Edward John Eyre - Aborigines Ch 9

Suggestions for Improvement of System Adopted Towards the Natives

In the preceding chapters I have given a general outline of the character, manners, and customs of the Aborigines of Australia, and of the effects produced upon them by a contact with civilization.

I have thus endeavoured to lay before the public their present state and future prospects, and as far as I am able, have attempted to explain what appear to me the reasons that so little success has hitherto attended Missionary, or other efforts, in their behalf. I would sincerely hope, that the accounts which I have given, may not be altogether useless; but that a certain knowledge of the real position of the natives, of the just claims they have upon us, and of the little prospect that exists of any real or permanent good being effected for them, until a great alteration takes place in our system, and treatment, may be the means of attracting attention to their condition, and of enlisting the sympathy of my fellow-countrymen in their cause.

Englishmen have ever been ready to come forward to protect the weak, or the oppressed; nor could they lend their aid to promote a greater, or a nobler work, than that of endeavouring, to arrest the decay, and avert the destruction which at present threatens the aboriginal races of our Australian colonies; and to try at least to bring within the pale of christianity and civilization, a people hitherto considered as the lowest, and most irreclaimable of mankind, but whose natural capabilities and endowments, are, I feel assured, by no means inferior to those of the most favoured nations.

I shall now briefly suggest such alterations and additions, in the system of instruction and policy adopted towards them, as appear to me likely to prove beneficial.

I am aware, that in carrying out the improvements I propose, a greatly increased expenditure on behalf of the natives would be necessary, beyond what has hitherto been allowed by any of the Colonial Governments.

It appears to me, however, that they are justly entitled to expect, at our hands, some compensation for the injuries our presence unavoidably inflicts, and some alleviation of the consequent miseries they are suffering under.

If we are sincere in our desires and efforts to promote the improvement, or prevent the decay of this unfortunate people, we are bound to make our measures sufficiently comprehensive to hold out some reasonable hope of success, otherwise our labour and money are only thrown away.

I do not believe that there is any one practically acquainted with the present state of our relations with the Aborigines, and the system adopted towards them, its working, defects, and inaptitude to overcome opposing difficulties, who would conscientiously assert that there is the least prospect of any greater benefits resulting in future than have been realized up to the present time.

There is another reason, independently of justice or humanity, one which, with some, may perhaps have more weight, as a motive for extending and amending our policy towards the natives. I mean self-interest. If our measures were calculated to afford them that protection which we claim for ourselves; and in place of those resources we have deprived them of, to offer to them a certain and regular supply of food in their respective districts, their wandering habits would be partially restrained, and a degree of influence and authority acquired over the whole aboriginal population, in contact with Europeans, which would counteract their natural propensities. The flocks and herds of the settlers, and the lives of his family and servants, would be as unmolested and uninjured as among our own people. There would no longer occur those irritating aggressions, or bloody retaliations, which have too often taken place heretofore, between the black and the white man; and the misfortune of always having the border districts in a state of excitement and alarm, would be avoided, whilst the expense and inconvenience of occasionally sending large parties of military and police, to coerce or punish transgressors that they can rarely meet with, would be altogether dispensed with.

Unfortunately, the system I propose has been so little tried in Australia, that but few instances of its practical results can be adduced. There is one instance, however, which, from its coming nearer to it than any other, may serve to exemplify the success that might be expected. The case I allude to, is that of the establishment of the Government post at Moorunde, upon the Murray, in October 1841, by His Excellency Governor Grey. The circumstances which led to the formation of this post, arose from the disturbed and dangerous state the river route from New South Wales was in at the time, from the fearful losses that had occurred both of life and property, and the dread entertained by many, that the out-stations, which were formed along the line of hills fronting the Murray, would be subject to irruptions from the natives.

Murray River at Moorunde

Between the 16th of April, and 27th of August, or in about four months, four several affrays had taken place between the Aborigines and Europeans, in which many of the latter had been killed, and stock, drays, and other property, had been taken to a great value, (in one instance alone amounting to 5,000 sheep, besides drays and stores); on the other hand the sacrifice of native life had been very great, and was admitted in one case, to have amounted to thirty individuals, exclusive of many who were perhaps mortally wounded. Four different parties had been sent up the river during this short period, to punish aggressions. or protect property. In one of these the Europeans were worsted and driven back by the natives, in another a number amounting to sixty-eight Europeans, were absent for upwards of six weeks, at an immense expense, and were then obliged to return without bringing in a single culprit from the offending tribes.

[Note 110: In this latter case, the Commissioner of Police, and the greater number of his men, accompanied the expedition, leaving of course the colony unprotected, and ordinary civil arrangements at a stand still until their return. I have already remarked, the little chance there is, of either the police or military ever succeeding in capturing native offenders, and how very frequently it has occurred, that in their attempts to do so, either through mistake, or from mismanagement, they have very often been guilty of most serious and lamentable acts of injury and aggression upon the innocent and the unoffending. As a mere matter of policy, or financial arrangement, I believe it would in the long run, be prudent and economical, to adopt a liberal and just line of treatment towards the Aborigines. I believe by this means, we should gain a sufficient degree of influence, to induce them always to GIVE UP OFFENDERS THEMSELVES; and I believe that this is the ONLY MEANS by which we can ever hope to ensure their CAPTURE.]

The line of route had become unsafe and dangerous for any party coming from New South Wales; a feeling of bitter hostility, arising from a sense of injury and aggression, had taken possession both of the natives and the Europeans, and it was evident for the future, that if the European party was weak, the natives would rob and murder them, and if otherwise, that they would commit wholesale butchery upon the natives. It was to remedy this melancholy state of affairs, that the Government station at Moorunde was established, and his Excellency the Governor, did me the honour to confide to my management the carrying out the objects proposed.

The instructions I received, and the principles upon which I attempted to carry out those instructions, were exclusively those of conciliation and kindness. I made it my duty to go personally amongst the most distant and hostile tribes, to explain to them that the white man wished to live with them, upon terms of amity, and that instead of injuring, he was most anxious to hold out the olive branch of peace.

By the liberality of the Government, I had it in my power once every month, to assemble all the natives who chose to collect, whether from near or more distant tribes, and to give to each a sufficiency of flour to last for about two days, and once in the year, at the commencement of winter, to bestow upon some few of the most deserving, blankets as a protection against the cold.

How far success attended the system that was adopted, or the exertions that were made, it is scarcely perhaps becoming in me to say: where the object, however, is simply and solely to try to benefit the Aborigines, and by contrasting the effects of different systems, that have been adopted towards them, to endeavour to recommend the best, I must, even at the risk of being deemed egotistical, point out some of the important and beneficial results that accrued at Moorunde.

In the first place, I may state that the dread of settling upon the Murray, has so far given place to confidence, that from Wellington (near the Lake), to beyond the Great South Bend, a distance of more than 100 miles, the whole line of river is now settled and occupied by stock, where, in 1841, there was not a single European, a herd of cattle, or a flock of sheep; nay, the very natives who were so much feared then, are looked upon now as an additional inducement to locate, since the services of the boys or young men, save in great measure the expense of European servants. There are few residents on the Murray, who do not employ one or more of these people, and at many stations, I have known the sheep or cattle, partially, and in some instances, wholly attended to by them.

For three years I was resident at Moorunde, and during the whole of that time, up to November, 1844, not a single case of serious aggression, either on the persons or property of Europeans had ever occurred, and but very few offences even of a minor character. The only crime of any importance that was committed in my neighbourhood, was at a sheep station, about 25 miles to the westward, where somefew sheep were stolen, by a tribe of natives during the absence or neglect of the men attending them. By a want of proper care and precaution, temptation was thrown in the way of the natives, but even then, it was only some few of the young men who were guilty of the offence; none of the elder or more influential members of the tribe, having had any thing to do with it. Neither did the tribe belong to the Murray river, although they occasionally came down there upon visits. There was no evidence to prove that the natives had stolen the sheep at all; the only fact which could be borne witness to, was that so many sheep were missing, and it was supposed the natives had taken them. As soon as I was made acquainted with the circumstances, I made every inquiry among the tribe suspected, and it was at once admitted by the elder men that the youths had been guilty of the offence. At my earnest solicitations, and representations of the policy of so doing, the culprits, five in number, WERE BROUGHT IN AND DELIVERED UP BY THEIR TRIBE. No evidence could be procured against them, and after remanding them from time to time as a punishment, I was obliged to discharge them.

I may now remark, that upon inquiry into the case, and in examining witnesses against the natives, it came out in evidence, that at the same station, and not long before, a native HAD BEEN FIRED AT, (with what effect did not appear,) simply because he SEEMED to be going towards the sheep-folds, which were a long way from the hut, and were directly in the line of route of any one either passing towards Adelaide, or to any of the more northern stations. Another case occurred about the same time, and at the same station, where an intelligent and well-conducted native, belonging to Moorunde, was sent by a gentleman at the Murray to a surgeon, living about sixty miles off, with a letter, and for medicines. The native upon reaching this station, which he had to pass, was ASSAULTED AND OPPOSED BY A MAN, ARMED WITH A MUSKET, and if not fired at, (which he said he was,) was at least intimidated, and driven back, and PREVENTED FROM GOING FOR THE MEDICINES FOR THE INDIVIDUAL WHO WAS ILL. I myself knew the native who was sent, to be one of the most orderly and well-conducted men we had at the Murray; in fact he had frequently, at different times, been living with me as an attache to the police force.

In the second place, I may state, that during the time I have held office at Moorunde, I have frequently visited on the most friendly terms, and almost alone, the most distant and hostile tribes, where so short a time before even large and well-armed bodies of Europeans could not pass uninterrupted or in safety. Many of those very natives, who had been concerned in affrays or aggressions, have since travelled hundreds of miles and encountered hunger and thirst and fatigue, to visit a white man’s station in peace, and on friendly terms.

Thirdly, I may observe, that ever since I went to the Murray, instead of shewing signs of enmity or hostility, the natives have acted in the most kind and considerate manner, and have upon all occasions, when I have been travelling in less known and more remote districts, willingly accompanied me as guides and interpreters, introducing me from one tribe to another, and explaining the amicable relations I wished to establish. In one case, a native, whom I met by himself, accompanied me at once, without even saying good-bye to his wife and family, who were a mile or two away, and whom, as he was going to a distance of one hundred and fifty miles and back, he was not likely to see for a great length of time. He was quite content to send a message by the first native he met, to say where he was going. In my intercourse with the Aborigines I have always noticed that they would willingly do any thing for a person whom they were attached to. I have found that an influence, amounting almost to authority, is produced by a system of kindness; and that in cases where their own feelings and wishes were in opposition to the particular object for which this influence might be exercised, that the latter would almost invariably prevail. Thus, upon one occasion in Adelaide, where a very large body of the Murray natives were collected to fight those from Encounter Bay, I was directed by the Government to use my influence to prevent the affray. Upon going to their encampment late at night, I explained the object of my visit to them, and requested them to leave town in the morning, and return to their own district, (90 miles away.) In the morning I again went to the native camp, and found them all ready, and an hour afterwards there was not one in Adelaide. Another strong instance of the power that may be acquired over the natives occurred at Moorunde, in 1844:— Several tribes were assembled in the neighbourhood, and were, as I was told, going to fight. I walked down towards their huts to see if this was the case, but upon arriving at the native camps I found them deserted, and all the natives about a quarter of a mile away, on the opposite side of a broad deep sheet of water caused by the floods. As I reached the edge of the water I saw the opposing parties closing, and heard the cry of battle as the affray commenced; raising my voice to the utmost, I called out to them, and was heard, even above the din of combat. In a moment all was as still as the grave, a canoe was brought for me to cross, and I found the assembled tribes fully painted and armed, and anxiously waiting to know what I was going to do. It was by this time nearly dark, and although I had no fears of their renewing the fight again for the night, I knew they would do so early in the morning; I accordingly directed them to separate, and remove their encampments. One party I sent up the river, a second down it, a third remained where they were, and two others I made recross the water, and go up to encamp near my own residence. All this was accomplished solely by the influence I had acquired over them, for I was alone and unarmed among 300 natives, whose angry passions were inflamed, and who were bent upon shedding each others’ blood.

By the assistance of the natives, I was enabled in December 1843, to ascend the Darling river as far as Laidley’s Ponds (above 300 miles from Moorunde) when accompanied only by two other Europeans, and should have probably been enabled to reach Mount Lyell (100 miles further) but that a severe attack of illness compelled me to return. My journey up the Darling had, however, this good effect, that it opened a friendly communication with natives who had never before come in contact with the white man, except in enmity or in contest, and paved the way for a passage upon friendly terms of any expedition that might be sent by that route to explore the continent. Little did I anticipate at the time, how soon such an expedition was to be undertaken, and how strongly and how successfully the good results I so confidently hoped for were to be fully tested.

In August 1844, Captain Sturt passed up the Murray to explore the country north-west of the Darling, and whilst at Moorunde, on his route, was supplied with a Moorunde boy to accompany his party to track stock, and also with a native of the Rufus named And-buck, to go as guide and interpreter to the Darling. The latter native had accompanied me to Laidley’s Ponds in December 1843, and had come down to Moorunde, according to a promise he then made me, to visit me in the winter, and go again with me up the Darling, if I wished it. At Laidley’s Ponds I found the natives very friendly and well conducted, and one of them, a young man named Topar, was of such an open intelligent disposition that although my own acquaintance with him was of very short duration, I did not hesitate to recommend him strongly to my friend Captain Sturt, as likely to be a willing and useful assistant. The following report from Captain Sturt, dated from Laidley’s Ponds, will best shew how far I was justified in expecting that a friendly intercourse might be maintained even with the Darling natives, and to what distance the influence of the Government station at Moorunde had extended, upon the conciliatory system that had been adopted, limited though it was by an inadequacy of funds to provide for such a more extended and liberal treatment of the Aborigines as I should wish to have adopted.

“Sir,— Feeling assured that the Governor would be anxious to hear from me as soon as possible after the receipt of my letters from Lake Victoria, I should have taken the earliest opportunity of forwarding despatches to his Excellency after I had ascertained whether the reports I had heard of the massacre of a party of overlanders at the lagoons on the Darling was founded in fact or not; but having been obliged to cross over from the ana-branch of the Darling to that river itself for water,— and its unlooked-for course having taken me greatly to the eastward, I had no opportunity by which to send to Moorunde, although I was most anxious to allay any apprehensions my former letter might have raised as to the safety of my party. I tried to induce several natives to be the bearers of my despatches, but they seemed unwilling to undertake so long a journey; the arrival, therefore, of a messenger from Moorunde was a most welcome occurrence, as he proposes returning to that place immediately, and will be the bearer of this communication to you.

“In continuing, for his Excellency’s information, the detail of the proceedings of the expedition under my orders since I last addressed you, I have the honour to state that I had advanced a considerable way up the Darling before I ascertained satisfactorily the true grounds of the report I had heard at Lake Victoria, and was enabled to dismiss all further anxiety on the subject from my mind.

“It referred to the affray which took place on the Darling, opposite to Laidley’s Ponds, between Major Mitchell and the natives; and I conclude that the circumstance of our being about to proceed to the same place, recalled a transaction which had occurred eight years ago to their minds; for we can trace a connection between the story we heard at the Lake, and what we have heard upon the spot; but all the circumstances were at first told to us with such minuteness, that coupling them with the character Major Mitchell has given of the Darling natives, and the generally received opinion of their ferocity and daring, we could hardly refuse giving a certain degree of credit to what we heard; more especially as it was once or twice confirmed by natives with whom we communicated on our way up the river. I really feared we should come into collision with these people, despite my reluctance to proceed to extremities; but it will be satisfactory to his Excellency, as I trust it will to Lord Stanley, to know that we have passed up the Darling on the most friendly terms with the native tribes, insomuch that I may venture to hope that our intercourse with them will be productive of much good. So far from the show of any hostility, they may have invariably approached us unarmed, nor have we seen a weapon in the hands of a native since we touched upon the river. THEY HAVE CONSTANTLY SLEPT AT OUR FIRES, AND SHEWN BY THEIR MANNER THAT THEY HAD EVERY CONFIDENCE IN US, BRINGING THEIR WIVES AND CHILDREN TO THE CAMP, NOR AT ANY TIME GIVING US THE LEAST ANNOYANCE, BUT ALWAYS SHEWING A WILLINGNESS TO SAVE US TROUBLE, AND TO DO WHATEVER WE DESIRED THEM TO DO. NOTHING INDEED COULD HAVE BEEN MORE SATISFACTORY TO US THAN OUR INTERCOURSE WITH THESE POOR PEOPLE, OR MORE AMUSING THAN THE SPIRITS AND FEELINGS TO WHICH THEY HAVE GIVEN WAY BEFORE US, WHEN UNCONTROLLED BY FEAR. MANY INDEED HAVE CONTINUED WITH US FOR SOME TIME, AND HAVE EVINCED SINCERE AND MARKED SORROW AT LEAVING US. I have made it a rule to give blankets to the old and infirm, and tomahawks and knives to the young men, and they perfectly understand the reason of this distinction. Finding too, that they consider kangaroos as their own property, we have almost invariably given them all the animals the dogs have killed, and have endeavoured to convince them that we wish to be just, and have the kindest feelings toward them. In this humane duty I have been most cordially assisted both by Mr. Poole and Mr. Browne, and I must add, by the conduct of my men towards the natives, which reflects very great credit upon them. WE HAVE RECEIVED VERY GREAT ASSISTANCE FROM OUR GUIDES, WHO HAVE ALWAYS SMOOTHED THE WAY TO OUR COMMUNICATION WITH THE DIFFERENT TRIBES; and I have earnestly to recommend Nadbuck, who has accompanied us from Moorunde to this place, to the favour of the Governor, and to request that he may be rewarded in such manner as his Excellency thinks fit, from the funds of the expedition. We find that Mr. Eyre’s influence has extended to this place, and that he is considered in the highest light by all the natives along the Darling. In their physical condition they are inferior to the natives of the Murray in size and strength, but we have seen many very handsome men, and, although diminutive in stature, exceedingly well proportioned. The tribe at Williorara, Laidley’s Ponds, numbers about eighty souls; the greater proportion women and children. One of them, Topar, accompanies us to the hills with another native, Toonda, who has been with us since we left Lake Victoria, and who is a native of this tribe. He is a very singular and remarkable man, and is rather aged, but still sinewy and active; Topar is young, and handsome, active, intelligent, and exceedingly good natured;— with them I hope we shall be able to keep up our friendly relations with the natives of the interior.

“I have to request that you will thank his Excellency for the prompt assistance he would have afforded us; but I am sure it will be as gratifying to him as it is to us to know that it is not required.

“As I reported to you in my letter of the 17th of September, I left Lake Victoria on the following day, and crossing the country in a south-easterly direction, reached the Murray after a journey of about fifteen miles, over plains, and encamped on a peninsula formed by the river and a lagoon, and on which there was abundance of feed. We had observed numerous tracks of wild cattle leading from the brush across the plains to the river, and at night our camp was surrounded by them. I hoped, therefore, that if I sent out a party in the morning. I should secure two or three working bullocks, and I accordingly detached Mr. Poole and Mr. Browne, with Flood, my stockman, and Mack, to run them in; but the brush was too thick, and in galloping after a fine bull, Flood’s carbine went off, and carried away and broke three of the fingers of his right hand. This unfortunate accident obliged me to remain stationary for a day; but we reached the junction of the ana-branch of the Darling with the Murray, on the 23rd, and then turned for the first time to the northward.

“We found the ana-branch filled by the back waters of the Murray, and ran up it for two days, when the water in it ceased, and we were obliged to cross over to the Darling, which we struck on an east course, about eighteen miles above its junction with the Murray. It had scarcely any water in its bed, and no perceptible current — but its neighbourhood was green and grassy, and its whole aspect pleasing. On the 27th, we thought we perceived a stronger current in the river, and observed small sticks and grass floating on the water, and we were consequently led to believe that there was a fresh in it; and as we had had rain, and saw that the clouds hung on the mountains behind us, we were in hopes the supply the river was receiving came from Laidley’s Ponds. On the following morning the waters of the Darling were half-bank high, and from an insignificant stream it was at once converted into a broad and noble river, sweeping everything away on its turbid waters at the rate of these or four miles an hour. The river still continues to rise, and is fast filling the creeks and lagoons on either side of it. The cattle enjoy the most luxuriant feed on the banks of the river — there being abundance of grass also in the flats, which far surpass those of the Murray both in richness of soil, and in extent. I cannot but consider the river as a most valuable feature of the interior: many a rich and valuable farm might be established upon it. Its seasons appear to be particularly favourable, for we have had gentle rains ever since we came upon it. Its periodical flooding is also at a most favourable period of the year, and its waters are so muddy that the deposit must be rich, and would facilitate the growth of many of the inter-tropical productions, as cotton, indigo — the native indigo growing to the height of three feet — maize, or flax; whilst, if an available country is found in the interior, the Darling must be the great channel of communication to it. The country behind the flats is sandy and barren, but it would in many places support a certain number of stock, and might be found to be of more value than appearances would justify me in stating, and I would beg to be understood, in speaking of the Darling, that I only speak of it as I have seen it. The summer sun probably parches up the vegetation and unclothes the soil; but such is the effect of summer heat in all similar latitudes, and that spot should be considered the most valuable where the effect of solar heat can be best counteracted by natural or artificial means. I had hoped, as I have stated, that the Darling was receiving its accession of waters from the Williorara (Laidley’s Ponds); but on arriving on its banks we were sadly disappointed to find, instead of a mountain stream, a creek only connects the river with Cowandillah Lake; instead of supplying the Darling with water it was robbing it, and there was scarcely a blade of vegetation on its banks. I was, therefore, obliged to return to the Darling, and to encamp until such time as I should determine on our next movement. From some hills above the camp, we had a view of some ranges to the north-west and north, and I detached Mr. Poole on the 4th to ascertain the nature of the country between us and them, before I ventured to remove the party; more especially as the natives told us the interior beyond the ranges was perfectly impracticable. This morning Mr. Poole returned, and informed me that, from the top of the ranges he ascended, he had a view of distant ranges to the north and north-west, as far as he could see; that from south-west to west to 13 degrees east of north, there was water extending, amidst which there were numerous islands; that there was a very distant high peak, which appeared to be surrounded by water, which shewed as a dark blue line along the horizon. The country between him and the more distant ranges appeared to be level, and was similar in aspect to the plains we had traversed when approaching the hills, which were covered with spear grass, a grass of which the animals are fond, and thin green shrubs.

“I will not venture a conjecture as to the nature of the country whose features have been thus partially developed to us. How far these waters may stretch, and what the character of the ranges is, it is impossible to say, but that there is a good country at no great distance, I have every reason to hope. Mr. Poole states that the small scolloped parroquets passed over his head from the north-west in thousands; and he observed many new birds. I am therefore led to hope, that, as these first are evidently strong on the wing on their arrival here, that the lands from which they come are not very remote from us. So soon as I shall have verified my position in a satisfactory manner,— which a clouded sky has hitherto prevented my doing,— we shall move to the ranges, and leaving my drays in a safe place, shall proceed with the horse teams to a closer examination of the country, and, if I should find an open sea to north-west, shall embark upon it with an ample supply of provisions and water, and coast it round. The reports of the fine interior, which we have heard from the natives, are so contradictory, that it is impossible to place any reliance in them; but Toonda informs us that the water Mr. Poole has seen is fresh — but as we are not more than two hundred and fifteen feet above the sea, and are so near Lake Torrens, I can hardly believe that such can be the case. It is a problem, however, that will now very soon be solved, and I most sincerely trust this decided change in the barrenness of the land will lead us to a rich and available country.

“I have great pleasure in reporting to you the continued zeal and anxiety of my officers, and the cheerful assistance they render me. I have found Mr. Piesse of great value, from his regular and cautious issue of the stores and provisions; and Mr. Stewart extremely useful as draftsman. Amongst my men, I have to particularise Robert Flood, my stockman, whose attention to the horses and cattle has mainly insured their fitness for service and good condition; and I have every reason to feel satisfied with the manner in which the men generally perform their duties.

“I have to apologize for the hurried manner in which this letter is written, and beg to subscribe myself,

“Sir, your most obedient servant,


With reference to the above report, I may mention in explanation, that, after I had accompanied the exploring party as far as the Rufus, and returned from thence to Moorunde, a rumour was brought to Captain Sturt by some natives from the Darling, of a massacre said to have taken place up that river near Laidley’s Ponds. From being quite unacquainted with the language not only of the Darling natives, but also of the Rufus interpreter or the Moorunde boy, Captain Sturt’s party had been only able to make out the story that was told to them by signs or by the aid of such few words of English as the boy might have learnt at Moorunde. They had naturally fallen into some error, and had imagined the natives to be describing the recent murder of a European party coming down the Darling with stock, instead of their narrating, as was in reality the case, an old story of the affray with Major Mitchell some years before. As Captain Sturt was still at the Rufus (150 miles from Moorunde) when he received the account, as he imagined, of so sanguinary an affray, he felt anxious to communicate the occurrence to the Colonial Government as early as possible, and for this purpose, induced two natives to bring down despatches to Moorunde. Upon their arrival there, the policeman was absent in town, and I had no means of sending in the letters to the Government, but by natives. Two undertook the task, and walked from Moorunde to Adelaide with the letters, and brought answers back again to the station within five days, having walked 170 miles in that period, Moorunde being 85 miles from Adelaide.

Again upon the Government wishing to communicate with Captain Sturt, letters were taken by the natives up to the Rufus, delivered over to other natives there, and by them carried onwards to Captain Sturt, reaching that gentleman on the eleventh day after they been sent from Moorunde, at Laidley’s Ponds, a distance of 300 miles.

By this means a regular intercourse was kept up with the exploring party, entirely through the aid and good feeling of the natives, up to the time I left the colony, in December, 1844, when messengers who had been sent up with despatches were daily expected back with answers. For their very laborious and harassing journeys, during which they must suffer both some degree of risk in passing through so many other tribes on their line of route, and of hunger and other privations in prosecuting them, the messengers are but ill requited; the good feeling they displayed, or the fatigues they went through, being recompensed only by the present of a SMALL BLANKET AND A FEW POUNDS OF FLOUR. With these facts before us can we say that these natives are a ferocious, irreclaimable set of savages, and destitute of all the better attributes of humanity? yet are they often so maligned. The very natives, who have now acted in such a friendly manner, and rendered such important services to Europeans, are the SAME NATIVES who were engaged in the plundering of their property, and taking away their lives when coming over land with stock. Such is the change which has been effected by kindness and conciliation instead of aggression and injury; and such, I think, I may in fairness argue, would generally be the result if SIMILAR MEANS were more frequently resorted to.

As yet Moorunde is the only place where the experiment has been made of assembling the natives and giving food to them; but as far as it has been tried, it has been proved to be eminently successful. I am aware that the system is highly disapproved of by many of the colonists, and the general feeling among them appears to be that nothing should be given where nothing is received, or in other words, that a native should never have any thing given to him until he does some work for it. I still maintain that the native has a right to expect, and that we are IN JUSTICE BOUND to supply him with food in any of those parts of the country that we occupy, and to do this, too, WITHOUT demanding or requiring any other consideration from him than we have ALREADY received when we TOOK FROM HIM his possessions and his hunting grounds. It may be all very proper to get him to work a little if we can — and, perhaps, that MIGHT follow in time, but we have no right to force him to a labour he is unused to, and WHICH HE NEVER HAD TO PERFORM IN HIS NATURAL STATE, whilst we have a right to supply him with what he has been accustomed to, BUT OF WHICH WE HAD DEPRIVED HIM— FOOD.

If in our relations with the Aborigines we wish to preserve a friendly and bloodless intercourse; if we wish to have their children at our schools to be taught and educated; if we hope to bring the parents into a state that will better adapt them for the reception of christianity and civilization; or if we care about staying the rapid and lamentable ravages which a contact with us is causing among their tribes, we must endeavour to do so, by removing, as far as possible, all sources of irritation, discontent, or suffering. We must adopt a system which may at once administer to their wants, and at the same time, give to us a controlling influence over them; such as may not only restrain them from doing what is wrong, but may eventually lead them to do what is right — an influence which I feel assured would be but the stronger and more lasting from its being founded upon acts of justice and humanity. It is upon these principles that I have based the few suggestions I am going to offer for the improvement of our policy towards the natives. I know that by many they will be looked upon as chimerical or impracticable, and I fear that more will begrudge the means necessary to carry them into effect; but unless something of the kind be done — unless some great and radical change be effected, and some little compensation made for the wrongs and injuries we inflict — I feel thoroughly satisfied that all we are doing is but time and money lost, that all our efforts on behalf of the natives are but idle words — voces et preterea nihil — that things will still go on as they have been going on, and that ten years hence we shall have made no more progress either in civilizing or in christianizing them than we had done ten years ago, whilst every day and every hour is tending to bring about their certain and total extinction.


1st. It appears that the most important point, in fact almost the only essential one, in the first instance, is to gain such an influence or authority over the Aborigines as may be sufficient to enable us to induce them to adopt, or submit to any regulations that we make for their improvement, and that to effect this, the means must be suited to their circumtances and habits.

2ndly. It is desirable that the means employed should have a tendency to restrain their wandering habits, and thus gradually induce them to locate permanently in one place.

3rdly. It is important that the plan should be of such a nature as to become more binding in its influence in proportion to the length of time it is in operation.

4thly. It should hold out strong inducements to the parents, willingly to allow their children to go to, and remain at the schools.

5thly. It should be such as would operate, in some degree, in weaning the natives from towns or populous districts.

6thly. It should offer some provision for the future career of the children upon their leaving school, and its tendency should be of such a character as to diminish, as far as practicable, the attractions of a savage life.

7thly. It is highly important that the system adopted should be such as would add to the security and protection of the settlers, and thereby induce their assistance and co-operation, instead, as has too often been the case hitherto with past measures, of exciting a feeling of irritation and dislike between the two races.

I believe that all these objects might be accomplished, in a great degree, by distributing food regularly to all the natives, in their respective districts.

[Note 111: The whole of my remarks on the Aborigines having been hurriedly compiled, on board ship, during the voyage from Australia, it was not until my arrival in England that I became aware that a plan somewhat similar to this in principle, was submitted to Lord John Russell by a Mr. J. H. Wedge, and was sent out to the colony of New South Wales, to be reported upon by the authorities. I quote the following extract from Mr. La Trobe’s Remarks on Mr. Wedge’s letter, as shewing an opinion differing from my own (Parliamentary Papers, p. 130). “With reference to the supply of food and clothing, it has not been hitherto deemed advisable to furnish them indiscriminately to all natives visiting the homesteads. In one case, that of the Western Port District, the assistant protector has urged that this should be the case; but I have not felt myself sufficiently convinced of the policy or expediency of such measure to bring it under his Excellency’s notice.”]

I have previously shewn, that from the injuries the natives sustain at our hands, in a deprivation of their usual means of subsistence, and a banishment from their homes and possessions, there is at present no alternative for them but to remain the abject and degraded creatures they are, begging about from house to house, or from station to station, to procure food, insulted and despised by all, and occasionally tempted or driven to commit crimes for which a fearful penalty is enacted, if brought home to them. I have given instances of the extent to which the evils resulting from the anomalous state of our relations with them are aggravated by the kind of feeling which circumstances engender on the part of the Colonists towards them. I have pointed out the tendency of their own habits and customs, to prevent them from rising in the scale of improvement, until we can acquire an influence sufficient to counteract these practices; and I have shewn that thus situated, oppressed, helpless, and starving, we cannot expect they should make much progress in civilization, or pay great regard to our instructions, when they see that we do not practice what we recommend, and that we have one law for ourselves and another for them. The good results that have been produced when an opposite and more liberal system has been adopted (limited as that system was) has also been stated. It is only fair to assume, therefore, that these beneficial effects may be expected to accrue in an increasing ratio in proportion to our liberality and humanity.

My own conviction is, that by adopting the system I recommend, an almost unlimited influence might be acquired over the native population. I believe that the supplying them with food would gradually bring about the abandonment of their wandering habits, in proportion to the frequency of the issue, that the longer they were thus dependent upon us for their resources, the more binding our authority would be; that when they no longer required their children to assist them in the chase or in war, they would willingly allow them to remain at our schools; that by only supplying food to natives in their own districts they would, in some measure, be weaned from the towns; that by restraining the wandering habits of the parents in this way, there would be fewer charms and less temptation to the children to relapse from a comparative state of civilization into one of barbarism again; and that, by supplying the wants of the natives, and taking away all inducements to crime, a security and protection would be afforded to the settlers which do not now exist, and which, under the present system, can never be expected, until the former have almost disappeared before their oppressors.

Many subordinate arrangements would be necessary to bring the plan into complete operation, and from its general character it could not, perhaps, be carried out every where at once, but if such arrangements were made, only in a few districts every year, much would be done towards eventually accomplishing the ends desired.

At Moorunde flour was only regularly issued once in the month, but that is not often enough to attain the full advantages of the system, still less to remedy the evils the natives are subject to, or restrain their wandering propensities. Upon the Murray the natives are peculiarly situated, and have greater facilities for obtaining their natural food than in any other part of the country. They were consequently in a position more favourable for making an experiment upon, than those of the inland districts, where a native is often obliged to wander over many miles of ground for his day’s subsistence, and where large tribes cannot remain long congregated at the same place. In these it would therefore be necessary to make the issues of food much more frequently, and I would proportion this frequency to the state of each district with regard to the number of Europeans, and stock in it; and the facility there might be for procuring native food. On the borders of the colony, where the natives are less hemmed in, the issue might take place once every fortnight, gradually increasing the number of the issues in approaching towards Adelaide as a centre. At the latter, and in many other of the districts where the country is thoroughly occupied by Europeans, it would be necessary, as it would only be just, to supply the natives with food daily, and I would extend this arrangement gradually to all the districts, as funds could be obtained for that purpose. It is possible that if means at the same time were afforded of teaching them industrial pursuits, a proportion of the food required might eventually be raised by themselves, but it would not be prudent to calculate upon any such resources at first.

Having now explained what I consider the first and most important principle, to be observed in all systems devised for the amelioration of the Aborigines, viz. that of endeavouring to adapt the means employed to the acquisition of a strong controlling influence over them, and having shewn how I think this might best be obtained, I may proceed to mention a few collateral regulations, which would be very essential to the effective working of the system proposed.

First. It would be necessary for the sake of perspicuity to suppose the country divided into districts, agreeing as nearly as could be ascertained with the boundaries of the respectives tribes. In these districts a section or two of land, well supplied with wood and water, should be chosen for the Aborigines; such lands, if possible, to be centrically situated with regard to the tribes intended to assemble there, but always having reference to their favourite places of resort, or to such as would afford the greatest facilities for procuring their natural food. I do not apprehend that these stations need be very numerous at first: for the whole colony of South Australia nine or ten would probably be sufficient at present; thus stations such as I have described, at Adelaide, Encounter Bay, The Coorong, Moorunde, the Hutt River, Mount Bryant, Mount Remarkable, and Port Lincoln would embrace most of the tribes of Aborigines at present in contact with the settlers; others could be added, or these altered, as might be thought desirable or convenient.

Secondly. In order to carry due weight when first established, and until the natives get well acquainted with Europeans and their customs, it would be essential that each station should be supported by two or more policemen. These might afterwards be reduced in number, or withdrawn, according to the state of the district.

[Note 112: “It is absolutely necessary, for the cause of humanity and good order, that such force should exist; for as long as distant settlers are left unprotected, and are compelled to take care of and avenge themselves, so long must great barbarities necessarily be committed, and the only way to prevent great crimes on the part of the natives, and massacres of these poor creatures, as the punishment of such crimes, is to check and punish their excesses in their infancy; it is only after becoming emboldened by frequent petty successes that they have hitherto committed those crimes, which have drawn down so fearful a vengeance upon them.”— GREY, vol ii. p. 379.]

Under any circumstances a police is necessary in all the country districts, nor do I think on the whole, many more policemen would be required than there are at out-stations at present. They would only have to be quartered at the native establishments.

Thirdly. It would be absolutely requisite to have experienced and proper persons in charge of each of the locations; as far as practicable, it would undoubtedly be the most desirable to have these establishments under missionaries. In other cases they might be confided to the protectors of the Aborigines, and to the resident or police magistrates. All officers having such charge should be deemed ex-officio to be protectors, and as many should be in the commission of the peace as possible.

Many other necessary and salutary regulations, would naturally occur in so comprehensive a scheme, but as these belong more to the detail of the system, it may be desirable to allude only to a few of the most important.

It would be desirable to keep registers at all the stations, containing lists of the natives frequenting them, their names, and that of the tribe they belong to.

Natives should not be allowed to leave their own districts, to go to Adelaide, or other large towns, unless under passes from their respective protectors, and if found in Adelaide without them, should be taken up by the police and slightly punished.

[Note 113: Natives, from a distance, are in the habit of going at certain times of the year into Adelaide, and remaining three or four months at a time. They are said by Europeans to plunder stations on the line of route backwards and forwards, and to threaten, and intimidate women and children living in isolated houses near the town. There is no doubt but that they have sometimes driven away the natives properly belonging to Adelaide, and have been the means, by their presence, of a great decrease in the attendance of the children of the Adelaide tribes at the school. The protector has more than once been obliged to make official representations on this subject, and to request that measures might be taken to keep them away.]

Deaths, Births, and Marriages, should be duly registered, and a gratuity given on every such occasion, to ensure the regulation being attended to.

Rewards should be given, (as an occasional present, of a blanket for instance), to such parents as allowed their children to go to and remain at school during the year.

Rewards should be bestowed for delivering up offenders, or for rendering any other service to the Government.

Light work should be offered to such as could be induced to undertake it, and rewards, as clothing, or the like, should be paid in proportion to the value of the work done, and BEYOND THE MERE PROVIDING THEM with food.

Gifts might also be made to those parents, who consented to give up the performance of any of their savage or barbarous ceremonies upon their children.

Young men should be encouraged to engage themselves in the service of settlers, as shepherds or stockkeepers, and the masters should be induced to remunerate their services more adequately than they usually do.

The elder natives should be led as far as could be, to make articles of native industry for sale, as baskets, mats, weapons, implements, nets, etc., these might be sent to Adelaide and sold periodically for their benefit.

Such and many other similar regulations, would appear to be advantageous, and might be adopted or altered from time to time, as it should be deemed desirable.

Upon the subject of schools for the native children, it appears that much benefit would be derived from having them as far separated as possible from other natives, and that the following, among others, would be improvements upon the plans in present use.

1st. That the school buildings should be of such size and arrangement, as to admit of all the scholars being lodged as well as boarded, and of the boys and girls having different sleeping rooms.

2ndly. That the schools should have a sufficiency of ground properly enclosed around them, for the play-grounds, and that no other natives than the scholars should be admitted within those precincts, except in the presence of the master, when relatives come to see each other; but that on no account should any natives be permitted to encamp or sleep within the school grounds.

3rdly. That the children should not be allowed or encouraged to roam about the towns, begging, or to ramble for any purpose outside their boundaries, where they are likely to come under the influence of the other natives. This is particularly necessary with respect to girls, indeed the latter should never be allowed to be absent from school at all, by themselves.

4thly. To compensate in some degree, for what may at first appear to them an irksome or repulsive restraint, playthings should occasionally be provided for those children who have behaved well, and all innocent amusement be encouraged, and as often as might be convenient, the master should accompany his scholars out into the country for recreation, or through the town, or such other public places, as might be objects of interest or curiosity.

5thly. That a stimulus to exertion, should be excited by prizes, being given to children distinguishing themselves at certain stages of their progress, such as a superior article of dress, a toy, or book, or whatever might be best adapted to the age or disposition of the child.

6thly. That parents should never be allowed to withdraw the children, contrary to their wishes, after having once consented to allow them to remain there.

7thly. That children of both sexes, after having received a proper degree of instruction, and having attained a certain age, should be bound out as apprentices for a limited term of years, to such as were willing to receive them, proper provision being made for their being taught some useful occupation, and being well treated.

8thly. Encouragement should be offered to those who have been brought up at the schools to marry together when their apprenticeships are out, and portions of land should be preserved for them and assistance given them in establishing themselves in life. At first perhaps it might be advisable to have these settlements in the form of a village and adjoining the school grounds, so that the young people might still receive the advantage of the advice or religious instruction of the missionaries or such ministers as attended to this duty at the schools.

9thly. The children should be taught exclusively in the English language and on Sundays should always attend divine service at some place of public worship, accompanied by their masters.

In carrying into effect the above or any other regulations which might be found necessary for the welfare and improvement of the children. I believe that a sufficient degree of influence would be acquired over the parents by the system of supplying them with food, which I have recommended to induce a cheerful consent, but it would be only prudent to have a legislative enactment on the subject, that by placing the school-children under the guardianship of the protectors, they might be protected from the influence or power of their relatives; after these had once fully consented to their being sent to school to be educated.

[Note 114: “The best chance of preserving the unfortunate race of New Holland lies in the means employed for training their children: the education given to such children should consist in a very small part of reading and writing. Oral instruction in the fundamental truths of the Christian religion will be given by the missionaries themselves. The children should be taught early; the boys to dig and plough, and the trades of shoemakers, tailors, carpenters and masons; the girls to sew and cook and wash linen, and keep clean the rooms and furniture. The more promising of these children might be placed, by a law to be framed for this purpose, under the guardianship of the Governor and placed by him at a school, or in apprenticeship, in the more settled parts of the colony. Thus early trained, the capacity of the race for the duties and employments of civilized life would be fairly developed.”— Letter from Lord John Russell to Sir G. Gipps; Parliamentary Report on Aborigines, p. 74.]

There is yet another point to be considered with respect to the Aborigines, and upon the equitable adjustment of which hinges all our relations with this people, whilst upon it depends entirely our power of enforcing any laws or regulations we may make with respect to them, I allude to the law of evidence as it at present stands with respect to persons incompetent to give testimony upon oath.

It is true that in South Australia an act has very recently passed the legislative council to legalize the unsworn testimony of natives in a court of justice, but in that act there occurs a clause which completely neutralizes the boon it was intended to grant, and which is as follows, “Provided that no person, whether an Aboriginal or other, SHALL BE CONVICTED OF ANY OFFENCE by any justice or jury upon the SOLE TESTIMONY of any such uncivilized persons.” 7 and 8 Victoria, section 5.

Here then we find that if a native were ill-treated or shot by an European, and the whole tribe able to bear witness to the fact, no conviction and no punishment could ensue: let us suppose that in an attempt to maltreat the native, the European should be wounded or injured by him, and that the European has the native brought up and tried for a murderous attack upon him, how would it fare with the poor native? the oath of the white man would overpower any exculpatory unsworn testimony that the native could bring, and his conviction and punishment would be (as they have been before) certain and severe.

Without attempting to assign a degree of credence to the testimony of a native beyond what it deserves, I will leave it to those who are acquainted with Colonies, and the value of an oath among the generality of storekeepers and shepherds, to say how far their SWORN evidence is, in a moral point of view, more to be depended upon than the unsworn parole of the native. I would ask too, how often it occurs that injuries upon the Aborigines are committed by Europeans in the presence of those competent to give a CONVICTING TESTIMONY, (unless where all, being equally guilty, are for their own sakes mutually averse to let the truth be known)? or how often even such aggressions take place under circumstances which admit of circumstantial evidence being obtained to corroborate native testimony?

Neither is it in the giving of evidence alone, that the native stands at a disadvantage as compared with a white man. His case, whether as prosecutor or defendant, is tried before a jury of another nation whose interests are opposed to his, and whose prejudices are often very strong against him.

I cannot illustrate the position in which he is placed, more forcibly, than by quoting Captain Grey’s remarks, vol. ii. p. 381, where he says:—

“It must also be borne in mind, that the natives are not tried by a jury of their peers, but by a jury having interests directly opposed to their own, and who can scarcely avoid being in some degree prejudiced against native offenders.”

The opinion of Judge Willis upon this point may be gathered from the following extract, from an address to a native of New South Wales, when passing sentence of death upon him:—

“The principle upon which this court has acted in the embarrassing collisions which have too frequently arisen between the Aborigines and the white Europeans, has been one of reciprocity and mutual protection. On the one hand, the white man when detected (WHICH I FEAR SELDOM HAPPENS), has been justly visited with the rigour of the law, for aggressions on the helpless savages; and, on the other, the latter has been accountable for outrages upon his white brethren. As between the Aborigines themselves, the court has never interfered, for obvious reasons. Doubtless, in applying the law of a civilized nation to the condition of a wild savage, innumerable difficulties must occur. The distance in the scale of humanity between the wandering, houseless man of the woods, and the civilized European, is immeasurable! FOR PROTECTION, AND FOR RESPONSIBILITY IN HIS RELATION TO THE WHITE MAN THE BLACK IS REGARDED AS A BRITISH SUBJECT. In theory, this sounds just and reasonable; but in practice, how incongruous becomes its application! As a British subject, he is presumed to know the laws, for the infraction of which he is held accountable, and yet he is shut out from the advantage of its protection when brought to the test of responsibility. As a British subject, he is entitled to be tried by his PEERS. Who are the peers of the black man? Are those, of whose laws, customs, language, and religion, he is wholly ignorant — nay, whose very complexion is at variance with his own — HIS peers? He is tried in his native land by a race new to him, and by laws of which he knows nothing. Had you, unhappy man! had the good fortune to be born a Frenchman, or had been a native of any other country but your own, the law of England would have allowed you to demand a trial by half foreigners and half Englishmen. But, by your lot being the lowest, as is assumed, in the scale of humanity, you are inevitably placed on a footing of fearful odds, when brought into the sacred temple of British justice. Without a jury of your own countrymen — without the power of making adequate defence, by speech or witness — you are to stand the pressure of every thing that can be alleged against you, and your only chance of escape is, not the strength of your own, but the weakness of your adversary’s case. Surrounded as your trial was with difficulties, everything, I believe, was done that could be done to place your case in a proper light before the jury. They have come to a conclusion satisfactory, no doubt, to their consciences. Whatever might be the disadvantages under which you laboured, they were convinced, as I am, that you destroyed the life of Dillon; and as there was nothing proved to rebut the presumption, of English law, arising from the fact of homicide being committed by you, they were constrained to find you guilty of murder. There may have been circumstances, if they could have been proved, which would have given a different complexion to the case from that of the dying declaration of the deceased, communicated to the Court through the frail memory of two witnesses, who varied in their relation of his account of the transaction. This declaration, so taken, was to be regarded as if taken on oath, face to face with your accuser; and, although you had not the opportunity of being present at it, and of cross-examining the dying man, yet by law it was receivable against you.”

In vol. ii. p 380, Captain Grey says:—

“I have been a personal witness to a case in which a native was most undeservedly punished, from the circumstance of the natives, who were the only persons who could speak as to certain exculpatory facts, not being permitted to give their evidence.”

Under the law lately passed in South Australia, the evidence of natives would be receivable in a case of this kind, in palliation of the offence. Although it is more than questionable how far such evidence would weigh against the white man’s oath; but for the purpose of obtaining redress for a wrong, or of punishing the cruelty, or the atrocity of the European [Note 115 at end of para.], no amount of native evidence would be of the least avail. Reverse the case, and the sole unsupported testimony of a single witness, will be quite sufficient to convict even unto death, as has lately been the case in two instances connected with Port Lincoln, where the natives have been tried at different times for murder, convicted, and two of them hung, upon the testimony of one old man, who was the only survivor left among the Europeans, but who, from the natural state of alarm and confusion in which he must have been upon being attacked, and from the severe wounds he received, could not have been in an advantageous position, for observing, or remarking the identity of the actual murderers, among natives, who, even under more favourable circumstances are not easily recognizable upon a hasty view, and still less so, if either they, or the observer, are in a state of excitement at the time. Is it possible for the natives to be blind to the unequal measure of justice, which is thus dealt out, and which will still continue to be so as long as the law remains unchanged?

[Note 115: Governor Hutt remarks, in addressing Lord Glenelg on this subject:—”In furtherance of the truth of these remarks, I would request your Lordship particularly to observe, that here is one class of Her Majesty’s subjects, who are DEBARRED A TRUE AND FAIR TRIAL BY JURY, whose evidence is inadmissible in a court of justice, and who consequently may be the victims of any of the most outrageous cruelty and violence, and yet be UNABLE, FROM THE FORMS AND REQUIREMENTS OF THE LAW, to obtain redress, and whose quarrels, ending sometimes in bloodshed and death, it is unjust, as well as inexpedient, to interfere with.

“A jury ought to be composed of a man’s own peers. Europeans, in the case of a native criminal, cannot either in their habits or sympathies be regarded as such, and his countrymen are incapable of understanding or taking upon themselves the office of juror.”]

I have no wish to give the native evidence a higher character than it deserves, but I think that it ought not to be rendered unavailable in a prosecution; the degree of weight or credibility to be attached to it, might be left to the court taking cognizance of the case, but if it is consistent and probable, I see no reason why it should not be as strong a safeguard to the black man from injury and oppression, as the white man’s oath is to him. There are many occasions on which the testimony of natives may be implicitly believed, and which are readily distinguishable by those who have had much intercourse with this people — unaccustomed to the intricacies of untruth, they know not that they must be consistent to deceive, and it is therefore rarely difficult to tell when a native is prevaricating.

Among the natives themselves, the evil effects resulting from the inability of their evidence to produce a conviction are still more apparent and injurious. [Note 116 at end of para.] It has already been shewn how highly important it is to prevent the elders from exercising an arbitrary and cruel authority over the young and the weak, and how necessary that the latter should feel themselves quite secure from the vengeance of the former, when endeavouring to throw off the trammels of custom and prejudice, and by embracing our habits and pursuits, making an effort to rise in the scale of moral and physical improvement. Whatever alteration therefore we may make in our system for the better, or however anxious we may be for the welfare and the improvement of the Aborigines, we may rest well assured that our efforts are but thrown away, as long as the natives are permitted with impunity to exercise their cruel or degrading customs upon each other, unchecked and unpunished. We may feel equally certain that these oppressions and barbarities can never be checked or punished but by means of their own unsupported testimony against each other, and until this can be legally received, and made available for that purpose, there is no hope of any lasting or permanent good being accomplished.

[Note 116: Upon the inability of natives to give evidence in a court of justice, Mr. Chief Protector Robinson remarks, in a letter to His Honour, the Superintendent of Port Phillip, dated May, 1843 —”The legal disabilities of the natives have been a serious obstacle to their civil protection; and I feel it my duty, whilst on this subject, respectfully to bring under notice the necessity that still exists for some suitable system of judicature for the governance and better protection of the aboriginal races. ‘As far as personal influence went, the aboriginal natives have been protected from acts of injustice, cruelty, and oppression; and their wants, wishes, and grievances have been faithfully represented to the Government of the colony,’ and this, under the circumstances, was all that could possibly be effected. There is, however, reason to fear that the destruction of the aboriginal natives has been accelerated from the known fact of their being incapacitated to give evidence in our courts of law. I have frequently had to deplore, when applied to by the Aborigines for justice in cases of aggression committed on them by white men, or by those of their own race, my inability to do so in consequence of their legal incapacity to give evidence. It were unreasonable, therefore, under such circumstances, to expect the Aborigines would respect, or repose trust and confidence in the Protectors, or submit to the governance of a department unable efficiently to protect or afford them justice. Nor is it surprising they should complain of being made to suffer the higher penalties of our law, when deprived (by legal disability) of its benefits. Little difficulty has been experienced in discovering the perpetrator where the blacks have been concerned, even in the greater offences, and hence the ends of justice would have been greatly facilitated by aboriginal evidence. It is much to be regretted the Colonial Act of Council on aboriginal evidence was disallowed.”]

The following very forcible and just remarks are from Captain Grey’s work, vol. ii. pages 375 to 378:—

“I would submit, therefore, that it is necessary from the moment the Aborigines of this country are declared British subjects, they should, as far as possible, be taught that the British laws are to supersede their own, so that any native who is suffering under their own customs, may have the power of an appeal to those of Great Britain; or to put this in its true light, that all authorized persons should, in all instances, be required to protect a native from the violence of his fellows, even though they be in the execution of their own laws.

“So long as this is not the case, the older natives have at their disposal the means of effectually preventing the civilization of any individuals of their own tribe, and those among them who may be inclined to adapt themselves to the European habits and mode of life, will be deterred from so doing by their fear of the consequences, that the displeasure of others may draw down upon them.

“So much importance am I disposed to attach to this point, that I do not hesitate to assert my full conviction, that whilst those tribes which are in communication with Europeans are allowed to execute their barbarous laws and customs upon one another, so long will they remain hopelessly immersed in their present state of barbarism: and however unjust such a proceeding might at first sight appear, I believe that the course pointed out by true humanity would be, to make them from the very commencement amenable to the British laws, both as regards themselves and Europeans; for I hold it to be imagining a contradiction to suppose, that individuals subject to savage and barbarous laws, can rise into a state of civilization, which those laws have a manifest tendency to destroy and overturn.

“I have known many instances of natives who have been almost or quite civilized, being compelled by other natives to return to the bush; more particularly girls, who have been betrothed in their infancy, and who, on approaching the years of puberty, have been compelled by their husbands to join them.

“To punish the Aborigines severely for the violation of laws of which they are ignorant, would be manifestly cruel and unjust; but to punish them in the first instance slightly for the violation of these laws would inflict no great injury on them, whilst by always punishing them when guilty of a crime, without reference to the length of period that had elapsed between its perpetration and their apprehension, at the same time fully explaining to them the measure of punishment that would await them in the event of a second commission of the same fault, would teach them gradually the laws to which they were henceforth to be amenable, and would shew them that crime was always eventually, although it might be remotely, followed by punishment.

“I imagine that this course would be more merciful than that at present adopted; viz. to punish them for a violation of a law they are ignorant of, when this violation affects a European, and yet to allow them to commit this crime as often as they like, when it only regards themselves; for this latter course teaches them, not that certain actions, such, for instance, as murder, etc. are generally criminal, but only that they are criminal when exercised towards the white people, and the impression, consequently excited in their minds is, that these acts only excite our detestation when exercised towards ourselves, and that their criminality consists, not in having committed a certain odious action, but in having violated our prejudices.”

Many instances have come under my own personal observation, where natives have sought redress both against one another and against Europeans, but where from their evidence being unavailable no redress could be afforded them. Enough has however been now adduced to shew the very serious evils resulting from this disadvantage, and to point out the justice, the policy, the practicability, and the necessity of remedying it.

In bringing to a close my remarks on the Aborigines, their present condition and future prospects, I cannot more appropriately or more forcibly conclude the subject than by quoting that admirable letter of Lord Stanley’s to Governor Sir G. Gipps, written in December, 1842; a letter of which the sentiments expressed are as creditable to the judgment and discrimination, as they are honourable to the feelings and humanity of the minister who wrote it, and who, in the absence of personal experience, and amidst all the conflicting testimony or misrepresentation by which a person at a distance is ever apt to be assailed and misled, has still been able to separate the truth from falsehood, and to arrive at a rational, a christian, and a just opinion, on a subject so fraught with difficulties, so involved in uncertainty, and so beset with discrepancies.

In writing to Sir G. Gipps, Lord Stanley says (Parliamentary Reports, pp. 221, 2, 3):—


“I have the honour to acknowledge the receipt of your despatches of the dates and numbers mentioned in the margin, reporting the information which has reached you in respect to the aboriginal tribes of New South Wales, and the result of the attempts which have been made, under the sanction of Her Majesty’s Government, to civilize and protect these people.

“I have read with great attention, but with deep regret, the accounts contained in these despatches. After making every fair allowance for the peculiar difficulty of such an undertaking, it seems impossible any longer to deny that the efforts which have hitherto been made for the civilization of the Aborigines have been unavailing; that no real progress has yet been effected, and that there is no reasonable ground to expect from them greater suceess in future. You will be sensible with how much pain and reluctance I have come to this opinion, but I cannot shut my eyes to the conclusion which inevitably follows from the statements which you have submitted to me on the subject.

“Your despatch of the 11th March last, No. 50, contains an account of the several missions up to that date, with reports likewise from the chief Protector and his assistants, and from the Crown Land Commissioners. The statements respecting the missions, furnished not by their opponents, nor even by indifferent parties, but by the missionaries themselves, are, I am sorry to say, as discouraging as it is possible to be. In respect to the mission at Wellington Valley, Mr. Gunther writes in a tone of despondency, which shews that he has abandoned the hope of success. The opening of his report is indeed a plain admission of despair; I sincerely wish that his facts did not bear out such a feeling. But when he reports, that after a trial of ten years, only one of all who have been attached to the mission ‘affords some satisfaction and encouragement;’ that of the others only four still remain with them, and that these continually absent themselves, and when at home evince but little desire for instruction; that ‘their thoughtlessness, and spirit of independence, ingratitude, and want of sincere, straightforward dealing, often try us in the extreme;’ that drunkenness is increasing, and that the natives are ‘gradually swept away by debauchery and other evils arising from their intermixture with Europeans,’ I acknowledge that he has stated enough to warrant his despondency, and to shew that it proceeds from no momentary disappointment alone, but from a settled and reasonable conviction.

“Nor do the other missions hold out any greater encouragement. That at Moreton Bay is admitted by Mr. Handt to have made but little progress, as neither children nor adults can be persuaded to stay for any length of time; while that at Lake Macquarie had, at the date of your despatch, ceased to exist, from the extinction or removal of the natives formerly in its vicinity. The Wesleyan Missionaries at Port Phillip, notwithstanding an expenditure in 1841 of nearly 1,300 pounds, acknowledge that they are ‘far from being satisfied with the degree of success which has attended our labours,’ and ‘that a feeling of despair sometimes takes possession of our minds, and weighs down our spirits,’ arising from the frightful mortality among the natives.

“In the face of such representations, which can be attributed neither to prejudice nor misinformation, I have great doubts as to the wisdom or propriety of continuing the missions any longer. I fear that to do so would be to delude ourselves with the mere idea of doing something; which would be injurious to the natives, as interfering with other and more advantageous arrangements, and unjust to the colony, as continuing an unnecessary and profitless expenditure.

“To this conclusion I had been led by your despatch, No. 50, but anticipating that the protectorate system would promise more beneficial results, I postponed my instructions in the matter until I should receive some further information.

“Your despatches of the 16th and 20th May have furnished that further information, although they contradict the hopes which I had been led to entertain. After the distinct and unequivocal opinion announced by Mr. La Trobe, supported as it is by the expression of your concurrence, I cannot conceal from myself that the failure of the system of protectors has been at least as complete as that of the missions.

“I have no doubt that a portion of this ill success, perhaps a large portion, is attributable to the want of sound judgment and zealous activity on the part of the assistant protectors. Thus the practice of collecting large bodies of the natives in one spot, and in the immediate vicinity of the settlers, without any previous provision for their subsistence or employment, was a proceeding of singular indiscretion. That these people would commit depredations rather than suffer want, and that thus ill-blood, and probably collisions, would be caused between them and the settlers, must, I should have thought, have occurred to any man of common observation; and no one could have better reason than Mr. Sievewright to know his utter inability to control them. When such a course could be adopted, I am not surprised at your opinion that the measures of the protectors have tended ‘rather to increase than allay the irritation which has long existed between the two races.’

“But after allowing for the effect of such errors, and for the possibility of preventing their recurrence, there is yet enough in Mr. La Trobe’s reports to shew that the system itself is defective, at least in the hands of those whose services we are able to command. I am unwilling, at this distance from the scene, and without that minute local knowledge which is essential, to give you any precise instructions as to the course which under present circumstances should be pursued: but I have the less hesitation in leaving the matter in your hands, because your whole correspondence shews that no one feels more strongly than yourself the duty as well as the policy of protecting, and, if possible, civilizing these Aborigines, and of promoting a good understanding between them and the white settlers. At present, though I am far from attributing to the white settlers generally an ill disposition towards the natives, there is an apparent want of feeling among them, where the natives are concerned, which is much to be lamented. Outrages of the most atrocious description, involving sometimes considerable loss of life, are spoken of, as I observe in these papers, with an indifference and lightness which to those at a distance is very shocking. I cannot but fear that the feeling which dictates this mode of speaking, may also cause the difficulty in discovering and bringing to justice the perpetrators of the outrages which from time to time occur. With a view to the protection of the natives, the most essential step is to correct the temper and tone adopted towards them by the settlers. Whatever may depend on your own personal influence, or on the zealous co-operation of Mr. La Trobe, will I am sure be done at once, and I will not doubt that your efforts in this respect will be successful. In regard to the missions and the protectors, I give you no definite instructions. If at your receipt of this despatch you should see no greater prospect of advantage than has hitherto appeared, you will be at liberty to discontinue the grants to either as early as possible; but if circumstances should promise more success for the future, the grants may be continued for such time as may be necessary to bring the matter to a certain result. In the meantime, agreeing as I do, in the general opinion, that it is indispensable to the protection of the natives that their evidence should, to a certain extent at least, be received in the courts of law, I shall take into my consideration the means by which this can be effected in the safest and most satisfactory manner.

“I cannot conclude this despatch without expressing my sense of the importance of the subject of it, and my hope that your experience may enable you to suggest some general plan by which we may acquit ourselves of the obligations which we owe towards this helpless race of beings. I should not, without the most extreme reluctance, admit that nothing can be done; that with respect to them alone the doctrines of Christianity must be inoperative, and the advantages of civilization incommunicable. I cannot acquiesce in the theory that they are incapable of improvement, and that their extinction before the advance of the white settler is a necessity which it is impossible to control. I recommend them to your protection and favourable consideration with the greatest earnestness, but at the same time with perfect confidence: and I assure you that I shall be willing and anxious to co-operate with you in any arrangement for their civilization which may hold out a fair prospect of success.

“I have, etc. “(signed) “STANLEY.”