A 'Troublous' Time
It is difficult to imagine how an experience can lie forgotten in the back of the mind, only to emerge to just the right moment, as if it had been waiting for all the useful bits and pieces to fall into place before disclosing its true significance. But something like that happened when I recalled watching some Torres Strait Islanders pay their respects to an old man sitting at a corner table in the public bar of Thursday Island's Royal Hotel, one Saturday morning some twenty years ago. My attention was attracted by a curious protocol. everyone carefully minding their own business, yet each person knowing when to move across in turn to present themselves at the man's table. He smiled and shook hands, and in the hour or so he was there he hardly had a moment's peace. I remember thinking that he must have been a traditional leader, or perhaps the modern equivalent: an island councillor. Someone later explained that he was a the son of a Samoan diver who had come to the Strait with the early pearl-shellers, married a local woman, and settled down to acquire a small fleet of luggers. The old man had taken over his father's boats, but somehow had lost most of them in the Pacific war. By this account he owed his high standing to the fact that he had allowed his crews as they went about his business to ferry their friends and relatives around the islands, that over the years he had obliged dozens of families by giving their men work, and that he was always a fair and honest employer. The truth, as I later discovered, was somewhat more complicated than that.
The incident came back while I was mulling over the doctoral research on which this book is based. I had set out to address a problem first posed by Alfred Cort Haddon who led the prestigious Cambridge Anthropological Expedition to Torres Strait in 1898. Haddon is the starting point of most Torres Strait research and it is difficult to overstate the importance of his work. His association with the Strait goes back to 1888, when, as a young Professor of Zoology at the royal college of Science in Dublin, he went to study the structure and fauna of its reef systems. Haddon found the easy way of life on the islands beguiling, and soon came to value and enjoy the Islanders' open friendliness. He had always intended doing some ethnographic work while in the Strait, but he became so fascinated by the Islanders' rich oral tradition that before long whatever time he could spare was devoted to recording the details of their old customs. He took to the task with extraordinary zeal and in less than eight months had gathered enough ethnographic information to publish a number of papers on his return to Dublin, the most impressive of which was the long and comprehensive 'The Ethnography of the Western Tribe of Torres Straits', which ran to almost 150 pages.
Haddon's ethnographic publications brought him to the notice of Britain's anthropological luminaries and he quickly achieved an academic standing well beyond that which he could have aspired to in the more sedate world of marine biology. Like other natural scientists of the generation, Baldwin Spencer and Walter Roth to name but two, Haddon was hired away from zoology, and in 1893 returned to Cambridge, where he had been an undergraduate, to devote himself to the study of anthropology. In 1895 he was appointed lecturer in physical anthropology, and in 1897 obtained his doctorate in science. During these years he was also preparing for another expedition to the Strait to finish the work begun in 1888, but this time he did not intend going alone. Haddon was conscious of his own shortcomings, especially with regard to languages, so he set about gathering a multidisciplinary team which eventually consisted of some of the most respected and innovative scholars of the time: W.H.R. Rivers, C.S. Myers, W. McDougall, S.H. Ray, C.G. Seligman and Anthony Wilkin, all of whom, with the exception of Wilkin who died in Cairo in 1901, were leaders, or were destined to become leaders in their chosen fields. In Torres Strait they broke new ground in almost every aspect of their work, and the end result was a rigorous, sophisticated regional ethnography.
Perhaps the best test of the authenticity of Haddon's findings is to compare them with the material collected by Oswald Brierly from Barbara Thompson in 1849, some fifteen years before the Islanders came into intensive contact with outsiders. Thompson lived with the Kaurareg of Muralag (Prince of Wales Island) for almost five years after a turtling party rescued her from the wreck of the America in late 1844. In October 1849 she was taken by the young Aboriginal leader Tomagugu to HMS Rattlesnake when that ship was anchored in Evans Bay at the tip of Cape York Peninsula. Briefly, the ship's artist, immediately began to record her testimony. The significance of Brierly's journals for Torres Strait ethnography was not appreciated until David Moore began work on them in the early 1970s. Haddon never saw the journals, but as Moore observed, 'in almost every case Barbara Thompson's information agrees with and amplifies what Haddon was told'.
It is easy to be dismissive of late-nineteenth-century anthropology with the blustering evolutionary and diffusionist extrapolations, and indeed some of the Cambridge expedition's anthropometrics went perilously close to the kinds of measuring and classifying that fashioned the derogatory racial stereotypes of the day. As well as this, Haddon's own generalist writings were often highly speculative. But his Torres Strait work was more ethnography than anthropology, more empirical than speculative, and as such was not overly influenced by the major anthropological theorists of the time, men such as James Frazer and Edward B. Tylor, who directed Australian ethnography from the comfort of their armchairs, generally towards the conclusion that in Aboriginal society anthropology had made direct contact with the stone age. In contrast to most of his contemporaries who were emphasising the timelessness of Aboriginal society, Haddon infused his work on the Islanders with a strong sense of change.
Of course, in this Haddon simply was making sense of what he saw, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander societies were fundamentally different from one another. The Islanders had been wide-ranging traders, absorbing influences from both sides of the Strait and modifying them to suit their physical and social needs. He recognised that at some time in the past the society had been rigidly totemic, but that even before the interruption of western intrusion totemism was in decline, marriage was no longer strictly regulated along totemic lines, and totems were losing much of their special religious significance. Hero cults had become the focus of religious activity in some communities, and these were understood by the Islanders to have been introduced at particular points in history, not at the beginning of the world.
Haddon also collected stories about legendary figures he called 'culture-bearers', who spread new technologies through the Strait. Yawar of Badu (Mulgrave) was said to have introduced horticulture to Mer (Murray). Sesere of Mabuiag (Jervis) had shown the Islanders how to make the dugong harpoon. Bia of Badu taught the Kaurareg the method of using live remora (sucker fish) to catch turtle. Abob and Kos built the first stone fish traps at Mer, and then taught the technique to other island communities. Although these innovative 'culture-bearers' were not the focal points of cults, the people held them responsible for the diversity as well as for the homogeneity of their society, and they were fundamental to their view of themselves. It was obvious to Haddon that dynamic elements were at work within Torres Strait society, not the least of which was a willingness to be receptive to new ideas.
While Rivers and the rest went on to other things, Haddon devoted much of the rest of his long career to editing and organising the expedition's findings, the bulk of which were published in six volumes between 1901 and 1935. In the introduction to the final volume, which in many ways was a summation, he maintained that his reconstruction of Torres Strait's pre-colonial way of life was done, not simply for its own sake, but also to provide a starting point for an understanding of contemporary Islander society. Admittedly he was writing at a time when Britons, particularly those who held the purse strings, preferred their anthropology to be immediately relevant, with an emphasis on finding solutions to practical problems, such as how the empire's administrated this interest in the connections between past and present, and it was fundamental to his method that if both the past and the present were to be properly understood, the possible influence of intervening waves of contact had to be taken into account. Thus in his Torres Strait work he was constantly sifting the evidence for exotic traces and always on the lookout for the deceptive and sometimes misleading imprints of intruding cultures.
Be that as it may, after almost half a century of painstaking research Haddon conceded that there was a gap in his knowledge of past events in Torres Strait. He had to resign himself to the fact that he knew very little about the early frontier era, that crucial time in the mid-1800s when Sydney-based sailing masters and their predominantly Pacific Islander crews arrived to systematically exploit the Strait's abundant marine resources. During his first visit in 1888 he had heard disturbing rumours about their activities, and he later wrote:
If anything can be retrieved about the contact of the white men and their South Sea crews with the natives it would make most interesting and unsavoury reading. There can be little doubt that the events of the troublous period affected the natives very adversely in every way and that the ill effects persisted for a long time.
Over the past few decades enormous scholarly effort has been applied in an attempt to retrieve the history of interaction between Aborigines and colonists on the pastoral frontier, but the same can not be said for Torres Strait. Although a few excellent works have appeared, as yet none have explored the Torres Strait frontier to sufficient detail to allow a thorough survey of Haddon's 'troublous' period. This book is an attempt to do just that. Looking back, my initial approach to the research probably was influenced as much by the tenor of my own times as it was by the grave implication of Haddon's remarks. Insofar as Australia's colonial race relations history is concerned, the turbulent 1970s carried all before them as book after book came out detailing horror and destruction on the pastoral frontier. It seemed inevitable that in Torres Strait I would find much the same thing. As the work progressed, however, it became increasingly difficult to sustain in my mind the idea that the history of the Torres Strait frontier should be conceived in terms of 'invasion and resistance', and 'fatal impact', the most influential themes at the time. In fact I began to realize that I had been approaching the Strait from the wrong direction altogether, both in the historiographic and the geographic sense. There were clear indications that in the crucial early years of the colonial occupation the most significant influence for change in the island communities came not from Queensland but from the western Pacific. It followed then that my approach needed to be informed as much by Pacific history as it was by that of Queensland, and the historiographic traditions were and are different, the former emphasising notions of human agency and creative indigenous response. but he situation in Torres Strait was unique and it is not enough simply to shift perspective and approach the frontier from the different direction. J.W. Davidson enunciated a cornerstone principle of most contemporary Pacific historiography when he wrote:
The indigenous cultures (of the Pacific) were like islands whose coastal regions outsiders might penetrate, but whose heartlands they could never conquer.
This does not ring true for Torres Strait. There the islands are small, their heartlands were penetrable, and the indigenous culture changed radically. In short, neither the Queensland nor the Pacific perspective provides the complete answer. To both Torres Strait history is marginal, representing the frontiers of particular points of vies. These must be allowed to converge, and if done properly the term frontier becomes to a certain extent inappropriate, implying as it does one-way movement, and a single active force.
The key to this insight was the Pacific Islanders who arrived in the Strait, first as crew on beche-de-mer and pearl-shelling vessels, and then later as missionary teachers. As we shall see, for the most part they were not the poor benighted victims of unscrupulous 'blackbirders' one reads about in popular history books. For instance, there were individuals who had gone to the Strait from the Palmer river gold rush, who had sailed on whalers, been to China, and even served in the British Navy. Tongatapu Joe - Joseph John to the missionaries - the Pacific Islander who collected the first commercial quantities of pearl shell in the Strait in 1869, claimed to have fought at Sebastopol during the Crimean war. Most Pacific Islanders working in the Strait, especially after 1872, went there willingly after having been legally engaged, and were for all intents and purposes professional seamen. They were alive to their own best interests and used sophisticated strategies to improve their wages and conditions. The first large-scale strike we know of occurred in 1872, and in the following decades pearl-shelling masters and colonial administrators alike constantly complained of the Pacific Islanders' tendency to combine to force concessions from their employers.
The Pacific Islander teachers, brought to the Strait by the London Missionary Society pioneer the evangelisation of New Guinea, were just as independently minded. The missionaries liked to depict them as faithful servants and saintly. 'Uncle tom' types. However, closer examination reveals them making business arrangements with men in the maritime indust5ries, both black and white; visiting each other in their boasts to discuss policies to put to the missionaries, moving their stations to places that suited them better, and, on the one day of the year the missionaries visited them, playing the one-dimensional role the missionaries wished to see. The Pacific Islanders were shaping their own destiny in Torres Strait. Once convinced of that the actions of the indigenous people, the Torres Strait Islanders themselves, begin to reveal themselves in a new light. There is no doubt that they suffered terrible hardships as they struggled to come to terms with the rapidly changing circumstances that confronted them. The Torres Strait frontier was a violent place, and during the colonial occupation Torres Strait Islanders bore the brunt of that violence. But all things considered they were remarkably successful in adapting to the challenges posed by Western intrusion. As with the Pacific Islanders their responses were creative and diverse, and it is difficult to reduce them to a simple pattern. different communities faced different situations and change did not occur uniformly. but Torres Strait culture was not lost or subsumed rather it changed, subsuming in that process elements of the cultures (for there were more than one) that impinged upon it. And although what emerged was very different from the old, it was not necessarily inferior to it. Certainly it was a culture more suited to the times.
The essential components of this new culture - what present-day Islanders call kastom - were in place by the time Haddon made his first visit in 1888, and he was so struck by the extent and pace of the change that he described it as a metamorphosis. The transformation was truly remarkable. In a matter of a few decades between the mid-1860s, when the colonial occupation began, and the mid-1860s, Torres Strait society had come to resemble others that had been brought under the sway of the Pacific maritime trade and Christian mission. The most obvious outward signs of change were that the people had become predominantly Christian, had moved into villages clustered around mission houses, were willing and capable workers in the maritime industries, and in many cases could read and write.
The Islanders' success, if we can call it that, can be attributed to a number of inter-relating factors. In paleo-anthropological terms Torres Strait society was young and energetic, the Islanders having sailed from the southern coast of New Guinea to settle the region not more than two of three thousand years ago. They maintained constant contact with the poeples to their north and shared in the diffusion and complex interplay of culture traits that characterised life on that coast. As already mentioned there is good evidence that the Islanders were receptive to new religious ideas, and this might partly explain why they took so readily to Christianity when the missionaries arrived. Whatever the case, the new religion not only helped them cope psychologically with the trauma of contact, but also allowed them access to a degree of power in the new order by way of participation in the mission hierarchy. Their quick acceptance of at least its outward forms also encouraged colonial officials, and colonial society more generally, to look upon them favourably, and thus the process of colonisation was smoothed.
Another significant factor is that the Torres Strait Islanders were a maritime people and avid traders. The labyrinthine reef systems that surround their home islands were rich in pearl and conus shell, and these, along with other commodities, entered a vibrant inter-island trading network that extended to the coasts of Australia and New Guinea, and beyond. When British shipping began to make regular use of the Strait early in the nineteenth century, the Islanders took the opportunity to incorporate European manufactures into the network. With increased shipping, that trade expanded and the overall volume and velocity of trade in the indigenous network increased. The Islanders became steadily more interested in a wider range of European manufactures, and more sophisticated in their dealings with the passengers and crews of passing ships. In effect this 'passing trade' phase of contact did much to prepare them for what was to come - the colonial occupation of their islands.
Once the occupation had begun, however, the most telling agents of change were the Pacific Islanders. They settled on the islands, married local women, and some, by virtue of their position in either the maritime industries or the mission, acquired an elite status which enabled them to exert an influence over the affairs of the island communities out of all proportion to their numbers. This elite, eventually composed of the descendants of Pacific and Torres Strait Islanders, became so deeply rooted in Torres Strait society that even in recent times its representatives continued to dominate the affairs of a few island communities, and it might even be argued that they still wield the bulk of economic and political power in the Strait. Even so, the descendants of Pacific Islanders are, and have long been, an integral part of Torres Strait society, and for that reason it is difficult to define adequately their role in the colonising process.
Which brings me back at the Royal Hotel. what I witnessed that Saturday was the workings of a remnant system of relationships which may by now have disappeared altogether. The old man was one of the last of the Pacific Islander elite. Not the last Torres Strait descendant of Pacific Islanders by any means hundreds of Torres Strait Islanders till take pride in their 'South Sea' ancestry. But certainly one of the last of those who, through the medium of what I suspect was a paternalism not unlike that described by Genovese for the Old South and by Ann McGrath for the Northern Territory cattle industry, were able to preserve their elite status by holding the loyalty and respect of other Torres Strait Islanders. I say 'suspect' because the relationship did not mature into its paternalistic form until well into the twentieth century and so is beyond the scope of this book. In the early years dealt with here the modes of control were more straight-forward. Nor did this particular form of paternalism ever closely resemble the 'massa'-slave or boss-boy relationship. for one thing it was monochromatic, which tended to dull, though not entirely blunt, its racist edge. Just how it worked needs detailed study, but it started to make sense to me when I recalled the events of that Saturday, and they only made sense years later when enough of the other bits and pieces of the colonial occupation had been put together.
What follows then is a history of the first twenty years or so of the colonial occupation, a period that coincides pretty well with Haddon's 'troublous' time. It attempts, at least in part, to describe and explain the genesis of the relationship between Torres Strait and Pacific Islanders, not so much for its own sake, but because it played a decisive role in expediting the emergence of the colonial order. The book is not only about Islanders, though they of course are central to the story. Aborigines and New Guineans living on the shores of the Strait were also affected by the occupation. Indeed, the Aboriginal groups at the tip of Cape York Peninsula suffered more than anyone else, and their struggle is dealt with in some detail. Sailing masters and their crew, missionaries, and Governments, both imperial and colonial. were crucial in shaping events. Decisions taken in faraway capitals often had unforeseen consequences for the people of the region, and ultimately it was the Queensland Government's refusal to allow for the different circumstances in Torres Strait that led to the Islanders being brought under the restrictive provisions of the various Aboriginals protection Acts. This marked the end of one era and the beginning of the next, a time of stifling and oppressive protectionism, the harbinger of which was The Aboriginals Protection and Restriction of the Sale of Opium Act, 1897.
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We know very little about the way Torres Strait Islanders conceptualised the past, but for the last hundred years or so their view seems to have been both episodic and evolutionary; episodic in the sense that they have structured their history around a single momentous event, The 'Coming of the Light'. A clear indication of this can be found in the distinction Islanders draw between the creole words bipotaim and pastaim, words strangers might take to mean the same thing. However, bipotaim refers to the era before the coming of the missionaries in 1871, while pastaim refers to events which are similarly beyond living memory, but after the people had accepted Christianity. For generations of Islanders the arrival of the missionaries has marked the divide between darkness and light. They brought deliverance from a life most preferred to forget, certain aspects of which had become anathema to their religion, and to their idea of themselves as a civilised people. but while the missionaries undoubtedly exerted a powerful influence, to those who look with a more secular eye profound change was already under way before 1871. by then many Islanders were already at work on beche-de-mer and pearl-shelling vessels, and as early as 1836 a few had even been told of the 'one true God', though at the time they refused to believe what they heard.
Different ways of making sense of the past make different histories, so it is not surprising that what we know of bipotaim is often confused and contradictory. That Torres Strait society experienced an era of radical change before any systematic attempt was made to incorporate its traditions into the wider body of historical knowledge further complicates things. Islander memories may have changed in passing by word of mouth from one generation to another, particularly as attitudes within the communities have shifted over time. Just lately the Islanders have begun to look back on bipotaim more favourably, and while they remain devoutly Christian, a growing number now seek in elements of the pre-colonial culture the means to reaffirm their identity as Torres Strait Islanders and so strengthen their sense of community. As radios, televisions and cassette players beam the outside world in the task becomes more urgent, and the tendency to remember a more nostalgic bipotaim grows stronger.
In much the same way our own notions of the past are always removed to a certain extent from historical reality. Most of our impressions of bipotaim come from strangers who watched from the decks of ships, or from closer quarters in the beach villages. but their written observation record what they thought they saw, and what they thought they saw was determined in no small part by their expectations and past experience. for instance, when in 1876 the missionary Samuel McFarlane observed that the inhabitants of Torres Strait were 'the miserable remnant of a worn out race', he was not only expressing a commonly held Victorian notion about degenerate societies, but also constructing a psychological wall against his own guilt for having introduced a devastating measles epidemic into the islands the year before. For these reasons, when assessing the evidence about things bipotaim it is wise to proceed cautiously.
Yet those interested in Torres Strait are perhaps more fortunate than others who face similar problems. A considerable number of observers from a variety of backgrounds over a span of some fifty years recorded their impressions of the Islanders before their way of life was substantially altered. Then afterwards Haddon and his colleagues systematically co-altered. Then afterwards Haddon and his colleagues systematically collected information from those Islanders who were alive bipotaim and who still remembered. From this wide-ranging evidence it is possible to piece together a reasonably authentic representation. This construction is essential, for without it there is no way to assess the transformations that came about as a result of the colonial occupation. It is also crucial to the explanation of how and why things changed. Those who study societies marginal to their own often ignore the fact that they possess an autonomous logic. Change might be imposed from without, but the marginal society also responds creatively to transform its own cultural order, and the responses are determined, at least in part, by existing patterns. In Torres Strait, however, outside stimuli were being applied long before sustained contact commenced, so it is necessary to look not only to the pre-contact culture but to the quickening pace of bipotaim for clues about the colonial occupation. In spite of local tradition bipotaim did not become pastaim overnight.
* * *
The Torres Strait Islanders were a maritime people, and the large sea-going canoe is perhaps the most significant symbol of bipotaim. It was the craft that brought them to the Strait, and without it their society could not have survived. An isolated human group ceases to be viable if its population falls below a certain level, probably around the 500 mark. Most Torres Strait islands were too small to support a population of this size, and those that were large enough were too infertile. Only two of the twenty or so islands inhabited bipotaim and populations exceeding 400. Thus, the canoe not only enabled the Islanders to exploit the rich marine resources of the region efficiently, but more importantly it allowed them to be part of a wider community. All the island groups were directly or indirectly connected to each another, and in all the Islanders numbered between 3000 and 4000.
This wider Torres Strait community can be divided into seven groups, determined partly by proximity, and partly by ethnicity. The inhabitants of the three northern islands of Boigu (Talbot), Dauan (Mt. Cornwallis) and Saibai comprised one extended community. These islands are within sight of the New Guinea coast and their inhabitants had close social and economic ties with the anew Guineans. Indeed Boigu and Saibai are composed of mud gouged out by the swollen river systems of the adjacent mainland over thousands of wet seasons. Like the new Guineans therefore, the Islanders were village dwellers and intensive cultivators, farming the fertile soil built up behind the flat low littoral belts of mangrove. Dauan, a small high volcanic island, lies between Boigu and Saibai, but despite the different terrain the people there lived in much the same way as their neighbours.
About 60 kilometres ot the immediate south lies Mabuiag (Jervis). Its inhabitants, together with those of Badu (Mulgrave), formed another group. Their way of life was quite different from that of those to the north. They shifted their village sites according to seasons and were only sporadic cultivators. The reef systems in their vicinity were beyond the influence of the muddy runoff from the New Guinea rivers and so were rich with marine life. Their economy was based on the sea and from it they gathered their most important foodstuffs. The Mabuaig and Badu Islanders may also have been physically different from those to their north. In 1878 the missionary James Chalmers wrote:
One crossing to Saibai (from Mabuiag) it was evident we were amongst another race. Those on Mabuiag are huge Australians. Those on Dauan and Saibai are quite different and much better looking.
However, the anthropometric comparisons made by Haddon do not bear this out.
Although the channel between Badu (Mulgrave) and Moa (Banks) is only a few kilometres wide, the people of Moa form a group with those of Muralag (Prince of Wales) about 40 kilometres further south. This group shared some cultural characteristics with the Aborigines on neighbouring Cape York Peninsula. Their territory was large and their numbers small; perhaps 200 to 250 on Moa, and from 50 to 100 on Muralag. They primarily lived from the sea, and regularly shifted their camp sites. Despite these differences, however, all the western Islanders, from Saibai in the north to Muralag in the south, spoke the same basically Australian language, Kala Lagaw Ya. On the other side of the Strait, sheltered inside the northern terminus of the Great Barrier Reef, is a group of small, very fertile islands, the remnants of Pleistocene volcanoes, whose inhabitants spoke a different language altogether, a Papuan language - Meriam Mir. Bipotaim the islands of Erub (Darnley), Ugar (Stephens) and Mer (Murray) were densely populated, with permanent beach villages and extensive gardens planted on the land behind. The people built large beehive-shaped huts similar to some found in the western Pacific, but unique in their part of the world, and these they surrounded with high bamboo palisades. The sea is dark blue and deep, which made some marine foods, such as dugong and turtle, difficult to catch. Having thus to rely heavily on their gardens, the north-eastern Islanders were probably the most sedentary Torres Strait Islanders.
About 30 kilometres to the north-west of Ugar (Stephens) a long broken line of large platform reefs extends from near the New Guinea coast to within 40 kilometres of Cape York Peninsula. Although there are some mud and volcanic islands along this line, the majority are vegetated coral cays. These, the youngest islands in the Strait, are infertile, lack fresh water, but are surrounded by a superabundant sea. The inhabitants are now generally referred to as central Islanders, but bipotaim they comprised three separate groups. The people of Massid *Yorke), Aurid (Aureed), Damut (Dalrymple), Mauar (Rennel) and Paremar (Coconut) were one. Those of Tutu (Warrior), am (Turtle-Backed), Giaka (Dangeneas) and Gaba (Two Brothers) another, and Naghir (Mt. Ernest) and Waraber (Sue) the third.
The central Islanders all spoke a dialect of Kala Lagaw Ya, but some individuals may have been bilingual. Whatever the case they could communicate with the Meriam Mir speakers by way of a simple sign language which was employed throughout the islands. This helped facilitate trade and also as useful when sailing in company. The central Islanders were highly mobile and constantly moved about their home islands. They had close ties with the people of the New Guinea coast and traded as far south as Cape Grenville, some 150 kilometres down the eastern side of Cape York Peninsula. Indeed, Kebisu, a leading Tutu (Warrior) man, was said by the missionaries to be the most widely known person in the whole region. Although the Islanders were a diverse people, divided by language and custom, they were not isolated from each other, or from the peoples of the adjacent coasts. In the season of the south-easterly trade winds they put to sea on hunting, trading and raiding expeditions. These were often all-male affairs, but the Islanders also sailed in family groups to visit friends and relatives. Preparing for long voyages brought the community together. The canoes had to be made thoroughly seaworthy and redecorated, food gathering and preserving activities needed to be stepped up, and gifts and trade items such as pandanus mats had to be prepared. The arrival of trading parties from other islands broke the normal routine. Gifts were exchanged and new dances performed. The Islanders usually married outside their clan, so these visits also provided the opportunity for courtship.
The canoes were constructed from a single hollowed-out log sometimes as much as twenty metres long. Planks fashioned from the sides of derelict canoes were lashed to the hull with fibre to form a raised gunwale, and double outriggers were attached to cross-poles to provide living space and stowage, and at sea the craft was powered by two rectangular plaited pandanus mat sails hoisted on poles stepped in the bow. A retractable centreboard was fitted at the bow to reduce leeway to windward and give added manoeuvrability, and the canoe was steered by a broad plank used as a sweep at the stern. Pandanus mats were strapped around the bow as spray preventers, and when the canoe was not under weigh they were erected over the platform to dry and to provide shelter from the weather. A large canoe required a crew of at least seven and there was room for as many passengers. The Islanders were dexterous sailors and had a vast store of sea-lore; they could navigate by the stars, and the seasons were named for the prevailing winds, as were directions. They possessed mental charts of the prevailing winds, as were directions. They possessed mental charts of the labyrinthine reef systems of the Strait, and understood the rhythms of its shifting tides and currents. In this maritime world the canoe was the most significant symbol of a man's wealth and status. A large well decorated craft indicated success. There was no real equivalent of the Melanesian 'big man', but a successful trader had contacts in many communities and accrued great influence. He had the wherewithal to mount the most effective hunting, trading and raiding expeditions, and although there were no hereditary 'chiefs', the opinions of a man who owned a large canoe had considerable weight when decisions were taken in the kwod, the men's meeting house.
It is hardly surprising, therefore, that a fairly high proportion of the Islanders' material wealth was imported from beyond the Strait. Masks, feather headdresses, pigments and other personal ornaments were traded for on the New Guinea coast, as were bows, arrows, stone clubs and, most importantly, canoes. Trade with the Aborigines of Cape York was mainly in spears, spear-throwers and red ochre, but these things were required in considerable quantities. The Islanders preferred Aboriginal spears to the ones they manufactured themselves, and multi-pronged fishing spears made at Cape York were used throughout the islands. The people of Moa (Banks), Muralag (Prince of Wales), and the most southern group of central Islanders, also used the Aboriginal throwing stick and spear rather than the Papuan bow and arrow in warfare. All Islanders favoured pigments from New Guinea, but these were scarce so they traded for ochre mind in the Aboriginal quarries of the Cap. It was used lavishly to decorate everything from ceremonial regalia to canoes, and even wigs. Trade with the Aborigines may not have been as diverse as that with the New Guineans, but it is difficult to overstate its importance in the Islanders' daily lives.
Bipotaim the Islanders' wealth was based largely on shell. Turtle shell, conus shell armbands, and pearl shell breast plates were the most important exports. These were highly prized by the New Guineans; much of the pearl shell which reached the Central Highlands originated in Torres Strait. The most important item obtained in New Guinea was the canoe, and it provides the best illustration of how the trade network operated. while some smaller craft were locally made, trees large enough to form the centre hulls of the seagoing canoes grew only in New Guinea. If say a Kaurareg from Muralag (Prince of Wales) wanted a canoe he would negotiate with someone from either Badu (Mulgrave) or Mghir (Mt. Ernest). by way of either western or central island intermediaries the order would eventually reach the New Guinea cost and be transmitted to the people of the fly delta. They would then send up the river where the tree was felled and hollowed, and a single outrigger attached. This would be paddled down the river and along the coast to Mawatta or Saibai where the raised gunwales and double outriggers were added. It was decorated and used as it passed between the islands until it reached Muralag. The owner would then name it and add his own personal touches. Payment was usually made in three annual installments and the whole transaction took some years to complete. It was important to the whole community to keep the channels of trade open, and if for some reason the purchaser could not meet the payments his friends and relatives might come to his assistance. Different island communities also specialised in the production of certain goods and there was a considerable amount of inter-island trade. Thus the inter-island and external trade networks intertwined to create a complex system of personal obligations which loosely bound the communities together.
Although violence was moderated by the need to keep the trade routes open, the Islanders were head-hunters, and the smaller groups lived in constant fear of raids. Men were admired for their fighting skills, and the taking of heads enhanced personal and clan prestige. The technique of removing an enemy's head was ritualised, and warriors carried special bamboo knives (upi) and cane hoops (singi) to perform the feat. The severed heads were cooked, preserved, and made more life-like by the addition of beeswax noses, and eyes of nautilus nacre, and then placed in a skull-house (kwikwi-iut). This was a place of great ritual power and no spot was more sacred. Raids were often mounted to avenge some real or imagined act of hostility, and violence could occur with frightening unpredictability. For the Islanders, sickness, accident and death were almost always caused by malevolent magic. In these circumstances the aggrieved would determine the source of the magic by on of a variety of divination methods, and plan their revenge. In this way a perfectly innocent groups might be surprised and slaughtered. However, it is probable that the diviners would normally find some traditional enemy guilty of the offence, and their attack more often would be the continuation of a long-running feud rather than an act of random violence.
We know very little about the motives for violence in tribal societies. It could occur in ways which are unfamiliar and largely unfathomable to outsiders. One illustration of this is the pattern of violence known as the 'mourning war'. After the death of an eminent or much loved member of a tribe a raiding party would go in search of an enemy to kill, in order 'to wipe one's yes'. This pattern was present in North American Indian and Melanesian cultures, and perhaps in Torres Strait. Kwoiam, the principal cult hero of the Kala Lagaw Ya speakers, decapitated his mother in a fit of rage, and then to assuage his grief went on a bloody rampage in which he slaughtered most of the inhabitants of three villages. but the Islanders' belief that violence could be done by magic complicates any analysis of their motives and makes it impossible to determine if the 'mourning war', so clearly represented in the Kwoiam legend, was an actual element of their war culture.
The Islanders believed in a continued existence after death, and the spirit world was never far from the thoughts and actions of the living. The marki, a person's spirit, inhabited not only the body but all things associated with the person. The marki retained and in some cases increased its potency after the body had died. In an effort to harness this potency ritual cannibalism was practised. Also the skulls of departed relatives were preserved to enable a means of direct communication with the marki. They were evoked to increase the productivity of a gardener to ensure success in dugong or turtle hunting. sometimes the preserved skull of a renowned hunter would accompany the men in their canoes. Thus the clan was more than the sum of its living parts, and the skulls taken during head-hunting raids contributed to its spiritual power.
Bipotaim Torres Strait was a violent place and the Islanders had to be constantly vigilant. Trading situations were often tense, and when a party needed to camp overnight in another group's territory the canoes were always kept in the water to allow for a quick escape. sometimes a dream might spark panic and the whole party would rush to their canoes and pull away from the shore. Smaller, more vulnerable groups, such as those of southern Torres Strait, seemed to live with an almost perpetual underlying fear. Yet there were inherent social mechanisms that acted to defuse potentially violent conflicts between the more closely associated communities. The Islanders shared common totemic associations, and members of the same totemic group were reluctant to harm each other. In practice this had little effect when raiding parties set upon people from distant parts, because they would be unaware of their enemy's totem. Nevertheless it did moderate violence between individuals who knew each other. This was also the case with the wadwam. Wadwam signifies a relationship similar to our uncle-nephew relationship. If this relationship existed between some of the members of opposing parties it was a wadwam's responsibility to try to prevent violence. Because of the nature of the classificatory kinship system in Torres Strait a man had many wadwam and they all bore this responsibility.
Ritualistic combat, a feature common to many tribal societies, was also resorted to. This was something like a duel on a large scale. Joseph Beete Jukes, the naturalist aboard HMS Fly, witnessed an encounter of this sort when the ship was anchored off Eruth (Darnley) in 1844. There was a great deal of noise and gesticulating, and arrows were fired until someone was hurt, and the matter was then considered resolved. In close island communities such as those of the Strait, ritual combat served a vital social function. It acted like a safety valve to release pent-up tension and allowed potentially bloody feuds to be defused. More formal rituals were employed to bring conflict between traditionally hostile communities to an end, however these usually resulted in nothing more permanent than an uneasy truce.
The Islanders invested a great deal of time, energy and ingenuity in the making of ceremonial regalia, and throughout the islands there were numerous ceremonies and dances associated with the various hero-cults. Elaborate funerary rites were performed and in the north-eastern islands these involved the preservation and decoration of corpses as well as skulls. The people had varying traditions about their origins, and about how much cult arrived on their island. They also had traditions about individuals who had introduced technical innovations. These were all celebrated in song and dance, and new dances were created to relive memorable events. During initiation ceremonies the young were introduced to the religious life of the community, as well as being inculcated with the moral code. Amongst other things they were taught that theft was wrong, that parents must be honoured, that the hungry should be fed, and that a man must be brave to combat. Women normally initiated courtship, and for the unattached, sexual activity was fairly unrestricted. Overt promiscuity, however, was frowned upon and there were severe sanctions against adultery. Polygamy was normal and children were indulged.
Most outsiders who encountered Torres Strait Islanders bipotaim thought them healthy and athletic-looking. But during the north-westerly season when the weather turned hot and stormy, and flukey winds limited the opportunities for food collecting, the Islanders sometimes showed signs of malnutrition. They also suffered from a mild form of malaria carried by the swarms of mosquitoes that came with the rains. Mosquitoes also introduced the parasites responsible for elephantiasis, which seems to have been common bipotaim. A 'cancerous complaint' that destroyed the mouth and nose was also common. The Islanders had treatments for all these ailments, but some were more effective than others. While the overall impression was of a healthy people, it has to be remembered that infanticide was practised and sickly individuals rarely grew to adulthood. Torres Strait Islanders did not live in paradise bipotaim, but they certainly possessed a culture that equipped them to live full and happy lives. There were times of scarcity as well as abundance, of joy as well as fear. They exploited their environment efficiently, with time to spare for leisure and to devote to a rich ceremonial life. Like all cultures theirs was complex and dynamic. They did not live in isolation, but were wide-ranging traders in regular contact with the different cultures to their north and south. In short, they were no strangers to new faces and new ideas.
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In late 1800 the hydrographic survey sloop HMS Herald spent about a week anchored off Keriri (Hammond) in southern Torres Strait, and each day it was visited by a group of Kulkalaig from Nghir (Mt. Ernest). The sloop's commander, Henry Denham, described the Islanders as being well proportioned, of average height, with 'agreeable, intelligent faces'. He thought them 'remarkably cheerful', with the 'happiest sort' of laugh. Like most outsiders bipotaim, he considered them 'very superior ' to the Aborigines. but what most impressed him was their courage in the face of what he regarded as the 'most distressing privations'. In his journal Denham wrote:
How they exist in their itinerancy without fruits, roots, animal food or any substitute for bread, and indeed at seasons, with scarcely any water, invited commiseration, but the miserable canoe in which they not only fish along shore, but cross the tideway and chopping sea caused by a fierce trade wind - painfully indicates their cramped resources, while however, showing their wonderful powers of endurance.
Denham's comments are interesting for a few reasons. Most Europeans who visited Torres Strait bipotaim, including one of Denhajm's own officers, thought that the Islanders were technically well equipped for their way of life. Indeed Matthew Flinders was most impressed by the Islanders' canoes. Denham's remarks, therefore, serve to balance those of others who failed to recognise that life at sea in this sort of craft could be hard. But Denham did concede that although he considered the Islanders 'the most destitute of human beings', they were happy, healthy, and well fed. Obviously their 'cramped resources' must have been sufficient to provide their needs.
Denham also expressed admiration for the Islanders' temperament and courage. This is more surprising, for on that very spot a year before a group of them had attacked and slaughtered eighteen helpless castaways from the wreck of the horse transport Sapphire. Although Denham was instructed to inquire into the matter he makes no mention of it in his journal. Instead he indulged his guests and wrote of future 'cooroberies' when:
doubtless the 'Herald''s visit will be pleasantly talked over, heightened by such reminders as the pipes, jewsharps, cutlery, looking glasses and handkerchiefs, for a long time to be.
Removed from its historical context Denham's attitude is puzzling. One would expect to find some reference in his journal to the Sapphire massacre, and for him to have been less convivial with the Islanders. But the officers and scientists attached to British hydrographic vessels were well disposed towards native peoples. They generally shared the view common amongst the educated classes of Britain that native attacks were almost invariably the result of European provocation.
Even so, the Islanders' skill in dealing with strangers must also be taken into account to fully explain the friendly relations that existed between the Kulkalaig and the officers and men of the Herald. The Kulkaiaig were probably the same group who attacked the Sapphire castaways the year before, but they clambered aboard the Herald and were seemingly unconcerned to be left stranded and vulnerable on the deck when their canoes pulled back to Keriri. In keeping with traditional patterns of behaviour when confronting strangers they kept their women ashore and out of sight, and also left their weapons on Keriri to demonstrate their friendly intentions. They were able to shrewdly assess the risk to themselves of going aboard the ship, and were sufficiently experienced in dealing with these kinds of situations to know it was one worth taking. Trade was their primary concern. They could already pronounce words such as 'tobacco', 'biscuit', 'knife', 'good' and 'more', and quickly learned others. But they showed no interest in teaching the sailors any of their words. They knew what they wanted when they boarded the Herald, and culture exchange of the less pragmatic sort seemed to bore them. Nevertheless, this type interaction was a crucial determinant of the pattern of contact that was to come later, during the colonial occupation. It gave the Islanders a taste for European manufactures and allowed them to develop the strategies to deal successfully with strangers who came in ships.
Indeed, there was considerable contact between Islanders and Europeans bipotaim. Denham noted, for instance, that three ships passed Keriri (Hammond) each day during the Herald's stay, and that was fairly late in the season. by the time the colonial occupation began in the mid-1860s therefore, a generation of Islanders had been participating in the new trade and they knew enough to allow them to efficiently exploit each encounter. Even so, their understanding of colonial culture necessarily was narrow and confined, and the reverse was also true. Colonial Australians only understood particular aspects of Torres Strait culture. In the long run it was the colonists' lack of understanding that mattered most, for they were the irresistible force that would eventually control the Strait. Yet, had the Islanders been less adaptable, and less willing to confront the new circumstances, they, like so many other small tribal societies, may not have survived the nineteenth century.
Before the 1860s very few colonists had any experience of Torres Strait. Their opinions of the Islanders were formed by the newspaper reports of attacks on innocent castaways, the popular accounts of travellers whose vessels anchored in the lee of Torres Strait islands on the voyage to England, and the more scholarly works of men such as Matthew Flinders, Joseph Beete Jukes and John MacGillivray. Flinders, who passed through the Strait three times in his career, gave a fairly detailed account of the people of Mer (Murray) in his 1814 publication, Terra Australis. He described them as, 'active, muscular men, about the middle size ... with countenances expressive of quick apprehension'. Although he considered them similar in appearance to the Aborigines of Australia he acknowledged hat they were very different from Bongaree, the Port Jackson Aborigine who sailed with him in 1802. flinders estimated the population of Mer to be about 700, could not discern a chief amongst them, described their villages, gardens and canoes, and explained that they were keen to exchange fruit, shell and artifacts for iron.
His account also included details of some violent clashes that had taken place between the Islanders and the crews of passing ships. There was the attack on the Pandora castaways at Morilag (Mt. Adolphus) in 1791, the audacious attack on Bligh's ships Providence and Assistant in 1792, and the killing of five seamen who had landed at Erub (Darnley) from the ships Chesterfield and Homuzzer in 1793. Flinders advised sailing masters to be cautious and not land boats on inhabited Torres Strait islands, and recommended that a strict watch be kept on Islanders who approached ships in canoes to barter. But he added:
A British seaman will, at the same time, studiously avoid all cause of quarrel with these poor misguided people, and not fire upon them but where self-defense makes it indispensable.
For more than twenty years after Terra Australis was published mariners followed Flinders' advice, and his recommended track through the Strait. They anchored in the lee of Mer (Murray), and in the south easterly season trade with passing ships became a regular feature of Meriam life. Fortunately a few reasonably detailed and revealing accounts of these meetings survive.
Torres Strait Islanders wearing traditional headdress
In order to ensure mutual safety it was fairly common for sailing masters to make their way through the Strait in company, and in June 1822 parties from the ships, the Mary Anne, Almorah and Richmond, went ashore together at Mer to barter. When the trade was concluded there was an archery contest and a wrestling match, and a few of the passengers wandered through the village. According to one, the whole affair was carried on with almost uninterrupted good humour. This is not to suggest that the landing parties ignored Flinders' warnings altogether. In fact they went ashore well armed, 'in case of accidents'. but remarkably the Islanders placed green leaves between the flints and pans of their fowling pieces and pistols, and repeated the words 'puta puta', which meant 'peace'. It seems then, that not only were the Islanders already aware of the use of guns, but that they had some understanding of their mechanisms. Another party which landed at Mer in 1833 noted that the people were, 'amused, but not alarmed', when some seagulls were shot to show them the effect of firearms. One of the Islanders took a musket from a boat, pointed it towards the island, and repeated the words, 'powta powta, Mera powta'. A member of the landing party wrote:
the captain is powta, his wife is powta, the chief mate is powta, I am powta, the ship is powta, the island is powta, the natives are all powta, the boats are powta, the canoes are powta - everything in fact is powta, - yet we cannot make out what powta is.
Of course powta meant 'peace', and these incidents clearly illustrate just how anxious the Meriam were to impress visitors from passing ships with their friendly intentions. The most violent incident in the history of contact between Islanders and Europeans was still in living memory in 1822 and 1833. The 1783 attack on a watering party at Erub (Darnley), referred to above, provoked terrible retribution. Several Islanders had been killed, and 135 huts, sixteen large canoes, and whatever gardens that could be found had been destroyed. A village at nearby Ugar (Stephens) was also burnt, several more Islanders killed and a boy kidnapped, as the sailors searched for survivors. This devastation of neighbouring islands might have been the initial reason why the Meriam thought it wise to ensure their relations with the passengers and crews of passing ships remained friendly, but they were also extremely anxious to trade. By the 1830s they were no longer intimidated by the sight of firearms, and displayed a great deal of confidence in their dealings with Europeans. Europeans were also more confident in their relations with them, and by that time they were known to mariners generally as an amicable, if somewhat 'light-fingered' people.
The Islanders' attitude to Europeans undoubtedly was shaped by their desire for manufactures, and their initial strategy was to obtain these in any way possible. In 1792 Bligh's ships repulsed attacks at nearly every inhabited island they passed, but after each encounter except the last the Islanders returned to trade for iron. They knew and prized iron before most probable first source being shipwrecks. It was not until they had assessed the defensive capabilities of the Europeans that they turned to trade as the most effective way of getting what they wanted. But the circumstances of these early trading encounters were akin to armed truces. It was only after repeated exchanges that the Islanders came to appreciate the long-term benefit to themselves of continuing trade with passing ships. This probably took decades to achieve, but the Meriam certainly had reached that point by the 1830s.
After decades of continuous contact the north-eastern Islanders acquired a reputation amongst sailing masters for being friendly and intelligent. Other Torres Strait groups were not as well laced to take advantage of the new trade and so develop the same kind of relationship. Although the central Islanders were the most wide-ranging traders in the traditional network, few ships anchored in the vicinity of their home islands. Sailing masters using Flinders' route by-passed them altogether, and those preferring Bligh's Entrance anchored off Bramble Cay or Erub (Darnley) overnight and were reluctant to make another stop. Indeed, it was important to make a morning run if the lookout's view was not to be obscured by the sinking western sun. However, the fact that the central Islanders were poorly positioned did nothing to dampen their enthusiasm for the new trade. In 1853 the master of the Lady Peel wrote that when passing Paremar (Coconut) on this route:
|The natives were in great agitation, and seemed to be splitting their very lungs to induce me to stop, but I passed them like a flying cloud, carrying all studding sails.|
In 1865 Ralph Liddle of the John Temperly recalled a similar experience. The central Islanders took every opportunity to barter with the crew of vessels they encountered on their long canoe voyages, but the 'hit or miss' nature of this trade was not likely to foster the kind of attitude to Europeans that developed in the north-east.
To the south, the Kaurareg of Muralag (Prince of Wales) had fairly frequent encounters with the crews of ships using the dangerous entrances to the east of Cape Grenville, and the inner route. These passed through channels in to the north and south of the Prince of Wales group, and the small islands in Endeavour Strait were recognised anchorages and watering places. Also, beche-de-mer fishermen working Queensland's east coast sometimes interrupted their voyages west to Asian ports to trade with the Kaurareg. By the 1840s the Kaurareg knew that the strangers placed little value on their artifacts, which in many respects were similar to those of the Aborigines, so they obtained New Guinea bows and arrows from Islanders to the north and kept them exclusively to barter.
Yorke Island, Torres Strait
Although the Kaurareg valued the new trade they were wary of armed strangers and extremely cautious when dealing with them. Their timidity is partly explained by the fact that they were a very small group who had developed vigilant habits as a result of long-term hostilities with their more numerous neighbours to the north - the Kaurareg and Badulaig were traditional enemies, and Badulag raids on the Kaurareg were unremitting. As well as this the Kaurareg did more trade with bache-de-mer fishermen than any other Islander group, and the fishermen were less likely to have been as fair in their dealings as the passengers and crews of passing ships. In other words the Kaurareg response to Europeans was determined partly by the natu5re of their traditional relationships and partly by the type of Europeans they encountered. The Islanders directly to the north lived well away from the shipping lanes and were rarely visited by Europeans bipotaim. Because of this they did not develop an appreciation of the benefits of long-term trade with outsiders until much later. It is no coincidence therefore that the crew of the Thomas Lord, which was attacked at Badu (Mulgrave) in 1846, had normally traded with the north-eastern Islanders. They sailed west only because turtle shell was scarce. The crew had been lulled into a false sense of security by their friendly encounters in the north-east, and failed to take adequate precautions when dealing with the lightly contacted Badulaig. Instead of rowing back to their schooner at the end of the day's trade they camped on a sandbank, and three of them paid for this complacency with their lives. Saibai, Boigu (Talbot) and Dauan (Mt. Cornwallis) to the extreme north were not visited at all until late in the 1860s, well after the colonial occupation had begun.
Colonial Australians were particularly perplexed by the pattern of violence in Torres Strait - by the apparent contradiction that some Islanders were invariably friendly while others continued to attack trading vessels. One common explanation was that this was typical of the capricious nature of the savage. John Lort Stokes, who commanded HMS Beagle in 1839, wrote that the Islanders' 'rapacity and recklessness of blood is fully equal to that of the lower animal'. Charles Lewis of the Isabella offered the explanation that some Islander groups were innately more aggressive than others. There were also those who favoured the 'retaliation only' theory. This is the notion that tribal peoples only attacked Europeans to avenge wrongs done against them. T.B. Wilson, author of the 1835 book, Narrative of a Voyage Round the World explained what seemed to be the unprovoked Islander attack on the Admiral Gifford in this way, though he could only cite 'the many well authenticated instances of horrible cruelty' perpetrated by sealers against Aborigines on Australia's south coast' to support his case.
John MacGillivray, naturalist aboard HMS Fly and HMS Rattlesnake, both of which surveyed the Strait in the 1840s, suggested rather fancifully that the Badulaig fell upon the crew of the Thomas Lord because they were under the influence of an escaped convict, who, because of his determination to avoid recapture, persuaded the Islanders to kill every European who came their way. True, there was a castaway living with the Badulaig at the time of the attack, but Barbara Thompson's evidence indicates that Wini, as this wild white man was known, had very little influence among them. Rather, he was adopted by two brothers and survived only because he was handy in repairing canoes and making gardens. MacGillvray came closer to the truth, however, when he also suggested that the attacks in the western islands would cease once the Islanders there came into more constant communications with Europeans. Torres Strait Islanders had their own reasons for making attacks, and each case has to be judged on its own merits, but the normal pattern was that once a group assessed the defensive capabilities of the Europeans, and came to appreciate the benefits of continued trade, they became invariably friendly.
What confused and angered the colonists more than anything else, however, were attacks on helpless castaways, and the event that had the greatest impact on the colonial imagination was the massacre of the survivors of the wreck of the Charles Eaton in 1834. The ship struck the Barrier Reef while trying to make Indefatigable Entrance to the south of Raine Island. While trying to reach safety on two rafts the survivors encountered a canoe expedition of central Islanders. At first the Islanders appeared to be friendly, but later they turned on the castaways and killed and decapitated all except four boys. The canoe expedition then split up. Two of the boys went with one party and were never seen again. The other two, John Ireland and William D'Oyley, were taken to Aurid (Aureed). They stayed there until a couple from Mer (Murray), Duppar and Pamoy, purchased them for two bunches of bananas.
At Mer the boys were t5reated with great kindness until their rescue in 1836. In that year the master of the ship Mangles reported to a Canton newspaper that while he was trading at Mer he had seen a white boy. This caused considerable excitement, and vessels were sent from both India and Sydney to investigate. Charles Lewis of the colonial schooner Isabella rescued Ireland and D'Oyley and returned with them to Sydney where they told their story. Lewis also recovered a grisly turtle shell figure from Aurid (Aureed). It was about a metre-and-a-half high and represented a human face around which were arranged 45 human skulls, seventeen of them European. The Sydney Herald published a large illustration of the figure, and three monographic accounts of the affair were in circulation by 1837. Ireland and D'Oyley's story was also included in the popular A Mother's Offering to Her Children, published in 1841.
For a short time after the Charles Eaton affair Torres Strait Islanders were the talk of New South Wales. Flinders and Wilson had both mentioned that the Islanders kept preserved human heads and hands about their huts, but the 'Aureed trophy', as the figure came to be known, brought home to the colonists in the most graphic way that the Islanders were head-hunters. Perhaps the most significant result of this was that public pressure was brought to bear to force the imperial Government to mount a series of surveys in order to chart the region properly. since the opening of the India trade in 1813, and the surveys by Flinders and Phillip King, traffic through the Strait had been steadily increasing. But there were still many gaps in the charts, and by the 1830s the loss of life and property in the region was reaching an unacceptably high level. Just before details of the Charles Eaton affair became public T.B. Wilson wrote to the Sydney Herald:
A wreck in Torres Strait seems to be regarded with a feeling less of surprise and horror, than would be excited by a similar accident in any other part of the world ... The frequency of the occurrence may give rise to this sentiment.
But the Charles Eaton affair shook the colonists' complacency, and there were loud and persistent calls for action to have the situation remedied.
The rescue of Ireland, who had lived at Mer for about eighteen months and could speak the language, enabled Lewis to obtain some valuable information about the north-eastern and central Islanders. Lewis described how marriages were arranged, the practice and reasons for infanticide, the preservation of corpses, and some of the Islanders' other ritual practices. But although these new publications made the colonists more familiar with the Islanders' way of life, the overall impression was negative, and offered little insight into the complex social, economic and magico-religious factors that underpinned it. For the colonists the contradiction between the frenzied way in which the Islanders slaughtered twenty or so castaways, and the kindness displayed to Ireland and D'Oyley, was inexplicable. In the public imagination they remained nothing more than 'roving and ferocious savages'.
The naturalists attached to the hydrographic surveys brought on by the Charles Eaton affair were the first observers with scientific training to write books dealing extensively with Torres Strait, and their work was somewhat more insightful. Joseph Beete Jukes, the senior naturalist aboard HMS Fly, was the first to publish. His 1847 account demonstrated to the colonists that, given the right circumstances, other Torres Strait groups would respond to 'Europeans in the same friendly way as the people of Mer (Murray). The members of the fly expedition were well aware of the Islanders' reputation for 'treachery and ferocity', and their initial encounters with them were always conducted cautiously under the watchful eyes of armed marines. But after some months of friendly contact Jukes's faith in the innate good nature of native peoples won out over his suspicion of them, and his observations of the Islanders are marked by a tone of sympathetic interest. Even so, in tense first contact situations Jukes employed what Ian Hughes has called a 'music hall performance'. To make clear his friendly intentions when first encountering a group who showed signs of responding aggressively, he sang and danced and generally played the fool. This was a fairly common technique, used successfully in the Strait by Igglesden of the Tigris in 1836, and later by MacGillivray at Cape York in 1860. These comedies now appear to have been inappropriate and insensitive in such delicate situations, but they did seem to work. Nevertheless, that learned men such as Jukes had to resort to such methods demonstrates the superficial understanding Europeans had of tribal people. That he recommended the technique also tended to emphasize to the colonists a capriciousness in the Islanders at best thought of as childlike, at worst as further evidence of the depth of their savagery.
Although Jukes is best remembered as the first to give a general account of the geology, fauna and flora of Torres Strait, it was John MacGillivray who had most influence on those who were to colonise the region. His 1852 publication, Narrative of the Voyage of HMS Rattlesnake, became the standard reference work for more than 30 years. MacGillivray gave a more complex picture of Torres Strait life than any of his predecessors. He was, for example, the first to recognise that the Strait was inhabited by a number of distinct groups, and that the variation between them was the result of different mixtures of Australian and New Guinean cultural traits. He also learned that the Islanders had laws regulating the ownership of 'very inch of land' over which they roamed. The key to these insights was Barbara Thompson. She also told MacGillivray that the Islanders regarded the Europeans as marki, which he understood to be the spirits of dead Islanders. Thompson herself had been recognised by the Kaqurareg of Muralag (Prince of Wales) as Giom, the daughter of Peaqui, who had died a short time before Thompson was lifted from the wreck of the America. Clearly the Islanders regarded Europeans as something other than human, and this most likely is the explanation for why they responded so unpredictably when they encountered helpless castaways.
Hampered by a superficial understanding of the language, MacGillivray could not come to terms with the more abstract ideas that motivated the Islanders. Like the writers who went before him, he simplified, and by that process misrepresented not only Torres Strait society, but the complicated patterns of interaction that were taking place between Islanders and Europeans. he wrote that Thompson had been taken as a wife while living with the Kaurerag, but she was a marki, a curiosity not expected to marry. He cast Wini as a powerful Badulaig leader, which simply was not true. But these fictions appealed to the colonial mind because they were in harmony with cherished notions of European superiority and the brutishness of tribal existence. Although sympathetic, MacGillvray's account was distorted and in many ways misleading. Be that as it may, his Narrative of the Voyage of HMS Rattlesnake was the most comprehensive and detailed guide to Torres Strait available, and as such it was considered indispensable by policy makers and administrators alike in the early years of the colonial occupation.
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Bipotaim the Islanders' perceptions of Europeans and their material culture were as ethnocentric as the European perceptions of them. Their idea of whites as marki was derived from their own cosmology, and there is evidence that things associated with Europeans were thought to possess the power traditionally believed to emanate from marki. For instance, after the Charles Eaton massacre the Islanders ornamented their canoes with cabin doors from the ship, 'which they appeared to prize very much'. The crew of the Isabella found a piece of sheet lead in a deserted but on Waier near Mer (Muray), and Lewis remarked that the Islanders there 'revered' the decorated stern board of a jolly boat. In 1845 Jukes saw a green cabin (Dalrymple). Of course it is possible that these things were admired for purely aesthetic reasons, but other instances point to a more spiritual motive. Thompson recalled that the Kaurareg made offerings of meat to a small wooden horse they found washed up on the beach. This stuck in her mind because she had never seen them do this to any fetish they had fashioned themselves. On another occasion she witnessed a dance performed by the Kulkalaig of Naghir (Mt. Ernest) for the Kaurareg. In it two men, their legs smeared with white pigment, wearing shirts obtained from ships and yellow face masks tinted red at the cheeks, imitated the motions of Europeans holding up and shaking their hands. The dance was accompanied by a song:
and they called it marki angul kowb, or the ghost ship dance.
This dance appears to indicate the beginnings of the kind of 'cargo cult' that emerged in other Pacific societies in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, but it displayed none of the desperate millenarianism that characterised these movements elsewhere. Indeed it comes across more as a joyful celebration of their new relationship with the wealthy marki, and possibly bore some relationship to dances and songs associated with the traditional culture-bearers. Whatever the case the Islanders were vigorously incorporating these new experiences into their traditional cultural framework, and in so doing were expanding its parameters. Now new cult of the marki developed, however, because the Islanders' view of Europeans become more secular with each encounter. The pace of this change varied both between and within communities, but the catalyst was trade.
Initially the Islanders' perceptions of European material culture were created from their experience of the known blended with imagination. They came across flotsam and jetsam from ships, and investigated wrecks, long before the functions of particular objects were explained to them. Bottles found on beaches were thought to be the shells of sea creatures brought to the Strait by the marki. This was confirmed when they learned, probably while salvaging from wrecks, that bottles were used as they used shells, to collect and store liquids. The Islanders were great salvagers, and must have learned a great deal about Europeans from wrecks. Thompson noted that in her time all the raised gunwales on the Kaurareg canoes were constructed from planks taken from wrecks. This was in keeping with the traditional practice of using the sides of derelict canoes for the purpose, and shows how quick the Islanders were to incorporate new ideas into their traditional technologies.
Bipotaim Torres Strait Islanders almost pulled wrecks apart to get iron. Having previously used stone, shell and bamboo implements for cutting and gouging, they were quick to appreciate its usefulness. In fact the iron axe had almost totally replaced traditional ones before the colonial occupation even began. Torres Strait Islanders were a practical people, and until iron became commonplace among them it was the preferred item of exchange. A number of early observers commented that the Islanders were not interested in coloured beads or cloth because they considered these 'baubles ... only fit for children', and they vigorously applied all the negotiating skills honed in the traditional network to get precisely what they wanted in these new trading situations. In 1802 Flinders wrote:
at first anything of the same metal (iron) was received; but afterwards, if a nail were held up to an Indian (sic), he shook his head, striking the edge of his right hand upon the left arm, in the attitude of chopping; and h was well enough understood.
Wilson made a similar comment after his visit to Me (Murray) in 1822. His party concealed tomahawks and axes in the bottom of their boat to reserve them as 'superior articles of trade', but when the Islanders discovered they were there 'iron hoops were at a discount'. After a trading voyage through the Strait in 1862, MacGillivray compared the Islanders' bartering methods with those of the Aborigines:
Here (among the Aborigines at Cape Grenville) each man hands up his heap of shell in a lump, patiently waits for his payment in silence, and takes whatever he is offered, while a Strait man, over the same quantity of shell, would have chaffered away for a quarter-of-an-hour, or longer if permitted, handling it up piece by piece, talking, asking and begging all the while - yet quite understanding that a bargain, once made, was conclusive.
In other words the Islanders were not cowed when trading with Europeans but clearly felt themselves the equal of their trading partners. They accepted nothing but iron for their turtle shell, and tobacco for artifacts and other shell. And if something was too precious they could not be persuaded to part with it. At Erub (Darnboley) in 1836 Lewis offered iron tools for 'sweet potatoes' but was refused because it was late in the growing season. In 1860 MacGillivray tried to obtain a large sprouting yam, but it was simply too expensive. It is difficult to assess the extent to which European trade bipotaim disrupted the traditional network, or if it did so at all. By the 1840s Europeans were probably monopolising the bulk of the Islanders' production of turtle shell, but pearl shell, which was a basic currency in trade to New Guinea, is rarely mentioned in European accounts of trade. In fact it was not until the late 1860s that colonial traders realised just how much pearl shell there was in the Strait. Traditional trade with New Guinea had to expand to allow a sufficient supply of artifacts for the new market, so pearl shell was probably reserved for that purpose. Thus, as the new trade expanded, the overall volume and velocity of trade in the traditional network had to increase, resulting in steadily increasing flow of wealth into the communities.
This did not necessarily mean that the balance of trade in the traditional network was radically altered. Sailing masters preferred to shelter overnight in the lee of one of the north-eastern islands before making an early morning run through the Strait, so the eastern Islanders were better positioned to exploit the new market, but because of their own deep waters they still relied on pearl shell imported from areas off the shipping lanes. They also must have continued to import New Guinea artifacts through central Islander intermediaries to keep up with the growing European demand. Nevertheless, traditional exchanges that in the past may have taken years to complete now needed to be accomplished more quickly, and this may have had a detrimental social effect. As the pace of life quickened, the old system of obligations was probably being eroded. Whether this resulted in a higher level of inter-group violence is impossible to tell. Wealth and status could now be acquired more quickly, but the process was much the same as it had been in the past.
The anthropologist Lauriston Sharp observed that the introduction of the steel axe to some Aboriginal groups ate away at the 'supports of the entire cultural system'. These groups lost interest in their traditional trading partners, and tribal gatherings became less significant. Sharp also argued that implements had a spiritual function in Aboriginal society; that they had a defined place in the cosmological scheme. But the Islanders were more materialistic in their trading. Torres Strait abounded in the natural resources that enabled them to import a high proportion of their artifacts, and while they were protective of their most sacred paraphernalia, they were quite willing to trade away less significant pieces which could easily be replaced. This type of trade had always been a feature of the tradition al network, and its development in the nineteenth century need not signify any detrimental change.
The trade in preserve human heads is more problematical. The Islanders took the heads of enemies slain during raids and placed them in skull houses to enhance the ritual power of their clan. They also preserved the heads, and in some places the bodies, of deceased relatives. The heads of dead relatives were kept in or near the huts during the period of mourning, that is for about a year, and then they were generally placed in rock crevices in the bush. Some were kept longer if they were thought to be especially useful in the practice of divination, but most were left to decay. The Islanders' funerary rites were complex and their mourning intense. Once their grief had passed and the memory of the dead individual had faded, the skulls in the crevices had little significance.
But human skulls, especially ones which had been preserved and decorated, were of extreme interest to Europeans. by the mid-nineteenth century the ethnological and anthropological societies of Europe were flourishing and phrenology attained its greatest popularity in Australia in the 1860s and 70s. By 1892 there were 206 human skulls of varying provenance in Sydney's Macleay Museum alone. Prestige attached to those who made donations to public museums, and private collectors were always willing to pay for rare curios. The naturalist Amalie Dietrich, who was collecting in central Queensland in the mid-1860s for the wealthy Hamburg merchant J.C. Godeffroy, was expected to obtain 'as many skeletons and skulls of the Aborigines as possible'. As well as this, bizarre curios had popular appeal in the colonies. In 1862 a 'petrified blackfellow', a set of 'petrified Indian eyes', and an 'Indian shrunken head', all went on display in Sydney, and in 1873 a 'mummy' obtained at Erub (Darnley) was exhibited at Gourlay's in Pitt Street.
Anthropologists generally believe that human skulls were an important commodity in the traditional Torres Strait trading network, especially in the canoe traffic. They appear to have come to this conclusion by reading Haddon. However, when Haddon was in Torres Strait he found no evidence of an indigenous trade in heads. The relevant information was forwarded to him by the missionary W.H. MacFarlane, who did not arrive in Torres Strait until 1915. MacFarlane's source was maino, a leading Tutu (Warrior) man, who told him that the people of Moa (Banks) and Badu (Mulgrave) once traded skulls to the Tutu Islanders for canoes, and that the tutu Islanders traded human jaw bones to New Guinea. But Maine mentioned nothing of this trade in heads to Haddon, even though he had been one of his principal informants in 1888 and 1898.
Statements attributed to Maino by MacFarlane such as, 'New Guinea man, when he get them jaw bone, he been say he kill all them men: he make big talk, certainly give the impression that Maino had become boastful in his old age, and his veracity has to be doubted. The only source Haddon uses to support the evidence collected by MacFarlane is the missionary W. Wyatt gill, who spent a few months in the Strait in 1872. In his book Life in the Southern Isles, gill claimed that heads taken by the Islanders during raids on New Guinea bushmen were kept as 'precious treasures' or traded to other groups. Unfortunately there are demonstrable ethnographic errors in gill's book, and a colleague, the missionary William Lawes, described it as 'careless' and 'inaccurate'. significantly, Gill made no mention of the trade in his 1873 paper to the royal Geographical Society, though he did describe huts ornamented with strings of skills.
The evidence for an indigenous skull trade is extremely weak to say the least. The castaways Thompson and Ireland make no mention of it, nor is it a feature of any of the Islanders' many folk tales. If, as has been suggested, skulls were the essential currency in the canoe traffic, why were they never offered to Europeans as trade items in the initial contact period? Wilson tells of how in 1822 one of his party was discovered in the act of stealing a skull from a hut. he was chased down to the beach and the Islanders were not pacified until they had been assured that the offender would be punished. furthermore, Wilson admitted that he had been tempted to steal some himself. It must have been obvious to the Islanders that these strangers were anxious to obtain skulls, but they were not offered because they were not looked on as items of trade. Certainly there were occasions when Islanders showed, and sometimes gave, skulls to other groups, but this was not in the nature of a trading exchange. It was to enhance the givers' status as warriors, and to reaffirm and consolidate alliances. The first known instance of a European obtaining a skull by barter occurred in 1845. Captain Blackwood of HMS Fly came across an old weather-beaten skull in an enclosure at Waier, near Mer (Murray). The Islanders were amused when he expressed an interest in it, but they were eventually happy to sell it for a stick of tobacco. In 1849 members of the Rattlesnake expedition purchased several. It is significant, however, that none of the skulls they obtained had been taken in raids. These remained in their secret skull houses guarded by custodians, and some of these sacred places remained hidden and intact until destroyed by the missionaries in the 1880s. Likewise none of the skulls kept around the huts were traded. These belonged to people who were still in mourning. The skulls traded were those left in the bush, the skulls of the long dead that had lost all spiritual and sentimental value.
Although Europeans took part in, and in all likelihood initiated, the trade in preserved human heads, they denigrated the Islanders for the practice. The fact that the skulls were those of dead relatives only compounded the Islanders' savagery in the eyes of the colonists, and demonstrated to them that like all savages they lacked human sensitivity. In 1846 Sweatman of the Bramble landed at Pabaju (Albany) with a shovel, intending to rob two graves of their skulls. His commander, Charles Yule, thought this would offend the Islanders and ordered him to stoop. Sweatman considered this nonsense. he wrote, 'I told him, they'd sell their mother's skull for an axe and I've bought one of Erub for a stick of tobacco'. Of course Yule was correct, and Thompson gives unambiguous evidence of this. In 1849 she told MacGillivray that the Kaurareg were watching when he inspected a grave on Muralag (Prince of Wales), and were greatly relieved when he left it untouched. The colonial administrators who arrived in Torres Strait in the mid-1860s were well versed in the works of Jukes and MacGillvray. Their books became the manuals of occupation. but although both naturalists tried to convey a sympathetic and accurate picture of Torres Strait society, many paradoxes remained unresolved. It appeared that the Islanders loved their families yet would sell their dead mother's head for a stick of tobacco. They were fair and honest in their exchanges, but would fall upon traders if they caught them at a disadvantage. They were friendly to Europeans, but would slaughter innocent men, women and children who were the helpless victims of shipwrecks. They had laws to regulate the ownership of land, but many of them seemed to roam like Aborigines. Jukes and MacGillivray could only convey a superficial understanding of how Torres Strait society worked. They tried to come to terms with the violent character of the society, but their explanations were less convincing for the colonists than the popular and less complicated notion that savages killed out of a kind of blood-lust.
What is more, by the time the 1859 Sapphire massacre
triggered the colonial occupation, the naturalists' sympathetic view of the
Islanders made even less sense in pragmatically minded colonists. In the years
since MacGillivray had published, violence on the pastoral frontier dominated
their thinking about native peoples, and they were unable to fathom the
actions of Torres Strait Islanders except in that context. One columnist wrote
that the Sapphire attack was just another example of how the 'aborigines of
Queensland' threatened the commercial viability of the new colony. People such
as Denhjam, with no experience of the pastoral frontier, might retain their
sympathy. for them the Islanders remained more sinned against than sinning.
yet this essentially Christian view was naive. Torres Strait Islanders
responded to strangers in ways that served their own interest, and ultimately
the response to Europeans was shaped by the desire to increase their wealth
and status. Once regular patterns of trade were established, attacks on
colonial vessels became rare. However, this change occurred unevenly, both
spatially and in time. Outsiders largely determined its pace as their use of
the Strait intensified, but the Islanders themselves decided how new ideas and
technologies would be uti8lised, and how the new wealth would pass through the
traditional system. When confronted by a new opportunity, such as that
coffered when Europeans showed an interest in skulls which essentially to them
were valueless old mementoes, they took them. Their understanding of colonial
society was limited and imperfect, but they knew what they wanted from that
society and bipotaim they knew how to get it.
When it finally began in 1864, the colonial occupation was a pincer-like movement, with Queensland government officials arriving from the south, and beche-de-mer crews and missionaries coming from the south-western Pacific. The idea that a government outpost was needed in the vicinity of Torres Strait was first put to the imperial authorities after the Charles Eaton affair. At that time, however, Britain was already committed to Port Essington on the Cobourg Peninsula in what is now the Northern Territory, and unwilling to allocate funds for another station. The subsequent closure of that settlement in 1849, the third failure on the Cobourg Peninsula since the 1820s, dampened enthusiasm for northern outposts generally, and caused the colonial Office to become understandably reluctant to commit itself to any future such ventures.
Yet that is precisely what George Ferguson Bowen, Queensland's first governor, had in mind when he took up his post. As soon as Queensland became a separate colony in 1859 the new governor wrote to his superiors suggesting a port be established at the tip of Cape York Peninsula. Before a reply could come, however, reports of the Sapphire massacre reached Brisbane, and in April Bowen wrote again giving details of the affair. By the time this second despatch reached London the colonial Office was already aware of the terrible fate of the Sapphire castaways and under considerable pressure to act, as one petitioner put it: 'to keep the wicked natives in awe and teach them that the Queen thinks no place too distant for her mighty care of per people. The coincidence of the Sapphire massacre lent urgency to Bowen's proposals for the north and elicited a swift response from the British government. In July 1860 the Colonial Office approved Bowen's plan in principle, and he immediately set about bringing it to fruition.
Bowen had grandiose expectations for Somerset, as the new port was to be known, and drawing on the works of Jukes and MacGillivray he compiled an impressive list of the benefits that would flow from its establishment. Most importantly it would be a harbour of refuge for distressed seamen, a supply depot, and a coaling station for steamers making the run from Brisbane to Java. It would allow for control of the Torres Strait Islanders and Aborigines of the adjacent mainland, and thus encourage the growth of commercial activity on the coast. It would be a military post commanding the strategically significant Torres Strait, and a centre for geographical research, missionary enterprise, and the eventual colonisation of northern Australia, New Guinea and the Indonesian archipelago. It would be a symbol of the power and prestige of Great Britain, and ultimately become a 'great emporium of commerce and navigation'. It would also, of course, greatly increase the prestige of Bowen's young government.
Whether the colonial Office shared Bowen's lofty vision is hard to say. As a whole the home government was concerned more about the safety of shipping through the Strait than it was with any grand imperialist adventure. In Brisbane Bowen's cabinet was even more pragmatically minded. It was dominated by down-to-earth pastoralists not readily swayed by appeals to imperial or humanitarian sentiment. Although the ministers were inclined to favour Bowen's idea, they argued that a port should also be established at the head of the Gulf of Carpentaria. Most shipping through Torres Strait was British, bound west from Sydney and Melbourne, and the cabinet could see no advantage to Queensland in a station at Cape York unless it served as a link to another port positioned to give access to the supposedly rich grazing country of the 'plans of promise', the area to the south of the gulf. but at this stage there was uncertainty as to which colony had jurisdiction over the gulf region and the imperial authorities declined to give their support to cabinet's scheme. The ministers therefore agreed to support the "Somerset plan, but only under certain condition. They stipulated that if Queensland were to manage the settlement it must be under the colony's sole control. The imperial government would have to provide 2000 pounds for the erection of buildings, and the site had to be selected, after personal inspection, by the governor and the senior officer of the royal Navy's Australia station. The cabinet specified that a detachment of twenty marines was to be stationed at the settlement for not less than three years, and that for the same period a royal Navy vessel be assigned to visit the port three times a year to convey supplies and mail.
Because it was generally thought that a regular mail-steamer service between Australia and Java via Torres Strait would soon be in operation, the cabinet was confident that in three years the port would be self-supporting. It did not fail to stress, however, that it was acting altruistically in the matter, out of a 'loyal and patriotic regard for the honor and advantage of the British Empire at large', and Bowen, glad of its support described the proposal as 'very liberal and reasonable'. After negotiations over colonial allowances for the imperial contingent and other points of detail, the colonial Office gave its final approval in October 1862. Bowen and Commodore Burnett sailed almost immediately and selected a site on the western shores of the island of Pabaju (Albany) about ten kilometres to the south-east of the tip of Cape York. Here, they believed, were all the necessary prerequisites for a coastal settlement: adequate fresh water, good grazing land and a safe anchorage. But most experts on northern affairs blamed the failure of the earlier Northern Territory settlements on sickness caused by the 'unwholesome exhalations' that rose from mangroves at landlocked tropical harbours, and following the advice of Lt. Richards of HMS Hecate who inspected Pabaju late in 1863. Bowen agreed that for the sake of good health Somerset should be built on the mainland opposite the island, on a site more open to the refreshing south-easterly trade winds.
After all the arrangements had been made HMS Salamander arrived at Moreton Bay from England with the imperial contingent for Somerset. On 11 July 1864 Bowen paid the ship an official visit, and the Bishop of Sydney, after a short service, addressed the officers and men on 'laying the foundations of a new outpost of Christianity and civilization'. Three days later the Salamander sailed for Cape York to rendezvous with the merchantman Golden Eagle, chartered by the Queensland government to ferry their contingent, together with building materials, stock and supplies, to the site of the new settlement. After nearly our years Bowen's project was finally beginning to take shape. Bowen blamed the delay on the death of commodore Burnett in New Zealand in 1863, and on the Royal Navy's commitment of men and vessels to the 'Maori wars'. But perhaps equally significant was the slow grinding pace at which bureaucratic wheels turned in the mid-nineteenth century. In Britain the Colonial Office, Treasury, in the mid-nineteenth century. In Britain the colonial Office, Treasury, Admiralty and Board of Trade were all involved in the decision-making process for the Cape York project. The house government's decisions took months to reach Brisbane, and then Bowen had to submit them to the Queensland parliament for approval when it was in session. For the whole of its history Somerset was destined to be dogged by administg5rative problems of this sort, always exacerbated by government uncertainty about the settlement's future.
* * *
Because Somerset was established on the mainland rather than on one of the Torres Strait islands, the Aboriginal groups who lived on the shores of the Strait were the first to feel the full impact of colonial occupation. Indeed for them 'fatal impact' is a more than appropriate description. The experience was to prove far more disastrous for the Aborigines than it was for the Islanders, and as might be expected the Gudang, the traditional owners of the Somerset site itself, were the most severely affected. Somerset remained the administrative centre for Torres Strait from 1864 until 1877, and as each year passed the pattern of racial interaction became more complicated. The old way of life was irrevocably disrupted, as were relations between the various Aboriginal groups, and between Aborigines and Torres Strait Islanders.
As we saw in the previous chapter, for centuries the Gudang of Cape York had enjoyed close social and economic ties with their near neighbours the Kaurareg of Muralag (Prince of Wales), the most southern group of Torres "Strait Islanders, and in the dry season, the traditional trading season, members of other Aboriginal and Islander groups also gathered on their beaches. Even Islanders who avoided the tip of Cape York used Morilag (Mtr. Adolphus), an island about fifteen kilometres to the north-east, as a refreshment stop on their voyages further south, and this, together with other nearby islands, was also Gudang territory. In short, the Somerset site was a centre of pre-colonial commerce and communication, a place of lively interaction and exchange.
Surviving accounts of the Gudang give the impression that they could hardly have been more committed to friendly relations with visiting Europeans. In fact Barbara Thompson, whose rescue was only made possible by Gudang intervention, believed that they had taken the European as a totem and so were obliged never to harm them. Fantastic as this may seem, their friendly attitude certainly was evident when Bowen visited in September 1862. In his twelve days at Cape York he found them extraordinarily cooperative, and he reciprocated generously with hatchets, knives, fish-hooks, biscuit and tobacco. On first hearing of the Sapphire massacre he had proposed that Somerset should be defended by a detachment of 50 Native Mounted Police. but after visiting the place he conceded that this was an over-reaction, and that twenty royal Marines would be quite adequate for the purpose. Indeed, with Somerset Bowen felt he had the chance to prove an exception 'to that unhappy law which seems to prohibit the occupation of the same country by the Anglo-Saxon and the Aboriginal. both his reading and personal experience told him that the Gudang were friendly and not much 'contaminated by European vices'. Because of its remoteness, and the high level of government involvement, there was a chance that the settlement could be managed in such a way as to ensure friendly relations between colonist and Aborigine. The situation there could be different from that which prevailed on the bloody pastoral frontier.
to this end Bowen solicited the support of the London-based missionary societies to appoint a minister to the settlement, and formally requested that the officer chosen to command the marine contingent be a man who could ensure that his men would treat the Aborigines humanely. It was his direct responsibility, however, to choose the colonial official who would ultimately be in charge. At such a remote outpost the appointee would be expected to make important decisions at his own discretion. He had to be man of considerable frontier experience, but one who was capable of maintaining friendly relations with the Aborigines. In Queensland in the early 1860s men of this sort were rare indeed. Bowen's first choice was William Wiseman, who had been commissioned for crown lands in the Leichhardt district sine 1855 and was due for promotion to police magistrate. Wiseman was a well educated, compassionate man, and although in his early years on the frontier he believed that the government was not acting decisively enough to put down Aboriginal resistance to pastoral expansion, his attitude had softened by the 1860s. He accepted the position in October 1862, but by July 1864 his health was not up to another arduous frontier posting and Bowen offered the position to Rockhampton police magistrate John Jardine. Jardine has been described as a man with 'an implacable attitude to Aborigines, whom he regarded as dangerous enemies of white settlement', and in the annals of central Queensland he is most often remembered for authorising vigilante action in 1861 after the Aboriginal attack on Cullinlaringo station in which nineteen colonists were killed. The exact extent of the retribution meted out to Aborigines after Cullinlaringo is a matter for debate and may never be accurately assessed, but few doubt that it was indiscriminate and excessive.
Jardine ordered the retaliation and therefore must bear a large part of the responsibility for what happened, but this is not to say that he sanctioned indiscriminate action against innocent Aborigines. Shortly after Cullinlaringo a large group of Aborigines caused a panic when they camped on the outskirts of Rockhampton. A delegation of residents sought Jardine's permission to organise a party of riders to 'dispense' them, only to be assured by him that 'the authorities were quite equal to do all that was necessary in the matter'. Accompanied by another magistrate and the few native police who were still in town he examined the Aborigines' camps, found nothing suspicious, and moved them on peacefully. In other words, he certainly was capable of a measured response. Jardine's general 'call to arms' after Cullinlaringo did not stand in the way of his appointment to Somerset - just the opposite. Bowen apparently approved of his actions and wrote that the retaliation was 'just chastisement' for the raid. While he was anxious that relations between Aborigine and colonist should be friendly, he was also determined that Somerset would survive and be a success. By the time Jardine was selected to take Wiseman's place, the governor was beginning to agree with the majority of Queenslanders that violent confrontations were almost inevitable whenever and wherever colonists occupied Aboriginal country. he hoped that trouble could be avoided of course, but he needed a man in charge of the settlement with enough frontier experience to organise its defence if it did come under attack. In his late fifties, and with half a lifetime on the frontier behind him, John Jardine certainly appeared to be that man.
* * *
On 2 August 1864 the task of landing prefabricated building materials, provisions and stock from the golden Eagle commenced, 250 sheep wee left to graze on Pabaju (Albany) and the sailors and marines from the Salamander began to clear the thick scrub behind Somerset beach. It was a slow and tedious process, especially for men straight from England and not used to such work. but the prospect of extra colonial pay spurred them on and the ground was soon cleared, and the buildings began to take shape. Jardine instituted a strict regime, instructing the marine commander, 22-year -old Lt. Robert Pascoe, to wake his men at 5.30 am to work an eight-hour day. As far as possible the composition of the work parties was to remain unchang3ed, and attendance at divine service on Sundays was compulsory. He also set in motion the survey of the proposed town site, and with a small arty reconnoitred the surrounding country from Newcastle Bay to the western coast of the tip of the Cape.
As the Gudang and members of neighbouring Aboriginal groups gathered to watch the disembarkation there must have been many among them who remembered Bowen's visit, and the generosity of earlier landing parties. Relations were thus initially very friendly, and the Aborigines even helped the sailors and marines clear the scrub and cart timber up the slopes to the building sites. Nevertheless Jardine was anxious to lay down the rules of fraternisation. Pascoe was instructed to stress to the marines that they were not to offer the Aborigines the slightest offence, particularly with regard to the women, and in the event of trouble not to resort to 'the extreme of conflict l.. unless positively in self-defence'. Through interpreters Jardine also told the Gudang they were not to bring weapons into the settlement, and to stay clear of Pabaju, where a lone marine was stationed to watch the sheep.
These restrictions made it apparent to the Gudang that this group of Europeans were different from others who had visited their country in the past. They were also far less generous. No provision had been made in the settlement's stores for gifts, and while some Aborigines were willing to work for biscuit and tobacco, others simply begged or stole. Eventually the theft of tools began to try Jardine's patience. He had been inadequately supplied with tools to clear the dense scrub, and the Aborigines' desire for iron was soon was soon depriving him of the few he had. His frustration soon found an outlet when he caught a boy stealing a tomahawk. In a reaction that implied a total contradiction of his own instructions to Pascoe, Jardine threatened to shoot the boy, and several others he regarded as troublemakers, if they ever returned to the settlement. By the time they did return Jardine had cooled down somewhat, but he still took to the boy with his walking stick. The Gudang were now being confronted with an unprecedented situation, and on 13 September 1864, the day following HMS Salamander's departure for Sydney, they launched a well organised attack on the 29 remaining men.
That morning an unusually large number of Aborigines showed themselves in the vicinity of the settlement armed with spears. Through a Gudang named Kio, Jardine told them to take their spears beyond the prescribed limit, which they did. Then while Jardine was at breakfast the gardener, Private Saich, was speared about 80 metres from the camp. The alarm was raised and Jardine reached the scene just in time to see the attackers make off into the scrub. Later in the morning one Gudang group created a diversion while another appeared at the marines' camp and provoked them into chasing them into the scrub where Corporal Dent was speared. The marines then scrambled back to their camp only to find that all the tools dropped when the affray began were missing. Jardine abused them for their stupidity, and, according to assistant surgeon. Richard Cannon, Pascoe 'retired sullenly to his tent to write letters to his neighbour (Jardine) who lived a few yards off'. Dent was able to work again in a few months, but Saich died a lingering death. The attack considerably demoralised the settlement, and Jardine and Pascoe, the two commanders, were no longer on speaking terms. but it had been costly for the Gudang as well.
After this the Gudang changed their tactics. They now chose to remain out of sight, but by daring thefts let the settlement know that they were always close by. Somerset was virtually under siege, and there was the added fear that the Kaurareg of Muraiag (Prince of Wales) would join the Gudang in a concerted attack. Jardine knew from his MacGillvray that the Kaurareg and Gudang were close, but no Torres Strait Islanders had yet shown themselves. The marines nervously kept at their work while Jardine patrolled the surrounding country on horseback, always with the knowledge that he was being followed. About a month later, when returning from a trip to Morilag (Mt. Adolphus) in a boat borrowed from the beche-de-mer fishermen Charles Edwards who was considering establishing a station near Somerset, Jardine noticed a Gudang canoe leaving a beach on the north-western shore of Pabaju (Albany), where the sheep were left grazing. The Aborigines had been told not to go near the island, so next morning Jardine sent Pascoe with some marines to intercept the canoe. In the ensuing chase four Aborigines were shot dead.
Despite this terrible loss the Gudang continued to harass the settlement. They understood how heavily it relied on its horses, and they seemed to concentrate special attention on them; two were speared and another two led away. When the horses were finally recovered it was clear that they had been put to some use. given this evidence of their quick understanding of European technology its fair to assume that the Gudang also realised the purpose of the surveying party, which they disrupted by removing markers, as soon as they had been laid, making the workers extremely nervous and slowing the survey. In an effort to shake off the siege mentality that gripped the settlement. Jardine decided to borrow a boat from Edwards and surprise the Gudang camp at Evans Bay, just to the north of Somerset. He found the camp, but lost the element of surprise when a fowling piece accidentally discharged. Some iron tools were recovered, but most of them had already been fashioned into knives and other tools useful to the Aborigines. A few days later Jardine tried again. He pursued a small group seen retreating into the hills behind Evans Bay, but when the scrub became too thick and more Aborigines showed themselves on the high ground, Jardine decided to retreat to the boat. Once the boat was off the beach a few Gudang came to the water's edge and signalled that they wished to talk, but the opportunity was lost when a marine fired on them and they disappeared into the bush.
On 26 October 1864, however, a reconciliation was finally achieved after Edwards and Wilson, the colonial surveyor, made contact with Kio and a few of his companions who had worked at the settlement previous to 13 September. They arranged to exchange the canoe taken near Pabaju for two horses the Gudang had captured. Once Jardine agreed to the proposal, and the Gudang had declared their friendly intentions, selected individuals were allowed to return to the settlement. But that was as far as Jardine was willing to go. The well known details of the Hornet Bank massacre in central Queensland had convinced colonists that hostile Aborigines could mix unnoticed with Aboriginal station workers, and that even family servants might give vital information to unseen Aborigines who planned to attack. The policy of allowing only selected individuals into Somerset precluded the first danger, and by cultivating Kio and his friends Jardine hoped to negate the second. The previous six weeks had demonstrated that to totally exclude the Gudang from the settlement was impractical. while hostile they could inflict demoralising loss of life and property from the safety of the scrub. By especially favouring a few individuals, Jardine might now gain intelligence of what was occurring beyond the precincts of the settlement, and perhaps forewarning of any attack by more hostile remote groups. If this selective inclusion policy worked, the Gudang would become in effect, the eyes and ears of the settlement.
Breaking the Gudang's initial resistance in 1864 was made easier by a number of factors. They relied heavily on the food resources of the shoreline of their country, and while they may have been able to do without that section bordering on the settlement, the use of Edwards' schooner and boat throughout the period of hostilities must have severely restricted their food collecting activities. Significantly, the four Gudang shot near Pabaju in October were on a turtling expedition. The presence of the schooner must also have made the Gudang apprehensive about the future of their relations with the Kaurareg of Muralag (Prince of Wales). Although the settlement had no seaworthy boat, the Gudang could not know how long Edward would remain in the area. Also, behind them to the west, and south-west were their more numerous traditional enemies the Gumakudin and Yadhaigana, so they could not go on indefinitely being pressed from the coast.
The Gudang were a small unagressive group who generally welcome strangers to their shores. Previous visits by Europeans had introduced them to iron, tobacco and biscuit, and it is just possible that had Jardine accepted the occupation of part of their country in order to avail themselves of European commodities. But after almost a lifetime on the pastoral frontier he was only too ready to accept that a 'trial of strength' was inevitable wherever colonists occupied remote districts, and that his first duty was to protect the lives and property of those in his charge. In his official report of these unhappy events, all Jardine could sway was that it was fortunate that the 'trial of strength' had been won with a minimum loss of life. Bowen evidently agreed. He noted on Jardine's report that he should be informed that he had the government's continued confidence, and that it approved of his conduct 'in this most difficult office'. Bowen then went on to inform the Colonial Office of the satisfactory progress of the settlement, and that there had been no collision with the Aborigines, 'except a slight skirmish in September last'. Pascoe caused a slight stir when a letter of his criticising Jardine's handling of the affair was forwarded to the Queensland cabinet, but no minister would concede that the opinion of a 'green' young marine officer should carry weight against that of a man of Jardine's frontier experience. There was never the slightest suspicion that the 'trial of strength' at Somerset might have been a self-fulfilling prophecy.
When Jardine's term ended in November 1865, he had the satisfaction of reporting that after fifteen months Somerset already resembled a small town. The marines' barracks and kitchen, three cottages for married marines, the marine officer's headquarters, the police magistrate's quarters, the medical officer's quarters, the hospital and kitchen, storehouse, wath-house and boathouse were all finished. The buildings could be seen from kilometres out to sea, and in the south-east3rly season of 1865 thirteen or fourteen vessels called at the settlement. Even so Queensland still had only a precarious foothold on the shores of Torres Strait. by 1867 it was becoming obvious that the site had been poorly chosen and was convenient only for smaller vessels making for the Gulf of Carpentaria or for the beche-de-mer grounds of the northern coast and Torres Strait.
In the beginning there had been almost unbounded optimism in the colony about Somerset's future. The first experimental small-steamer voyages to Java in 1866 were hailed as an unqualified success, and Somerset town blocks auctioned in the same year sold well, fetching an average of 70 pounds an acre. it was thought that a regular steam service would open the market of the Netherlands East Indies to Queensland, especially for cattle, and then, as one northern newspaper put it to its readers, 'Look out for your opportunities'. But the financial crash of 1866 saw the mail-steamer service shelved, and the future of the port suddenly became doubtful. Bowen was unable to give a much attention during the constitutional crisis brought on by the crash, and in 1868 he left Queensland to succeed Sir George Grey in New Zealand. Astute Admiralty bureaucrats had foreseen such a situation and had advised that legislation be passed to protect the settlement from the vagaries of colonial politics. But this had not been done. By 1868 there was every prospect that Somerset would suffer the same fate as its earlier counterpart, Port Easington.
One of the principal objects of Somerset, and the decisive factor in the decision to press ahead with the settlement, was that it would allow for control of the inhabitants of northern Cape York and the adjacent islands of Torres Strait. John Jardine achieved this insofar as the Gudang were concerned, but they had never been a threat to shipping or commerce. The more remote Yadhaigana and their allies, who were responsible for the killing of Edmund Kennedy in 1848, were still hostile, and none of the Europeans at Somerset were even aware of having seen a Torres Strait Islander. True, Jardine published a paper that described the Kaurareg of Muralag (Prince of Wales), discussed their relationship with the Gudang, and commented on the way of life of other Torres Strait Islander groups, but this was taken almost word for word from MacGillivray. Jardine expected that the Islanders would visit Somerset to trade as they had done when MacGillvray's ship the Rattlesnake lay at anchor in the vicinity in 1848-49. The Krurareg certainly were trading with the Gudang in 1865, either at the traditional meeting place at Evans Bay or on the islands off Cape York, or both. Given that there was constant communication between Torres Strait communities in the south-easterly season, most of the lower western and central Islander groups must have been aware of the settlement's existence. but the aggressive, tight-fisted character of the administration deterred them from visiting the Europeans at Cape York as they had in the past. It must have been apparent to the Islanders that trade was not the purpose of Somerset, and that it was dangerous to go there. As thing stood they preferred to obtain Europeans commodities through the Gudang or from the steadily increasing number of vessels that were passing through the Strait. When Jardine left Somerset its officials exerted no direct influence over the people of Torres Strait and for most Islanders the outpost was so far of little significance.
* * *
In March 1865 John Jardine's sons, Frank and Alick, arrived at Somerset after a long and arduous overland trek with a few hundred head of cattle to establish a station. With them came all the problems of the pastoral frontier, and by the time H.G. Simpson replaced Jardine in June 1868 the Yadhaigana had speared more than fifty cattle, and Frank Jardine's colonial and Aboriginal stockmen had been involved in numerous skirmishes with them. To further complicate matters, the arrival of two missionaries in February 1867, and the replacement of the marines by a small detachment of "Queensland police six months later, put pressure on the established policy of selective inclusion. The missionaries regarded the policy as an unreasonable obstruction to their work and soon began to ignore it. The officer in charge of police, sub-inspector William Howe, proved uncooperative, the constables were intemperate and argumentative among themselves, and consequently discipline at the settlement degenerated. The police abused the settlement Aborigines, the missionaries invariably aided with the Aborigines in their disputes with the police, and Simpson became increasingly concerned about the settlement's vulnerability to attack by the more numerous and hostile remote Aboriginal groups.
It was intended that the services of the missionaries Frederick Jagg and William Kennett, an industrial teacher, would benefit the whole Somerset community, but they had a special brief to work among the Aborigines, especially the children, and if possible, exert a Christian influence on the Islanders to the north. Before long their sympathetic treatment of the Gudang attracted numbers of Torres Strait Islanders to the settlement for the first time, and once initial contact had been made Jagg and Kennett encouraged the Kaurarag of Muralag (Prince of Wales) and the Kulkalaig of Naghir (Mt Ernest) to make regular visits. Now the settlement began to have a direct impact on the people of Torres Strait. The Islanders gave a new dimension to the racial mix of Somerset, and under a new leadership composed of the more acculturated Aborigines from the cattle and mission stations, the Gudang, Kaaurareg, and to a lesser extent the Kulkalagi, mad a determined attempt to exploit their relationship with the settlement by using it to assert themselves against their more numerous traditional enemies.
Bowen had requested missionaries for Somerset with 'experience, zeal, tact, and above all, "Knowledge of Mankind"'. The Society for the Propagation of the Gospel's Frederick Jagg was certainly zealous, but he lacked the personality and temperament necessary to establish a successful mission in the difficult circumstances at Somerset. He was soon at odds with almost everybody, including the police magistrate. In fact as soon as he arrived he made a written complaint to Simpson about the condition of his accommodation. There was no shortage of housing at Somerset, but the buildings had been allowed to fall into disrepair. Being prefabricated they were made of light timber and had not stood up well to be ravages of white ants and two North Queensland wet seasons. Jagg's disappointment on seeing the customs house he was meant to occupy was understandable. he had intended sending to Brisbane for his wife and children once he was established, but now believed this was impossible unless he found a better home. Yet, everyone at Somerset lived in poor conditions, and his were better than most. Jagg's constant complaints about the deprivations he was forced to endure irritated Simpson and caused him to be less sympathetic when the missionary came with more serious criticisms about the way the settlement was being run.
Simpson was a man of considerable experience, and he resented the missionaries' interference. He had been an officer aboard the Rattlesnake when it cruised Torres Strait in the late 1840s, had had his own command, and had gained administrative experience in the Cape Province. In 1848-49 he had mixed freely with the Gudang and other groups who gathered at Cape York, and it was not fear of them that caused him to continue John Jardine's policy of selective inclusion. rather, it was because h feared their enemy the Yadhaigana. The day before the Rattlesnake left Edmund Kennedy's party at Rockingham Bay in 1848, Simpson and Thomas Husley passed the night with him, 'in sweet discourse, variously interrupted by eating and drinking under the tent'. Kennedy's death at the hands of the Yadhaigana six months later appears to have made a deep impression on him, and events since his arrival at Somerset confirmed him in the opinion that they were a formidable enemy. The marines had shown they could not defend the settlement against attack, and the police were no better. The Jardines were already thinking of quitting their station, and the departure of Frank and the Aboriginal stockmen always seemed imminent. Simpson was aware that when this occurred Somerset would be extremely vulnerable. In these circumstances he thought it unwise to be too closely associated with the 'Gudang for fear of offending the Gudang's enemies and causing the settlement to be attacked. He was anxious to avoid Somerset becoming embroiled in an internecine struggle between the various Cape York Aboriginal groups.
Be that as it may Jagg and Kennett had gone to Somerset at the personal request of the governor and Simpson was obliged to compromise. He had a poor opinion of Jagg but he described Kennett as a 'most respectable man ... who would prove a most efficient schoolmaster, were he in a position to exercise his talent for teaching'. But as time went by both Jagg and Kenett became ever more deeply embroiled in inter-tribal politics and disputes. Simpson's concern was heightened in Aril 1867 when the marine medical officer, Dr. Haran, informed him that a Gudang had offered to sell him two freshly taken human heads. With the aid of Frank Jardine he held an inquiry into the matter, and it was determined that while Jardine was away three of his Aboriginal stockmen, Peter, Marney and Sambo, and a number of Dugang, had encountered and killed ten. Yadhaigana at Turtle Island near the mouth of the Escape River. It was also learned that shortly after this incident a combined party of Dugang and Kaurareg had surprised a Guamakudin fishing party, killing four and capturing a woman and two children. One of the children was murdered soon afterwards, and the woman and surviving child were taken to the Gudang camp on Pahaju (Albany) across the narrow pass from Somerset.
In the course of the inquiry it emerged that Jagg had been aware of these events but had chosen not to inform Simpson. Jagg was also aware of the captured woman on Pabaju but was either unwilling or unable to exert his influence with the Gudang to have her returned to her people. Because he was reluctant to interfere in inter-tribal disputes, and because Aboriginal evidence was inadmissible in Queensland courts, Simpson took to action against the Gudang for their part in the attacks, but he warned Jardine's stockmen that if such a thing should happen again they would be sent south to prison. The matter did not end there however. A few weeks later, late in May 1867, two Gumakudin who had come to recover the captured woman attacked a Gudang party about three kilometres north of the settlement and made of with a Gudang woman. She was the companion of Gibeah, Jagg's principal intermediary with the local Aboriginal groups. The missionary insisted that Simpson do something to recover the woman, and when Simpson refused Jagg threatened to take a rifle and go after her himself. Simpson warned Jagg against becoming involved in 'native quarrels', but Jagg was in no mood to listen. He secretly arranged for Kennettm, Gibeah and Joseph Ralph, a former hut-keeper of Frank Jardine, to go in pursuit. With rifles and trade items they canoed to the west coast of the Cape where they surprised the Gumakudin raiding party, allowing Gibeah's companion to escape. Simpson had no knowledge of this expedition and was told that the woman had freed herself and returned unaided to the settlement. Kennett's expedition was a crucial turning point in relations, because now the settlement Aborigines were convinced that they had friends who were willing to confront their enemies with firearms.
A few weeks before Kennett left to recover Gibeah's companion he was visited by a group of Kaurareg. They asked him to visit Muralag (Prince of Wales), and a few days after his return from the west coast they came again and urged him more vehemently to accept their invitation. On 4 June 1867, when most of the Gudang had gone to Morilag (Mt. Adolphus) to initiate their youths, Kennett, Ralph and an Aborigine named Chamida set off in a canoe for Muralag. Kennett was enticed into the Strait proper by the promise of Islander children for the school he was trying to establish, but subsequent events show that, like the Gudang, the Kaurareg were more interested in cultivating friends who had access to firearms. He spent two weeks at Muralag before the weather was favourable enough to allow him to return. The Islanders who brought him back camped on Pahaju (Albany), and a few days later they were joined by the Gudang on their return from Jorilag (Mr. Adolphus). That night they held a celebration that was noisy enough to be heard at Somerset. Unfortunately the noise also alerted a combined group of Yadhaigana and Gumakudin who had been awaiting the Gudang's return.
As the tide slackened, the Yadhaigana and Gumakudin swam with their weapons the kilometre or so to Pahaju and attacked the sleeping Aborigines and Islanders. They killed and wounded several people in the camp and escaped with two women, one of whom was the captured Gumakudin. The raiding party then crossed the pass, taking all the canoes that were at the island, leaving the vanquished to swim against a surging tide to raise the alarm at Somerset. By that time the Yadhaigana and Gumakulin were well away, and clearly the raid was planned and carried out in such a way as to deny the people on Pabaju any assistance from Somerset. The Yadhaigana and Gumakudin were already suspicious of the relationship between the Gudang and the settlement. When told of the attack, Jagg sent Kennett and Ralph over to the island, informed Simpson of what had happened, and then made straight for Vallack Point, Jardine's station about three kilometres from Somerset. He arrived there about dawn and asked Frank Jardine to rouse his stockmen to intercept the Yadhaigana before they made the safety of their own country. Jardine offered him breakfast and advised him to let the Aborigines 'settle, or fight out their own quarrels'. Jagg answered that it was the duty of all Christians to protect the weak, and stated his intention of going in pursuit of the Yadhaigana with Kennett and Gibeah, but apparently thought better of it. A pause in hostilities followed whole the Aborigines and Islanders prepared their dead, and the Kaurareg returned to Muralag (Prince of Wales). Then, on 23 July 1867 the Gudang informed the missionaries that they were going to make a retaliatory raid against the Yadhaigana. Jagg later insisted that he had tried to dissuade them, but when they set out the next morning Gibeah had Kennett's rifle. Under Gibeah's leadership they made for Vallack Point where they demanded that Jardine supply them with more arms, but he refused. Simpson's worst fears had been realised. He suspected Jagg of having given Gibeah the rifle and wrote to him pointing out the heavy responsibility
resting upon anyone who should have supplied such a weapon, as well as the effect is presence among the Gudang must have on the minds of the attacked tribes.
Jagg replied that the rifle and ammunition were kept in his sitting room and that they must have been stolen during the night. fortunately the Gudang returned to the neighbourhood of the settlement on 29 July without having found the Yadhaigana. But the incident served to sober Jagg, and he finally seemed convinced that he should do more to discourage the settlement Aborigines from violence. For the previous few months Simpson had been more lenient about allowing the Gudang into the settlement. He was losing faith in the practicability of selective inclusion and was ready to concede that it was his responsibility to exert more control over the activities of the local Aboriginal groups. He now tried to make them understand that they would receive the protection of the settlement only if they ceased hostilities with the Yadhaigana. but the Gudang were intent on avenging the Pabaju raid and still believed the settlement should help. On 25 August 1867 they gathered at Jagg's house and told him of their plan to join Frank Jardine and his Aboriginal stockmen who were about to patrol the Vallack Point run. Knowing that if Jardine encountered large groups of Hadhaigana among his cattle he would probably run them off, they saw this as an opportunity for revenge. On this occasion Jagg immediately informed the police magistrate of their intentions. At ten o'clock that night Simpson instructed his police to go with Jagg and warn them that if they attacked the Yadhaigans they would not be allowed near the settlement again.
Jardine also heard of the plan and delayed his departure, so the Gudang set off without him. A few days later when he left to patrol his run, however, he found them waiting at his first camp site. They had discovered a large group of Yadhaigana a few kilometres away and intended to attack. Jardine persuaded them against this and offered instead to go with them to talk to the Yadhaigana. Together they managed to convince the Yadhaigana that their intentions were friendly, and after protracted negotiations the Aboriginal groups formally made peace. it is impossible to know how they came to this agreement, but it appears to have been heavily dependent on the Gudang's association with Jardine and his stockmen. The Yadhaigana spent the entire night dancing and signing, but the Gudang remained apprehensive and refused to leave Jardine's camp. The next day he was so hampered by their presence he could not work his cattle and had to return to Vallack Point. The Gudang followed close behind, and from Vallack Point they made straight for the protection of the Somerset police barracks, only to be forced away to hide in the near scrub. Simpson was furious that they had ignored his warnings, and instructed the police that if such a thing occurred again they should fire on them with bird-shot. but the peace they had made with the Yadhaigana depended on their association with the settlement, and they now seemed content to stay close and accept whatever protection the Somerset police were willing to afford them.
In September 1867 the Kaurareg of Muralag (Prince of Wales) decided that they too should enlist the assistance of the settlement to press a truce upon their stronger enemy the Badulaig. They invited the missionaries to accompany them to Badu (Mulgrave), and on 6 October a party consisting of Kennett, Ralph, two visiting naturalists, and a combined group of Gudang, Kaurareg, Kulkalaig and Moa-it landed at Waibene (Thursday) on their way north. Late in the evening a signal fire was noticed on a neighbouring island giving warning that a flotilla of Badulaig canoes was heading south. The Islanders were alarmed and insisted that the Europeans stand guard over the camp throughout the night. The next day the party moved to Keriri (Hammond), and scouts reported that the Badulaig had landed on the opposite side of the island. A leading Kaurareg called Peaqui was sent to convey the purpose of the expedition to the Badulaig, and they returned with him after sunset. At first the Badulai were extremely apprehensive of the Europeans, because, as Kennett wrote,
|Piaquai (Peaqui) had been giving them terrible accounts of us, and our doings with guns and revolvers, in order to convince them of the hopelessness of continuing war with a tribe possessing such powerful allies.|
Kennett partly overcame their fear with presents, and in the morning a peace ritual took place. He had no way of knowing of the deep ethnic enmity which divided these groups, and concluded that the violence between them originated in the taking of Kaurareg women by the Badulaig. He believed that both groups were 'heartily tired of a war which had considerably thinned their numbers', and that they were equally anxious to sue for peace. but there is no record of a Kaurareg ever having taken a Badulai life, and it is extremely unlikely that their numbers had been thinned by them. The 'feud', as Kennett called it, was a very one-sided affair, and the Badulaig had other motives for accepting the Kaurareg's peaceful overtures.
The Badulaig were aware of Somerset, and either through fear, or the desire to become more familiar with a powerful potential enemy, they made peace with those who appeared to be the Europeans' friends. It is also possible that they were keen to gain access to the trade in European manufactures. Badu lay well off the shipping lanes and was rarely visited by colonial trading vessels. significantly, in the exchange that followed the peace ritual at Keriri, the Kaurareg offered tomahawks and bottles along with their characteristic spears and woomeras, while the Badulaig gifts were all items of traditional manufacture. With relations on a more friendly footing the Badulaig were in a position to obtain European commodities from the Kaurareg, as well as the highly prized Gudang fishing spears that had become scarce since the European occupation of the Somerset site. Whatever the case, by the end of 1867 both the Gudang and Kaurareg had managed to gain some advantage from their relationship with the settlement. Although they had not been able to convince the colonists to go out in force against their enemies, they were able to exploit their association to achieve honourable truces. It was not long, however, before circumstances changed and relations with the settlement broke down once again.
* * *
By January 1867 Simpson's health was failing and he applied to the government for leave, only to be bluntly told that if he needed to go south he could resign. Somerset had not prospered, and plans were afoot to downgrade the post. Finally in April Simpson received notice that his services would not be required after 30 June 1867, but no ship called that was fit to take him and his wife south, so he continued to perform his duties until the end of 1867. By December Jagg had left the settlement as well, and Kennett would soon follow. The trouble between Simpson and Jagg had given the government the excuse it needed to refuse any further financial support for the mission, and with that final blow the missionaries considered their struggle futile.
It is tempting to blame the failure of the Somerset mission on the personalities of Simpson and Jagg, or perhaps to see it simply as a consequence of the clash between British philanthropy and colonial pragmatism that they typified. But the Aborigines and Islanders at Cape York associated with the settlement only to obtain those things that were useful to themselves. They showed no real interest in Christianity, which seemed a poor substitute for their own system of beliefs. It lacked the dimension to explain the natural world, and it was in severe contradiction with their social existence. "They were hardly more interested in the formal western education that the missionaries brought with them. It was almost impossible for them to see any useful purpose in it once they had learned to speak English. In short there were two things the people of Cape York and southern Torres Strait wanted from the missionaries: European goods and support in their quarrels with their neighbours. With little sympathy or assistance from the government, the missionaries were as generous as they could be with the first, but my offering them their support in conflicts with other Aborigines and Islanders they went beyond what the local administrators, and in all likelihood the government, were willing to allow. Had their interference been 'judicious', as Jagg later claimed it had, Kennett might have been able to achieve at least some success for the mission with his school. As it was the enterprise was a total failure, and it left the Somerset officials convinced that in the future they should be sceptical about missionary endeavours in their region.
Frank Jardine, who replaced Simpson in January 1868 and remained in charge for most of the next six years, was especially skeptical. His appointment was a clever move on the part of the Queensland government and the new Premier A.H. Palmer. With Bowen gone, Palmer would have abandoned Somerset altogether had it been possible. But because of the imperial government's involvement in the initial three years of the project Queensland was unable to make a unilateral decision. Palmer was also concerned that speculators, who in 1866 invested in Somerset town blocks, might consider a colonial withdrawal a breath of faith and take legal action to recover their money. This amounted to more than 2400 pounds, a sum the government could hardly afford to part with in the dire economic circumstances of 1867.
Jardine's appointment was the government's best possible solution. Somerset needed an adequate supply of fresh meat, and his station already supplied that. Palmer was also aware that Jardine's party provided the only effective defence against attacks by the hostile Yadhaigana and other remote Aboriginal groups. If Jardine left, as he was continually threatening to do, there would be too few police for safety and Queensland would have to go to the considerable expense of reinforcing the settlement. His head stockmen, Eulah, had been a Native Mounted Police corporal, and it is probable that Peter, Barney and Sambo had also been members of the force. Certainly most people at Somerset referred to them as native police. By appointing Jardine, Queensland gained the services of de facto detachment of Native Mounted Police at no cost. There would also be less chance of recriminations if the men deserted or committed atrocities against the local Aboriginal groups. Bowen's original vision of an outpost of civilisation and Christianity at the tip of Cape York was fading fast, as colonial politicians faced the harsh economic realities of the times.
* * *
As previously mentioned, the town police stationed at Somerset were undisciplined, unruly, and dishonest, and not only were they an irritation to their superiors, but they abused and cheated the Aborigines and Islanders who frequented the settlement. by 1868 the Kaurareg were visiting every two weeks or so to trade, and while Kennett was still there some joined his lessons. Kennett was encouraged by the progress he was making but at the same time concerned that the police would undermine his work. The settlement Aborigines themselves became increasingly frustrated by his powerlessness to protect them, until eventually they were spurred to independent action by an incident in early May 1868. A policeman demanded that a Gudang bring him spears to trade, or be locked up. The Gudang were so angered by this that they left the vicinity of the settlement and threatened to attack the police at their first opportunity.
Jagg had expected to return to Somerset, so he left much of his personal property locked in his house, and although the house was only about 40 metres from the police barracks the settlement Aborigines broke in and ransacked it. They then attacked Vallack Point at dawn on 10 May. Frank Jardine's younger brother John, who had been at the station to muster the family's stock in anticipation of its sale to the government, had left Eulah in charge while he visited Somerset. The settlement Aborigines apparently tried to persuade Jardine's stockmen to join them against the police, but Eulah refused, was beaten to the ground, then shot through the back of the head. Peter, Barney and Sambo, however, fell in with the others and looted the station. They escaped with 800 pounds of flour and other station rations, as well as more than a dozen shotguns, rifles and pistols, and a large quantity of ammunition. Jardine's stockmen were familiar with the use of these weapons and many of the 'progeny of the Rev. Jagg', as Jardine liked to call them, could also shoot. It seemed almost certain the settlement would be attacked, and it is difficult to say why this did not happen. Jardine's men knew him well and may have considered him too formidable an opponent. It may have been that the settlement Aborigines who had scores to settle with the police were keen to attack, but that Jardine's men were content to live off their plunder in the bush. Whatever the case, after about a month the Gudang became disillusioned and began to drift back to the outskirts of the settlement.
On 12 June 1868, Woganie, one of Kennett's former pupils, appeared at the school teacher's door armed with a double barrelled gun. he persuaded Kennett to follow him into the nearby scrub where the rest of his pupils were hiding. They had Kennett's rifle with them. When he reported these events to his superiors, Kennett wrote that the rifle, together with other pieces of his property, had been stolen during the raid on Vallack Point. But he made no attempt to explain what his rifle and other things were ransacked just prior to the attack. He also failed to mention the previous occasion when his rifle was stolen from Jagg's house. It is more likely there, that the rifle was taken from Jagg's house before the attack, and that it was used to overpower Eulah at Vallack Point. Kennett appears to have twisted the facts in order to shift responsibility from himself, and to exonerate the settlement Aborigines for the murder. At the time he had good reason to do this. Jardine was in a vengeful mood after the ransacking of his cattle station and the murder of his 'favourite black-boy'. He wrote to Palmer:
I have been into several of their camps (Guydang) and recovered some of the arms but as Somerset has been chosen as the field for a missionary, I have not shot or molested the Blacks in any way, although they most richly deserve it.
Kennett negotiated with Jardine on behalf of the Gudang, and Jardine agreed not to harm them on the condition that all the arms were returned. But this amnesty was not extended to his own stockmen. The three had been before Simpson for their part in the killing of ten Yadhaigana in March 1867, and Barney had been accused of murdering a Gudang woman later the same year. both charges had been dropped. but Jardine had no intention of bringing his stockmen to trial for the murder of Eulah. Instead, he decided on the style of justice commonly reserved for Native Mounted Police deserters: summary execution. On 20 June he learned that Barney and Sambo were camped with other Aborigines about two kilometres from Somerset. He rode out with his brother and persuaded some of the stockmen's companions to overpower them in the night. This done they were shot and left to die on the scrub. With his stockmen gone Jartdine was adamant that the government send Native Mounted Police to Somerset and Palmer had little choice but to comply. In line with reforms debated in parliament in early 1868 a contingent was despatched, made up half of European town police and half of Aboriginal troopers. with no missionaries, and a Native Mounted Police detachment, Somerset became like any other remote settlement on the pastoral frontier. After the execution of Barney and Sambo the Guadang shoed no further signs of aggression so Jardine relaxed the restrictions on them entering the settlement. He represented a kind of authority different to Simpson's, one based on respect born out of fear. His knowledge of the country and willingness to use violence intimidate the settlement Aborigines, and they now had to accept that even with firearms it was useless to defy European authority. In fact they now became more committed to the settlement than they had been at any time since the occupation began.
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In July 1869 Jardine went on leave and was replaced by Henry Majorbasnks Chester. An ex-Indian Navy lieutenant, Chester migrated to Queensland when that service was abolished in 1862. he worked in a Brisbane bank until 1866 and then joined the public service as a commissioner for crown lands in the Warrego district, and later at Gladstone and Gympie. when he arrived at Somerset with his wife and son he was under the impression that the appointment was permanent, so he set about reorganising the settlement to his satisfaction Chester was pompous, autocratic, and put great store by formal discipline. Under him both colonial and Aboriginal police were required to wear proper dress and to drill regularly. Although the troopers remained cheerful and willing workers, the town police soon became bored with their routine and their rations. By September 1869 two had handed in their resignations and two others had requested transfers. Mainly because of a man power shortage, but perhaps also because of his India experience, Chester relied more on Aboriginal casual labour than any of his predecessors. Before leaving Somerset, Jardine had moved the cattle to better pasture about 25 kilometres from the settlement. Chester was reluctant to split his force by sending the troopers that distance to bring in beasts for slaughter, so he employed the settlement Aborigines instead, paying them in condemned sugar and flour from the government store. When he needed them for more regular work he placed them on full government rations.
Perhaps the most significant innovation, however, was the enlistment of settlement Aborigines to do casual native police work. All the Somerset police magistrates had relied on Aboriginal informers, and the warning they gave of the movements of hostile Aboriginal groups allowed time to put the defence of the settlement on a more vigilant footing. They had turned on Jardine's stockmen in 1868, and on occasions they also gave information about the activities of the Native Mounted Police. In 1871, for instance, settlement Aborigines informed on a group of troopers who were about to desert, and as a result two of the deserters were captured and another three were shot. Chester first enlisted them, for actual police duty in August 1869, after the massacre of the crew of the small trading vessel Sperwer by Torres Strait Islanders. The attack occurred less than 40 kilometres from Somerset, and although the officials there had no formal jurisdiction in the Strait, Chester was determined to punish those responsible. When the expeditions set out from Somerset to attempt for the first time to exert control over the inhabitants of Torres Strait, Gudang went with them who were, in essence, de facto native police.
The Sperwer had left Melbourne bound for Java in November 1868 with eight people aboard James Cascoigne, two other Europeans and five Malays. While trading at Maurura (Wednesday), Gascoigne sent some of his crew ashore to collect fuel. On a given signal the islanders overpowered and killed the divided crew, ransacked the vessel and set it alight. The Sperwer then drifted on the tide till it came to rest on the south-east side of Giralag (Friday). Although the attack took place in April, news of it did not reach Somerset until June. At that time Jardine was still in charge, and he borrowed two boats from a beche-de-mer fishermen and went to investigate the report. On Muralag (Prince of Wales) he found the decapitated body of some of the murdered crew and a Kaurareg camp littered with ship's gear. Although Jardine got close enough to the Kaurareg to notice that they wore shirts and trousers, and had broken pieces of gun-locks, watches and navigational equipment strung round their necks, the makes no mention of firing on them. In fact he claimed he left without even burying the bodies because it was too dangerous to stay on the island with such a small party.
When Chester arrived at Somerset to relive Jardine in July 1869 he immediately wrote to his superiors complaining that because of the lack of a seaworthy boat he could not visit the Prince of Wales group, 'to bury the bodies and punish the natives'. Shortly afterwards, however, the master of the Georgina Godfrey placed his small schooner at Chester's disposal. The Gudang had told Jardine that Gascoigne's wife was aboard the Sperwer at the time of the attack and that she was still alive among the Islanders. Chester became obsessed with finding the missing woman. On 4 August he sailed north, found the wreck and buried the bodies, but discovered nothing else of any significance. In December 1869 he changed tactics, took a Kaurareg leader called Passiwopad hostage, and threatened to kill him if Mrs. Gascoigne was not brought to the settlement within a week. but Mrs. Gascoigne had not been aboard the Sperwer when it left Melbourne, so it was impossible for them to comply. After twelve days Passiwopad was released, but Chester was still determined to recover the woman. Four months later HMS Blanche arrived and Chester took to of the ship's boats with 25 marines, eight native police and eleven Gudang to do a thorough search of the southern islands of the Strait. At Maurura, where the Sperwer attack had taken place, a group of about twenty Islanders were surprised, quickly disarmed and put under guard. Chester then had their huts and canoes searched. Numerous pieces of ship's equipment were found about the huts and in the canoes, and when a chronometer case was handed out of one canoe an Islander rushed passed the guards and was shot trying to escape into the surf.
With the help of the Gudang, Chester questioned the Islanders, who were Kulkalaig from Naghir (Mt. Ernest). The Gudang confirmed for him that the Kulkalaig had been involved in the Sperwer attack and pointed out three of their leaders. with the permission of St. A.H. Markham, officer in charge of the marines, Chester handed the three men over to the native police and they were executed on the beach. Chester reported that he explained the reason for the executions to the Kulkulaig and that they had understood him. He later wrote:
|It was fully anticipated that besides affording a harbor of refuge (Somerset) would act as a check upon the treacherous and bloodthirsty natives of the neighboring islands.|
He believed that his actions at Maurura would have the effect of preventing future attacks on small trading vessels, and if such proved to be the case he had achieved this end 'Without unnecessary bloodshed'. The executions may have discouraged the Islanders from making attacks, because no more occurred. but there is still confusion as to the exact extent of the reprisals. A tradition exists that the Kaurareg were virtually annihilated because of their part in the Sperwer attack, yet Jardine and Chester make no mention of reprisals. Certainly there are some anomalies in their reports which suggest that the Kaurareg did suffer casualties. both Chester and Jardine believed that three groups were involved in the attack: the Kulkalai, Kaurareg and Badulaig. In August 1871 Chester wrote that the Badulai were the only ones who had not been punished. He also implies that the Gudang betrayed the Kaurareg at the time of the Sperwer affair, though the reference is rather abstruse. Even so, it is difficult to understand why the police magistrates would have felt the need to conceal reprisals. They had good evidence that the Kaurareg were implicated in the killing of eight seamen, and eighteen Sapphire castaways had been killed in the vicinity a decade before. In these circumstances the government almost certainly would have condoned the Islanders being punished. The only reason reprisals might have been concealed was if they were excessive, as David Moore, for one, maintains they were.
What we can say for certain is that the Kaurareg were not annihilated. They continued to inhabit their camps and Chester employed ten to fifteen of them in June 1871. In July 1876 40 Kaurareg were employed aboard the Peveril as divers, in 1888 Haddon witnessed Kaurareg dances, and in 1900 they were estimated to number about 100. Despite the effects of introduced diseases there were probably more Kaurareg in 1900 than there had been in 1848 when Barbara Thompson left the island, and in 1868 when Kennett was there. Thompson estimated that they numbered about 50, and Kennett reported to his superiors that they were a very small group consisting of no more than 35 men. Although it would be unreasonable to exclude the possibility that severe Kaurareg casualties were inflicted, their annihilation is a myth. Why it persists is difficult to say, but the story does have a lurid appeal. One of the earliest and most colourful renditions comes from the pen of Archibald Meston, one-time Queensland MLA, self-proclaimed authority on Aborigines, and journalist. Writing of a journey through north Queensland in 1897 he tells how the Kaurareg 'captured, killed and ate eighteen men from a Dutch man-of-war' (sic). He then goes on to describe how this act was avenged:
About 500 men from Prince of Wales, Hammond, Thursday and Horn Islands were assembled holding hish festival at midnight. The flags and bunting from the wrecked vessel were stretched on trees in a wide circle around the camp. The war dances and heavy meal of roast Dutchmen over-came and they were nearly all in a profound slumber when the avengers appeared on the scene. These consisted of a party of white men and about fifty Polynesians, Malays, and Aboriginals, all effectively armed. They began a slaughter, grim and complete ... And when it was all over, at least 200 cannibals had departed to where they would never taste roast Dutchmen anymore. Never did a tribe of savages so richly deserve all they received.
It may also be that the 'Prince of Wales massacre' is an amalgam of incidents, because for years after the Sperwer affair the Somerset police continued to harass the Kaurareg, believing that they had a large hidden store of silver coins taken from the vessel. Or perhaps it has been confused with a confrontation that took place on the mainland some 40 kilometres from Somerset in 1873, in which a punitive expedition composed of crew from two pearl-shelling boats avenged the killing of the beche-de-mer fisherman James Atkins. In this case the Aborigines were in 'large force', 'showed a determined resistance', and were 'properly dispersed'.
* * *
Up until late 1860s the Gudang had enjoyed the closest of relationships with their Torres Strait allies, the Kaurareg and Kulkalaig. This relationship was based on more than the economic incentive of trade. They shared canoes, hunted together and were bound by the ties of kinship. But after only six years the Gudang had turned against their traditional friends to side with the Europeans. This is not to say that they arrived at some collective tribal decision. There is good evidence that individuals continued to be defiant. In March 1870, for example, Chester reported that a Gudang man was killed by some of the settlement Aborigines because he was a police informer, and a few appear to have left Cape York altogether to live with the Kaurareg. but most were content to eke out a meagre existence on the outskirts of Somerset. when the Torres Strait maritime industries began to flourish after 1871 many young Gadang men joined the boats, and left the old and infirm to live in fringe camps. by 1874, where the Challenger scientific expedition visited Somerset, these fringe-dwellers were in a deplorable state. H.N. Mosely noted that, 'a few more cases of gin and a few more years will see the last of them'. But their end came sooner than that. In June 1875 a virulent measles epidemic virtually wiped them out, and in September the new police magistrate, C. C'Oyley Aplin, reported that it was now necessary to keep a more vigilant lookout for hostile Aborigines because the 'friendly tribe of the Godangs (sic) has become extinct'.
Their neighbours the Kaurareg survived the epidemic, though there were many deaths among them. However, they now faced the unpleasant fact that the government planned to shift the settlement at Cape York to one of their islands. In late 1872 Frank Jardine reported that the Kaurareg were very anxious about the prospect of having a settlement to the Prince of Wales group and they had every reason to be apprehensive. The Kaurareg were painfully aware of what was happening at Somerset. They feared the Native Mounted Police, and must have dreaded the thought of having them stationed even closer. As it turned out the move did not eventuate until 1877. In the meantime the maritime industries that had been established on the north eastern islands in the mid-1860s were expanding, and by 1872 the centre of activity had reached as far south as the Prince of Wales group. Although at Somerset Queensland had established a beachhead on the shores of Torres Strait, for most Islanders the arrival of the western Pacific traders was of far greater immediate significance.
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