The Settlement at Port Jackson, by Watkin Tench


Farther Transactions of the Colony in November, 1790.

During the intervals of duty, our greatest source of entertainment now lay in cultivating the acquaintance of our new friends, the natives. Ever liberal of communication, no difficulty but of understanding each other subsisted between us. Inexplicable contradictions arose to bewilder our researches which no ingenuity could unravel and no credulity reconcile.

Baneelon, from being accustomed to our manners, and understanding a little English, was the person through whom we wished to prosecute inquiry, but he had lately become a man of so much dignity and consequence, that it was not always easy to obtain his company. Clothes had been given to him at various times, but he did not always condescend to wear them. One day he would appear in them, and the next day he was to be seen carrying them in a net slung around his neck. Farther to please him, a brick house of twelve feet square was built for his use, and for that of such of his countrymen as might choose to reside in it, on a point of land fixed upon by himself. A shield, double cased with tin, to ward off the spears of his enemies, was also presented to him, by the governor.

Elated by these marks of favour, and sensible that his importance with his countrymen arose in proportion to our patronage of him, he warmly attached himself to our society. But the gratitude of a savage is ever a precarious tenure. That of Baneelon was fated to suffer suspension, and had well nigh been obliterated by the following singular circumstance.

One day the natives were observed to assemble in more than an ordinary number at their house on the point, and to be full of bustle and agitation, repeatedly calling on the name of Baneelon, and that of ‘deein’ (a woman). Between twelve and one o’clock Baneelon, unattended, came to the governor at his house, and told him that he was going to put to death a woman immediately, whom he had brought from Botany Bay. Having communicated his intention, he was preparing to go away, seeming not to wish that the governor should be present at the performance of the ceremony. But His Excellency was so struck with the fierce gestures, and wild demeanour of the other, who held in his hand one of our hatchets and frequently tried the sharpness of it, that he determined to accompany him, taking with him Mr. Collins and his orderly sergeant. On the road, Baneelon continued to talk wildly and incoherently of what he would do, and manifested such extravagant marks of fury and revenge, that his hatchet was taken away from him, and a walking-stick substituted for it.

When they reached the house, they found several natives, of both sexes lying promiscuously before the fire, and among them a young woman, not more than sixteen years old, who at sight of Baneelon, started, and raised herself half up. He no sooner saw her than, snatching a sword of the country, he ran at her, and gave her two severe wounds on the head and one on the shoulder, before interference in behalf of the poor wretch could be made. Our people now rushed in and seized him; but the other Indians continued quiet spectators of what was passing, either awed by Baneelon’s superiority or deeming it a common case, unworthy of notice and interposition. In vain did the governor by turns soothe and threaten him. In vain did the sergeant point his musquet at him. He seemed dead to every passion but revenge; forgot his affection to his old friends and, instead of complying with the request they made, furiously brandished his sword at the governor, and called aloud for his hatchet to dispatch the unhappy victim of his barbarity. Matters now wore a serious aspect. The other Indians appeared under the control of Baneelon and had begun to arm and prepare their spears, as if determined to support him in his violence.

Farther delay might have been attended with danger. The ‘Supply’ was therefore immediately hailed, and an armed boat ordered to be sent on shore. Luckily, those on board the ship had already observed the commotion and a boat was ready, into which captain Ball, with several of his people stepped, armed with musquets, and put off. It was reasonable to believe that so powerful a reinforcement would restore tranquillity, but Baneelon stood unintimidated at disparity of numbers and boldly demanded his prisoner, whose life, he told the governor, he was determined to sacrifice, and afterwards to cut off her head. Everyone was eager to know what could be the cause of such inveterate inhumanity. Undaunted, he replied that her father was his enemy, from whom he had received the wound in his forehead beforementioned; and that when he was down in battle, and under the lance of his antagonist, this woman had contributed to assail him. “She is now,” added he, “my property: I have ravished her by force from her tribe: and I will part with her to no person whatever, until my vengeance shall be glutted.”

Farther remonstrance would have been wasted. His Excellency therefore ordered the woman to be taken to the hospital in order that her wounds might be dressed. While this was doing, one of the natives, a young man named Boladeree, came up and supplicated to be taken into the boat also, saying that he was her husband, which she confirmed and begged that he might be admitted. He was a fine well grown lad, of nineteen or twenty years old, and was one of the persons who had been in the house in the scene just described, which he had in no wise endeavoured to prevent, or to afford assistance to the poor creature who had a right to his protection.

All our people now quitted the place, leaving the exasperated Baneelon and his associates to meditate farther schemes of vengeance. Before they parted he gave them, however, to understand that he would follow the object of his resentment to the hospital, and kill her there, a threat which the governor assured him if he offered to carry into execution he should be immediately shot. Even this menace he treated with disdain.

To place the refugees in security, a sentinel was ordered to take post at the door of the house, in which they were lodged. Nevertheless they attempted to get away in the night, either from fear that we were not able to protect them, or some apprehension of being restrained from future liberty. When questioned where they proposed to find shelter, they said they would go to the Cameragal tribe, with whom they should be safe. On the following morning, Imeerawanyee* joined them, and expressed strong fears of Baneelon’s resentment. Soon after a party of natives, known to consist of Baneelon’s chosen friends, with a man of the name of Bigon, at their head, boldly entered the hospital garden, and tried to carry off all three by force. They were driven back and threatened, to which their leader only replied by contemptuous insolence.

[*This good-tempered lively lad, was become a great favourite with us, and almost constantly lived at the governor’s house. He had clothes made up for him, and to amuse his mind, he was taught to wait at table. One day a lady, Mrs. McArthur, wife of an officer of the garrison, dined there, as did Nanbaree. This latter, anxious that his countryman should appear to advantage in his new office, gave him many instructions, strictly charging him, among other things, to take away the lady’s plate, whenever she should cross her knife and fork, and to give her a clean one. This Imeerawanyee executed, not only to Mrs. McArthur, but to several of the other guests. At last Nanbaree crossed his knife and fork with great gravity, casting a glance at the other, who looked for a moment with cool indifference at what he had done, and then turned his head another way. Stung at this supercilious treatment, he called in rage, to know why he was not attended to, as well as the rest of the company. But Imeerawanyee only laughed; nor could all the anger and reproaches of the other prevail upon him to do that for one of his countrymen, which he cheerfully continued to perform to every other person.]

Baneelon finding he could not succeed, withdrew himself for two days. At length he made his appearance, attended only by his wife. Unmindful of what had so recently happened, he marched singly up to the governor’s house, and on being refused admittance, though unarmed, attempted to force the sentinel. The soldier spared him, but the guard was instantly sent for, and drawn up in front of the house; not that their co-operation was necessary, but that their appearance might terrify. His ardour now cooled, and he seemed willing, by submission, to atone for his misconduct. His intrepid disregard of personal risk, nay of life, could not however, but gain admiration; though it led us to predict, that this Baneelon, whom imagination had fondly pictured, like a second Omai, the gaze of a court and the scrutiny of the curious, would perish untimely, the victim of his own temerity.

To encourage his present disposition of mind, and to try if feelings of compassion towards an enemy, could be exerted by an Indian warrior, the governor ordered him to be taken to the hospital, that he might see the victim of his ferocity. He complied in sullen silence. When about to enter the room in which she lay, he appeared to have a momentary struggle with himself, which ended his resentment. He spoke to her with kindness, and professed sorrow for what he had done, and promised her future protection. Barangaroo, who had accompanied him, now took the alarm: and as in shunning one extreme we are ever likely to rush into another, she thought him perhaps too courteous and tender. Accordingly she began to revile them both with great bitterness, threw stones at the girl and attempted to beat her with a club.

Here terminated this curious history, which I leave to the reader’s speculation. Whether human sacrifices of prisoners be common among them is a point which all our future inquiry never completely determined. It is certain that no second instance of this sort was ever witnessed by us.

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