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Original Documents on Aborigines and Law, 1797-1840

Document 71

Original Document 71

Mr Campbell to Mr Justice Burton on the habits of the blacks 

[490] Sydney , 22 June 1838

My dear Sir,

            I wish sincerely that it were in my power to afford you "much useful information" on the subject which you have at present under consideration - I regret to be obliged to confess that I have very little indeed to impart of which you are not already in possession.

            I do not remember at this moment any attempt on the part of Government to civilize the Aboriginal natives of this country; or to communicate to them the knowledge of the Gospel, previously to the administration of General Macquarie. His predecessors were very kind, personally to the poor creatures - one or two of their chiefs having occasionally dined at Government House- and in this respect our early Governors were imitated by the respectable Inhabitants, as I recollect observing, on my arrival in this Colony, numbers of natives about the dwelling of Mr Commissary Palmer and other Gentlement. But I think that the first [1][491]attempt to locate any one of the Tribes in a particular spot and to encourage them to apply themselves to agriculture and fishing with a view to supplying their wants by the produce of their own labour - and at the same time to institute schools for the education of their children - was made during the administration of General Macquarie.

            Several children were collected and fed clothed and instructed by a Mr. Hall in a house erected for the purpose by the Governor on the Richmond Road; small portions of land were likewise cleared in the vicinity and huts built thereon, in which a few of the natives were coaxed to reside for a short time. About the same time huts were constructed at Elizabeth Bay and Mrs. Macquarie zealously endeavoured to prevail upon the Port Jackson Tribe to settle there, furnishing their Chief Bongaree with boats to enable them to obtain fish, for which they could always find a market in Sydney . I think that from the Revd. Messrs Cartwright and Cowper you could in all probability collect the most [492] accurate information relative to the details of either plan; and to the apparent causes of the failure in both instances of General Macquarie's scheme for the amelioration of the condition in which he found the Aborigines. The true cause is to be found, perhaps, in their invincible aversion to labour and to abiding in one place more than a few days together. I know that it was the opinion of my late friend, the Revd. Samuel Marsden, that they will neither be converted nor civilized until a Missionary be found possessed of sufficient self denial to live amongst them, adopting their vagrant habits until such time as he shall have acquired their full confidence. It comes within my own knowledge that it is generally impossible to prevent their children, although trained amongst white people, from joining their Tribes on attaining the age of puberty, and their resembling thenceforth their savage Countrymen in all respects would lead us to infer that they had derived no benefit either from our instruction or example. I had a very fine and remarkably docile boy at my sheep Establishment, who could reap, drive oxen, heavy[?] plough as well as a white man. This boy would kneel and repeat the prayers which he heard white men uttering - and remained in my service some years. But when he wished to marry he rejoined his Countrymen, resumed the [493] savage practices which I supposed he had for ever abandoned; and was I have learned, ultimately killed in one of the Conflicts. I ought to have mentioned that Governor Macquarie instituted an Annual Feast to which the tribes resorted from a considerable distance - and on this occasion a number of blankets were usually distributed amongst them.

            I believe that any outrage on their part (with the exception of rape which I am told they will attempt whenever a defenceless white woman is thrown in their way - lust being their strongest passion:) committed on Europeans may be ascribed to a thirst for retaliation. It is true that I am not aware of any instance of their having been wantonly injured by the Settlers - but as we wield[?] our possessions their game - on which they depend for subsistence - is destroyed - and our convict servants excite their jealousy by forming connexions with their women.

            The present condition of this degraded race is unquestionably most wretched in the vicinity of Sydney , - but throughout the Territory their intercourse with the lower class of Convicts has undoubtedly been extremely prejudicial to them. They have become [LINE OBSCURED] of which aided by the Venereal Disease, has very much reduced their numbers already, in our more settled districts, and it is to be feared, will ere long completely destroy the race.

            I remain, my dear Sir, Yours truly,

Rob Campbell

22 nd June 1838

Mr. Campbell to Mr. Justice

Burton - habits and

manners of the Blacks

No 71


 [1] At bottom of page 490: His Honor Mr. Justice Burton

Published by the Centre for Comparative Law History and Governance of Macquarie University, and State Records NSW