Narrative of a Voyage Round the World (Wilson)/Chapter 5


Raffles Bay—Natives—Miago—The Chief Wellington—Waterloo—Da' Atea—Luga—Monanoo—Wooloogary Chief of Croker's Island—The Commandant visits the Natives—Malay Proas touch at the Settlement—Wreck of the Mermaid—Wreck of the Swiftsure—Death of Mr. Radford—Arrival of H.M.S. Satellite.

The settlement was under the command of Captain Barker, of the 39th Regiment; Mr. Radford was in charge of the Commissariat department, assisted by Mr. Hickey; Dr. Davis, Assistant-Surgeon of the 39th Regiment, had the medical charge; a party of Royal Marines, a detachment of the 39th, and several of the 67th Regiment, constituted the defensive strength of the settlement. Several prisoners (here named volunteers) performed the necessary labour; there were also a Malay, named Da' Atea, and a little native girl. I was rather astonished to find,—after the dismal accounts I had heard,—all the Europeans, men, women, and children, in good health.

On the first day of my arrival, several of the natives were in the camp, who appeared to be on friendly terms with the settlers. On July 2d, Joseph Collins, and on July 3d, William Erasmus, two men belonging to the Amity, died from fever caught at Coupang. Joseph Collins was the last of seven men left at Coupang from a whaler (all the others, I was informed, having died there). They were buried with much decency, every one in the settlement attending. Miago, and several other natives, were also present, who paid minute attention to the solemn ceremony.

This native, Miago, who has an intelligent and shrewd, although savage-looking countenance, is well made, and in throwing the spear, which he does with great dexterity, his attitude is very graceful. As he is a great mimic, and makes himself quite at home, he has become rather a favourite in the camp. I presented him with some trifling article, which he seemed to prize, and gave him to understand that I wished to have some tortoiseshell in return for it, which he promised to bring me; and in a few days he fulfilled his agreement.

Dr. Davis was greatly astonished at this instance of honesty, as he had predicted that Miago, being paid beforehand, would never think of giving the required equivalent. Being, however, now convinced that a savage might have some notions of honesty, he gave Miago a canoe on the same terms, which were punctually fulfilled; although the Doctor considered that he had not got a sufficient quantity of tortoiseshell, which deficiency might have arisen from Miago not having yet acquired correct notions of barter.

Captain Barker and myself, from our ideas coinciding on several subjects, particularly relative to the Aborigines, soon became on very friendly terms. I learned from him that, shortly after his arrival, the natives, who, since an unfortunate affair at Bowen's Straits, had kept out of sight, again made their appearance in the vicinity of the settlement, when he used every endeavour to induce them to come into the camp, but without success, until a little child, belonging to one of the soldiers, went and led in the Chief, Wellington, by the hand. He was evidently under great alarm, looking back frequently, and addressing himself to Waterloo, his fidus Achates, who kept in his rear.

But, at length gathering confidence, and relying on the faith of the strangers, he ventured in, when he was treated with much kindness, and departed apparently highly pleased. On discovering the little native girl, both Wellington and Waterloo evinced great emotion, particularly the latter, who was, on that account, believed to be her father. Seeing her so well taken care of increased their confidence; she was then named Mary Waterloo Raffles,—but her native name was Riveral.

After this occurrence, the intercourse with the natives was renewed, and, as Captain Barker used every precaution to prevent their receiving injury or molestation from any individual in the camp, it continued unbroken, although a circumstance occurred, which was likely to cause some disturbance:—a Malay had come to the settlement, who pretended that he had been shipwrecked; he said that he had been speared by the natives, and that one of his companions was in the bush. On hearing this statement, Captain Barker detained one of the Aborigines, (several happening to be in the camp at the time,) and sent out the others in search of the supposed lost Malay. They returned unsuccessful, and seemed to remonstrate on the impropriety of keeping their companion a prisoner, protesting, at the same time, that they knew nothing of the man.

After some time had elapsed. Captain Barker began to suspect that Da' Atea (the Malay) was prevaricating; and so it turned out, as he proved to be a deserter from a Malay proa, in Trepang Bay, from which place he (having heard of a white settlement) had walked to Raffles' Bay, and encountered, on his journey, many dangers and privations. This detention of one of the Aborigines, however, did not cause any misunderstanding, as they seemed clearly to comprehend the import of it, by their anxiety to explain their ignorance of any stranger being in the bush.

Not long after this event. Captain Barker, to show his confidence, took a walk with them, without being armed, and unaccompanied by any person from the fort. The natives appeared highly pleased by such an unequivocal mark of confidence. He went with them nearly to Bowen's Straits, when, as far as he could understand, they begged him to return, which he accordingly did.

The natives now visited the camp, neither molested nor molesting; and everything went on smoothly, until one night, a native, named Luga, having, by swimming under water, escaped notice, had nearly succeeded in carrying off a canoe, when he was discovered and challenged by the sentry. Being so close that he could not escape, he surrendered, and was taken to the guardhouse, where he was confined during the night.

Next morning, he was taken to the beach, and the canoe was pointed out to him, and also to Monanoo, another native, who was present; and after explaining to them, as clearly as possible, the cause of punishment, Luga was tied up and received a quantum of corporal chastisement. During the infliction, he was constantly calling out "Iacama," (the native name of Waterloo,) who, it appeared, had encouraged him to attempt the theft, and who had escaped.

The Commandant, to mark the difference resulting from good and bad conduct, behaved very kindly to Monanoo, and made him a present of a hatchet. It was well that he acted so judiciously and prudently; for in the afternoon, a great number of natives were discovered advancing towards the settlement. They were soon joined by the two natives, (Luga, after having received his punishment, being set at liberty,) and it appeared that Monanoo had explained matters quite satisfactorily, as they all came into the camp in a fearless and friendly manner.

They were in number fifty, mostly athletic and active-looking men, headed by a fine venerable-looking old man, named Wooloogary, the Chief of Croker's Island, to whom they seemed to pay great attention. After remaining at the settlement about an hour, and partaking of some rice, Captain Barker made Wooloogary a present of a tomahawk, and all the natives departed, very quietly and peaceably, before the sun went down.

I think it is very probable, that this considerable assemblage of the natives was formed to give some weight to the request of having their countryman liberated. Perhaps it was their intention to act with hostility, if the request were not acceded to; however this may be, Luga having been set free, they made it appear that their visit was intended in good part, and so it was received.

Captain Barker had a great deal of difficulty to contend with, in his method of treating the natives; as no other individual in the settlement could be brought to consider these poor beings in any other light than wild beasts. Those who had to work in the bush, conscious, perhaps, of their own conduct, were occasionally under great alarm, not being entrusted with fire-arms. Several times they were frightened, but never received any injury,—the natives wishing to be on friendly terms.

It happened, one day, that Miago came suddenly on a sawyer, named Carr, who was employed in his vocation at some distance from the settlement. Although thunderstruck by the unexpected visit, Carr retained sufficient self-possession to request the native to assist him to move a large log. While Miago was stooping down to comply with his request, Carr took to his heels, and bellowed loudly for assistance, Miago running after him. The settlement was soon under arms; and, with the Commandant at their head, hastened to rescue the poor man from the clutches of these savages, who, it was now evident, were not to be trusted, as it was affirmed by a person who had fled, that they had carried Carr into the bush.

The party had not proceeded far, when they met a man running with all speed, who informed them that the natives had not taken Carr, but had run off with all his tools. Shortly afterwards, they met Carr running with all his force, nearly exhausted with fatigue and fear, and Miago close at his heels, who seemed quite unconscious that he was the cause of all the alarm; and it appeared quite satisfactory to the Commandant that there was no intention, on his part, to be otherwise than civil and obliging; that on his way to the settlement, which he frequently visited, he fell in with Carr, and was, by his own request, assisting him, when he so cowardly took flight.

This circumstance, trifling as it may appear, might have been attended with disagreeable consequences, if the Commandant had not proceeded personally. It may easily be imagined, that a party of men armed, on seeing a white man running, and apparently pursued by a black, would have fired without hesitation; more particularly, as they had hitherto been accustomed to do so without much ceremony.

A short time before I arrived, Captain Barker had paid a visit to the natives, placing himself under Wellington's care, who seemed not a little flattered by such a mark of distinction. Dr. Davis accompanied him a little way into the woods, and then endeavoured to persuade him to return, representing his expedition to be dangerous and foolhardy. He, however, was not deterred from his undertaking, but gave the Doctor permission to go back, if he felt at all uncomfortable: the Doctor took him at his word, and returned to the settlement, where every one lamented the rashness of the Commandant in trusting himself with such a set of savages; more especially as they knew that the said savages had ample cause for retaliation.

These unfavourable surmises were not realized, as Captain Barker was treated with the greatest attention and kindness. Wellington would neither accept of any present himself, nor would he permit any of his followers to do so, although, when in the camp, he was constantly begging for something. In the evening, they prepared a mess of fish, which they had speared, and were highly delighted to perceive Captain Barker partake of it. In travelling, whenever they came to a stream, or marsh, one of the natives, named Marambal, insisted on carrying him over.

During his expedition, he met Luga and his family; but although many miles from assistance, even this native received him kindly, neither appearing to remember, nor exhibiting any wish to resent, the punishment he had received;—being conscious, no doubt, that he had deserved it.

He did not see any of their women, who seem, even here, to have a will of their own; for although Wellington used his endeavours to introduce them, they would not listen to him, but kept constantly out of sight. In the evening, the Captain retired to rest, as the natives did, on the sand. Next day, he returned to the settlement in safety, to the great joy of all our people, who, thenceforth, began to consider the natives in a more favourable light than they had hitherto done.

Captain Barker informed me he had lent Wellington a canoe for a fortnight, and that no person in the settlement believed it would ever be returned. Dr. Davis, who still viewed the natives (and particularly Wellington), with a prejudiced eye, was quite confident that he would never again visit the settlement; or if he did so, that he would make some excuse for not returning the canoe.

I learned also, that a considerable number of Malay proas, chiefly from Macassar, had visited the settlement last season, and that while they remained, their crews had conducted themselves with much propriety. They were highly gratified by their reception, and much pleased with the prospect of being able to carry on their operations without fear of molestation from the natives, with whom they are always at variance, and whom they represented as very bad characters,—stating that they were in the habit of stealing their canoes, and spearing their men, whenever an opportunity offered.

They spoke well of the natives of the coast, on the gulf of Carpentaria, four of whom were accompanying them to Macassar.

While they lay in Raffles' Bay, two canoes were stolen from them, and they came ashore, in great wrath, to attack the natives, some of whom were in the settlement. This warfare, in a neutral port. Captain Barker would not permit; at the same time, he informed them, that if they could point out the depredators, he would give his assistance, not only to punish the guilty, but also to get the canoes returned; but that he would not allow the natives to be attacked indiscriminately. After a little demurring, they acquiesced in the justice of this decision, and returned on board.

As the four men from the Gulf of Carpentaria were, at the same time, missing, it was hinted that they had taken the canoes to convey them home. This, however, the Malays would not believe, but affirmed that the Raffles' Bay natives had also taken them away.

The Malays described an island in the Gulf of Carpentaria as abounding with sandal wood: this, if true, would render it of some importance, and Captain Barker intended to proceed thither with them next season, to ascertain the truth of the report. They inquired if they would be allowed to settle at Raffles' Bay; and were much pleased when informed that they would not only have such permission, but that their interests would be protected.

A considerable number of proas commonly proceed in company, under the command of the most experienced chief, whom they recognize as a leader only while it suits their convenience, as they disperse whenever they consider it more conducive to their advantage. When they are in the fleet, however, they all follow the motions of their leader. The proas are all armed, although indifferently: each proa is generally, but not always, provided with a compass. Even the most experienced of the Malays have no notion of a chart, nor are they expert sailors: indeed, there is not much occasion for this exercise of skill, as they only come and go with a fair wind.

On leaving Macassar, they steer so as to make the coast of New Holland about Port Essington, which is their place of general resort; they then pass to the eastward, by Raffles' Bay, through Bowen's Straits, and proceed, according to their own report, as far east as Cape York.

When the season draws near an end, they direct their course west, retracing their eastern route, and assemble in Port Essington, prior to their departure for Macassar.

They left the settlement, highly pleased with their reception,—promising to revisit it, in great numbers next year.

As the brig Amity was lying in port, awaiting to be relieved by the Mermaid, Captain Barker determined to proceed in her, to take a minute survey of Port Essington, as he thought it probable that he might receive orders to remove the settlement thither; and I very willingly accepted the invitation to accompany him.

On the 22d of June, when we were all ready for departure, a vessel was discovered in the offing, standing into the Bay, but it was evident she was not the daily-expected Mermaid. Dr. Davis being indisposed. Captain Barker requested me to board her. She proved to be the brig Resource, from Sydney to the Isle of France. Her object in touching here was to land the crew of the Mermaid, which vessel had been wrecked on the 13th of June, from what I could learn, on the outer barrier reef. The crew took to the whale-boat, and, after three days, were picked up by the schooner Admiral Gifford, and shortly afterwards sent on board the Swiftsure; which ship was, on July 5th, wrecked off Cape Sidmouth[1] and her crew were also on board the Resource.

The master of the late Mermaid accompanied me on shore, with the despatches, which he had saved; and which, he informed me, contained orders for the abandonment of the settlement. This intelligence caused universal regret. I do not suppose that six volunteers would have been found, if left to their choice, to proceed to Sydney.

However, although the orders created vexation and surprise; yet, on reflection, it was evident that something of the kind might have been expected, from the unfavourable reports that had been, in the first instance, transmitted to head-quarters respecting the settlement.

We also learned, that H. M. S. Satellite might be daily expected, on her way to India; and the colonial brig Governor Phillips, to assist in conveying the settlers to Sydney.

The ship Reliance was also about to leave Sydney, to proceed, through Torres' Straits, for India. As there were several newly-married people on board, it was hoped she would get safely through,—as a reef, or a crowded boat, would not be a very agreeable place to spend the honey-moon.

On the 24th of July, about midnight, my friend Mr. Radford died. He had been complaining ever since his arrival from Coupang, and had been confined to bed for the last fortnight, during which, he was sedulously attended by Dr. Davis. But the force of the disease,—acute hepatitis, supervening on the chronic form,—baffled his best-directed exertions.

It may easily be imagined that I felt, very severely, the loss of an individual whose friendship I had experienced under circumstances not easily to be forgotten. On Sunday, after divine service, he was consigned to the grave, with military honours, and with great respect; every man, woman, and child, in the settlement attending, as he was much beloved.

On Wednesday, the 29th of July, early in the morning. Dr. Davis and myself descried a sail in the offing; and, in a short time, two more were discovered. One of them appeared to be a man-of-war; the others we supposed to be the Government vessels. Governor Phillips and Lucy Anne; and we hastened back to the settlement to communicate the intelligence.

The man-of-war proved to be H. M. S. Satellite; but the merchant vessels were, the ship Reliance, and the brig Thompson, which had profited by the opportunity of proceeding through Torres' Straits, by the inner passage, under the guidance of Captain Laws, and had put in here for a supply of water.

  1. The Swiftsure was said to be the vessel in which Buonaparte escaped from Elba.