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  ― 81 ―

Chapter V. The Natives.

The Major, in the mean time, was not a little surprised at Trevor's continued absence, and at the simultaneous disappearance of the corporal.

He was desirous of consulting with him, as the commander of the military, in respect of their future proceedings; and it was in the most fretful state of suspense, therefore, that he looked out for his return. But when the evening wore away, without any tidings of the young officer or his subaltern, the Major's embarrassment was changed to alarm, and his mind became troubled with all sorts of painful apprehensions.




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This new cause of alarm coming on him in addition to his absorbing anxiety for the safety of his daughter Helen, whose probable fate in the hands of remorseless ruffians was too dreadful for the father to contemplate without the most violent agitation of grief and rage, was almost too much for him to bear, and totally upset for the time the usual equanimity which it was his pride and boast under all circumstances to preserve.

The mind of the Major was the more disturbed at Trevor's absence, as it was most important that no time should be lost in adopting measures for the recapture of Helen; and being at a loss to conjecture what had happened to his future son-in-law, or what had become of the corporal, he was unable to decide on his plan of action. In this state of perplexity he remained until the dark had set in; and then it was too late to move about in the bush without knowing the country, and without having any fixed point towards which to direct his steps.

But the habits of the old soldier prompting him not to neglect any means of assisting his


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friends, or of discovering his enemies, he despatched scouts in various directions, with orders to proceed warily and to listen for the sound of voices; he directed them also to ascend any convenient eminence, and to look out for the appearance of a fire in the distance.

There was some moonlight, but not enough to be of much service; and the men being unacquainted with the country, and unaccustomed to the bush, were not able to penetrate far into the wilds beyond the cave; and they all returned with the same account, that they could neither see nor hear anything of their absent friends nor of the bushrangers. One of them reported, however, that at a particular spot, which he described as abounding in masses of irregular stones and rocks, he had heard noises that resembled the barking and whining of a dog.

But this information afforded no assistance, as the Major was aware that there existed a sort of native dog on the island, of a species between that of a hyena and a jackall; and neither


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Trevor nor the bushrangers, he knew, had a dog with them.

Thus the night passed away very uneasily; for the party at the cave, seeing that Trevor and the corporal did not return, were led to fear that they had fallen into the hands of the bushrangers; and such a circumstance argued that the enemy was in greater force than the party of Mark Brandon only and his two associates. It was possible, therefore, that they themselves might be attacked; and the Major sent a message to his mate on board the brig to keep a sharp look out, while the party on shore kept watch diligently to guard against surprise.

The Major, however, knew too well the value of time to allow the hours of the night to elapse without making arrangements for starting at the earliest dawn of day in pursuit of his captive daughter.

In this expedition he decided on taking with him the two soldiers who formed part of the detachment under the command of the ensign, and who, being aware of the Major's former rank in the army, though now no longer in the service,


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readily agreed to obey his orders, and were scarcely less eager to rescue their officer, who, it was to be feared, had been taken by the convicts, than the Major was to save his daughter.

He then summoned his trusty mate to the council; and in the first place he gave him written instructions, placing him in command of the vessel in his absence, “which,” he said, “might be for some days, or longer.”

He enjoined him to be particularly cautious of the approach of strangers, whether in boats or on rafts, and to keep the brig as much as possible in the centre of the bay.”

He was at first inclined to send the brig up the Derwent to Hobart Town, in order to convey Louisa to a place of greater security than the vessel under the circumstances afforded; but, on further consideration, he thought, as he was not acquainted with any family at Hobart Town, that she would be better in the brig under the care of the trusty mate. Besides, it was desirable that the vessel should remain where it was, near at hand, not only as a place of retreat on an emergency, but for the purpose


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also of furnishing assistance and supplies, should the occasion demand them.

Neither did the Major neglect, in his arrangements, the captured and wounded convicts, whom Trevor had left under the charge of the constable at the creek beyond the hills; but as it would have been dangerous to leave the brig without the means of communicating with the shore, he was able to send only one of the boats for the removal of the wounded to the town.

This boat he despatched at once, as the night was fair; and he wrote a letter by the conveyance to the authorities at Hobart Town, communicating the events which had taken place, and stating his fears that the ensign and the corporal had by some means been entrapped by Mark Brandon; and that it was his intention to set off at daybreak for the purpose of rescuing his daughter from the bushrangers who had got possession of her, and of gaining intelligence of the ensign, who had disappeared so mysteriously.

Having settled all these matters in a business-like


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manner, as became an experienced officer, and having paid personal attention to all the details necessary for their convenient travel in the bush, the Major endeavoured to snatch a few minutes of repose; but, although he closed his eyes, he could not sleep. The image of his daughter in the hands of merciless ruffians was constantly present to his mind—sometimes, to his disturbed fancy, extending her hands to him for help in her extremity; and sometimes, preferring death to dishonour, in the agonies of a death inflicted by her own heroic hand.

The dawn of the morning, therefore, came to him as a friend, to cheer him with its light, and to brace him up with its cooling freshness for the coming fatigues of the day.

He instantly summoned his companions, for in the wilds of the bush subordinate followers soon come to be viewed in that light, as joint-sharers in privations and dangers; and all having been prepared over-night for their departure, and having taken leave of Louisa, as soon as there was sufficient daylight to enable


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them to distinguish any track left by the bushrangers, they plunged into the intricacies of the pathless bush.

But the outset of his expedition was by no means propitious; and a less cool and determined character than the Major might have been daunted in encountering the dangers to which it seemed he was to be beset in the very beginning of his pursuit.

The unusual circumstance of the appearance of a vessel in that unfrequented bay had excited the curiosity of a body of natives, who, unseen, and at a distance, near the sea-shore to the westward, watched the manœuvres of the brig and the boats on the water. They were able to understand that there were two parties engaged, but their object was beyond the simple understandings of the natives to comprehend. However, as they had felt the mischievous effects of the interference of the white people with their hunting-grounds in other parts of the island, they were fully alive to the evil effects of the strangers taking possession of this district, and they regarded their proceedings


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therefore with the deepest interest.

When they observed that a party from the “big canoe” had landed and established themselves on the shore at the cave by the margin of the bay, they began to fear that it was the intention of the white people to take possession of this part of their country also, and to drive them towards the barren wastes of the western coast, where the kangaroo and the opossum were scarce, and where the sweet gum-trees were seldom to be met with.

It was with much alarm, therefore, that they regarded the overt act of aggression, as manifested by the Major and his sailors on the morning after their landing from the brig, when Mark Brandon, in pursuance of his schemes, had allowed them to go at liberty.

They watched the white people closely; and they observed a small party, consisting of four men and one woman, depart from the cave and make their way into the interior. This they regarded as an exploring expedition for the purpose of surveying the country, and of


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examining into the condition of the game, and of the most favourable spots for building houses.

Now it is to be borne in mind, that the natives of Van Diemen's Land had been gradually expelled, by the immigration of the white people, from some of the most fertile spots on the island; that is to say, where the grass land was favourable to the increase of the kangaroo, and the peppermint trees to the opossum. These successive usurpations compelled the tribes of natives who were dispossessed of their hunting-grounds to fall back on the hunting-grounds of other tribes; and the disputes to which these collisions gave rise were the cause of constant fights between the conflicting parties.

The natives, therefore, regarded the white people as most unjust and cruel oppressors; and there was a mischief attendant on the encroachments of the Europeans in this country, greater than usually attends their usurpation of the lands of savage regions.

The native of Van Diemen's Land, the


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lowest in the scale of human beings, unlike the rudest of the most ignorant of other savages, had no fixed place of residence: he neither planted, nor sowed, nor built a dwelling.

The country being destitute of indigenous fruits or roots on which man could subsist, his only resource for food were the few wild animals which the island afforded, and the gum of the trees similar to those from which the well-known gum-arabic is produced. To these aliments were added snakes, occasionally locusts, large caterpillars found in the resinous blue-gum-tree, and a few other delicacies of a like nature; which, however, were considered rather in the light of a relish than as a substantial food.

Their principal sustenance, therefore, being wild game, it was necessary for them to have a wide range of country at their command, in order to afford them the means of subsistence; and this led to the division of the country into different districts, in each of which a particular tribe reigned paramount, jealously resisting the intrusion of neighbouring tribes; which was in


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fact doing no more than defending the circuit of country from which they derived their means of living, from the invasion of parties who had no right to trespass on them.

It may be said that the necessity of traversing over a large space of country to procure subsistence, and the remarkable absence of anything like a permanent dwelling-house, had a reciprocal action on the habits of the native of Van Diemen's Land. Having no house, he had no home; and he had no tie to bind him to a particular spot; and having the habit of roaming over the country for food, he felt the less necessity for a fixed dwelling-place, and therefore was less solicitous about erecting one.

Thus he had ever remained, so far as his history can be ascertained, the only being in the human form without a roof of some sort wherewith to shelter himself from the inclemencies of the weather.

It is to be observed also, in explanation of the peculiar habits of those aboriginals, that the country produces no wild seed similar to


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any grain, such as wheat, barley, or Indian corn: they had no bulbous root, nothing like the yam, or the banana, or the bread-fruit. Neither have they any nutritive fruit in the whole of Australia.

This singular denial of Nature in these countries of the food necessary for the sustenance of man in the shape of grain, fruit, herbs, or vegetables, is of a piece with the other singularities of those primitive regions. There the trees are all evergreens, and shed not their leaves annually, but their bark; almost all that grows there is, in some respects, different from all that grows in the rest of the known globe; and all the animals, and even some of the fishes, possess an organic peculiarity of formation, in the false belly, or pouch, which is different from that of the animals in all other countries.

It is to be observed that the natives of Van Diemen's Land are now to be spoken of in the past tense, for none exist at present in the colony; the remnants of the surviving tribes having been removed to an island, which they


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have to themselves, under the care of the government; but these records of their customs and habits refer also, mainly, to all the known existing tribes of the continental island of Australia still existing, but fast disappearing before the exterminating approaches of the white people.

The absence of any grain indigenous to the country, deprived the native of Van Diemen's Land of the opportunity of cultivating the arts of agriculture even in their rudest form; for there was no material on which he could exercise his industry, or which could be the means of developing his ingenuity.

Neither was there any animal which could be domesticated. The kangaroo is the only animal fit for food, so far as has yet been discovered, in all Australia; and this creature is peculiarly unfitted for domestication; and all the arts of the settlers in the various Australian colonies have failed to do more than to tame it in a certain degree; and in that semi-domesticated state it seldom lives long; for such is the fondness of this strange and uncouth


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animal for liberty, or such is its necessity, that it soon pines away and dies when deprived of its free range of forest pasture.

Thus the native of Van Diemen's Land was compelled by necessity to be what he was, and what he is in other parts of Australia, a mere wandering savage, without a home, and without those arts, contrivances, and tendency to intellectual development and progress, which the possession and the love of home engender.

It is remarkable also, that the native of Van Diemen's Land had not arrived even at that degree of human progress, which consists of feeling the necessity of some sort of clothing, for decency's sake, or even for the purpose of warmth in the cold season of the year, which in that latitude is sometimes, in the early morning, very severe.

Thus they were mere savages, having only one thought, that of obtaining the day's subsistence, for they never provided for the morrow; and of preserving for their own use—that is, each tribe its own district—the


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extent of country which formed their hunting-ground.

It is not to be wondered at, therefore, that they regarded the white people, from the first, with suspicion and distrust, and that having been already driven from the lands of which they had from time immemorial retained possession, they were exceedingly jealous of the intrusion of strangers on the portions which remained to them; and that they were ready to resist such aggressions by all the means in their power.

It was with such dispositions that the body of natives already referred to in this narrative regarded the landing and the proceedings of the Major and his sailors; and it was from the circumstance of his companions being divided, first into the party of five, under Mark Brandon,—then into the party of two, being that of the ensign and the corporal,—and afterwards into the party of three, consisting of the Major and the two soldiers,—that they conceived the project of cutting them off in detail, and of destroying the enemies whom they supposed


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had come to deprive them forcibly of their own country.

And the natives of this particular tribe were the more exasperated and savage in their feelings, as they had been successively driven from district to district, first by the white people, and then by their fellows, until they had been forced to content themselves with a part of the territory abutting on the sea-coast, which from its sterile character was scarcely sufficient, with their utmost diligence, to afford them the means of supporting life.

It was a few prying scouts of this tribe of angry and revengeful natives, the main body consisting of about forty individuals, men, women, and children, who now watched the motions of the Major and his two companions, as they departed from the camp, the rest of his sailors having returned to the brig, which was shortly afterwards anchored in the middle of the bay.

The Major himself, when he had proceeded about two miles from the cave, first caught sight of a moving body, entirely black and


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naked, which he immediately guessed to be a native. His curiosity to see these original possessors of the soil of which he had come to take his share by right of immigration, was so great, that he was rather pleased at the circumstance than otherwise, as he was well armed and accompanied by two men used to discipline and to the management of their weapons; and he had no fear for Louisa's safety, who, being on board the brig, and under the care of the vigilant mate, he considered to be in a perfect state of security.

He pointed out the object to his men; but before they could catch sight of it, the native had disappeared.

The Major expressed his desire to endeavour to come to some parley with the savage; but he found his men by no means of the same inclination; and they were full of stories relating to the treacherous and ferocious character of the natives, of whom, soldiers as they were, they seemed to be possessed with a sort of superstitious dread. The Major made light of their representations; but before the end of


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his campaign he had abundance of opportunity of arriving at a better knowledge of the aboriginals whose acquaintance he was so anxious to cultivate.

The further description, however, of the Major's dealings with the savages must form the subject of another chapter, as the course of the narrative demands our attention to the adventures of the lover in pursuit of the more savage captors of his mistress.

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