- Category: Edward John Eyre - Preface
- Written by Edward John Eyre
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In offering to the public an account of Expeditions of Discovery in Australia, undertaken in the years 1840–1, and completed in July of the latter year, some apology may be deemed necessary for this narrative not having sooner appeared, or perhaps even for its being now published at all.
With respect to the first, the author would remark that soon after his return to South Australia upon the close of the Expeditions, and when contemplating an immediate return to England, he was invited by the Governor of the Colony to remain, and undertake the task of re–establishing peace and amicable relations with the numerous native tribes of the Murray River, and its neighbourhood, whose daring and successful outrages in 1841, had caused very great losses to, and created serious apprehensions among the Colonists.
Hoping that his personal knowledge of and extensive practical experience among the Aborigines might prove serviceable in an employment of this nature, the author consented to undertake it; and from the close of September 1841, until December 1844, was unremittingly occupied with the duties it entailed. It was consequently not in his power to attend to the publication of his travels earlier, nor indeed can he regret a delay, which by the facilities it afforded him of acquiring a more intimate knowledge of the character and habits of the Aborigines, has enabled him to render that portion of his work which relates to them more comprehensive and satisfactory than it otherwise would have been.
With respect to the second point, or the reasons which have led to this work being published at all, the author would observe that he has been led to engage in it rather from a sense of duty, and at the instance of many of his friends, than from any wish of his own. The greater portion of the country he explored was of so sterile and worthless a description, and the circumstances which an attempt to cross such a desert region led to, were of so distressing a character, that he would not willingly have revived associations, so unsatisfactory and so painful.
It has been his fate, however, to cross, during the course of his explorations, a far greater extent of country than any Australian traveller had ever done previously, and as a very large portion of this had never before been trodden by the foot of civilized man, and from its nature is never likely to be so invaded again, it became a duty to record the knowledge which was thus obtained, for the information of future travellers and as a guide to the scientific world in their inquiries into the character and formation of so singular and interesting a country.
To enable the reader to judge of the author’s capabilities for the task he undertook, and of the degree of confidence that may be due to his impressions or opinions, it may not be out of place to state, that the Expeditions of 1840—1 were not entered upon without a sufficient previous and practical experience in exploring.
For eight years the author had been resident in Australia, during which he had visited many of the located parts of New South Wales, Port Phillip, South Australia, Western Australia, and Van Diemen’s Land. In the years 1836, 1837, 1838, 1839, and 1840 he had conducted expeditions across from Liverpool Plains in New South Wales to the county of Murray, from Sydney to Port Phillip, from Port Phillip to Adelaide, and from King George’s Sound to Swan River, besides undertaking several explorations towards the interior, both from Port Lincoln and from Adelaide.
To the knowledge and experience which were thus acquired, the author must ascribe the confidence and good opinion of his fellow–colonists, which led them in 1840 to place under his command an undertaking of such importance, interest, and responsibility; and to these advantages he feels that he is in a great measure indebted, under God’s blessing, for having been enabled successfully to struggle through the difficulties and dangers which beset him, in crossing from Adelaide to King George’s Sound.
With this explanation for obtruding upon the public, the author would also solicit their indulgence, for the manner in which the task has been performed. The only merit to which he can lay claim, is that of having faithfully described what he saw, and the impressions which were produced upon him at the time. In other respects it is feared that a work, which was entirely (and consequently very hastily) prepared for the press from the original notes, whilst voyaging from Australia to England, must necessarily be crude and imperfect. Where the principal object, however, was rather to record with accuracy than indulge in theory or conjecture, and where a simple statement of occurrences has been more attended to than the language in which they are narrated, plainness and fidelity will, it is hoped, be considered as some compensation for the absence of the embellishments of a more finished style, or a studied composition, and especially as the uncertainty attending the duration of the author’s visit to England made it a matter of anxious consideration to hurry these volumes through the press as rapidly as possible. There is one circumstance to which he wishes particularly to allude, as accounting for the very scanty notices he is now able to give of the geology or botany of the country through which he travelled; it is the loss of all the specimens that were collected during the earlier part of the Expedition, which occurred after they had been sent to Adelaide; this loss has been irreparable, and has not only prevented him from ascertaining points about which he was dubious, but has entirely precluded him from having the subjects considered, or the specimens classified and arranged by gentlemen of scientific acquirements in those departments of knowledge, in which the author is conscious he is himself defective. In the latter part of the Expedition, or from Fowler’s Bay to King George’s Sound, the dreadful nature of the country, and the difficulties and disasters to which this led, made it quite impossible either to make collections of any kind, or to examine the country beyond the immediate line of route; still it is hoped that the passing notices which are made in the journal, and the knowledge of the similarity of appearance and uniform character, prevalent throughout the greater portion of the country passed through, will be quite sufficient to give a general and correct impression of the whole.
To Mr. Gray of the British Museum, the author is particularly indebted for his valuable contribution on the Natural History of the Southern coast of Australia, and to Mr. Gould, the celebrated Ornithologist, his thanks are equally due, for a classified and most interesting list of the birds belonging to the same portion of the continent.
To Mr. Adam White, of the British Museum, he is also indebted for an account of some new insects, and to Dr. Richardson, for a scientific and classified arrangement of fish caught on the Southern coast, near King George’s Sound. The plates to which the numbers refer in the last–mentioned paper, are the admirable drawings made from life, by J. Neill, Esq. of King George’s Sound, and now lodged at the British Museum. They are, however, both too numerous and too large to give in a work of this description, and will probably be published at some future time by their talented author.
For the account given of the Aborigines the author deems it unnecessary to offer any apology; a long experience among them, and an intimate knowledge of their character, habits, and position with regard to Europeans, have induced in him a deep interest on behalf of a people, who are fast fading away before the progress of a civilization, which ought only to have added to their improvement and prosperity. Gladly would the author wish to see attention awakened on their behalf, and an effort at least made to stay the torrent which is overwhelming them.
It is most lamentable to think that the progress and prosperity of one race should conduce to the downfal and decay of another; it is still more so to observe the apathy and indifference with which this result is contemplated by mankind in general, and which either leads to no investigation being made as to the cause of this desolating influence, or if it is, terminates, to use the language of the Count Strzelecki, “in the inquiry, like an inquest of the one race upon the corpse of the other, ending for the most part with the verdict of ‘died by the visitation of God.’”
In his attempt to delineate the actual circumstances and position of the natives, and the just claims they have upon public sympathy and benevolence, he has been necessitated to refer largely to the testimony of others, but in doing this he has endeavoured as far as practicable, to support the views he has taken by the writings or opinions of those who are, or who have been resident in the Colonies, and who might therefore be supposed from a practical acquaintance with the subject, to be most competent to arrive at just conclusions.
In suggesting the only remedy which appears at all calculated to mitigate the evil complained of, it has studiously been kept in view that there are the interests of two classes to be provided for, those of the Settlers, and those of the Aborigines, it is thought that these interests cannot with advantage be separated, and it is hoped that it may be found practicable to blend them together.
The Aborigines of New Holland are not on the whole a numerous people; they are generally of a very inoffensive and tractable character, and it is believed that they may, under ordinary circumstances, almost always be rendered peaceable and well–disposed by kind and consistent treatment. Should this, in reality, prove to be the case, it may be found perhaps, that they could be more easily managed, and in the long run at a less expense, by some such system as is recommended, than by any other requiring means of a more retaliatory or coercive character. The system proposed is at least one which by removing in a great measure temptation from the native, and thereby affording comparative security to the settlers, will have a powerful effect in inducing the latter to unite with the Government in any efforts made to ameliorate the condition of the Aborigines; a union which under present or past systems has not ever taken place, but one which it is very essential should be effected, if any permanent good is hoped for.
To Mr. Moorhouse the author returns his best thanks for his valuable notes on the Aborigines, to which he is indebted for the opportunity of giving an account of many of the customs and habits of the Adelaide tribes.
To Anthony Forster, Esq. he offers his warmest acknowledgments for his assistance in overlooking the manuscripts during the voyage from Australia, and correcting many errors which necessarily resulted from the hurried manner in which they were prepared; it is to this kind supervision must be ascribed the merit—negative though it may be—of there not being more errors than there are.