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An Account of the English Colony in New South Wales, Vol. 1 by David Collins

Part 13 out of 14

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We have mentioned their being divided into families. Each family has a
particular place of residence, from which is derived its distinguishing
name. This is formed by adding the monosyllable Gal to the name of the
place: thus the southern shore of Botany Bay is called Gwea, and the
people who inhabit it style themselves Gweagal. Those who live on the
north shore of Port Jackson are called Cam-mer-ray-gal, that part of the
harbour being distinguished from others by the name of Cam-mer-ray. Of
this last family or tribe we have heard Bennillong and other natives
speak (before we knew them ourselves) as of a very powerful people, who
could oblige them to attend wherever and whenever they directed. We
afterwards found them to be by far the most numerous tribe of any within
our knowledge. It so happened, that they were also the most robust and
muscular, and that among them were several of the people styled
Car-rah-dy and Car-rah-di-gang, of which extraordinary personages we
shall have to speak particularly, under the article _Superstition_.

To the tribe of Cam-mer-ray also belonged the exclusive and extraordinary
privilege of exacting a tooth from the natives of other tribes inhabiting
the sea-coast, or of all such as were within their authority. The
exercise of this privilege places these people in a particular point of
view; and there is no doubt of their decided superiority over all the
tribes with whom we were acquainted. Many contests or decisions of honour
(for such there are among them) have been delayed until the arrival of
these people; and when they came, it was impossible not to observe the
superiority and influence which their numbers and their muscular
appearance gave them over the other tribes.

These are all the traces that could ever be discovered among them of
government or subordination; and we may imagine the deference which is
paid to the tribe of Cam-mer-ray to be derived wholly from their
superiority of numbers; but this superiority they may have maintained for
a length of time before we knew them; and indeed the privilege of
demanding a tooth from the young men of other families must have been of
long standing, and coeval with the obedience which was paid to them:
hence their superiority partakes something of the nature of a constituted
authority; an authority which has the sanction of custom to plead for its


It has been asserted by an eminent divine*, that no country has yet been
discovered where some trace of religion was not to be found. From every
observation and inquiry I could make among these people, from the first
to the last of my acquaintance with them, I can safely pronounce them an
exception to this opinion. I am certain that they do not worship either
sun, moon, or star; that, however necessary fire may be to them, it is
not an object of adoration; neither have they respect for any particular
beast, bird, or fish. I never could discover any object, either
substantial or imaginary, that impelled them to the commissioin of good
actions, or deterred them from the perpetration of what we deem crimes.
There indeed existed among them some idea of a future state, but not
connected in any wise with religion; for it had no influence whatever on
their lives and actions. On their being often questioned as to what
became of them after their decease, some answered that they went either
on or beyond the great water; but by far the greater number signified,
that they went to the clouds. Conversing with Bennillong after his return
from England, where he had obtained much knowledge of our customs and
manners, I wished to learn what were his ideas of the place from which
his countrymen came, and led him to the subject by observing, that all
the white men here came from England. I then asked him where the black
men (or Eora) came from? He hesitated; did they come from any island? His
answer was, that he knew of none: they came from the clouds (alluding
perhaps to the aborigines of the country); and when they died, they
returned to the clouds (Boo-row-e). He wished to make me understand that
they ascended in the shape of little children, first hovering in the tops
and in the branches of trees; and mentioned something about their eating,
in that state, their favourite food, little fishes.

[* Blair's Sermons, vol i Sermon I]

If this idea of the immortality of the soul should excite a smile, is it
more extraordinary than the belief which obtains among some of us, that
at the last day the various disjointed bones of men shall find out each
its proper owner, and be re-united? The savage here treads close upon the
footsteps of the Christian.

The natives who inhabit the harbour to the northward, called by us Port
Stephens, believed that five white men who were cast away among them (as
has been before shown) had formerly been their countrymen, and took one
of them to the grave where, he told him, the body he at that time
occupied had been interred. If this account, given us by men who may well
be supposed to deal in the marvellous, can be depended upon, how much
more ignorant are the natives of Port Stephens, who live only thirty
leagues to the northward of us, than the natives of and about Port

The young people who resided in our houses were very desirous of going to
church on Sundays, but knew not for what purpose we attended. I have
often seen them take a book, and with much success imitate the clergyman
in his manner (for better and readier mimics can no where be found),
laughing and enjoying the applause which they received.

I remember to have seen in a newspaper or pamphlet an account of a native
throwing himself in the way of a man who was about to shoot a crow; and
the person who wrote the account drew an inference, that the bird was an
object of worship: but I can with confidence affirm, that so far from
dreading to see a crow killed, they are very fond of eating it, and take
the following particular method to ensnare that bird: a native will
stretch himself on a rock as if asleep in the sun, holding a piece of
fish in his open hand; the bird, be it hawk or crow, seeing the prey, and
not observing any motion in the native, pounces on the fish, and, in the
instant of seizing it, is caught by the native, who soon throws him on
the fire and makes a meal of him.

That they have ideas of a distinction between _good_ and _bad_ is evident
from their having terms in their language significant of these qualities.
Thus, the sting-ray was (wee-re) bad; it was a fish of which they never
ate. The patta-go-rang or kangaroo was (bood-yer-re) good, and they ate
it whenever they were fortunate enough to kill one of these animals.

To exalt these people at all above the brute creation, it is necessary to
show that they had the gift of reason, and that they knew the distinction
between _right_ and _wrong_, as well as between what food was good and
what was bad. Of these latter qualities their senses informed them; but
the knowledge of right and wrong could only proceed from reason. It is
true, they had no distinction in terms for these qualities--wee-re and
bood-yer-re alike implying what was good and bad, and right and wrong.
Instances however were not wanting of their using them to describe the
sensations of the mind as well as of the senses; thus their enemies were
wee-re; their friends bood-yer-re. On our speaking of cannibalism, they
expressed great horror at the mention, and said it was wee-re. On seeing
any of our people punished or reproved for ill-treating them, they
expressed their approbation, and said it was bood-yer-re, it was right.
Midnight murders, though frequently practised among them whenever passion
or revenge were uppermost, they reprobated; but applauded acts of
kindness and generosity, for of both these they were capable. A man who
would not stand to have a spear thrown at him, but ran away, was a
coward,jee-run, and wee-re. But their knowledge of the difference between
right and wrong certainly never extended beyond their existence in this
world; not leading them to believe that the practice of either had any
relation to their future state; this was manifest from their idea of
quitting this world, or rather of entering the next, in the form of
little children, under which form they would re-appear in this.


We observed but few men or women among them who could be said to be tall,
and still fewer who were well made. I once saw a dwarf, a female, who,
when she stood upright, measured about four feet two inches. None of her
limbs were disproportioned, nor were the features of her face unpleasant;
she had a child at her back, and we were told came from the south shore
of Botany Bay. I thought the other natives seemed to make her an object
of their merriment. In general, indeed almost universally, the limbs of
these people were small; of most of them the arms, legs, and thighs were
thin. This, no doubt, is owing to the poorness of their living, which is
chiefly on fish; otherwise the fineness of the climate, co-operating with
the exercise which they take, might have rendered them more muscular.
Those who live on the sea-coast depend entirely on fish for their
sustenance; while the few who dwell in the woods subsist on such animals
as they can catch. The very great labour necessary for taking these
animals, and the scantiness of the supply, keep the wood natives in as
poor a condition as their brethren on the coast. It has been remarked,
that the natives who have been met with in the woods had longer arms and
legs than those who lived about us. This might proceed from their being
compelled to climb the trees after honey and the small animals which
resort to them, such as the flying squirrel and opossum, which they
effect by cutting with their stone hatchets notches in the bark of the
tree of a sufficient depth and size to receive the ball of the great toe.
The first notch being cut, the toe is placed in it; and while the left
arm embraces the tree, a second is cut at a convenient distance to
receive the other foot. By this method they ascend very quick, always
cutting with the right hand and clinging with the left, resting the whole
weight of the body on the ball of either foot.

In an excursion to the westward with a party, we passed a tree (of the
kind named by us the white gum, the bark of which is soft) that we judged
to be about one hundred and thirty feet in height, and which had been
notched by the natives at least eighty feet, before they attained the
first branch where it was likely they could meet with any reward for so
much toil.

The features of many of these people were far from unpleasing,
particularly of the women: in general, the black bushy beards of the men,
and the bone or reed which they thrust through the cartilage of the nose,
tended to give them a disgusting appearance; but in the women, that
feminine delicacy which is to be found among white people was to be
traced even upon their sable cheeks; and though entire strangers to the
comforts and conveniencies of clothing, yet they sought with a native
modesty to conceal by attitude what the want of covering would otherwise
have revealed. They have often brought to my recollection, "The bending
statue which enchants the world," though it must be owned that the
resemblance consisted solely in the position.

Both women and men use the disgusting practice of rubbing fish-oil into
their skins; but they are compelled to this as a guard against the
effects of the air and of mosquitoes, and flies; some of which are large,
and bite or sting with much severity. But the oil, together with the
perspiration from their bodies, produces, in hot weather, a most horrible
stench. I have seen some with the entrails of fish frying in the burning
sun upon their heads, until the oil ran down over their foreheads. A
remarkable instance once came under my observation of the early use which
they make of this curious unguent. Happening to be at Camp Cove at a
time when these people were much pressed with hunger, we found in a
miserable hut a poor wretched half-starved native and two children. The
man was nearly reduced to a skeleton, but the children were in better
condition. We gave them some salted beef and pork, and some bread, but
this they would not touch. The eldest of the children was a female; and a
piece of fat meat being given to her, she, instead of eating it instantly
as we expected, squeezed it between her fingers until she had nearly
pressed all the fat to a liquid; with this she oiled over her face two or
three times, and then gave it to the other, a boy about two years of age,
to do the like. Our wonder was naturally excited at seeing such knowledge
in children so young. To their hair, by means of the yellow gum, they
fasten the front teeth of the kangaroo, and the jaw-bones of large fish,
human teeth, pieces of wood, feathers of birds, the tail of the dog, and
certain bones taken out of the head of a fish, not unlike human teeth.
The natives who inhabit the south shore of Botany Bay divide the hair
into small parcels, each of which they mat together with gum, and form
them into lengths like the thrums of a mop. On particular occasions they
ornament themselves with red and white clay, using the former when
preparing to fight, the latter for the more peaceful amusement of
dancing. The fashion of these ornaments was left to each person's taste;
and some, when decorated in their best manner, looked perfectly horrible.
Nothing could appear more terrible than a black and dismal face, with a
large white circle drawn round each eye. In general waved lines were
marked down each arm, thigh, and leg; and in some the cheeks were daubed;
and lines drawn over each rib, presented to the beholder a truly
spectre-like figure. Previous either to a dance or a combat, we always
found them busily employed in this necessary preliminary; and it must be
observed, that when other liquid could not be readily procured, they
moistened the clay with their own saliva. Both sexes are ornamented with
scars upon the breast, arms, and back, which are cut with broken pieces
of the shell they use at the end of the throwing stick. By keeping open
these incisions, the flesh grows up between the sides of the wound, and
after a time, skinning over, forms a large wale or seam. I have seen
instances where these scars have been cut to resemble the feet of
animals; and such boys as underwent the operation while they lived with
us, appeared to be proud of the ornament, and to despise the pain which
they must have endured. The operation is performed when they are young,
and until they advance in years the scars look large and full; but on
some of their old men I have been scarcely able to discern them. As a
principal ornament, the men, on particular occasions, thrust a bone or
reed through the _septum nasi_, the hole through which is bored when they
are young. Some boys who went away from us for a few days, returned
dignified with this strange ornament, having, in the mean time, had the
operation performed upon them; they appeared to be from twelve to fifteen
years of age. The bone that they wear is the small bone in the leg of the
kangaroo, one end of which is sharpened to a point. I have seen several
women who had their noses perforated in this extraordinary manner.

The women are, besides, early subjected to an uncommon mutilation of the
two first joints of the little finger of the left hand. The operation is
performed when they are very young, and is done with a hair, or some
other slight ligature. This being tied round at the joint, the flesh soon
swells, and in a few days, the circulation being destroyed, the finger
mortifies and drops off. I never saw but one instance where the finger
was taken off from the right hand, and that was occasioned by the mistake
of the mother. Before we knew them, we took it to be their marriage
ceremony; but on seeing their mutilated children we were convinced of our
mistake; and at last learned, that these joints of the little finger were
supposed to be in the way when they wound their fishing lines over the
hand. On our expressing a disgust of the appearance, they always
applauded it, and said it was very good. They name it Mal-gun; and among
the many women whom I saw, but very few had this finger perfect. On my
pointing these out to those who were so distinguished, they appeared to
look at and speak of them with some degree of contempt.

The men too were not without their mutilation. Most of those who lived on
the sea-coast we found to want the right front tooth; some, whom we met
in the interior part of the country, had not been subjected to the
authority of the tribe of Cam-mer-ray-gal; but a particular account of
the ceremonies used on this occasion will be given under the article
_Customs and Manners_.

I noticed but few deformities of person among them; once or twice I have
seen on the sand the print of inverted feet. Round shoulders or
humpbacked people I never saw. Some who were lame, and assisted
themselves with sticks, have been met with; but their lameness might
proceed from spear wounds, or by accident from fire; for never were women
so inattentive to their young as these. We often heard of children being
injured by fire, while the mother lay fast asleep beside them, these
people being extremely difficult to awaken when once asleep. A very fine
little girl, belonging to a man well known and much beloved among us, of
the name of Cole-be, had two of its toes burnt Off, and the sinews of the
leg contracted in one night, by rolling into a fire out of its mother's
arms, while they both lay asleep.

Their sight is peculiarly fine, indeed their existence very often depends
upon the accuracy of it; for a short-sighted man (a misfortune unknown to
them, and not yet introduced by fashion, nor relieved by the use of a
glass) would never be able to defend himself from their spears, which are
thrown with amazing force and velocity. I have noticed two or three men
with specks on one eye, and once at Broken Bay saw in a canoe an old man
who was perfectly blind. He was accompanied by a youth who paddled his
canoe, and who, to my great surprise, sat behind him in it. This may,
however, be in conformity to the idea of respect which is always paid to
old age.

The colour of these people is not uniform. We have seen some who, even
when cleansed from the smoke and filth which were always to be found on
their persons, were nearly as black as the African negro; while others
have exhibited only a copper or Malay colour. The natural covering of
their heads is not wool as in most other black people, but hair; this
particular may be remembered in the two natives who were in this country,
Bennillong and Yem-mer-ra-wan-nie. The former, on his return, by having
some attention paid to his dress while in London, was found to have very
long black hair. Black indeed was the general colour of the hair, though
I have seen some of a reddish cast; but being unaccompanied by any
perceptible difference of complexion, it was perhaps more the effect of
some outward cause than its natural appearance.

Their noses are flat, nostrils wide, eyes much sunk in the head, and
covered with thick eyebrows; in addition to which, they wear tied round
the head, a net the breadth of the forehead, made of the fur of the
opussum, which, when wishing to see very clearly, I have observed them
draw over the eyebrows, thereby contracting the light. Their lips are
thick, and the mouth extravagantly wide; but when opened discovering two
rows of white, even, and sound teeth. Many had very prominent jaws; and
there was one man who, but for the gift of speech, might very well have
passed for an orangoutang. He was remarkably hairy; his arms appeared of
an uncommon length; in his gait he was not perfectly upright; and in his
whole manner seemed to have more of the brute and less of the human
species about him than any of his countrymen. Those who have been in that
country will, from this outline of him, recollect old We-rahng.


Their habitations are as rude as imagination can conceive. The hut of the
woodman is made of the bark of a single tree, bent in the middle, and
placed on its two ends on the ground, affording shelter to only one
miserable tenant. These they never carry about with them; for where we
found the hut, we constantly found the tree from which it had been taken
withered and dead. On the sea-coast the huts were larger, formed of
pieces of bark from several trees put together in the form of an oven with
an entrance, and large enough to hold six or eight people. Their fire was
always at the mouth of the hut, rather within than without; and the
interior was in general the nastiest smoke-dried place that could be
conceived. Their unserviceable canoes were commonly broken up and applied
to this use. Beside these bark huts, they made use of excavations in the
rock; and as the situations of these were various, they could always
choose them out of the reach of wind and rain. At the mouths of these
excavations we noticed a luxuriancy of soil; and on turning up the
ground, found it rich with shells and other manure. These proved a
valuable resource to us, and many loads of shells were burnt into lime,
while the other parts were wheeled into our gardens.

When in the woods I seldom met with a hut, but at the mouth of it was
found an ant's nest, the dwelling of a tribe of insects about an inch in
length, armed with a pair of forceps and a sting, which they applied, as
many found to their cost, with a severity equal to a wound made by a
knife. We conjectured, that these vermin had been drawn together by the
bones and fragments of a venison feast, which had been left by the

In their huts and in their caves they lie down indiscriminately mixed,
men, women, and children together; and appear to possess under them much
the same enjoyment as may be supposed to be found by the brute beast in
his den, shelter from the weather, and, if not disturbed by external
enemies, the comfort of sleep.

The extreme soundness with which they sleep invites jealousy, or revenge
for other wrongs, to arm the hand of the assassin. Several instances of
this kind occurred during our acquaintance with them, one of which was
too remarkable to pass unnoticed: Yel-lo-way, a native, who seemed
endowed with more urbanity than the rest of our friends, having possessed
himself (though not, as I could learn, by unfair means) of Noo-roo-ing
the wife of Wat-te-wal, another native well known among us, was one night
murdered in his sleep by this man, who could not brook the decided
preference given by Noo-roo-ing to his rival. This murder he several
months after repaid in his own person, his life being taken by Cole-be,
one of Yel-lo-way's friends, who stole upon him in the night, and put him
to death while asleep. It was remarkable, that Cole-be found an infant
lying in his arms, whom he first removed, before he drove the fatal spear
into the father; he afterwards brought the child with him into the town.
Yel-lo-way was so much esteemed among us, that no one was sorry he had
been so revenged.

Being themselves sensible of the danger they ran in the night, they
eagerly besought us to give them puppies of our spaniel and terrier
breeds; which we did; and not a family was without one or more of these
little watch-dogs, which they considered as invaluable guardians during
the night; and were pleased when they found them readily devour the only
regular food they had to give them, fish.


The natives on the sea-coast are those with whom we happened to be the
most acquainted. Fish is their chief support. Men, women, and children
are employed in procuring them; but the means used are different
according to the sex; the males always killing them with the fiz-gig,
while the females use the hook and line. The fiz-gig is made of the
wattle; has a joint in it, fastened by gum; is from fifteen to twenty
feet in length, and armed with four barbed prongs; the barb being a piece
of bone secured by gum. To each of these prongs they give a particular
name; but I never could discover any sensible reason for the distinction.

The lines used by the women are made by themselves of the bark of a small
tree which they find in the neighbourhood. Their hooks are made of the
mother-of-pearl oyster, which they rub on a stone until it assumes the
shape they want. It must be remarked, that these hooks are not barbed;
they nevertheless catch fish with them with great facility.

While fishing, the women generally sing; and I have often seen them in
their canoes chewing muscles or cockles, or boiled fish, which they spit
into the water as a bait. In these canoes, they always carry a small fire
laid upon sea-weed or sand; wherewith, when desirous of eating, they find
a ready material for dressing their meal. This fire accounted for an
appearance which we noticed in many of the women about the small of the
back. We at first thought it must have been the effect of stripes; but
the situation of them was questionable, and led us to make inquiry, when
we found it to be the effect of the fires in the canoes.

In addition to fish, they indulge themselves with a delicacy which I have
seen them eager to procure. In the body of the dwarf gum tree are several
large worms and grubs, which they speedily divest of antennae, legs, etc.
and, to our wonder and disgust, devour. A servant of mine, an European,
has often joined them in eating this luxury; and has assured me, that it
was sweeter than any marrow he had ever tasted; and the natives
themselves appeared to find a peculiar relish in it.

The woods, exclusive of the animals which they occasionally find in their
neighbourhood, afford them but little sustenance; a few berries, the yam
and fern-root, the flowers of the different banksia, and at times some
honey, make up the whole vegetable catalogue.

The natives who live in the woods and on the margins of rivers are
compelled to seek a different subsistence, and are driven to a harder
exercise of their abilities to procure it. This is evinced in the hazard
and toll with which they ascend the tallest trees after the opossum and
flying squirrel. At the foot of Richmond Hill, I once found several
places constructed expressly for the purpose of ensnaring animals or
birds. These were wide enough at the entrance to admit a person without
much difficulty; but tapering away gradually from the entrance to the
end, and terminating in a small wickered grate. It was between forty and
fifty feet in length; on each side the earth was thrown up; and the whole
was constructed of weeds, rushes, and brambles: but so well secured, that
an animal once within it could not possibly liberate itself. We supposed
that the prey, be it beast or bird, was hunted and driven into this toil;
and concluded, from finding one of them destroyed by fire, that they
force it to the grated end, where it is soon killed by their spears. In
one I saw a common rat, and in another the feathers of a quail.

By the sides of lagoons I have met with holes which, on examining, were
found excavated for some space, and their mouths so covered over with
grass, that a bird or beast stepping on it would inevitably fall in, and
from its depth be unable to escape.

In an excursion to the Hawkesbury, we fell in with a native and his child
on the banks of one of the creeks of that noble river. We had Cole-be
with us, who endeavoured, but in vain, to bring him to a conference; he
launched his canoe, and got away as expeditiously as he could, leaving
behind him a specimen of his food and the delicacy of his stomach; a
piece of water-soaked wood (part of the branch of a tree) full of holes,
the lodgment of a large worm, named by them cah-bro, and which they
extract and eat; but nothing could be more offensive than the smell of
both the worm and its habitation. There is a tribe of natives dwelling
inland, who, from the circumstance of their eating these loathsome worms,
are named Cah-bro-gal.

They resort at a certain season of the year (the month of April) to the
lagoons, where they subsist on eels which they procure by laying hollow
pieces of timber into the water, into which the eels creep, and are
easily taken.

These wood natives also make a paste formed of the fern-root and the
large and small ant bruised together; in the season they also add the
eggs of this insect.


How will the refined ear of gallantry be wounded at reading an account of
the courtship of these people! I have said that there was a delicacy
visible in the manners of the females. Is it not shocking then to think
that the prelude to love in this country should be violence? Yet such it
is, and of the most brutal nature of these unfortunate victims of lust
and cruelty (I can call them by no better name) are, I believe,
always selected from the women of a tribe different from that of the
males (for they ought not to be dignified with the title of men) and with
whom they are at enmity. Secrecy is necessarily observed, and the poor
wretch is stolen upon in the absence of her protectors; being first
stupified with blows, inflicted with clubs or wooden swords, on the head,
back, and shoulders, every one of which is followed by a stream of blood,
she is dragged through the woods by one arm, with a perseverance and
violence that one might suppose would displace it from its socket; the
lover, or rather the ravisher, is regardless of the stones or broken
pieces of trees which may lie in his route, being anxious only to convey
his prize in safety to his own party, where a scene ensues too shocking
to relate. This outrage is not resented by the relations of the female,
who only retaliate by a similar outrage when they find it in their power.
This is so constantly the practice among them, that even the children
make it a game or exercise; and I have often, on hearing the cries of the
girls with whom they were playing, ran out of my house, thinking some
murder was committed, but have found the whole party laughing at my

The women thus ravished become their wives, are incorporated into the
tribe to which the husband belongs, and but seldom quit him for another.

Many of the men with whom we were acquainted did not confine themselves
to one woman. Bennillong, previous to his visit to England, was possessed
of two wives (if wives they may be called), both living with him and
attending on him wherever he went. One named Ba-rang-a-roo, who was of
the tribe of Cam-mer-ray (Bennillong himself was a Wahn-gal), lived with
him at the time he was seized and brought a captive to the settlemerit
with Cole-be; and before her death he had brought off from Botany Bay, by
the violence before described, Go-roo-bar-roo-bool-lo, the daughter of an
old man named Met-ty, a native of that district; and she continued with
him until his departure for England. We were told, on the banks of the
Hawkesbury, that all the men there, and inland, had two wives. Cole-be,
Bennillong's friend, had two female companions; and we found, indeed,
more instances of plurality of wives than of monogamy. I do not recollect
ever noticing children by both; and observed, that in general, as might
be expected, the two women were always jealous of and quarrelling with
each other. I have heard them say, that the first wife claimed a priority
of attachment and exclusive right to the conjugal embrace; while the
second or latter choice was compelled to be the slave and drudge of both.

Chastity was a virtue in which they certainly did not pride themselves;
at least, we knew women who, for a loaf of bread, a blanket, or a shirt,
gave up any claim to it, when either was offered by a white man; and many
white men were found who held out the temptation. Several girls, who were
protected in the settlement, had not any objection to passing the night
on board of ships, though some had learned shame enough (for shame was
not naturally inherent in them) to conceal, on their landing, the spoils
they had procured during their stay. They had also discovered that we
thought it shameful to be seen naked; and I have observed many of them
extremely reserved and delicate in this respect when before us; but when
in the presence of only their own people, perfectly indifferent about
their appearance.


During the time of parturition these people suffer none but females to be
present. War-re-weer, Bennillong's sister, being taken in labour in the
town, an opportunity offered of observing them in that critical juncture,
of which some of our women, who were favourites with the girl, were
desired to avail themselves; and from them we learned, that during her
labour one female, Boo-roong, was employed in pouring cold water from
time to time on the abdomen, while another, tying one end of a small line
round War-re-weer's neck, with the other end rubbed her own lips until
they bled. She derived no actual assistance from those who were about
her, the child coming into the world by the sole efforts of nature;
neither did any one receive it from her; but, having let it drop, one of
our women divided the umbilical cord; after which, she retired to a small
hole which had been prepared for her, over which she sat until the
after-birth took place. The person who cut the navel-string washed the
child, which she readily permitted, though Boo-roong and the other
natives objected to it. She appeared much exhausted, and, being faint,
fell across a fire that was in the place, but without receiving any

I saw Bennillong's wife a few hours after she had been delivered of a
child. To my great surprise she was walking about alone, and picking up
sticks to mend her fire. The infant, whose skin appeared to have a
reddish cast, was lying in a piece of soft bark on the ground, the
umbilical cord depending about three inches from the navel. I remained
with her for some time, during which she was endeavouring to get it off,
to effect which she made use of the small bone of the leg of the
kangaroo, round the point of which Bennillong had rolled some punk, so
that it looked not unlike the button of a foil. She held it every now and
then to the fire, then applied and pressed it to the navel until it
cooled. This was persevered in, till the mother thought the cord
sufficiently deadened, and then with a shell she separated it.*

[* I here find in my papers a note, that for some offence Bennillong had
severely beaten this woman in the morning, a short time before she was

The infant thus produced is by the mother carried about for some days on
a piece of soft bark; and, as soon as it acquires strength enough, is
removed to her shoulders, where it sits with its little legs across her
neck; and, taught by necessity, soon catches hold of her hair to preserve
itself from falling.

The reddish cast of the skin soon gives place to the natural hue, a
change that is much assisted by the smoke and dirt in which, from the
moment of their existence, these children are nurtured. The parents begin
early to decorate them after the custom of the country. As soon as the
hair of the head can be taken hold of, fish-bones and the teeth of
animals are fastened to it with gum. White clay ornaments their little
limbs; and the females suffer the extraordinary amputation which they
term mal-gun before they have quitted their seat on their mother's

In about a month or six weeks the child receives its name. This is
generally taken from some of the objects constantly before their eyes,
such as a bird, a beast, or a fish, and is given without any ceremony.
Thus Bennillong's child Dilboong was so named after a small bird, which
we often heard in low wet grounds and in copses. An elderly woman who
occasionally visited us was named Mau-ber-ry, the term by which they
distinguish the gurnet from other fish. Bennillong told me, his name was
that of a large fish, but one that I never saw taken. Bal-loo-der-ry
signified the fish named by us the leathern-jacket; and there were two
girls in the town named Pat-ye-ga-rang, a corruption of Pat-ta-go-rang,
the name of the large grey kangaroo. Other instances might be adduced;
but these are sufficient to show the prevalence of the custom.

At an early age the females wear round the waist a small line made of the
twisted hair of the opossum, from the centre of which depend a few small
uneven lines from two to five inches long, made of the same materials.
This they term bar-rin, and wear it until they are grown into women and
are attached to men.

The union of the sexes takes place at an earlier period than is usual in
colder regions. We have known several instances of very young girls
having been much and shamefully abused by the males.

From their earliest infancy the boys are accustomed to throwing the
spear, and to the habit of defending themselves from it. They begin by
throwing reeds at each other, and are soon very expert. They also, from
the time when they can run, until prompted by manhood to realize their
sports, amuse themselves with stealing the females, and treat them at
this time very little worse than they do then.

Among their juvenile exercises I observed that of throwing up a ball, and
passing it from one to another. They also provide themselves with small
sticks, and range themselves in a row, when the one at the upper end
rolls a ball or any other round substance along the front of his
companions, every one of whom endeavours to strike it as it passes. This
is a favourite exercise with them, and of course they excel at it.

Between the ages of eight and sixteen, the males and females undergo the
operation which they term Gnah-noong, viz that of having the _septum nasi_
bored, to receive a bone or reed, which among them is deemed a great
ornament, though I have seen many whose articulation was thereby
rendered very imperfect. Between the same years also the males receive
the qualifications which are given to them by losing one of the front
teeth. This ceremony occurred twice during my residence in New South
Wales; and in the second operation I was fortunate enough to attend them
during the whole of the time, attended by a person well qualified to make
drawings of every particular circumstance that occurred. A remarkable
coincidence of time was noticed as to the season in which it took place.
It was first performed in the beginning of the month of February 1791;
and exactly at the same period in the year 1795 the second operation
occurred. As they have not any idea of numbers beyond three, and of
course have no regular computation of time, this can only be ascribed to
chance, particularly as the season could not have much share in their
choice, February being one of the hot months.

On the 25th of January 1795 we found that the natives were assembling in
numbers for the purpose of performing this ceremony. Several youths well
known among us, never having submitted to the operation, were now to be
made men. Pe-mul-wy, a wood native, and many strangers, came in; but the
principals in the operation not being arrived from Cam-mer-ray, the
intermediate nights were to be passed in dancing. Among them we observed
one man painted white to the middle, his beard and eye-brows excepted,
and all together a frightful object. Others were distinguished by large
white circles round the eyes, which rendered them as terrific as can well
be imagined. It was not until the 2nd of February that the party was
complete. In the evening of that day the people from Cam-mer-ray arrived,
among whom were those who were to perform the operation, all of whom
appeared to have been impatiently expected by the other natives. They
were painted after the manner of the country, were mostly provided with
shields, and all armed with clubs, spears, and throwing sticks. The place
selected for this extraordinary exhibition was at the head of Farm Cove,
where a space had been for some days prepared by clearing it of grass,
stumps, etc.; it was of an oval figure, the dimensions of it 27 feet by
18, and was named Yoo-lahng.

When we arrived at the spot, we found the party from the north shore
armed, and standing at one end of it; at the other we saw a party
consisting of the boys who were to be given up for the purpose of losing
each a tooth, and their several friends who accompanied them.

They then began the ceremony. The armed party advanced from their end of
the Yoo-lahng with a song or rather a shout peculiar to this occasion,
clattering their shields and spears, and raising a dust with their feet
that nearly obscured the objects around them. On reaching the farther end
of the Yoo-lahng, where the children were placed, one of the party
stepped from the crowd, and seizing his victim returned with him to his
party, who received him with a shout louder than usual, placing him in
the midst, where he seemed defended by a grove of spears from any
attempts that his friends might make to rescue him. In this manner the
whole were taken out, to the number of fifteen; among them appeared
Ca-ru-ey, a youth of about sixteen or seventeen years of age, and a young
man, a stranger to us, of about twenty-three.

The number being collected that were to undergo the operation, they were
seated at the upper end of the Yoo-lahng, each holding down the head; his
hands clasped, and his legs crossed under him. In this position, awkward
and painful as it must have been, we understood they were to remain all
night; and, in short, that until the ceremony was concluded, they were
neither to look up nor take any refreshment whatsoever.

The carrahdis now began some of their mystical rites. One of them
suddenly fell upon the ground, and throwing himself into a variety of
attitudes, accompanied with every gesticulation that could be extorted by
pain, appeared to be at length delivered of a bone, which was to be used
in the ensuing ceremony. He was during this apparently painful process
encircled by a crowd of natives, who danced around him, singing
vociferously, while one or more beat him on the back until the bone was
produced, and he was thereby freed from his pain.

He had no sooner risen from the ground exhausted, drooping, and bathed in
sweat, than another threw himself down with similar gesticulations, who
went through the same ceremonies, and ended also with the production of a
bone, with which he had taken care to provide himself, and to conceal it
in a girdle which he wore.

We were told, that by these mummeries (for they were in fact nothing else)
the boys were assured that the ensuing operation would be attended with
scarcely any pain, and that the more these carrahdis suffered, the less
would be felt by them.

It being now perfectly dark, we quitted the place, with an invitation to
return early in the morning, and a promise of much entertainment from the
ensuing ceremony. We left the boys sitting silent, and in the position
before described, in which we were told they were to remain until morning.

On repairing to the place soon after daylight, we found the natives
sleeping in small detached parties; and it was not until the sun had
shown himself that any of them began to stir. We observed that the people
from the north shore slept by themselves, and the boys, though we heard
they were not to be moved, were lying also by themselves at some little
distance from the Yoo-lahng. Towards this, soon after sunrise, the
carrahdis and their party advanced in quick movement, one after the
other, shouting as they entered, and running twice or thrice round it.
The boys were then brought to the Yoo-lahng, hanging their heads and
clasping their hands. On their being seated in this manner, the
ceremonies began, the principal performers in which appeared to be about
twenty in number, and all of the tribe of Cammeray.

The exhibitions now performed were numerous and various; but all of them
in their tendency pointed toward the boys, and had some allusion to the
principal act of the day, which was to be the concluding scene of it. The
ceremony will be found pretty accurately represented in the annexed
Engravings. [The HTML version of this ebook contains the engravings. Ed.]

No. 1 Represents the young men, fifteen in number, seated at the head of
the Yoo-lahng, while those who were to be the operators paraded several
times round it, running upon their hands and feet, and imitating the dogs
of the country. Their dress was adapted to this purpose; the wooden
sword, stuck in the hinder part of the girdle which they wore round the
waist, did not, when they were crawling on all fours, look much unlike
the tail of a dog curled over his back. Every time they passed the place
where the boys were seated, they threw up the sand and dust on them with
their hands and their feet. During this ceremony the boys sat perfectly
still and silent, never once moving themselves from the position in which
they were placed, nor seeming in the least to notice the ridiculous
appearance of the carrahdis and their associates.

We understood that by this ceremony power over the dog was given to them,
and that it endowed them with whatever good or beneficial qualities that
animal might possess.

The dogs of this country are of the jackal species; they never bark; are
of two colours, the one red with some white about it; the other quite
black. They have an invincible predilection for poultry, which the
severest beatings could never repress. Some of them are very handsome.

No. 2 Represents the young men seated as before. The first figure in the
plate is a stout robust native, carrying on his shoulders a
pat-ta-go-rang or kangaroo made of grass; the second is carrying a load
of brush-wood. The other figures, seated about, are singing, and beating
time to the steps of the two loaded men, who appeared as if they were
almost unable to move under the weight of the burthen which they carried
on their shoulders. Halting every now and then, and limping, they at last
deposited their load at the feet of the young men, and retired from the
Yoo-lahng as if they were excessively fatigued by what they had done. It
must be noticed, that the man who carried the brush-wood had thrust one
or two flowering shrubs through the _septum nasi_. He exhibited an
extraordinary appearance in this scene.

By this offering of the dead kangaroo was meant the power that was now
given them of killing that animal; the brush-wood might represent its

No. 3 The boys were left seated at the Yoo-lahng for about half an hour;
during which the actors went down into a valley near the place, where
they fitted themselves with long tails made of grass, which they fastened
to the hinder part of their girdles, instead of the sword, which was laid
aside during the scene. Being equipped, they put themselves in motion as
a herd of kangaroos, now jumping along, then lying down and scratching
themselves, as those animals do when basking in the sun. One man beat
time to them with a club on a shield, while two others armed, attended
them all the way, pretending to steal upon them unobserved and spear them.

This was emblematical of one of their future exercises, the hunting of
the kangaroo.

The scene was altogether whimsical and curious; the valley where they
equipped themselves was very romantic, and the occasion extraordinary and
perfectly novel.

No. 4 On the arrival of this curious party at the Yoo-lahng, it passed by
the boys, as the herd of Kangaroo, and then quickly divesting themselves
of their artificial tails, each man caught up a boy, and, placing him on
his shoulders, carried him off in triumph toward the last scene of this
extraordinary exhibition.

It must be remarked, that the friends and relations of the young people
by no means interfered, nor attempted to molest the north shore natives
in the execution of their business.

No. 5 After walking a short distance, the boys were let down from the
shoulders of the men, and placed in a cluster, standing with their heads
inclined on their breasts, and their hands clasped together. Some of the
party disappeared for above ten minutes to arrange the figure of the next
scene. I was not admitted to witness this business, about which they
appeared to observe a greater degree of mystery and preparation than I
had noticed in either of the preceding ceremonies. We were at length
desired to come forward, when we found the figures as placed in the plate
No. 5.

The group on the left are the boys and those who attended them; fronting
them were seen two men, one seated on the stump of a tree bearing another
man on his shoulders, both with their arms extended: behind these were
seen a number of bodies lying with their faces toward the ground, as
close to each other as they could lie, and at the foot of another stump
of a tree, on which were placed two other figures in the same position as
the preceding.

As the boys and their attendants approached the first of these figures,
the men who formed it began to move themselves from side to side, lolling
out their tongues, and staring as wide and horribly with their eyes as
they could open them. After this mummery had continued some minutes, the
men separated for them to pass, and the boys were now led over the bodies
lying on the ground. These immediately began to move, writhing as if in
agony, and uttering a mournful dismal sound, like very distant thunder.
Having passed over these bodies, the boys were placed before the second
figures, who went through the same series of grimaces as those who were
seated on the former stump; after which the whole moved forward.

A particular name, boo-roo-moo-roong, was given to this scene; but of its
import I could learn very little. I made much inquiry; but could never
obtain any other answer, than that it was very good; that the boys would
now become brave men; that they would see well, and fight well.

No. 6 At a little distance from the preceding scene the whole party
halted; the boys were seated by each other, while opposite to them were
drawn up in a half circle the other party, now armed with the spear and
the shield. In the centre of this party, with his face toward them, stood
Boo-der-ro, the native who had throughout taken the principal part in the
business. He held his shield in one hand, and a club in the other, with
which he gave them, as it were, the time for their exercise. Striking the
shield with the club, at every third stroke the whole party poised and
presented their spears at him, pointing them inwards, and touching the
centre of his shield.

This concluded the ceremonies previous to the operation; and it appeared
significant of an exercise which was to form the principal business of
their lives, the use of the spear.

No. 7 They now commenced their preparations for striking out the tooth.
The first subject they took out was a boy of about ten years of age: he
was seated on the shoulders of another native who sat on the grass, as
appears in this Plate.

The bone was now produced which had been pretended to be taken from the
stomach of the native the preceding evening; this, being made very sharp
and fine at one end, was used for lancing the gum, and but for some such
precaution it would have been impossible to have got out the tooth
without breaking the jaw-bone. A throwing-stick was now to be cut about
eight or ten inches from the end; and to effect this, much ceremony was
used. The stick was laid upon a tree, and three attempts to hit it were
made before it was struck. The wood being very hard, and the instrument a
bad tomahawk, it took several blows to divide it; but three feints were
constantly made before each stroke. When the gum was properly prepared,
the operation began; the smallest end of the stick was applied as high up
on the tooth as the gum would admit of, while the operator stood ready
with a large stone apparently to drive the tooth down the throat of his
patient. Here their attention to the number three was again manifest; no
stroke was actually made until the operator had thrice attempted to hit
the throwing-stick. They were full ten minutes about this first
operation, the tooth being, unfortunately for the boy, fixed very firm in
the gum. It was at last forced out, and the sufferer was taken away to a
little distance, where the gum was closed by his friends, who now
equipped him in the style he was to appear in for some days. A girdle was
tied round his waist, in which was stuck a wooden sword; a ligature was
put round his head, in which were stuck slips of the grass-gum tree,
which, being white, had a curious and not unpleasing effect. The left
hand was to be placed over the mouth, which was to be kept shut; he was
on no account to speak; and for that day he was not to eat.

In like manner were all the others treated, except one, a pretty boy
about eight or nine years of age, who, after suffering his gum to be
lanced, could not endure the pain of more than one blow with the stone,
and breaking from them made his escape.

During the whole of the operation the assistants made the most hideous
noise in the ears of the patients*, sufficient to distract their
attention, and to drown any cries they could possibly have uttered; but
they made it a point of honour to bear the pain without a murmur.

[* Crying e-wah e-wah, ga-ga ga-ga, repeatedly.]

Some other peculiarities, however, were observed. The blood that issued
from the lacerated gum was not wiped away, but suffered to run down the
breast, and fall upon the head of the man on whose shoulders the patient
sat, and whose name was added to his. I saw them several days afterwards,
with the blood dried upon the breast. They were also termed Ke-bar-ra, a
name which has reference in its construction to the singular instrument
used on this occasion, Ke-bah in their language signifying a rock or
stone. I heard them several months after address each other by this
significant name.

No. 8 This Plate represents the young men arranged and sitting upon the
trunk of a tree, as they appeared in the evening after the operation was
over. The man is Cole-be, who is applying a broiled fish to his relation
Nan-bar-ray's gum, which had suffered from the stroke more than any of
the others.

Suddenly, on a signal being given, they all started up, and rushed into
the town, driving before them men, women, and children, who were glad to
get out of their way. They were now received into the class of men; were
privileged to wield the spear and the club, and to oppose their persons
in combat. They might now also seize such females as they chose for wives.

All this, however, must be understood to import, that by having submitted
to the operation, having endured the pain of it without a murmur, and
having lost a front tooth, they received a qualification which they were
to exercise whenever their years and their strength should be equal to it.

Bennillong's sister, and Da-ring-ha, Cole-be's wife, hearing me express a
great desire to be possessed of some of these teeth, procured three of
them for me, one of which was that of Nan-bar-ray, Cole-be's relation.

I found that they had fastened them to pieces of small line, and were
wearing them round their necks. They were given to me with much secrecy
and great dread of being observed, and with an injunction that I should
never let it be known that they had made me such a present, as the
Cam-mer-ray tribe, to whom they were to be given, would not fail to
punish them for it; and they added that they should tell them the teeth
were lost. Nan-bar-ray's tooth Da-ring-ha wished me to give to Mr. White,
the principal surgeon of the settlement, with whom the boy had lived from
his being brought into it, in the year 1789, to Mr. White's departure;
thus with gratitude remembering, after the lapse of some years, the
attention which that gentleman had shown to her relative.

Having remained with them while the operation was performed on three or
four of the boys, I went into town, and returned after sun-set, when I
found the whole equipped and seated on the trunk of the tree, as
described in the Plate. It was then that I received the three teeth, and
was conjured by the women to leave the place, as they did not know what
might ensue. In fact, I observed the natives arming themselves; much
confusion and hurry was visible among them; the savage appeared to be
predominating; perhaps the blood they had drawn, and which was still wet
on the heads and breasts of many of them, began to make them fierce; and,
when I was on the point of retiring, the signal was given, which animated
the boys to the first exercise of the spirit which the business of the
day had infused into them, (for I have no doubt that their young bosoms
were warmed by the different ceremonies which they had witnessed, of
which they had indeed been something more than mere spectators, and which
they knew had been exhibited wholly on their account,) and they rushed
into the town in the manner before described, every where as they passed
along setting the grass on fire.

On showing the teeth to our medical gentleman there, and to others since
my return to England, they all declared that they could not have been
better extracted, had the proper instrument been used, instead of the
stone and piece of wood.

On a view of all these circumstances, I certainly should not consider
this ceremony in any other light than as a tribute, were I not obliged to
hesitate, by observing that all the people of Cam-mer-ray, which were
those who exacted the tooth, were themselves proofs that they had
submitted to the operation. I never saw one among them who had not lost
the front tooth. I well recollect Bennillong, in the early period of our
acquaintance with him and his language, telling us, as we then thought,
that a man of the name of Cam-mer-ra-gal wore all the teeth about his
neck. But we afterwards found that this term was only the distinguishing
title of the tribe which performed the ceremonies incident to the
operation. Bennillong at other times told us, that his own tooth was
bour-bil-liey pe-mul, buried in the earth, and that others were thrown
into the sea. It is certain, however, that my female friends, who gave me
the teeth, were very anxious that the gift should not come to the
knowledge of the men of Cam-mer-ray, and repeatedly said that they were
intended for them.

In alluding to this ceremony, whether by pointing to the vacancy
occasioned by the lost tooth, or by adverting to any of the curious
scenes exhibited on the occasion, the words Yoo-lahng erah-ba-diahng were
always used; but to denote the loss of any other tooth the word
bool-bag-ga was applied. The term Yoo-lahng erah-ba-diahng must therefore
be considered as applying solely to this extraordinary occasion; it
appears to be compounded of the name given to the spot where the
principal scenes take place, and of the most material qualification that
is derived from the whole ceremony, that of throwing the spear. I
conceive this to be the import of the word erah-ba-diahng, erah being a
part of the verb to throw, erah, throw you, erailley, throwing.

Being thus entered on 'the valued file,' they quickly assume the
consequence due to the distinction, and as soon as possible bring their
faculties into action. The procuring of food really seems to be but a
secondary business with them; the management of the spear and the shield,
dexterity in throwing the various clubs they have in use among them,
agility in either attacking or defending, and a display of the constancy
with which they endure pain, appearing to rank first among their concerns
in life. The females too are accustomed to bear on their heads the traces
of the superiority of the males, with which they dignify them almost as
soon as they find strength in the arm to imprint the mark. We have seen
some of these unfortunate beings with more scars upon their shorn heads,
cut in every direction, than could be well distinguished or counted. The
condition of these women is so wretched, that I have often, on seeing a
female child borne on its mother's shoulders, anticipated the miseries to
which it was born, and thought it would be a mercy to destroy it.
Notwithstanding, however, that they are the mere slaves of the men, I
have generally found, in tracing the causes of their quarrels, that the
women were at the head of them, though in some cases remotely. They
mingled in all the contests of the men; and one of these, that was in the
beginning attended with some ceremony, was opened by a woman:

We had been told for some days of their making great preparations for a
fight, and gladly heard that they had chosen a clear spot near the town
for the purpose. The contending parties consisted of most of our Sydney
acquaintance, and some natives from the south shore of Botany Bay, among
whom was Gome-boak, already mentioned in Chapter XXVIII ["About the
latter end of the month . . ."]. We repaired to the spot an hour
before sun-set, and found them seated opposite each other on a
level piece of ground between two hills. As a prelude to the business,
we observed our friends, after having waited some time, stand up, and
each man stooping down, take water in the hollow of his hand (the place
just before them being wet) which he drank. An elderly woman with a cloak
on her shoulders (made of opossum skins very neatly sewn together) and
provided with a club, then advanced from the opposite side, and, uttering
much abusive language at the time, ran up to Cole-be, who was on the
right, and gave him what I should have considered a severe blow on the
head, which with seeming contempt he held out to her for the purpose. She
went through the same ceremony with the rest, who made no resistance,
until she came up to Ye-ra-ni-be, a very fine boy, who stood on the left.
He, not admiring the blows that his companions received, which were
followed by blood, struggled with her, and had he not been very active, I
believe she would have stabbed him with his own spear, which she wrested
from him. The men now advanced, and gave us many opportunities of
witnessing the strength and dexterity with which they threw their spears,
and the quickness of sight which was requisite to guard against them. The
contest lasted until dark, when throwing the spear could no longer be
accounted fair, and they beat each other with clubs, until they left off
by mutual consent. In this part of the contest many severe wounds were
given, and much blood was drawn from the heads of each party; but nothing
material happened while they had light enough to guard against the spear.

In the exercise of this weapon they are very expert. I have seen them
strike with certainty at the distance of seventy measured yards. They are
thrown with great force, and where they are barbed are very formidable
instruments. The wo-mer-ra, or throwing-stick, is always made use of on
such occasions. This is a stick about three feet long, with a hook at one
end (and a shell at the other, secured by gum), to receive which there is
a small hole at the head of the spear. Both are held in the right hand.
the fingers of which are placed, two above the throwing-stick, and two
between it and the spear, at about the distance of two feet from the
hook. After poising it for some time, and measuring with the eye the
distance from the object to be thrown at, the spear is discharged, the
throwing-stick remaining in the hand. Of these instruments there are two
kinds; the one, named Wo-mer-ra, is armed with the shell of a clam, which
they term Kah-dien, and which they use for the same purposes that we
employ a knife. The other, which they name Wig-goon, has a hook, but no
shell, and is rounded at the end. With this they dig the fern-root and
yam out of the earth, and it is formed of heavy wood, while the wo-mer-ra
is only part of a wattle split. They have several varieties of spears,
every difference in them being distinguished by a name. Some are only
pointed; others have one or more barbs, either shaped from the solid
piece of wood of which the spear is made, or fastened on with gum; and
some are armed with pieces of broken oyster-shell for four or five inches
from the point, and secured by gum. All these barbed spears are
dangerous, from the difficulty of extracting them. Of shields they have
but two sorts. One, named E-lee-mong, is cut from the bark of the gum
tree, and is not so capable of resisting the spear as the Ar-rah-gong,
which is formed of solid wood, and hardened by fire. This shield is not
so much in use as the e-lee-mong, as I imagine from its greater weight,
and perhaps also from the superior difficulty they meet with in procuring
it. Of clubs they use several sorts, some of which are of very large
dimensions. They have one, the head of which is flat, with a sharp point
in the centre. The flat part is painted with red and white stripes from
the centre, and does not look unlike what they term it, Gnal-lung-ul-la,
the name given by them to a mushroom. They have yet another instrument,
which they call Ta-war-rang. It is about three feet long, is narrow, but
has three sides, in one of which is the handle, hollowed by fire. The
other sides are rudely carved with curved and waved lines, and it is made
use of in dancing, being struck upon for this purpose with a club. An
instrument very common among them must not be omitted in this account of
their weapons of hostility, for such, I fear, some of our miserable
straggling convicts have found it to their cost, though it generally is
applied to more peaceful purposes. This is the Mo-go*, or stone-hatchet.
The stone is found in the shallows at the upper part of the Hawkesbury,
and a handle being fixed round the head of it with gum, the under part is
brought by friction to an edge fine enough to divide the bark of such
trees as they take their canoes or hunters huts from, and even the
shields which are cut from the body of the tree itself. There is no doubt
of their readily applying this as a weapon, when no other offers to their

[* A representation of this and other instruments is given in plate 11.]

It must be observed, that the principal tribes have their peculiar
weapons. Most of us had made collections of their spears, throwing-sticks,
etc. as opportunities occurred; and on showing them to our Sydney
friends, they have told us that such a one was used by the people who
lived to the southward of Botany Bay; that another belonged to the tribe
of Cam-mer-ray. The spear of the wood tribes, Be-dia-gal, Tu-ga-gal, and
Boo-roo-bir-rong-gal, were known from being armed with bits of stone,
instead of broken oyster-shells. The lines worn round the waist by the
men belonged to a peculiar tribe, and came into the hands of others
either by gift or plunder. The nets used by the people of the coast for
carrying their fish, lines, etc differed in the mesh from those used by
the wood natives; and they extend this peculiarity even to their dances,
their songs, and their dialect.

Among other customs which these people invariably practise, is one that
is highly deserving of notice, as it carries with it some idea of
retributive justice.

The shedding of blood is always followed by punishment, the party
offending being compelled to expose his person to the spears of all who
choose to throw at him; for in these punishments the ties of
consanguinity or friendship are of no avail. On the death of a person,
whether male or female, old or young, the friends of the deceased must be
punished, as if the death were occasioned by their neglect. This is
sometimes carried farther than there seems occasion for, or than can be
reconcilable with humanity.

After the murder of Yel-lo-way by Wat-te-wall his widow Noo-roo-ing being
obliged, according to the custom of her country, to avenge her husband's
death on some of the relations of the murderer, meeting with a little
girl named Go-nang-goo-lie, who was some way related to Wat-te-wal,
walked with her and two other girls to a retired place, where with a club
and a pointed stone they beat her so cruelly, that she was brought into
the town almost dead. In the head were six or seven deep incisions, and
one ear was divided to the bone, which, from the nature of the instrument
with which they beat her, was much injured. This poor child was in a very
dangerous way, and died in a few days afterwards. The natives to whom
this circumstance was mentioned expressed little or no concern at it, but
seemed to think it right, necessary, and inevitable; and we understood
that whenever women have occasion for this sanguinary revenge, they never
exercise it but on their own sex, not daring to strike a male.
Noo-roo-ing, perceiving that her treatment of Go-nang-goo-lie did not
meet our approbation, denied having beaten her, and said it was the other
girls; but such men as we conversed with on the subject assured us it was
Noo-roo-ing, and added, that she had done no more than what custom
obliged her to. The little victim of her revenge was, from her quiet
tractable manners, much beloved in the town; and what is a singular trait
of the inhumanity of this proceeding, she had every day since Yel-loway's
death requested that Noo-roo-ing might be fed at the officer's hut, where
she herself resided. Savage indeed must be the custom and the feelings
which could arm the hand against this child's life! Her death was not
avenged, perhaps because they considered it as an expiatory sacrifice.

Wat-te-wal, who committed the crime for which this little girl suffered
so cruelly, escaped unhurt from the spears of Bennillong, Cole-be, and
several other natives, and was afterwards received by them as usual, and
actually lived with this very woman for some time, till he was killed in
the night by Cole-be, as before related.

This Wat-te-wal was in great union with Bennillong, who twice denied his
having committed offences which he knew would forfeit our favour. In this
last instance Bennillong betrayed more duplicity than we had given him
credit for. On asking him with some earnestness if Wat-te-wal had killed
Yel-loway, he assured us with much confidence that it was not Wat-te-wal
who had killed him, but We-re-mur-rah. Little did we suspect that our
friend had availed himself of a circumstance which he knew we were
unacquainted with, that Wat-te-wal had more than one name. By giving us
the second, he saved his friend, and knew that he could at all times
boldly maintain that he had not concealed his name from us, We-re-murrah
being as much his name as Wat-te-wal, though we had never known him by
it. On apprising him some time afterwards, that we had discovered his
artifice, and that it was a meanness we did not expect from him, he only
laughed and went away.

The violent death of Yel-lo-way we have seen followed by a cruel
proceeding, which terminated in the death of the murderer's relation,
Go-nang-goolie. I shall now show what followed where the person died a
natural death.

Bone-da, a very fine youth, who lived at my house for several months,
died of a cold, which, settling in his face, terminated in a
mortification of his upper and lower jaws, and carried him off. We were
told that some blood must be spilt on this occasion; but six weeks
elapsed before we heard of any thing having happened in consequence of
his decease. About that time having passed, however, we heard that a
large party of natives belonging to different tribes, being assembled at
Pan-ner-rong* (or, as it is named with us, Rose Bay), the spot which they
had often chosen for shedding blood, after dancing and feasting
over-night, early in the morning, Mo-roo-ber-ra, the brother, and
Cole-be, another relation of Bone-da, seized upon a lad named
Tar-ra-bil-long, and with a club each gave him a wound in his head, which
laid the skull bare. Dar-ring-ha, the sister of Bone-da, had her share in
the bloody rite, and pushed at the unoffending boy with a doo-ull or
short spear. He was brought into the town and placed at the hospital,
and, though the surgeon pronounced from the nature of his wounds that his
recovery was rather doubtful, he was seen walking about the day
following. On being spoke to about the business, he said he did not weep
or cry out like a boy, but like a man cried Ki-yah when they struck him;
that the persons who treated him in this unfriendly manner were no longer
his enemies, but would eat or drink or sit with him as friends

[* Pan-ner-rong in the language of the country signifies Blood.]

Three or four days after this, Go-roo-bine, a grey-headed man, apparently
upwards of sixty years of age, who was related to Bone-da, came in with a
severe wound on the back part of his head, given him on account of the
boy's decease; neither youth nor old age appearing to be exempted from
those sanguinary customs.

When Ba-rang-a-roo, Bennillong's wife, died, several spears were thrown
by the men at each other, by which many were wounded; and Bennillong had
a severe contest with Wil-le-mer-ring, whom he wounded in the thigh. He
had sent for him as a car-rah-dy to attend her when she was ill; but he
either could not or would not obey the summons. Bennillong had chosen the
time for celebrating these funeral games in honour of his deceased wife
when a whale feast had assembled a large number of natives together,
among whom were several people from the northward, who spoke a dialect
very different to that with which we were acquainted.

Some officers happening once to be present in the lower part of the
harbour when a child died, perceived the men immediately retire, and
throw their spears at one another with much apparent anger, while the
females began their usual lamentations.

When Dil-boong, Bennillong's infant child, died, several spears were
thrown, and Bennillong, at the decease of her mother, said repeatedly,
that he should not be satisfied until he had sacrificed some one to her

Ye-ra-ni-be Go-ru-ey having beaten a young woman, the wife of another
man, and she having some time after exchanged a perilous and troublesome
life for the repose and quiet of the grave, a contest ensued some days
after, on account of her decease, between Bennillong and Go-ru-ey, and
between the husband and Go-ru-ey, by both of whom he was wounded.
Bennillong drove a spear into his knee, and the husband another into his
left buttock. This wound he must have received by failing to catch the
spear on his shield, and turning his body to let it pass beside him;
other spears were thrown, but he alone appeared to be the victim of the
day. Signifying a wish to have his wounds dressed by the surgeon, he was
in the evening actually brought up to the hospital by the very man who
had wounded him.

The bay named Pan-ner-rong was the scene of this extraordinary transaction.

Not a long time before I left the country, I witnessed another contest
among them, which was attended with some degree of ceremony. The
circumstance was this. A native of the Botany Bay district, named
Collindiun, having taken off by force Go-roo-boo-roo-bal-lo, the former
wife of Bennillong, but now the wife of Car-ru-ey, and carried her up the
harbour, Car-ru-ey with his relation Cole-be, in revenge, stole upon this
Collindiun one night while he lay asleep, and each fixed a spear in him.
The wounds, though deep and severe, yet did not prove mortal, and on his
recovery he demanded satisfaction. He came accompanied by a large party
of natives from the south shore of Botany Bay, and rather reluctantly,
for he had wished the business to be decided there, rather than among
Car-ru-ey's friends, as many of his associates in arms were entire
strangers to us. Thirsting after revenge, however, he was prevailed with
to meet him on his own ground, and the Yoo-lahng formerly used for a
different purpose was the place of rendezvous.

At night they all danced, that is to say, both parties, but not mixed
together; one side waiting until the other had concluded their dance. In
the manner of dancing, of announcing themselves as ready to begin, and
also in their song, there was an evident difference.

Our friends appeared to have some apprehension of the event not proving
favourable to them; for perceiving an officer there with a gun, Car-ru-ey
strenuously urged him, if any thing should happen to him, to shoot the
Botany Bay black fellows. The women, to induce us to comply with his
request, told us that some of the opposite party had said they would kill
Car-ru-ey. Some other guns making their appearance, the strangers were
alarmed and uneasy, until assured that they were intended merely for our
own security.

The time for this business was just after ten in the forenoon. We found
Car-ru-ey and Cole-be seated at one end of the Yoo-lahng, each armed with
a spear and throwing-stick, and provided with a shield. Here they were
obliged to sit until some one of their opponents got up; they also then
arose and put themselves _en garde_. Some of the spears which were thrown
at them they picked up and threw back; and others they returned with
extraordinary violence.

The affair was over before two o'clock; and, what was remarkable, we did
not hear of any person being wounded. We understood, however, that this
circumstance was to produce another meeting.

In this as in all the contests I ever witnessed among them, the point of
honour was rigidly observed. But spears were not the only instruments of
warfare on these occasions. They had also to combat with words, in which
the women sometimes bore a part. During this latter engagement I have
seen them, when any very offensive word met their ears, suddenly place
themselves in the attitude of throwing the spear, and at times let it
drop on the ground without discharging; and others threw it with all
their strength; but always scrupulously observing the situation of the
person opposed, and never throwing at him until he covered himself with
his shield. The most unaccountable trait in this business was, the party
thrown at providing his enemy with weapons; for they have been repeatedly
seen, when a spear has flown harmless beyond them, to pick it up and
fling it carelessly back to their adversary. This might proceed from
contempt, or from there being a scarcity of spears; and I have thought
that when, instead of flinging it carelessly back, they have thrown it
with much violence, it was because it had been thrown at them with a
greater visible degree of malevolence than the others.

This rigid attention to the point of honour, when fairly opposed to each
other, is difficult to reconcile with their treacherous and midnight

Their mode of retaliating an insult or injury was extraordinary.
Children, if when at play they received a blow or a push, resented it by
a blow or a push of equal force to that which they felt. This retaliating
spirit appeared also among the men, of a remarkable instance of which
several of us were witnesses. A native of the name of Bur-ro-wan-nie had
some time before been beaten by two natives of the tribe of Gwe-a, at the
head of Botany Bay. One of these being fixed on, he was in return to be
beaten by Bur-ro-wan-nie. For this purpose a large party attended
over-night at the head of the stream near the settlement to dance; at
which exercise they continued from nine till past twelve o'clock. The man
who was to be beaten danced with the rest until they ceased, and then
laid himself down among them to sleep. Early in the morning, while he was
yet on the ground, and apparently asleep at the foot of a tree, Cole-be
and Bur-ro-wan-me, armed each with a spear and a club, rushed upon him
from among some trees. Cole-be made a push at him with his spear, but did
not touch him, while the other, Bur-ro-wan-me, struck him with his club
two severe blows on the hinder part of the head. The noise they made, if
he was alseep, awaked him; and when he was struck, he was on his legs. He
was perfectly unarmed, and hung his head in silence while Cole-be and his
companion talked to him. No more blows were given, and Bennillong, who
was present, wiped the blood from the wounds with some grass. As a proof
that Bur-ro-wan-nie was satisfied with the redress he had taken, we saw
him afterwards walking in the town with the object of his resentment,
who, on being asked, said Bur-ro-ween-nie was good; and during the whole
of the day, wheresoever he was seen, there also was this poor wretch with
his breast and back covered with dried blood; for, according to the
constant practice of his countrymen, he had not washed it off. In the
evening I saw him with a ligature fastened very tight round his head,
which certainly required something to alleviate the pain it must have

In some of these contests they have been seen on the field of battle
attended by a person who appeared to be the friend of both parties. In a
single combat which Mo-roo-ber-ra had with Bennillong, they were attended
by Cole-be, who took a position on one side about half-way between them,
armed with a spear and throwing-stick, but unprovided with a shield. This
I saw he frequently shook, and talked a great deal, but never threw it.
While in this situation he was styled Ca-bah-my.

I had long wished to be a witness of a family party, in which I hoped and
expected to see them divested of that restraint which perhaps they might
put on in our houses. I was one day gratified in this wish when I little
expected it. Having strolled down to the Point named Too-bow-gu-lie, I
saw the sister and the young wife of Bennillong coming round the Point in
the new canoe which the husband had cut in his last excursion to
Parramatta. They had been out to procure fish, and were keeping time with
their paddles, responsive to the words of a song, in which they joined
with much good humour and harmony. They were almost immediately joined by
Bennillong, who had his sister's child on his shoulders. The canoe was
hauled on shore, and what fish they had caught the women brought up. I
observed that the women seated themselves at some little distance from
Bennillong, and then the group was thus disposed of--the husband was
seated on a rock, preparing to dress and eat the fish he had just
received. On the same rock lay his pretty sister War-re-weer asleep in
the sun, with a new born infant in her arms; and at some little distance
were seated, rather below him, his other sister and his wife, the wife
opening and eating some rock-oysters, and the sister suckling her child,
Kah-dier-rang, whom she had taken from Bennillong. I cannot omit
mentioning the unaffected simplicity of the wife: immediately on her
stepping out of her canoe, she gave way to the pressure of a certain
necessity, without betraying any of that reserve which would have led
another at least behind the adjoining bush. She blushed not, for the
cheek of Go-roo-bar-roo-bool-lo was the cheek of rude nature, and not
made for blushes. I remained with them till the whole party fell asleep.

They have great difficulty in procuring fire, and are therefore seldom
seen without it. Bennillong, or some other native, once showed me the
process of procuring it. It is attended with infinite labour, and is
performed by fixing the pointed end of a cylindrical piece of wood into a
hollow made in a plane: the operator twirling the round piece swiftly
between both his hands, sliding them up and down until fatigued, at which
time he is relieved by another of his companions, who are all seated for
this purpose in a circle, and each one takes his turn until fire is

Most of their instruments are ornamented with rude carved-work, effected
with a piece of broken shell, and on the rocks I have seen various
figures of fish, clubs, swords, animals, and even branches of trees, not
contemptibly represented.


Like all other children of ignorance, these people are the slaves of

I think I may term the car-rah-dy their high priest of superstition. The
share they had in the tooth-drawing scenes was not the only instance,
that induced me to suppose this. When Cole-be accompanied Governor
Phillip to the banks of the Hawkesbury, he met with a car-rah-dy,
Yel-lo-mun-dy, who, with much gesticulation and mummery, pretended to
extract the barbs of two spears from his side, which never had been left
there, or, if they had, required rather the aid of the knife than the
incantations of Yel-lo-mun-dy to extract them; but his patient was
satisfied with the car-rah-dy's efforts to serve him, and thought himself
perfectly relieved.

During the time that Boo-roong lived at the clergyman's house she paid
occasional visits to the lower part of the harbour. From one of these she
returned extremely ill. On questioning her as to the cause, for none was
apparent, she told us that the women of Cam-mer-ray had made water in a
path which they knew she was to cross, and it had made her ill. These
women were inimical to her, as she belonged to the Botany Bay district.
On her intimating to them that she found herself ill, they told her
triumphantly what they had done. Not recovering, though bled in the arm
by Mr. White, she underwent an extraordinary and superstitious operation,
where the operator suffers more than the patient. She was seated on the
ground, with one of the lines worn by the men passed round her head once,
taking care to fix the knot in the centre of her forehead; the remainder
of the line was taken by another girl, who sat at a small distance from
her, and with the end of it fretted her lips until they bled very
copiously; Boo-roong imagining all the time that the blood came from her
head, and passed along the line until it ran into the girl's mouth,
whence it was spit into a small vessel which she had beside her, half
filled with water, and into which she occasionally dipped the end of the
line. This operation they term be-an-ny, and is the peculiar province of
the women.

Another curious instance of their superstition occurred among some of our
people belonging to a boat that was lying wind-bound in the lower part of
the harbour. They had procured some shell-fish, and during the night were
preparing to roast them, when they were observed by one of the natives,
who shook his head and exclaimed, that the wind for which they were
waiting would not rise if they roasted the fish. His argument not
preventing the sailors from enjoying their treat, and the wind actually
proving foul, they, in their turn, gave an instance of superstition by
abusing the native, and attributing to him the foul wind which detained
them. On questioning Ye-ra-ni-be respecting this circumstance, he assured
me that the natives never broil fish by night.

In a reach of the Hawkesbury, about midway up some high land, stands a
rock which in its form is not unlike a sentry-box. Respecting this rock,
they have a superstitious tradition, that while some natives were one day
feasting under it, some of the company whistling, it happened to fall
from a great height, and crushed the whole party under its weight. For
this reason they make it an invariable rule never to whistle under a rock.

Among their other superstitions was one which might be naturally expected
from their ignorance, a belief in spirits.

Of this belief we had at different times several accounts. Bennillong,
during his first acquaintance with us, described an apparition as
advancing to a person with an uncommon noise, and seizing hold of him by
the throat. It came slowly along with its body bent, and the hands held
together in a line with the face, moving on till it seized the party it
meant to visit. We were told by him and others, and that after we
understood each other, that by sleeping at the grave of a deceased
person, they would, from what happened to them there, be freed from all
future apprehensions respecting apparitions; for during that awful sleep
the spirit of the deceased would visit them, seize them by the throat,
and, opening them, take out their bowels, which they would replace and
close up the wound. We understood that very few chose to encounter the
darkness of the night, the solemnity of the grave, and the visitation of
the spirit of the deceased; but that such as were so hardy became
immediately car-rah-dys, and that all those who exercised that profession
had gone through this ceremony.

It is very certain, that even in the day-time they were strangely
unwilling to pass a grave; but I believe that their tale of being seized
by the throat by a ghost was nothing more than their having felt the
effects of what we term the night-mare during an uneasy sleep.

To the shooting of a star they attach a degree of importance; and I once,
on an occasion of this kind, saw the girl Boo-roong greatly agitated, and
prophesying much evil to befal all the white men and their habitations.

Of thunder and lightning they are also much afraid; but have an ideal
that by chanting some particular words, and breathing hard, they can
dispel it. Instances of this have been seen.


Their living chiefly on fish (I speak of those whom we found on the sea
coast) produces a disorder which greatly resembles the itch; they term it
Djee-ball djee-ball; and at one time, about the year 1791, there was not
one of the natives, man, woman, nor child, that came near us, but was
covered with it. It raged violently among them, and some became very
loathsome objects.

The venereal disease also had got among them; but I fear our people have
to answer for that; for though I believe none of our women had connection
with then, yet there is no doubt but that several of the black women had
not scrupled to connect themselves with the white men. Of the certainty
of this an extraordinary instance occurred. A native woman had a child by
one of our people. On its coming into the world she perceived a
difference in its colour; for which not knowing how to account, she
endeavoured to supply by art what she found deficient in nature, and
actually held the poor babe, repeatedly, over the smoke of her fire, and
rubbed its little body with ashes and dirt, to restore it to the hue with
which her other children had been born. Her husband appeared as fond of
it as if it had borne the undoubted sign of being his own, at least so
far as complexion could ascertain to whom it belonged. Whether the mother
had made use of any address on the occasion, I never learned.

It was by no means ascertained whether the lues venerea had been among
them before they knew us, or whether our people had to answer for having
introduced that devouring plague. Thus far is certain, however, that they
gave it a name, Goo-bah-rong; a circumstance that seems rather to imply a
pre-knowledge of its dreadful effects.

In the year 1789 they were visited by a disorder which raged among them
with all the appearance and virulence of the small-pox. The number that
it swept off, by their own accounts, was incredible. At that time a
native was living with us; and on our taking him down to the harbour to
look for his former companions, those who witnessed his expression and
agony can never forget either. He looked anxiously around him in the
different coves we visited; not a vestige on the sand was to be found of
human foot; the excavations in the rocks were filled with the putrid
bodies of those who had fallen victims to the disorder; not a living
person was any where to be met with. It seemed as if, flying from the
contagion, they had left the dead to bury the dead. He lifted up his
hands and eyes in silent agony for some time; at last he exclaimed, 'All
dead! all dead!' and then hung his head in mournful silence, which he
preserved during the remainder of our excursion. Some days after he
learned that the few of his companions who survived had fled up the
harbour to avoid the pestilence that so dreadfully raged. His fate has
been already mentioned. He fell a victim to his own humanity when
Boo-roong, Nan-bar-ray, and others were brought into the town covered
with the eruptions of the disorder. On visiting Broken Bay, we found that
it had not confined its effects to Port Jackson, for in many places our
path was covered with skeletons, and the same spectacles were to be met
with in the hollows of most of the rocks of that harbour.

Notwithstanding the town of Sydney was at this time filled with children,
many of whom visited the natives that were ill of this disorder, not one
of them caught it, though a North-American Indian, a sailor belonging to
Captain Ball's vessel, the _Supply_, sickened of it and died.

To this disorder they also gave a name, Gal-gal-la; and that it was the
small-pox there was scarcely a doubt; for the person seized with it was
affected exactly as Europeans are who have that disorder; and on many
that had recovered from it we saw the traces, in some the ravages of it
on the face.

As a proof of the numbers of those miserable people who were carried off
by this disorder, Bennillong told us, that his friend Cole-be's tribe
being reduced by its effects to three persons, Cole-be, the boy
Nan-bar-ray, and some one else, they found themselves compelled to unite
with some other tribe, not only for their personal protection, but to
prevent the extinction of their tribe. Whether this incorporation ever
took place I cannot say; I only know that the natives themselves, when
distinguishing between this man and another of the same name at Botany
Bay, always styled him Cad-i Cole-be; Cad-i being the name of his
district; and Cole-be, when he came into the field some time after,
appeared to be attended by several very fine boys who kept close by his
side, and were of his party.

Whenever they feel a pain, they fasten a tight ligature round the part,
thereby stopping the circulation, and easing the part immediately
affected. I have before mentioned the quickness with which they recovered
from wounds; but I have even known them get the better in a short time of
a fractured skull. That their skulls should be fractured will be no
wonder, when it is recollected that the club seems to be applied alone to
the head. The women who are struck with this weapon always fall to the
ground; but this seldom happens to the men though the blows are generally
more severe.


Their spears and shields, their clubs and lines, etc are their own
property; they are manufactured by themselves, and are the whole of their
personal estate. But, strange as it may appear, they have also their real
estates. Bennillong, both before he went to England and since his return,
often assured me, that the island Me-mel (called by us Goat Island) close
by Sydney Cove was his own property; that it was his father's, and that
he should give it to By-gone, his particular friend and companion. To
this little spot he appeared much attached; and we have often seen him
and his wife Ba-rang-a-roo feasting and enjoying themselves on it. He
told us of other people who possessed this kind of hereditary property,
which they retained undisturbed.


From the different circumstances that have been related of these people
in the foregoing account, a general idea of their character and
disposition may be gathered. They are revengeful, jealous, courageous,
and cunning. I have never considered their stealing on each other in the
night for the purposes of murder as a want of bravery, but have looked on
it rather as the effect of the diabolical spirit of revenge, which thus
sought to make surer of its object than it could have done if only
opposed man to man in the field. Their conduct when thus opposed, the
constancy with which they endured pain, and the alacrity with which they
accepted a summons to the fight, are surely proofs of their not wanting
courage. They disclaim all idea of any superiority that is not personal;
and I remember when Bennillong had a shield, made of tin and covered with
leather, presented to him by Governor Phillip, he took it with him down
the harbour, whence he returned without it, telling us that he had lost
it; but in fact it had been taken from him by the people of the north
shore district and destroyed; it being deemed unfair to cover himself
with such a guard.

They might have been honest before we came among them, not having much to
covet from one another; but from us they often stole such things as we
would not give them. While they pilfered what could gratify their
appetites, it was not to be wondered at; but I have seen them steal
articles of which they could not possibly know the use. Mr. White once
being in the midst of a crowd of natives in the lower part of the
harbour, one of them saw a small case of instruments in his pocket,
which, watching an opportunity, he slyly stole, and ran away with; but,
being observed, he was pursued and made to restore his prize. We were
very little acquainted with them at this time, and therefore the native
could not have known the contents of the case. Could he have been watched
to his retreat, I have no doubt but he would have been seen to lay the
case on his head, as an ornament, the place to which at first every thing
we gave them was usually consigned.

That they are not strangers to the occasional practice of falsehood, is
apparent from the words truth and falsehood being found in their
language; but, independent of this, we had many proofs of their being
adepts in the arts of evasion and lying; and I have seen them, when we
have expressed doubts of some of their tales, assure us with much
earnestness of the truth of their assertions; and when speaking to us of
other natives they have as anxiously wished us to believe that they had
told us lies.

Their talent for mimicry is very great. It was a favourite diversion with
the children to imitate the peculiarities in any one's gait, and they
would go through it with the happiest success.

They are susceptible of friendship, and capable of feeling sorrow; but
this latter sensation they are not in the habit of encouraging long. When
Ba-loo-der-ry, a very fine lad who died among us, was buried, I saw the
tears streaming silently down the sable cheek of his father Mau-go-ran;
but in a little time they were dried, and the old man's countenance
indicated nothing but the lapse of many years which had passed over his

With attention and kind treatment, they certainly might be made a very
serviceable people. I have seen them employed in a boat as usefully as
any white person; and the settlers have found some among them, who would
go out with their stock, and carefully bring home the right numbers,
though they have not any knowledge of numeration beyond three or four.

Their acquaintance with astronomy is limited to the names of the sun and
moon, some few stars, the Magellanic clouds, and the milky way. Of the
circular form of the earth they have not the smallest idea, but imagine
that the sun returns over their heads during the night to the quarter
whence he begins his course in the morning.

As they never make provision for the morrow, except at a whale-feast,
they always eat as long as they have any thing left to eat, and when
satisfied, stretch themselves out in the sun to sleep, where they remain
until hunger or some other cause calls them again into action. I have at
times observed a great degree of indolence in their dispositions, which I
have frequently seen the men indulge at the expence of the weaker vessel
the women, who have been forced to sit in their canoe, exposed to the
fervour of the mid-day sun, hour after hour, chanting their little song,
and inviting the fish beneath them to take their bait; for without a
sufficient quantity to make a meal for their tyrants, who were lying
asleep at their ease, they would meet but a rude reception on their


The first peculiarity noticeable in their funeral ceremonies is the
disposal of their dead; their young people they consign to the grave;
those who have passed the middle age are burnt. Bennillong burnt the body
of his first wife Ba-rang-a-roo, who, I suppose, was at the time of her
decease turned fifty. I have attended them on both occasions. The
interment of Ba-loo-der-ry was accompanied with many curious ceremonies.
From being one day in apparent perfect health, he was brought in the next
extremely ill, and attended by Bennillong, whom we found singing over
him, and making use of those means which ignorance and superstition
pointed out to him to recover his health. Ba-loo-der-ry lay extended on
the ground, appearing to be in much pain. Bennillong applied his mouth to
those parts of his patient's body which he thought were affected,
breathing strongly on them, and singing: at times he waved over him some
boughs dipped in water, holding one in each hand, and seemed to treat him
with much attention and friendship. On the following morning he was
visited by a car-rah-dy, who came express from the north shore. This man
threw himself into various distortions, applied his mouth to different
parts of his patient's body, and at length, after appearing to labour
much, and to be in great pain, spit out a piece of a bone about an inch
and a half long (which he had previously procured). Here the farce ended,
and Ba-loo-der-ry's friends took the car-rah-dy with them and entertained
him with such fare as they had to give him. He was at this time at our
hospital; during the night his fever increased, and his friends, thinking
he would be better with them, put him into a canoe, intending to take him
to the north shore; but he died as they were carrying him over. This was
immediately notified to us by a violent clamour among the women and
children; and Bennillong soon after coming into the town, it was agreed
upon between him and the governor that the body should be buried in the
governor's garden.

In the afternoon it was brought over in a canoe, and deposited in a hut
at the bottom of the garden, several natives attending, and the women and
children lamenting and howling most dismally. The body was wrapped up in
the jacket which he usually wore, and some pieces of blanketting tied
round it with bines. The men were all armed, and, without any
provocation, two of them had a contest with clubs; at the same time a few
blows passed between some of the women. Boo-roong had her head cut by
Go-roo-ber-ra, the mother of the deceased. Spears were also thrown, but
evidently as part of a ceremony, and not with an intention of doing
injury to any one. At the request of Bennillong, a blanket was laid over
the corpse, and Cole-be his friend sat by the body all night, nor could
he be prevailed on to quit it.

They remained rather silent till about one in the morning, when the women
began to cry, and continued for some time. At daylight Bennillong brought
his canoe to the place, and cutting it to a proper length, the body was
placed in it, with a spear, a fiz-gig, a throwing-stick, and a line which
Ba-loo-derry had worn round his waist. Some time was taken up in
adjusting all this business, during which the men were silent, but the
women, boys, and children uttered the most dismal lamentations. The
father stood alone and unemployed, a silent observer of all that was
doing about his deceased son, and a perfect picture of deep and
unaffected sorrow. Every thing being ready, the men and boys all assisted
in lifting the canoe with the body from the ground, and placing it on the
heads of two natives, Collins and Yow-war-re. Some of the assistants had
tufts of grass in their hands, which they waved backwards and forwards
under the canoe, while it was lifting from the ground, as if they were
exorcising some evil spirit. As soon as it was fixed on the heads of the
bearers, they set off, preceded by Bennillong and another man,
Wat-te-wal, both walking with a quick step towards the point of the cove
where Bennillong's hut stood. Mau-go-ran, the father, attended them armed
with his spear and throwing-stick, while Bennillong and Wat-te-wal had
nothing in their hands but tufts of grass, which as they went they waved
about, sometimes turning and facing the corpse, at others waving their
tufts of grass among the bushes. When they fronted the corpse, the head
of which was carried foremost, the bearers made a motion with their heads
from side to side, as if endeavouring to avoid the people who fronted
them. After proceeding thus to some little distance, Wat-te-wal turned
aside from the path, and went up to a bush, into which he seemed to look
very narrowly, as if searching for something that he could not find, and
waving about the tufts of grass which he had in either hand. After this
fruitless search, they all turned back, and went on in a somewhat quicker
pace than before. On their drawing near the spot where the women and
children were sitting with the other men, the father threw two spears
towards, but (evidently intentionally) short of them. Here Bennillong
took his infant child, Dil-boong in his arms, and held it up to the
corpse, the bearers endeavouring to avoid it as before described. Be-dia
Be-dia, the reputed brother of the deceased, a very fine boy of about
five years of age, was then called for, but came forward very
reluctantly, and was presented in the same manner as the other child.
After this they proceeded to the grave which had been prepared in the
governor's garden. Twice they changed the bearer who walked the foremost,
but his friend Collins carried him the whole of the way. At the grave
some delay took place, for unfortunately it was found not to be long
enough; but after some time, it being completed according to their
wishes, Yel-lo-way levelled the bottom with his hands and feet, and then
strewed some grass in it, after which he stretched himself at his length
in it, first on his back, and then on his right side. Bennillong had
earnestly requested that some drums might be ordered to attend, which was
granted, and two or three marches were beat while the grave was
preparing; Bennillong highly approving, and pointing at the time first to
the deceased and then to the skies, as if there was some connexion
between them at that moment. When the grave was ready, the men to the
number of five or six got in with the body, but being still somewhat too
short, the ends of the canoe were cut, in doing which the bines were
loosened and the corpse exposed to view. It appeared to be in a very
putrid state. Every thing was however adjusted, and the grave was filled
in by the natives and some of our people.

On laying the body in the grave, great care was taken so to place it,
that the sun might look at it as he passed, Bennillong and Cole-be taking
their observations for that purpose, and cutting down every shrub that
could at all obstruct the view. He was placed on his right side with his
head to the NW.

The native Yow-war-re appeared to have much to do in this ceremony. When
the grave was covered in, and laid up round, he collected several
branches of shrubs, and placed them in a half circle on the south side of
the grave, extending them from the foot to the head of it. He also laid
grass and boughs on the top of it, and crowned the whole with a large log
of wood. This log appeared to be placed there for some particular
purpose; for having fixed it he strewed some grass over it, and then laid
himself on it at his length for some minutes, with his face towards the
sky. Every rite being performed, the party retired, some of the men first
speaking in a menacing tone to the women, and telling Boo-roong not to
eat any fish nor meat that day. We understood that at night two of the
men were to sleep at the grave, but I have reason to think that they did
not. Cole-be and Wat-te-wal were painted red and white over the breast
and shoulders, and on this occasion were distinguished by the title of
Moo-by; and we learned from them that while so distinguished they were to
be very sparing in their meals.

They enjoined us on no account to mention the name of the deceased, a
custom they rigidly attended to themselves whenever any one died; and in
pursuance of this custom, Nan-bar-ray, one of whose names was
Ba-loo-der-ry, had actually relinquished that, and obtained another name.

The ceremony of sleeping at the grave of the deceased, we knew, was
observed by Bennillong after the death of his little child Dil-boong, he
and two or three other natives passing the night in the governor's
garden, not very far from the spot where it was buried.

Such were the ceremonies attendant on the interment of Ba-loo-derry. When
Ba-rang-a-roo Da-ring-ha, Bennillong's wife, died, he determined at once
to burn her, and requested Governor Phillip, Mr. White, and myself, to
attend him. He was accompanied by his own sister Car-rang-ar-rang,
Collins, Ca-ru-ey, Yem-mer-ra-wan-nie, and one or two other women.

Collins prepared the spot whereon the pile was to be constructed, by
excavating the ground with a stick, to the depth of three or four inches,
and on this part so turned up were first placed small sticks and light
brushwood; larger pieces were then laid on each side of these; and so on
till the pile might be about three feet in height, the ends and sides of
which were thus formed of large dry wood, while the middle of it
consisted of small twigs and branches, broken for the purpose and thrown
together. When wood enough had been procured, some grass was spread over
the pile, and the corpse, covered with an old blanket, was borne to it by
the men, and placed on it with the head to the northward. A basket with
the fishing apparatus and other small furniture of the deceased was
placed by her side; and, Bennillong having laid some large logs of wood
over the body, the pile was lighted by one of the party. Being
constructed of dry wood, it was quickly all in a flame, and Bennillong
himself pointed out to us a black smoke, which proceeded from the centre
of the pile where the body lay, and signified that the fire had reached it.

We left the spot long before the last billet was consumed, and Bennillong
appeared during the day more cheerful than we had expected, and spoke
about finding a nurse from among the white women to suckle his child.

The following day he invited us to see him rake the ashes of his wife
together, and we accompanied him to the spot, unattended by any of his
own people. He preceded us in a sort of solemn silence, speaking to no
one until he had paid Ba-rang-a-roo the last duties of a husband. In his
hand he had the spear with which he meant to punish the car-rah-dy
Wil-le-me-ring for non-attendance on his wife when she was ill, with the
end of which he raked the calcined bones and ashes together in a heap.
Then, laying the spear upon the ground, he formed with a piece of bark a
tumulus that would have done credit to a well-practised grave-digger,
carefully laying the earth round, smoothing every little unevenness, and
paying a scrupulous attention to the exact proportion of its form. On
each side the tumulus he placed a log of wood, and on the top of it
deposited the piece of bark with which he had so carefully effected its
construction. When all was done he asked us 'if it was good,' and
appeared pleased when we assured him that it was.

His deportment on this occasion was solemn and manly; an expressive
silence marked his conduct throughout the scene; in fact we attended him
as silently, and with close observation. He did not suffer any thing to
divert him from the business he had in hand, nor did he seem to be in the
least desirous to have it quickly dispatched, but paid this last rite
with an attention that did honour to his feelings as a man, as it seemed
the result of an heartfelt affection for the object of it, of whose
person nothing now remained but a piece or two of calcined bone. When his
melancholy work was ended, he stood for a few minutes with his hands
folded over his bosom, and his eye fixed upon his labours in the attitude
of a man in profound thought. Perhaps in that small interval of time many
ideas presented themselves to his imagination. His hands had just
completed the last service he could render to a woman who, no doubt, had
been useful to him; one to whom he was certainly attached (of many
instances of which we had at different times been witness) and one who
had left him a living pledge of some moments at least of endearment.
Perhaps under the heap which his hands had raised, and on which his eyes
were fixed, his imagination traced the form of her whom he might formerly
have fought for, and whom he now was never to behold again. Perhaps when
turning from the grave of his deceased companion, he directed all his
thoughts to the preservation of the little one she had left him; and when
he quitted the spot his anxiety might be directed to the child, in the
idea that he might one day see his Ba-rang-aroo revive in his little
motherless Dil-boong.

Cole-be's wife, who bore the same names as the deceased, lost them both
on this occasion, and was called by every one Bo-rahng-al-le-on. This
peculiarity was also observed by them with respect to a little girl of
ours, of whom Ba-rang-a-roo was so fond as to call her always by her own
name. On her decease she too was styled Bo-rahng-al-le-on.

Cole-be's wife, the namesake of the Ba-rang-a-roo I have just mentioned,
did not survive her many months. She died of a consumption, brought on by
suckling a little girl who was at her breast when she died. This
circumstance led to the knowledge of a curious but horrid custom which
obtains among these people. The mother died in the town, and when she was
taken to the grave her corpse was carried to the door of every hut and
house she had been accustomed to enter during the latter days of her
illness, the bearers presenting her with the same ceremonies as were used
at the funeral of Ba-loo-der-ry, when the little girl Dil-boong and the
boy Be-dia were placed before his corpse.

When the body was placed in the grave, the bye-standers were amazed to
see the father himself place the living child in it with the mother.
Having laid the child down, he threw upon it a large stone, and the grave
was instantly filled in by the other natives. The whole business was so
momentary, that our people had not time or presence of mind sufficient to
prevent it; and on speaking about it to Cole-be, be, so far from thinking
it inhuman, justified the extraordinary act by assuring us that as no
woman could be found to nurse the child it must die a much worse death
than that to which he had put it. As a similar circumstance occurred a
short time after, we have every reason to suppose the custom always
prevails among them; and this may in some degree account for the thinness
of population which has been observed among the natives of the country.*

[* Cole-be's child was about four or five months old, and seemed to have
partaken of its mother's illness. I think it could not have lived.]

I have said that these women were namesakes. Bennillong's wife was called
Ba-rang-a-roo Daring-ha; Cole-be's, Daring-ha Ba-rang-a-roo. A
peculiarity in their language occurs to me in this place. The males of
the same name call each other Da-me-li, the women call each other

I have mentioned their taking particular names on certain occasions. The
mutual friend who attends them to the field is styled Ca-bah-my; the
persons who at their funerals are painted red and white, are named Moo-by;
the namesake of a deceased person, if a male, is styled Bo-rahng; if a
woman, Bo-rahn-gal-le-on. When Nor-roo-ing came into the town to acquaint
us with the death of Yel-lo-way, she was perfectly a dismal sorrowing
figure. She had covered herself entirely with ashes, was named while she
continued so Go-lahng, and refused all kinds of sustenance.

The annexed Plate represents the burning of the corpse of a native who
was killed by a limb of a tree falling on him. He was brought to the spot
with all the preceding ceremonies. His head was laid to the northward,
and in his hands were deposited his spear and his throwing-stick. His
ashes were afterwards raked together, and a tumulus erected over them,
similar to that which Bennillong had raised over his wife.


In giving an account of an unwritten language many difficulties occur.
For things cognizable by the external senses, names may be easily
procured; but not so for those which depend on action, or address
themselves only to the mind: for instance, a spear was an object both
visible and tangible, and a name for it was easily obtained; but the use
of it went through a number of variations and inflexions, which it was
extremely difficult to ascertain; indeed I never could, with any degree
of certainty fix the infinitive mood of any one of their verbs. The
following sketch is therefore very limited, though, as far as it does
proceed, the reader may be assured of its accuracy.

Their language is extremely grateful to the ear, being in many instances
expressive and sonorous. It certainly has no analogy with any other known
language (at least so far as my knowledge of any other language extends),
one or two instances excepted, which will be noticed in the specimen. The
dialect spoken by the natives at Sydney not only differs entirely from
that left us by Captain Cook of the people with whom he had intercourse
to the northward (about Endeavour river) but also from that spoken by
those natives who lived at Port Stephens, and to the southward of Botany
Bay (about Adventure Bay), as well as on the banks of the Hawkesbury. We
often heard, that people from the northward had been met with, who could
not be exactly understood by our friends; but this is not so wonderful as
that people living at the distance of only fifty or sixty miles should
call the sun and moon by different names; such, however, was the fact.
In an excursion to the banks of the Hawkesbury, accompanied by two Sydney
natives, we first discovered this difference; but our companions
conversed with the river natives without any apparent difficulty, each
understanding or comprehending the other.

We have often remarked a sensible difference on hearing the same word
sounded by two people; and, in fact, they have been observed sometimes to
differ from themselves, substituting often the letter _b_ for _p_, and
_g_ for _c_, and _vice versa_. In their alphabet they have neither _s_
nor _v_; and some of their letters would require a new character to
ascertain them precisely.

What follows is offered only as a specimen, not as a perfect vocabulary
of their language.

--------------- -------


Co-ing The sun
Yen-na-dah The moon
Bir-rong A star
Mo-loo-mo-long The Pleiades
War-re-wull The Milky Way
Ca-ra-go-ro A cloud
general name
Cal-gal-le-on The Magellanic
the greater clouds
the lesser
Tu-ru-p A star falling
Co-ing bi-bo-ba Sun-rising
Bour-ra The sky
Co-ing bur-re-goo-lah Sun-setting
Gnoo-wing Night
Tar-re-ber-re Day
Gwe-yong Fire
Cad-jee Smoke
Gil-le A spark
Per-mul Earth
Ta-go-ra Cold
Yoo-roo-ga Heat
Men-nie-no-long Dew
Pan-na, and Wal-lan Rain
Ba-do Water
Chi-a-ra Name
Car-rig-er-rang The sea
Go-nie A hut

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