During the year of 1846, more than fifty Aborigines were killed during the search for a white woman supposedly held by the Aborigines. There had been many reported sightings of a white woman and ‘half-cast’ children amidst the Gippsland’s Aborigines from 1840 onwards.
Three ships had been lost along Gippsland’s coast up to the year 1840: the ‘Sarah’ in 1837, the ‘Britomart’ in 1839, and, the ‘Britannia’ in 1839. It was speculated that some survivors may have made it to the beach from one of these ships, however, that only one woman was to survive. Conflicting reports regarding the wrecks ‘fuelled the fire’, so to speak:
” . . . Ironically, following reports from Aborigines that a boat was lying on Ninety Mile Beach and they had seen footprints in the sand, the revenue cutter Prince George was despatched from Sydney to look for survivors. Wreckage identified as being from the Brittania and bodies were found, but the cutter-master formed the opinion that any survivors would have been murdered by Aborigines . . . “
” . . . The brig Britannia left Melbourne in November 1839 bound for Sydney but failed to arrive. The vessel’s longboat was later found washed up on the beach near Cape Howe, but it was not known if any survivors had made it to the shore . . . “
” . . . In 1875 the Port Albert harbour master D. Fermaner reported that he had seen both the white woman and local Aborigines with a carved wooden figurehead that he recognised as being from the Sarah, a wooden sailing vessel that went missing after departing Sydney in 1837. (Victorian Historical Society Magazine Vol. 31: 24, 175) This raises interesting questions such as why would a group of Aboriginals be carrying the figurehead. In fact the leader Bunjilee-nee described above had told searchers that he had this figurehead in his possession, and described it in detail (Pepper and De Arrango: 69). The Sarah was believed to have gone missing shortly after leaving Sydney, but a later newspaper account suggests the Sarah was wrecked off the Gippsland coast, possibly on the Ninety Mile Beach near Woodside. It said that the crew were killed, but persistent reports of sightings of another white woman in the Port Albert area who had been a passenger on the Sarah gave birth to the White Woman legend. (Victorian Historical Society Magazine Vol. 31: 7-12) . . . “
” . . . (wreckage from the Britomart was eventually found on Preservation Island in the Furneaux Group) . . . “
Source: Excerpts – Website ‘Victorian Heritage Database’ – Shipwrecks- ‘Brittania’
This tale of the captive white woman lead to numerous unofficial search parties between 1840 and 1846, many of which resulted in Aborigines being murdered. Whilst there appears to be little primary evidence of these expeditions, there was much publicity surrounding the private expedition led by CLJ de Villiers and James Warman together with the government supported “official” expedition mounted by McMillan, Tyers and the Native Police.
Both parties set out in 1846.
The result: No such woman was ever found, or, was she ??? . . .
The book ‘Ends of the Earth’ written by Mary Gaunt, published in 1915 depicts the following version of the events in a chapter dedicated to the wreck of the ship ‘Britannia’ on the Ninety Mile Beach in 1839.
Fact or fiction ??? Perhaps you can decide . . .
The Lost White Woman
” . . . The brig was a wreck. Now and again through the foaming breakers they could see the dark mass of her stern, but the white water covered it and it was gone; a spar or two came washing ashore and some of the deck hamper, but it was utterly impossible that any living thing could be aboard the Britannia. On the beach stood the little band of survivors, three men and a woman. It was a November day, the storm had passed, overhead was a cloudless blue sky, and the bright sun was rapidly drying their damp clothes and putting a little warmth into their frozen limbs. The woman, hardly more than a girl she was, drew her red cloak round her and shivered drearily. She felt sick and ill and terrified, and she wished with all her heart that the sea had not been so merciful.
“Heart up, my pretty,” said the old man beside her, putting a kindly hand on her shoulder.
“Where are we?” she asked.
The old man looked towards the mate who was carefully nursing a broken arm.
“Ninety Mile Beach, I think,” said he, sinking down on the sand, “the Gippsland coast.”
And in 1839 they knew less about Gippsland than we do about Central Africa. Behind them was dense tea-tree scrub, its dark green tops vivid and bright in the sunshine, and before them the long yellow stretch of sand that went right away to the horizon, and the treacherous sea sparkling and dancing in the sunlight. “We can walk back to the settlement,” suggested the old sailor.
But the mate shook his head.
“Scrub’s too dense, so I’ve heard, and there’s Corner Inlet and Western Port to be negotiated if we go round the coast. No, bo’sun, Twofold Bay’s our only hope,” and he looked pitifully at the woman.
“Then we’d better start at once,” said the bo’sun, and he put one arm round her, lifted her to her feet, and turned his sturdy old face to the east. The other two quietly followed him.
They had no food, they had no water, they had absolutely nothing but what they stood up in, and for all they knew, the thick scrub on their left hand might be swarming with blood-thirsty savages.
At noon they came to some rocks jutting out into the sea. They searched and found shell-fish, and their overpowering thirst they quenched at a rill of water that came out of the scrub. The woman was done, and so was the mate. They had just as soon lie down and die there as crawl a step farther, and since the others would not leave them, they all lay down and rested in the shade of the tea-tree. They slept, too, and they kept no watch. There might be lurking savages, but their plight could hardly be worse. Death possibly would not be so cruel as that weary tramp along the coast to Twofold Bay.
And at evening death came. Just as the sun was setting and the swift darkness coming down on the land, there were strange rustlings in the scrub about them, so soft and gentle it might have been the wind among the leaves, only there was no wind.
Ellen Hammond heard it first. She pushed her thick hair back from her ears and sat up and listened, then her eyes fell on a dark hand beside a tea-tree stem; she stifled a cry, and in a moment the scrub was alive with leaping, dancing figures. There came a flight of spears; the old man beside her died with a moan, and the other two scrambled to their feet. But their eyes were heavy with sleep; they had only their fists to defend themselves with, and those black figures, with skeletons marked on them in white, outnumbered them ten to one.
The unhappy woman crouching there saw them butchered before her eyes, and crouched still lower. It was useless her trying to escape, and she covered her face with her long, fair hair, gave a yearning, tender thought to the husband and home she had been going to in Sydney, and bent her head to meet her fate. Oh that it might come quickly! That it might come quickly! The white men had died so quietly, with scarce a groan, and now there was in her ears only the uncouth yabbering of savage tongues. How horrible, how weird, how unearthly it all seemed! But still death did not come.
And then a new terror seized her; she thought no more of husband and home, she only realised she was alone and unprotected among those horrible savages, and she envied with all her heart the quiet men beside her. The suspense was more than she could bear, and she sprang to her feet with a terrified cry, and started down for the beach. If she could but reach the sea, the kindly sea, then would all her troubles be over.
But she had not gone half-a-dozen steps before strong hands were laid upon her, she was turned round sharply, and found herself facing a stalwart savage with a bearded face smeared with grease and a piece of bone stuck in his hair. He uttered a sort of grunt of astonishment and admiration. Probably in all his days he had not seen anything so fair as this English girl, with the sunny hair about her shoulders and her blue eyes wide with horror and terror. He appeared to be a sort of chief amongst them, for he pushed off the others who came crowding round, and put his hand on her shoulder. It made her shudder, but she dared not shake it off. At least he kept the other savages away, and she closed her eyes to shut out the sight of them stripping the dead men who had been her friends all this long, weary day. At last the hand on her shoulder began to urge her forward, and the whole band went in single file through the scrub. It was dark now, and the savages were evidently afraid. They huddled close together, and moved in silence. The tea-tree was high above their heads; sometimes it met and shut out the dark sky, but generally she could see a star looking down on her, reminding her of her courting days, when she and Tom had looked at the stars together, and it comforted her somehow, though she could hardly have told how. By and by they passed the belt of tea-tree, the scrub and undergrowth were different now, and immense trees towered overhead; then the ground cleared a little, there were little points of leaping flame in the darkness, shrill coo-eyes, the guttural sound of many voices shouting in an uncouth, barbarous tongue, and the pattering of bare feet, and she knew they had reached the blacks’ camp.
She was so weary now nothing seemed to matter. She would have dropped to the ground but for the strong hand on her shoulder. A stick in a small fire, a blackfellow’s fire, leaped into sudden light, and she saw she was standing beside a hollow tree, and that the interior seemed to be carpeted with soft rotten wood and dead leaves, and with a touch and a kindly look at her captor–necessity had made her diplomatic–she slipped inside and dropped down there, and with the shouts of the people still in her ears she fell into a sleep that was almost a stupor.
“I tell you what, my man,” said Captain Dana of the Native Police, not unkindly, “you’d very much better let us go alone. See here, you’re nothing much of a bushman, and you won’t be any mortal good to us. You go back to the settlement like a good fellow, and I’ll send Bullet here along to put you on the right track. If there’s a white woman there–“
“If–if–” stammered Hammond, whose dark hair was already streaked with grey, and whose young face had many lines in it. “When that stockman from Western Port way saw no less than two trees with E. H. marked on them. I–I–“
“And you know,” said Dana soothingly, “the average stockman will see anything that’s worth a glass of rum.”
“And that leaf he picked up out of Dr Jamieson’s big bible. He swears there was something written on it in charcoal when first he saw it, but it got rubbed off in his trousers’ pocket.”
“It might have been there before the blacks raided Jamieson’s station,” mused Dana, “and–well–it’s but a slender clue, specially as we can’t read it. Look here, do you know, Hammond–I mean–do you understand– what I mean is, if there’s a woman with the blacks we’re bound to find her, and we’ll bring her in any way. My dear fellow, you haven’t realised what the life of a woman among them is like, what she’d be after two or three months, let alone two or three years!”
The unhappy man groaned, and the policeman thought he was going to see reason.
“We’ll hand her over to the first white woman we come across, and then you shall see her when she’s properly clothed and–“
“I’m going on with you,” said the man sullenly.
“On your head be it then,” and Dana rolled his blanket round him, put his head on his saddle and his feet to the fire, and stared up at the stars, musing on the impracticability of white men and black troopers. Occasionally he looked round and saw his men dimly in the darkness out of range of the firelight, and the white man, full in the blaze, with his head buried in his hands.
“I don’t suppose,” said he to himself, “there is any danger, but if some wandering scallawag of a warrigal does throw a spear that ends it, I don’t suppose the poor devil’ll mind very much.”
It was weary work trailing through the dense forests. It was late autumn, too, and the rain–it rained every day; the ground was a quagmire–soft, loose ground on which the foot of a white man had never trod; the huge trees, the trailing creepers, the fern, and the tea-tree loomed up dimly through the mist and the rain, and the four black troopers were as miserable as only black fellows can be. Only the stern command of their leader kept them going forward. Whenever they came to a sheltered spot they were anxious to “quamby” there, and whenever they got the chance they gorged themselves so with food that there was serious danger of the supplies running short. As for the other white man, he grew more like a ghost every day. Even if he found the woman he loved, would it not be better for him and her that she should be dead? How were they ever to blot out those cruel years? And what must she have suffered! What must she be suffering still! Oh God! Oh God! No wonder he spent sleepless nights and watched the dawn come creeping slowly, grey and dreary, through the dripping bush.
They found traces of the aborigines more than once. More than once Bullet, a big black trooper, came back saying that “Plenty blackfellow yanem from scrub,” but never did they get a sight of them, though they found their deserted fires over and over again.
“One day more and we must turn back,” said Dana at last. “No, Mr Hammond, it’s no good protesting. I assure you we haven’t two days’ flour left, and if I didn’t go the troopers would go without me. There’s not much chivalry among these sons of darkness. Back to Jamieson’s station we must go. If he can lend us some rations, well, we’ll come back for another two days, and that’s all I can promise you.”
And that day Bullet found a tree and pointed it out to Dana. It was marked, as if with some rude instrument unskilled fingers had tried to cut thereon the letters E. H. And it was freshly done. Dana looked at it gravely, and the man beside him trembled like a leaf. The sun was bright in a cloudless sky to-day, and his face was ghastly.
“Well,” said the leader kindly.
Hammond moistened his dry lips. “It is–it must be–“
“I think so too.”
The day was bright and fairly warm, and the troopers went gaily ahead. The blacks had passed that way, and they were following quickly. A broken twig, a little trampled grass, to the eyes of the white men there was nothing, but Bullet went ahead briskly and they followed in silence.
Hammond was sick with weariness and suspense. He could hardly sit his horse.
“I see nothing,” he said anxiously. “Can they possibly be following anything?”
“It’s as plain as the high road,” said Captain Dana. “It won’t be long now. We shall come upon them before night, and then at least we shall learn something.”
By and by Bullet stopped short and came back to his leader.
“Plenty blackfellow this time sit down alonga waterhole.”
“Then,” said Dana, dismounting, “we’ll leave the horses here and creep in on them. Here, Johnny Warrington, you sit down alonga yarramen.”
Johnny Warrington didn’t exactly seem to like being left alone in the gathering darkness with the horses, but there was no gainsaying Captain Dana’s orders. He would have liked to have left Hammond, too, but one glance at the man’s strained, anxious face stopped him.
It was getting dark now, the outlines of the tree trunks were hazy with the evening mists. Captain Dana followed close behind Bullet, and behind him came Hammond. He knew that the other two troopers were on either side, but the gathering gloom hid them from him. He could see nothing but the tall, slight figure of the leader of the black troopers.
So impressive had been the command for silence that he hardly dared breathe; the others slipped along like ghosts, only his own footsteps seemed to ring out above all other sounds. He was thankful for the wind that arose and rustled the leaves of the trees overhead, for the mocking laugh of a belated jackass, for the mournful hoot of the little white owl that flitted like a lost soul across their path.
Then the figure in front came to a halt, and, turning, caught his hand and pointed to three fiery eyes that looked out of a background of gloom.
“Blackfellows’ fires,” said Dana, “at the bottom of the gully. We’ll get a little closer and make a rush when I say ‘Go.'”
The minutes seemed to crawl, they were stretching themselves into hours, the very sound of his heart beating seemed to fill all the night; then there was the sharp snap of a breaking branch. He had trodden on it.
“You fool,” said Dana’s voice angrily. “Go; now go,” he shouted, and he ran forward.
Then followed a scene of wild confusion in the dying light. The troopers raced forward with a savage yell. The blacks in the camp returned it with a cry of unmistakable terror. There was a flight of spears, and then another as the troopers closed. And then came the sharp report of the white man’s firearms.
Dana swore an angry oath.
“Who did that?” But there was no reply. The camp was vacant, and its late occupants were rapidly scuttling away into the scrub. Only there was a dark form lay close to one of the little fires. Hammond stood still bewildered, and Dana cried to his men to see that they weren’t all speared from the scrub.
The opossum skin rug at the fire moved feebly, and a woman’s voice with a sob in it cried:
“Are you white men?”
In a moment Hammond was at her side, and Dana had stirred the smouldering fire to a blaze. It was a white face that lay there among the folds of the rug, a very white face, the hair all round it like an aureole was flaxen, but alas, there was a dark stain on the fur and it was growing larger every minute.
“Nellie! Nellie! Nellie! My God! At last!” She put up a feeble hand and touched his face. There were still the ragged remains of a sleeve on the thin arm.
“I’m glad, I’m glad, sweetheart. I have wanted you so much.”
The tears were blinding his eyes and raining down on the face that was growing so still.
“Man,” said Dana’s pitying voice, “she is dying.”
She turned her face into his shoulder.
“Tom, Tom dear.”
Dana bared his head. In the bright firelight they were a target for every spear from out the blackness of the surrounding scrub. But he reckoned that a blackfellow when he was scared was scared badly, and would not stop to see if things might not be mended.
A moment or two passed, and Captain Dana touched his shoulder again.
“Dead,” said he. “She is dead. God rest her soul.”
“Who shot her?” said Dana when he told the story to his particular friend in Melbourne a fortnight later; “well, between ourselves, just between ourselves, you know, I think it was Hammond himself. There were two reports, and I’ve dismissed Racy Bob from the force for firing without orders; the beggar was pining to get back to his tribe and would have made himself scarce in a week if I hadn’t, and I’ve made Hammond clearly understand that he didn’t. He thinks I’ve eyes that see the bullets in the air, but if the bullet that came whistling past my arm didn’t bury itself in the opossum skin rug I’m a Dutchman.”
“She was better dead,” said Captain Lonsdale quietly; “much better dead. But you’re right, we’ll keep the story quiet.”
And so quiet did they keep it that many people to this day think that the white woman who was captured by the Gippsland blacks was never found . . . “
Source: Excerpt – ‘Ends of the Earth’ – by Mary Gaunt – published 1915
The following is a detailed account regarding the searches for this woman published closer to the time. Interestingly, the injuries and deaths of Aborigines in consequence of this search appear to be largely omitted . . .
White Women Captured by the Blacks
” . . . There is not in the whole history of Victoria a more harrowing episode than the capture and detention of three European women by the Gippsland Aborigines; or one, now more utterly forgotten, and of which no lengthy or complete narrative has appeared in any publication, if the disjointed accounts printed in some of the early newspapers be excepted.
In 1839-40 four or five intercolonial trading vessels sailed from Hobson’s Bay, and little or nothing was afterwards heard of them, their passengers or cargoes. Some foundered at sea and disappeared ; others were wrecked on the iron-bound coast of the continent, and the island reefs in Bass’s Straits; and though rumour in its usually exaggerated form, was rife and busy, the painful surmises assumed no tangible shape for several years; and it was not until 1846 that positive intelligence was received in Melbourne as to the existence of one or more white women amongst a tribe of blacks occupying the country near Port Albert. One of the missing vessels was the ” Brittomart,” believed to have gone ashore in that neighbourhood. A Miss Lord was on board, and she was supposed to have fallen into the hands of some savages, by the chief of whom she was detained ; and in the early part of the year some mounted troopers, whilst riding at the base of a mountain-range, beheld in the company of a group of natives at a distance the figure of a white person, who was at once pronounced by the public voice to be the unfortunate lady. In May, whilst some blacks were making a raid upon a mob of cattle belonging to Mr. McMillan, a settler, a few miles from the port, a half-caste child fell into his hands, and Miss Lord was believed to be its putative mother. When the intelligence reached Melbourne, much painful interest was excited. The old story of the lost ship was revived; it was the universal topic of conversation, and any scrap of information tending to throw light on the terrible mystery was eagerly devoured. The probable identity of the captive was canvassed in the newspapers, and it was soon enveloped in perplexity from the several theories started. It was positively declared by some that the female was not Miss Lord (for whose rescue £1,000 had been previously offered by relatives in Sydney), but a lady who sailed from Port Phillip to Sydney in the “Brittomart” in 1839; and the following circumstances connected with her supposed detention were communicated by Mr. Stratton, a resident of Tarraville :—” She was a Miss McPherson, once attached to an hotel in Elizabeth Street, kept by a Mr. John M’Donald, and known as the Scottish Chiefs. Leaving Melbourne in 1839 to visit her relatives in Sydney, the vessel by which she travelled was totally wrecked on the Gippsland coast, when she by some chance reached the shore, escaping death only to meet a more terrible fate. She was seized by a native tribe, and becoming the prize of its chief, was carried off and kept in the ranges. She gave birth to four children, three of whom died, and was several times seen by the shepherds, but was never permitted to approach a white man, a very rare visitor in such parts at the time. One day in the mountains a shepherd came across a large tree, on the bark of which was carved the name, ‘Ellen McPherson,’ also the name of the ship and some rude directions by which she hoped to be traced and recovered.” The controversy started in Melbourne soon spread to the other colonies, and an apparently well-informed correspondent of the Sydney Herald supplied the following particulars, introducing a third unfortunate upon the stage :— ” It was the writer’s belief that the white captive was neither Miss Lord nor Miss McPherson, and in support of this view he quoted the Port Phillip Gazette, 11th December, 1839, to show that the ‘Brittomart,’ instead of sailing for Sydney, left Melbourne for Hobart Town with nine male and no female passengers. This vessel he thought went ashore at Preservation Island, in sight of Van Diemen’s Land, and if any of the crew or passengers escaped, they were probably murdered by some of the runaway convicts or other outlaws then infesting all the Straits Islands. He was himself in the Straits on the night of the supposed wreck of the ‘ Brittomart,’ some sixty miles distant from the scene of the catastrophe. It was his belief, beyond doubt, that the unfortunate woman in question was a Mrs. Capel, a passenger by the brig ‘ Britannia,’ which left Port Philip for Sydney, on 4th November, 1839, in ballast, with Messrs. Bowerman, Snowdon, Browning, M’Lean, and Watt. Mrs. Capel, a native of Ireland, arrived (1837) at Sydney, in an emigrant ship. Towards the end of 1838 she came to Port Phillip, and in a few months married Mr. T. Capel, a brewer. The husband soon after disposed of his business, and accepted an engagement to manage an extensive brewery in Sydney, whither he went, the wife remaining in Melbourne until she should hear from him. Capel soon settled down satisfactorily in his new berth, and, writing for his wife, she departed in the ‘Britannia’ to rejoin him. The ship went to pieces early on its journey, and portions of the wreck were subsequently found along what is known as Ninety Mile Beach. The Government despatched the revenue-cutter ‘ Ranger’ to search about the place, and found the long boat of the ‘ Britannia’ ashore on the Long Beach, with her sail set, and a black silk neckerchief on a thwart. Several footmarks were perceptible on the sands, which, added to other appearances, led to a supposition that the boat had been beached, its inmates had landed, and from the direction taken by the tracks it was believed that they endeavoured to make overland towards Twofold Bay. It was further supposed that all the males had been either murdered by the natives, or died from hunger on their journey, more probably the former, for several of the blacks were afterwards seen attired in fragments of European clothing. The presence of the woman was first discovered by a stockman in quest of stray cattle, who, falling in with a party of Aborigines some distance back from the Ninety Mile Beach, was astonished by the appearance of a white child amongst them, and in answer to enquiries he was told it belonged to a white woman who was detained by the chief of the tribe. Mrs. Capel was enceinte when she left Melbourne, and the apparent age of the child so corresponded with this circumstance, as to justify the conclusion that it was her’s.”
In a short time there was a strong conviction amongst the Melbournians, that instead of one there were two white women captives, and the public anxiety was so exercised, and a desire to make some effort to rescue the miserable creatures grew so strong, that a requisition was presented to the Mayor (Dr. J. F. Palmer) to convene a public meeting to adopt measures to ascertain how far the rumours were reliable. The Mayor complied, and the meeting was held at the Royal Hotel, in Collins Street, on the 2nd September, 1846, when, though not numerous, the attendance was an influential one. Amongst the speakers were Messrs. John Stephen, D. Baird, J. A. Marsden, Robert Robinson, Wm. Kerr, Wm. Westgarth, Geo. Cavenagh, P. Davis, and Dr. Greeves. The last-named (one of the best-informed men of the time), who had evidently been well posted in all the data in connection with the subject, made a statement from which are taken the following facts :— At an early period of the settlement of Port Phillip, five vessels, viz., the ” Australia,” ” Britannia,” ” Brittomart,” ” Sarah,” and “Yarra,” trading between Melbourne, Sydney, and Van Diemen’s Land, were lost, as nothing had been ever heard of them. In most, if not all of them, there were female passengers, and it had been stated by persons of veracity that a white woman had been seen amongst an Aboriginal tribe in Gippsland. There was living on the station of a Gippsland settler, a civilized black boy, who had described this poor creature (also several children she had probably borne to a native chief, by whom she was detained) ; and even pointed out the spot where, when younger, he had played with the little half-castes. A white female name had been found carved on a tree in a place to which no white man had previously penetrated, and the name was that of a female passenger by one of the missing vessels. This had been found out only after the discovery of the carved name, and the institution of enquiries in Melbourne. She was never permitted to come near any white persons, and whenever observed by any bushmen, it was noticed that the black with whom she was supposed to be, always kept her in advance, as if to intercept any attempted rescue. If anything were to be done, it should be marked by secrecy and despatch ; and there were in Melbourne six persons ready as volunteers to risk their lives as a rescue party, but they would not do so for pay. Resolutions were passed condemnatory of the apathy of the Government in the matter, and initiating a subscription to equip an expedition.
The Chairman, in his opening remarks, committed one of those mistakes which, as a public man, more than once brought him into trouble. He threw out a suggestion that, possibly the white woman had formed ties with the blacks which she might be unwilling to dissever — an intimation which gave much dissatisfaction, and was warmly resented by Mr. J. A. Marsden, who declared that such an announcement would be calculated to retard the movement by alienating the co-operation of persons who would be only glad of any excuse not to contribute towards it. Dr. Palmer was also soundly castigated by some of the newspapers for having the courage of such an opinion, in which, however, he did not stand alone, for Mr. Superintendent Latrobe, one of the most humane men in the province, was of the same way of thinking. A Committee was appointed to raise funds, and to ascertain whether the Government would assist, and to what extent. The Committee lost no time in setting to work, and issued an appeal to the public, especially to the ladies, which was freely responded to, and Mr. M’Pherson, a clerk in the Treasury at Sydney, brother lo one of the supposed captives transmitted two remittances of £10 and £30.
On the 19th September a reply was received from the Colonial Secretary to the communication of the Committee, forwarding a copy of the resolutions, and asking for assistance in the way of certain supplies towards the fitting out of an expedition. It set forth, that so far back as the month of May, when the report assumed a distinct character, the Superintendent of the province had taken prompt steps to test its truth, and if found true, to follow up the measures necessary to effect a possible rescue; that there were “pretty certain proofs” of the existence of an unfortunate female in the position described, and that the Government officers had been entrusted with the duty of prosecuting a search, and authorized to incur every expense necessary for such a purpose. His Excellency the Governor considered the proposed movement calculated to defeat the object in view, as the course pursued by the Government officers was the best, having regard to the full attainment of the end and security to the life of the female. He therefore declined giving either assistance to the private expedition, or his sanction to the steps proposed to be taken. It concluded with an expression of surprise that neither the Mayor nor the projectors of the public meeting had thought proper to apply to the Superintendent for the information in possession of the Government. Notwithstanding this ” wet blanketing,” the Committee persevered, and both raised sufficient money from voluntary contributions and started the expedition, of which a more detailed account will be found further on.
A letter from Mr. McMillan before referred to is so interesting that I give it in compressd form. The writer expressed his positive belief that there was a white woman with the blacks. In October, 1840, he came to a blacks’ abandoned encampment on the Glengarry river, and found there a dead white child about eight months old. On approaching the place he saw several Aboriginal men and women behind a female, pushing her forward, and questioning a native black who accompanied him, was told it was a white woman. This he did not believe ; for, if so, he should have followed them. The subsequent finding of the child’s corpse convinced him that the blackfellow as right. He wrote on a slip of paper where his station was, and left it at the camp for the supposed white woman. There were also found there a pair of prunella shoes, a child’s dress, some light brown or sandy colour human hair, and parts of a brass sextant and quadrant, evidently procured from some wreck. On returning there next day the place had been destroyed by fire. He stated it as the opinion of Dr. Arbuckle, a medical practitioner in that part, that the child found was born of an European parent. Two separate and independent search parties were now in the field, and in order to recount their proceedings in an intelligible and consecutive manner, the latter are produced seriatim, precedence being given to the Government Expedition.
Early in the year 1846 a correspondence passed between Mr. C. J. Tyers (Gippsland Crown Commissioner), Captain Dana (Commandant of Native Mounted Police), and Superintendent Latrobe which left little doubt that there was a white captive woman with the Aborigines. Two of the troopers declared that once, when patrolling at the foot of some ranges, they saw a party of natives having with them a white woman with red hair. She wore an opossum cloak, which, accidentally or intentionally she dropped, and it was then they noticed her whiteness. An old native man, armed with a spear, caught and forced her into the scrub, in which the’Aborigines speedily disappeared. The troopers afterwards found the cloak, and by their power of scent were able to say that it had been worn by a white person. The troopers gave as a reason for not attempting a rescue that he who first saw the woman was rendered almost powerless by surprise, and the second was fearful of hitting the woman if he fired at the old black. An Aboriginal boy taken from his tribe, was staying at the station of Mr. McMillan, and had learned to speak some English. He stated that a white woman, who had escaped from shipwreck, was living with the tribe adjacent to the one he had left, and he had often played with her children. This testimony was partially corroborated by an Aboriginal girl from Gippsland, who was living with the Western Port tribe. All the correspondence in possession of the Government had been perused by a member of the Sydney Herald staff, and he inclined to the belief that the captive was the Mrs. Capel before mentioned. In the Port Phillip Herald of 1st October, 1846, was printed an interesting narrative of the excursions made by the native police in their searches, of which I append the pith :— In the latter end of March, Mr. Walsh, the second officer of the native police, with eight Aboriginal troopers, Sergeant Windridge, and three of the Border Police, accompanied by a black boy of the Gippsland tribe named Johnny Warrington, started from the police station at Eagle Point to search for the supposed white captive. Well rationed, and in two boats, they proceeded up the River Nicholson, and after rowing for four miles discovered nothing. Returning, they started again in the first week of April, proceeded up Lake King, and after some coasting came upon what they believed to be blacks in canoes fishing. Crossing the lake and camping, they remained until 3 o’clock next morning, when with muffled oars they pulled over the lake to within almost three hundred yards of a black camp. Getting ashore, they proceeded stealthily towards the ” mia-mias,” and having arrived within a dozen yards hid in the adjoining scrub. In a few moments the rain descended in torrents, disturbing the blacks in their “quambying.” Awakening in a hurry, they commenced breaking some boughs to shelter themselves from the inclemency of the weather, and one of them actually climbed a tree which overhung the party in perdu. From what the native boy overheard of some Aboriginal chattering, it would appear that they intended to shift their quarters to the sea coast, some three miles away. Daylight at length dawned, and the searchers crept to within a yard of the camp, when some alarm was given, and the whole force scampered off through the scrub, leaving whatever little could be termed baggage behind. They were immediately pursued, a few women and children captured, but all the males escaped. The pursuers proceeded via Lake Victoria, through McLellan’s Straits, for four miles, entering Lake Wellington. After traversing this neighbourhood, sterile and waterless, and spending two days in fruitless exertions, they returned to the boats for a renewal of provisions, after which they again set out on their journey, but were soon compelled to desist in consequence of the lack of water. The black police were an especial impediment through their improvidence in the consumption of rations; and as soon as the supplies were out they were eager to return. The whites were inclined to advance, feeling assured that after a little perseverance success would crown their efforts, but in consequence of the black troopers demurring, the undesirable alternative was adopted, viz., to return. Mr. Walsh, Trooper Connolly, and two black fellows resought the boat, which, after some difficulty, they brought up the following night, when they joined the land party, who had signalled to them by firing a tree. Here they passed the night, and at an early hour the following morning started in search. Two of the native police were despatched to reconnoitre the whereabouts of the blacks. The party considered it advisable not to proceed further until about three o’clock the next morning, which is the hour of soundest sleep for the Aboriginals of this country. At the appointed period the boats were manned and ran down an inlet for two miles coastwise. Here they disembarked and proceeded a short distance in the scrub when the black boy said — ” he plenty smell the fire of the warrigals” (the camp of the blacks.) After advancing a mile farther the lad’s anticipation was partly realized; the blacks had been there, but were gone, and the embers of their fires were still smouldering. After daybreak, a native policeman climbing a tree ascertained that the objects of their search had shifted from that to the other side of the inlet in small bark canoes. Four men accordingly remained at the former side and the others crossed in the boats, but the instant they approached the off bank the blacks, who were quite close, on seeing they were strangers, scampered into the bush and disappeared. Three “gins” and some ” picanninnies” were taken prisoners, whom ” Johnny Warrington” recognized and commenced playing with, and some of them knew him. After they were given some bread the boy asked—” Where quamby the white woman?” and one of the ” gins” replied that she had run away with the first party. The Aborigines soon conceived suspicions of the boy, and obstinately refused to answer any further interrogations. The prisoners were then set at liberty, and the party continued a fruitless search for several days; they finally returned to the station without having fallen in with any of the blacks wanted.
Fourteen days after, Sergeant Windridge, five Border Police, two of the black police and the native boy, made another excursion in quest of the white woman. They proceeded in a boat up one of the many ” back-waters” in the locality, taking a somewhat similar route to the former. Signs of the Aborigines were, after some time discovered, and when they reached a return water channel, which ran down by the back of Lake Victoria, they ” lay to” for the night. Next morning they steered to the lake, and about noon came in sight of a thick scrub. Leaving two men at the opposite side, they rowed towards the scrub, and went ashore. About 2 o’clock, watching an opportunity, they rushed the camp, when the blacks fled with loud yells to some canoes which lined the verge of the lake, but the moment they beheld the boat and the armed men, they doubled back to the scrub. One old man jumped into a canoe, and pulled vigorously with a great effort to cross the lake. Sergeant Windridge, Trooper Connolly, and a bullock-driver in the employment of Commissioner Tyers, started after him in their boat. The old fellow made his way over the lake with wonderful rapidity, but was intercepted by the men stationed at the off side, one of whom presented a gun at him, which the old chap acknowledged by hurling a spear. He was ultimately captured by one of the native police. The prisoner was stowed on board, the whole party re-crossed the lake, and on reaching the shore another of the black police fell in with an aged blackfellow, whom he was in the act of securing, when he felt a piece of flesh literally bitten out of his arm, and quickly dropped his prey, who slipped off through the scrub. A large knife, and about half-a-dozen dried-up black men’s hands, were dangling from the savage’s neck. The boy stated that he knew him; that he was an old chief, and father to the celebrated black, ” Batke,” who was the first person to whom the ill-fated object of their search was consigned after her miserable capture. The sergeant next questioned the prisoner in custody, and in reference to the fate of the white woman, he stated that the tribe in whose possession she was had gone to the mountains to make war implements for fighting with another tribe, whose chief had in some manner insulted her. This, it was afterwards discovered, was a canard, and cost the party an ineffective trip to the mountain ranges. Finding it useless to continue any longer, the party returned home, bringing with them their prisoner, and keeping him for two days at the police station, during which time, upon being asked to describe the white woman, he pointed to the sergeant’s wife, saying she was much like her.
The party now determined upon a trip to the mountains, anxious to leave no effort untried, and hoping that Fate would smile more propitiously on them by land than she had done before by “lake.” Accordingly, after a week’s rest, there was a start for the hills, with Johnny Warrington perched upon a charger, prouder than the proudest chief that ever shipped a spear. The sergeant, three white and three black troopers, and the boy, accompanied by a pack-horse, laden with a week’s provisions, set out on their third expedition, and, after a two days’ journey, were completely embedded in the mountains. They found no native tracks, but the next day they came up with Messrs. Turnbull, McMillan and M’Clelland, and continued in their company until they reached a new country known as “Dargo,” up the Mitchell River. Here the greatest possible natural obstacles were presented to their progress; so much so, that after some time they were compelled to return. They continued in company with the McMillan party until they reached the station of the latter, forty miles from the police station.
During their career through the mountains, especially whilst encamped at night, they obtained some interesting particulars from the boy relative to the white woman, which embraced the manner in which she fell into the hands of the natives, and some subsequent facts connected with her cruel lot. The boy described her arrival in the following singular manner, a portion of which is given in his own mixed dialect: ” One day, long time ago, there were a great many black fellows on the coast, when big one canoe (ship) yan yan (ran along) saucy water (boisterous sea). Dead boy canoe murrain murang (the men got into a small boat). Caubaun canoe, caubaun blanket (big ship carried big sail). That many white fellows (holding up eight of his fingers) and white gin come up in dead boy canoe (small boat). Plenty black fellow sit down this time along the beach; white fellows began corroboree to black fellows ; black fellows catch white gin by the hands, and all white coolies plenty yan yan (ran away); plenty more black fellows yanem from the scrub, and plenty black fellows throw spear after white fellows.” The boy was remarkably silent upon the fate of the unfortunate white men ; but the probability is that they were speared. He described the woman as having been dressed like Miss Tyers, as with a bonnet on and a “caubaun pussy cat” (boa) about her neck. He further stated that the black “gins” immediately commenced dragging the white one’s clothes off, and left her stark naked, with the exception of her boots and stockings, and when the latter were worn out they sewed opossum skins about her legs in consequence of her inability to walk barefoot. She was immediately assigned to the chief of a tribe, and was delivered of a child soon after her arrival amongst them. Batke and another chief named Bunjaleena fought for her some time after, when the latter was victorious, and she passed from her former tyrant to him, with whom she still continued. She was a tall woman, and had had five children, three of whom were dead. Warrington further recollected having often spoken to the white woman, and played with the children ; and one day she was discovered by the blacks reading a large book, which they immediately snapped out of her hands and threw it in the fire, saying that it belonged to the white fellows. She was in the habit of cutting letters on trees with shells, and when noticed the symbols were erased by the blacks with their tomahawks. Being shown an alphabet, and requested to point out the characters he saw marked by her, he invariably fixed upon C. G. and W. Those facts appear rather singular, and some may deem them incredible, but singular as they may seem some of them could be substantiated by coincident circumstances. For instance, a few years before the station of Dr. Jamieson, at Western Port, was robbed by a tribe of Gippsland blacks, and several books and newspapers abstracted, one of the latter being evidently picked up by the celebrated traveller, Count Strezlecki, in his overland journey from Gippsland to Melbourne.’ Amongst the books purloined was a large edition of the Bible, which was in all probability found by this unfortunate woman in some of the blacks’ encampments, for some leaves of a corresponding size, with the typography almost completely obliterated, were picked up at one of her supposed haunts. Mr. McMillan also testified to the boy’s accuracy in a rather remarkable manner. He stated that some time before the blacks and the white woman happened to be ” quambying” in a scrub close by the beach ; the boy was there, and saw two boats with some white men therein. The white woman beheld the boats, and was moving slowly towards the water, when a half-suppressed cry escaped her lips, and Bunjaleena started up, poised his spear ready to throw it, when she, fearful of her existence, ran towards him and cast herself at his feet.
After the party returned from Mr. McMillan’s station, the men went back to their quarters, where they remained for eight or nine days, during which time Mr. Walsh arrived with his black police. It was therefore resolved to make another effort to recover the white woman, as it appeared that the old man had practised a deception. Accordingly the boats were got under weigh and a supply of provisions put on board. The party proceeded to make a circuit of some of the lakes, thence to the back waters towards the coast, and about the middle of the second night sighted some Aboriginal fires. At day dawn they beheld a number of natives moving rapidly across the main land between the coast and the islands. The party then considered it prudent to “lay to” until the following night, keeping a vigilant look-out upon the movements of the blacks, at the same time guarding against the chances of being discovered. They then ran up the back waters for about four miles, where they landed and encamped. In the morning they saw a number of canoes on an adjoining lake, and having given chase they succeeded in capturing one woman and a child, whom they secured in one of the boats. After some further exertions they overhauled two males, and these they handcuffed. From one of the blackfellows it was elicited that the white woman had gone with her tribe to fish at a portion of the coast they had passed on the previous day. In the evening Trooper Connolly happened to stray a short distance from the encampment, when he found a black man asleep in the scrub, whom he secured and brought to their quarters. The black boy entered into conversation with him, and learned that he had seen the white woman the day before, in the very place where they were then encamped. On the following morning the party and their prisoners were again on the water, retracing a portion of their course of the former day. On a tree close by they noticed a letter E freshly and roughly cut as if by a shell. Sergeant Windridge and one of his men then crossed an adjoining neck of land, and returned in about an hour with intelligence that the blacks were settled at some distance. Having travelled along the sea-side for a distance of fourteen miles, they met a tribe of about one hundred blacks proceeding in the direction of the lakes. The moment the latter saw the small band approaching, and knowing the relative numbers presented such a disproportion, they instantly wheeled round, resolved to give battle. A shower of spears was the act of a moment, one of which penetrated Walsh’s shirt and grazed his chest. The man whose spear had been attended with such an almost fatal effect was shot in the shoulder, but not killed. After some further skirmishing, in which other blacks were wounded, the latter retreated, leaving ten women and as many children “prisoners of war.” Amongst these the black boy recognized his sister, and learned that his mother was one of the persons who succeeded in escaping. He also ascertained from her that the white woman was at the time within one half-hour’s journey of them ; that there was a considerable number of blacks accompanying her, and that those who had just shown battle had been despatched to reconnoitre. The party then resolved to persevere, but the black police positively refused to stir an inch further, as they had no provisions. The chase was therefore reluctantly abandoned, and at a time when its object was near its consummation. They consequently returned, bringing with them the three prisoners, and also the black boy and his sister, both of whom stayed for a time at the black police station, Green Hills. One of the prisoners died in a few days after.
The ill-success of the expedition was supposed to be attributable to two circumstances—the want of some persons invested with supreme control in leading the party—whence originated several bickerings between Mr. Walsh and Sergeant Windridge—and the inadequate manner in which it had been equipped.
The Private Expedition.
The Committee lost little time in bringing their preparations to a conclusion; the members of the party were soon selected, equipped and provisioned, as it was estimated for three months. It consisted of five white and ten black men, whilst the leadership was entrusted to Mr. C. J. De Villiers, an ex-mounted police officer, and of reputed experience in bushmanship. The second in command was Mr. James Warman, but why he should have been chosen was a mystery. Though he possessed a certain sea-faring knowledge, and might make a good commissariat subordinate, he was about the last man in Melbourne to be booked on such an undertaking, literally a “forlorn hope,” which could only be fulfilled by some extraordinary stroke of good luck, or dashing act of bravery or strategy, little short of the miraculous. The proprietary of the ” Shamrock,” the favourite steamer plying between Melbourne and Sydney, remitted half the transit fare for the men, who with their whale-boats and other conveniences were dropped near Rabbit Island. On arriving in Gippsland they had a kindly reception from the few settlers scattered about, some of whom even volunteered to accompany them. The first intelligence received from the party was a letter from Mr. Warman (30th October, 1846) addressed from Emu Flats, to the Chairman of the Melbourne Committee. It stated that the searchers had found a supposed relic of white shipwrecked people. It was the butt of a cherry tree on which were carved the initials “H.B.,” and the rude figure of a ship’s cutter. The tree trunk was met with uprooted in some ranges, twelve miles from Tarraville, and was forwarded to Melbourne for inspection by the curious. In addition to Warman’s marks, the block showed B R I T cut immediately under a carved figure of something like a sloop, and other letters nearly defaced and illegible. This led to a supposition that the entire word when readable was either “Britannia” or ” Brittomart,” the names of two of the five missing vessels. Further intelligence represented the party as having opened communications with some of the native tribes between Lakes Victoria and Reeves, and ascertained from them that the chief Bunjaleena had a white woman at a place called Waitbon, in the mountains; and one Aboriginal even hummed an air which according to him, the white woman was accustomed to sing. They had met with Mr. Walsh and his Government party on the Tambo.
On the 1st January, 1847, De Villiers wrote to the Committee, and two blackfellows were the bearers of his missive to Melbourne. He was at Lake King, and had sent presents to Bunjaleena, and a letter to the white woman, both of whom, he heard, were at the Snowy River. Two old blackfellows had been arrested by the Walsh party, and through the medium of the “boy” interpreter, it was elicited from them that the De Villiers’ epistle had reached the white woman, who wept bitterly over it, and was about to write an answer on it, with a pencil sent for the purpose, when Bunjaleena snatched it away, muttering ” that she wanted to yabber to whitefellow.” An altercation ensued, and ended in Bunjaleena “waddying” her and tying her legs, lest she should attempt an escape. She was described as marked and scarred like the ordinary black lubra.
Further correspondence from De Villiers supplied a few interesting particulars of his enquiries. It was believed that originally there were two white women in the possession of the Gippsland blacks. They were shipwrecked with five white men, and were seen first by the Paul-Paul tribe of Lakers, with whom they remained for some time, until the abduction of one of the women and the spearing of all the five men. The woman carried off was killed soon after, whilst she who remained was consigned to one of the Paul-Pauls, who did not live long, and she passed by some means into the chattel of one Batke, the handsomest fellow that could be found, in fact, a dark Adonis. He belonged to the Parbury Kongites, in which tribe Bunjaleena wielded much influence. One day Batke, having business from home, handed over his white slave to the protection of a bevy of old “gins,” and in his absence Bunjaleena persuaded the harridans to ” slope” and bring the white one with them. Batke was soon in pursuit, and, coming up with the runaways, he and his rival had a set-to at fisticuffs, when Bunjaleena, though left-handed, gave him such a good pummelling that he surrendered the prize to the more muscular pugilist and never after troubled himself about her. Bunjaleena was a man about 6ft. 3in. in height, of surpassing strength, a savage and ferocious disposition, and kept in awe the blacks of the surrounding tribes. The white woman whose Aboriginal name was “Waitbon,” was tall, and afflicted with deafness, of light hair, approaching to red, or what is generally termed sandy. She stooped, which might be occasioned by the extraordinary hardships to which she had been subjected, and nursed her child totally different from the lubras, and precisely similar to all white women. She was supposed to have borne four children since her captivity. The first two being females, were murdered, as is the custom of the Aborigines, and the others males, one of whom she was at the time suckling. The blacks treated her with some consideration of kindness, and she employed a portion of her time in weaving fancy grass baskets and other net-work, in which the lubras imitated her with no little dexterity.
On the 1oth February, 1847, De Villiers arrived in Melbourne with four of the blacks of his party, the rest coming back via Port Albert. H e had run short of provisions, and not obtaining, as he expected, some supplies from the Commissioner of Crown Lands, beat a retreat. Such a finale had been for some time foreseen, and it did not therefore cause much surprise. A lengthy concluding despatch of his was published, but it was mostly taken up with reference to altercations with the Government party, and contained nothing of import to this narrative. It, however, testified to various kindnesses on the part of Commissioner Tyers, and the good-tempered efficiency of Trooper-sergeant Windridge.
And thus abortively terminated a movement instigated by feelings of humanity, and a sincere desire to render succour under circumstances of the most revolting misery. In consequence of the supposed apathy of the Executive, the public generously came to the rescue, though the obstacles interposed against success were never calmly and thoroughly considered. If the Government had despatched a properly organized party under Windridge, the object sought for might have been attained ; but neither Dana nor Walsh, though not deficient in personal bravery and powers of endurance, was the proper person to lead in a work that required coolness, cunning, and bushcraft. Neither was De Villiers the person to be charged with the command of the private expedition, though he effected just as much as might reasonably be expected under the anomalous conditions in which he started. The simple fact of his holding no Government authority, not being even sworn in as a special constable, and on a service which could not be carried out without a resort to physical force, certain bloodshed, and possible loss of human life, was in itself sufficient to assure futility as a result that could not be otherwise than inevitable.
Another Government Expedition.
Official correspondence, printed by order of the Legislative Council, supplied some additional particulars. There was a communication from Sergeant Windridge, which revealed the horrible fact of the Gippsland tribes indulging in cannibalism, so far as to devour the bodies of the “gins” or married women when they died, the corpses being either baked or roasted and so served up. In a communication from Superintendent Latrobe to Commissioner Tyers, the former remarked :—
” Presuming the existence of the female in the circumstances stated, the fact that five or six years have elapsed without the white inhabitants of Gippsland having received any hint or token direct or indirect, on her part of her existence, can only, in my opinion, be accounted for by one or two suppositions, either the peculiar circumstances of her case, and the degradation to which she has been subjected for years, and through the strength of the ties that she has apparently formed amongst the natives, she may be herself at present indifferent or averse to reclamation by those of her own race; or that, having shown a disposition to communicate with the whites, she had been watched with such unremitting and jealous attention that such communication has been impossible.”
In a letter to the Colonial Secretary of New South Wales, Captain Lonsdale, Sub-Treasurer of Port Phillip, acting for Mr. Latrobe, absent in Van Diemen’s Land, thus wrote (13th October, 1846) :— “I have not the slightest doubt of such a person being there, and consider time ought not to be lost in prosecuting the attempt for her recovery. In addition to the information already communicated to you on this subject, I now learn that the female appears to be about 24 or 25 years of age ; that her hair is light brown, and now cut short ; that when wrecked she seems to have been well dressed, her shoes being described as of thin material; that she had on a boa, and that part of a silk dress, which was found some time after, belonged to her. When first discovered by the blacks, it is stated that a tall young man was sitting by her. It is said that from the period of her being taken she has always been under the immediate protection of the black man Bunjaleena, who is kind to her, and with whom she appears to live contentedly. It is stated she sometimes cries, yet joins in the amusements and pursuits of the people she is with, and that she has good health. She had two children, but it is doubtful whether more than one is now alive. ” The Government at length felt constrained to make another effort to recover the captive woman, for that there was one in reality, no longer permitted of any reasonable doubt. The Commissioner of Crown Lands (Tyers) was consequently instructed to do everything in his power in the matter. It was even suggested for his consideration whether the Aborigines amongst whom she was supposed to be, might not be disposed to exchange her for a ransom of blankets, tomahawks, and other articles. Mr. Walsh and the little black tracker, Johnny Warrington, were requested to accompany any police expedition deemed advisable. Commissioner Tyers lost no time in organizing a party, which was joined by half a dozen volunteers, and the old Expedition Committee despatched from Melbourne an assortment of gratuities for the natives, in the forms of tomahawks, sailors’ knives, Jews’ harps, fishing hooks and lines, with several looking-glasses, each thus labelled on the back : ” Whitewoman — A strong armed party, headed by the Government, is now in search of you, determined to rescue you, Two Warrigals named Boondowal and Karrowutbeet, are with the white party. Be careful as far as your own safety is concerned, and do everything to throw yourself into the hands of this party. Inform the person who detains you, as well as his tribe, that he and they will be handsomely rewarded if they will give you up peaceably; but if they persist in detaining you that they will be severely punished. Melbourne, 4th March, 1847.”
To recount the excursions of this third expedition would be virtually a repetition of many of the incidents similar to those that have preceded. One remarkable event occurred, viz., the finding amongst the blacks the figure-head of a small schooner, which had at some period been cast ashore. It was the bust of a female, smaller than life, roughly made, and painted red with white eyes. The red had been so worn off as to assume a darkish brown colour. This simulacrum the blacks used to carry with them, and danced round and worshipped it as a fetish. There was much difficulty in getting it from them.
By the aid of some blacks bought over by largess, Bunjaleena was one day surprised and made prisoner ; but he was too wary to have the white woman with him. He acknowledged her existence, declaring that she belonged to his brother, and not to himself. He was detained, and the only privation in addition to confinement to which he was subjected, was the ordinary white man’s rations, considered, insufficient fare, for he pretended to be half-starved, and was eternally yelping for more “tucker.” He promised that, if released, he would restore the white woman before three moons; but this offer was disregarded.
The Commissioner and his State prisoner at length showed a disposition to come to terms so far that certain propositions were actually committed to paper and ” signed, sealed and witnessed.” This, so far as I know, is the second instance of the execution of such a formal black and white negotiation (the first being the celebrated Batman purchase treaty), and as it is a document quite unique in its way, a copy is appended :—
Memorandum of agreement entered into this day between Charles J. Tyers, Esq., on the part of Her Majesty’s Government, and Bunjaleena, Chief of the Gippsland tribes.
I, Bunjaleena, promise to deliver to Charles J. Tyers, the white female residing with the Gippsland blacks, provided a party of whites and Western Port blacks proceed with me to the mountains at as early a day as may be convenient, for the purpose of obtaining her from my brother. I also agree to leave my two wives and two children with the said Charles J. Tyers, as hostages for the fulfilment of my promise. And I, Charles J. Tyers, promise on the part of Her Majesty’s Government, to give Bunjaleena one boat, with oars, a tent, four blankets, a guernsey frock, some fishhooks and a fishing line, and a tomahawk for the said Bunjaleena’s own use ; and six blankets, two tomahawks, three guernsey frocks, and other articles, between three or four men of the said Bunjaleena’s tribes, who may be instrumental in the
recovery of the said white female, conditioned that the said Bunjaleena fulfil his part of the agreement.
Witness—S. WINDRIDGE, CHAS. J. TYERS. Mark
Witness to the Agreement—S. WINDRIDGE, WILLIAM PETERS, DONALD McLEOD, RICHARD HARTNETT.
Done at Eagle Point, Gippsland, this Seventeenth Day of May, One Thousand Eight Hundred and Forty-seven.
In pursuance of this bargain, a party returned to the mountain ranges, but with no result, for Bunjaleena either could not, or would not, keep the pact to which he had so solemnly affixed the sign of the cross. It was surmised that he had never intended to have acted in good faith, and that he had, by some means, warned his compatriots to keep the white woman far out of reach. Bunjaleena was next transferred, with certain wives and children given by him as hostages, to the native police station at Narree Warren, where they were committed to the charge of the Commandant. The Chief was not kept a close prisoner, but placed under the strictest surveillance, and some of the black troopers were detached for special and continuous watch duty over him. After being detained in this way for some time they were released. It was now fast advancing to mid-winter, so the expedition was broken up, and there was no occasion to form another, for on the 5th November intelligence reached Melbourne that on the 29th October the dead bodies of a white woman and child were found by Tommy , a native trooper, at a place called Jemmy’s Point, on the bank of a Gippsland lake, some four miles from the residence of Commissioner Tyers. The next day a quasi-official enquiry was held by Mr. McMillan, and there was a general agreement that the remains were those of the white woman and one of her children. The corpses were interred on the 1st November, in the presence of the European residents in the neighbourhood. It was a singular want of thought that no sufficient effort was made to endeavour to establish the identity of the adult.
It was subsequently ascertained, by information gathered from the natives, that after Bunjaleena’s arrest, his brother seized upon the white woman, when another, and a stronger man took her from him by physical force, and kept her until, as surmised, the brother out of vengeance, watched an opportunity, and murdered both woman and child.
This was the last ever heard of the sorrowful story of the white woman, and of the most pitiable and painful tragedy that ever shadowed the canvas of the colony’s history . . . “
Source: Excerpt – ‘The Chronicles of Early Melbourne – 1835 to 1851 – Vol I’ – by Garryowen – published 1888
Meanwhile, other reports were filtering into the constabulary. Warman’s party stated at a time when they believed they were so close to finding the white woman in the month of December 1846, however, when they reached the mouth of the river they “. . . found what they took to be evidence of a massacre.” Watson wrote:
” . . . Warman found one body with three gunshot wounds and a fractured skull on the banks of the river and eight more bodies in an Aboriginal camp nearby. He and de Villiers also freed two Aborigines who had been handcuffed together and left to stagger about the bush . . . “
Warman and De Villiers reported the massacre to Tyers. It was thought to be the result of the official expedition, who had reported only some hand-to-hand combat in the area. Tyers instructed the official party to withdraw and, according to Watson, ” . . . estimated that fourteen Snowy River blacks had been killed by the native police . . . “
Another report published in a Western Australian newpaper stated:
” . . . Mr Villiers, the conductor of an expedition into Gipp’s Land, for the recovery of a white woman forcibly detained by the blacks, has made a charge against Capt. Dana and the native police, who were employed on the same service, of having committed a wholesale massacre of the aborigines in that district; skulls and bones are said to have been found by Mr. Villiers and his party in great quantities; an investigation was to be made into-the circumstances . . . “
Source: Excerpt – ‘Perth Gazette & Western Australian Journal’ (WA) – published 20th March 1847
Lack of records at the time will forever leave the question open as to the cruelty, or not, imposed on Aboriginal tribes by the first settlers of Gippsland, and / or the ‘Native Police Corps’. Many believe that for seven years the suspicion that a white woman was being held against her will by the Aborigines provided the settlers of Gippsland an excuse, or even an obligation, to harm Aborigines. Tyers himself, who never really believed in the woman’s existence, estimated that at least fifty Kurnai had been killed in hunts for the woman.
The early settlers, who had a keen interest in degrading and removing the troublesome Gippsland Aborigines, disguised their hypocrisy, racism and greed as “chivalry”. The result – the captive white woman lead to many Aboriginal deaths and is believed to be amongst the major catalysts that lead to the demise of Gippsland’s ‘Kurnai’ tribe.
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