Other formats

    TEI XML file   ePub eBook file  


    mail icontwitter iconBlogspot iconrss icon

Past and Present, and Men of the Times.

Chapter VI

page 33

Chapter VI.

Kidnapped—Off to New Zealand—Back to Sydney—With Sheep to Port Phillip—The first newspaper in Melbourne—The Port Essington Expedition—I meet Mr. George Allen, of Wellington—Trading in Torres Straits—The Natives at Port Essington—I am Shipwrecked—Starvation ahead—A Woman's Terrible Sufferings—Rescue—The Swan River Settlement—Safe Back in Sydney—Not Born to be Drowned.

About this time, as I said before, the "Mary," of London, sailed into port. The captain and his boat's crew pulled up the Yarra to see the little town, and met Winton and myself. We were seized by the captain and his men, taken down to his boat, and put on board the "Mary," and placed in, irons until the ship was ready to sail. The "Mary" had made a whaling cruise; she had been away over a year, having had good luck in getting oil. Whales in those days were plentiful and easily got, and if the captain of any whale-ship had any luck he would soon make a fortune. This was in January, 1837, and I shall never forget that year. When the barque was ready for sea, Winton and I were let out of irons, and the captain shaped his course for New Zealand, and made the Three Kings, as the whaling ground was round there. We had good luck in getting oil, as whales were very plentiful.

The captain whaled there for two months, and then ran the vessel into the Bay of Islands to get water and trade with the natives. Winton and myself were very glad to see the ship run into the Bay, as we had made up our minds to run away the first opportunity, and get back to Melbourne as soon as we could and look after the little property we had left behind when we page 34were carried off in the "Mary." There was a ship lying at the Bay of Islands about to leave for Sydney to discharge her oil, and the night before she left we managed to get on board and stow away. The ship was the "Lady Emma," of Tasmania. I will now leave New Zealand for a time, as I shall have a very great deal more to say about that colony later on. When the ship got clear of the Bay, Winton and I came on deck, and the captain was very glad to see us, as the crew of the ship was laid up, nearly all hands in fact, with scurvy. We reached Sydney in twelve days.

On my arrival I met Mr. Smith, and told him what I had been doing since I left Sydney. Mr. Smith had now become a very extensive exporter of cattle, sheep, and horses, and the owner of several vessels. I told Mr. Smith about the small property I had in Melbourne, and that I wanted to get to Port Phillip to see about it. Mr. Smith told me in a week's time he would be sending a cargo of sheep to Port Phillip, and I could take charge of the sheep, and thus have a chance of seeing my old friends. I at once embraced the offer, and left in one of his vessels with two thousand sheep on board, taking with me Tom Winton, my mate. I landed the sheep in good order. They were despatched to a station belonging to Smith and Terry—Sam Terry. Smith and Terry had a large station at Port Phillip at this time, and were the first to take up the land for stock-raising purposes.

About this time Mr. John Faukner (mentioned in a previous chapter) started a newspaper in Melbourne. Its first issues were written in pen and ink, and I believe there are some copies still extant. There are presses in Melbourne at this date, 1896, throwing off 16,000 to 20,000 copies per hour. Winton and myself were well received among our old friends, and we sold the property which we had left when we were taken to New Zealand against our will, and got a good price for it. I remained in Melbourne for some time, and felt very lonely with my mate, Winton, but got plenty of work and well paid for it. Winton left for Sydney, and did well and made money. I stayed on in Melbourne, and saw the little village, whose first mud hut I lent a hand to build—a wattle-and-daub building as it was then called—rapidly growing in prosperity. At the end of 1838, John Batman had fixed his residence not far from the place now occupied by the Government Railway Station. Here he was page 35seized by a violent cold, and, after being carefully nursed by one of his daughters, died without seeing more than the beginning of that settlement he had laboured so hard to found. Mr. Faukner lived at Emerald Hill, and saw the village, whose first house he had built, become a vast and populous city. After a time I left for Sydney, where I fell into the track of my old mate, Tom Winton.

The Government this year (1838) decided on forming a penal settlement at Port Essington, on the western coast of New Holland, and eight vessels were despatched with 400 soldiers. 500 convicts, and a lot of cattle and sheep, provisions, etc, There were four men-o'-war and four merchant ships. Two of those ships were large transports, and could carry a large number of men. The names of the men-o'-war were the "Alligator," 28 guns, the "Pelorus," 16 guns, "Britomarte," 20 guns, and "Beagle," surveying brig. Mr. Smith was shipping stock for the Government, and Winton and I were in charge of the stock taken on board the "Britomarte." On board of one of the ships was a gentleman, Mr. George Allen, who is living in the City of Wellington to-day, and whose age is now 83 years. He was on board the "Orontes" in 1838, and was castaway in her in a land-locked harbour at Port Essington. It is strange that two men should meet after so many years had passed away. It was in 1838 that Mr. George Allen and I were at the settling of Port. Essington, and in 1896 we meet nearly every day in the City of Wellington. I merely mention the name of Mr. George Allen because we are both here and can speak of what took place at the settling of Port Essington in the year 1838—over 58 years ago. I will leave Mr. George Allen, but will speak of him later on. On our passage to Port Essington, we had to sail through Torres Straits, between New Holland and the Coast of New Guinea. These Straits are at all times dangerous to navigation The fleet came to an anchor every night to avoid the coral reefs which abound in all directions. Every evening, when we came to an anchor, the New Guinea natives came off in their canoes to trade with us. They gave tortoise-shells and pearl-shells in exchange for strips of printed calico. They were, however, a very suspicious lot, and would not part with their commodities unless the got something in exchange. They went about totally naked, and always carried their bows and arrows with them, and altogether had a very savage and unpromising appearance. The page 36natives on the New Holland coast were a much more savage and suspicious race, and never attempted to board or hold communication with the ships. Some of the cattle being sick and in want of food, boats were occasionally sent on shore with men to cut grass. I went one afternoon, and was looking for turtle eggs when I came across a very large turtle on the beach. I got three men to assist in turning the turtle on his back, preparatory to getting him to the boat, when a shower of "boomerangs," the natives' war weapons, flew over our heads from a party of blacks in the scrub which fringed the shore. We had to leave our prize, and taking to our heels we made for the boat, which we reached—safely; and shortly after got on board our vessel. No men were allowed to go on shore after this fright until the vessel arrived at Port Essington. When we reached this port the vessels anchored, and boats were sent in to take soundings over the harbour. It was found to be deep enough for the largest vessels afloat, very capacious and well sheltered, somewhat resembling Sydney Harbour—and probably the best on the North West Coast. The climate, however, is nothing to boast of; fever and ague are very prevalent, and white people cannot become acclimatised.

After all the cattle and stores were landed, the men were immediately set to work building houses and a large stockade for the prisoners, the majority of whom were kept on board the transports until their future habitation was made ready for them. When this was done, they were put on shore and employed erecting barracks for the soldiers, and in the construction of wharves, and other, necessary works. We had been a fortnight in port when a terrific hurricane took place: four vessels were driven on shore, the "Pelorus" gun-brig grounded on a sand-bank, and nine of her crew were lost, the "Orontes," ship in which Mr. George Allen was employed as carpenter, got on a rock and had a hole stove in her bottom. Although the harbour was completely landlocked, the fierce gale lashed the sea mountains high. A large quantity of our provisions got lost or irretrievably damaged, so that all hands had to be put on short allowance while we remained.

The natives of Port Essington are a different class from the rest of the Australian aboriginals, being of a copper colour, and fight principally with the bow and arrow. There is a considerable admixture of Malays among them, who come at certain page 37seasons in their proas to collect beche-de-mer, which they sell at Copang, where is always a good market for this material.

A few days after the gale a schooner called the "Sulworth" put into Port Essington, and Captain Short, of the ill-fated "Orontes," secured passages in her for himself, his wife, two children, some of the crew, and Winton and myself, and four men from one of the men-of-war also accompanied us, making, with the crew of the schooner, twenty-two souls. We left the harbour for Swan River late one afternoon with a light wind, and were becalmed all that night. We discovered that Captain Brown of the "Sulworth" gave way to intoxication, and this did not tend to reassure us. The third night from port very thick foggy weather came on with half a gale of wind. The schooner was running before the wind with every stitch of canvas set. In the dead of night, without the slightest warning, the vessel struck heavily, and in a few minutes parted amidships, the shore loomed up close at hand, with a heavy surf rolling in. How we reached shore I was never able to remember, but when daylight broke I found my mate Tom Winton, and Captain Brown's wife, lying on the beach. We were very much bruised and weak, and without a vestige of clothing, left a pleasant prospect truly, starvation apparently staring us in the face. Fortunately, there was a stream of fresh water close where we were cast on shore, and Winton and I broke down some bushes and made a "mia-mia" under a rock. We got a lot of seaweed and made a bed, in which we managed to sleep that night. We had no fire, but managed to pick up some cockles, on which we broke our fast. Having no clothing, I manufactured some straw ropes, and with the aid of some leaves, we managed to partially cover our nakedness, and these were the only coverings we had for the nine days we spent on the beach. For the past three days we had to keep a strict watch over the captain's widow. She was almost distracted, and seemed inclined to end her misery by throwing herself into the sea. However, she gradually grew calmer and more resigned, but grew very weak from exposure and want of proper food. On the fourth day Winton and I managed to kill a seal. I procured a large flat shell, and after sharpening it, I skinned the seal and manufactured a garment for our poor fellow-sufferer out of it. She was now more comfortable, but still kept growing weaker and more despondent. We used the flesh page 38of the seal for food for some days. On the ninth day we were all standing on a large rock, with branches of trees in our hand, looking out in the hope of seeing some passing vessel and signaling her. Subsequently, I saw smoke rising about two miles off in the bush. I called Winton, and we decided not to arouse false hopes in the poor woman's breast by telling her until we discovered whether the smoke proceeded from friends or foes in the neighbourhood. She overheard Winton and me conversing, and screamed out in terror, saying, "Oh, Barry, you will never leave me here to die." I comforted her, and told her that we were afraid the smoke might be caused by the natives, and as falling into their hands would not better our unfortunate position, we decided to reconnoitre and return at once to her. We left her, and proceeded cautiously in the direction of the smoke. We walked some distance along the beach, when Winton joyfully exclaimed, "Look, look, there is a boat!" and sure enough it was a large boat with eight men. We ran up and made our pitiful story known. The rough fellows in the boat were very much astonished and shocked at our appearance, but showed great willingness to relieve us. They were a sealing party from King George's Sound, and were going to Swan River. Four of them immediately started along the beach, and finding the captain's widow, who was half dead with terror and anxiety, they rolled her in a blanket and brought her to the boat. They also rigged up Winton and myself in some of their clothes. We all embarked and got under weigh for Swan River. Shortly after we had started our lady passenger fainted, and we all thought she was dead, but having procured some rum from some of our fellow-deliverers, I moistened her lips, and forced a little of it down her throat. She then revived, and gradually plucked up her spirits a little. Although our boat was staunch, and being built like a whaleboat, was calculated to weather a pretty stiff gale, we had all our work cut out that night. A heavy gale of wind sprang up, and after battling with it for some hours our crew of sealers beached the boat in a convenient place, where we landed, camped and managed to make some tea, which greatly revived Mrs. Brown, who was now getting on finely. Next day the wind veered and we resumed our voyage to Swan River with a fair wind, and reached there that night in safety. We were lodged that night at the whaling station, and in the morning we were taken into page 39the town and were very kindly treated by every one. The Government very generously paid all our expenses while there, and presented our rescuers with £100. The Captain's widow was now nearly recovered, and went to live at the house of a sea-captain, an old friend of her husband's, where she remained. The Swan River settlement was a very small place with very few inhabitants. At this time, 1839, there was a whaling station at the place, and this industry, and that of sealing, were the principal sources of revenue.

In about three months a vessel called en route for Sydney. The Government considerately secured our passages, and we were very thankful and glad to avail ourselves of the kindness. Winton and I sailed for Sydney, Mrs. Brown remaining behind. We arrived all safe, and in reporting myself to Mr. Smith and detailing my adventures, he was utterly astonished, saying that I was "a perfect wonder," and was never "meant to be drowned." And no doubt his prophecy has proved correct so far. I have since had many hairbreadth escapes, but am not drowned yet.