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7. Chapter I.

PRELIMINARY REMARKSUNJUST OPINIONS GENERALLY ENTERTAINED OF THE CHARACTER OF THE NATIVEDIFFICULTIES AND DISADVANTAGES HE LABOURS UNDER IN HIS RELATIONS WITH EUROPEANSAGGRESSIONS AND INJURIES ON THE PART OF THE LATTER IN GREAT DEGREE EXTENUATE HIS CRIMES.

UPON bringing to a close the narrative of an Expedition of Discovery in Australia, during the progress of which an extensive portion of the previously unknown parts of that continent were explored, I have thought it might not be uninteresting to introduce a few pages on the subject of the Aborigines of the country.

It would afford me much gratification to see an interest excited on their behalf proportioned to the claims of a people who have hitherto been misjudged or misrepresented.

For the last twelve years I have been personally resident in one or other of the Australian Colonies, and have always been in frequent intercourse with the  aboriginal next hit tribes that were near, rarely being


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without some of them constantly with me as domestics.

To the advantages of private opportunities of acquiring a knowledge of their character were added, latterly, the facilities afforded by my holding a public appointment in South Australia, in the midst of a district more densely populated by natives than any in that Colony, where no settler had ventured to locate, and where, prior to my arrival in October 1841, frightful scenes of bloodshed, rapine, and hostility between the natives and parties coming overland with stock, had been of frequent and very recent occurrence.

As Resident Magistrate of the Murray District, I may almost say, that for the last three years I have lived with the natives. My duties have frequently taken me to very great distances up the Murray or the Darling rivers, when I was generally accompanied only by a single European, or at most two, and where, if attacked, there was no possibility of my receiving any human aid. I have gone almost alone among hordes of those fierce and blood-thirsty savages, as they were then considered, and have stood singly amongst them in the remote and trackless wilds, when hundreds were congregated around, without ever receiving the least injury or insult.

In my first visits to the more distant tribes I found them shy, alarmed, and suspicious, but soon learning that I had no wish to injure them, they


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met me with readiness and confidence. My wishes became their law; they conceded points to me that they would not have done to their own people, and on many occasions cheerfully underwent hunger, thirst, and fatigue to serve me.

Former habits and prejudices in some respects gave way to the influence I acquired. Tribes that never met or heard of one another before were brought to mingle in friendly intercourse. Single individuals traversed over immense distances and through many intervening tribes, which formerly they never could have attempted to pass, and in accomplishing this the white man's name alone was the talisman that proved their safe-guard and protection.

During the whole of the three years I was Resident at Moorunde, not a single case of serious injury or aggression ever took place on the part of the natives against the Europeans; and a district, once considered the wildest and most dangerous, was, when I left it in November 1844, looked upon as one of the most peaceable and orderly in the province.

Independently of my own personal experience, on the subject of the Aborigines, I have much pleasure in acknowledging the obligations I am under to M. Moorhouse, Esq. Protector of Aborigines in Adelaide, for his valuable assistance, in comparing and discussing the results of our respective observations, on matters connected with the natives, and for the


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obliging manner in which he has furnished me with many of his own important and well-arranged notes on various points of interest in their history.

By this aid, I am enabled, in the following pages, to combine my own observations and experience with those of Mr. Moorhouse, especially on points connected with the Adelaide Tribes. In some cases, extracts from Mr. Moorhouse's notes, will be copied in his own words, but in most I found an alteration or rearrangement to be indispensable to enable me to connect and amplify the subjects: I wish it to be particularly understood, however, that with any deductions, inferences, remarks, or suggestions, that may incidentally be introduced, Mr. Moorhouse is totally unconnected, that gentleman's notes refer exclusively to abstract matters of fact, relating to the habits, customs, or peculiarities of the people treated of, and are generally confined to the Adelaide Tribes.note

In the descriptions given in the following pages,


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although there may occasionally be introduced, accounts of the habits, manners, or customs of some of the tribes inhabiting different parts of Australia I have visited, yet there are others which are exclusively peculiar to the natives of South Australia. I wish it, therefore, to be understood, that unless mention is made of other tribes, or other parts of the continent, the details given are intended to apply to that province generally, and particularly to the tribes in it, belonging to the districts of Adelaide and the Murray river.

As far as has yet been ascertained, the whole of the previous hit aboriginal next hit inhabitants of this continent, scattered as they are over an immense extent of country, bear so striking a resemblance in physical appearance and structure to each other; and their general habits, customs, and pursuits, are also so very similar, though modified in some respects by local circumstances or climate, that little doubt can be entertained that all have originally sprung from the same stock. The principal points of difference, observable between various tribes, appear to consist chiefly in some of their ceremonial observances, and in the variations of dialect in the language they speak; the latter are, indeed, frequently so great, that even to a person thoroughly acquainted with any one dialect, there is not the slightest clue by which he can understand what is said by a tribe speaking a different one.

The only account I have yet met with, which professed to give any particular description of the


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Aborigines of New Holland, is that contained in the able papers upon this subject, by Captain Grey, in the second volume of his travels. When it is considered, that the material for that purpose was collected by the author, during a few months interval between his two expeditions, which he spent at Swan River, and a short time subsequently passed at King George's Sound, whilst holding the appointment of Government Resident there; it is perfectly surprising that the amount of information amassed should be so great, and so generally correct, on subjects where so many mistakes are liable to be made, in all first inquiries, when we are ignorant of the character and habits of the people of whom information is to be sought, and unacquainted with the language they speak.

The subject, however, upon a portion of which Captain Grey so successfully entered, is very extensive, and one which no single individual, except by the devotion of a life-time, could hope fully to discuss. The Continent of Australia is so vast, and the dialects, customs, and ceremonies of its inhabitants so varied in detail, though so similar in general outline and character, that it will require the lapse of years, and the labours of many individuals, to detect and exhibit the links which form the chain of connection in the habits and history of tribes so remotely separated; and it will be long before any one can attempt to give to the world a complete and well-drawn outline of the whole.




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It is not therefore to satisfy curiosity, or to interrupt the course of inquiry, that I enter upon the present work; I neither profess, nor could I attempt to give a full or matured account of the Aborigines of New Holland. Captain Grey's descriptions on this subject are limited to the races of South-western, as mine are principally directed to those of Southern Australia, with occasionally some remarks or anecdotes relating to tribes in other parts of the Continent with whom I have come in contact.

The character of the Australian native has been so constantly misrepresented and traduced, that by the world at large he is looked upon as the lowest and most degraded of the human species, and is generally considered as ranking but little above the members of the brute creation. Savages have always many vices, but I do not think that these are worse in the New Hollanders, than in many other previous hit aboriginal next hit races. It is said, indeed, that the Australian is an irreclaimable, unteachable being; that he is cruel, blood-thirsty, revengeful, and treacherous; and in support of such assertions, references are made to the total failure of all missionary and scholastic efforts hitherto made on his behalf, and to many deeds of violence or aggression committed by him upon the settler.note




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With respect to the first point, I consider that an intimate knowledge of the peculiar habits, laws, and traditions, by which this people are governed, is absolutely necessary, before any just opinion can be formed as to how far the means hitherto pursued, have been suitable, or adapted to counteract the influence of custom and the force of prejudice. Until this knowledge is attained, we have no right to brand them as either irreclaimable, or unteachable. My own impression, after long experience, and an attentive consideration of the subject, is, that in the present anomalous state of our relations with the Aborigines, our measures are neither comprehensive enough for, nor is our system sufficiently adapted to, the singular circumstances they are in,


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to enable us successfully to contend with the difficulties and impediments in the way of their rising in the scale of civilization.

Upon the second point it is also necessary to make many inquiries before we arrive at our conclusions; and I have no doubt, if this be done with calmness, and without prejudice, it will be generally found that there are many extenuating circumstances which may be brought to modify our judgment. I am anxious, if possible, to place a few of these before the public, in the hope, that by lessening in some degree the unfavourable opinion heretofore entertained of the Aborigines, they may be considered for the future as more deserving our sympathy and benevolence.

Without assuming for the native a freedom from vice, or in any way attempting to palliate the many brutalising habits that pollute his character, I would still contend that, if stained with the excesses of unrestrained passions, he is still sometimes sensible to the better emotions of humanity. Many of the worst traits in his character are the result of necessity, or the force of custom—the better ones are implanted in him as a part of his nature. With capabilities for receiving, and an aptness for acquiring instruction, I believe he has also the capacity for appreciating the rational enjoyments of life.

Even in his present low and debased condition, and viewed under every disadvantages, I do not imagine that his vices would usually be found


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greater, or his passions more malignant than those of a very large proportion of men ordinarily denominated civilised. On the contrary, I believe were Europeans placed under the same circumstances, equally wronged, and equally shut out from redress, they would not exhibit half the moderation or forbearance that these poor untutored children of impulse have invariably shewn.

It is true that occasionally many crimes have been committed by them, and robberies and murders have too often occurred; but who can tell what were the provocations which led to, what the feelings which impelled such deeds? Neither have they been the only or the first aggressors, nor has their race escaped unscathed in the contest. Could blood answer blood, perhaps for every drop of European's shed by natives, a torrent of their, by European hands, would crimson the earth.note




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Let us now inquire a little, upon whose side right and justice are arrayed in palliation (if any such there can be) of deeds of violence or aggression on the part of either.

It is an undeniable fact, that wherever European colonies have been established in Australia, the native races in that neighbourhood are rapidly decreasing, and already in some of the elder settlements, have totally disappeared. It is equally indisputable that the presence of the white man has been the sole agent in producing so lamentable an effect; that the evil is still going on, increased in a ratio proportioned to the number of new settlements formed, or the rapidity with which the settlers overrun new districts. The natural, the inevitable, but the no less melancholy result must be, that in the course of a few years more, if nothing be done to check it, the whole of the previous hit aboriginal next hit tribes of Australia will be swept away from the face of the earth. A people who, by their numbers, have spread around the whole of this immense continent, and have probably penetrated into and occupied its inmost recesses, will become quite extinct, their name forgotten, their very existence but a record of history.

It is a popular, but an unfair and unwarranted assumption, that these consequences are the result


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of the natural course of events; that they are ordained by Providence, unavoidable, and not to be impeded. Let us at least ascertain how far they are chargeable upon ourselves.

Without entering upon the abstract question concerning the right of one race of people to wrest from another their possessions, simply because they happen to be more powerful than the original inhabitants, or because they imagine that they can, by their superior skill or acquirements, enable the soil to support a denser population, I think it will be conceded by every candid and right-thinking mind, that no one can justly take that which is not his own, without giving some equivalent in return, or deprive a people of their ordinary means of support, and not provide them with any other instead. Yet such is exactly the position we are in with regard to the inhabitants of Australia.note

Without laying claim to this country by right of conquest, without pleading even the mockery of


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cession, or the cheatery of sale, we have unhesitatingly entered upon, occupied, and disposed of its lands, spreading forth a new population over its surface, and driving before us the original inhabitants.

To sanction this aggression, we have not, in the abstract, the slightest shadow of either right or justice—we have not even the extenuation of endeavouring to compensate those we have injured, or the merit of attempting to mitigate the sufferings our presence inflicts.

It is often argued, that we merely have taken what the natives did not require, or were making no use of; that we have no wish to interfere with them if they do not interfere with us, but rather that we are disposed to treat them with kindness and conciliation, if they are willing to be friends with us. What, however, are the actual facts of the case; and what is the position of a tribe of natives, when their country is first taken possession of by Europeans.

It is true that they do not cultivate the ground; but have they, therefore, no interest in its productions? Does it not supply grass for the sustenance of the wild animals upon which in a great measure they are dependent for their subsistence?—does it not afford roots and vegetables to appease their hunger?—water to satisfy their thirst, and wood to make their fire?—or are these necessaries left to them by the white man when he comes to take possession of their soil? Alas, it is not so! all are in turn taken away from the original possessors. The


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game of the wilds that the European does not destroy for his amusement are driven away by his flocks and herds.note The waters are occupied and


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enclosed, and access to them in frequently forbidden. The fields are fenced in, and the natives are no longerat liberty to dig up roots—the white man claims the timber, and the very firewood itself is occasion ally denied to them. Do they pass by the habitation of the intruder, they are probably chased away or bitten by his dogs, and for this they can get no redress.note Have they dogs of their own, they are unhesitatingly shot or worried because they are an annoyance to the domestic animals of the Europeans. Daily and hourly do their wrongs multiply upon them. The more numerous the white population becomes, and the more advanced the stage of civilization to which the settlement progresses, the greater are the hardships that fall to their lot and the more completely are they cut off from the privileges of their birthright. All that they have is in succession


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taken away from them—their amusements, their enjoyments, their possessions, their freedom—and all that they receive in return is obloquy, and contempt, and degradation, and oppression.note

What are they to do under such circumstances, or how support a life so bereft of its wonted supplies?


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Can we wonder that they should still remain the same low abject and degraded creatures that they are, loitering about the white man's house, and cringing, and pandering to the lowest menial for that food they can no longer procure for themselves? or that wandering in misery through a country, now no longer their own, their lives should be curtailed by want, exposure, or disease? If, on the other hand, upon the first appearance of Europeans, the natives become alarmed, and retire from their presence, they must give up all the haunts they had been accustomed to frequent, and must either live in a starving condition, in the back country, ill supplied with game, and often wanting water, or they must trespass upon the territory of another tribe, in a district perhaps little calculated to support an additional population, even should they be fortunate enough to escape being forced into one belonging to an enemy.

Under any circumstances, however, they have but little respite from inconvenience and want. The white man rapidly spreads himself over the country, and without the power of retiring any further, they are overtaken, and beset by all the evils from which they had previously fled.

Such are some of the blessings held out to the savage by civilization, and they are only some of them. The picture is neither fanciful nor overdrawn; there is no trait in it that I have not personally witnessed, or that might not have been


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enlarged upon; and there are often other circumstances of greater injury and aggression, which, if dwelt upon, would have cast a still darker shade upon the prospects and condition of the native.

Enough has, however, perhaps been said to indicate the degree of injury our presence unavoidably inflicts. I would hope, also, to point out the justice, as well as the expediency of appropriating a considerable portion of the money obtained, by the sales of land, towards alleviating the miseries our occupation of their country has occasioned to the original owners.note




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Surely if we acknowledge the first principles of justice, or if we admit the slightest claims of humanity on behalf of these debased, but harshly treated people, we are bound, in honour and in equity, to afford them that subsistence which we have deprived them of the power of providing for themselves.

It may, perhaps, be replied, and at first it might seem, with some appearance of speciousness, that all is done that can be done for them, that each of the Colonial Governments annually devotes a portion of its revenue to the improvement, instruction, and maintenance of the natives. So far this is very praiseworthy, but does it in any degree compensate for the evil inflicted?

The money usually voted by the councils of Government, towards defraying expenses incurred on behalf of the Aborigines of Australia, is but a very small per centage upon the sums that have been received for the sales of lands, and is principally expended in defraying the salaries of protectors, in supporting schools, providing food or clothing for one or two head stations, and perhaps supplying a few blankets once in the year to some of the outstations. Little is expended in the daily provisioning of the natives generally, and especially in the more distant country districts least populated by Europeans, but most densely occupied by natives, and where the very thinness of the European inhabitants precludes the Aborigines from resorting to the same sources to supply their wants, that are open to


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them in a town, or more thickly inhabited district. Such are those afforded by the charity of individuals, by the rewards received for performing trifling services of work, by the obtaining vast quantities of offal, or of broken victuals, which are always abundant in a country where animal food is used in excess, and where the heat of the climate daily renders much of it unfit for consumption in the family, and by others of a similar nature.

Such resources, however humiliating and pernicious they are in their effects, are not open to the tribes living in a district almost exclusively occupied by the sheep or cattle of the settler, and where the very numbers of the stock only more completely drive away the original game upon which the native had been accustomed to subsist, and hold out a greater temptation to him to supply his wants from the superabundance which he sees around him, belonging to those by whom he has been dispossessed. The following appropriate remarks are an extract from Report of Aborigines' Protection Society, of March, 1841, (published in the South Australian Register, 4th December, 1841.)

“Under that system it is obvious to every coloured man, even the least intelligent, that the extending settlements of the Europeans involve a sentence of banishment, and eventual extermination, upon his tribe and race. Major Mitchell, in his travels, refers to this apprehension on the part of the Aborigines —“White man come, Kangaroo go away”—from


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which as an inevitable consequence follows—“black man famished away.” If, then, this appears a necessary result of the unjust, barbarous, unchristian mode of colonization pursued in New Holland, over-looking the other incidental, and more pointedly aggravating provocations, to the coloured man, associated with that system, how natural, in his case, is an enmity which occasionally visits some of the usurping race with death! We call the offence in him murder; but let the occasion be only examined, and we must discover that, in so designating it, we are imposing geographical, or national restrictions, upon the virtue of patriotism; or that in the mani-festations of that principle, we make no allowances for the influence on its features of the relative degradation or elevation of those among whom it is met.

“Our present colonization system renders the native and the colonizing races from necessity belligerents; and there can be no real peace, no real amity, no mutual security, so long as that system is not substituted by one reconciling the interest of both races. Colonists will fall before the spears and the waddies of incensed Aborigines, and they in return will be made the victims of “summary justice.”

“In cases of executive difficulty, the force of popular prejudice will be apt to be too strong for the best intentioned Governor to withstand it; Europeans will have sustained injury; the strict forms of legal justice may be found of difficult application


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to a race outcast or degraded, although originally in a condition fitted to appreciate them, to benefit by them, and reflect their benefits upon others; impatient at this difficulty, the delay it may occasion, and the shelter from ultimate punishment, the temptation will ever be strong to revert to summary methods of proceeding; and thus, as in a circle, injustice will be found to flow reciprocal injury, and from injury injustice again, in another form. The source of all these evils, and of all this injustice, is the unreserved appropriation of native lands, and the denial, in the first instance of colonization, of equal civil rights. To the removal of those evils, so far as they can be removed in the older settlements, to their prevention in new colonies, the friends of the Aborigines are invoked to direct their energy; to be pacified with the attainment of nothing less; for nothing less will really suffice.”

Can it be deemed surprising that a rude, uncivilized being, driven from his home, deprived of all his ordinary means of subsistence,note and pressed perhaps by a hostile tribe from behind, should occasionally be guilty of aggressions or injuries towards


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his oppressors? The wonder rather is, not that these things do sometimes occur, but that they occur so rarely.

In addition to the many other inconsistencies in our conduct towards the Aborigines, not the least extraordinary is that of placing them, on the plea of protection, under the influence of our laws, and of making them British subjects. Strange anomaly, which by the former makes amenable to penalties they are ignorant of, for crimes which they do not consider as such, or which they may even have been driven to commit by our own injustice; and by the latter but mocks them with an empty sound, since the very laws under which we profess to place them, by their nature and construction are inoperative in affording redress to the injured.note




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If, in addition to the many evils and disadvantages the natives must necessarily be subject to from our presence, we take still further into account the wrongs they are exposed to from the ill feeling towards them which has sometimes existed among the settlers, or their servants, on the outskirts of the country; the annoyances they are harassed by, even where this feeling does not exist, in being driven away from their usual haunts and pursuits (and this is a practice often adopted by the remote grazier as a mere matter of policy to avoid trouble or the risk of a collision); we shall find upon the whole that they have often just causes of offence, and that there are many circumstances connected with their crimes which, from the peculiar position they are placed in, may well require from us some mitigation of the punishment that would be exacted from Europeans for the same misdeeds.

Captain Grey has already remarked the strong prejudice and recklessness of human life which frequently exist on the part of the settlers with regard to the natives. Nor has this feeling been confined to Western Australia alone. In all the colonies, that I have been in, I have myself observed that a harsh and unjust tone has occasionally been adopted in speaking of the Aborigines; and that where a feeling of prejudice does not exist against them, there is too often a great indifference manifested as to their fate. I do not wish it to be understood that such is always the case; on the


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contrary, I know that the better, and right thinking part of the community, in all the colonies, not only disavow such feelings, but are most anxious, as far as lies in their power, to promote the interests and welfare of the natives. Still, there are always some, in every settlement, whose passions, prejudices, interests, or fears, obliterate their sense of right and wrong, and by whom these poor wanderers of the woods are looked upon as intruders in their own country, or as vermin that infest the land, and whose blood may be shed with as little compunction as that of the wild animals they are compared to.

By those who have heard the dreadful accounts current in Western Australia, and New South Wales, of the slaughter formerly committed by military parties, or by the servantsnote of the settlers


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upon the Aborigines, in which it is stated that men, women, and children have been surprised, surrounded and shot down indiscriminately, at their


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camps at night; or who have heard such deeds, or other similar ones, justified or boasted of, it


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will readily be believed to what an extent the feeling I have alluded to has occasionally been carried, and to what excesses it has led.note




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Were other evidence necessary to substantiate this point, it would be only requisite to refer to the tone in which the natives are so often spoken of by the Colonial newspapers, to the fact that a large number of colonists in New South Wales, including many wealthy landed proprietors and magistrates, petitioned the Local Government on behalf of a party of convicts, found guilty on the clearest testimony of having committed one of the most wholesale, cold-blooded, and atrocious butcheries of the Aborigines ever recorded,note and to the acts of the Colonial


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Governments themselves, who have found it necessary, sometimes, to prohibit fire-arms at out-stations,


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and have been compelled to take away the assigned servants, or withdraw the depasturing licences of


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individuals, because they have been guilty of aggression upon the Aborigines.




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The following extract from a letter addressed by the Chief Protector of the Port Phillip district, Mr.


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Robinson, to his Honour the Superintendent at Melbourne, shews that officer's opinion of the feeling of the lower class of the settlers' servants, with regard to the Aborigines in Australia Felix.

“Anterior to my last expedition I had seen a large portion of this province; I have now seen nearly the entire, and, in addition, have made myself thoroughly acquainted with the character of its inhabitants.

“The settlers are, for the most part, a highly respectable body of men, many, to my knowledge, deeply commiserating the condition of the natives; a few have been engaged in the work of their amelioration; these, however, are but isolated instances; the majority are averse to having the natives, and drive them from their runs.

“Nothing could afford me greater pleasure than to see a reciprocity of interest established between the settler and aborigine, and it would delight me to see the settlers engaged in the great work of their amelioration; and though on the part of the settlers, a large majority would readily engage, I nevertheless feel persuaded that, until a better class of peasantry be introduced, and a code of judicature suited to the condition of the natives, its practicability, as a general principle, is unattainable.

“In the course of my wanderings through the distant interior, I found it necessary, in order to arrive at a correct judgment, to observe the relative character of both classes, i. e. the European and the


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Aborigine. The difficulty on the part of the Aborigine by proper management can be overcome; but the difficulty on the part of the depraved white man is of far different character, and such as to require that either their place should be supplied by a more honest and industrious peasantry, or that a more suitable code of judicature be established, to restrain their nefarious proceedings with reference to the previous hit aboriginal next hit natives.

“I found, on my last expedition, that a large majority of the white servants employed at the stock stations in the distant interior were, for the most part, men of depraved character; and it was with deep regret that I observed that they were all armed; and in the estimation of some of these characters, with whom I conversed, I found that the life of a native was considered to be of no more value than that of a wild dog. The settlers complained generally of the bad character of their men. The saying is common among them, ‘That the men and not we are the masters.’ The kind of treatment evinced towards the previous hit aboriginal next hit natives in remote parts of the interior by this class of persons, may be easily imagined; but as I shall have occasion more fully to advert to this topic in the report I am about to transmit to the Government, I shall defer for the present offering further observations.

“The bad character of the white servants is a reason assigned by many settlers for keeping the natives


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from their stations. At a few establishments, viz. Norman M‘Leod's, Baillie's, Campbell's, Lenton's, and Urquhart's, an amicable and friendly relation has been maintained for several years; the Aborigines are employed and found useful. I visited these stations; and the proprietors assured me the natives had never done them any injury; the natives also spoke in high terms of these parties. There are other settlers also who have rendered assistance in improving the condition of the natives, and to whom I shall advert in my next report.

“Whether the proprietors of these establishments devote more attention, or whether their white servants are of less nefarious character than others, I am not prepared to say; but the facts I have stated are incontrovertible, and are sufficient to shew the reclaimability of the natives, when proper persons are engaged, and suitable means had recourse to. I cannot but accede to the proposition, namely, that of holding out inducements to all who engage in the amelioration of the previous hit aboriginal next hit natives. Those who have had experience, who have been tried and found useful, ought to have such inducements held out to them as would ensure a continuance of their appointments, the more especially as it has always been found difficult to obtain suitable persons for this hazardous and peculiar service.”

The following extract from another letter, also addressed to his Honour the Superintendent, shews the opinions and feelings of the writer, a Magistrate


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of the Colony, and a Commissioner of Crown Lands, in the Geelong district.

“In offering my candid opinion, I submissively beg leave to state, that for the last three years, on all occasions, I have been a friend to the natives; but from my general knowledge of their habits of idleness, extreme cunning, vice, and villany, that it is out of the power of all exertion that can be bestowed on them to do good by them; and I further beg leave to state, that I can plainly see the general conduct of the native growing worse, and, if possible, more useless, and daily more daring. One and all appear to consider that no punishment awaits them. This idea has latterly been instilled into their minds with, I should think, considerable pains, and also that the white men should be punished for the least offence.

“In reply to the latter part of your letter, I beg leave to bring to your notice that, at considerable risk, two years ago, I apprehended a native for the murder of one of Mr. Learmonth's men, near Bunengang. He was committed to Sydney gaol, and at the expiration of a year he was returned to Melbourne to be liberated, and is now at large. In the case of Mr. Thomson's, that I apprehended two, and both identified by the men who so fortunately escaped. It is a difficult thing to apprehend natives, and with great risk of life on both sides. On the Grange, and many parts of the country, it would be


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impossible to take them; and in my opinion, the only plan to bring them to a fit and proper state is to insist on the gentlemen in the country to protect their property, and to deal with such useless savages on the spot.”

Captain Grey bears testimony to similar feelings and occurrences in Western Australia. In speaking of capturing some natives, he says, vol. 2. p. 351. “It was necessary that I should proceed with great caution, in order not to alarm the guilty parties when they saw us approaching, in which case, I should have had no chance of apprehending them, and I did not intend to adopt the popular system of shooting them when they ran away.” And again, at page 356, he says, “It was better that I, an impartial person, should see that they were properly punished for theft, than that the Europeans should fire indiscriminately upon them, as had lately been done, in another quarter.”

Even in South Australia, where the Colonists have generally been more concentrated, and where it might naturally be supposed there would be less likelihood of offenders of this kind escaping detection and punishment, there are not wanting instances of unnecessary and unprovoked, and sometimes of wanton injury upon the natives. In almost all cases of this description, it is quite impracticable from the inadmissibility of native evidence, or from some other circumstances, to bring home conviction to the


  ― 185 ―
guilty.note On the other hand, where natives commit offences against Europeans, if they can be caught, the punishment is certain and severe. Already since the establishment of South Australia as a colony, six natives have been tried and hung, for crimes against Europeans, and many others have been shot or wounded, by the police and military in their attempts to capture or prevent their escape. No European has, however, yet paid the penalties of the law, for aggressions upon the Aborigines, though many have deserved to do so. The difficulty consists in legally bringing home the offence, or in refuting the absurd stories that are generally made up in justification of it.

A single instance or two will be sufficient, in illustration of the impunity which generally attends these acts of violence. On the 25th January, 1843, the sheep at a station of Mr. Hughes, upon the Hutt river, had been scattered during the night, and some of them were missing. It was concluded the natives had been there, and taken them, as the tracks of naked feet were said to have been found near the folds. Upon these grounds two of Mr. Hughes' men, and one belonging to Mr. Jacobs, another settler in the neighbourhood, took arms, and went out to search for the natives. About a mile from the station they met with one native and his wife, whom they asked to accompany them back


  ― 186 ―
to the station, promising bread and flour for so doing. They consented to go, but were then escorted as prisoners, the two men of Mr. Hughes' guarding the male native, and Mr. Jacobs' servant (a person named Gregory) the female. Naturally alarmed at the predicament they were in, the man ran off, pursued by his two guards, but escaped. The woman took another direction, pursued by Gregory, who recaptured her, and she was said to have then seized Gregory's gun, and to have struck at him several blows with a heavy stick, upon which, being afraid that he would be overcome, he shot her. Mr. Hughes, the owner of the lost sheep, came up a few moments after the woman was shot, and heard Gregory's story concerning it, but no marks of his receiving any blows were shewn. On the 23rd of March, he was tried for the offence of manslaughter; there did not appear the slightest extenuating circumstances beyond his own story, and his master giving him a good character, and yet the jury, without retiring, returned a verdict of Not Guilty!

At the very next sittings of the Supreme Court Criminal Sessions, another and somewhat analogous case appeared. The following remarks were made by His Honour Judge Cooper, to the Grand Jury respecting it: “There was also a case of manslaughter to be tried, and he called their attention to this, because it did not appear in the Calendar. The person charged was named Skelton, and as appeared from the depositions, was in custody of some sheep,


  ― 187 ―
when an alarm of the rushing of the sheep being given, he looked and saw something climbing over the fence, and subsequently something crawling along the ground, upon which he fired off his piece, and hit the object, which upon examination turned out to be a native. The night was dark, and the native was brought into the hut, where he died the next day. He could not help observing, that cases of this kind were much more frequent than was creditable to the reputation of the Colony. Last Sessions a man was tried and acquitted of the charge of killing a native woman. That verdict was a very merciful one, but not so merciful, he trusted, as to countenance the idea that the lives of the natives are held too cheaply. The only observation that he would make upon this case was, that it was one of great suspicion.”note

Other cases have occurred in which some of the circumstances have come under my own notice, and when Europeans have committed wanton aggressions on the Aborigines, and have then made up a plausible story to account for what had taken place, but where, from obvious circumstances, it was quite impossible to disprove or rebut their tale, however improbable it might be. In the Port Phillip District in 1841, Mr. Chief Protector thus writes to the local Government.

“Already appalling collisions have happened


  ― 188 ―
between the white and previous hit aboriginal next hit inhabitants, and, although instances, it is possible, have transpired when natives have been the aggressors, yet it will be found that the largest majority originated with the Europeans. The lives of previous hit aboriginal next hit natives known to have been destroyed are many, and if the testimony of natives be admissible, the amount would be great indeed; but even in cases where the Aborigines are said to be the aggressors, who can tell what latent provocation existed for perpetrating it? Of the numerous cases that could be cited, the following from a recent journal of an assistant protector, Mr. Parker, of the Lodden, will suffice to shew the insurmountable difficulty, I may add the impossibility, of bringing the guilty parties to justice, for in nine cases, I may say, out of ten, where natives are concerned, the only evidence that can be adduced is that of the Aborigines.

“This evidence is not admissible. Indeed the want of a code, suited to the Aborigines, is now so strongly felt, and of such vital importance to the welfare and existence of the natives, that I earnestly trust that this important subject may be brought under the early consideration and notice of Her Majesty's Government.

“The following is the extract from Mr. Parker's journal referred to: ‘On the 8th of March 1841, I proceeded to the Pyrenees to investigate the circumstances connected with the slaughter of several Aborigines, by a Mr. Frances. On the 9th and 10th


  ― 189 ―
I fell in with different parties of natives. From the last of these I obtained some distressing statements, as to the slaughter of the blacks; they gave me the names of seven individuals shot by Mr. Frances within the last six months. I found, however, no legal evidence attainable. The only persons present in the last and most serious affair with the Aborigines, which took place in December of last year, were Frances, a person named Downes, and a stock-keeper in Melbourne. No other admissible evidence of the death of these poor people can be obtained than what Frances's written statement conveys. In that he reports that he and the person before named went out in consequence of seeing the bush on fire, and fell in suddenly with some natives, on whom they fired and killed four. The natives say six were slain, and their information on that point is more to be depended on. Owing to the legal disabilities of the Aborigines, this case must be added with many others which have passed without judicial notice. I cannot, however, but wish that squatting licenses were withheld from persons who manifest such an utter disregard of human life as Mr. Frances, even on his own shewing, has done.'

“And in this latter sentiment, under existing circumstances, I most cordially agree. In Frances’ case, the perpetrator admits his having shot four Aborigines, and for aught that is shewn to the contrary, it was an unprovoked aggression. The natives, whose testimony Mr. Parker states, can be


  ― 190 ―
relied upon, affirm that six were slain, and these within the brief period of six months.

“In my last expedition I visited the country of the ‘Barconedeets,’ the tribe attacked by Frances; of these I found a few sojourning with the “Portbullucs,’ a people inhabiting the country near Mount Zero, the northernmost point of the Grampians. These persons complained greatly of the treatment they had received, and confirmed the statement made to the sub-protector by the other natives. The following are a few of the collisions, from authentic documents brought under the notice of this department, that have happened between settlers and Aborigines, and are respectfully submitted for the information of the Government.

“CASES.—Charles Wedge and others.—Five natives killed and others wounded at the Grampians.

Aylward and others.—Several natives killed and others wounded at the Grampians. In this case Aylward deposed, ‘that there must have been a great many wounded and several killed, as he saw blood upon the grass, and in the tea-tree two or three dead bodies.’

Messrs. Whyte's first Collision.—William Whyte deposed that 30 natives were present, and they were all killed but two, and one of these it is reported died an hour after of his wounds.

Darlot.—One native shot. Two natives shot


  ― 191 ―
near Portland Bay by the servants of the Messrs. Henty.

Hutton and Mounted Police.—The written report of this case states, ‘that the party overtook the aborigines at the junction of the ‘Campaspee;’ they fired, and it is stated, that to the best of the belief of the party, five or six were killed.’ In the opinion of the sub-protector a greater number were slain.

Messrs. Winter and others.—On this occasion five natives were killed.

“One black shot by Frances.

Munroe and Police.—Two blacks shot and others wounded.

“The following from Lloyd's deposition:—‘We fired on them; I have no doubt some were killed; there were between forty and fifty natives.’

By persons unknown.—A native of the Coligan tribe killed by white persons.

Messrs. Wedge and others.—Three natives killed and others wounded.

“Names of Taylor and Lloyd are mentioned as having shot a black at Lake Colac.

Whyte's second Collision.—Allan's case.—Two natives shot.

“Taylor was overseer of a sheep station in the Western district, and was notorious for killing natives. No legal evidence could be obtained against this nefarious individual. The last transaction in which he was concerned, was of so atrocious a nature, that he thought fit to abscond, and he has not been


  ― 192 ―
heard of since. No legal evidence was attainable in this latter case. There is no doubt the charges preferred were true, for in the course of my inquiries on my late expedition, I found a tribe, a section of the Jarcoorts, totally extinct, and it was affirmed by the natives that Taylor had destroyed them. The tribes are rapidly diminishing. The ‘Coligans,’ once a numerous and powerful people, inhabiting the fertile region of Lake ‘Colac,’ are now reduced, all ages and sexes, under forty, and these are still on the decay. The Jarcoorts, inhabiting the country to the west of the great lake ‘Carangermite,’ once a very numerous and powerful people, are now reduced to under sixty. But time would fail, and I fear it would be deemed too prolix, were I to attempt to particularise in ever so small a degree, the previous state, condition, and declension of the original inhabitants of so extensive a province.”

Upon the same subject, His Honour the Superintendent of Port Phillip thus writes:—

“On this subject, I beg leave to remark that great impediments evidently do interpose themselves in the way of instituting proper judicial inquiry into the causes and consequences of the frequent acts of collision between the settlers and the previous hit aboriginal  natives, and into the conduct of the settlers on such occasions. I am quite ready to lament with the Protectors, that numerous as the cases have unfortunately been in which the lives of the Aborigines


  ― 193 ―
have been taken in this district, in no single instance has the settler been brought before the proper tribunal.”

Many similar instances might be adduced to shew the little chance there is of evidence enough being procurable, even to cause the aggressor to be put upon his trial, still less to produce his conviction.

Independently of the instances of wanton outrage, which sometimes are perpetrated on the outskirts of the settled districts by the lowest and most abandoned of our countrymen, there are occasions also, when equal injuries are inflicted unintentionally, from inexperience or indiscretion, on the part of those whose duty it is to protect rather than destroy, when the innocent have been punished instead of the guilty,note and thus the very efforts made to preserve


  ― 194 ―
peace and good order, have inadvertently become the means of subverting them.

Several very lamentable instances of this kind, have occurred in Port Lincoln. The following is one among others. Soon after the murder of Messrs. Biddle and Brown, a party of soldiers was sent over to try and capture the aggressors. In one of their attempts a native guide was procured from the Eastern tribe, who promised to conduct them to where the murderers were. The party consisting of the military and their officer, the police, a settler, and the missionary, in all twelve or fourteen persons, set off towards Coffin's Bay, following as they supposed upon the track of the murders. Upon reaching the coast some natives were seen fishing in the water, and the party was at once spread out in a kind of semicircle, among the scrub, to close upon and capture them; the officer, missionary, and guide, being stationed near the centre. As the party


  ― 195 ―
advanced nearer, the guide saw that he was mistaken in the group before him, and that they were not the guilty parties, but friends. The officer called out not to fire, but unfortunately from the distance the men were at, and the scrubby nature of the country, he was not heard or attended to. A shot was fired, one of the natives sprung up convulsively in the water, walked on shore and fell down, exclaiming whilst dying, “me Kopler, me good man,” and such indeed it proved. He was one of a friendly tribe, and a particular protegé of the missionary's, having taken the name of Kopler from his German servant who was so called.

The other natives at once came forward to their dying friend, scornfully motioning away his murderers, fearless alike of the foes around them, and regardless of their ill-timed attempts to explain the fatal mistake. Will it be credited, that at such a scene as this the soldiers were indulging in coarse remarks, or brutal jests, upon the melancholy catastrophe; and comparing the last convulsive spring of the dying man to a salmon leaping in the water. Yet this I was assured was the case by the Government Resident at Port Lincoln, from when I received this account.

Another melancholy and unfortunate case of the same nature occurred at Port Lincoln, on the 11th of April, 1844, where a native was shot by a policeman, for attempting to escape from custody, when taken in charge on suspicion of being implicated in


  ― 196 ―
robbing a stranded vessel. An investigation was made into this case by the Commissioner of Police, when it was stated in the depositions, that attempts at rescue were made by the other natives. Upon these grounds, I believe, it was considered that the policeman was justified in what he did.

The following extract relating to this subject, is from a letter addressed to a gentleman in Adelaide, by the Rev. C. Schurmann, one of the German Missionaries, who has for some years past been stationed among the Port Lincoln natives, and is intimately acquainted with their language.note

“You will probably recollect, that some time ago (I think it was in the month of May) the Adelaide newspapers contained a short notice of a Port Lincoln native having been shot by the police in self-defence, and a letter in the ‘Observer,’ mentioned another as being shot by Mr. — —, but as the charitable correspondent added, ‘Unfortunately only in the arm, instead of through the body.’ From these


  ― 197 ―
statements one would infer that the parties concerned in these transactions were without blame, being perfectly justified—the one to protect his life, and the other his property. However, since my return to Port Lincoln, I have learned that both tales run very differently when told according to truth. I address myself, therefore, to you, with the true facts of the transactions, as I have learned them. partly from the settlers themselves, partly from the natives. My motive for so doing is to case my own mind, and to gratify the interest which I know you take in the Aborigines of this country.

“The man shot by the police was named Padlalta, and was of so mild and inoffensive a disposition, that he was generally noticed by the settlers on that very account, several of whom I have heard say since, it was a pity that some other native had not been hit in his stead. The same man was captured last year by Major O'llalloran's party, but was set at liberty as soon as I came up and testified his innocence, for which the poor fellow kissed my hand near a dozen times.

“The day before he met his death he was as usual in the town, doing little jobs for the inhabitants, to get bread or other food. On the evening when he was killed, he had encamped with about half a dozen other natives on the northern side of Happy Valley, a short mile from the town. The police who were sent by the Government Resident to see what number of natives were at the camp


  ― 198 ―
state, that while searching the man's wallet, he seized hold of one gun, and when the other policeman came up to wrest it from him, he the native grasped the other gun too. In the scuffle that ensued, one of the guns went off, when the other natives who had fled returned and presented their spears. They then shot the native who held the gun.

“Now this statement is a very strange one, when it is considered that the native was a very spare and weak man, so that either of the police ought to have been able to keep him at arm's length; but to say that he seized both their guns is beyond all credibility. The natives were sitting down when the police arrived. How they could therefore find a wallet upon the murdered man, I cannot conceive; since the natives never have their wallets slung, except when moving; and it certainly is not probable, that the man, in spite of the fright he is admitted to have been in, should have thought of taking up his wallet.

“The wallet is said to have contained some sovereigns, taken from the cutter Kate, which was wrecked some time previous to this affair, about forty miles up the coast, and to have been one of those marked by the police, at a native camp near the wreck from which the natives had been scared away, leaving all their things behind. But if the murdered native had taken the sovereigns, why were they not then in his wallet, or why was the


  ― 199 ―
wallet not examined the day before when he was in town?note I think that there is little doubt that the police found no wallet at all upon the native, and that they coined away one of those found at the camp upon him, with a view to incriminate him.

“Another native, Charley, who was present when the said affair took place, tells me, that the police sneaked upon, and fired at them, while sitting round the fire;note that he jumped up, and endeavoured


  ― 200 ―
to make himself known, as a friendly native, by saying, “Yarri (that is the name the natives have given to one of the police), Yarri, I Charley, I Charley,”—but that the effect produced had been the pointing of a gun at him, when of course he ran away. That any of the natives returned, and poised their spears, he firmly denies; but accounts for the murder, by supposing that the dead man made resistance, and offered to spear his assailants. He moreover says, that Padlalta would not have died in consequence of the first shot, but that the police fired repeatedly, which agrees with the settlers, who say they heard three shots. When the bloody deed had been committed (a ball had passed right through his body), the cruel perpetrators ran home, leaving the murdered man helpless.

“Some time after, a party of three settlers went to the spot, one of whom he recognized, and claimed his acquaintance, and perhaps assistance, by mentioning the party's Christian name; but, alas! no good Samaritan was found amongst these three; they all passed by on the other side, without alleviating his pain, moistening his parched lips, warming his shivering limbs, or aiding him in any way whatever. There he lay a whole cold and long winter night, without a fire to warm him, or a soul to talk to him. Next morning he was found


  ― 201 ―
still alive, but died on the way into town, where he was buried in the jail yard, like a condemned felon.

“What awful and melancholy reflections crowd upon one's mind in thinking on this transaction. But what conclusians must a poor people, whom a Christian and civilized nation calls savages, arrive at, with such facts before them.

“The other native, wounded by Mr. — in the arm, was doubtless of the party who attacked the flock; but it must have been some hours after that he was shot, for the shepherd had to come home with the flock to inform him of the occurrence, and then search and pursuit had to be made, during which he was overtaken. He is a stupid idiotic sort of man, so that the natives have not deemed him worthy of receiving the honours of their ceremonies, and still call him a boy, or youth, although he is an oldish man.

“On another occasion, when an uninhabited hut, with some wheat in it, had been broken into by some unknown natives, a party went in search of the offenders. It was night when they came on a camp, on the opposite side of the lake to where the hut stands; the natives, acting upon the first impulse, and warned by frequent examples, ran away, when two of the party snapped their pieces, but providentially both guns missed fire. The natives, however, soon took confidence, and returned, when it was found that two of the most orderly and useful men would have been shot if the guns had gone off. The party


  ― 202 ―
took upon themselves to make one of them prisoner, but of course did not venture to bring him before the magistrate.

“These facts incontestably prove, that, notwithstanding the Aborigines are called British subjects, and in spite of the so-called protection system, there is no shadow of protection for them, while they are debarred from the first and most important of all liberties, namely, that of being heard in a Court of civil Justice.

“Several instances have occurred during my residence in this district, in which natives have been arraigned before the administrators of the law, although I was morally convinced of their innocence; in other cases, they have sought redress through me, for wanton attacks on their person and lives, without being listened to.

“Only a few weeks ago a native was very nearly being taken up, on the charge of having thrown a spear at Mr. Smith's shepherd, without, however, any felonious intent, the distance being too great. This circumstance saved the man, or else he would, no doubt, have been tried and found guilty on the shepherd's evidence, who would not allow that he could be mistaken in the individual, although the accused native came boldly into town and court (a circumstance that has never before occurred since I have known these natives), although he was an intimate friend of the shepherd and his wife; and although all the other natives could prove where he


  ― 203 ―
had been at the time of the attack on the flock, and state who were the guilty parties.

“For those who have had an opportunity of observing the Aborigines in their original state, it is not very difficult to distinguish the guilty from the innocent, for they are a simple-minded race, little skilled in the arts of dissimulation.

“It is bad enough that a great part of the colonists are inimical to the natives; it is worse that the law, as it stands at present, does not extend its protection to them; but it is too bad when the press lends its influence to their destruction. Such, however, is undoubtedly the case. When Messrs. Biddle and Brown were murdered, the newspapers entertained their readers week after week with the details of the bloody massacre, heaping a profusion of vile epithets upon the perpetrators. But of the slaughter by the soldiers, (who killed no less than four innocent natives, while they captured not one guilty party), among the tribes who had had nothing to do with the murders—of the treachery of attacking in the darkness of the night, a tribe who had the day before been hunting kangaroo with their informers, when one of the former guides to the magistrates' pursuing party was killed amongst others; of the wanton outrage on the mutilated body of one of the victims;—of these things the press was as silent as the grave.”

Without attempting to enlarge more fully upon the subjects entered upon in the preceding pages, I


  ― 204 ―
trust that I have sufficiently shewn that the character of the Australian natives has been greatly misrepresented and maligned, that they are not naturally more irreclaimably vicious, revengeful, or treacherous than other nations, but on the contrary, that their position with regard to Europeans, places them under so many disadvantages, subjects them to so many injuries, irritates them with so many annoyances, and tempts them with so many provocations, that it is a matter of surprise, not that they sometimes are guilty of crime, but that they commit it so rarely.

If I have in the least degree succeeded in establishing that such is the case, it must be evident that it is incumbent upon us not only to make allowances when pronouncing an opinion on the character or the crimes of the Aborigines; but what is of far greater and more vital importance, as far as they are concerned, to endeavour to revise and improve such parts of our system and policy towards them as are defective, and by better adapting these to the peculiar circumstances of this people, at once place them upon juster and more equal terms, and thus excite a reasonable hope that some eventual amelioration may be produced, both in their moral and physical condition.note




  ― 205 ―

I shall now proceed to give an account of the appearance, habits, mode of life, means of subsistance, social relations, government, ceremonies, superstitions, numbers, languages, &c. &c. of the natives of Australia, so as to afford some insight into the character and circumstances of this peculiar race, to exhibit the means hitherto adopted for, and the progress made in attempting, their civilization, and to shew the effects produced upon them by a contact with Europeans.

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