BLUEY VAN BEMMEL OR CURLY LOOS?
THE DUTCH COLONISATION OF AUSTRALIA Script to an episode of The Bush Tukker man
It s always beaut to get feedback, especially for something that seems to fly in the face of everything we've always believed. I didn't expect the sort of feedback I received when I suggested in the Bush Tucker Man TV series on the ABC, and repeated more fully in my last book, Stories of Survival, that the first Europeans to settle this great land weren't in fact the Poms, but rather the Dutch.
It wasn't a theory I'd come up with on my lonesome. Some far greater minds than mine have been exploring the same possibility. However, since I flew that particular flag on the subject, new information and suggestions have come in from all over the place. So many that I feel justified in providing an update on the subject. Let me assure you, it's very much an ongoing saga.
To date, it's been half historical hard slog and half detective story. A bit like trying to fit together a giant jigsaw puzzle with half of the pieces missing. I don't like going over old ground, but in this case, I'll have to, especially if you're not familiar with the original material I discussed. Even if you have considered it before, a couple of reminders wouldn t go astray anyway, because a lot of the stuff that's turned up in the last couple of years refers to specific points explored earlier.
Let's start with the original newspaper story, dating back to 1834, that first prompted my interest. It appeared in England, in the Leeds Mercury in Yorkshire - a 'scoop' quoting the journal of a certain Lieutenant Nixon who d been on a supposed secret expedition into Central Australia, and claimed that a colony of Dutch people existed there, 170 years after a shipwreck on the Western Australian coastline. The article was further reproduced in the following weeks and months in the Scotsman and a Liverpool paper as well as an English language paper in Cape Town, South Africa.
In September the same year, an abbreviated version of the Leeds Mercury article was published in the Perth Gazette and Western Australian Journal. The report was also picked up in Holland and published in the Nederlandsch Magazine in 1837, with further comment appearing in the Dutch journal Tijdschrift voor Nederlandsch Indie in 1851. Here's how it goes, word for word
A friend of mine, lately arrived from Singapore, via India overland, having been one of a party who landed at Raffles Bay, on the north coast of New Holland, on 10 April 1832, and made a two-month excursion into the interior, has permitted me to copy the following extract out of his private journal, which I think contains some particulars of a highly interesting nature, and not generally known. The exploring party was promoted by a scientific Society at Singapore, aided and patronised by the Local government and its object was both commercial and geographical; but it was got up with the greatest secrecy, and remained secret to all except the parties concerned. (for what good purpose it is impossible to conceive): Extract from an unpublished manuscript journal of an exploring party in Northern Australia by Lt. Nixon.
May 1 5th, 1832. On reaching the summit of the hill, no words can express the astonishment, delight and wonder I felt at the magical change of scenery, after having travelled for so many days over nothing but barren hills and rocks, and sands and parching plains, without seeing a single tribe of aborigines excepting those on the sea coast and having to dig for water every day.
Looking to thc southwards I saw below me at the distance of about three or four miles, a low and level country, laid out as it were in plantations, with straight rows of trees, through which a broad sheet of smooth water extended in nearly a direct line from east to west, as far as the eye could reach to the westward, but apparently sweeping to the southward at its eastern extremity like a river; and near its banks, at one particular spot on the south side there appeared to bc a group of habitations embossomed in a grove of tall trees like palms.
The water I guessed to be about half a mile wide, and although the stream was clearly open for two thirds of the distance from the southern bank, the remainder of it was studded by thousands of little islands stretching along its northern shores: and what fixed me to the spot with indescribable sensations of rapture and admiration was the number of small boats or canoes with one or two persons in each gliding along the narrow channels [sic] between the islands in every direction, some of which appeared to be fishing or drawing nets. None of them had a sail, but one was floating down thc body of the stream without wind, which seemed to denote a current ran from east to west. It seemed as if enchantment had brought me to a civilised country, and I could scarcely resolve to leave the spot I stood upon, had it not been for the overpowering rays of a mid day sun affecting my bowels, as it frequently had done, during all the journey.
On reaching the bottom of the hill in my return to our party at the tents, I was just turning round a low rock, when I came suddenly upon a human being whose face was so fair and dress so white, that I was for a moment staggered with terror, and thought I was looking at an apparition. I had naturally expected to meet an Indian as black or as brown as the rest of the natives, and not a white man in these unexplored regions. Still quaking with doubts about the integrity of my eyes I proceeded on, and saw the apparition advancing upon me with the most perfect indifference: in another minute he was quite near, and I now perceived that he had not yet seen me, for he was walking slowly and pensively with his eyes fixed on the ground and he appeared to be a young man of handsome and interesting countenance. We were got within four paces of each other when he heaved a deep and tremulous sigh, raised his eyes, and in an instant uttered a loud exclamation and fell insensible to the ground. My fears had now given place to sympathy, and I hastened to assist the unknown, who I felt convinced, had been struck with the idea of seeing a supernatural being.
It was a considerable time before he recovered and was assured of my mortality; and from a few expressions in old Dutch, which he uttered I was luckily enabled to hold some conversation with him; for I had been at school in Holland in my youth and had not quite forgotten the language. Badly as he spoke Dutch, yet I gathered from him a few particulars of a most extraordinary nature; namely, that he belonged to a small community, all as white as himself, he said about three hundred; that they lived in houses enclosed all together within a great wall to defend them from black men; that their fathers came there about one hundred and seventy years ago, as they said, from a distant land across the great sea; and that their ship broke, and eighty men and ten of their sisters (female passengers?) with many things were saved on shore.
I prevailed on him to accompany me to my party, who I knew would be glad to be introduced to his friends before we set out on our return to our ship at Port Raffles, from which place we were now dista The latitude of this mountain was eighteen degrees thirty minutes fourteen secs south.: and the longitude one hundred and thirty two degrees twenty five minutes thirty seconds east. It was christened Mount Singapore, after the name and in honour of the settlement to which the expedition belonged.
A subsequent part of the journal states further: That on our party visiting the white village, the joy of the simple inhabitants was quite extravagant. The descendant of an officer is looked up to as chief, and with him (whose name is Van Baerle,) the party remained eight days. Their traditional history is, that their fathers were compelled by famine, after the loss of their great vessel, to travel towards the rising sun, carrying with them as much of the stores as they could during which many died; and by the wise advice of their ten sisters they crossed a ridge of land, and meeting with a rivulet on the other side, followed its course and were led to the spot they now inhabit, where they have continued ever since. They have no animals of the domestic kind, either cows, sheep, pigs or anything else: Their plantations consist only of maize and yams, and these with fresh and dried fish constitute their principal food which is changed occasionally for Kangaroo and other game; but it appears that they frequently experience a scarcity and shortage of provisions, most probably owing to ignorance and mismanagement; and had little or nothing to offer us now except skins. They are nominal Christians: their marriages are performed without any ceremony: and all the elders sit in council to manage their affairs; all the young, from ten up to a certain age are considered a standing militia, and are armed with long pikes; they have no books or paper, nor any schools; they retain a certain observance of the Sabbath by refraining from their daily labours, and perform a short superstitious ceremony on that day all together; and they may be considered almost a new race of beings. "
What you have just read above, is an exact copy, word for word, and comma for comma, of the original article in the Leeds Mercury, including the original spelling mistakes. It looks like the editor of the paper has cut a bit out when it says that 'A subsequent part of the journal states further ...' and I really wish he hadn't done that. But back to the real story. A new race of beings? Here in Australia? In 1834?
Now I know there are people who believe the story was a hoax, and that's very understandable. At times the research has been so difficult and unrewarding that I've gone down that path myself. Apparently that sort of thing wasn't entirely unknown back in the nineteenth century. They called them 'Travellers' Tales', fanciful yarns about little known places which captured people's imaginations back in the old world at a time when communications were downright primitive, and there was no real way of checking things out. And anyway, why should they? They kept the readership of many publications titillated and enthralled.
I guess the whole thing could easily be dismissed as an attempt to drive up the circulation of the paper, but that seemed unlikely to my mind. Papers like the Scotsman and the Leeds Mercury were not generally in that vein. So what if the Leeds Mercury story is true? That's what first intrigued me-the possibility that someone had stumbled across a lost colony of shipwreck survivors who had managed to hang on for more than a century. If the story proved a furphy, fair enough. But if it wasn't, then that was something to really get excited about. The question of whether the Dutch had managed to establish settlements or occupy areas on the west coast has always been a valid one. After all, for centuries, they had virtually ruled the waves and a fair swag of the dry land on the islands north of us, which they called the Dutch East Indies, now Indonesia.
In recent times, there has been quite a furore concerning the finding of an old French coin and an ancient bottle on Dirk Hartog Island suggestion that the French might have claimed some prior right to the place. But the Dutch were hanging around well before then. To get there in their old sailing ships, the Dutch headed south around the Cape of Good Hope and continued until, with a bit of luck, their sails picked up the westerly winds that could carry them to the East Indies. Like Stefano in the last chapter, those old Dutch ships often took a bit of a battering rounding the Cape and found themselves shoved up against the wild, lonely coast of New Holland. That name alone gives some idea of how well associated they were with the place. It is the same name the Leeds Mercury used, as well. Some of the most intriguing shipwrecks occurred on that stretch of coast from the very south-west to almost where Stefano foundered. What's so intriguing about them is that, in a number of cases, survivors were in a position to at least try to set up shop. Earlier I raised the question about why the Dutch didn't try a lot harder to colonise Australia. Whenever they did, they scrapped the idea because they thought the place fairly miserable. To a European eye, it is, as the good Father Scurla concluded when he considered the story of the Stefano survivors.
The Dutch were a seafaring people, used to the lush greenery of Europe. The wild beauty of the Western Australian coast wouldn't have charmed them a bit. Besides, they had their hands pretty full with the East Indies - and at least up there were valuable spices and other resources to exploit. Better the devil you know, I guess. So any colonists had to be reluctant ones. But there were certainly enough of them.
The first recorded attempt at colonisation was more a reluctant effort than an accident. In 1629, on the early hours of 4 June, the Dutch ship Batavia, on its way to Java, ran into Morning Reef in the Abrolhos Islands, 60 kilometres from the coast, north-west of what is now Geraldton. The shipwreck resulted in one of the bloodiest incidents in Australian history. It always amazes me that
vessel and thwart his plans.
Next day, after leaving a note for the main group, Pelsaert and 40 others left in the yawl. Now that's personnel management - just leave a note for the troops. When they didn't find water on any islands, they decided to try the mainland. On the way they were joined by 11 others in another ship's boat. When foul weather prevented a landing, they continued poking north and didn't actually land until about 550 kilometres further up the coast. They didn't find water - and then only enough for their own use - until near Point Cloates where, 246 years later, Baccich, lurich and co. would be washed ashore when Stefano went down.
It may seem a strange decision, bearing in mind how many people were still hanging out for water back on Beacon Island, but at point Pelsaert decided to continue northwards to Java and try to arrange a proper rescue. His decision to abandon his shipmates including women and children, was not lost on his Dutch East India Company masters when they investigated the situation later. They made it to Batavia, the capital of Java (and now called Jakarta), on 7 July, after being picked up three days earlier by another Dutch ship, Sardam.
Two weeks later, Pelsaert headed back aboard Sardam to the Abrolhos Islands to rescue everyone. He had no idea of the tragedy that had unfolded there. Not long after Pelsaert and his smaller band had left on their fruitless search for water, water and food had all but run out. Meagre rations had been salvaged from the wreck and some relief from thirst was obtained when it occasionally rained. A few even got by drinking their own urine. People started dying.
The ship's most senior officer on hand, Jeronimus Corneliesz, was elected leader of a rough and ready sort ofcouncil. At first he tried to head off the trouble he knew was brewing. He'd probablyoriginally been party to plans for a mutiny, and was roped into a new schemedreamed up by the main instigators to wipe out any opposition, seize any rescue ship that came and become pirates or offer their services as mercenaries to Spain, then at war with Denmark.
The plotters arranged to send their biggest threat, 22 soldiers, to a large island nearby to search for water, where they could strand them and leave them to die of thirst. The soldiers eventually twigged what was afoot, but although they managed to set themselves up reasonably well on two sandy specks in the ocean, West and East Wallabi Islands, they were pretty much stuck.
On the night of 3 July, back on Beacon Island, the mutineers struck. They started secretly murdering potential opponents to their scheme in small groups. However, when the 'council' wouldn't support Corneliesz in a matter involving executing two men over some stolen wine, he showed his true colours. The gloves came off. For 17 days, the mutineers wallowed in an orgy of murder, rape and cruelty. In all, 125 people died, including women, children and anyone the mutineers had a set against. People were strangled, beheaded, bludgeoned with axes and adzes and had their throats cut. One poor young bloke, whose skeleton now lies in the Maritime Museum in Fremantle, had a foot cut off, his shoulder chopped with a sharp weapon and his head cut open with what looks like a sword. All pretence at secrecy was abandoned. It was absolute mayhem and inhumanity of the worst possible kind. The bodies were buried in shallow graves.
Those who weren't murdered realised their time was running out. Then the soldiers abandoned on the nearby islands to die of thirst found water. Potential victims of the mutineers slaughter began escaping there on rafts or by swimming. One night, on Beacon Island, a bloke called Andries de Vries was forced to murder most of the sick by cutting their throats. It didn't do him much good. He was himself slaughtered a few days later for talking to Lucretia Jansz, a woman Jeronimus Cornelisz had his eye on.
On West Wallabi Island, the soldiers had worked out what was going on. With the help of the refugees who swam or paddled there, they started fortifying the place and making weapons. Their numbers eventually swelled to 47. They made do on bush tucker - or at least beach tucker - wallabies, seals, birds' eggs and fish. They were led by a remarkable character called Wiebbe Hayes.
When the mutineers tried to I invade their stronghold, they drove them off. Needless to say, the mutineers took their anger and frustration out on more of the unfortunate people still stranded with them.
Another attempt in September proved disastrous for the mutineers. Hayes' defenders managed to capture Jeronimus Corneliesz. Back at their stronghold, the mutineers licked their wounds and appointed a 24-year-old soldier, Wouter Loos, as their new leader. He proved a pretty good choice, because 7 September they launched a new attack on West Wallabi Island and started winning.
Then someone spotted a sail on the horizon. In the nick of time, Pelsaert arrived in the Sardam. A bizarre race then started. Hayes realised he had to get their would-be rescuers before the mutineers did, or all would be lost. Luckily, as the first to reach Pelsaert and warn him of what was going on.
The mutiny was over. For the mutineers a long ordeal began, no less bloody cruel than the crimes they were accused of. Those who didn't immediately confess were tortured until they did. Eight were hanged, including Corneliesz, had his right hand cut off first.
But two of the mutineers managed to wangle an offer they couldn't refuse. It gave them the distinction of becoming perhaps the Dutch settlers to be officially landed on Australian soil (that we know of) It t have taken some pretty smart talking, but Wouter Loos managed to escape death penalty. So did a young thug by the name of Jan van Bemmel, who had participated in several murders but escaped being strung up, apparently because of his youth and because he started wailing and pleading. Somewhere I gathered the impression that he was probably regarded as being a mentally deficient as Pelsaert recorded in his journal on 16 November 1629.
" At this good opportunity, I have ordered the two sentenced delinquents, to wit, Wouter Loos and Jan Pelgrom de By van Bemmel, with a champan provided with everything to sail to this land. God grant that it may stretch to the service of the Dutch East India Company and may God grant them a good outcome, in order to know once, for certain, what happens in this land."
It was obviously no crude marooning. Pelsaert gave them some instructions about what they had to do along the lines of finding out more about the fabled New Holland, although what they were supposed to do with any information they gathered is anybody's guess. They were being left there for the long haul, permanently.
I said earlier that Loos and van Bemmel were 'perhaps' the first Dutch settlers, because there's a fair chance that wild Western Australian coastline had already beaten them to the punch. The skipper of the rescue ship, the Sardam, Jacob Jacobsz and four crewmen, Marten Clasz, Cornelisz Petersz, Ariaan Theuwissen and Pieter Perterz, had left the main party, to try to recover any of the Dutch East India Company's property that might still be floating round the wreck site or washed up on the beaches. They disappeared after three days of bad weather.
Although extensive searches failed to find them, Pelsaert, for one, wouldn't believe they had died, mainly because at one stage he saw what he thought were smoke signals coming from the shore. Maybe they were Aboriginal fires, but you can see his point. As the Stefano incident proved more than two centuries later, that stretch of coast, despite its unattractiveness to seventeenth-century European taste, was a place where white men could indeed survive with help from the local Aboriginal people.
And way back in 1629 there'd probably been no bloody clashes between blacks and whites to turn the locals off. When Loos and van Bemmel were finally put ashore with all their gear on 16 November near Hutt River, any survivors from the Batavia's yawl may well have been in residence somewhere in the same area for a full month. We might know what happened to the unlucky five, but we do know for sure that Loos and van Bemmel were meant to make the most of things. After all, they were being marooned for good and, referring back to Stefano again, who's to say that they didn't make it?
The next candidates for possible settlement in New Holland arrived involuntarily 27 years later. Another Dutch ship, the Vergulde Draeck (Gilt Dragon) with 193 people on board was wrecked about five kilometres from shore off Cape Leschenault, just north of the Swan River. Details of exactly what happened aren't known. What is known, however, is that 75 people made it to shore. There is no doubt about the Dutch and the confidence with which they took to the sea. On 7 May 1656, seven of the castaways set sail for Batavia to get help. They made it in a month. The captain, Pieter Albertsz, obviously remembering what had happened with Batavia, stayed behind with the 67 others. Within three months, two rescue vessels, Goede Hoop and Witte Valk, returned to where the castaways were last seen, but found nothing apart from few wrecked tents and shelters. When the crew of Goede Hoop ventured inland to further the search, three of them became lost, and were never found. A longboat with eight sailors on board was sent ashore to look for them, but it, too, was wrecked in heavy seas.
There's a possibility that those two incidents could well have contributed a few extra bodies to the number of early Dutch settlers forced into the role of being pioneers. And they were all there well before Botany Bay and the Swan River Settlement. The big question is, how long did those Dutch settlers last?
The next influx of migrants probably didn't take place until 1712 with the wreck of Zuytdorp. She was heading for Batavia when, some time after she left the Cape of Good Hope on 22 April, she vanished without a trace. Her secret remained just that until 1958 when it was finally established that artefacts found about 50 kilometres north of the Murchison River came from the missing ship. There were definitely survivors. Even after all that time, people were able to find plenty of evidence, at the top of the cliffs near the wreck site, that a relatively large group had made it to shore. A set of heavy breechblocks had been arranged in a circle with a sextant plonked down in the middle. There were remnants of deliberately made piles of bottles and the ashes of a huge signal fire. At a campsite a little inland, there had even been barrels left at a rock hole containing water. It has been estimated that there may have been more than 200 people aboard Zuytdorp. Even the most conservative estimate suggests at least 40 could have made it ashore. It's conceivable that everyone did.
That could have resulted in a fairly big group of people stranded in that isolated new land and wondering what on earth to do next. You can bet your boots they would have been intent on surviving. There's even a possibility that 12 crew members from another ill-fated Dutch ship, Zeewijk, may have also made it ashore somewhere along the coast. Their ship went down after hitting a reef on the western side of the Abrolhos Islands on 9 June 1727. More than half of the crew of 208 died in the wreck or while trying to struggle ashore at Gun Island. There were two brave attempts made to sail for help. The first time, 12 souls sailed off in a longboat, hopefully bound for Batavia. They were never seen or heard of again.
When the other 88 realised something was up, they mustered their combined efforts and built a small vessel from the wreckage of Zeewijk. They made it to Batavia on 30 April 1728 after being marooned for nine months.
The actual wreck of Zeewijk wasn't confirmed until 1966, although Captain John Lort Stokes actually first discovered it in 1840, believing, wrongly, that it was the old Batavia. What happened to those original 12? Who's to say they didn't make it to shore further north and join the straggling list of possible Dutch pioneers?
And could any of these groups have something to do with the mysterious castaways allegedly discovered by the mysterious Lt. Nixon whose journal was quoted in such detail in the Leeds Mercury? For reasons I'll go into later, probably not much. The Batavia and Sardam yawl certainly sank more than 170 years before Nixon's claimed meeting with the members of the whole new race' and weren't in a position to provide the mix of sexes he observed - at least not in a group that seemed to have retained its white European character.
The location's a bit of a worry, too. Vergulde Draeck and Goede Hoop might have been within a more believable time frame, but, as we'll see, sank a bit too far south for our purposes. Zuytdorp could well have provided a party large enough and diverse enough to eventually form a colony but, like Zeewijk, sank a bit too late to fit the time frame. And, again, although further north than the previous two ships, they probably sank a bit too far down the coast as well.
I'll come back to the question of the time frame later. It's another hazy area, although I still don't think any of these vessels is the one I've been chasing. None of that's to say that survivors from any of those vessels weren't our first genuine European settlers. There's a growing belief may have been. They're probably just not the group Nixon referred to. Some fascinating work has been done in the West, trying to establish whether there is any evidence that early Dutch castaways could have established themselves in New Holland.
I reckon they did, and there is plenty of evidence to support that theory. Over the years, bits of material evidence have been found not only alone the coastline itself, but also inland. Artefacts that relate to those ships have been found. Western Australian history is quite literally sprinkled with these discoveries, and they are still turning bits and pieces up today. No doubt this will go on for a long time into the future.
But the thought that some of these people may well have mixed in with the local Aboriginal people is the enticing one to my mind. Of course, the involvement of Aborigines could well clarify the position, as well as cloud it somewhat. After all, if there were survivors wandering about the place, the local people would no doubt play some role in whatever eventually became of them. There's no shortage of stories attributed to the Aboriginal people about white visitors, shipwrecks and whatever. But, like the tale in the last chapter concerning the castaways from the vanished ship Emma in the nineteenth century, most of them have been pretty difficult to confirm. It's way out of my arena, but there have been a couple of areas of research that suggest some exciting possibilities.
One is the picture we get from around the I Hutt River area, not far from where those two rogues from the Batavia mutiny were put ashore. The information comes from the journal of Lt. George Grey who, in April 18~9, recorded in his diary a rather strange sight.
" Being unable to ford the river here, we followed it in a S.E direction for two miles, and in this distance, passed two native villages, or, as the men termed them, towns - the huts of which they were composed differ from those in the southern districts in being built, and very nicely plastered over the outside with clay and clods of turf, so that although now uninhabited, they were evidently intended for fixed places of residence. "
Aboriginal towns? Nicely plastered houses with clod roofs? Maybe they'd had some building instructions from a couple of vagrant mutineers. After passing through that same area in 1848, surveyor and explorer A. C. Gregory made another startling observation.
" I explored the country where the Dutchman had landed and found a tribe whose character differed considerably from the average Australian. Their colour was neither black nor copper, but that peculiar colour that prevails with a mixture of European blood. "
I wonder whose European blood that was most likely to be.
Then there's the question of possible white feller style agriculture among the local people, bearing in mind that Aborigines are generally not renowned as farmers in the sense that we use the term. Very early in the piece, comments were made about how some strictly local Aboriginal farming practices matched those appreciated by the white observers at that time. There was talk of large, deliberate planting of the yam, called 'warran' by the Aborigines in that southern part of Western Australia. Ironically, it doesn't grow anywhere else in Australia. We know it as Dioscorea hastifolia, and it's related to plants cultivated in Africa, and was well known and ever popular (at least in the seventeenth century) in the Dutch East Indies. Yams such as these were often taken on board ship in bulk, as a food supply for long sea voyages. It's not too hard to imagine just how we end up with a yam like Dioscorea hastifolia growing around the south-west of Western Australia.
Perhaps it was introduced by the castaways that Pelsaert abandoned on the coastline, or any other of the numerous groups that found themselves isolated there.
There is also the Dutch language that some researchers believe has been absorbed into some of the west coast Aboriginal languages. Language is not exactly my strong point, but it excites me enough to add it to my growing list of questions.
You could argue, in the case of the Hutt River, that two castaways couldn't have made that big a difference to the traditional way of life and things like skin and hair colour. But if over the years they managed to eventually join up with some of the others, things would be different. There was more than a quarter of a century between the Batavia and Sardam incidents and the Vergulde Draeck and Goede Hoop wrecks. But Loos and van Bemmel, at least, were only relative youngsters when they were put ashore and if they survived, they could have been joined by the southerners.
Sure there was a lot of country in between the two groups, but they had plenty of time to get together. Aborigines were fairly mobile and had a pretty good bush telegraph system in operation. It is possible for survivors from the later wrecks to have found themselves escorted or directed northwards to meet up with the two old white blokes, who'd come ashore years earlier.
In the context of the Leeds Mercury claim, there is something in all of this. The first thing to recognise is the fact that people in those days, particularly people who sailed to the other side of the world, in rough leaky old sailing ships, were a very tough lot. They were not only tough, but also adventurous as well, and not easily frightened off. They were much more hardy and resilient than later generations.
The second is that it was possible for European castaways to survive the tough conditions on the lonely west coast of New Holland. If those few Dutchmen could hang on and make a go of it, being integrated into their local Aboriginal communities, why couldn't others do it? Like, for instance, the people I believe could well have come ashore from another vessel entirely. A ship called Concordia.
C H A P T E R 8
The Bush Tukker Man
Over the centuries there have been a number of ships with the name Concordia. or something like it. The Concordia in this chapter is part of a mystery I mentioned earlier. In the Leeds Mercury article, the journal extract attributed to Lt. Nixon stated:
" The descendant of an officer is looked up to as chief, and with him (whose name is Van Baerle) the party remained eight days. "
That was quite a clear reference point to work from. In March 1996, I contacted Ellen van Baerle, a lawyer with Esso Petroleum in the Netherlands. I learned from her that the van Baerle family had always been rather small. She believed she and her half sister were the only blood-related van Baerles still living in Holland. Ellen van Baerle hadn't any information about whether one of her ancestors disappeared at sea, back in the 1700s. However, she did have a book published in 1954 by the Central Bureau for Genealogy, covering the van Baerle family from 1515 to the 1950s.
It mentioned Constantijn van Baerle, who went missing in company with the ship Concordia in 1708. My next reference point was the Dutch East India Company's records in The Hague. I contacted one of the foremost authorities on the Dutch East India Company (generally known as the VOC), Dr Femme S. Gaastra at Leiden University in the Netherlands. His first task was to confirm that Constantijn van Baerle had indeed been aboard Concordia when she disappeared in 1708. He found a copy of the letter from the government of Batavia, saying:
" With this ship [Concordia] we send home the assistant Constantijn van Baerle, out of service. "
So he was on board. But what happened to Concordia? According to the Leeds Mercury she'd been a great vessel', and after she foundered '... eighty men and ten of their sisters [female passengers?] with many things were saved on shore.' So she must have been a fair-sized vessel.
Dr Gaastra was able to confirm that Concordia was a big ship, of just on 900 tons, with 130 people on board at the time she disappeared, including some women. Some of the passengers were Balinese, being deported from the Dutch East Indies to the Cape of Good Hope due to bad conduct:
His research dug up some more interesting information about the ship. Concordia left Batavia with two other vessels, Zuiderburg and Mercurius on 15 January 1708 bound for the Cape and then the Netherlands. Only Mercurius reached the Cape of Good Hope. The captain reported that Concordia and Zuiderburg had last been sighted together in open seas to the south of Sunda Strait on 5 February 1708. Now at that time of year, it's the monsoon season in southern Asia. The Zuiderburg had then been spotted alone on 8 February in bad weather. 'High waves' and 'hollow seas' continued until 22 February, and there were no further sightings. On 22 February, the crew of Mercurius found floating debris. They saw then several goods in the water, some firewood, a chest of tea, a Chintze piece of cotton, a carpenters boor, white candles, and the staves for barrels.
Concordia and Zuiderburg had obviously fallen foul of the monsoon season south of the Sunda Strait. That fits in with the Leeds Mercury account of their Dutch colonist ancestors having come 'from a distant land across the great sea; and that their ship broke'.
Without the van Baerle breakthrough, I would have given up my search. All I'd discovered until then tended to indicate that the whole Leeds Mercury thing was probably some sort of far-fetched travellers tale. But the haunting existence of the van Baerle data spurred me on to keep going with the search.
A discussion with Dr Peter Isdale at the Australian Institute of Marine Science confirmed that any ship disabled to the south of Sunda Strait during the monsoon would most likely be picked up by the Leewin Currents and eventually be cast up on the Western Australian coastline. Exactly where along the coast would very much depend on the starting point.
According to the Western Australian Maritime Museum, there is only one record of a Dutch ship getting into trouble on the Australian coast heading back to the Netherlands in the early days. Way back in 1629, well before the Batavia tragedy, a ship called Vyanen accidentally made contact with the coastline. Just when the governor-general of Batavia, Pieter de Carpentier, was returning with a fleet to Europe, a valuable cargo arrived in the East Indies from China. Vyanen was loaded up and sent off in a hurry to join the main fleet. However, she hadn't been loaded properly, so she returned to Batavia where 5000 ingots of copper were added to the cargo to balance the ship. The westerly monsoon blew in, preventing Vyanen from sailing through the Sunda Strait, so the captain, Gerrit Frederikszon de Witt, was ordered to take a different course. Here is de Carpentier's account:
" We thought fit to give orders to the ship Vyanen to sail to the strait of Balamboan. She sailed thither on the 14th of January, and from there stood out to sea on the 20th. She was by head winds driven so far to the south ward that she came upon the Southland beyond Java where she was run aground, so that she was forced to throw overboard 8 to l0 lasts of pepper and a quantity of copper, upon which through God's mercy, she got off again without further damage. "
Vyanen escaped relatively unscathed. But her position when she ran aground gives us some idea of where a vessel might make contact at that time of year:
" ... on the north side in the Southern latitude of 21 degrees". according to information given to Abel Tasman.
That's a fair way further north than the other castaway incidents discussed early. If something similar happened to Concordia, then any survivors would have been far better off to make their way to Central Australia. In its own way, this story about Vyanen tends to confirm the Leewin Currents theory.
Why would the survivors of Concordia head for Central Australia? Well, that's the next part of this great detective story. The Leeds Mercury said the so called Dutchman spoken to by Lt. Nixon had told him that according to the mysterious settlers' traditional history:
" ... their fathers were compelled by famine, after the loss of their great vessel, to travel towards the rising sun, carrying with them as much of the stores as they could, during which many died; and by the wise advice of their ten sisters they crossed a ridge of land, and meeting with a rivulet on the other side, followed its course and were led to the spot they now inhabit, where they have continued ever since. "
But where on earth was that spot? The Nixon scoop' gave a detailed location of the so-called Mount Singapore. The latitude of that hill or mountain was 18 degrees 30 minutes 14 seconds south, and the longitude 132 degrees 25 minutes 30 seconds east.
It was christened Mount Singapore, after the name and in honour of the settlement to which the expedition belonged.
A lot of work went into trying to find that location. After all, seasons come and seasons go, but geographical features as distinctive as that hill, which he named Mt Singapore, would be pretty much unaltered, even after 264 years. But after all the searching, there was just flat unending desert around that neck of the woods. Was there some sort of typographical error?
Perhaps Nixon and his party had misread their navigation instruments? One possibility was that they hadn't taken take into account the height above sea level when using the sextant to fix their ground position. It is unlikely, but wouldn't have been impossible. Each possibility, no matter how remote, had to be checked out one by one, and eliminated. In the southern hemisphere, a sextant error like this would have produced a reading further to the north than they actually were. Taking this into account, it seemed that the Lander River area in the Northern Territory might bear closer scrutiny, even though earlier examination of the area had drawn a blank.
In 1997 we made a helicopter reconnaissance of the entire length of the Lander River system, from Lake Surprise in the north-west, to the Willowra Community in the south-east. Again, no luck. There wasn't a geographic feature anywhere that could have been Nixon's Mt Singapore. Not a hill, not a rise, nothing but flat desert country. The air search had covered the Northern Territory from latitudes 15 degrees south to latitude 21 degrees 30 minutes south, which meant a large area had been eliminated as possible locations for the mysterious Mt Singapore.
But, just for interest's sake, latitude 21 degrees 30 minutes south, is approximately 570 nautical miles to the south of Raffles Bay. Raffles Bay was the location stated in the Nixon article where the English expedition had first landed. Yet in the article, they claimed they were nearly' 500 miles inland from Raffles Bay at the time of their discovery. Our findings on the reconnaissance eliminated the possibility of sextant error.
The next most obvious question was whether the Leeds Mercury article had been an elaborate hoax. My feeling at that stage was that we couldn't dismiss the story. due to the fact that a Constantijn van Baerle had gone missing on a ship at the time in question.
Another aspect that stood out as inconsistent, if the article was a hoax, was that in the Leeds Mercury story the settlers claimed to have been at their particular location for about 170 years. If the name van Baerle had been dragged up merely for the purpose of a hoax, then 1708, the year of Concordia's disappearance, could have been known to the perpetrator. The Dutch settlers would have been on the ground for just 124 years, not the 170 claimed in the article.
Let's take a closer look at the detail. The fact that they had been there only 124 years, as opposed the 170 claimed in the Nixon article, doesn't really matter, but clearly there would appear to have been some sort of attempt on the part of the settlers' shipwrecked ancestors to account for the years as time went by.
To try and teach their descendants the standard numbers of days in a month, the months in a year, and then to add up the years, one on top of the other, would with time, have become impossible. The penny would eventually drop within the first generation that to try and pass on to future generations the mathematical and writing skills that they themselves enjoyed would be a futile exercise. Without paper and pencil, scratching out these strange, illogical and odd numbers and letters in the desert sands would have indeed become a pointless exercise. Would it not have been a better lesson to teach the new generation, a new. more easily understood form of calendar, based on the year in which their history all started, 1708?
It was a system which could be passed on, from that particular year from father to son, and from mother to daughter, just by scratching numbers into the red sand. It would have become obvious to everyone that what had befallen them before Concordia went down meant very little any more. They were not likely to be rescued. Their personal history was by then completely dictated by what happened in their new environment. And so it would have gone, for generation after generation, but in the end, with the numbers scratched in the sand becoming less and less relevant to the settlement and their lifestyle. In terms of recording the passage of time, especially in relation to an outside world and an earlier time they knew nothing about, they eventually would have lost all meaning to the new generations.
Trying to reproduce the figures 1708 is reasonably simple, except for that last number. Eight is the most difficult number to write. So the number eight, the last on the end of the original date, may have eventually been dropped off. If that happened, they would have been left with the figures 170. Could that have resulted in Nixon's translation that they'd been there for 170 years? To my mind, someone skilled enough to dredge up the name of a genuine missing Dutch seaman, and use it in a bodgie newspaper story, would have been unlikely to have totally overlooked the basic mathematics involved in dating the incident.
Then there was the paper itself. Would it be party to such a hoax? It was a fairly conservative publication. It wasn't likely to give its readers a sensational story just for the sake of it. As it turns out, the unnamed correspondent living near Halifax', who offered the story to the paper, has now been identified as T. J. Maslen. Maslen was a retired army officer on a pension, a lieutenant from the British East India Company Army, and, as you will see later, he carried a few chips on his shoulder.
The one thing he did have was a passion for Australia and in particular for the inland exploration of Australia. He followed closely the coastal and inland explorations that were at that time evolving in the new colony, and was interested in people like Phillip Parker King, and Captain Charles Sturt. I suspect he wished he could have been part of it all. Clearly he didn't have a great deal of time for the British government, the English establishment, or the way things were conducted back in England in those days. He often advocated in his writing that the unemployed in England would have a much better social opportunity in Australia. Without doubt, he was a bit of a strange one, but probably well intentioned.
Why might he have submitted the Nixon article if it wasn't fair dinkum? He'd have little to gain from a hoax, especially since he wrote anonymously.
In the past couple of years, there have been two more significant factors that indicate that the story might be correct. Although by themselves they're not totally conclusive, they were encouraging enough for me to continue the work. In May 1996, Dr Karen Cook made a visit to Australia from London, and in the Mitchell Library in Sydney she uncovered Maslen's personal copy of his book The Friend of Australia, first published in 1830. It contained pencilled notations by Maslen in the margins, mostly relating to publishing errors and the like. The Friend of Australia included a fold-out map at the back of the book, showing the outline of the Australian continent, and what Maslen imagined to be in the unexplored interior at the time. He'd let his imagination run loose a bit, but his ideas followed the general trends of the day. Back then people imagined there had to be some sort of inland sea or drainage system to gather the water from the centre and deliver it to the coastline. The only question was where? As it turned out, they weren't really wrong; only a few million years too late.
Maslen's fanciful map included details of a giant river system draining the whole central part of the continent. So convinced was Maslen about the existence of that fictional river, he named it 'The River of Desired Blessing'.
It turned out the map was first printed in 1827, three years before it was included in the book. In Maslen's personal copy, Karen Cook found he'd also pencilled in the location of the supposed Dutch Colony as reported in the Leeds Mercury. This confirmed that Maslen was the anonymous correspondent 'living near Halifax'. In the Preface to The Friend of Australia, Maslen gave his address as 'Siberian Wilds, near Blackstone Edge'. Blackstone Edge is about 10 kilometres south-west of Halifax.
What if Thomas Maslen simply made up the Dutch colony story? And what if it wasn't a hoax? (Something we still haven't proved one way or the other.) It still doesn't tell us where that mysterious colony was located. As far as we're concerned, Nixon's Mt Singapore still isn't anywhere near where he said it was, by hundreds of miles. So, if the story is true, then the mistake has to be a deliberate one. But on whose behalf?
Let's check out some other clues. According to the piece in the Leeds Mercury, the Dutch settlement was in grove of tall trees like palms'. There's nothing like that along the east-west line of latitude he gave, but what about the longitudinal reading for Mt Singapore ┬ 132 degrees 25 minutes 30 seconds east? Bingo! Another breakthrough in the puzzle.
58. That description of tall trees resembling palms is very telling for Central Australia. Most of the vegetation in the Red Centre is relatively short or stunted, and is comprised of acacia, eucalypts, hakeas and the like. Anything that can be described as a tree is pretty limited, with most of the vegetation being bushes or shrubs. Tall is not a word you'd use to describe most of them. But none of them remotely resemble palms, so the possibility that tall palms were confused with tall acacias or tall eucalypts is out of the question.
However, in the Northern Territory, there are two types of Livistona palms that do fit the bill. One lot we know as Livistona rigida and the second as Livistona mariae. Although we've always believed them to be separate species, it now seems they could be versions of one and the same plant.
The palm we know as Livistona rigida is more your Top End palm, found commonly just below Darwin and stretching down no further south than about the latitude of Mataranka in the Territory and around Riversleigh in Queensland. That's about 19 degrees 2 minutes latitude and 138 degrees 45 minutes longitude. Not much to get excited about there.
But what about the other Territory palm? Livistona mariae, commonly known as the Palm Valley palm in Central Australia. This one is generally restricted to the Finke River Gorge area. Some of the older specimens at Palm Valley are estimated to be almost 300 years old. And what's their latitude and longitude? I know at first they don't seem to amount to much, but look at these figures:
240 00' 1 32┬ 50
240 00' 1 32┬ 44
240 03' 1 32┬ 44
24┬ 04' 1 32┬ 43
24┬ l0' 1 32┬ 50
24┬ 03' 1 32┬ 44
24┬ l0' 1 32┬ 50
24┬ 03' 1 32┬ 44
What are they? They're all readings for Palm Valley. There is another for Finke River┬24┬ 19', 132┬ 53'. Look at the longitudes of 132┬+ readings. Remember the Leeds Mercury article put Mt Singapore at 132┬ 25'30". The story also suggested the Dutch colony was in an arid area, much more like Palm Valley or the Finke River. Terms like having to dig for water nearly every day', sands' and grassy plains', all fit Central Australia better than they do the Top End.
But the Finke River in that part of the world is quite capable of producing masses of water when it wants to. Just have a look at the journal of Ernest Giles who was the first white explorer through there in 1872. The rushing waters of the Finke turned him back just to the south of Glen Helen. But if Palm Valley is in fact the spot we're looking for, it's very much further south than the latitudinal position given for Mt Singapore. The difference is 24┬ south as opposed to 18┬30' in the journal extract and that's not insignificant. The latitude quoted in the paper would have made it impossible for any party, that put ashore at Raffles Bay as claimed, to get there and back in the time of two months or even perhaps three months.
So the big question is, did Maslen deliberately alter the latitude in the article, or was he fed false information in the first place?
Looking at the pencilled-in location he added to mark Mt Singapore on the make-believe map in his book, it's easy to see he's rubbed out and repositioned it a couple of times. Even so, these markings and rubbings all remain roughly around the 18┬30', 132┬ 30' area. Conveniently for Maslen, the final location sits very nicely where his imaginary 'River of Desired Blessing' flows to the west, before sweeping south, in much the same manner described in the alleged journal extract. So far so good.
Around the whole map was printed a rectangular border, which showed the latitude and longitude every five degrees. Between the 15┬ and 20┬ lines of latitude, Maslen himself had scaled off and pencilled in the individual degree markings for 1 6┬, 1 7┬, 1 8┬, and 1 9┬ on both the east and west borders. He did the same scaling for the longitude between 130┬ and 135┬ at the top and bottom border of the map. In that case, however, he pencilled in much larger numbers for the marking of 132┬ down on the southern or bottom border. It s almost as if the number of 132┬ was of some particular significance to him when he positioned it on the map. Halfway between the 132┬ and the 133┬ mark is a single pencilled dot, at about where a person would scale off the location for 132┬ 25'. Maybe Maslen was just scaling off his map to fix the position as supplied in the journal extract. But hang on a minute! Why would whoever supplied all that information to Maslen want to give him the wrong latitude? Chances are no one did. He did it himself for his own reasons.
Earlier correspondence suggested old Maslen was fairly dirty with the British establishment. Can't blame him for that, even in the best of circumstances. And he reckoned his circumstances were far from the best. His problem seemed to be that proposals, which he thought fairly brilliant, didn't exactly enthral the blue bloods in London. They knocked back an idea he put up for a form of decimal currency - including the suggestion that the new coinage be called 'Decimus Maslen'. His choice of name for his small rented dwelling near Halifax -'Siberian Wilds' - probably reflected his feeling about being given the cold shoulder, as much as anything. Even his precious book The Friend of Australia didn't exactly set the world on fire. Just for interest's sake, here's a contemporary critique:
" His eccentric plan for the survey of the interior is a monument to the fascination exerted by the vast unknown interior on contemporary Europeans. He offers detailed and elaborate advice on the preparation and conduct of his proposed expedition, suggesting the importation of elephants and camels, the construction of special craft to navigate the inland sea and so on. As well he devotes attention to other matters relating to the future of society in Australia. Everything from the planning of towns to the establishment of a bunyip aristocracy has a place on his broad canvas. "
So you can probably gather how Maslen felt in the 1830s.
When we look even more closely at his map, there can be very faintly seen, down the left and right borders, more marks of latitude which were either wholly or partly rubbed out. They apparently represented marks between 20┬ and 25┬. You can still just make out the markings themselves, the numbers 21, 22, and 23, and a simple pencil mark for the 24 degree mark. For some reason, Maslen went to all the trouble of graduating the latitude scale between 20┬ and 25┬, on both sides of the map, then tried to remove them. There's another interesting piece of his pencil work over the south-west corner of Western Australia. Northeast of Albany he wrote the words 'Inland Sea', as if it were some additional information he'd collected after the map was first printed. Modern maps show in that same area a multitude of saltwater lakes; not quite an inland sea, but perhaps close enough in a wet year. Maslen's notation has nothing directly to do with our Dutch colony mystery, but it does suggest he was probably in contact with people familiar with remote, hitherto little-known areas of the continent, like explorers and surveyors, who could have passed on information to him; information like the details of a strange white tribe deep in the interior.
Even though he might have felt a need to divulge something others wanted kept secret, for reasons perhaps associated with his disillusionment with 'The System', he was prudent enough to try to cover his tracks, and those of his informants. That's why I think it's possible Maslen fiddled with the real location figures, to serve both his own ends and to protect a friend or friends who'd actually discovered something amazing in Central Australia.
Maybe people like the shadowy Lt. Nixon were also bogus. If he juggled with the latitude, why not indulge in a bit more creative geography by referring misleadingly to Singapore and Raffles Bay? After all, those details didn't take the real sting out of the message he was trying to get across: that the Dutch had been ensconced here hundreds of years before the First Fleet.
In The Friend of Australia, Maslen advocated a number of coastal starting points for surveying parties to try to reach the centre of the Australian continent. He knew the names. They included Raffles Bay, Moreton Bay, King George Sound, Swan River and Fowlers Bay, in the Great Australian Bight.
Reaching the Centre was a favourite subject for Maslen. Back in those days, it was the goal of every exploring party to reach the centre of the continent, be it Africa or wherever. At one stage Maslen even advocated both Raffles Bay and Fowlers Bay as jumping-off points for the interior.
His printed map fixed what he deemed to be the geographical centre of the continent: 24┬ latitude and 132┬ longitude. There's that 132┬ marking again. To lead the exploring parties he advocated, Maslen proposed individuals such as Captain Charles Sturt, Captain Sir John Franklin, and Captain Phillip Parker King. He even condescended to lead such an expedition himself, had he been asked to do so by the despised establishment in London. He died a bachelor, with no descendants we can track down, but he certainly left us with the tantalising legacy of that Dutch colony, and without him, we'd have nothing to go by.
By the time I'd tracked down all the Maslen stuff, I really felt I was finally starting to get somewhere. But there were still gaps. One of the greatest was the question of whether a party of castaways would be able to make it all the way across the great arid wastelands of inland Western Australia to the veritable oasis that would have been Palm Valley (and still is). If the Leeds Mercury story is to be believed. the remnants of the Dutch colony didn't get on too well with the locals, so it's also possible that they mightn't have had too much Aboriginal help. But, again, by 1832 they'd also had over 100 years to overstay their welcome.
Then there's the very real possibility that the weather back in 1708, when Concordia came ashore, was a lot kinder, at least for a while. Dr Peter Isdale of the Australian Institute of Marine Science was able to make estimates of the rainfall for the years around 1708. For the Dutch to move inland as they claimed, they would need to have had access to reliable water supplies, something that part of the world is not renowned for. While 1708 itself was apparently a fairly normal year as far as rainfall was concerned, 1706, 1707 and 1709, were, in Isdale's words, 'mega wet seasons': Maybe that was enough to provide the necessary surface water required for such a difficult overland trek.
What other evidence is there that may indicate they reached Palm Valley and the area we now know as Hermannsburg? Let's take a look at the history and anthropology of that region. The first recorded white explorer there was Giles in 1872. He noted the palms growing along the Finke River and in the Glen of Palms, or Palm Valley as it is known today. His description certainly bears out the 'oasis' tag.
I collected also today and during the other days, since we have been in this glen, a number of most beautiful flowers, which grow in profusion in this otherwise desolate glen. I was literally surrounded by fair flowers of many a changing hue. Why Nature should scatter such floral gems in such a stony sterile region is difficult to understand, but such a variety of lovely flowers of every colour and perfume I have never met with previously. They alone would have induced me to name this Glen of Flora, but having found in it also so many of the stately palm-trees, I have called it the Glen of Palms.
The Aboriginal people in that part of Central Australia, are the Arunta or Arrernta. The spelling is something that tends to alter slightly every decade or so, although that's hardly relevant to our discussion at the moment. The first anthropologist to enter the area was Baldwin Spencer, as part of the Horn Expedition in 1894. He made an interesting observation concerning the hair colour of some of the people.
At almost every camp, but most frequently at Tempe Downs, the hair of some of the children was in marked contrast to the usual dark hue, of a very light tawny or almost tow colour, and wherever this coloration existed it was most marked at the tips, though, in some cases it extended to the roots. This peculiarity appeared to be quite independent of any artificial bleaching and was not a very frequent occurrence. As all natives have their heads equally exposed to the weather it is not easy to account for this exceptional feature.
What he observed is still apparent in Central Australia today. However, what we might term cultural diversification' has made it a lot harder to pin it down to the influences of pre-British colonisation by the Dutch or anybody else.
The Tempe Downs station that Spencer referred to is located south-west of Hermannsburg and Palm Valley, at latitude 24┬ 22' and longitude 132┬ 26'. During the Horn Expedition of 1894, Spencer also collected a wide variety of artefacts, many of them quite unusual:
" Another kind of spear, or rather lance ('Tajunja'), not very frequently seen was made of a single piece of some hard wood variously slated to be a kind of Mallee (Eucalyptus, sp), Mulga (Acacia aneura), or Acacia doratoxylon. These were rather longer than the preceding forms, reaching to a length of about ten feet, with the blade moiety long and about an inch and a half wide ... No pit existed at the tail end, from which it is to be concluded that when thrown it is by the hand alone. "
A spear or 'lance' thrown by the hand alone (as opposed to using the woomera), was indeed a rather unique weapon for Australian Aborigines. A weapon like that, manufactured from the one piece of wood, without barbs or spear tips attached, would be extremely unusual. I know of no other weapons like it - apart from the ones described in the Leeds Mercury, which had the Dutch colonists 'armed with long pikes'. Pikes, long heavy spears which could be thrust into the ground to form a sharp and deadly bastion against cavalry charges, were never an Aboriginal weapon. But they were very Dutch.
When the Horn Expedition first arrived at Palm Valley in 1894, the Lutheran Church's Hermannsburg Mission had been established for 20 years. Its pioneering missionary work was initially carried out by three ministers, Schwartz, Kempe, and Schultze. In 1876 Pastor J. Kempe submitted a paper to the Royal Geographic Society (South Australia branch) on the establishment of the mission and some of the tribal customs of the local Aboriginal people. Because Kempe himself was still working at Hermannsburg, the paper was read by another member of the society. by the name of Krichauff. In the opening paragraphs of the paper, Kempe made the following observation:
" It is quite certain that many of the women had Jewish names such as Judith, Paula and Mirjam, before they ever saw a white man. "
If that's true (and who'd doubt a pastor?), we have here some rather convincing evidence. The names were all from the Old Testament, and according Dr Femme Gaastra in Holland, were in popular use in the Netherlands in the early 1700s. Certainly, names like Judith, Paula, Mirjam, are extremely unlikely to have been adopted by Aboriginal people in Central Australia as a result of the British settlement at New South Wales or South Australia.
Kempe made another observation about the language of the Arunta people, which he spoke fluently. Referring to some of their sub-tribes, Krichauff reported:
" The language of all is very similar, the composition and grammar being everywhere much the same. The songs used at their corroborees are, so far as Mr Kempe knows, the same. The words of these songs are not to be found at all in the language of the Aldolinga tribe, and their meaning is actually not understood. These songs may therefore be remnants of better times, when they had probably a religious meaning; the practice of circumcision must also have had more of a religious meaning than now. "
Some 30 years after Kempe, the mission of Hermannsburg was being run by Carl Strehlow. He in turn also took an active interest in the local Aboriginal population, particularly the recording of their myths and legends.
According to Strehlow's records, a recurring theme among the Arrernta and Loritja groups around the mission was that there were once mythical men and women who had red skin and long fair-coloured hair, roaming the area. Such beings were often considered god-like┬ but not always. The evidence starts to mount up, doesn't it?
What happened to the lost white tribe? Well, as Spencer indicated, there was obviously some cross-referencing with the ancestors of the Aranda people┬if the clues are anything to go by. But back in 1834, the fabled Lt Nixon seems to have encountered the alleged Dutch colonists at a pretty low point in their evolution. For a start, they didn't seem to be on what you'd call good terms with the neighbours. The reference to the 300 or so colonists all as white as himself' living in 'houses enclosed all together within a great wall to defend them from the black man' indicates something of a breakdown in community spirit. To have maintained their European appearance and lifestyle after 170 years (or whatever) under such circumstances, indicates to me that they must have been a particularly focused lot. That young colonist's first reaction to Nixon's sudden appearance is a bit of a worry.
"We were got within four paces of each other when he heaved a deep and tremulous sigh, raised his eyes, and in an instant uttered a loud exclamation and fell insensible to the ground."
A bit of an over-reaction, if you ask me. But maybe the young bloke wasn't being sensitive, or concerned about encountering a supernatural being, as Nixon theorised. Maybe he had some sort of seizure. I'm no geneticist, but maybe 170 years or so of maintaining a pure white tribe had started to affect the gene pool┬ which mightn t have been too diverse in the first place when those relatively few Concordia survivors first made the big decision to follow the rising sun and head inland. Nixon described them as ~simple inhabitants', and maybe he meant exactly what he wrote I have a feeling he did.
Perhaps in the 60 years between 1834 and when Baldwin Spencer first visited the area, the last remnants of the exclusive and paranoid colony had finally become true-blue Aussies. They would have needed to survive. It will be interesting in future years, bearing in mind that we now have a much better idea about what to look for, if more work can be carried out to deliberately seek out further evidence to prove that old story in the Leeds Mercury wasn't a simple furphy. In the meantime, let's press our luck a bit more and chase up another intriguing aspect of the whole case.
If there is a possibility that the Leeds Mercury story is true, and if Thomas Maslen wrote it, as I very much suspect he did, then who in fact gave him the details in the first place, and how come the whole story has been dormant for so many years?
C H A P T E R 9
NIXON, MARMADUKE, DALE AND BEYOND
Okay, so we've now got a possible contender for the local correspondent of the Leeds Mercury story┬Maslen. We've even got a possible motive for why he did it (to embarrass the British government by revealing that they weren't the first people to colonise the Great South Land) and a motive for not revealing too much (he had mates to protect and. besides, he didn't want to embarrass the establishment too much). We have some pretty strong contenders for the colony itself┬the Concordia lot. So far, so good. Even after nearly two centuries, old van Baerle's ancestors were still in charge. We even have a clearer idea of where that colony might have been situated.
But the question remains. Who was the shadowy Lt Nixon? What was his mission? And why was it so secret? Identifying someone like Nixon shouldn't be too hard. After all, it seemed highly like he was in the army. I can assure you that the army keeps a pile of paperwork on who's who and what they've been up to. Why not the good old British Navy? After all, they were pretty dab hands at exploration; had been for centuries. And there were lieutenants in the British Navy. Well, I don't think a sea dog would have been up to the type of overland trip Nixon claimed to have been on. If you go back to the Leeds Mercury story, you'll see what I mean.
Clearly, from what we're told, Lt Nixon's party certainly knew what they were doing as far as Australian exploration was concerned. It was approximately a two month expedition covering around 1600 kilometres, requiring a daily travel rate of almost 30 kilometres, which wouldn t have been bad going. They apparently had come to grips with the skills required to dig for water, and were well organised and sensible enough to halt in the middle of the day and rest up under the shade of tents, or tent flies when the temperature was at its highest. They sounded like an experienced bunch, familiar and comfortable with the trials and tribulations of exploration in the Australian continent, rather that some mob of new chums stumbling about for the first time. That average daily rate of travel shows that things progressed reasonably smoothly for them, a sure sign of good planning and skills. They were competent enough to complete the entire journey, there and back. That is admirable in any circumstances and at any location. In the vast open spaces of the Northern Territory, it would have been a stunning achievement. Youwould only have needed to ask John McDouall Stuart and Ludwig Leichhardt a fewyears later.
In all fairness to our saltwater friends, it would have been highly unlikely for a Royal Navy officer of the time to have the skills to lead such a light, fast-moving, well-drilled exploring party. Bear in mind, it's not just the straight outBritish Army of the time I had to contend with. Our Lt. Nixon may well have beenserving in the Honourable East India Company at the time, or may have perhapsbeen on half pay either from there, the fair dinkum British Army, or (although, asI've said, it s unlikely), the navy. All of my searches drew a blank. They involvedlooking up all the Lieutenant Nixons that may fit the bill, and eliminating themone by one. Unfortunately, it eventually meant eliminating the lot. Apart fromchecking the name, this involved digging out their service records and then workingout whether they were likely to do the job. Initially some of them were, but eventuallyone by one they failed to shape up.
111. Adam Nixon Royal Navy. Not in Navy List.Not our man! Alexander NixonBritish Army (27th Regiment of Foot)Owns farm in Ireland unlikely! Charles Henry Nixon, Bombay Army, Stationed in India in 1832, Unlikely! Harry John Nixon, Madras Army,Retired in Vizagapatam, Maybe! Henry Nixon, Madras Army, New Cadet in 1832,No! Henry Nixon, British Army (96th Regiment),Living in Nova Scotia in 1832,No! Henry Stewart NixonBritish Army (l0th Regiment),Chief Constable, Ireland in 1828,Unlikely! Henry William Smith Nixon,British Army (48th Regiment),Not in Army list after 1827,Maybe! Horatio Nixon,Royal Navy,Not in Navy list after 1830,No! Humphry Nixon,British Army,Not in Army list after 1825,No! NixonBritish Army ( I 7th Dragoons),Not in Army list after 1819,No! John Isaac Nixon,Madras Army,Cadet 1810, resigned 1811,No! Marmaduke George Nixon,British Army (39th Foot)Ensign in NSW in 1832,No! Nathaniel Fred'k Nixon,British Army (2nd Royal) Veteran,Aged 70 and unfit in 1828,No! William T. NixonBritish Army (33rd Foot),Not a lieutenant until 1836,No!
You can get a bit of an idea of just how frustrating it has been, and so it went - and this isn't the full list, either. But still no clear sign of our Lt. Nixon. We even organised a computer database to Carnac and a party to explore the interior.
Yes, I know it sounds like the start of the Nixon expedition, but I don't think it was. For a start, six weeks wouldn't have given Carnac enough time to get to Palm Valley and back and the resources available to Carnac would have been pretty light-on. Besides, from what I know now, it looks like Lt. Carnac's trip into the bush around Raffles Bay only lasted a few days or so. He was in the Royal Navy. On the other hand, if Carnac wasn't Nixon, that little incident, I suspect, had significant repercussions on what we're talking about - as you'll find out later.
There was one little bit in the Leeds article that worried me a little. Well, to be honest there was a lot, but let's forget that for a minute. The bit that I'm talking about is the term Port Raffles. When you read the introduction by Maslen, he uses the correct term Raffles Bay in his bit. But then when you get into the journal extract proper, Nixon, or whatever his name was, uses the term Port Raffles. The proper name that Captain King gave to it in 1818 was Raffles Bay. Port Raffles was to my mind a navy term for the same place. Raffles Bay only operated between 1827 when Stirling set it up and August 1829 when it was abandoned. All the official correspondence I've looked at always uses the correct term of Raffles Bay. There is one interesting exception to that. Stirling in his report of the area after it was set up was promoting the area as good enough to be classed as a port. Maybe the Royal Navy were mixed up in this somehow. We will see.
After six weeks at Raffles Bay, Stirling sailed elsewhere into Australian history, obsessed with the concept of setting up a settlement at Swan River, an ambition he achieved two years later - and don't let that slip from your mind, either. After he left, Fort Wellington at Raffles Bay was manned by soldiers and convicts supplied from New South Wales. The soldiers were from the Sydney based 39th Regiment of Foot. Initially, my research into their unit seemed fairly promising. They had quite a bit of experience in inland Australian exploration and the means and expertise to launch an expedition from Raffles Bay. The great inland explorer Captain Charles Sturt was one of their officers and the commanding officer, Colonel Patrick Lindsay, was a strong and constant supporter of exploration within the colony. And guess what - they had their own Nixon. He was only an ensign and his Christian name was Marmaduke - but it seemed like there was light at the end of the tunnel. Unfortunately, he only arrived in New South Wales on 15 August 1832┬about the time his unit was packing up to go to India. He left Australia aboard the ship Hercules on 2 December 1832, arriving in Madras in February 1833. That ruled him out as our Lt. Nixon (if the dates in the Leeds Mercury were to be believed). oh well, Ensign Marmaduke would have been too inexperienced to lead an inland expedition, anyway.
Further investigation of the 39th Regiment of Foot unearthed another bloke called Lt. George Sleeman, who at one stage was the Commanding Officer at Fort Wellington. He'd stayed behind in Sydney with a small rear party, when the bulk of his regiment was finally posted to India in late 1832. That angle was looked at very closely, but finally dismissed. Unit Muster Rolls and research into three ships carrying the regiment from Sydney to Madras (sailing right past Raffles Bay) didn't give anything away. The question as to why a unit about to depart Australia would want to undertake what was shaping up as a super secret expedition into the interior remained unanswered. When it was officially decided to bail out of Fort Wellington at Raffles Bay in late 1829, most of the troops from the 39th Regiment of Foot were transferred to the existing outpost of King George Sound (Albany). By the time they arrived there in January 1830, Stirling's Swan River settlement had been established for more than seven months.
Captain James Stirling RN was what you might call the very first Western A coast of Australia. They came in droves, and walked straight into disappointment. It seems to have been the old story: things hadn't been set up properly. There are stories of former gentlefolk arriving to have their precious belongings dumped on the beach when they landed, and with nowhere to go. Many people had the impression that the size of their land grants would depend on how many material possessions they brought with them. That's how the stories arose of grand pianos and crystal chandeliers being abandoned on lonely beaches. In true entrepreneurial fashion, Stirling didn't seem to show much sympathy for those who got into strife.
I would earnestly request that for a few years the helpless and inefficient may be kept from the settlement, while to the active industrious, and intelligent there may be assured with confidence, a fair reward for their labour.
I think I've heard some of our politicians say that sort of thing. And not all that long ago!
Stirling had asked for, and received, the position of governor - although at first his official title was simply Lieutenant-Governor. It was something he'd been quite emphatic about before he left England. He had no intention of being controlled by New South Wales. So he was quite separate to Governor Darling and the colony of New South Wales, several thousand kilometres to the east. At first, the troops stationed at King George Sound were still under the command of Governor Darling in Sydney, but that situation changed a year later when the King George Sound area was placed under Stirling's command. Shortly after, Stirling asked Darling to remove his troops back to New South Wales, and replaced them with his own soldiers from the 63rd Regiment of Foot in March 1831. A small detachment of the regiment had arrived with Stirling when he initially came from England, under the command of a Captain F. C. Irwin. Stirling's new colony extended from Cape Londonderry on the northern Kimberley coast to West Cape Horne, slightly to the west of King George Sound.
As you can imagine, with so many hassles about land availability, Stirling was keen on exploration. Within a matter of weeks of the fleet arriving at Swan River from England, the first exploring party was making its way inland. Two months later, a second party also set off to examine the country, composed of officers and men from the ships HMS Sulphur and HMS Challenger, as well as a contingent from the 63rd Regiment of Foot. From July 1829 to July 1832, a total of 17 expeditions were conducted in and around the south-east corner of Western Australia. All but two of these expeditions were manned from the government or military establishment of the colony. It makes you wonder about the private enterprise bit. One name keeps cropping up time and time again, Ensign Robert Dale of the 63rd Regiment of Foot. Out of those 17 expeditions, Dale either led or took part in seven. From an exploration point of view, Dale appears to have been Stirling's white-haired boy.
Copies of his journals, along with others covering Swan River exploration at the time, were taken by Stirling back to England in 1832 and published in a small book titled Journals of Several Expeditions made in Western Australia during the years 1829, 1830, 1831, and 1832, under the sanction of the Governor, Sir lames Stirling. In that publication, Dale's last reported expedition was made from King George Sound between 21 January and 29 January 1832. This printed version of his last journal comes to a total of eight pages, or roughly 2200 words - a point that will become relevant later, so keep it in mind. It should also be mentioned at this stage that Dale has become almost as smoky as our mate Lt. Nixon. None of the attempts to trace any of his original journals have borne fruit. However, Stirling obviously had the originals or copies on that hurried trip back to England in August 1832. Because, you know what? I reckon he's the best candidate I've found so far to been our elusive Nixon. Let's take a closer look at him.
Robert Dale General, William Mackie, who was also Irwin's cousin. Appointed by Stirling, it was supposed to make all the rules and legislation by which the colony functioned. A rather cosy little group, it didn't exactly embody the true spirit of democracy. Meetings, at least for the first few years, were not open to the public. As you can imagine, the beleaguered settlers really loved that arrangement.
Then there was the Agricultural Society, originally called the Farmers Club.It was established in 1831, and guess what - Stirling was the director. You'd expect it to be mainly concerned with promoting farming and stock raising, but that was too straightforward for the Swan River mob. They had far wider interests - like financing the establishment of churches and financing clergymen. It even promoted a local 'barter club' and organised banking that eventually led to the establishment of the Bank of Western Australia. And it was interested in Aboriginal welfare, crime, forestry, horse raising - and of course, exploration. In short, the Agricultural Society was a combination of business enterprise centre and local government - but like the Legislative and Executive Councils, with a great potential for what you might call Secret Governor's Business if the need ever arose.
. What I wonder is whether the Agricultural Society could also be fairly considered to be the so-called Singapore Scientific Society alluded to in the Leeds Mercury story?
The exploring party was promoted by a scientific Society at Singapore, aided and patronised by the local government, and its object was both commercial and geographical; but it was organised with the greatest secrecy, and remained secret to all except the parties concerned (for what good purpose it is impossible to conceive).
. Singapore had at the time no such society. Its so-called 'Raffles Institute' collapsed some years before, and was not revived until 1835. The Agricultural and Horticultural Society was not formed there until 1836, well after the Leeds article appeared. The sort of activities undertaken by its real-life Swan River counterpart in 1832 well and truly matched the style of private enterprise shenanigans that we are now investigating.
. Some time in late 1831 or early 1832, Ensign Robert Dale arrived at King George Sound. The Muster Roll sheets for the 63rd Regiment indicate he was on detachment from regimental duties but seconded to the Surveyor General's Department, at least for the pay quarter of I January to 31 March 1832. For the next quarter, I April to 31 June 1832, the Muster Rolls simply tell us he was Detached, King George Sound', with no mention of the Surveyor General's Department. By the way, that's a military term to describe your current status in terms of your duties - not a description of Dale's state of mind. Somewhere during that period, Ensign Robert Dale, to all intents and purposes, vanished off the face of the planet for quite a few weeks. In that dinky little book Journals of Several Expeditions made in Western Australia, eight days of that period are covered with that brief 2000-word entry I mentioned earlier, purporting to be his round-up of a short exploratory trip. However, in April 1832, according to the information supplied in Cross' Journal of Several Expeditions, Dale had completed his expedition to the north-east of King George Sound in January. The purpose of that particular trip was most unashamedly commercial, just the sort of thing Governor Stirling and his Agricultural Society would have encouraged. He was sent to investigate Aboriginal reports that edible grains grew in the country to the north-east of King George Sound. Dale's description of those grains is actually worth repeating in full:
. Several of the natives of King George Sound tribe describe these grains; the first, or Keiki, as growing on the north and eastern foot of Koikyennuruff, and the latter, or Quannet, to the N. east of Koikyennuruff, and also on the northern base of Toodyeverup. None of them have seen these grains, but they Sounds like someone just going through the motions to me, a strange thing for an active, enthusiastic young bloke like Dale to do for no particular reason.
When you do your figures, what we are told was an eight-day expedition must have dragged a bit. He was at King George Sound until July 1832. Did Cross get it wrong? Or did the cleaners accidentally scoop up a few hundred pages of Dale's full account of what he did during that time, and what he discovered? I very much doubt it. Dale (or his journal) apparently arrived back in Swan River before 5 July 1832. The local magistrate, George Fletcher Moore, himself a history buff and inveterate journal writer, dropped a note to his brother in Ireland on that particular day:
I have this day read part of Mr Dale's journal of an excursion in the neighbourhood of King George Sound, and will copy and send it to you if I have time; but it fills upward of two hundred pages of a journal book.
135. Two hundred pages, for only eight days? I doubt if anyone could write 200 pages in just eight days. For a start, there wouldn't be enough activity to report, and nor would there be enough time at the end of each day's travel to sit down and carry out the task. There's something very wrong there. What Moore was referring to was obviously the records of a far longer trip. The magistrate himself was an avid diary-keeper who wrote extensive entries day by day. To shy away from copying Dale's says a lot about the rather daunting task Moore felt confronted with. Of course, it may have been 200 pages of crashingly boring stuff - but I have a feeling that it was more likely 200 pages of dynamite - the sort of stuff that sent the wheeling and dealing James Stirling into a flat panic.
If the Stirling government at Swan River intended to have Dale explore the interior of the continent, they provided the perfect cover to explain his absence from the colony of Swan River, as well as the deployment and redirection of the necessary men, stores and equipment. That eight-day sojourn may well have been a diversion from the main event, if in fact it ever occurred. We'll get back to Dale's journals later.
Let's examine a few other more basic questions. Where had Dale's party really been? What had they really found? Where did they really leave from? That last one's an important issue, and depending on the answer to that, is the finger of accusation, so let's go back first to the Leeds Mercury letter. Remember how the intro to the story started?
A friend of mine, lately arrived from Singapore, via India overland, having been one of a party who landed at Raffles Bay, on the north coast of New Holland, on 10 April 1832, and made a two-month excursion into the interior, has permitted me to copy the following extract out of his private journal, which I think contains some particulars of a highly interesting nature, and not generally known.
The starting point was said to be Raffles Bay. That now seems unlikely, largely due to the length of time it would have taken. This could have been another one of Maslen's smoke-screens. But bear in mind the main players all have some connection with Raffles Bay at some time in their professional past. Had an exploring expedition quietly snuck across from Singapore, Raffles Bay may have been a possibility. After all, if it was all as secretive as it sounds, there were no nosy white settlers there to pry into what might have been going on. But then, as my mind-boggling collection of shipping movements proved, there were no suspicious voyages in or out of Singapore or any other nearby likely port. Anyway, the Honourable East India Company in Singapore was at the time in question deeply involved in a war on the Malay Peninsula, and cranking up an exploring party to discretely look at inland Australia would presumably have been a low priority. It was also labouring under major financial cutbacks imposed by head office in the early 1830s.
If an expedition didn't go into the interior from the top of Australia, how about p that is worth examining further:
" ... before we set out on our return to our ship at Port Raffles, from which place we were now distant nearly five hundred miles."
The distance would no doubt have been measured using latitude, but even so, with Raffles Bay being at 11┬ 15' latitude, and supposedly Mt Singapore being at 18┬ 30', there is no way they could say they were nearly 500 miles (800 kilometres) inland. They were barely 720 kilometres, so whoever did the adjustment to the latitude figures before sending the extract off to the Leeds Mercury failed to factor that in and adjust the journal entry accordingly. That oversight gives us a bench mark to keep in mind. Another interesting bit of trivia concerning Fowlers Bay is that the longitude of 1~2┬ 25' runs directly through the middle of the bay, so that any seaborne party landing there could well fix their longitude on it and head off, simply keeping to compass bearing, due north. Given enough distance along that line of travel, they'd eventually run slap bang into Palm Valley, after travelling how long? Almost 800 kilometres (500 miles).
So let's play with that possibility a little. What if young Robert Dale and his party did put ashore at Fowlers Bay, and then headed due north? If they went far enough they would eventually arrive at Palm Valley, 480 miles in from the coast, or as the Leeds Mercury article states, nearly 500 miles. And what if they did stumble across that strange-looking bloke in his cockatoo feather hat and bleached white leather clothes? (I wonder if he was from the Cockatoo Tribe?) How are we to know? Well, I reckon some of the most intriguing possibilities are presented in the language the real-life Dale used in writing up his various exploration journals, and the phrases and words attributed to the mythical Lt. Nixon in the Leeds Mercury. The best way to demonstrate what I mean is to line Dale's words right up against Nixon's. Dale's comments, taken from journals covering his publicly known trips, are in normal text. Nixon's are in italics:
Dale: east and west as far as the eye could see.
. Nixon: to the west as far as the eye could see.
. Dale: at the distance of two miles.
. Dale: at the distance of fourteen miles.
. Dale: at the distance of eight miles.
. Nixon: at the distance of about three or four miles.
. Dale: to the southward.
. Dale: to the northward.
. Nixon: to the southward.
. Dale: the trees of which were dispersed like a plantation.
. Nixon: laid out as it were in plantations, with straight rows of trees.
. Dale: at the eastern extremity of it.
. Nixon: at the eastern extremity of which
. Dale: a sheet of water.
. Nixon: we observed a sheet of water.
. Dale: with a broad stream running through it.
. Nixon: through which a broad sheet of smooth water.
. Dale: we arrived at a rivulet.
. Nixon: and meeting with a rivulet.
. Dale: and pitched our tent.
. Dale: We left our tent pitched.
. Nixon: in my return to our party at the tents.
. Dale: On arrival at the summit
. Dale: On arrival at its summit.
. Nixon: On reaching the summit.
. Dale: over hilly and rocky country, generally sandy.
. Dale: The hills were usually sandy and rocky.
. Nixon: after having travelled for so many days over nothing but barren hills and rocks, and
. Dale: came to a generally sandy and level country.
. Dale: mostly over a level country
. Dale: we entered a country mostly low and level.
. Nixon: about three or four miles, a low and level.
Well, what do you think? It may seem like I'm drawing a bit of a long bow, but I suspect we have a slight clue here. Maybe a lot of people used a similar turn of phrase back then, a bit like every kid on the block saying 'Cool!' or 'Unreal!' now However, in the Cross book from where I lifted Dale's phrases, there are 10 other journal writers of the same era and none of their words line up like Dale's and Nixon's do. In particular, I find the use of t
that he hadn't been able to score any wheat. Great news for the locals. Needless to say, it didn't go down too well.
. Stirling informed Dance that his next assignment would be to chauffeur the Governor and his family back to England aboard HMS Sulphur quick smart - to plead for a better deal for the starving colonists, or so he said. To everyone's amazement, Dance refused! Even more surprisingly, Stirling did nothing about what to me seems like almost an act of mutiny. And they took that sort of thing seriously back then, particularly in the Royal Navy. There is no doubt that Stirling had the colonists' welfare in mind. After all, he'd only decided to return to England to plead their case after receiving a deputation from them, or at least, that's what we have always been led to believe. And here we have a contradiction. In a letter to the Colonial Office, Stirling told the home government in England that his Executive Council met on 29 June and approved his return to England after he had received a deputation from the settlers. That's fine, but it appears that the deputation to Stirling didn't happen until 5 July, so the Executive Council had approved the move before the settlers had approached him. In other words, it's pretty likely the deputation of the settlers was cooked up in the first place. Strange!
. While Dance cooled his heels, the Executive Council examined the possibility of chartering another ship. On 24 July, still waiting on Dance, Stirling wrote him two letters - one in the morning and the other in the afternoon - underlining the fact that the colony desperately needed food, and that Sulphur was to proceed with all haste to Cape Town. He added that once he reached England, he wouldn't be able to recommend Dance for further command at the Swan River Colony, because of his attitude, which seems fair enough. No result. It dragged on for months, but eventually, Dance changed his mind. Stirling had originally wanted to shoot through around 20 July, but HMS Sulphur didn't finally head off until 12 August. Did Dance know something? Was he deliberately thumbing his nose at the boss? If so, what was it all about? And why was Stirling at the same time obviously frustrated but cautious? Did he know that Dance knew something? Was the food shortage the only reason for his impatience? I suspect not.
. He had been asked to go to England to plead the colony's case after receiving the arranged public deputation. But at the same time, there had been a lot of pressure from the other Executive Council members not to go. Some felt the governor's place was with the people. Besides, the food shortage had been going on for a while, and Stirling crawling his way back to London, taking months to get there, wasn't going to offer any immediate relief. What of the famine, and was it just an excuse? Could it be that he was twitchy to give his lords and masters some real news, about the Dutch colony? Stirling departed Swan River and arrived in England in late December 1832, an exceedingly quick passage. The governor didn't even take the time in Cape Town to arrange a supply ship to go back to Swan River and offer some relief. He kept his head down, his tail up and pedalled furiously for England. There's a hint that the local Fremantle newspaper had a sneaking suspicion that something was wrong when it published, just before Stirling's departure:
. With real sorrow we announce that his Excellency the Governor has intimated by Public Notice his intention to proceed to England immediately. There is a vast deal more in this arrangement, we apprehend, than meets the public eye.
. The editor of the paper smelt a rat, I guess.
. Stirling arrived at Portsmouth on 10 December 1832 according to The Times newspaper. By 14 December, the same paper reported that he had an interview with Viscount Goodrich at the Colonial Office. Stirling's business was urgent, and a few days prior to Christmas, he had sent a personal letter to Under-Secretary Hay. Hay replied to this letter on 2 January 1833, addressing the p Leeds! Sixteen days before Stirling boarded the James Patterson for Australia, the Leeds Mercury article suddenly appeared. Four days later, the Scotsman newspaper in Edinburgh picked up on the story and reprinted it in full. Stirling and his family arrived back at Swan River Settlement on 19 August 1834. An abridged version of the story appeared in the Perth Gazette and Western Australian Journal a month later.
There's some possibility Stirling had an interest in the paper and the question has to be asked whether he influenced the way the story was run in some way. Surely not. Surely newspaper proprietors don't do that sort of thing. If it raised much of a ripple, we don't know. So, what exactly are we dealing with?
My theory runs like this. What if an inland expedition were undertaken by Lt. Robert Dale in April 1832, based out of King George Sound, using Fowlers Bay as the drop-off and pick-up point?
. What if it were the brainchild of Stirling and his Legislative Council, with some additional backing from the local Agricultural Society, the aim being to follow up on the reports of grain growing to the north-east, and during the expedition they bump into the Dutch settlement around the Palm Valley/Hermannsburg area in Central Australia? It is indeed a strange coincidence that the only palms growing there are on almost the exact longitude quoted in the Leeds article.
What if, when Dale returned to Swan River and Stirling was informed of this unwanted discovery, he realised the implications of England's old seafaring rivals having a toehold on the Great South Land 200 years ahead of Arthur Philip, and went into a flat spin? What if he grabbed Dale's journal and immediately made plans to flee back to England, carrying the news with him?
. What if Captain Dance of HMS Sulphur, although not directly involved, twigged as to what Stirling was up to, and he felt he had something to hold over the governor's head?
. What if Lt. Preston, who may have had a direct role in getting Dale's mob to and from Fowlers Bay, caught up with Maslen when visiting his dear old dad in Yorkshire and spilled a few beans? It could even be the case that Stirling and Preston put their heads together before the meeting took place with Maslen, and that's how come we get the navy term Port Raffles planted in the main text of Dale's journal. Originally, if the theory is right, he would have had Fowlers Bay there, but that would have been a dead giveaway and the finger would have been pointed at Swan River. It s possible that the authorities back in England refused to accept or listen to the information that Stirling was giving them, and in frustration, just before he left for Swan River, he and Preston decided to leak it to the press. It happens all the time, even today.
Why release the story if it were true? Why spread it if it wasn't? And why all the need for this secrecy? By 1832, considerable exploration had already been completed, all over Australia, by military expeditions such as Captain Sturt's, government-sponsored parties such as Oxley's, Cunningham's and Mitchell's and private individuals such as Hume and Hovell, and Blaxland, Wentworth and Lawson. There had never been any need for them to be tight-lipped.
Even if Dale had stumbled across an embarrassing mob of foreigners where there shouldn't have been any white people, was there really any need for such tight security even before he found them? From Stirling's point of view, perhaps there was. After all, he was playing around in Governor Darling's backyard of New South Wales, and I guess the local settlers at Swan River would not have been too happy if they knew their governor was spending time and money exploring someone else's territory. If this theory is in any way correct, then probably in the long term, the only person who gained out of the whole saga was Stirling himself, who picked up a knighthood for being a loyal and trusted servant of the Crown.
What happened to the enigmatic Robert Dale? From what we presently know, his expl obviously so energetic, adventurous and enterprising, his military career came to a sudden and abrupt halt, for no apparent reason. We can only guess why, and try and do the best we possibly can with the research material available.
Dale's return to England certainly didn't put an end to speculation about a lost white tribe in Central Australia. Back over at the Swan River Settlement in 1836, former Magistrate and now Advocate General for Western Australia, George Fletcher Moore, put together and published a paper concerning the possibility of an inland sea. According to Moore:
Much scepticism appears still to prevail as to the existence of a large body of water at no great distance in the interior, as I have before ventured to assert.
Contained in his paper is a very interesting description of this supposed large body of water, which Moore claimed he picked up from a Swan River Aborigine, who in turn had got wind of it on the traditional bush telegraph. It might have been second or third hand, but at least it was an eyewitness account of sorts.
On his return, nearly a year ago, I had been enquiring what strange things he had seen or heard of during his absence; and it was then that he first told me amongst other things he had seen a man called 'Mannar,' who said he had gone a long way to the north east till he had gone to Moleyean; that it was very far away - 'moons would be dead,' (meaning more than a month,) before you would arrive at it; that you walked over a great space where there were no trees; that the ground scorched your feet, and the sun burned your head; that you came to very high hills; that, standing upon them, you would look down upon the sun rising out of the water beyond them; - that the inhabitants were of large stature; and that the women had fair hair, and long as white women's hair; that all the people's eyes were 'sick;' that they contracted the eyelids and shook their heads as they looked at you.
One of the most interesting points to come out of that description was the bit about all the eyes being 'sick'. To me it reads a lot like a description of Central Australia, and the eye disease glaucoma which still affects so many people there.
So the legend lived on. The whole saga of a possible Dutch colony in Central Australia, dating back to the early 1700s is a puzzle, not helped at all by what seems to be an attempt by the authorities to conduct their activities in complete secrecy. In many ways, the whole saga is a bit like a gold prospector claiming in a pub to have cracked the big one, and when asked where it is, he points in the opposite direction.
. I can't help feeling that to date we've been a bit cheated out of a fascinating and important piece of our history. Bit by bit, the covers of camouflage and deception are being slowly rolled back. The real proof of course will be when material evidence is finally uncovered on the ground. And just where is that likely to be? Well for my money at this stage, I would not write off the Palm Valley and Hermannsburg area too quickly.
To be continued: researchers are welcome!