I must now proceed to give some account of the Roman Catholic Mission where, in the words of our shipmate, "the bishop lived with the natives in the bush." I am the better able to do so as, a year before we left the colony, I was fortunate enough to obtain a copy of a history of Australia, written by Bishop Salvado himself, which contains, in addition to much general information, an especial description of the Benedictine Mission in Western Australia, and of the causes of its success in dealing with a people to whom the credit has erroneously been given of turning the edge of all tools that were ever used in promoting its civilization. No biographies are said to be so perfect as those that betray the author's affection for his subject, and the bishop's pen runs con amore in discussing the topic of his beloved savages, and speaking of their docility and intelligence.
The gradually decreasing numbers of the natives indicate sadly yet surely that they are not destined to share any exemption from that fate, which has already befallen so many aboriginal races, of dying out whenever the white man erects his dwelling amongst them. The West Australian, however, will not have passed from the earth's families without a chronicler, and the pages in which Bishop Salvado has enshrined his recollections of this simple people may be compared to the stones of a little cairn heaped beforehand to its memory. The book was originally written in Italian, and was afterwards translated into Spanish, which is the native language of the author; and I have ventured to make the following sketch of the information to be derived from its most interesting contents.
Twelve years had elapsed, since the foundation of the Swan River settlement in 1829, when its Roman Catholic inhabitants addressed an urgent entreaty to their bishop at Sydney that he would confer on them the boon of a minister of their own religion. At the time that the letter containing this request arrived at Sydney the bishop, Dr. Polding, was absent in Rome with the object of impressing the needs of his vast diocese upon the Holy See, and it was not until the following year, 1843, on his return to Australia, that three Roman Catholic priests were dispatched to Perth. Subsequently, in 1845, the congregation of the "Propaganda" sent out a party of missionaries under Dr. Brady, an Irish bishop, for the purpose of converting the savages of Western Australia.
In addition to seven priests, who accompanied Dr. Brady, there sailed with him also a sub-deacon who was an English Benedictine, a French novice, one Italian, eight catechists, two laymen belonging to a religious order, and seven Irish Sisters of Mercy. Two of the priests, namely Rudesindo Salvado, the present episcopal resident in the bush, and his friend Giuseppe Serra, were Spanish Benedictine monks, who had, with some little difficulty, obtained permission to leave their monastery of La Cava, (situated in what was then called the kingdom of Naples,) in order to follow out the long-cherished wish of their hearts by becoming teachers of the heathen.
The party sailed from London in a ship called the 'Isabella,' and in the month of January, 1846, cast anchor off Fremantle in Gage's Roads. Here two landing-boats received the missionaries, which they had no sooner entered than the crew of the 'Isabella' shouted after them a hearty hip hip hurrah; and "we," says our historian, "replied in the same manner, for this hip ('questo hip') is, under such circumstances, a far more expressive and joyous manner of wishing good luck than the Italian viva." These farewells over, litanies were intoned until the shore was reached, when the whole party knelt upon the landing-place, and solemnly chanted Te Deum laudamus.
Whilst waiting for a boat, to take them up the river, the priests tried to make acquaintance with the many natives who were wandering about Fremantle. These looked hard at their unknown interlocutors, and merely vouchsafed the word Marannia to the foreigners' civility. Bethinking himself that in the Gallegon dialect a word of similar sound means deception, the good Salvado feared that even already the natives were distrustful of him, but on referring his doubts to his landlord, and learning from him that Marannia meant simply "victuals," our missionary immediately distributed bread, and wrote down the word in his pocket-book as the commencement of a vocabulary.
The beauty of the Swan appears to have made as much impression on him as on ourselves, for he says, "Each turn of the river presented a new scene, and a fresh occasion for praising God." but the arrival of himself and his friends at Perth was saddened by the death of one of the priests, who had never recovered the effects of a severe storm in the English Channel. A few days after the funeral the bishop held a council for the purpose of devising plans for the conversion of the natives, and, the opinion of each priest having been asked it was unanimously decided to follow them into the bush. Three companies were therefore formed, and named respectively the Missions of the North, of the South, and of the Centre of Western Australia. For their support the bishop requested grants of land from the colonial governor, who accordingly presented the South and Central Missions with twenty acres each, but the Mission to the North remained unendowed, as it was beyond the limits of the Swan River colony.
The members of the Southern Mission were the first to begin their labours. Leaving Perth upon the 6th of February, they went on foot to Albany, where they arrived about the end of March, and, making that town their central point, traversed the bush in every direction, seeking out the savages, and suffering at the same time every kind of privation. Kind-hearted Protestants who saw their necessity brought them such relief as they could afford, even the sailors belonging to vessels in the port contributing presents of food; but supplies of this kind being naturally precarious, and the health of the party giving way, they determined on abandoning the work in the South and taking refuge in the island of Mauritius, where a mission existed at that time under the care of an English Benedictine bishop.The Mission to the North, consisting of three persons, sailed for Sydney, (being obliged in those days to circumnavigate almost the whole continent in order to reach their destination,) and, having arrived at Sydney, again quitted it for Port Essington in another ship which was wrecked in Torres Straits, when all on board perished excepting the captain and a Tyrolese priest, who were rescued and brought off from a rock on which they had taken refuge. The poor Tyrolese died two years afterwards, worn out with incessant labour and by the effects of a climate so unhealthy as to have since caused the northern coasts of Australia to be almost deserted by Europeans.
Another Mission, dependent on that of Perth, was also established at Guildford, under the care of a priest named Powell and a catechist; but being both of them driven back into the city by hardships and privations, Mr. Powell withdrew from the work in Australia and joined a Mission in Calcutta.
The party that had originally landed in the colony having been thus dispersed there now remained, out of the seven priests of whom it was at first composed, the two Spanish fathers only; and the spot on which to begin the labours of the Central Mission, was yet unchosen. The question of fixing a site for this Central Mission was one requiring much consideration and anxious thought. It was evident that it would be wise to remove it to as great a distance as possible from the settled country, in order to avoid the evil effects of much intercourse of the lowest class of the white men with the natives; while, on the other hand, if placed at a spot too remote from Perth, the regular supply of provisions and necessaries would become impossible; not to mention the risk that the persons who might undertake to carry the stores would run of being lost in the attempt.
At this juncture, Captain Scully, a Roman Catholic who had resided for many years in the colony, came to visit the bishop, and relieved his perplexity by telling him of a spot at no great distance from his, Captain Scully's, run, where, the land being good and "savages abundant," he thought that a Mission might be successfully established. He added, moreover, that if the scheme was approved he would himself help to further it, by that most important boon in all colonial life, the gratuitous carting of the necessary goods. This proposal being joyfully accepted the Fathers Serra and Salvado, with the French Benedictine novice and an Irish catechist, repaired to church at sundown on the 16th of February, previous to commencing their night journey through the bush.
They were in marching order, crucifix on breast, staff in hand, and breviary under the arm, as they made their way to the altar with some difficulty through a crowd of persons, Protestant as well as Catholic, who had assembled in the little building to bid the missionaries a farewell which all supposed would probably be for ever. On leaving the church a brilliant moon shone down upon the travellers, who were escorted along the road for some distance by their bishop and other friends; after a time these turned back, and the four pursued their way in company with the drivers of Captain Scully's wagons, one of which contained the property of the Mission.
A journey on foot of sixty-eight miles, undertaken in a Swan River summer and with long tracts of deep sand to be waded through, required five days to accomplish; the first of which was sufficient to give the pedestrians an appearance so dusty and travel-stained that, as Father Salvado says, they might have been mistaken for the savages whom they were hoping to convert. The party reached Captain Scully's house in safety, and having remained there three days to recruit both men and oxen, they again went forward, in a northerly direction, under the guidance of his two servants.
The heat was most intense, and during their last day's journey it was aggravated by a total absence of water upon the road, so that it was with no slight joy that, on the evening of the 27th of February, they came in sight of the desired spot, when the whole party rushed to the spring which they had been led to expect there, the four oxen competing with the men which should reach it first. But it proved little better than a mud hole, and so nauseous as to produce vomiting; neither did the digging of a ditch at the side of it at all mend matters. The servants wanted to go back, but the missionaries refused to do so as a native whom they accidentally met had promised to point out another spring in the morning.
At early dawn, therefore, Father Salvado and the good savage, accompanied by the novice and one of the servants, set out in quest of the hoped-for water: but after walking five miles they came upon a hole as dry as the first, at sight of which the guide struck the ground with a gesture of disappointed amazement. However, he made signs that there was yet another chance if the party would go still farther. The novice and the servant lost heart and refused to proceed, but Father Salvado still followed the native, and at the end of another mile they had the indescribable joy of reaching a large pond, whence, after drinking their fill, they hastened back with brimming pitchers to their companions, the native uttering loud cries of coo-ee, as he went along, to announce the news of his success.
Towards dusk the whole party encamped beside the water, and on the following morning, being the fourth Sunday in Lent and the 1st of March, the two servants unloaded the cart, and returned to Captain Scully's after the celebration of mass, leaving the four missionaries in the heart of the bush. Next day they set to work, digging foundations and cutting wood, in preparation for the erection of a hut of sufficient size to serve the double purpose of dwelling-place and chapel. In the evening a good many natives appeared, looking not timid but suspicious; they came up to the water's edge about forty paces from the builders, and after lighting a large fire lay down to sleep. "We also," says Father Salvado, "lighted our fire when we could no longer see to work, and, standing round it, chanted compline with as much solemnity as on our days of festival at home, but the remembrance that we had such wild neighbours close around us made sleep an impossibility."About two hours after sunrise the natives moved off, and the building went on briskly, but towards evening they returned in greater numbers and completely armed. They lighted their fire a few paces nearer to the missionaries than on the preceding evening, and the latter passed a night of extreme anxiety, expecting every moment to be killed and eaten. Morning, however, brought a little tranquillity, for the unwelcome visitors again disappeared, and the hut made such progress that by midday, when the workmen sat down to dinner, there was nothing wanting but the roof. At this moment they saw a crowd of natives coming up, contrary to their usual custom of not returning till evening, each man carrying six or seven spears; "we looked at them," continues my author, "with cheerful countenances, God alone knowing the beating of our hearts, and made signs of invitation to share our tea and bread," but without paying any attention to this offered hospitality, the natives sat down beside the pond talking eagerly amongst themselves.
Death itself being preferable to this prolonged state of uncertainty the missionaries set their wits to work to devise a scheme for ending it one way or other, and eventually hit on an idea which was somewhat after the fashion of throwing a sop to Cerberus. They determined upon baking three or four huge dampers, and carrying them boldly, with several plates piled up with sugar, as a peace-offering to the company beside the pond; and to show that no treachery was intended the bearers of the feast filled their own mouths with fragments of the dampers, and chewed in a very demonstrative manner as the procession moved along.
The natives perhaps thought it would be infra dig. to seem too easily mollified, for, at sight of the approaching collation, the men snatched up their spears and the women and children ran away howling dismally. However, the missionaries without any symptoms of fear continued to advance, with a great parade of eating heartily, and making signs that the dampers should be accepted, and the weapons laid aside. A few of the natives complied, and the Benedictines, much encouraged, offered sugar to some little ones who had not joined the others in running away, but had remained clinging tightly to their father's legs and crying as if frightened out of their senses. At the first taste of the sugar the children spat it out suspiciously, but on a second trial nodded approval and persuaded the others to eat of it likewise. In a few seconds both sugar and dampers disappeared, and a general scramble was going on for the crumbs. The missionaries made holiday for the remainder of that day, being accompanied back to their hut by some of the natives, in whom the sight of the implements of husbandry created great astonishment.
The next morning so many savages crowded to see the Fathers at their work that they asked their visitors for a helping hand, which they not only willingly gave, but also pointed out the best materials for the roof and where to obtain them in the greatest plenty, by means of which assistance and information the whole building was soon covered in. At dinner-time the working party all sat down together, and the obliging visitors were helped to the largest share of what was cooked. "What might not then have been the success of our Mission," says Father Salvado, "if we had been better supplied with provisions? A hundred persons, who had offered to remain with us and help us, withdrew into the woods, because we had not bread to give them."
The missionaries had gained a great point, however, in establishing a friendly feeling between themselves and the natives, and they followed up their advantage by roaming as much as possible about the bush with them, sharing their occupations, and often carrying the children who soon affected the company of the Benedictines more than that of their own parents.
Cheerfully as things seemed to be going on, however, difficulties were looming ahead, for, although little more than two months had elapsed since Father Salvado and his three brother missionaries had left Perth, the provisions which they brought with them were almost entirely consumed. The number of mouths at the Mission had also been increased by the arrival of the English Benedictine, and it was therefore judged expedient that one of the company should repair to Perth, to acquaint their bishop with their necessitous condition. Father Salvado accordingly set out upon the journey, accompanied as far as Captain Scully's house by a native: the wayfarers subsisting as they went along on such food as the bush could afford; whether this consisted of opossums, or grubs, or lizards, which last when roasted are described as "dainty morsels," "I must acknowledge, for the honour of the truth," says the Father, "that the good savage always gave me the larger half."
The grubs to which allusion is made much resemble, if they are not identical with, the groo groo grub of the West Indies, and are found in "blackboy" trees by the natives and other knowing persons, who pronounce the flavour to be almost equal to that of beef marrow. I never saw but one of these creatures; it was white, of the thickness of a finger and about as long, and I fully believe Father Salvado's statement, that his stomach "writhed" over the swallowing of them. Whilst we lived in Barladong, we saw two or three moths which were quite as large as common English bats, but whether or no they were of the kind into which these grubs turn we had no means of ascertaining.
Arrived at Captain Scully's the Father was presented with supplies which rendered him independent of grubs for the remainder of his road; nevertheless his friendly native here turned back lest his wife, as he said, should be stolen in his absence. A truer reason would perhaps have been that he dreaded being killed by natives to whom he was unknown; for as game is the only means of subsistence in the bush it is jealously preserved, and strangers are regarded as poachers whom it is right and proper to spear at once.
On reaching Perth Father Salvado made known the destitution of the Mission to his bishop, warning him that unless help could be speedily sent its members must all die of hunger. This was grievous news to Dr. Brady, who had no means of relieving the distress, nor even of providing with shoes the almost barefooted messenger; he had in fact nothing to offer but the suggestion that the party should immediately return to Perth, where he promised that at all events they should not want bread; but Father Salvado replied by imploring that neither he nor his brothers should be compelled to yield obedience to such a mandate, as they had all determined, with the help of God, to suffer any privation rather than abandon their poor savages. Upon this the bishop resolved to urge the claims of the Mission upon his flock in a sermon, while Father Salvado should ask alms at the church door, which the latter did once or twice and thus obtained a little money. But the Catholics were few and their means limited, and he began to think that he must adopt the humiliating alternative of going round to beg help from the richer Protestants, when it suddenly occurred to him that he might, perhaps, be able to raise funds by giving a concert on the pianoforte. In this project few persons could be better qualified than himself to succeed; and it was no sooner known that the Governor had granted to him the use of the Court-house for a musical entertainment, than individuals of all sects and denominations vied with each other in promoting its success.
More than one piano was placed at his disposal,—the Protestant printer engaged to issue the programmes gratis,—the Anglican clergyman lent the church candlesticks,—his clerk volunteered to attend to the lights,—a Jewish gentleman distributed the tickets of admission,—in fact the whole story reads like a parallel to the story in 'Evenings at Home,' written to prove the assertion that there are points on which all men can agree. One is reminded of the Churchman lying on the pavement in a fit, and of the good Quaker lady holding her smelling-bottle to his nose, whilst a Roman Catholic runs for a doctor, and a Baptist takes care of the children.
By the time that the appointed evening arrived all accessories had been provided, excepting, indeed, new clothes for the poor performer. Some amount of magnanimity was certainly required to face a well-dressed audience in the plight to which he was reduced. His frock hung from his knees in rags and tatters,—his black breeches were patched in different colours. "My stockings," he says, "thanks to my own care, cut a tolerable figure; but of my shoes, which were good when I left Italy, little more remained than the upper leathers." Add to this, that his hands and face were tanned to the colour of a native; but his "more than three months' beard," which was then supposed to aid in the general disfigurement, would now excite no observation, beards being not only of almost universal adoption, but specially worn by the Benedictine monks of New Norcia since they found that the natives respected them the more for not shaving. "In fact," he says, "my appearance excited both laughter and compassion." Neither could the applause which accompanied his endeavours to please the audience banish, as he says, from his mind's eye "the picture of my four poor brothers, dying of hunger in the bush."
With the proceeds of the concert he was enabled not only to purchase provisions of all kinds, but also a yoke of oxen for ploughing—a grand safeguard against future want. The help, however, arrived too late for all to share in it. Before he could reach the Mission the poor young catechist was dead, and the mind of the French novice was so much shaken that it was judged best to send him back to Perth under the escort of a kind-hearted Frenchman who had accompanied Father Salvado on his return journey to lend his assistance in the toil of clearing the land. The two monks were thus left to carry on the work as best they could, which proved such a sore task (in every sense of the word) to barefooted men, that they now contrived for themselves wooden shoes covered with fur. They also patched their ragged monastic habits with the same material, and supplied lost buttons by strings made of the sinews of the kangaroo.The wheat began to sprout in September, but the old saying held good, that "while the grass grows the steed starves"; and for twenty-nine days in October the Fathers never tasted bread. This state of want was relieved by the arrival of two natives with a present of fourteen pounds of flour, sent by a poor Irish servant at Captain Scully's whom the natives had acquainted with the poverty at the Mission, and whose name of "Elinor" is gratefully recorded by Father Salvado. To the two good fellows who carried her gift thanks were also due, but in a less degree, as whenever the missionaries had bread they always shared it freely with the natives.
In addition to field labour, and the acquisition of the native language, which, says Father Salvado, "we were learning with all our might," he and his colleague were endeavouring, with no less energy, to obtain an insight into the laws, customs, and superstitions of the savages, hoping to be thus able to suppress their frequent fights. When this task was impossible, the Benedictine hut became a hospital to which the wounded were carried; and though Father Salvado says of himself and his brother Serra that the one knew as much of doctoring as the other—"which was nothing"—yet the cures which the two brought about, notwithstanding this want of knowledge, were the means of gaining for the amateur surgeons a degree of affectionate confidence from the patients which probably could have been secured by no other circumstance.
The happiest moment for conveying instruction to these wild children of nature was at night, when a ring of listeners sat round the fire, and story-telling followed the evening meal. At such times Father Salvado would be often called upon to contribute his share to the entertainment, and would be interrogated concerning the customs of his country, the names of his parents (his mother especially), those of his brothers, and what were his reasons for having quitted his relations. A description of European customs never failed to elicit loud and hearty peals of laughter; but when he proceeded to relate the motives which had induced him to leave his home and kindred the audience listened with eyes fixed and breath suspended. "I did my best," he adds, "to take advantage of these moments that I might gain them for the Lord's service, and I often perceived that greater benefit accrued from this mode of instruction than could have been produced by the most eloquent sermons."On the point, however, of their secret superstitions, the natives maintained a reserve which he found almost impenetrable. Questions addressed on these subjects to the older men were turned off with a joke, or with a feint of not understanding their meaning, and natives of some thirty years of age would parry the inquiry by saying that they were too young to give an account of such matters. This experience of Father Salvado concerning the unwillingness of the natives to speak of their own superstitious beliefs might possibly explain an incident which caused us some perplexity. Two or three natives, at different times, gave us obscure scraps of information relative to a yearly feast held in honour of the evil spirit, and called on that account the "Jingy corobbery," but, with the exception of one colonist who was familiar with it, none of the white persons to whom we mentioned the feast would believe that it had any existence. They had lived in the colony all their lives, they said, and in constant intercourse with the natives, yet had heard of no such "corobbery," and, not unnaturally, they considered that our native friends had imposed upon us. We thought, however, that their description of the "Jingy" feast bore so much resemblance to what we had read of aboriginal customs on the eastern side of Australia that, though we did not attempt to set up our own short experience against that of older residents, we saw no reason for renouncing our private opinion that the "Jingy corobbery" was a fact. But to return to the thread of my narrative.
Whilst the two monks were thus diligently studying the language and customs of the natives their own opinions as to the best means of converting savages to Christianity were rapidly undergoing a change. Hitherto the missionaries had supposed that this object could be attained only by their following the tribe in all its wanderings, but their increasing experience now showed them that they had been mistaken, and that nomadic habits on the part of the teachers were not calculated to reclaim a race of nomads. "Nothing so easy," says Father Salvado, "as to preach a sermon to a savage; but if in the middle of it he asks for something to eat, he will, unless the preacher is able to supply the want, cut short the discourse altogether by going off to look for food in the bush."
The eagerness also with which the natives would work in return for bread added not a little to the poignancy with which the missionaries viewed their deficient means. One thing was also certain, that no religious teaching which was not combined with instruction in agriculture could be of use in a country so naturally destitute of food for man's use that, if a native cannot find game, contingencies may, and do, occur as horrible as any which are furnished by our most dismal annals of shipwreck.
A native named Billiagoro, with whom Father Salvado became intimate, told him of four families having once been reduced by sheer famine to kill and eat a child, the narrator himself having taken part in the revolting meal. There had been six successive days of heavy rain, accompanied by unusual cold, and all attempts to procure food during that time had proved unsuccessful. The victim was Billiagoro's own sister, "and had I been older, I would have defended her" he said, "but then the lot would have only been shifted to some other yet more unprotected child, for we were all dying of hunger, and eat we must."
The practice also, which Father Salvado found in vogue in native families, of killing the third daughter at her birth had its origin, no doubt, in the scarcity of the means of subsistence, since in no other manner can such cruelty be accounted for, amongst a people so fond of their children as the West Australian natives. Neither had custom entirely robbed the deed of its horrors, although the murder was always perpetrated by the mother herself. So strangely did philanthropy and barbarity run hand in hand that, if other women were present at the birth, it not unfrequently happened that one of them, rather than consent to the infanticide, would herself adopt the child and bring it up; and Father Salvado says that he was personally acquainted with more than one of these good foster-mothers and the nurslings whose lives they had saved.
The monks judged that the first remedy to be applied to the evils of murder and cannibalism was the tilling of the ground, and they accordingly waited on their bishop, imploring him to build and found a monastery, around which might be gathered a native population which the Fathers would undertake to instruct personally in field labour. "The object that we had at heart," continues our author, "was the establishing of a village of native proprietors, who should be husbandmen and artisans as well as real Christians."
This was a scheme to which it was easier to obtain the bishop's consent than to discover how the necessary funds for carrying it out could be provided. Even the suggestion that one of the party should repair to Europe, on a begging expedition, was impracticable for want of money to pay his passage thither, and Father Salvado could devise no other means of surmounting the difficulty than that of proposing to open a music school in Perth, fraught with the bold condition that all who enrolled themselves as his scholars must pay him a year's teaching in advance.
Offers of pupils flowed in notwithstanding such an unusual form of advertisement, but the project of the music school was rendered unnecessary by the opportune arrival of a remittance to the bishop from the "Propaganda," with a promise of future help. A large part of this timely succour, namely five thousand francs, was devoted to the establishment of the monastery, and, all difficulties being now removed, the foundation stone, with a medal of St. Benedict beneath it, was laid upon the 1st of March, 1847, the Mission thenceforward receiving the name of New Norcia in honour of the "patriarch's" birth-place. The chapel was dedicated to the Holy Trinity.
No money was expended on masons' or carpenters' wages, the builders being all volunteers from Perth, who were kept well supplied with meat by a kangaroo dog under the charge of a native whilst the work lasted. Pompey lived to see the day, though with only one eye left him, when the Benedictines owned a flock of sheep, and needed not his services in hunting down kangaroo for their guests. He did not seem to take in good part this complete deposition from office, and sometimes asserted himself by killing a sheep, which the monks, on issuing from their monastery at early dawn to labour in the fields, would find, to their chagrin, laid outside the door by him in orderly fashion and untouched.
The Governor's original grant of twenty acres being insufficient to support the number of savages who had already joined the Benedictines, the monks petitioned for thirty acres in addition, which were not only granted in freehold, but they were also allowed the use of a run of one thousand acres for pasturing their sheep and herds. In the winter immediately following this concession Father Salvado parcelled out allotments and gave seed-corn to those natives who had helped him in the previous harvest, and it was not a little pleasant to see the eagerness with which the boon was accepted, the ground cultivated, and bird-scaring carried on by the same men who, but a year before, had laughed at him as mad for throwing corn into the ground.
Observing that they were not only delighted to possess something of their own, but that, like other human beings, they worked in proportion to the recompense which they received, his next step was to make them a payment in money for all piece-work done for the monastery. This did no good at first as they either lost their money or gave it away; he therefore explained to them that by saving it up they would be able, in course of time, to send to Perth for new clothes, or to purchase a pig, a cow, or even a horse. The result was that the native labourers were content at the end of each week to leave their pay in his hands, when the money was placed in a chest fitted with divisions, and the name of each depositor written over the special compartment that belonged to him.
It was a great delight to each workman, when Saturday came, to turn the money over in his hands speculating on what he would buy, before dropping it into the chest; nor did the benefit stop here, for, if a native idled over his work, the reminding him of pay-day was quite enough to rouse him to exertion. The adage too seemed verified of "things mending when they come to their worst," for Billiagoro of cannibal experience was the first native at the Mission who commenced cattle-keeping on his own account, having became possessor of a heifer calf which, by the way, he named after himself.
On no point does Father Salvado insist so strenuously as on the folly of saying that the Australian native cannot appreciate the value of money or property: "he acquires a just idea of both in a short time, and diligently studies, thenceforth, how he may better his condition; but if he is only made to feel the burdens of civilization without its advantages, (the wages paid him being so insignificant as to disgust him with labour,) he prefers the freedom of a wild life, and returns to the bush."Father Salvado also quotes from a report of a commission which sat at Sydney in consequence of Lord Stanley's desire that a plan should be devised for ameliorating the condition of the aborigines; on that occasion a missionary who had been asked for a suggestion replied that he knew not how to make one, so many schemes having already been tried without success, although the question "had the natives ever been paid in money for their work?" had received an answer in the negative. "It, would therefore appear," says the Father, "that though no fresh system could be proposed, there had not, as yet, been any trial made of what might be effected with the natives by the motive of self-interest."
And now having brought the Spanish missionaries to that point when they could "eat the labour of their hands," I must close a sketch which might have been embellished by other extracts, and additional anecdotes, had I not feared to violate the rights of authors and the laws of courtesy. I have simply tried to give the salient points of the narrative, especially those which relate to the natural disposition of the natives and their capacity for improvement.
The chief obstacles to success at New Norcia have arisen, as may easily be imagined, at the first, from the character of many of the shepherds and servants of the settlers in the earlier time of the Mission, and latterly, from the conversion of the colony into a penal settlement. The Fathers have found themselves compelled to maintain an isolated position by extending their purchases of land, and thus drawing, so to speak, a cordon sanitaire around their converts. Even if Western Australia had never been made a penal colony, the success of the Mission would probably have owed much to such restrictions on its admixture with white society. Children and young plants thrive best in nurseries, and I do not believe that under any circumstances a wild race can be educated with justice to itself on the open ground of civilization. The intermarriage of the converts, and the settling of the young couples upon a tract belonging to the monastery, has been one most important result of the position which the Benedictines occupy as members of a large landed institution.
So many marriages between girls just past childhood and men of middle age take place among the wild natives, that the better assorted matches of New Norcia are not lost upon the aboriginal female mind; and I found that the chance of a young native husband was regarded by the native girls as forming a special contingent advantage of being brought up at "the Mission." Moreover, in the process of rescuing a race from utter barbarism a species of feudalism, which will provide protectors and instructors, seems an indispensable ingredient, and, if the reclaimed native is to stick to industrious habits, and to live on his own allotment, it must be by his remaining beneath the protecting eyes of those who have lifted him from his original position, and whose benevolent supervision alone will prevent his sinking back to it.
There is no doubt also that the fact of the Benedictines being fellow-workers with the natives not only as their instructors but as their personal companions, and, as I may say, brother journeymen in all useful arts and occupations, such as shoe-making, building, harvesting, and shepherding, has much helped in persuading traditional hunters to adopt the life of orderly peasants: for it must be remembered that the natives were the lords of their own country until the arrival of its English masters, and that though they have now lost their heritage of land they still retain that of pride: no eye so quick as theirs to recognize the deference that is paid by white people to all those whose circumstances exempt them from the necessity of manual labour, and the native, not unnaturally, thinks that the less work he does the more he resembles a gentleman.
Even with regard to a knowledge of the native language, I was assured that to speak it badly gained more respect for oneself from the natives than to speak it well, as the latter fact implied a long residence in the colony involving much experience of rough living and hard work, and, as they suppose, giving proof of a want of wealth and personal position,—crude ideas of which a counterpart may be often seen amongst so-called civilized persons, and which justify the correctness of the Benedictines' plan of keeping their pupils, as much as possible, within the recesses of the bush.
The Mission of New Norcia, from a beginning so small and beset with so much hardship, has now assumed the character of one of the most flourishing settlements in the colony of Western Australia, and is respected for its success, even by those who are least friendly to its religion. The village of native Christians which the monks hoped to establish, has now really sprung into existence, and the captain of the ship in which we returned to England, in 1869, told us that of the wool which composed his cargo none was better packed than that which came from New Norcia, which had been cleaned and put into bales by native hands.
According to the census for the year 1870 the native population of New Norcia consisted of eighteen male and sixteen female adults, many of whom are married and established in their own homes; and (of children) sixteen boys and ten girls under instruction at the Mission.
There is yet one story that I must tell, as it is too good to pass, of how Father Salvado drank tea in the bush with Billiagoro on occasion of their going out together to look for a new sheep-run. On the evening of a terribly hot day master and man, before camping for the night, started in different directions in search of water for the teapot, and the master returning quite baffled, describes himself as much cheered by the perfume of a sandalwood fire announcing from a distance that the tea is in progress, which he not only finds to be the case on nearer approach, but that his servitor is already rolling out a damper.
"Bravo, good fellow; where did you find the water?" but Billiagoro says never a word, and continues to bake his cake in silence. Just before lying down to sleep, Father Salvado reminds him that he had better go back to the well and bring water enough for breakfast, so as to save time in the morning. "The well!" said Billiagoro, now ready enough to speak; "there is not a drop left in it." "No water left in it?" replied Father Salvado; "what can you mean?" "Not a single drop," said Billiagoro; "all I could find was in a "hole in a stone, and I had to suck up what there was of it by a mouthful at a time to fill the pannikin." "My good fellow!" expostulated the master; "why not tell me so before?" "Where would have been the good of my doing that?" was the servant's answer; "you would have drunk nothing then; now you have had your tea, and eaten the damper."In the same manner as Dogberry follows his "sixth and lastly," with "to conclude," I add another story of a different kind, referring to an experience of too much water rather than the want of it. A poor little native orphan of six years old having taken refuge in a half-starved ondition at the monastery, the monks decided on handing her over to the care of the nuns at Perth, and with this view Father Salvado set out to convey her thither in the ox wagon. The winter of 1847 being extraordinarily wet the rivers were in an unusual state of flood, and in crossing the Avon the strength of the current overturned the wagon, Father Salvado saving himself and the child by swimming. On looking back he saw that the oxen were drowning in consequence of their harness being entangled in the branches of a tree; he therefore swam to it, and with much trouble set the poor things at liberty. They forthwith, excusing themselves from continuing the journey, got out of the river on the side that was nearest home, whilst the Father proceeded to Perth on foot, carrying the child on his shoulders through two days' march. Some months afterwards Father Salvado, being again at Perth and sitting in the sacristy preparing for mass, at which he was to officiate, found himself suddenly seized round the neck by his little travelling companion, who, laying her head on his breast, burst into a fit of weeping. As she continued to shed tears for more than five minutes without once raising her head or speaking a word, "I asked her," he says, "with some anxiety, whether she was unhappy with the good sisters, or disliked her new mode of life, and each of my questions being answered with the assurance that she was quite contented, 'Then what are you crying for?' I said; 'is there anything that you wish me to do for you?' 'Nothing else,' she answered, 'but to let me stay with you for a few minutes.' All those," he continues, "who were present at this meeting between myself and the poor little girl were affected to tears by the sight of her affectionate behaviour, and I thought myself well repaid for the two days that I had carried her on my shoulders."
- 'Memorie Storiche dell' Australia, particolarmente della Missione Benedettina di Nuova Norcia.' Per Monsig. D. Rudesindo Salvado, O. S. B., vescovo di Porto Vittoria. Roma, 1851.