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Past and Present, and Men of the Times.

Chapter II

page 40

Chapter II.

I sail for the Malay Archipelago—Dangers with the Natives—Some wonderful trading—Importing Timor ponies to Sydney—The sad tale of a skipper—I go into the "overlanding" business—Off to Adelaide with stock—South Australia in 1840—Captain Grey (afterwards Sir George Grey) succeeds Governor Gawler—My second trip to New Zealand—George Bates of Kangaroo Island—A curious personage—We arrive in Wellington—Wellington in 1841—Some old Identities.

In the year 1839, a gentleman, Mr. Benjamin Boyd, a very wealthy man, arrived from England in a yatch of sixteen tons, called the "Wanderer," and rather surprised the colonists by such an exhibition of pluck and good seamanship. He purchased large tracts of land and several stations, also whaling ships, and carried on the whale fishery for many years, realising an immense fortune. He built a small town at the whaling station, at Twofold Bay, which is called Boydstown to this day. Here also he built large meat-curing works, and exported meat to all the other colonies. He and Mr. Smith, my employer, had some very large transactions in business together, and one day Mr. Boyd, who had often met me during these transactions, asked me to go into his employ. I referred him to Mr. Smith, who said if I could better my prospects by all means to go. Mr. Boyd wanted me to go as trading master in a barque, the "Swallow," which he was fitting out for a trading trip up north, among the Malaysian Archipelago. Being anxious to see a little more of the world, I decided to accept his offer, and early in 1839 left in the barque, which was then ready for sea. She was fitted out for carrying stock, and was commanded by Captain Dunn, a very old man, who never left the barque to go on page 41shore during the voyage until compelled to do so by sickness. In. due time we arrived at a place called Cochibab, a Malay settlement in the Timor Straits. The inhabitants were a very treacherous lot, and required vigilant watching, The long-boat was put over the side, the crew got in all well armed, and we took our trade goods with us, consisting of iron hoops, beads and gaudy-coloured calico prints. I was pretty successful with the natives, and succeeded in procuring 128 Timor ponies, and 800lbs. of tortoise-shell, also a quantity of pearl. After getting this part of our cargo properly stowed on board, we got under way for Copang, where there were a few Dutch settlers, and bought some fodder for our ponies, called by courtesy hay, but it was a very poor sample. We sailed from Copang for another settlement in the Straits, called Howlitt. The anchorage here was very bad, so we got out the boat, arms, trade goods, etc., and went on shore, the barque in the meantime cruising up and down within sight, and did not attempt to anchor that day. There were any number of ponies here, and quantities of pearl and tortoise-shell, but the Malays were very shy, and I could not deal with them that day, so I made them understand I should come on shore next day, and went off aboard. In the morning the captain stood in close to the land, and, finding there was good holding ground, dropped anchor in the open roadstead. I went on shore, and, the natives being in a better humour, I succeeded in trading with them, and in return for my goods I got 100 ponies and a good stock of pearl and tortoiseshell. I learnt that the natives at this place were great warriors in their way, and, having large war canoes, made predatory excursions along the Straits and worried their less warlike neighbours.

Our captain was now taken very ill, and we had to go on to Copang with him. He went on shore and we laid at anchor in the harbour, which is a tolerably good one, for a week. The captain, feeling better then, came on board. We weighed anchor and stood out for Sydney, where we arrived without accident, but the captain was very ill all the voyage; in fact, he nearly died. He was evidently growing to old for a seafaring life. Mr. Boyd gave me considerable praise for my success, and the cargo realised a handsome sum. The ponies, which were the first of the kind that had ever reached Sydney, were very much admired, and brought from £10 to £20 each. The pearl and tortoise-shell page dalso brought a good profit. A short time after returning from the last voyage, Mr. Boyd wished me to undertake another, but I declined, as Mr. Smith wanted my services. I parted with Mr. Boyd on the best of terms, and he made me a handsome present, telling me his employ was always open to me at a good salary, for which I thanked him. The "Swallow" was shortly afterwards despatched on another voyage in the same trade, in command of Captain Wilson, Captain Dunn remaining in Sydney to recruit his shattered health. The new captain was also the trading master at this time, the mate always remaining on board and working the ship. On arriving at Howlitt, one of the islands before mentioned, the captain went on shore in the longboat and commenced trading with the Malays. He had not been long engaged in the business when some dispute arose, evidently preconcerted by the natives, who made a savage onslaught and killed the unfortunate skipper and the boat's crew. The natives then got into their canoes and boarded the ship. There happened to be a whaleboat lying alongside, and as the savages came up one side the mate and three of the crew managed to get into her and make their escape. The murderous yellowskins made short work of the remainder of the unfortunate crew, murdering every soul on board, and, after plundering the barque, they set fire to the vessel, and she burnt to the water's edge. The mate and the three sailors with him managed to reach Copang, and finding a whaler there bound for Sydney they got passages in her and arrived safely. I saw the mate after his arrival and got the particulars from him. The Malays were, and I believe are still, a most treacherous and dangerous race to have any dealings with. The disaster related above might easily have occurred on my trip. If so, it is very possible I should not this day have been penning this veracious history.

Mr. Smith was shipping stock to Adelaide and sending sheep overland to Victoria and Adelaide. This was in the fall of 1839. Governor Gawler was in charge of the colony at this time. The squatters of New South Wales, attracted by the high prices given for sheep in the early days of Adelaide, had been daring enough, in spite of the blacks and the toilsome journeys, to drive their flocks overland. I joined some squatters, and we started with about 54,000 sheep, and after a long and wearisome journey of four months we arrived at Adelaide, and soon gave quite a wool-page 43growing tinge to the community. As "overlanders," as they called us, we affected a bandit style of dress, our belts filled with pistols. Around oar bodies we had scarlet shirts, and wore broad-brimmed hats, and as our horses were gaily caparisoned, caused quite a sensation in the streets of Adelaide, which rang all the evening with our merriment. We brought over fifty-three thousand sheep into the colony during the course of only a year or two, and they were of essential benefit to it. A few of our party settled in the country, and taught the Adelaide people and up-country settlers how to manage flocks and prepare the wool, and thus we assisted in raising the settlement of Adelaide from the state of despondency and distress into which it had sunk. Many of my party settled down in the country with their sheep and became large squatters. Others sold their sheep and left Adelaide for Sydney. I stopped behind.

This was in the year 1840, Governor Gawler was now in great trouble and was called Home by the British Government, who eventually decided to lend the colony a sufficient sum of money to pay its debts; but it was resolved to make certain changes. The eleven commissioners were abolished, and Captain George Grey, a young officer, was appointed governor. One day he walked into the Government House at Adelaide, and at once took the control of affairs into his own hands. This summary mode of dismissing Governor Gawler must now be regarded as somewhat harsh, for Gawler had laboured hard and spent his money freely in trying to benefit the colony, and the mistakes which were made during his administration were not so much due to his incapacity as to the impracticable nature of the theory on which the colony had been founded. Governor Gawler sailed for England deeply regretted by many who had experienced his kindness and generosity in their time of trouble. I remained in South Australia until January, 1841, and saw the country make great strides towards prosperity.

In this year, 1841, the talk in Adelaide was that New Zealand was the place for good land, and emigrants were flocking there to settle. About this time a very old friend of mine arrived with his vessel at Port Adelaide, the name of the vessel being the "Water Lily." The captain asked me to join him and go to New Zealand with a cargo of flour, which he would buy at Launceston in Tasmania. I had by me £100 cash, and joined the captain. I went with him and we bought our cargo. I page 44shipped as chief mate and trading master. At the time we were getting in the cargo I was rather taken aback to see a very old man I had met in Adelaide; one of the oldest Australian colonists. I invited him to dine with me and the captain on board. He was a great hand at telling yarns, and this is one of them:

He was, he says, the first settler in what is now the colony of South Australia. His name was George Bates, of Kangaroo Island, the sentinel island that guards the entrances to the Gulfs of Spencer and St. Vincent. He was born in 1800, his father being a Staffordshire man, and his mother a Welsh woman. They lived in London and were very badly off, as work was scarce, and blacksmithing, the man's trade, very poorly paid, When George was about eleven he was glad enough to get away from his comparatively foodless home and go on board a training vessel. Thence he went into the Royal Navy and saw a great deal of convoy service to and from the West Indies in the busy war-day that preceded Waterloo. Convoying being at an end, Bates went as a sailor on board a convict ship bound for Sydney, and leaving his vessel in that port, went whaling. He first visited Kangaroo Island in 1823. To use his own words as given a few months ago to a member of the Land Commission, he found "plenty tucker" on the island, as in those days kangaroos and seals were plentiful. He had some companions with him in his retired place of residence, and they cured the skins of the seals, and one season a vessel took away as many as seven thousand of these. The sealskins were bartered for rum at £3 per gallon and tobacco at 10s. per pound; and for a pocket-knife or any similar article they would give a sealskin. In those days the skins of kangaroos were almost worthless. The secret of their usefulness had not been found, out. Mr. Bates went sealing in West Australia in 1828, but that behind-hand colony was always deficient in something; at that time it was in seals, and the skipper of the vessel George was in suggested a cruise to New Zealand. Mr. Bates had heard that the natives of that future "Britain of the South" were partial to "long pig," so he declined to go, saying with characteristic prudence. "Oh no, not there; I don't mind eating natives, but they don't eat George." Faithful to Kangaroo Island, he returned there with three other pioneers, and they led a free and careless life, and to quote George's own words, page 45"I missed a lot of trouble by leaving home and coming out here. I couldn't have been hale and hearty at the age I am now had I stopped in the Old Country. There was not enough to eat there, but here I could always get kangaroo, emu, snakes, or something else to put between my teeth. Seal-flesh is very good and makes capital stews, and snakes are real good eating. I had no bread for three years. No vessel came here during that time, but I did not want bread. In the good old days we had plenty of niggers to work for us, and if we wanted them, plenty of wives too. We used to bring them over from the mainland by Cape Jervois. I lived with the natives once for three months, but they killed my dogs, and when they found I couldn't hunt and get more tucker, they all cleared and left me me to starve. When the boat at last came was I not glad to get back to the kangaroos. I have got to be careful now. I'm not so young as I once was. My old woman is nearly blind, and bed-ridden, and I have to do the cooking and the mending and the cleaning. My worst trouble is to find wood for the fire. The Government allows us rations, but they might let me have a bit of 'baccy.' I spend a good deal of time in reading. My eyesight is still good, and a nephew sends me English papers regularly by the mail." The ancient couple live in a hut by the sea, which has been granted them for life, and the few residents help them as much as possible; but they have a solitary existence. The progress of civilisation has invaded Kangaroo Island, for a fish-curing factory now exists at its capital, Kings-cote, but George Bates lived a lonely life for years on the island, as much out of the busy world as any "beach-comber" on a Polynesian "atoll."

A few days after George Bates had left, the schooner got under way and we left Launceston with our cargo for New Zealand. The "Water Lily" was not very large, but a splendid sea boat. Small vessels in those days, long before iron ones were thought of, were much favoured, and did good service, being virtually pioneers for the splendid class of steamers that now navigate these seas. The first four days out of port we met with very bad weather, but we made a good passage in our little vessel. The "Water Lily" was well known to be a very fast sailer, and we made the trip to Wellington in ten days. We ran into the harbour with a fair wind and dropped our anchor, and the captain and I went on shore to see if there was a market for page 46the flour. About this time there was an emigrant ship lying in the harbour, and there were few settlers in Wellington at this date (1841), and the place was very gloomy. Captain Sharp of the schooner told me that Mr. "Barney" Rhodes would buy the flour and sugar at a price, and told me to go and see him. Mr. Rhodes bid me a price for the cargo, and I sold it to him. I had met Mr. Rhodes before in Sydney, and was surprised to see him in Wellington; he was then owning a store and trading with the natives. He was a keen man to do business with. He wanted the captain to take part of the cargo to Nelson, as there were two ships there with emigrants, and Nelson was, at that time, short of provisions. A few of the settlers came on board the schooner before we left Wellington: Messrs. "Barney" Rhodes, John Plimmer, R. Reynolds, Masters, Carrington and Brown, who are still alive, although many of the old colonists have passed away, or are just passing away now, one by one. Many old colonists know me and know what I have gone through during my colonial career. We had discharged our flour, but had a quantity of sugar left. I made a bargain with Mr. Rhodes to run over to Nelson, and it was a very good job we could take some provisions there. I did very little trade with the natives at Wellington, only in tobacco. I could have sold a ship's load of firearms if I had had them. Mr. Rhodes made me promise to be back again in February, 1842, with more flour. I had a good look round Wellington before we left, and I must say I really admired the harbour, but could say little good about the town, for, at that time, it consisted merely of a few huts.