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Robert Dawson's Travels
North From Port Stephens 1826
Robert Dawson was the first Agent for the Australian Agricultural Company. Below are extracts from his Present State of Australia in which he describes the country side north of Port Stephens and gives an account of the natives who accompanied him on his journeys north in 1826
Arrival of Robert Dawson in Sydney
Page 2.....My nephew, Mr. J. G. Dawson, having been appointed my assistant, embarked at the same time on board the Brothers, having also charge of forty individuals, between three and four hundred sheep, three head of horned cattle, and seven horses.
In less than thirty-six hours from the ship's weighing anchor, we lost sight of the shores of our native country. On the 23d of November, 1825, after a favourable voyage of twenty-three weeks, (including fourteen days passed at Rio de Janeiro,) we cast anchor in the harbour of Sydney. Our losses in both the ships, during the voyage, amounted to no more than eighteen sheep, and the remainder were landed in better condition than when they were put on board at Cowes. The directors of the Company having appointed a local committee out of their proprietary resident in the colony, I waited on the only member of it then at Sydney, and consulted him as to the best plan of landing and providing for the stock, and of removing the establishment to a farm called Retreat, which the directors had ordered to be hired for the Company's use, previous to my arrival.
The stock were immediately landed and provided for by his excellency Sir Thomas Brisbane on the government domain. It was thought desirable to keep the servants several days on board, although they were, as may naturally be supposed, eager to be relieved from their confined quarters. Two days previous to their being landed, several carpenters and masons were dispatched from the ships to the Retreat Farm, for the purpose of making some arrangements before the arrival of the families there. On the 27th of November all the establishment were landed, with the whole of their baggage. About twenty carts were mustered in the morning for their conveyance, but it was quite late in the day before they were loaded and ready to start.
The scene before, as well as after the procession moved, was a novel and a somewhat ludicrous one. The women, not having been previously ashore, were attired in their best clothes, displaying their bonnets and ribbons, in the expectation, as they said, of being conveyed to the Farm in a more respectable style; imagining, no doubt, that covered carts or hackney coaches were as easily to be found in Sydney as in London. Several of them were unwilling to ride with their luggage, while some of the drivers of the carts were equally unwilling to admit those to seats who were ready to take them, alleging, with the nicety of distinction and cunning peculiar to the experienced of Botany Bay, that they had contracted to carry only dead, and not living matter. The greatest confusion and discontent at this moment prevailed amongst all parties. Children crying, mothers scolding and weeping, husbands complaining, and drivers grumbling at being over-loaded. What is to be done? I several times exclaimed; for I was really unable, at the moment, to discern how to reconcile matters, having no other resources than my own wits to help me out of the difficulty. At length I was obliged to promise something extra to the carters, whose object I saw was to take advantage of my situation. And I also hired as many more carts as could be obtained for the further accommodation of my party, who amounted to nearly eighty persons. I now reasoned with some, and scolded and laughed at others, till I succeeded in causing all the women and smaller children to be placed in the vehicles, when I ordered the drivers to move on in a line. The carts were accompanied by the men and boys on foot.
My nephew, and the Company's wool-sorter, Mr. Charles Hall, were each mounted on horseback: the one rode in front as conductor, while the other brought up the rear. The procession reached a considerable distance, and as it passed through the principal streets in Sydney, the moving multitude of voluntary exiles excited no little curiosity amongst the inhabitants. To those who had been long absent from England, it must have been (as I know it was to some) a rich treat to see such a number of inhabitants of the old country at once starting out, as it were, from the opposite side of the globe, fresh in their habiliments from England, as if they had just left their cottages at home for a Sunday's stroll; and above all, it was curious to observe our little shepherd-boys, with their homely garments and heavy hob-nailed boots, staring and gaping about as they marched along the street. I accompanied the cavalcade on foot beyond the town, when I returned to transact some matters of business, having promised to join them as early as possible at the Farm on the following morning. The distance from Sydney to the Retreat was between thirty and forty miles, and the party were therefore obliged to travel all night. The weather when they left Sydney was very fine, but about seven o'clock in the evening it began to rain, and continued to pour incessantly the whole night. I felt much for the poor women and children; but there was then no possibility of affording them any relief, nor could they hope for any until they should arrive at their journey's end.
The following morning proved remarkably clear and bright, and I started very early for Retreat, being extremely anxious to learn how they got through their journey. The first persons I saw when I entered the premises were the two young men who had accompanied the party on horseback; they were precisely in the plight in which they had arrived a few hours previously. Their appearance was haggard and wretched in the extreme: their clothes were hardly yet dry upon their backs, their hats were bent in various shapes by the drenching rain; the red dust with which they had been almost suffocated, previous to the rain, had deeply stained their cravats and faces, and one of them was partly covered with red mud, by the repeated tumbles of the jaded hack on which he had been mounted. I was hard hearted enough to enjoy a good laugh at their piteous appearance; and on learning from them that the party had arrived safe, and were billetted in different quarters of the house and premises, I proceeded further towards the back front, where the carts had been unloaded. Here I saw, first, a quantity of boxes, trunks, and other luggage scattered about; and next, several of the boys and men fast asleep on the ground, under the eaves of the house, and in different situations near the baggage, all of them in their wet and dirty clothes, just as they had arrived. The house and detached offices were fortunately pretty extensive, and afforded cover for the families. Some of them had established themselves in the dairy, some in the cellar, and others in the different rooms and virandahs attached to the house. One room had been reserved for the young men and myself, and on entering the passage to this apartment, I found it occupied by two families, who were asleep on the floor, at each end of it. Some of the individuals awoke on the door being opened, and on seeing me, wrapped themselves more snugly in their blankets, and called out for me to pass on. I felt too sensibly how miserable a female, with a young family around her, must feel herself in such a situation, and after such a journey, not to sympathise sincerely with them, but deferred any expression of it till after they had arisen and taken their breakfasts, when I appeared amongst them.
I had calculated that the change from ship-board to the shore, after a long voyage, and the appearance of bright sunshine with a warm day, after such a dismal journey in the preceding night, would have a favourable effect on their minds, and in this I was not mistaken; for several of them, after complaining and remonstrating with me, remarked, that any thing, to be sure, was preferable to being on board of ship; but, that had they known what they did then, nobody would have persuaded them to leave home. I believe, however, that they were convinced that I had done all I could for them in my situation; and taking my assurances that I would make the best arrangements in my power for their future comfort, they recovered their good-humour, and bantered each other upon the ridiculous figure they cut, and the manner in which they had established themselves on the premises.
The men behaved themselves with great fortitude, and conducted themselves, amidst the trials and complaints of their wives, with much good sense and good-temper: they saw the impossibility of any remedy at the moment, and set to work, as soon as possible, under my directions, to make as many temporary huts as would give separate accommodation to each family, until a spot should be fixed upon in some other quarter of the colony, for their permanent settlement. As soon as the men had made the best provision in their power for their families, the sheep were ordered from the government domain at Sydney, to Retreat Farm, where they were to remain with the establishment, under the care of my nephew, Mr. J. G. Dawson, while I proceeded to examine such unoccupied parts of the country as offered any prospects for the final selection of a grant of a million of acres. The stores and implements which we had brought out with us, were deposited in a warehouse in Sydney, whence they were issued from time to time, according to our wants.
Sydney to Newcastle
On the 1st of January, 1826, I left Sydney, in company with Mr. Harrington, the committee's secretary; Mr. Armstrong, the Company's surveyor; and Mr. Dangar, a government assistant surveyor, for the purpose of examining the country in the neighbourhood of Port Stephens, which is situated on the coast, about a hundred and ten miles north of the town of Sydney, by water, and about two hundred miles by land. We took our passage in the cutter which sailed every week from Sydney to Newcastle, at which latter place we landed, and waited several days, in expectation of meeting some of the Company's servants, whom I had despatched overland from Retreat Farm, with the horses necessary for our journey. As the harbour at Port Stephens had been represented to me by Mr. Oxley, the surveyor-general, as a safe and capacious one, and the country about it as likely to furnish a sufficient land for the Company's purposes, I despatched several servants from Sydney, in a small schooner laden with provisions, stores, and tents, with orders to wait in the harbour at Port Stephens, until we should arrive there with the overland party. Having had a very short passage from Sydney, and finding nothing to interest me at Newcastle, beyond a few hours, I accompanied Mr. Dangar about thirty miles up the River Hunter, and remained for two days with
Mr. Macleod of Luskintyre.
Native Tribe Near Maitland
In my ride backwards and forwards to this place I saw a good deal of the country, and something of the habits of the wild natives, several of whom we saw perfectly naked, on one of their hunting expeditions, crossing our track, and in the act of forming themselves in a circle round their kangaroo game. They were acquainted with Mr. Dangar, whose duties as a surveyor had led him to pass much of his time in the Bush or Forest. Some civilities passed between them when we separated in pursuit of our respective businesses.
On the day after our return, our land party joined us nearly about the time we had calculated upon. They pitched their tent and tethered their horses on a plot of grass in the town nearly opposite the inn where we were quartered, and after waiting a day to recruit, we swam the horses across the mouth of the River Hunter, to what is called the North Shore. Our servants encamped there for the night, and early on the following morning we joined them, to proceed by the beach to Port Stephens, when I had a specimen, for the first time, of the nature and dexterity of the thieves who were ordered by the commandant (Captain Francis Allman) to row us across the river.
On taking our baggage from the boat, we missed some articles belonging to my personal luggage; and although the convicts who put us across were constantly employed at their oars, and continually under our eyes, they managed to purloin the articles, and to elude detection.
At Newcastle, and in the immediate vicinity, I found a large number of natives, with many of whom I endeavoured to make acquaintance; and the evening before I left the place, I agreed with two of them to conduct us by the nearest route, to that part of the harbour of Port Stephens where we had appointed to meet the schooner. One of them passed over with the party the same evening, not intending to remain there; but the pilot, who then knew them better than I did, suggested that it would be better to keep him while he was there, for otherwise he would probably not be forthcoming when required early in the morning, and he was therefore left with the party. In the morning it was exactly as the pilot had foretold; the other native was nowhere to be found. He had received a good supply of tobacco as an earnest the night before, and with this he was better satisfied than to accompany us to Port Stephens, which we found to be no less than between thirty and forty miles by the route which we travelled.
The black man therefore whom we had thus caught, was our only guide, and it was with much reluctance that he consented to act in that capacity alone; but after travelling a few miles he became reconciled, and elated with the thought of the clothes and good cheer I had promised him when we should arrive: he was still further gratified in being allowed to carry a musket. He informed me that he had only been upon a visit to Newcastle, and that he belonged to the south side of the harbour of Port Stephens; (in fact, the very place to which we were going;) but that he had left Nanny, his gin, (wife) behind him. It was therefore settled that he should return for her whenever he pleased, as soon as he had conducted us; that she was to have a gown and cap, etc; and that both of them were to come and live with me always.
The day was very fine: all our party were in good spirits, and as we travelled on the beach, I was highly amused with the good-natured chattering of our sable companion, the more so from his being the first I had an opportunity of freely conversing with. After proceeding about twenty miles along the beach, we struck across the country, in the direction of a place called Soldiers' Point, lying on the south side of the inner harbour of Port Stephens. As soon as our native guide, whom I named Ben, had led us to a spring of water, we halted and took our dinner under the shade of some trees adjoining to it. Some of our party on foot had by this time begun to feel the effects of a long walk over an unusually soft, sandy beach: the refreshment and relief, therefore, which this cool shady rest, and the meal of fried bacon and tea afforded, will I have no doubt be long remembered by them, as amongst the first of the agreeable impressions which occurred in this distant land. It was the first repast of the kind which I had partaken of, and I shall always recollect it with pleasure. Ben had also a feast of tea and biscuit, which was succeeded by the favourite pipe of tobacco, but the bacon was too fat and too salt for him to partake of it.
Not long after we had resumed our journey, a call or cooee was heard at a short distance from us in the forest. Ben was instantly alive to it, and observed to me, in a quick and animated manner: You hear, Massa? Black pellow cooee. With this he bounded forward with his musket on his shoulder, to seek his friend, whose voice he well knew. In a few minutes they met, when I immediately saw Ben liberally bestowing his tobacco and pipe upon his friend, who was an elderly man, perfectly naked. When I came up to them, Ben said: Brodder belonging to me, massa: tit (sit) down here always. I was much amused at this meeting, and above all delighted at the prompt and generous manner in which this wild and untutored man conducted himself towards his wandering brother. If they be savages, thought I, they are very civil ones; and with kind treatment we have not only nothing to fear, but a good deal to gain from them. I felt an ardent desire to cultivate their acquaintance, and also much satisfaction from the idea that my situation would afford me ample opportunities and means for doing so.
57th Regiment at Soldiers Point
Before we arrived at Soldiers' Point darkness came on, and as the road over the rocks near the shore was both difficult and dangerous for our loaded pack-horses, Ben ran forward to the Point, and brought to our assistance the corporal and two soldiers of the 57th regiment, who were stationed with three others at that solitary spot, to intercept the runaway convicts, on their passage from the penal settlement of Port Macquarie to Newcastle and Sydney. Welcome to you, gentlemen, was the salute of the corporal as he approached us; and welcome too was the corporal, for we should have found it difficult to reach the station in the dark with the pack-horses without his assistance. We received from him the intelligence that the schooner had arrived in the harbour several days before, and was lying at anchor opposite their hut. In a short time we arrived at the Point by the assistance of Ben and the soldiers.
Reward for Ben
We pitched our tents on a convenient spot near the shore, and tethered our horses around us in the midst of grass which reached nearly to their knees. On the following morning I went on board the schooner, and ordered on shore a tomahawk and a suit of slop clothes, which I had promised to my friend Ben, and in which he was immediately dressed. They consisted of a short blue jacket, a checked shirt, and a pair of dark trowsers. He strutted about in them with an air of good natured importance, declaring that all the harbour and country adjoining belonged to him. I tumble down pickaninny here, he said, meaning that he was born there. Belonging to me all about, massa; pose you tit down here, I gib it to you. Very well, I said: I shall sit down here. Budgeree, (very good,) he replied, I gib it to you; and we shook hands in ratification of the friendly treaty.
Having understood that there was no land about the harbour calculated to form a settlement upon, our object was to proceed up the river, called by the natives Karuah, which discharges itself into the harbour on the opposite or northern side of it. We were joined in the morning by a launch which Captain Allman, the commandant at Newcastle kindly sent to our assistance, and we determined to proceed the same afternoon up the river with the launch and a small boat, leaving the schooner to follow us. There were several natives at this time in the harbour, and as soon as they saw the vessels lying at anchor, some of them came paddling off in their little bark canoes from the opposite side (a distance of several miles) to visit us. A native called Tony, who had previously made his acquaintance with the soldiers, was recommended to accompany us with Ben up the river, and having accepted of my proposals, we started after dinner, and proceeded across the harbour, (about six miles in that direction,) leaving several of our attendants behind to take care of the horses. We encamped that evening on the banks of the river, about fourteen miles from Soldiers' Point. Having proceeded the next day as far as the river was navigable for the schooner, I fixed upon a spot which I thought would answer for a temporary settlement, and accordingly had the stores landed from the schooner and deposited under an officer's tent, guarded by the mechanic, Dan Joy, who had received them in charge from the Company's store in Sydney. After several days' examination of the country on foot, we returned to Soldiers' Point, first leaving such a number of persons up the river as were necessary to protect themselves against any attack from the natives, should such an event occur. In crossing the harbour in the evening, on our way back, I was much struck with the beauty of the scenery on the north side, and could not help suspecting, from the appearance of the country, that I had been deceived in the representations given of it. I therefore proposed to Mr. Harrington, to visit that side on the following morning.
North of Port Stephens
Accordingly, soon after daylight we left the Point, and landed near the spot which had attracted my attention the preceding evening. We should have been at no loss here for an ample breakfast, even had we not provided ourselves with one, from the abundance of oysters that covered the rocks near which we landed.
We were now accompanied by the native Tony, who, after assisting to boil our kettle and fry our bacon, seasoned our repast with a supply of roasted oysters. The water in the harbour this morning, under the influence of a bright sun, was glassy as the smoothest lake, and the whole range of scenery was rendered romantically beautiful by the softer shades of the more distant and thickly timbered hills which skirted the harbour, and by the several small islands which lay in the midst of the still clear waters. The silence of this delightful spot was broken only by sounds which added to its interest, and which arose from the gentle splashings caused by the undulations of the tide against the rocks on which we sat, and the gay whistlings of the magpies in the open forest behind us. After breakfast we set out to see as much of the country as we were able. We had not been out long before a beautiful bird, very like a pheasant in its plumage and tail, though not so beautiful, flew out of the long grass and perched itself upon a tree, when I immediately shot it. I understood afterwards that it was known in the colony as the swamp pheasant, which inhabits the shores near the sea, and which is extremely rare, disappearing always when the country becomes settled. It appeared to subsist upon grasshoppers, for on opening its stomach it was found to be filled with them. Its flesh, when cooked, was tender, and resembled more the flavour of the woodcock than that of any other game.
Before we left this side of the harbour, I became convinced our stores ought to have been landed here, and at once determined to remove them hither, by recalling the schooner, which had by this time anchored in the outer harbour, on her return to Sydney. After spending a pleasant day upon this very interesting excursion, we returned to Soldiers' Point, recalled the schooner on the following morning, and sent her again up the river, where we appointed to meet her on a certain day. The next duty was to convey our horses across the harbour to the shore immediately opposite, which we did with considerable difficulty, by the assistance of the government launch, and we then formed our encampment on that side, from which our whole party departed the next day, to join the schooner at the head of the navigable river. During this journey we passed over about twenty miles of country, some parts of which were of a very inferior description, and others of better quality. The forest was every where open and grassy, and free from brushwood; but generally thickly timbered with tall trees, both in the vallies and on the tops of the highest hills.
The natives, Tony and Ben, accompanied us, and also two other natives: the first had his gin, (wife,) who carried her little boy, about twelve months old, astride on her shoulders, while the little black urchin fastened his fingers in her hair to prevent himself from falling. They were all three as naked as when they were born, and appeared to suffer no inconvenience from the want of covering - such is the luxurious nature of the climate. On our journey we fell in with a wild, fierce-looking man, about the middle age, with two slender, interesting looking youths, named Wandoman and Booramee, apparently about twelve years of age. The old man was armed with a long spear; his beard was short and bushy like his hair, and his body naked; while he had placed in his girdle of twisted oppossum fur, which he wore around his loins, an iron tomahawk and a large piece of half-roasted kangaroo flesh. The trio were wandering in search of the rest of their tribe, who had moved to the beach; and as Tony belonged to the same tribe, I requested him to invite the strangers to join us. This was done in their own language, they being unable to speak a single word of English. The invitation was immediately accepted, and we proceeded together on our journey. I was much pleased to find that every considerable brook and hill had a name; and as the old man was conversant with them all, I made memoranda of their names, shapes, and positions, to assist my recollection if I should hereafter examine the country more minutely, or be at any time lost in that quarter of the forest when alone.
Sharpening a Spear
After two days' journey we arrived at the station where we had left the party, and found the schooner waiting for us. In the evening my attention was drawn to the old native by one of our men, who had observed him while sitting at the fire, in the act of sharpening his spear. Look at that old man, sir, said the white man: do you think he means any good by that? I answered, that I had no idea he meant any harm. I however watched his movements, and observed that he scraped the point of his spear, which was at least about eight feet long, with a broken shell, and put it in the fire to harden. Having done this, he drew the spear over the blaze of the fire repeatedly, and then placed it between his teeth, in which position he applied both his hands to straighten it, examining it afterwards with one eye closed, as a carpenter would do his planed work. The dexterous and workmanlike manner in which he performed his task, interested me exceedingly; while the savage appearance and attitude of his body, as he sat on the ground before a blazing fire in the forest, with a black youth seated on either side of him, watching attentively his proceedings, formed as fine a picture of savage life as can be conceived. As soon as he had put his spear in order, he left the fire with the two boys, without saying a word or appearing to notice any one, and they immediately disappeared in the forest. Not being then aware that they could approach a kangaroo sufficiently near to kill it with a spear, I must confess I felt some anxiety to learn what they were about, and accordingly applied to Tony upon the subject, who informed me that they were gone to look for a kangaroo; and I was also for the first time informed by Tony's gin, Louisa, that the old man was her father, and the two boys her brothers. At twilight the old man returned alone, and informed Tony that he had speared a kangaroo, which was so heavy he could not bring it home, and requested that the white men might go and assist them. Suspicion still attached to the old man, who they supposed might have formed a stratagem to decoy them into the forest and spear them. A party, however, was soon formed, each with a loaded musket, and after proceeding about a mile, the old man led them to the spot where he had slain a kangaroo, of a size exceeding any thing which we had before seen. The animal was brought to the station, and served on the following day to supply the whole party with food.
It was now arranged that Mr. Harrington, Mr. Dangar, and the Company's surveyor, Mr. Armstrong, with a suitable party of men and two natives, should be supplied with stores for five or six weeks; that they should proceed to examine the distant country, while I determined to return with the vessel and the remainder of the party to the harbour, where my object was to fix upon a spot for the early settlement of the whole of the Company's establishment, which I was exceedingly anxious to remove from the contaminating influence of the society in the neighbourhood of Retreat Farm. As soon, therefore, as matters could be arranged we separated, when I returned to the harbour. After several days of careful search and anxious reflection, I selected a spot, upon which we began to construct a number of small huts (made with poles and bark) for the reception of the families when they should arrive.
Expedition November 1826
P. 101....Having determined upon taking a journey of examination into the more distant parts of the country, previous to the Company's finally deciding upon the boundaries of their grant; and on my intentions becoming known to the natives then at the Station, offers were immediately made by them to accompany me. As, however, it would have been inconvenient to me to take more than five or six of them, I fixed upon five, who had assumed the following names: Wickie, M'Quarie, Wool (old) Bill, Maty (little) Bill, and Jemmy Bungaree. I had also with me three convict servants, who, with two of the natives, led five pack-horses, which carried my camp equipage, and a supply of provisions for three weeks. We were armed with two rifles, two double-barrelled fowling-pieces, and a musket, and I had, besides these, a brace of pistols in my holsters: on this occasion I also took with me two brace of kangaroo dogs.
About the middle of the day on the 10th of November, 1826, I dispatched the horses to a certain spot on the banks of a river about sixteen miles from the Port, and in the evening I proceeded by water with another party of natives, who rowed me to the place of rendezvous, which we did not reach before nightfall. As soon as I had landed, some of the natives proceeded to collect firewood, which is scattered in great abundance in every part of the forest. A blazing fire was soon kindled, while others of the natives were employed in bringing water upon their heads from the nearest pool, and in assisting the white men to pitch and arrange my tent for the night. Having finished these necessary preparations, tea was soon introduced. During this repast, which I made on the body of a fallen tree, my black friends had squatted themselves around the fire, smoking their pipes, and patiently awaiting their turn to partake of the favourite beverage. Our utensils were not many upon this occasion: they consisted of a tea-kettle, a large saucepan, a frying-pan, a few pewter plates, several tin pannicans, which served us for tea and drinking-cups, a spoon or two, some knives and forks, and a few napkins. Our provisions consisted of salt pork, flour, biscuit, tea and sugar, with some ground Indian corn for the natives. My bed-clothes were simply a pair of blankets, my bedding was composed of long grass pulled by the natives, and spread upon the ground, and my pillow was a small velise, in which I carried my night-clothes and a change of linen. With these accommodations, and under the shelter of a small tent, I felt perfectly contented, desiring, under these circumstances, no better accommodation.
The weather being remarkably fine, each convict rolled himself up in his blanket, and slept between my tent and the fire, with the heavens for his canopy. The natives, who had always blankets provided for them upon these occasions, slept around the fire opposite to the convicts. The arms were placed against the pole inside my tent, and strapped to it by my shot-belt; while the horses were tethered and grazed within sight of the camp.
Nov. 11 th. The sun had no sooner made its appearance, than I was awoke by the chattering of the natives, who had risen to make the fire, and like so many children, were talking of the number of kangaroos they were likely to see on their journey, and the enjoyment the fire-arms would afford them as they travelled. About nine o'clock we left our encampment, under the following disposition of our party. The three white men and two natives led each a pack-horse; Wool Bill wheeled the perambulator; Maty Bill led the dogs; and Jemmy Bungaree, with his rifle, accompanied me a little in advance of the party, to look out for game. Each of the natives had also a gun on his shoulder. This was a condition which they made with me before starting, in consequence of their extreme fears of meeting with various tribes, who always call strangers to a severe account; and should there be any existing feud, which is frequently the case, occasioned either from some encroachment on their hunting ground, or perhaps the stealing each other's gins, (wives,) any unfortunate stragglers stand a good chance of being scarified, in revenge for the offences of their tribes. The pleasures, therefore, which my native companions anticipated from this journey, were sadly mingled with the fear of meeting the strange or Myall pellows, as they called them, as soon as they should have left their own grounds.
We proceeded in the order before described, about four miles through a rather poor but grassy country, alternating between low hills and flats, near the banks of the river Karuah. The ground was in general heavily timbered, and as usual, without underwood. After crossing a deep, and in some places a dry channel, which in rainy seasons would be called a river, the soil began to improve. The country gradually became less heavily timbered, and the views more extensive. This was in accordance with what I had been previously led to expect, and fully confirmed my former observations, that the poorest soils contained more than treble the number of trees that are found in the best soils, being also much longer and taller. This, like most other things in this strange country, is, I believe, nearly the reverse of what we find in England.
As we passed on this day towards a small river, the country suddenly became exceedingly beautiful and picturesque, consisting of low undulating hills, with only as much timber as was necessary to perfect the beauty of a finely broken and varied country. I thought, at the time, I had never beheld so sweet a spot. The soil is exceedingly rich, although of comparatively small extent; and the country is most bountifully watered by two small rivers, which form a junction in the vale, and afterwards discharge themselves into the navigable river Karuah. In the middle of our day's journey we were overtaken by what is called a hot wind. This heated state of the atmosphere, under a clear sun in the depth of an Australian summer, is no trifling inconvenience to an European traveller; the thermometer, upon such occasions, generally rising as high as 110. We journeyed on, however, slaking our thirst at every pool we could find. I heard no grumbling during the day, excepting from Wool Bill, who had become tired of wheeling the perambulator, and made several attempts to get rid of it. He was at length caught with it upon his head, by way of relieving his arms, which spoiled any correct calculations of distance for this day. This event caused a little demur, and Wool Bill at last got rid of his troublesome office. After much altercation between the natives, it was transferred to Jemmy Bungaree; and Wool Bill, looking at me over his shoulder with a leer of cunning and pleasure, took his rifle, to look out kangaroo, as he called it, for the remainder of the day.
Bivouack at Karuah River
After travelling only about seven miles this day, we bivouacked for the night on the banks of the Karuah, in the pleasant country before described. Long before I fixed upon the spot, my black friends had been calling out, Where nangry (sleep) to-night, massa? Black pellow most tired. Murry corban hot. Corse (horse) most tired, massa.'' As soon, therefore, as the spot was fixed upon, and the horses brought up, they were instantly disincumbered of their burdens. The two natives, M'Quarie and Wickie, rubbed down their horses and led them to water, in the same manner as the white men did, and afterwards tethered them upon the grass, with all the consequence of boys when attempting to assume the manners and employment of men; looking round to me for approbation, and asking at the same time, That do, massa? Yes, I said, that will do very well, indeed; just as well as white pellow. All black pellows belonging to me are murry good pellows. This was assented to with a nod of the head; and M'Quarie then observed to Wickie, with a look of extreme pleasure and consequence, Massa piola (says) all te same like it white pellow. I tinky so all te same, says Wickie. They then followed me back to the encampment; M'Quarie, as he walked along, whistling gaily in imitation of a white man. During this time the other blacks had been employed by the cook in arranging the luggage, collecting wood, and making the fire; also in bringing water from the river, and assisting in pitching my tent. Wool Bill was fixed at the frying-pan, and shaking it at proper intervals, to keep the meat from burning, with as much seriousness and dexterity as can be conceived. The exceedingly droll appearance, and the perfect good-humour of the party, were so highly amusing to me, that I believe I never felt in a happier mood than while I contemplated the group before me. As soon as the preparations for dinner were completed, a quantity of flour was served out to the natives. They had already prepared a sheet of bark from a tree near them, as a dish for kneading their flour in.
They had been accustomed to see the convicts make their loaves and bake them on the ashes, and had by this time become quite expert in imitating them. They preferred a loaf in this way to any thing else; but they were not very particular as to the baking, generally taking it out when little more than half done. Tea always forms an accompaniment to my dinner when in the bush; and as the natives are extremely fond of it, I always give them plenty. While their bread was baking they squatted down, and amused themselves before the fire smoking, and singing in their own language; and soon after they had eaten their cake and drunk their tea they quietly sank to sleep on the spot where they had taken their meal, like children after a long day's play. We made no attempt to course kangaroos this day. The weather was much too hot for the dogs; and our stock of fresh provisions at so early a period of our journey rendered it unnecessary to seek for game, except for the support of the dogs. The heated air in which we had been almost exhausted during the day, was as usual succeeded by a light, cool breeze in the evening. We all enjoyed a night of refreshing sleep, and arose in the morning quite ready for the exertions of the day.
As soon as I left my bed, I proceeded to the river, on the banks of which we had encamped, attended by Wool Bill with my dressing apparatus. This lad was of an extremely tractable and gentle disposition, and had, soon after my arrival at Port Stephens, in February, 1826, spontaneously attached himself to me; and he ever afterwards tit down, as they call it, with me. He was a great favourite of the cook's, daily performing for him various domestic services; and cleaning the knives and forks was exclusively assigned to him, at his own request. So jealous, indeed, was he of his place, that the introduction of any other native to the shed where his duties were performed, was the greatest affront that could be offered to him. I encouraged his disposition to domesticate himself by every means in my power; and as I was always much amused and pleased with him, I made him my body servant during the journey. As soon as we had discovered a proper place, he untied my shoes, took off my stockings, and washed my feet, while I was seated at the edge of the river. The quiet and regular manner in which he performed all this, and the ludicrous appearance of his figure and dress, with the gravity of his countenance when he said dat do, massa? forced from me a laugh, which I really had not the power to prevent. This gave him the idea that I had brought him there for the purpose of making sport of him, and he answered like a child, in a half-angry tone, Gammon, I bleve. No gammon, said I. Murry good fellow, Bill. Like him very much. Belong to me always. Come, hold the looking-glass: I shave. Then you go patter (eat or drink) tea along with all black pellows at the camp. The smile of reconciliation instantly beamed upon his countenance, and he assumed his accustomed importance in the performance of this fresh service which I had allotted him. We were so well pleased with each other after this, that on our return to the camp, which was at a distance of several hundred yards, we gambolled all the way up, throwing small pieces of bark at each other, after the manner of the native youths, who practice this with a view of strengthening their arms, and fitting them for hurling a curious weapon of war, called a bomering.
We broke up our encampment about ten this morning, and started in the order of yesterday. The wheeling of the perambulator, which was more a restraint than a labour, again became the subject of dispute amongst the natives. Wool Bill thought, and with good reason, that he had no right to be saddled with it every day; whilst the others, considering him as more particularly my servant, thought he had the greatest right to it. While this was going on I called Bill aside, and told him that he should drink out of my cup with me at the pools, when we came to them, and that he should have some sugar at night. He directly returned, laughing, to the machine, clapping his hands on his thighs, and exclaimed: I take him I bleve; I take him; bael me care; and off he wheeled it, while Bungaree and Maty Bill began trying to wheedle out of me what the secret reward was.