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History of Australia
By G. W. Rusden (1897) Second Edition in 3 volumes


The actors in what has been called the heroic work of colonization are rapidly passing away in Australia. Of those who landed with Governor Phillip none now remain. Of those born after he laid the foundation of Sydney many have been gathered to their fathers at ages surpassing the term usually allotted to man. Of the daily wants and toils, the struggles of the hearth and the contentions of the forum, of the early Australian settlers, witness after witness has vanished, and no precise record has been made of the manner in which they wrestled with their difficulties. In default of such a record, incorrect narrations might be accepted without distrust, and quoted without misgiving. Persuasion of many friends that I should prepare a correct narrative, and a desire on my own part that it should be prepared, have produced the following work. It is the result of long residence in Australia, and of acquaintance with some of those who assisted the early Governors in the task of controlling men and subduing the earth. I have seen one generation succeed another, and have observed the careers of public men in more than one of the colonies which have sprung into existence as offshoots of New South Wales or as separate plantations. Facts connected with their growth have been daily under my notice. To distinguish those which are momentous from those which are insignificant in principle, may be as easy for a distant investigator as for one who lives on the spot. To know how men’s minds were disturbed by events which might seem trivial to strangers abroad, is given only to those who have moved upon the scene. As a resident in various rural districts, as a holder of public office, as a magistrate, as mayor of a borough, and in other ways, I have had ample opportunities of becoming acquainted with the course of events. Copious materials in the shape of official reports and blue-books are at the command of all. As to facts they convey authentic information. The opinions they contain require to be balanced with a knowledge of the characters of the writers, and such knowledge is greatly promoted by perusal of those confidential letters which show the inner workings of the mind. Of such manuscripts I have been able to make large use, and the following pages show what valuable treasures have hitherto been neglected or unknown, and how in their absence false notions have been entertained. When it has been needful to controvert often-repeated mis-statements minute precision has been necessary; because in such a case it is not enough to make mere assertions. It is incumbent to fortify each position by cumulating circumstantial proofs. The world, moreover, exacts, in modern days, details which greatly lengthen books, and such a process has the approval of one of the most sagacious of men [Dean Swift (to Bolingbroke, 1719): “I must beg two things; first, that you will not omit any passage because you think it of little moment And secondly, that you will write to an ignorant world, and not suppose your reader to be only of the present age, or to live within ten miles of London. There is nothing more vexes me in old historians than when they leave me in the dark in some passages which they suppose every one to know.” The hope of future usefulness must support a writer in the least attractive portions of his work. Already I have reaped some reward. One scritic objected to the microscopic accuracy of my “History of New Zealand;” but the London “Spectator” (26th May, for being as trustwprthy as it was minute.]

In marshalling the facts which prove how much error has been accepted as truth with regard to the pilgrim fathers of Australia, I have allowed the actors to speak for themselves as much as possible. An author may labour to incorporate as the coinage of his own brain the wit or sense which emanated from those of whom he writes ; but success in such effort would be, after all, ignoble, and would rob his page of the dramatic element which makes it lifelike. The day will come when men will be glad to know how the colonizers of Australia lived and moved; what were their daily tasks and distractions; how and by whom troubles were created or overcome ; by what passions men were stirred from time to time ; how sometimes the blasts of tyranny were resisted by the growing plant, and how were engendered within it parasites which preyed upon its powers and threatened to bring low many a noble bough fitted to adorn it in season, and to render back the healthy sap which, coursing from root to branch, gives health and life to the tree.

If events and their causes have been rightly recorded and traced in the following pages, it must be admitted that for some evils in the colonies the British Government has been largely responsible. The most successful colonization is that which founds abroad a society similar to that of the parent country. The composite forces which built and sustained the England of the past have not been cherished in her colonies. She scattered the seeds of one, but refused to plant the other, and the fields have answered to her tilth. The greatest of modern English Statesmen strove to remedy the defect in North America, but apathy and obstruction among those who lacked his prophetic vision palsied his attempt, and a deadly struggle with a continent armed under Napoleon consumed the energies both of his country and of Pitt. Wentworth essayed to confer upon his countrymen a constitution framed as closely as practicable in conformity with that of England, but he found admirers only, and not supporters, of his attempt to fix in the social and political fabric the principle which, by distinction of the worthiest, stirs generation after generation to maintain the honour of their families, and the glory of their native land. The soul of goodness in ancient English institutions may be thanked for the fact that even when maimed they render useful service. If there were no Providence to shape their ends men might despair of the results of their hewing.

What those results have been in Australia must ever be deeply interesting, not only to the colonists but to their kindred in the parent land. The administration of the Crown domains, and the development of forms of government in different colonies, are engrossing subjects of inquiry, and their phases still undergoing change (subject to the-unconquerable conditions of nature), have compelled me to trace them to more recent times than I contemplated when I took up my pen, and hoped to-pause at the era in which local was substituted for Imperial control. But it was impossible to record the events of 1856 without allusions to living persons,, and it then became idle to shrink from depicting more recent times in which vital problems have been variously dealt with in different places. The hand on the plough is compelled to follow the furrow or to leave untouched many portions of the field which must in time produce tares or wheat. A faithful narrative may indeed fail to satisfy some persons;: but when has truth been told without giving umbrage ? The history which does not aim at truth is despicable; and, whether neglected or popular, the narrative which, after careful research, describes things as they were and are, is the only one from which a writer ought to derive satisfaction. Such a narrative I have striven to put before my countrymen; so that, if they will, they may know what their kinsmen have done in the work of colonization in Australia. Conscious that, in spite of all pains taken to avoid error, so comprehensive a work cannot be free from defects, I part with it in confidence that I have spared no effort to secure accuracy. As I pen these lines I am beset with mingled memories of the land of cloud, and the land of sun. Close to Leith Hill Place, where I was born, I return from Australia after experiences of fifty years; and, seated in one of the most classic spots of my native county—the abode of John Evelyn,—I conclude the preface with which I commit to the public the last work which it can be my fortune to undertake.

Wotton Home, Surrey,
30th July, 1883.

A few prefatory words are needed for the Second Edition of the “History of Australia.”

The Preface to the first is still a guide to the principle on which the History was framed, and which has been adhered to in the second edition. Condensation, excisions, and additions have been made; and criticisms on the first edition have, it may be hoped, contributed to the improvement of the second.

The statement of the Quarterly Review (April, 1885), that the History “must always be the standard authority on all points relating to the early history and growth of the Australian colonies,” is a strong incentive to an author to strive to merit such praise.

There is one unpublished testimony from which a few lines may be quoted. Sir W. W. Burton, a Supreme Court Judge, often mentioned in the History, though blind when it was published, heard it read, and dictated a letter to the author, in which he congratulated his acquaintance of “more than forty years, on being the writer of two profound books, the historian of countries newly founded, whose uncertain origin you have explained, and in the case of Australia, as I can vouch, very powerfully and very interestingly.”

After the publication of the first edition of this History the Government of New South Wales entered, officially, upon the task of preparing a history of that colony. The first volume appeared in 1889, and the second in 1894. The period covered by the two volumes was about seven years. Four bulky volumes of “Historical Records” of New South Wales (up to 1802) have also been published by the Government.

Such arsenals of past facts, though of great value to students, leave room for a history framed to embody the spirit of the time rather than to register every daily occurrence.

Amongst the “Historical Records” are numerous papers in the possession of the Hon. P. G. King, M.L.C., in New South Wales. They throw a flood of light upon the time with which they deal. The original MSS, lent to the author many years ago, justified him in the hope1 that he might present the “age and body of the time, its form and pressure,” with the aid of the old Governor’s manuscripts, which had been carefully preserved in a chest, until his grandson—their present owner— brought them to light, and placed them at the author’s disposal.

Other members of Governor King’s family laid the author under obligations by submitting to him copious manuscripts of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries.

The late Sir William Macarthur, of Camden Park, also gave him access to similar documents, and enriched their contents from the stores of his spacious memory during the author’s visits to his house. In England, in 1882, the author examined original documents at the Record Office, which furnished 110 reason for shaking confidence in the King and Macarthur MSS, but, 011 the contrary, contained many proofs of their accuracy.

Some space has been devoted to records of the aboriginal tribes of Australia; and the author has endeavoured to weave into his narrative facts brought under his own knowledge in various parts of the continent. Some of the habits of the race he had striven to record in a rhymed legend (Moyarra) very many years ago. It is one of the pleasing reminiscences of a stay in London that the late Lord Bowen (one of Her Majesty’s Judges, and the gifted translator of Virgil) assured him that the legend was “charming.” The natives are chiefly mentioned in this Preface, however, in order to refer to a matter which ought to have been alluded to in the second chapter, but cannot now be inserted there as the printing has been completed.

The Australians had a method of communicating with their friends by means of lines graven on sticks despatched from tribe to tribe. The author’s recollection of the method (after lapse of half an effect in Paterson's opportunities of acquiring information were unsurpassed. Besides commanding the military, when he thus wrote, he had acted as Governor in 1794 and 179'); and after an absence on leave he returned to Sydney in November, 1799, in time to observe the effects of Hunter's incapacity.century) is that certain graven symbols were agreed upon as a warning of certain facts. Not words, but ideas were signified by certain marks. The institution of heralds (mentioned in page 102 of chap. 2) facilitated the conveyance of messages by means of the marks; and if the author’s memory be not dimmed by lapse of time, the marks employed by one system of tribes were not the same as those employed by another. The minutest deviation from the appropriate symbol would be at once detected. The Kamilaroi tribes were numerous, and a summons to war could rapidly be sent in many directions if danger was apprehended. The subject seems to have been recently discussed at a meeting of the British Association.

There has been much discussion as to the extent to which Captain Cook’s own words were embodied in the official narrative edited by Dr. (afterwards Sir) John Hawkesworth. The Admiralty confided to Hawkesworth all the Journals kept by Cook, Banks, and others on board of the Endeavour. Hawkesworth explained in his Preface that the book was compiled from the Journals of Cook, Banks, and others, “all parties acquiescing” in the arrangement that Hawkesworth should use the first person (in the name of Cook) throughout.

The journal of Sir Joseph Banks was copious, and for many years towards the close of the nineteenth century there was an uneasy feeling that Hawkesworth had given to the public too little of Cook and too much of Banks; although Hawkesworth plainly stated that he received Cook’s Journal from the Admiralty before he received that of Banks.

Some sceptics went so far as to contend at great length, that Cook did not name Botany Bay, Port Jackson, or New South Wales, and the absence of Cook’s ipsissima verba left the field open to doubters.

Even in the “Historical Records of New South Wales,” published by the Government in 1893, the editor said, “It is a remarkable fact that nowhere in the original papers of either Cook or any of his officers does the name ‘New South Wales’ appeal*. As in the case of Botany Bay it seems to have been an afterthought” . . . “there is no foundation for the popular impression that Cook bestowed the name New South Wales on the territory. . . .

The name appears to have originated with Hawkesworth.

Cook’s Journal, published in England in 1893, decided the matter. On the 22nd August 1770, he wrote: “In the name of His Majesty King George the Third I took possession of the whole Eastern Coast (from lat. 37 down to this place) by the name of Now South Wales.”

In 1893 all doubts were dissipated by the publication of Cook’s own journal by the Hydro-grapher of the Admiralty, Captain Wharton. It was found that no less than three copies of Cook’s Journal were extant. The copy in possession of the Admiralty contained the narrative of the close of the voyage, which was not contained in the others. Cook wrote (30th Sept. 1770) “In the A.M. I took into my possession the officers’, petty officers’, and seamen’s Log Books, and Journals, at least, all that I could find, and enjoined every one not to-divulge where they had been.” On the 25th October he sent from “Onrust near Batavia”—“a copy of my journal containing the proceedings of the whole voyage,” with charts. “In this Journal I have with undisguised truth and without gloss inserted the whole transactions of the voyage.”

When Cook arrived in England, six months afterwards, “the full Journal of the voyage was deposited at the Admiralty.”

The naming of Botany Bay was thus recorded by Cook. “The great quantity of plants Mr. Banks and Dr. Solander found in this place occasioned my giving it the name of Botany Bay.”

On the 6th May he wrote of Port Jackson: “We were about two or three miles from the land, and abreast of a bay, wherein there appeared to be safe anchorage, which I called Port Jackson.”

In this edition the author has in all cases quoted Cook’s words, which are as graphic as those of Defoe.

Something may be said as to the historical advantages or disadvantages attendant upon writing a history of times during a portion of which the author has moved among those whom it is his duty to describe.

Personal considerations may be dismissed as unworthy of contemplation. If he tell the truth an author cannot avoid making enemies; and if he palter with it he can deserve no friends.

In the present case the author has derived unspeakable assistance from local associations. He has conversed with some of those who were colonists in the eighteenth century, and with many thousands among the generations which succeeded the first comers. Such conversations have revealed the hopes and fears, and explained many of the turmoils of the past. Men’s motives become known to their contemporaries. Often they make no attempt to conceal them, and they could not conceal them if they would. Friends betray what enemies long to discover.

The atmosphere of an epoch is a part of it, and he who breathes it must indeed be dull if he be in no degree imbued with the spirit of the time. History should be a picture of the past, and sight of the past is useful to him who would depict it.

It is not for the author to say whether he has profited by his opportunities; but it is right to acknowledge his obligations.

South Yarra, 8th May, 1897.

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