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The Sydney gazette and New South Wales advertiser/Volume 30/Australian sketches, no 1

AUSTRALIAN SKETCHES.


I. CIVILIZATION OF THE ABORIGINES.


The race of the Papuas is one which now possesses very inferior qualities. This is a fact which is universally admitted. The reasons also, which produce this inferiority, are sufficiently obvious, but may be here briefly mentioned as the source of subsequent deductions. Thus we find that the very singular and almost unparalleled soil, which they inhabit, is that which binds them to such a strong mental confinement. We may be allowed at present to defer a more particular explanation of the qualities of this soil; and we shall say only that this is a country to which the words of Scripture—"and the earth was without form and void"—may be applied. It is a soil over which the chariot of Ceres has not yet travelled. Here, were neither the Fatropha, nor Yams of South America, which could give to the inhabitants a sort of subsistence (the first requisite of every human improvement), nor the Vieugnas of the Andes, which they might tame and appropriate to their own use: in a word, all external excitements for human improvement are wanting here. As you penetrate into the interior, even the migratory bird becomes rarer and rarer: and there was required also for this people a sort of revelation and redemption; and these were given by the arrival of white civilized people. As the first and the chief object of the Government and the people was to relieve the mother country from the pressure of her criminals, and to convert them into useful subjects (one of the most philanthropical enactments of modern history), it follows that the civilization of the aborigines was only matter of secondary importance; but not altogether unimportant, as the school of Parramatta, and other similar attempts, sufficiently prove. But all these attempts thus tried, were only productive of, disappointment: that which was commenced with good hopes gave way to failure; and at length the general voice of the colony and Europe consigned this people to the condition of absolute incapacity. But this opinion rested upon foundations deficient in solidity. Mr. Balmain, who was among the first to examine a Papua skeleton, found that the skull differed very slightly from that of the African : and who, at this time of day, supposes the African to be wanting in mental capacity? All South America asserts the abilities of this people, who there exercise all sorts of human acquirements. Their forms and limbs are often of the finest models, so much so that in all the town of Bahia there are to be found only a few Fidalgo families whose blood has not been mingled with this race. The African, inhabiting a luxuriant and happy country, enjoying, for many ages, almost the extremes of history and civilization—the Papua broken down by the pressure of an extreme destitution, and scarcely ever touched by any civilizing power—this may be the only difference between those two human tribes. Let a hundred specimens of our boasted civilization (we speak of children) be placed amidst the penury of Australian bushes, and we shall see how they will exhibit their fancied capabilities: they will suffer and shrink, like their despised fellow-creatures. The only age in which any experiment upon the civilisation of individuals should be tried, is the age in which we ourselves begin to learn all our acquirements—period which intervenes between the child and young man—the age from seven to fourteen years. It is generally remarked in the Brazils, that well conditioned negroes of this age become in twelve or fifteen months altogether Ladinos.[1] This is also the period in which any experiment for civilization of our aborigines must be tried; and, when once we have only a small stock of such reclaimed and English-fashioned people, the further improvement of others would be comparatively easy, because the people thus improved understand as well, or better, than those from whom they have received this improvement, how to communicate their ideas to their brethren. And the resemblance in colour, and the many circumstances of connexion originating in their common parentage, would also make this learning far more productive. This is also the case in the Brazils, where the improvement of tho negro people becomes more, easy, because there existed between the so-fashioned and the new-comers this constant intercourse. But it will be objected, all this has been already tried, boys and girls have been taken under domestic care for many years, and have become sufficiently advanced in the course of time. But at the period when it was supposed that fruits were lo be gathered from this improvement even in the age of puberty, they left their abodes, and rushed again into the bushes, from which they had been originally reclaimed. Had you, my dearest readers, reflected, amongst many others, upon the establishment of the experienced Jesuits at the Paraguay,[2] you would know full well that the Abipones, and other wild American people, fled not from their superintendence; and this because that clever fraternity was well acquainted with the springs and movements of human nature. When such young boys and girls reach,a marriageable age, they must be married and placed in a domestic situation ; for, if not, the influence of sexual instinct becomes too strong, in a people so constituted, and who in reason and morals are altogether deficient. We are then of opinion, that an institution in which a school or church is connected with a domestic and rural establishment, is the only undertaking which can effect here the desired advantages. State reasons command it, but philanthropy also may support it. If the Catholic power which occupied South America made itself, in some respects, guilty of exterminating its aborigines by fire and sword, so a similar reproach might, perhaps, with equal justice, be cast hereafter upon other powers, inasmuch as they passively allowed to die away, and to become extinct, a poor and helpless race of people. Certainly the condition of the aborigines has ever been one of extreme misery; so much so, that it has occasioned in some travellers the idea that it would be a benefit to kill the children, when upon the shoulders of their mothers.[3] But, without doubt, the situation of the people who inhabited the sea-shores was considerably deteriorated by the arrival of civilized colonists. Removed from the waters which supplied them with food, the same population is now concentrated in a narrower compass, and where the wild animals have become more scarce. Indeed it must be sufficiently shocking to a man who has any knowledge of the extentsive trade carrisd on between colonists and the aborigines of other countries, to see how the Papuas, after a fraternization of forty years, visit only the streets of Sydney to obtain there the offals of our slaughter-houses.

Now we have arrived at the second part of our sketch, and we have to enquire what results may be expected of the mode by which this people is at present proposed to be civilized, by Missionaries? If Catholic Missionaries had been appointed to act in this case, we would merely observe that this would be out of their sphere, even regarding the verbal meaning of their institution, because Catholic Missionaries are sent out "contra hæriticos et schismaticos ;" and we beg to observe, that our Papuas deserve, by no means, to be put under this application. They are neither Heretics, nor even Atheists ; they arc merely in the simple state of irreligion. Hence, therefore, all the advantages from which the Missionary has in all times availed himself by extirpating prejudices (as we may call them), by ostentatiously overturning heretical temples and idols, cannot be obtained here: also, the political means in profiting by the jealousy of some kings or leaders against each other, are wanting here; and, therefore, all the advantages which have been so often deduced by baptizing one or another powerful king or queen, by which influence their subjects or partners had been inclined to the same step. What will then be the actions of the Missionaries? They may baptize one or another individual, he will rush again into the bushes, and the result of such ceremonies will be nothing. To whom will these gentlemen preach, when their flocks are not even sedentary in one place even for a single week? but wandering through bushes and waters to look out for their food. How will they supersede polygamy or polyandrism by the sacrament of marriage, when this people are living in a perfect state of nature, cohabiting together as time and circumstances may permit? The first object which is wanted with this people may be, therefore, not so much to catechize as to humanize them, and this will never succeed otherwise than by a domestic or rural establishment. A precious time of forty years has been already lost, when this people were us I numerous in the vicinity of the town, and in the most-peopled districts; in which places the strongest and most energetical influence could have been exercised upon them. Some coercive means had been then very useful for the colony,and even beneficial for them; but it is the fate of man to transgress from one extreme to another, from the tyrannical and cruel manner of the Spaniards, to a misunderstood and apathetical, but at the same time very commodious philanthropy. Some time ago, in a very respectable society, the question was raised whether the Courts have the power to punish black people in case of crime. These gentlemen may be pleased to understand, that all these people are subjects of the English Crown, or rather English citizens. And then, when the now famous Police of London find some neglected and foundling child, or other sort of vagabond upon the roads of England, will they not be entitled to collect such individuals for the purpose of placing them in some Orphan School or Hospital? I am sure that it would be possible with a £100 worth of tobacco, to buy a hundred of our black children (the sweet philanthropists of this agc may pardon me this horrible phrase), and with the allowed £500 these children may be very well educated in some rural establishment, as their work would very soon become of some importance, I am also sure that the fathers and mothers, (if such distinctions are to be found between these children of nature), starving with cold and hunger, will not have at any t¡me the slightest objection to see their children clothed and fed, and married, and living comfortably. On the contrary, I think that such a boarding-school would have very soon a great influx of scholars. It is said that this people like not to work; and it is true, that aged and inveterate idlers, of black extraction too, are not very easily to he brought to any labour and order; and it is the same case with the inhabitants of the Clyde and the Thames, as every assiduous and honest settler may have experienced very often. From the abovementioned boarding-school, our corrected servants, and ticket-of-leave men, and our little farmers, can be supplied with women ; because how many years may it be before our deficiency of this sex can be supplied with the free girls of the three United Kingdoms? And it is very seldom that such a lady will condescend to cohabit with some embryo farmer, or honest and converted convict servant, who, in a series of years, has bestowed upon his master assiduous and useful services. The eternal celibacy to which even such converted and honest convicts are doomed, may be, perhaps, the most heavy part of their punishment; as it is at the same lime a great damage to the colony in respect of the population, and the many and many crimes and scandals which are therefrom deduced. And here I must touch also on the blasphemy of some, perhaps very christian, but, as it seems, not much history-versed people, who have dogmatically and without reserve, pronounced this sentence upon our blacks, stigmatizing them with incapacity and inferiority in the scale of human beings ; but, I dare to say, that these Papuas will have, perhaps, as good Franklins and Washingtons, Byrons and Shakespeares, as the cannibals and wild fellows which the Romans called once Picts. And then the Missionary will go to Wellington Valley, work too in the accustomed manner of other people of his profession with our Aborigines, and we shall see the result in a few years—

Dixi et animam salvavi.

  1. Ladinos is the term applied in the Brazils to a Negro who has learned a trade, and become acquainted with the Portuguese languange. No classical word has eyer experienced so rare an application!
  2. Dobrizhoffer historia do Abiponibus,
  3. Collin's Travels.