from tribe to tribe for hundreds of miles, although the meanings of the words were not understood by any of the singers beyond the original composer and the members of his tribe. Consequently, although many features of the performance were common to all corroborees, yet no two were exactly alike.
Every phase and experience of aboriginal life were fit subjects for mimic reproduction of them. Fanciful representations evolved out of the fertile minds of some imaginative individuals among them were also frequently given; and these added not a little to the delight of the spectators, and not less to the performers.
Night was the time always chosen by the blacks for these national entertainments. The theatre, if we might call it such, where the corroboree was acted was always a flat piece of ground, unobstructed by bushes or trees, and from which all impediments in the shape of sticks, stones and other movables had been carefully cleared away so that the free play of the performers might not be baulked or interfered with. Two immense heaps of dry bushes and branches were piled up, and to keep up the fire without any undue interruption, a plentiful supply of other combustibles were collected in readiness.
When the time arrived for the exhibition, pantomime, or theatrical performance—call it what you will—to begin, a fire-stick was applied to the two piles. The orchestra, consisting of the women led by an old man black-fellow as conductor, took up their position in a sort of semicircle just within the confines of the light cast by the blazing fires, and rather in the shadow if anything.
Up to this time the male performers in the little drama had not been idle. Before sundown they had all retired to the seclusion of the surrounding forest to make their preparations. In their green-room supplied by Dame Nature they made a free use of her products in ornamenting their persons. Each man decorated himself according to the ideal of beauty or fitness running through his own inner consciousness.
The groundwork used by all was generally red ochre. On this some painted themselves along the ribs, round the eyes, and down the legs and arms, so that they much resembled skeletons; but whether it was their intention to pose as skeletons is not known. Others, again, fantastically bedaubed designs which would have puzzled the most erudite or imaginative Egyptologist or Assyriologist to find out the meaning. Some had plumes of feathers sticking through their head-bands; others wore necklaces of the teeth of animals strung by the roots to a thin strip of skin, or of reeds strung on a bark cord; they all had fixed to their ankles bunches of leafy twigs, which made a rustling noise as the performers moved about.
Everything was now ready. Darkness had settled over the land. The audience had assembled at a respectful distance from the stage, and the orchestra had received its signal to strike up. The first notes were low and plaintive as befitted the solemnity of the whole scene. The enormous light thrown by the two fires had made the background of forest look unusually dark by contrast, and cast thousands of fitful jumping shadows with every slight rustling wind that shivered the leafy branches overhead. The scenic effect was very weird and phantom-like and quite in keeping with what followed.
Presently from the forest gloom beyond, there appeared the first of the performers, who glided within the circle of light, and with arms extended at right angles to his body, executed some fantastic saltatorial movements. Another and another followed in the same way, till the whole of the actors were extended in one quivering line. The vocal music and thumping on the opossum-skin drums increased and increased while this was going on, so that the original low plaintive sounds grew into a most discordant clamouring. The dancers also added their quota to the noisy dissonance in the utterance of partly suppressed grunts and murmurs.
The whole line of dancers then gradually disappeared behind the scenes, making their exit much in the same manner as they had entered upon the stage. But not for long. In a moment or two the spectators were gladdened by seeing them return to go through similar evolutions. This appearing and disappearing was kept up for some time, and at last was brought to the climax in a grand final tableau.
Fast and furious then went everyone. There seemed to be a very vortex of dancing legs, flourishing arms, and convulsive contortions of bodies. The performers now moved as if endowed with the flexibility of the tempered steel. The sticks or the boomerangs in the hands of each were beaten together to add to the music. Demoniacal they all looked in their earnestness as with eyes dilated, chests expanded, nostrils and cheeks inflated, and teeth glistening in their whiteness, they glared at each other, and seemed as though they intended to tear one another to pieces. Lines or ranks were rapidly formed and reformed with marvellous celerity and the precision of a company of soldiers, and so straight that the reed ornament stuck through the hose of each black-fellow appeared at times to be one continuous long skewer. A series of concerted jumps followed, one row to the right another to the left. The action was then changed. They all mingled, and afterwards assumed a new formation in which they drew closer to the fire and towards the orchestra, who now beat their hardest and sang their loudest, while the dancers or pantomimists so rapidly twirled and knocked together their implements that it seemed wonderful no heads were broken.
The performance was now almost over, and a last burst was made to increase the pace of both voice and limb. The leaders exerted every effort. Their corroboree sticks were held high in the air, and then, amid a perfect pandemonium of tumultuous noise and impish gyrations, the entertainment ended. The dancers, terribly exhausted with their exertions, filed off into the shade of the trees, whence they yet again emerged shortly afterwards to mingle with the audience for a time, and receive its congratulations or criticisms before finally retiring to their several mia-mias.
A corroboree usually lasted three or four hours. Though it might be regarded as a friendly performance, it not unfrequently was the first cause of an enmity between tribes; licentiousness and atrocities and consequent revenge being often the outcome of these social dances. Again, on the other hand, tribes which had hitherto been hostile to one another would, on ending their disputes, celebrate the occasion by holding a corroboree.
A TRIBE ANNIHILATED—WHITE VISITORS—BUCKLEY'S FRANTIC SIGNALS—A DARK DEED—WRECKAGE—THE TWO SAILORS—TREASURE TROVE—DESPONDENCY.
YEAR followed year, and Buckley saw children grow up into manhood and womanhood. The young people of his first sojourn among them had become grey-headed men and women, and many of his early friends had died of the infirmities of old age. He became quite a patriarch among his people, and relates that he exercised considerable influence over them. Being of a peaceful disposition and dearly loving his ease, he was often instrumental in preventing fights.
One curious incident is related by him of a tribe being totally annihilated by suffocation. This tribe, which was of a light copper colour in complexion, and credited with possessing tremendously large and protruding bellies, was notorious for its extreme partiality to human flesh as an article of diet, not only eating it greedily after a fight, but whenever they got an opportunity. In consequence, they were very much dreaded by the surrounding tribes. Another peculiarity of theirs was that they never erected any hut or shelter to sleep in, but lived promiscuously in the scrub, lying about anyhow and anywhere. At last, to put an end to their incessant murderous onslaughts, several tribes combined and set fire to the scrub that secreted them, and the wind being favourable to the spread of the flames, the loathsome cannibals were wiped off the face of the earth.
Only once during the whole period of Buckley's existence with the blacks, was the hope of being restored to civilization quickened into vigorous life within him. By a curious chance it was a flag—an emblem of a civilized nation—that carried his thoughts away from his barbarian surroundings, and revived the long since relinquished desire to escape them. At the time when thus aroused he was in the bush, and a little distance from the camp of his black friends. He noticed a black-fellow strutting about with the piece of bunting hanging à la opossum rug over his sooty shoulder. With anxious steps Buckley drew nearer to the prodigiously vain fellow, and questioned him concerning the object of his conceit. He was told that several of the tribe, while seeking for mussel shells on the beach, had seen a large ship at anchor, and whilst watching her had observed a boat-load of white men put off, leaving the ship apparently deserted. After eyeing the vessel narrowly for some time, and seeing no signs of life on board, three of the blacks swam alongside and, with cat-like celerity climbed up to the deck. The first object to rivet their gaze was the 'colours' which they at once dragged down and appropriated. Then they snatched up bits of rope and sails, and also some glass bottles, most of them broken. They did not go below, being afraid to venture there, and soon cleared off with the few things they had hurriedly obtained. After secreting their plunder, they were about to make another raid, when they were baulked by the return of the boat. The crew, on reaching the ship, saw the shifted state of the deck trappings, and, guessing the cause, discharged a thundering blaze of musketry, which so intimidated the native looters that they sheered off, satisfied with the fruits of their first flying visit.
Buckley was kept in the highest pitch of excitement while listening to the story. Soon afterwards he stealthily left the camp and almost ran the whole distance to the sea-coast. The ship was still anchored, and Buckley, shaking with nervous tremor, stood almost abreast of it. Standing thus, the desire to make himself known grew stronger and stronger. So much moved did he become, that large tears steaming from his eyes coursed down his hairy cheeks and over his long and matted beard. He attempted to hail them in English, and was almost maddened to find that he could not articulate a single word of his mother tongue. In a perfect frenzy he paced hither and thither, making violent beckonings and wild shouts for the seamen to take him away. They, however, walked about the deck unconcernedly, saving once when one of them levelled a musket at him. This act prevented Buckley from swimming towards them. He stayed at the water's edge for the rest of the day, and at night he lighted a fire there and retired into the scrub close by.
In the morning a boat was put off from the ship's side, and sailed two or three miles off to a small island that lay a few hundred yards from the shore. Buckley followed eagerly along the beach, but the breeze greatly aided those in the boat. Ere he could catch up to them they had landed on the island, and having completed the object of their trip, were tacking back to the ship. At one time he was so near them that he could see an amused expression on their rough countenances, as though the men were much diverted by his continued gesticulating efforts to make himself understood. It is great wonder that Buckley in his temerity was not shot as a warning to those who had committed the depredation on the ship, for with his native weapons and opossum-skin cloak, and his sun-dried, darkly-tanned and rugged features, he looked every whit as much a black as any aborigine.
Disheartened with his unavailing endeavours, he next swam over to where the sailors had been employed. He examined the spot carefully in hopes of finding an axe or some other useful relic. The search brought him to a mound of earth, and, thinking it might be 'a place of concealment of some kind of treasure,' he turned over the newly-placed sods. His quest for greed revealed to him the appalling sight of a dead white man wrapped up in a blanket. Recovering from his shock, he became so gruesomely utilitarian as to consider whether the nice warm shroud might not be taken to keep off the cold blasts from his own half-naked body. After a little debating, however, he felt that 'he could not find it in his heart to rob the dead,' and therefore put back the earth over the blanketed corpse, and also spread some boughs on the lonely grave.
His next movements took him back near to the vessel, where he again made frantic signals for several days, but without opening up any communication with his white fellow-beings. The terrible misery of this suspense was at length terminated by the ship weighing anchor and sailing away. With the departure of the vessel all his hopes of deliverance vanished, and he returned to the camp of his black friends.
He then, for the first time, heard from the blacks that many years previously another such vessel had arrived in the bay. From it a boat's crew had landed, bringing with them two men as prisoners, whom they bound to a tree and shot; afterwards, rapidly returning to their ship, leaving the dead bodies tied up just as they had first fixed them.
Buckley, on another occasion, came across a large boat, stranded on the sea-shore. In and about her were eight oars; three blankets, rigged as sails, and a quantity of tackle. She had evidently been lying there a considerable time, as some of the articles were buried in the sand. No signs of the former occupants could be discovered. The treasure-trove was, of course, pounced upon by our hero and his companions.
Later on he learned that two white men, evidently from this boat, had been found wandering in the bush by a neighbouring tribe. They were suffering frightfully from exposure and hunger and thirst. The natives took care of them and relieved their wants till they were strong again. An effort was then made to inform the strangers that another white man was living in the vicinity, meaning Buckley, and that they would go in search of him. The poor fellows, however, did not understand the meaning of these signs, and took the first opportunity of escaping. They got away as far as the head of the bay, but were there found by the blacks of the Yarra tribe, who killed them while they were attempting to cross the river.
Another evidence of civilization was discovered by Buckley during one of his solitary rambles along the sea-shore. This time it was a large cask, or hogshead, partly buried in the sand—probably thrown up by the sea from a wrecked ship. It was too heavy for him to lift, so he knocked the end in and took a draught of the contents. He had been so long addicted to water-drinking that he had forgotten the taste of the invented beverages of man, but thought that the liquor now before him was either beer or wine. Anyhow, the flavour appeared to be horribly offensive, and the smell equally so. He reflected on the evils that might ensue if the blacks came along and imbibed it, and therefore, like a good prohibitionist, he stove in the side and emptied the 'wet damnation' over the sands. The hoop-iron around the cask was, however, a welcome addition to the weapons and implement of his black friends, and the distribution of it amongst them increased his popularity not a little.
These incidents were the only evidences he had, during the long years of his wandering life, of the existence of any white people in that part of the world. Many, many years ago the settlement had been abandoned, as he had learned from his black companions, although he had not been around to that side of the bay since his flight. Knowing this, he had given up all hopes of returning to civilisation. But the knowledge that chance voyagers sometimes appeared on the coast awakened a natural desire to renew his acquaintance with people of his own blood. These slight hopes, however, were quickly annihilated, and left in their place a feeling of deep depression. The daily necessity of providing for his wants somewhat cured him, and, in fact, compelled him to be up and doing, thus acting as a potent balm, as occupation always does in cases of even the most severe despondency, affliction, or sorrow.
On many occasions he left the company of his black friends and retired to a solitary life on the sea-shore. This hermit-like habit was never interfered with. They allowed him the utmost liberty. A disgust at many of their brutal customs seems to have prompted him to this. Perhaps also the faint glimmering hope of being able to attract the attention of some passing ship had something to do with it.
WELCOME NEWS—BUCKLEY LEAVES HIS BLACK COMPANIONS—THE BRITISH FLAG—AMONG WHITE FOLKS AGAIN—RE-LEARNING HIS MOTHER TONGUE—JOHN BATMAN'S COLONISATION ASSOCIATION—FREE PARDON—APPOINTED CONSTABLE—LOSS OF MESSRS. GELLIBRAND AND HESSE—BUCKLEY LEAVES PORT PHILLIP FOR VAN DIEMEN'S LAND—MARRIES—SETTLES DOWN—PENSIONED—HIS DEATH.
AT LAST an end came to his troubles in a manner and at a time when he was least expecting it.
One day, when a considerable distance from the coast, and engaged in the peaceful and mild occupation of digging or grubbing up roots for his evening meal, he was startled by the arrival of some young men of his tribe with their spears gaily decorated with coloured pocket-handkerchiefs. To say that he was agitated would be but a weak way of expressing his feelings. Never did a flag proudly flying from the mast of a gallant ship, as she bore down to rescue a raft-load of shipwrecked mariners, revive more hope, or renew greater pent up desire or yearning for a restoration to human society, than to poor Buckley did these common pieces of cotton waving in the wind from the rude weapons of the blacks.
To his eager inquiries the young men replied that the gaudy rags were gifts which had been received from a party of strangers who had landed on the coast. His further questions elicited the information that the party consisted of three white men and six natives. They had been brought there by a big ship, which had now sailed away. They lived in two white houses, meaning tents, which they had erected on the shore, and had in their possession plenty of provisions, blankets, tomahawks, and other useful articles.
Having disburdened themselves of this important news, the natives expressed their intention of calling a meeting of several tribes to aid in a raid on the valuable possessions of the strangers. Buckley was greatly concerned on hearing this. If the strangers were killed, all his hopes would be blasted, and nothing would remain for him but to end his days among the blacks. That night was a very anxious one for him, and he lay awake a prey to many conflicting feelings. When morning broke he had made up his mind to slip away from his companions and make for the white encampment on the beach. He succeeded in eluding observation, and arrived within sight of the tents after a journey of a day and a night, the weather being very wintry and tempestuous all the time.
The British ensign waving from a flag-pole showed him that his own country-men had invaded the home of the black man once more. He was completely overwhelmed and stupefied, and felt compelled to stand some distance off in order to recover himself. Again he tried to remember or recall his long-forgotten language, but without success. Like one in a nightmare he was tongue-tied, and found, though his tongue moved, the words he wished to utter came not at his bidding.
In this confused mental condition he strode over to where a number of the coast natives were camped and sat with them. His arrival caused great excitement among them, and when a white man came out of one of the tents with a bucket to draw water from a well close by they pointed Buckley out to him. Naturally he was greatly surprised and puzzled at the appearance of the gigantic white man, with long matted hair all over head and face, and dressed like the blacks in opossum skin, and carrying the customary spears and boomerangs. His companions were quickly called from the tent. They surrounded Buckley, asking him a hundred questions, to none of which could he give an answer.
A glimmering of the meaning of some of the words at length seemed to dawn upon him, though his tongue was still tied, and utterance came not. By a sudden inspiration he bethought him of a tattoo mark, common to sailors and soldiers, on his arm, and thrusting it forward he pointed to the indistinct letters W. B. One of his interrogators then made several guesses at their signification, but of course did not hit upon the right one so far as his surname was concerned. At last the mists of years rolled back, and Buckley remembered his own name, and spoke. The words William Buckley came tremulously from his lips, almost startling him with their strangeness. One of the men then asked him if he would like some bread, and 'bread' was the next word Buckley managed to articulate. His tongue having now been brought to use the speech of his youth he, like a child, repeated several words, one by one, after the white men.
It took him many days to regain sufficient knowledge of his lost language, to understand from the strangers what object they had in view in settling on this part of the coast. He then learned that they were attached to Batman and Co.'s new association for the colonization of the Port Phillip District. Batman, after concluding a treaty with the natives, had returned to the island of Van Diemen's Land, whence the expedition had originated, to obtain stores, stock, implements, and men, in order to open up the new settlement.
The island of Van Diemen's Land to which Collin's expedition had sailed in 1803, had by this time become an important colony, numbering 40,000 inhabitants. During Buckley's thirty-two years compulsory exile great changes had also taken place throughout Australia. From the original settlement at Port Jackson exploring expeditions had been fitted out, and these were followed by the pioneer squatter into the far interior, and thus ultimately the colony of South Australia had its beginning in 1834.
The colony of Western Australia (or the Swan River settlement) had been founded in 1826. Portland Bay, two hundred miles west of Port Phillip, had been settled by the Henty family in 1834; and now, in June 1835, John Batman and his party had inaugurated the settlement on the shores of Port Phillip. Both these later expeditions originated in Van Diemen's Land, although Batman was influenced in his choice of the site, by information which was given him by an old schoolmate of his in New South Wales, Hamilton Hume, who had visited the neighbourhood in an exploring expedition some years before.
To return to Buckley. He was invited to make himself at home till the return of the vessel from Van Diemen's Land, which was expected in a few days. Buckley's first heralds of the news of the arrival of the white men now appeared on the scene, accompanied by a large number of natives. They immediately camped around and about the settlement, and invited Buckley to join them. Murder and robbery was their object, and Buckley was asked to help them, saying that if he did not do so they would sacrifice him with the others. Thereupon Buckley used some diplomacy, and got them to postpone their idea till the coming back of the ship, when, he said they would be able to gain more of the coveted treasures. The blacks consented, but became very inpatient at last and so threatening in their conduct that Buckley felt compelled to throw off the mask of friendship and take side with the whites. Arming himself with a gun, he swore that he would take the life of the first man who raised a spear, and promised them presents in abundance should they behave themselves. On seeing the turn affairs had taken their courage failed them.
A few days later Batman (the leader), Wedge (the surveyor), and others of the pioneering party arrived in the vessel. They were, of course, astonished at seeing the white giant in the garb of a black man, and his story greatly interested them. Batman, thinking that he would be useful to the association as an interpreter and mediator between them and the natives, offered to take him into their service. Buckley, on his part, was willing, and once more resumed the garb of civilization.
It was not forgotten that he was a convict and still liable to serve the unexpired term of his sentence. Mr. Wedge, with a kindliness characteristic of him in his dealings with everybody, took Buckley's case in hand, and drew up a petition in his behalf to the Governor of Van Diemen's Land. In the course of a few weeks a conditional pardon arrived with very commendable promptitude from Lieut.-Governor Arthur, and Mr. Wedge records of Buckley, that 'on receiving his conditional pardon his feelings were powerfully excited, so much so that it was some time before he had the power of utterance. Never shall I forget the joy that beamed in his countenance when I communicated that he was a free man and again received within the pale of civilised society. In desiring me to convey his grateful acknowledgements to the Lieut.-Governor for his kindness, and to the gentleman who had interested himself in his behalf, he was powerfully agitated; and if ever man was sincere in giving vent to his feelings, Buckley was so in expressing his thanks on this occasion.'
Little more remains to be said. Buckley's savage life was now over. The association of settlers retained him in their services as a kind of mediator and interpreter between themselves and the natives. The headquarters of the settlement having been removed from Indented Heads to the Yarra, Buckley was taken there, and had the honour of building the first chimney for the embryo city. It was erected for the hut occupied by John Batman and his family. As instancing the friendly feeling which existed between the Batman family and Buckley, it might be mentioned that Miss Batman very kindly provided the rescued giant with a shirt made expressly for him by her own hands.
Mr. Wedge also took a fancy to Buckley, and got him to accompany him on many expeditions into the bush. On one of these occasions, when out for a week, they fell in with a family with whom Buckley had been living for some months. He relates that the blacks were greatly affected when they saw Buckley in his new garb, and wept bitterly when their old companion prepared to depart from them; but Buckley says the present of a blanket somewhat consoled them. These natives had never seen any white man except Buckley, and now examined Mr. Wedge closely, even going so far as to unbutton his waistcoat to see if he was white all over.
Mr. Gellibrand, the solicitor to the Association, who arrived from Van Diemen's Land shortly afterwards, became a friend to Buckley, and took a great interest in his welfare. In fact, it was through his kind offices that Buckley received the appointment of interpreter to the association at a salary of £50 a year and rations.
Buckley had, however, one implacable enemy, in the person of John Pascoe Fawkner, the rival of John Batman in the settlement of Port Phillip. He regarded Buckley as an enemy to the whites, and an encourager, if not the leader, of the blacks in depredations which were frequently committed. Perhaps his expressions of dislike were evoked by the fact of John Batman espousing the cause of the wild white-man, for it is well known that 'little Johnny Fawkner,' with all his good qualities, had a supreme abhorrence of those whose ideas clashed in any way with his own interests or projects, and John Batman and party, who had anticipated him in the founding of the colony by about a couple of months, were a constant thorn in his side. *
[* Batman arrived May 30th, 1835. Fawkner's party arrived August 15th, 1835, and Fawkner himself on October 10th, 1835.]
On the arrival of Captain William Lonsdale as resident superintendent in 1836, Buckley was given the position of constable; but the appointment was a very irksome one to him, and he could not entirely throw off the habits and ways of thinking engendered by his curious experiences for more than a generation. Blacks and whites were equally a disturbing element to him. Many of the latter were criminals at large, and were not over particular in their dealings with the natives, and consequently encounters frequently took place, in which blood was not unfrequently shed. Buckley was no administrator. He could not influence one or the other. He might be likened to a cork on the surface of troubled waters, and was but the play of circumstances. His old companions were rapidly becoming the victims of the white man, and although reprisals were frequently taken, it was evident that but a short period would elapse before they would all be obliged to succumb to the superior force of the invader.
An event which stirred the little settlement to the utmost depths was the disappearance of Messrs Gellibrand and Hesse, who had landed from Hobart at Geelong, and had set out on horseback from that place for Melbourne. They diverged a little from the usual track after leaving the station of Dr. Thompson, taking with them a bullock-driver as a guide, their object being to visit another run. They journeyed on for some time, till they came to a thickly-wooded country, which was entirely unknown to the guide. Becoming alarmed, he suspected that they had now gone astray, and entreated them to retrace their steps; but they were confident that ere long they would reach the place they were seeking, and determined to push forward, whereupon the guide refused to advance any further. He returned that same night from whence they had all set out, and reported the circumstances of his unfortunate mistake.
Those on the station, however, felt that the two friends would not come to harm, as Mr. Gellibrand had made frequent journeys into the newly-settled country.
Twelve days later, when it was learned that the two gentlemen had not arrived at Melbourne, great consternation was shown by everybody, and fear was expressed that they had probably been murdered by the natives. Search parties were organised. Buckley accompanied one of these, but his services were found of no avail, as he says that his efforts were frustrated by the proceedings of the rest of the party, who seemed disinclined to trust him from their sight, either because they were afraid to lose him as their guide, or because they were suspicious that he would play them false. He returned to Melbourne, and was afterwards given greater liberty in the prosecution of another search; but this time his exertions were nullified by atrocities committed by the whites, and some blackfellows whom they had armed with guns.
No trace of the missing gentleman was ever discovered, although all available means were employed. Their mysterious disappearance cast a gloom over everyone, and was the saddest incident connected with the first settlement of Port Phillip. 'Mr. Gellibrand,' says Bonwick, in his history of the settlement, 'was the prime mover of Batman's expedition. He was the leading spirit of his times and colony. He was recognised as the first lawyer in the island, and the most honest among men. Defender of the oppressed, champion of freedom, denouncer of wrong, he was not less esteemed as a private citizen, honoured for his integrity, admired for his benevolence, and beloved for his domestic virtues. Such a man brought dignity and character to the enterprise, while aiding it by the wisdom of his counsels and the energy of his efforts. The loss of so useful and so influential a leader was a serious blow to the promoters in the infancy of their undertaking, and deprived the unhappy natives of their best and most powerful friend.' His loss was grievously felt by Buckley, and the poor fellow henceforth seems to have taken no heart in his duties.
Soon afterwards he applied for permission to take a prisoner over to Van Diemen's Land; and the little island appeared more to his liking than the scene of his many years' wanderings under its new conditions. On his return, therefore, he, after a few weeks' work at tracking some sheep which had been stolen by the natives, tendered his resignation, and left Port Phillip for ever.
He sailed from Melbourne on the 28th of December, 1837, and arrived at Hobart Town on the 10th of January, 1838.
His appearance there created great interest, and a Van Demonian Barnum of the period endeavoured to inveigle him on to the stage of the theatre, there to exhibit him as the huge Anglo-Australian giant. But Buckley did not fall into the trap, much to the chagrin of the man of enterprise, who had publicly advertised his appearance.
An old shipmate of Buckley's, who had become a wealthy and respectable settler, induced Buckley to live with him for a few weeks, and afterwards applied to the Governor, Sir John Franklin, to give Buckley some Government appointment. His efforts were successful, and Buckley received the position of assistant storekeeper at the Immigrant's Home, Hobart Town; and when this establishment was broken up a few months later, he was transferred to the Female Nursery as gatekeeper.
In 1839 Buckley received the mournful news of the death of the large-hearted John Batman, who had been such a true friend to him. This grieved him very much, and it is related that the poor fellow wept most bitterly, and for some time was inconsolable at the loss of one to whom he had good reasons for feeling a sense of deep gratitude.
Whilst at the Immigrant's Home, Buckley made the acquaintance of a respectable family, consisting of father, mother, and their daughter. The father soon after left for Sydney, in order to better their position, and while travelling overland from that place to Melbourne, was speared by the natives of the Murray river. On hearing of his death, Buckley offered his own hand and heart to the disconsolate widow, and was accepted. They were married by the Rev. Mr. Ewing, of the Church of England, Newtown, in the month of March, 1840. Buckley was then sixty years old. His marriage was a happier one than his first venture with the black widow; the care with which both his wife and her daughter attended him shortly afterwards, during a serious illness from typhus fever, fully attesting this.
In 1850 Buckley was pensioned off by the Convict Department on £12 a year. A couple of years afterwards this small allowance was supplemented by a grant of £40 a year from the Victorian Government.
Buckley lived on peacefully and unobtrusively till the year 1856, when through an accident which happened while he was out in a gig, he received such injury that death shortly followed.
Thus at the very old age of seventy-six passed away from life's fitful scene one who had but too poorly played his part. Dull and reserved, almost to stupidity, he was as a mere lay figure in the midst of his surroundings. Had he possessed force of mind or intellect commensurate with his gigantic stature and sturdy constitution, what a tale might have been told of his exploits among the savages of New Holland! His thirty-two years life with them might have changed the whole course of their future history. It might have transformed the miserable disjointed parties of wanderers and hunters, with their constant internecine wars and diabolical practices, into something like a homogeneous nation. But poor Buckley sank almost to the low level of the blacks, and there is not the slightest evidence that his presence modified their barbarous habits and customs in any way.
WHEN Buckley made himself known to Batman's party at Indented Head there were natives variously estimated at from 5,000 to 7,000 in number in the district now called the Colony of Victoria. In the year 1889, but fifty-four years after, there are not more than 500, including half-castes. This rapid diminution has taken place notwithstanding efforts on the part of the Government and many philanthropic societies. The leaders of the original colonising party, Messrs. Batman, Wedge and Gellibrand, and other gentlemen, were strongly desirous that the natives should be treated with consideration, and did all in their power to protect them from the cupidity and brutality of the rougher element, necessarily constituting a portion of a community drawn from a convict colony such as Van Diemen's Land.
As early as December 1836, a protectorate was formed to watch the interests of the aboriginal inhabitants and to inculcate the tenets of the Christian religion. This protectorate or mission station occupied the site of the present Botanical Gardens on the banks of the Yarra. Mr. George Langhorne, at a salary of £150 a year, was in charge of it, and was assisted by John Thomas Smith, in the capacity of schoolmaster to the natives at a salary of £40 a year. The latter gentleman afterwards became Mayor of Melbourne on seven occasions. In course of time, and as the white population increased, further efforts were made to protect and provide for the dispossessed owners of the soil; but the natives, even under the care of Philanthropy, Religion and the State, could not adapt themselves to the new conditions. Consequently, at the present time there are but few left, and these are kept, at an enormous expenditure of money, apart from the white population on several large stations or aboriginal reserves established by the Government.
The blacks who were not brought into these folds, but who preferred to take their chances with the rest of the population, were quickly disposed of. The more troublesome, who mistook sheep and cattle for kangaroo and other native game, met their fate in a summary manner at the hands of frontier shepherds and stockmen.
The aggressive ones who thus died off suddenly and violently by the white man's pistols and guns, and not unfrequently by arsenic, were followed in a little while by their more tractable brethren who hung about squatters' stations and the townships, and were improved out of existence by the no less effective weapons of superior civilization—the white man's drink, diseases and vices.
Many of the natives evinced considerable aptitude for learning the usual occupations of station life, and made themselves useful as shepherds, stockmen, boundary riders, etc, etc. The Government utilised a few as trackers, for their knowledge of bushcraft made them very useful in the tracking of fugitive criminals. A native police force was also organized. A body of the latter is still employed in Queensland, where the blacks are numerous; but it is questionable whether the Government has not unwittingly committed a crime in arming men having the characteristics of Australian blacks. The atrocities these savage and well-armed constabulary have been enabled to wreak upon their naked country-men are past all description. *
[* See Rusden's Australia, E. M Curr's Australian Race, and Gideon Lang's Lecture on the "Aborigines of Australia."]
The late Mr. Curr, the best authority on the Australian blacks, sums up their present condition in the following sentences:—'The colonial governments have collected the remnants of some or all of the tribes, and located them on what in Victoria are called Aboriginal reserves. These, of which there are six in Victoria, averaging between three or four thousand acres each, are placed usually under the care of missionaries, the blacks on them being fed, housed, and the young ones educated, at the cost principally of the Treasury. Of the results obtained on these reserves I can speak from experience, having frequently visited them, and been for several years a member of a board entrusted with their supervision. The missionaries, for the most part, are Moravians from Germany, and some of them members of the Church of England. On some of the reserves the teachers are officers of the public Education Department. After a prolonged and careful inquiry into the state of the blacks located on these establishments, I have come to the following conclusions, which I think the records of the Aboriginal Board of Victoria substantiate:—
'The children learn reading, writing, and arithmetic more easily
than white children, understand English pretty well, but speak it
indifferently, for the missionaries who teach them are generally
Germans, who themselves speak English badly.
'The blacks on these reserves have easily been induced to give up murder, cannibalism (to which they were never much addicted) and polygamy. As regards religion and morality, passing over a little show, it seems to me that they do not exist among them; and though these blacks have been amongst us for forty years, and many of them were born and brought up on our mission stations, I am convinced that were they once more returned to their forests and cut off from communication with the whites, they would in a single lifetime become again exactly what we originally found them. . . . . . .
'The only success which our treatment of them has had is in the cultivation of their intellects; and if their education is persevered with for several generations, I see no reason to prevent their being brought in this particular to a level with ourselves. In bodily health they have conspicuously receded. Their state of dependence on us has undermined their former self-reliance, and left them without character. Religion and civilisation our blacks have not attained. The white race seems destined, not to absorb, but exterminate the 'Blacks of Australia'.'
As published in the Yorke's Peninsula Advertiser, 23 April, 1897.
ABOUT the year 1847, when on an overland journey, I remained for some time at Mr. Templar's station, Nanima, near Wellington, in New South Wales, where there had been for many years, and until some three years preceding my visit, a party of Moravian missionaries, who had been very successful in civilizing the blacks. They had taken charge of the natives, almost from infancy, and trained them up apparently free from the vices and barbarities of the tribes.
While at Nanima, I constantly saw one of these blacks, named Jemmy, a remarkably fine man, about twenty-eight years of age, who was the 'model Christian' of the missionaries, and who had been over and over again described in their reports as a living proof that, taken in infancy, the natives were as capable of being truly Christianized as a people who had had eighteen centuries of cultivation.
I confess that I strongly doubted, but still there was no disputing the apparent facts. Jemmy was not only familiar with the Bible, which he could read remarkably well, but he was even better acquainted with the more abstruse tenets of Christianity; and so far as the whites could see, his behaviour was in accordance with his religious acquirements.
One Sunday morning I walked down to the blackfellows' camp, to have a talk with Jemmy, as usual. I found him sitting in his gunyah, overlooking the valley of the Macquarie, whose waters glanced brightly in the sunshine of the delicious spring morning.
He was sitting in a state of nudity, excepting his waist-cloth, very earnestly reading the Bible, which indeed was his constant practice; and I could see that he was perusing the Sermon on the Mount.
I seated myself and waited till he concluded the chapter, when he laid down the Bible, folded his hands, and sat with his eyes fixed abstractedly on his fire. I bade him 'Good morning,' which he acknowledged, without looking up. I then said, 'Jemmy, what is the meaning of your spears being stuck in a circle round you?' He looked me steadily in the eyes, and said, solemnly and with suppressed fierceness, 'Mother's dead!' I said that I was very sorry to hear it, 'But what had her death to do with the spears being stuck around so?' 'Bogan black-fellow killed her!' was the fierce and gloomy reply. 'Killed by a Bogan black!' I exclaimed; 'Why, your mother has been dying for a fortnight, and Dr. Curtis did not expect her to outlive last night, which you know as well a I do.'
His only reply was a dogged repetition of the words, 'A Bogan black-fellow killed her!' I appealed to him as a Christian—to the Sermon on the Mount, that he had just been reading, but he absolutely refused to promise that he would not avenge his mother's death.
In the afternoon of that day we were startled by a yell which can never be mistaken by any person who has once heard the wild war-whoop of the blacks when in battle array. On rushing out, we saw all the blackfellows of the neighbourhood formed into a line, and following Jemmy in an imaginary attack upon an enemy.
Jemmy himself disappeared that evening. On the following Wednesday morning, I found him sitting complacently in his gunyah, plaiting a rope of human hair, which I at once knew to be that of his victim. Neither of us spoke; I stood for some time watching him as he worked with a look of mocking defiance of the anger he knew I felt. I pointed to a hole in the middle of his fire and said, 'Jemmy the proper place for your bible is there;' he looked up with his eyes flashing as I turned away, and never saw him again.
I afterwards learned that he had gone to the district of the Bogan tribe, where the first black he met happened to be an old friend and companion of his own. This man had just made the first cut in the bark of a tree, which he was about to climb for an opossum; but on hearing footsteps, he leaped down and faced round, as all blacks do, and whites also when blacks are in question. Seeing that it was only Jemmy, however, he resumed his occupation, but had no sooner set to work, than Jemmy sent a spear through his back, and nailed him to the tree.
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