Location: Indian Ocean
Return to George William Robinson (abt.1800-1839)
This is the story of a group of Aboriginal women and children of Van Diemen's Land who made an extraordinary journey, initially sailing on board the colonial schooner Hunter, 61-tons, James Craig master, George William Robinson (abt.1800-1839) Supercargo, were subsequently 'castaway' on distant, remote, Rodrigues, and eventually returned via passages on several other vessels. The women were the 'companions' of sealers who roamed the islands of Bass Strait and beyond. Their voyage began at King Island, continued via Kangaroo Island (where other sealers and Aboriginal women were embarked), King George's Sound, Rodrigues, Mauritius, Sydney, Launceston, before they were eventually returned 'on country'. Tragically, several did not return. An extensive correspondence file, in which the women were referred to as "Certain Black Women, Natives of Van Diemen's Land", was compiled across 3 distant British colonies. The file is now held by the Tasmanian Archives & Heritage Office (TAHO).
The American sealing brig General Gates, 200-tons, Abimelech Riggs master, sailed from Boston on 20 October 1818, bound for the Pacific Ocean and Canton. While en route to the Pacific, Riggs left a gang of 6 men on remote Amsterdam island (Île Amsterdam) located in the 'middle' of the Indian Ocean. One of those men was Massachusetts born George Robinson, then ca. 19 years of age. After misadventures elsewhere, the General Gates returned 23 months later to pick up the gang and their 'harvest' of seal skins. The General Gates then sailed to Kangaroo Island where Robinson and several others were left while their ship resumed its voyage. In mid-October 1822, the General Gates returned to pick up the latter gang. Battered by storms while crossing the Southern Ocean the General Gates made an unintended visit to Hobart Town, Van Diemen's Land, arriving there more than 4 years after sailing from Boston. There, having heard tales of the fates of some of his former ship-mates, Robinson decided to 'jump ship'. He soon found employment, then, not long afterwards, courted and married Elizabeth Presnell, the daughter of a ex-convict couple, William & Ann (Fowler) Presnell. With the assistance of his father-in-law, Robinson was soon engaged in business. He became a publican and 2½ years after landing had just relocated to new premises when the colonial schooner Endeavour (of Norfolk Island), 61-tons, Captain Robert Brimer, dropped anchor in Sullivan's Cove. In an moment of irrational exuberance, Robinson decided to reprise his former sealing occupation with the impulse purchase of the schooner.
On 21 May 1825, only 4 weeks after his purchase of the schooner and having got his affairs in order, George Robinson set sail for Sydney, with his family, wife Elizabeth and infant son James, on board. The purpose of the visit to Sydney was twofold. The schooner had previously been registered in Sydney thus the authorities there may have had to adjust the record of registration. Possibly more importantly, the schooner's master, Robert Brimer, likely had no desire to undertake the type of voyage that Robinson was planning so wanted to return to his home port. In Sydney, Brimer introduced Robinson to James Craig who became the new master. Wasting little time, Robinson had Craig head the schooner out of Port Jackson and southward along the New South Wales coast. While taking shelter in Jervis's (Jervis) Bay from extreme weather, the schooner "got on shore". Robinson and others made an emergency return to Sydney in an open whaling boat to engage some "mechanics" who returned with him to his ship, apparently in their own boat, to carry out repairs. The schooner soon resumed its voyage to the "sealing grounds". It called at King’s (King) Island on 3 August 1825. On that date Robinson and Craig entered into a contractual agreement with several sealers then residing in the vicinity of Sea Elephant Bay on the lee (east) coast of King Island. A "true copy" of the agreement, made 15 months later, provides some details of Robinson's intentions:
The following agreement between G William Robinson and James Craig on the one part, and John Tiveler, John Tyack and Taylor on the other part — sheweth that the said G W Robinson and James Craig do agree to take the said J Froeber, J Tyack and Thos Taylor their Whaleboat Women and Dogs, and property on board the Hunter Schooner of Hobart Town, and convey them from King's Island, to the Island of St Pauls for the purpose of procuring seal skins for the said Vessel which the said J Froeber, John Tyack and J Taylor on their part agree to procure, on the condition of each receiving five per Cent (that is to say five skins out of every hundred seal skins that is procured on St Paul's Island.
Their percentage or share of the said skins to be purchased by the said G. W. Robinson at the rate of One Dollar per Skin to be paid in Sterling money if the said parties proceed into port with the Vessel, and in necessary's, provision &c should the said parties choose to stop on the Island of St Paul or any other Island agreed on between each party — and the said parties agree to assist in aiding to procure four Tons of Fish without receiving any Centage on them, should there be judged to be leisure time to procure the same;— but to receive a Centage of five per Cent on all they shall procure afterwards, and should any thing arise on the arrival of the Vessel at St Paul, to induce the said J Froeber, J Tyack — Thos Taylor to wish to alter this agreement, they shall be allowed to enter on the Ship's Articles — the said parties to be allowed a ration of Forty Pounds of Provisions in bread and Flour and twenty eight pounds of Pork per week during the Voyage — and the same allowance of Provisions on Shore at St Paul's Island as the Ship's Company receive — and the said James Craig hereby agrees to land the said parties, their Women Dogs and property on any Island between St Pauls and Sydney they shall choose to stay on, or if they choose to stay on St Paul's Island — he hereby engages to give them a Discharge, at the expiration of the Voyage; or should they choose to proceed into Port, he would take them and their property in without any charge for freightage—the property to be conveyed free of expence not to exceed half ton, and the said G. W. Robinson and James Craig agree to forfeit the sum of One Hundred Pounds Sterling each — and J Froeber, J Tyack and Thos Taylor to forfeit their share of the Seal Skins and Fish procured as aforesaid should either of them fail in the performance of this agreement:— the said Parties agreeing not to sell or barter any Seal Skins or Fish, except the said Vessel should be absent for the space of four months after landing them on the Island, and there to produce receipts for Skins delivered for such Provisions as may be necessary.
Signed G. W. Robinson
“J E Tyack
“Jno Taylor X his mark
Witness ”Joseph Peter
August 3d 1825
a true Copy
Signed John Finniss
Actg Chief Comr of Police.
This complicated agreement was signed by George William Robinson (owner), James Craig (Captain), J. E. Tyack, Thomas Taylor, John Taylor (with his X mark) and witnessed by Joseph Peters (Mate). Although 2 other men, John Tiveler, an Otaitan, i.e., a Tahitian, and J. Froeber were mentioned in the agreement they did not sign. Thomas Taylor was likely the seaman who sailed from Hobart bound for Port Jackson per the ship, Commodore Hayes on 23 Aug 1823. J. E. Tyack was John Tyack, a seaman who had sailed from Hobart bound for Sydney in the ship Regalia on 11 May 1821. Thus, both were seamen turned sealers rather than runaway convicts turned sealers as many were. Robinson, in similar manner to his earlier experience, intended leaving his sealing gang, including the Aboriginal women and their children, on Amsterdam Island before returning at a later date to pick them and their harvest of seal skins up. Unlike his own experience when he and his fellow gang members waited 23 months for their ship to return and became, effectively, castaways, Robinson appears to have intended to return before 4 months had elapsed. However, the preceding agreement marks the beginning of several instances of Robinson's gangs similarly becoming castaways. Regrettably, unlike his former master, the infamous Captain Riggs, Robinson never returned.
The agreement referred to St Paul's island (Île Saint-Paul) which was a mistaken reference to the nearby significantly larger Amsterdam Island (Île Amsterdam), a confusion arising from centuries-old geo-political intrigue. The sealers and their Aboriginal 'companions', along with children, dogs and a boat, were embarked on the schooner which promptly set sail for Kangaroo Island. Robinson was familiar with Kangaroo Island having previously spent 19 months there (ca. April 1821—October 1822) while awaiting the return of the General Gates. Robinson later stated that he:
“…was twice at Kangaroo Island. … the second time I was there in my own vessel the Schooner Hunter six weeks. My wife was with me at the time”.
On this, his second visit to Kangaroo Island, Robinson almost certainly recruited additional men for his gang(s). No extant copy of a 'contract' similar to the forgoing has been found. The duration of the visit suggests that Robinson also likely harvested a load of salt from one of the lakes on the island, necessary for the curing of seal skins, just as he had done 3 years earlier.
Fortuitously, a report survives of the outgoing leg of the voyage. It is a formal statement taken from the previously mentioned Thomas Taylor and John Tiveler by the Officer-in-charge of the Marine Department at the direction of John Finniss, the Acting Chief Commissioner of Police at Port Louis, Isle of France. The statement, which may not be entirely accurate, was taken on 12 December 1826, 16 months after the above agreement was made and 2 months after the Hunter had completed its voyage and had returned to Hobart Town:
This day the Twelfth December, One thousand Eight hundred and Twenty six, on the information given to the Chief Commr. of Police by the Harbour Master, that an English Seaman and a native of Otaite, have just arrived in a whale boat from Rodriques, that they were left there in the month of May last, by the Captain of the Hunter Schooner, having received the order of the Chief Commr of Police to receive their declarations, they appeared before me, Officer in charge of the Marine Department, and the English Seaman named Thos Taylor, & the Otaitan John Tiveyler, declared that they were shipped at King's Island, under an agreement to work for the Schooner Hunter, with five women & a child who joined the vessel with them; on the purpose to take charge of their things, and to assist them at St. Pauls Island, to process seal skins, to remain at the Island if they chuse for their own account & if they do not chuse to remain there, or on any other Island till Sydney, from King's Island to King George's Sound, on the Coast of New Holland that they have landed there a boat with three men to procure Seal Skins on the coast, that they left the King Georges's Sound, to proceed to St Pauls, after having been to sea for a few days, they encountered bad weather, and received damages in their sails, rigging, and the vessel being deficient of Rope, canvas, & short of Provisions, it was determined by the Captain & owner of the vessel to return to Port Dalrymple, Van Diemen's Land, for a fresh supply of Provisions & stores for the voyage, that before the Capt bore up he request that they would stop with their boat at King Georges Sound for the purpose of procuring such seals as they should be able; during the time that the vessel should be gone to Port Dalrymple for the Provisions, that they have agreed to remain there, & entered into an agreement for that purpose, & the Capt. left the first officer of the vessel to assist them, and promised to return in December, & proceed to the Island of St. Paul according the first agreement,..
As alluded to earlier, the preceding statement may not have been entirely accurate. In addition to leaving 3 men with a boat at King George's Sound it is likely that the men also had Aboriginal women with them [see Castaways 1; Major Lockyer's ...complete set of pirates.]
After the Hunter had encountered "...bad weather, and [having] received damages in their sails, rigging, and the vessel being deficient of Rope, canvas, & short of Provisions" the schooner returned to King George's Sound. Robinson then left the sealers and their Aboriginal companions whom he had recruited at King's Island as well as the Hunter's First Officer, Joseph Peters, as overseer. Without discounting the likelihood of bad weather forcing the retreat, Robinson may have had a more compelling personal reason for turning back. Robinson's wife, Elizabeth, was very close to giving birth. In fact, the Hunter did not make the ca. 2,600 km dash across the Southern Ocean to Port Dalrymple in time. On 5 November 1825, 5 or 6 days before reaching Port Dalrymple, Elizabeth Presnell gave birth to twin girls. One hopes that Captain Craig, at Robinson's direction, had found a calm anchorage for the birth, perhaps in the lee of King Island or, perhaps, somewhere along the northern coast of Van Diemen's Land. It was not to be the last time such a birth occurred within the family.
Having arrived back at Launceston on 11 November 1825, Robinson found his financial affairs in disarray. While he had been 'out', the securities he had given for the mortgage for the purchase of the Hunter had been auctioned. Robinson later stated that they had been purchased by the mortgagee for one-sixth of their proper value! Robinson and his family returned by unknown means to Hobart Town where any excitement arising from the additions to the family was quickly overtaken by the need for Robinson to recover his losses. On 26 November 1825, Robinson agreed to sell the Hunter to Frederic(k) Champion and Alexander Charlton, merchants of Hobart Town and Launceston, respectively. The certificate of registry was transferred on 6 December 1825 with Champion swearing an oath as to his ownership of the schooner. The following day Champion signed a bond of £300 binding him not to dispose of the Certificate of Registry in any way. The bond was witnessed by Henry Emmett, Chief Clerk of the (Colonial) Secretary’s Office. Robinson needing to make good his losses, chartered the Hunter for what can only be described as a voyage of speculation as it was out of character with his prior voyages but all was not as it may have seemed. Having said goodbye to his family (there is no record of his wife and children accompanying him), Robinson returned to Launceston where, on 14 December 1825, he also signed a £300 bond similar to that had recently been signed by Champion. Robinson's signature was witnessed by Thomas Thompson, the Naval Officer stationed at Launceston. The ink may not have had time to dry before Captain Craig gave the command to "Cast off!" and the Hunter resumed it's voyage. Robinson was no longer the Hunter's owner; he was now the Supercargo. James Craig remained the schooner's master. To return to the statement made to the Harbour Master at Port Louis, Robinson…
…returned on the 9th [?] March and after wooding & watering at King George's Sound, and left another boat with five men there, they proceeded again to the Island of St. Paul, they arrived in sight of the Island, and the wind changed, they were unable to get up to the Island, that they had remained off to the Island for ten days, surveyed the Provisions, & found that allowing each person on board five pounds of dry Provisions for a week, and half a pound of meat a day there was barely sufficient to last three weeks — The same day they saw a vessel after which they made sail — she proved to be the ship Lady Lewancy Capt. Russel from London to Sydney with Female convicts — she supplied them with twelve bags of Biscuit, some rope & canvas,— That afterwards they hove to, for a fair wind for to get up to the Island of St. Paul for the space of three weeks, at the end of which, the Capt. called one of them Thos. Taylor into the cabin, & stated that the Provisions were again short, that he would soon be obliged to reduce the allowance of water, which this day was three quarts a day p[er] man, that the season appeared to be passed for getting an opportunity on the Island of St. Paul it was necessary for him to endeavour to reach the Isle of France while he had Provisions sufficient on board for the Passage, and it was his intention to land these women on the Island of Rodrigues, and asked him if he would consent to stay there, til the return of the vessel — that he consented to stay there, to take care of them; that on the 25 May they arrived in sight of Rodriques and the same day they were put on shore with those five women & three children with Provisions for seven weeks, at the rate of Forty pounds of Bread & Flour — that when they left the vessel, Mr Robinson the Owner of the Hunter, told them that he would probably return in the course of seven weeks, but certainly by the end of seven, he desired to procure some Fish and wood for the use of the Hunter when she would return, that he made sail, & never was he seen since— [TBC]
The outbound voyage against the prevailing winds to King George's Sound would likely to have been less direct than the urgent inbound dash. Captain Craig likely skirted the coast of the Great Southern Bight to take advantage of the offshore winds to ease the schooner's passage westward. Regardless, with 3 months having elapsed between the Hunter's departure from Launceston on 14 December 1825 and its arrival back at King George's Sound on 9 March 1826, it seems likely that the schooner may have stopped, if not at Kangaroo Island, then at one or more of the islands in the Recherche Archipelago. If it did so, no such visit has been recorded. Somewhere along the way Robinson had picked up another gang of 5 men and their boat which he deposited at King George's Sound. Once again, there seems to have been one or more Aboriginal women in the group. They were the unmentionables.
Having deposited one gang and picked up another, the Hunter sailed on, passing Cape Leeuwin again and out into the vast waters of the Indian Ocean. Amsterdam Island, being volcanic, rises from very deep waters. There is no secure anchorage. The only barely practicable place to land is on the north-eastern coast near where Martin-de-Viviès, a French research base, is now located. There is little shelter from the prevailing westerly winds, indeed from any wind. The 'beach' is composed of large water-worn boulders. These characteristics would have been well known to Robinson who had spent 23 months roaming along the coastline hunting seals. Although Craig was an experienced master he had never previously visited Amsterdam Island.
The “Lady Lewancy” intercepted by Captain Craig was, in fact, the transport Lady Rowena, Captain Bourn Russell, bound for Sydney with a human cargo of 100 female convicts. Passing over the next part of the deposition momentarily, the reason given for the diversion to Rodrigues reveals Captain Craig's sensitivity to carrying the Aboriginal women and children:
...That they [forgot?] to declare that the Capt. Craig told them that the reason for which he sent those women on shore, was for fear of meeting a King's vessel between Rodrigues & this Island, that the Capt. of the Man of War would not believe that these women were free people, and would sieze the Hunter...
The call at Rodrigues was likely to have been brief. The verbal agreement reached with Thomas Taylor at Amsterdam Island was now formalised:
May 25th, 1826
This is to Certify that Thos. Taylor, John Tiveler, and five women natives of Van Diemen's Land are left on Rodrigues Island to remain until the Vessel returns from the Isle of France to convey them according to their agreement to the Island of St Pauls and Van Diemen's Land.
“Signed” G. W. Robinson
Then, without wasting a moment, the 2 men, 5 women, 3 children, their dogs and 7 weeks of rations were put into their boat and dispatched to navigate the narrow channel to land at the small settlement of Port Mathurin. It likely that neither Robinson nor Craig landed; nor, indeed, had an encounter with any local administrative authority. The group were left entirely to their own devices as they waited for the Hunter to return. The total population of Rodrigues is unlikely to have exceeded 100 people in total, so the arrival of this small group resulted in a significant increase.
At this point the focus of the story shifts to the ongoing voyage of the Hunter with the immediate resumption of the schooner's voyage to the Isle of France. Three days later, on 28 May 1826, the schooner dropped anchor in the harbour of Port Louis on the mid-west coast of the Isle of France. Despite there being no specific reference to sealing activity on the voyage to date, he Mauritius Gazette of Saturday, 3 June 1826, noted the arrival of the Hunter and the fact that it carried a cargo of 2,165 "peaux de veau marin" (marine veal or calf skins), i.e., seal skins. These would have been the produce of the gangs left at King George's Sound.
ARRIVEES: La 28 [Mai]—La goëlette Hunter, capitaine Craig, partie de Hobart-Town le 14 Decembre, consignée à MM. Thompson et Passmore; cargaison 2165 peaux de veau marin.
The seal skins were likely sold to Messrs. Thompson & Passmore, the local agents at Port Louis, for on-shipment to Canton for processing. The Isle of France was ideally located to act as a trading centre for ships arriving from England via the Cape of Good Hope, from Madagascar and other Eastern African centres of trade, from the Australian colonies, from India, the East Indies (Batavia) and as distant as China (Canton). Commodities and merchandise was transhipped to be carried to many distant ports. For Robinson and his ship, events become a little confused at this point. It is no surprise that Robinson had quickly set about obtaining cargo to take back to Hobart Town but, during the loading of the cargo, the Hunter had apparently suffered damage necessitating repairs. A sequentially reversed report appeared in the Hobart Town Gazette months later:
The schooner Hunter has been completely refitted and coppered at the Isle of France, having suffered some damage there, when her cargo was necessarily discharged, that she might be repaired, and afterwards reshipped.
The damaged schooner appears to have been immediately put on the slipway to undergo repairs during which activity the hull was also re-coppered. The latter work may have been to repair damage caused by the schooner having gone "on shore" in Jervis Bay 12 months previously. Given the setback, Robinson appears, on the spur of the moment, to have then decided to sell the Hunter although he was no longer the schooner’s owner. He may have had a private arrangement with Messrs. Champion & Charlton to sell the schooner if the opportunity arose. Regardless, Robinson's decision is baffling given that he had left 2 sealing gangs in the vicinity of King George’s Sound and the group at Rodrigues, all awaiting his return. The Mauritius Gazette of the same date as the preceding notice of arrival carried another notice:
For Sale.—The fine Australian built schooner Hunter, burthen 60 tons, coppered and copper fastened, particularly adapted for the Madagascar Trade.
Apply to Messrs. Thompson and Passmore.
The offer appears to have attracted little interest as another notice appeared in the Mauritius Gazette on the following Saturday, 10 June 1826:
[Vents PUBLIQUES.] — On Tuesday next, 13th instant, at 12 o’clock opposite to the Post Office, at the request of Messrs. Thompson & Passmore, will be sold by M. Fouquereaux, at one sole outcry, the fine schooner Hunter, of 60 tons burthen, with her rigging and furniture, in the state she is now in. This schooner, built with the utmost care at Sidney in 1820, is copper sheathed and bolted, and may take the sea at very little expence.
The purchaser will have to pay down all expences made and to be made for the said sale.
The inventory is at Messrs. Thompson & Passmore, where it may be seen.
No outcry, sole or otherwise, was heard on the Port Louis waterfront that day! Robinson then set about recruiting men for a sealing gang. A notice of the projected departure appeared in the Mauritius Gazette of Saturday, 5 August 1826:
DÉPARTS Projetés: Pour la mer.—La goëlette Hunter et le capitaine Creg.
– M. Robinson, E. Lafond, Mme Bertram.
The Hunter, with 2 paying passengers (with, apparently, 6 men recruited for a new sealing gang as additional crew) embarked, and loaded with sugar, rice and other sundries, sailed from the Isle of France on 14 August 1826 bound for Hobart Town and Sydney, as the Mauritius Gazette of 19 August 1826 noted:
DÉPARTS: Le 14 [Août] – La goëlette Hunter, capitaine Craig, pour Hobart Town et Sydney.
The preceding departure notice understandably made no mention of a return to Rodrigues as that may well have drawn unwanted attention from the Isle of France’s authorities. The Hunter sailed for Hobart Town but did not call at Rodrigues to pick up the King Island group left there on 25 May 1826. A comment buried in a letter from the Van Diemen’s Land Crown Solicitor to the Colonial Secretary, written nearly 3 years later, reveals that "stress of weather" had allegedly prevented the Hunter from returning to the Rodrigues:
…The only evidence in the case, upon this point of abandonment, states that the women and some sealers with them were left upon the Island by their explicit consent;— that the Master of the Vessel, on his return from Mauritius, made every exertion to touch again at the place, but was by stress of weather prevented from doing so.
On, or around, 4 September 1826, the heavily laden Hunter called at Amsterdam Island where only 2 members of a gang of 6 men were able to be landed before a gale drove the schooner leeward [See Castaways 3; Robinson' Crusoes. Rather than heaving-to and await another opportunity to land the additional men as had occurred on the outbound voyage, Craig steered the Hunter on a south-eastward course towards Hobart Town bypassing King George’s Sound en route. The schooner arrived at Hobart Town on 15 October 1826, a passage of 61 days for the ca. 8,600 km voyage; not a fast passage although it was later reported that the weather had been “remarkably bad” for much of the voyage. Disregarding the variability of both the wind and the ocean currents, the route was essentially direct, with only minor deviations towards Rodrigues, if that actually occurred, and to Amsterdam Island to land the gang there.
Arrived on Sunday last, the Colonial schooner Hunter, (belonging to the house of Mr. F. Champion), Mr. James Craig, Master, from the Isle of France, laden with sugar, rice, &c
Passenger, Mr. G. W. Robinson, the charterer. Brings no news.
The schooner Hunter, left Port Louis the 14th of August; and on the 4th of September in lat. 35° 34' South, off St. Paul's Island, she saw a brig standing to the South-east, the Hunter touched at St. Paul's Island, where she landed provisions for a gang of men, for 12 months, who were left there for the purpose of procuring fish and skins.—The vessel was obliged to leave also two of her own men on the Island, owing to a gale, which forced her to beat away for this port. During the whole of her passage, she experienced remarkably bad weather, in which she was pooped, had the head of her rudder carried away, two men washed from the helm, but were saved; her round-house, binnacle, and part of her bulwarks were also carried away.
Whilst the Hunter lay at Port Louis, a great many vessels were waiting there for cargoes, for England.
Once again Amsterdam Island was confused as St. Paul’s Island. The Hunter had been ‘out’ from Launceston 305 days and had left numerous men, women, children, dogs and boats scattered across the south-western coast of New Holland & the islands of the Southern Indian Ocean: shades of his former captain, the infamous Captain Abimelech Riggs! To Robinson’s credit, unlike Riggs, he had not lost any of his gangs to hungry Maori. It was just as well that he never actually visited new Zealand!
Following the schooner's arrival at Hobart, the cargo of sugar and the merchandise was advertised for sale while simultaneously securing a cargo for the next voyage proceeded apace. By 3 November 1826, the Hunter had been loaded with cargo for Launceston:
The Brig Hunter, Captain Craig, waits a fair wind, with a cargo of sundries, belonging to the Horse Company, for Launceston.—Mr. Robinson the owner proceeds in her. This vessel will, after discharging her cargo, proceed to King's Island, for skins, &c.
Eventually the "fair wind" arrived and the Hunter was cleared from Hobart on 10 November 1826 sailing out of the Derwent, bound for Launceston and beyond in prosecution of its voyage “...for Cape Lewin, New Holland, touching at Port Dalrymple & the islands in her course." The reference to Cape Lewin (Leeuwin) suggests that Robinson was planning to return to collect the sealing gangs he had left at King George’s Sound on his previous visits there. Cape Leeuwin is a further 300 km north-west of King George Sound and may have been a non-specific ‘wave of the arm’ indication of his intentions. There was no specifically stated suggestion of possibly sailing further to pick up the group left on Rodrigues during the outbound voyage nor of the 2 men left on Amsterdam Island during the return voyage. The Hunter arrived at Launceston on 17 November 1826 where, presumably, Robinson and Craig set about preparing the schooner for the westward voyage into rough waters having learnt hard lessons during the previous voyage. Three days after their arrival, on Monday, 20 November 1826, the Government Brig Amity made an unplanned entry into the Tamar Estuary to call at George Town. On board was Major Edmund Lockyer of the 57th Regiment. He was the leader of an expedition dispatched from Sydney with orders to establish a settlement at King George’s Sound. Lockyer took the opportunity to write a brief note to the Colonial Secretary in Sydney advising of his brief visit:
I have to acquaint you, for the information of His Excellency the Governor, that, Lieutenant Festing concurring with me in the expediency of obtaining a supply of Water and being off this place with a contrary wind, we arrived at this place at Nine O'Clock this Morning and shall leave again the moment we have filled the Casks and weather permits. H.M. Ship Fly, we parted from yesterday off Kent's Group, beating in the Straits.
I have also to remark that the Water sent on board at Sydney was of the very worst, and so nauseous as not to be drinkable, having been put in old Rum and Sugar Casks, which added to the Water put into them I never experienced anything so bad
When the news of Lockyer's visit reached Launceston a day or so later, Robinson quickly surmised that Lockyer would likely encounter his gang(s) at King George’s Sound. This led him to abruptly abandon his plans for their recovery. Thus, adverse winds in Bass Strait and bad water in tainted casks profoundly changed the course of the lives of the several groups of people Robinson had effectively left as castaways. The news of Lockyer's brief visit and the subsequent departure of the Hunter on its next voyage reached Hobart a week or so later:
Launceston, Nov. 27.—The Hunter went over the bar yesterday, in prosecution of her voyage to King's Island.—The Fly, sloop-of-war, the Government brig Amity, and the brig Dragon, anchored off the heads at George Town on Tuesday last; and departed on Wednesday.—It is reported, that they are going to form two Settlements at Western Port, and one at King George's Sound.—Report says, that the French have taken possession of the latter-place, and that these British vessels are ordered to remove them; and occupy it for His Britannic Majesty.
By the time that the Hunter departed the Launceston wharf and “went over the bar”, a mud bank across the mouth of the North Esk River, Robinson was likely on his return to Hobart. His grand adventure was over! He had lost his land at New Norfolk, the Waterloo Inn and, as later events suggest, possibly, much of his investment. Whilst there is no record of him ever having sailed on the Hunter again, he did have lingering links with the schooner. Robinson needed to pick up the pieces and begin the recovery of his financial situation. His family awaited him.
Timeline — The Voyage
Before returning to the plight of Robinson's castaways, the following is a timeline of the voyage of the colonial schooner Endeavour (of Norfolk Island) / Hunter:
- 19 APR 1825 Endeavour, Robert Brimer master, Ranulph Dacre Supercargo, arrived at Hobart Town;
- 14 MAY 1825 Endeavour purchased by George W. Robinson;
- 20 MAY 1825 Certificate of Registry issued, schooner Hunter, George W. Robinson owner;
- 21 May 1825 Hunter, Robert Brimer master, departed Hobart Town for Sydney;
- 5 JUN 1825 Hunter, James Craig master, departed Sydney for "Sealing Grounds", i.e., Bass Strait;
- 12 JUN 1825 Hunter "got on shore", Jervis's Bay, NSW. "Mechanics" from Sydney make repairs;
- 3 AUG 1825 Called at King Island, Robinson recruited 2 sealers, Aboriginal women & children;
- AUG—SEP 1825 Visited Kangaroo Island. Recruited unidentified sealers (& Aboriginal women?);
- ?? OCT 1825 Called at King George's Sound, left 3-man gang. Hunter passed Cape Leeuwin;
- ?? OCT 1825 Returned to King George's Sound, left Mate, Joseph Peters & King Island group;
- 5 NOV 1825 Elizabeth Robinson gives birth to twin daughters "at sea";
- 11 NOV 1825 Arrived Launceston. Robinson found financial affairs in disarray;
- 26 NOV 1825 Robinson sold Hunter to Frederic(k) Champion & Alexander Charlton, Merchants;
- 6 DEC 1825 Certificate of Registry transferred to Frederick Champion (Hobart), signed £300 bond;
- 14 DEC 1825 Robinson signed £300 bond, Capt. Craig immediately departed Launceston;
- 9 MAR 1826 Called at King George's Sound, embarked King I. group, left new 5-man gang (& women?);
- ?? APR—MAY 1826 "Stood off" Amsterdam Island, spoke Lady Rowena bound for Sydney;
- 25 MAY 1826 Called at Rodrigues, left King island group, 2 men, 5 women, 3 children, dogs, boat;
- 28 MAY 1826 Arrived Port Louis, Isle of France, with 2,165 seal skins. loaded return cargo;
- 13 JUN 1826 Hunter damaged, repaired, auctioned, no sale! Additional (6?) sealers recruited;
- 14 AUG 1826 Departed Port Louis for Hobart Town & Sydney (no mention of Rodrigues!);
- 4 SEP 1826 Landed only 2 men of 6-man gang. Hunter blown to leeward, continued voyage;
- 15 OCT 1826 Arrived Hobart Town with cargo of sugar and merchandise;
- 10 NOV 1826 Cleared Hobart bound “for Cape Lewin, New Holland touching at Port Dalrymple...";
- 11 NOV 1826 Departed Hobart Town with cargo for "Horse Company";
- 17 NOV 1826 Arrived Launceston; Govt. Brig Amity called at George Town 20 NOV 1826;
- 27 NOV 1826 Hunter, Capt. Craig, departed Launceston for Sydney, via King's Island(?).
Robinson seemingly, one might say reprehensively, had abandoned any attempt to recover the groups of people he had left scattered in the wake of the Hunter. Two weeks after he had returned to the comfort of his family albeit undoubtedly rueing his decision to embark on the reprise of his sealing venture, on the far side of the Indian Ocean, ca. 8,600 km away, the first group of his castaways could wait no longer for his return. After more than 7 months had passed waiting for the return of the Hunter, the group left on Rodrigues took their fate into their own hands. In early December 1826, the small inter-island trading schooner Deux Charles called at Rodrigues with the news that the Hunter had sailed from Port Louis more than 3 months earlier. Explaining their surprise arrival at Port Louis, Taylor and Tiveler concluded their statement to the Officer in Charge of the Marine Department:
…That when the schooner Deux Charles arrived at Rodrigues, they heard that Mr. Robinson had been at Mauritius with the Schooner Hunter, & left it again; that thinking there was no chance that the Schooner Hunter would return at Rodrigues to take them, they got their passage for four of the women & children on Deux Charles, that both of them & a woman came in their boat in company with the schooner for the purpose of procuring a Passage for the women from this place to their own country, & to endeavour to get employ here,— [text moved upward] … I have signed this declaration with Taylor and Tiveler.
(Signed) J. Delafye
( “ ) Thos. Taylor
( “ ) Tiveler
A True Copy
(signed) J. Finniss
Actg. Chief Commr of Police
To reach Port Louis, the 2 sealers, the Aboriginal women, their children, and dogs, made what can only be described as an extraordinary ca. 650 km open-ocean voyage. That 3 of the party had to be towed in the open whaleboat across a vast expanse of the Indian Ocean for a voyage that lasted several days was not only an indication of the size of the schooner but, more importantly an indication of the group’s determination to stay together, their desperation and, ultimately, their courage. The discomfort of those riding in the open boat is unimaginable. When the sealers' statement and 'true copies' of the agreements made on King’s Island and Rodrigues had been completed, Finniss wrote to the Acting Chief Secretary to Government, Archibald Blane:
I beg you will be pleased to inform His Excellency the Governor, that on the 12th Inst. the Schooner Les Deux Charles arrived from Rodrigues, having on board four Women, and three children, and in a whale boat another Woman, two men, (the Females being Natives of Van Diemen's Land, one man an Englishman, and the other an Otaheitan) who had been left on the Island of Rodrigues by the Hunter Schooner on her voyage to this Port in May last with a promise to return for them.—
Finding the Hunter did not return, they availed themselves of the arrival of the Deux Charles to come to this Island, and I have therefore to beg, I may be favored with His Excellency's Commands, how these are to be disposed of, until an opportunity offers of conveying them back to New Holland.
The English sailor having in his possession a document which proves his having been embarked from Port Dalrymple on board a vessel in 1823, he might be employed in some vessel sailing from this Port, if it should be His Excellency's pleasure.
The closing statement, while mentioning the possibility that Thomas Taylor may find himself another ship, made no mention of the fate of John Tiveler. Neither man appears in the the subsequent records. They likely continued their maritime wanderings on another ship or ships. Meanwhile, board and lodging for the women and children were provided under the supervision of the Police Department while the authorities sought passages on a ship to take the group of castaways to New South Wales. It is improbable that the group had ever encountered a settlement such as they had arrived at. The 1827 Census of Mauritius returned a total population of 92,631. The Military, convicts and apprentices increased that total to 94,676. The island's administration was composed of 9 quartiers, or cantons, of which Port Louis was the most populous. The population for Port Louis, in particular, was recorded as 26,615. Of that number: 13% were 'White', 28% were 'Free', presumably non-white; 59% were 'Slaves'. The proportion of slaves outside Port Louis was markedly higher. The census also provides a snapshot of the commercial activity of the settlement with occupations classified as:—Agents, 10; architects, 3; armourers, 3; surveyors, 5; actors and actresses, 30; inn-keepers and confectioners, 7; advocates, 8; proctors, 12; batelage [possibly boat pilots, less likely to be conjurors or jugglers], 2; butchers, 4; bakers, 10; sadler, 1; embroiderers, 2; caulkers, 2; wood-sellers, 8; hatters, 3, sausage-makers, 3; carpenters, 15, wheelwrights, 5; brazier, 1; coachmakers, 2; barbers, 3.
The Isle of France, being a maritime trading hub, was visited from time to time by ships from New South Wales or Van Diemen's Land. The colony's authorities were compelled to wait for one such visit for an opportunity to return the women and children to their place of origin. One such ship arrived from Sydney towards the end of January, the Orpheus, Duff master. It seems that, upon arriving, the Orpheus was fortunate to be requested to take on the cargo of sugar that another ship had been intending to load for Sydney. Encountering regulatory problems with his ship's Certificate of Registry and facing the risk of having his ship 'arrested' the other master handed over "3 bags of dollars" to Duff for payment for the sugar and slipped out of the harbour to return to Sydney with the original cargo intact. Duff obliged his fellow master and soon prepared to return to Sydney with the load of sugar. While Duff set about having his ship loaded with sugar, the colonial authorities entered into discussions with him for passages to Sydney for the women and children, to which Duff agreed. Thus, began a flurry of inter-colonial correspondence under the general title “Certain Black Women, Natives of Van Diemen’s Land”. The first matter to be dealt with was, no surprise, the expenses incurred and who was going to pay. Finniss, on 24 February 1827, wrote to Acting Chief Secretary Archibald Blane:
The Captain of the Ship Orpheus having intimated his wish that the natives of Van Diemen's Land should be embarked on Thursday morning, I do myself the Honor of forwarding to you an account of the expenses incurred on account of the Persons left in the Island of Rodrigues by the Hunter Schooner.
The expenses incurred: For Passage Money from Rodrigues to Isle of France, £16-0-0; For Passage Money to New South Wales, £100; Hospital Expenses, £2-4-0; Board & Lodgings to [Thursday] 28 February 1827 inclusive, £29-16-0. The total expense incurred was £148. Somebody had to pay and the Colony of the Isle of France wasn't so inclined. The Acting Chief Secretary, Blane, in turn wrote on 28 February 1827 to the Colonial Secretary of New South Wales, the Honourable Alexander McLeay:
I have the directions of His Excellency the Governor of Mauritius to transmit to you, for the information of His Majesty's Government of New South Wales, the accompanying copy of a letter and its enclosures from the Chief Commissary of Police at Port Louis explanatory of the circumstances under which certain Natives of Van Diemen's Land were in the month of May last disembarked from the Hunter Schooner at the Island of Rodrigues, one of the Dependencies of His Govt.
The Individuals in question having remained for several months at Rodrigues in the hope that the Hunter would return and take them on Board were brought up to this place in the month of December last, and since their arrival here they have been provided for at the expense of the Colonial Government under the immediate Superintendance of the Chief of the Police Department. But as an opportunity now presents itself of sending them back to their Native Country, I have the honor to acquaint you for the information of His Excellency the Governor of New South Wales that a passage has been taken on Board the ship “Orpheus” bound to Sydney for four women and one child—One of the women and one child having died as will be seen by the enclosed letter during their stay in this Island.
I have the honor to enclose to you the copy of a letter from the Chief Commissary of Police from which it will be seen that an expence of One hundred and forty-eight pounds Sterling has been incurred by this Government for passage and subsistence of the Individuals above adverted to, and to acquaint you that the amount has been charged in the accounts of this Colony against His Majesty's Government of New South Wales.
Apart from a passing reference to the Hunter there was no attempt to determine that the ultimate responsibility for these castaways and the concomitant expenses incurred for their recovery lay with Robinson, as charterer of the Hunter, and Craig as the schooner's master. Tragically, the letter discloses that one of the women and one of the children had died despite the Colonial authorities having displayed commendable humanity towards the group. The woman, Waterip~, had been admitted to the Civil Government Hospital in Port Louis on 24 December 1826 but succumbed to dysentery on 4 January 1827. Her place of burial was not recorded. A girl, nameless in the records, died of “dentition” on 30 January. Again the place of her burial was not recorded. Both had died so far from “Country”. Formal certification of their deaths followed in the final letter, dated 3 March 1827, from Acting Chief Commissioner of Police, John Finniss to the Acting Chief Secretary to Government Archibald Blane:
I do myself the honor of transmitting you two certificates attesting the Deaths of one woman and one child natives of Van Diemen's Land, the dates as per margin [4th Jany, 30th Do], and further have to acquaint you that one of the children has been permitted to remain in this Colony with his Father / Tyack / who is employed in the Office of the Registrar of the Vice Court of Admiralty. His Excellency the Governor having permitted the same, on condition that the mother voluntarily gave up her child, which she did in presence of an Officer of this Department.
Two 'certifications' by surgeons were appended to the letter below the Acting Chief Commissioner's signature. Through unknown circumstances John Tyack, also a seaman turned sealer, but who had not been landed on Rodrigues, had remained behind when the Hunter sailed from Port Louis. Just as the Englishman Thomas Taylor & the Otaheitan, John Tiveler, had disappeared from extant records so did one of the women. She may have been the mother of John Tyack's son and found the parting with her child unbearable and so opted to stay. If so, that may not have necessarily been a matter of simple choice. Perhaps a marriage was agreed.
The Orpheus, Captain Duff, sailed from Port Louis, Isle of France, on 11 March 1827 bound for Sydney, with the remaining castaways, several other passengers, and a cargo of sugar. It had been more than 19 months since Robinson had picked up the sealing gang on King Island. Now the remnants of that gang were facing an ocean voyage of several months to return to their home country, perhaps.
The Orpheus dropped anchor in Sydney Cove on 12 May 1827. The arrival of the new appointee for the post of New South Wales Deputy Commissary General and his family, was mentioned in the shipping news. However, Robinson’s castaways from Rodrigues, via Isle of France were invisible. Despite the castaways’ extraordinary journey from Bass Strait to the remote, little-known, island of Rodrigues and from there to Port Louis, there was no mention of their arrival in the Sydney newspapers. Had they been English, or European, there may have been a paragraph or more to provide novelty in the readers’ weekly news. Invisible! Regardless, they were not invisible to the authorities. The Colonial Secretary Alexander McLeay was immediately notified of the castaways’ arrival and that one of the women was ill. He immediately wrote to John Nicholson Esq., the Master Attendant (Senior Naval Officer):
No 206 (8)
There being certain Black Women Natives of Van Diemen's Land, now in the “Orpheus” just arrived from the Mauritius, I am directed by His Excellency The Govr to request that you will repair on board that vessel, cause one of the women alluded to / who is reported to be very ill / to be immediately removed to the Civil Hospital: and endeavour to ascertain the wishes and needs of the remainder, that directions may be given for their disposal, Perhaps they may wish to join the natives in this neighbourhood.
The last sentence belies belief and displays extraordinary ignorance of Aboriginal culture. The Master Attendant responded as directed and replied accordingly to McLeay 2 days later:
With reference to your letter No 206 dated the 12th Instant, respecting the Black Natives which arrived from the Mauritius on the “Orpheus”— Agreeably to your direction I caused the one reported to be ill, to be removed to the Civil Hospital,— with respect to the wishes of the others from what I am able to learn it appears they are desirous of returning to their Native Places, consequently I should recommend that they be forwarded on the Admiral Cockburn which sails for Van Diemen's Land tomorrow, or on the next Vessel that may be destined to that Island.
Unsurprisingly, the 2 women whom the Master Attendant was able to 'consult' were "desirous of returning to their Native Places", that is, they just wanted to go home (wherever that may have been). A week elapsed then McLeay wrote, on 21 May 1827, to the retiring Deputy Commissary General, William Wemyss:
Three Black Women and a child, Natives of Van Diemen's Land / one of whom is now in the Civil Hospital / having been left at the Island of Rodrigues by the master of the Schooner “Hunter” and forwarded hither on board the “Orpheus” by the Government of Mauritius, I am directed by His Excellency the Governor to request that you will provide a passage for them to their Native Country by the earliest opportunity,— paying the amount and reporting particulars in order that the necessary communications may be made to Lieut. Govr Arthur.
The Colonial Secretary then wrote to Lieutenant Cooling, R.N., commander of the Admiral Cockburn:
…I am directed by His Excellency the Governor to request that on arrival at Launceston you will deliver to the Commandant, at that station the two Black Women and child, Natives of Van Diemen's Land, for whom a Passage has been secured on board the Vessel under your command, together with the accompanying letter addressed to the Colonial Secretary of Van Diemen's Land, their passage being paid by the Commissariat, here—
New South Wales Colonial Secretary Alexander McLeay must have been a busy man and not particularly alert. He had received a letter from his conterpart in the Isle of France, Archibald Blane advising that ...a passage has been taken on Board the ship “Orpheus” bound to Sydney for four women and one child—One of the women and one child having died as will be seen by the enclosed letter during their stay in this Island. Yet, when only 3 women and a child arrived, McLeay never questioned why. Why had he not asked the Captain of the Orpheus how many women had been embarked?
The following day, Lieutenant Cooling replied to the Commissariat acknowledging receipt of payment for the passage of the much reduced group:
...Received from Dy Comy Genl. Wemyss by the Hands of DACG Ryrie, Five Pounds Sterling for the Passage of three Black Natives from Sydney to Launceston as per authority of the Colonial Secretary dated this day for which I have signed Triplicate Receipts. £5-0-0
Thus, a receipt issued in triplicate for £5-0-0, and witnessed, yet nobody questioned the whereabouts of the unaccounted for woman or, for that matter, the £20 charged for her passage which had not eventuated. Cooling was also entrusted with a letter from McLeay to be delivered to his Van Diemen’s Land counterpart, John Burnett:
…I am directed by the Governor to acquaint you, for the information of His Excellency Lieutenant Governor Arthur, that two Black Women and a Child, Natives of Van Diemen's Land who had been left on the Island of Rodrigues by the Master of the Schooner Hunter, and forwarded hither by the Government of the Mauritius, now proceed to Launceston on board of the Ship Admiral Cockburn, Capt. Cooling, their passage money having been paid here.
A third woman, who accompanied them is now in the Hospital at this place, and will follow as quickly as practicable; and by that, or some earlier opportunity I shall do myself the honor of transmitting Copies of the Communications received from the Mauritius Government.
The preceding letter confirms that only 2 women and a child were embarked on the ship, along with 70 tons of the sugar, part of the cargo that had been brought from the Isle of France per the Orpheus. The Admiral Cockburn, Captain Cooling, sailed from Sydney on 22 May 1827 and upon leaving the harbour turned southward. Within a day’s sailing the Admiral Cockburn would have passed the Hunter heading northward towards Sydney. Perhaps the women saw their former ship in passing. The Hunter, with a cargo of sundries (likely to have been wheat and potatoes) arrived at Sydney on 23 May 1827. McLeay upon learning of the Hunter being in the Cove soon sent a letter to the “Master of the schooner Hunter”. Although James Craig was still the schooner’s master for the time being, it was the Mate, possibly acting Master, Joseph Peters who ‘drew the short straw’ to responded to the Colonial Secretary:
…Certain Women Natives of Van Diemen's Land who were disembarked from the Vessel now under your command and left on the Island of Rodrigues in the month of May 1826, having been conveyed to the Mauritius, and lately forwarded hither by the Government of that Island at an expense of One Hundred and Forty eight Pounds exclusive of the Sum paid for their further passage to their Native Country. I am directed by His Excellency the Governor to call upon you to state what explanation you can give, what are the Names of the Owners of the Vessel; and whether you are prepared to pay the above sum on their account—…
Peters responded promptly and in doing so provided a less than truthful explanation of how the “Certain Women Natives of Van Diemen’s Land” had been recruited on King Island, how they were subsequently left on Rodrigues and why they had not been picked up as had been arranged. He did, however, clarify the ownership of the schooner:
In reply to your letter of the 2d inst. requiring me to give explanation relative to certain Women, Natives of Van Diemen's Land who were disembarked at the Island of Rodrigues and have since been brought from the Mauritius to Sydney, I beg to observe that I was mate on board the schooner Hunter in May 1826 then on a sealing Voyage from Sydney to the south Coast of New Holland with an intention to touch at the Island of St Pauls and afterwards to proceed on her Voyage to the Mauritius— When the Schooner arrived at King's Island in Basses Straights we found 3 Men (2 Englishmen and 1 Otaheitan) and 5 Native Women of Van Diemen's Land.— The Supercargo (Mr Robinson) and the then Master James Craig, agreed to take the whole of these People, by their own urgent requests to the Island of St Pauls for the express purpose of assisting in the procuring of seal Skins but owing to bad weather, could not land on the Island and was obliged to steer for the Mauritius, but touching at the Island of Rodrigue they wished to be landed with their own boat, till the Schooner returned, but on her homeward passage from the Mauritius the weather was so very impetuous she could not possibly make the Island was obliged to bear away for Van Diemen's Land where she arrived in the month of October last. The Owners are Frederick Champion of Hobart Town and Alexander Charlton of Launceston, and relative to the payment of the £148 incurred on their account I do not possess the means.
So, it wasn't Robinson who wanted to return to his former hunting ground? He was just satisfying the "urgent requests" of the group he happened to encounter on King Island who wished to be taken to "St. Pauls". Definitely a distortion of events. The New South Wales Colonial Secretary did not pursue the matter further with Craig, Peters or with Robinson who was the Supercargo for the voyage. The Admiral Cockburn reached George Town on 4 June 1827 and, finally, Launceston on 8 June 1827. The much-reduced group of “Certain Black Women, Natives of Van Diemen’s Land” were back on Van Diemen’s Land soil if not “on country”. Lieutenant Cooling had passed McLeay’s letter to Edward Abbott, the Civil Commandant of Port Dalrymple. Abbott wrote to John Burnett advising him that the group had arrived and consequently he had “…judged [it] right to victual them on His Majesty's Store, and to cause them to be taken care of…”. Whilst Abbott waited for instructions, the 200-ton brig Ann, John Grimes master, returned to Sydney entering the Cove by midnight moonlight on 11/12 June 1827 after an extended voyage to Melville Island, Timor, and King George’s Sound. On board the Ann were 12 sealers from 2 or, possibly, 3 ships, and 3 Aboriginal women who had been embarked at the latter port of call. The following day McLeay once again put quill to paper to write to Burnett to appraise him of the recovery of several Aboriginal women:
Referring to my letter of 22d May last, No. 24, which appraised you that certain Black Women, Natives of Van Diemen's Land, who had been left at the Island of Rodrigues by the Master of the Schooner Hunter and sent to this Colony by the Mauritius Government, were then forwarded to Launceston on board of the Admiral Cockburn, I am directed by the Governor to transmit copies of the papers mentioned in the annexed list, connected with the subject, and to request that, placing them before Lieutenant Governor Arthur. You will solicit His Excellency to cause steps to be taken for the recovery from Messrs Champion of Hobart Town, and Charlton of Launceston, the Owners of the Hunter, of the expense of £148 ~ ~ One Hundred and forty eight Pounds therein mentioned as incurred by the Government of the Mauritius, and of £5 ~ ~ Five Pounds paid here on account of these people.
I am also directed to request that you will submit for the consideration of His Excellency the Lieutenant Governor the property of such legal measures being taken, if practicable, against the Parties concerned, as may prevent the repetition of so cruel an act in future.
A week later McLeay wrote to Burnett again:
With reference to my letters of the 22d ultimo, and 13th instant, Nos. 24 and 30, on the subject of Aboriginal Women of Van Diemen's Land forwarded to Launceston by the ship Admiral Cockburn, I have the honor to acquaint you, for the information of His Excellency the Lieutenant Governor that three more are now proceeding to the same place on board of the cutter Governor Arthur—One of these arrived with those above mentioned from Rodrigues and the Mauritius, but was too ill at the time of their departure to accompany them. The others were lately forwarded from King Georges Sound, at the same time with a Party of Sealers, by the Commandant of that Settlement—.
The Terms on which their passage has been engaged, as reported by the Deputy Commissary General, are £2 ~ ~ Two Pounds for each payable on arrival, and the Provisions consumed by them to be returned by Government in kind—
The 3 Aboriginal women on board the cutter Governor Arthur were the member of the original gang recruited at King's Island whom had been admitted to hospital upon reaching Sydney and two other women recovered from King George's Sound. The latter duo's names, albeit not their native names, were recorded as Dinah and Mooney. The former, Dinah, had apparently been taken from Van Diemen's Land to Kangaroo Island by a sealer from where she then accompanied him to King George's Sound on the colonial schooner Governor Brisbane. The latter, Mooney, also originally from Van Diemen's Land, had apparently been embarked on the Hunter at Kangaroo Island when it stopped there during August & September 1825. The Governor Arthur, Hassell master, sailed from Sydney on 22 June 1827 and reached Launceston on 7 July 1827. The provisions to be returned by the “Government in kind” for the 2 groups of repatriated women amounted to 35¼ lb of flour and 34¼ lb of salt pork; measured to the ¼ lb! The Deputy Commissary General also joined the bureaucratic fray with a brief note to the master of the Cutter Governor Arthur, John Hassell, authorising him to receive £2 payment for each of the 3 women. The Governor Arthur arrived at Launceston on 7 July 1827 and the women transferred into the care of Abbott who then wrote to Lieutenant Governor Arthur via Burnett:
Please to acquaint the Lieutenant Governor that the Governor Arthur has landed here under the authority of the Government of New So. Wales, Three Native black women and four of their dogs. I [have?] put them in the [Here?], but, I beg to be favoured with His Excellency's commands about these people; as this make five women and a child now, under the charge of Jones, at the Penitentiary; It is of course attended with some inconveniency keeping them there.
Their dogs are a nuisance, but it would excite their [----tonent?] and a breach of hospitality were we to destroy them.
It must be said that the Colonial authorities at the 3 colonies had displayed remarkable sensitivity toward the women and their children (and their dogs). Regardless of the apparent care afforded to the women, on 26 August 1827, 7 weeks after the second group were disembarked at Launceston, Abbott was compelled to write to Burnett again:
I beg leave to report to you for the information of the Lieutt. Governor, that, one of the five black native women, who came here from Sydney, died last Wednesday; the complaint was an inflammation of the lungs; her remains were deposited on the outside of the burying ground; three of the remaining [Natives?] attended the corpse to the grave; there and all their way to it cried bitterly.
The unfortunate woman who died was not afforded the dignity of a name, so it is not known if she was a member of the original King Island group who had been repatriated from Mauritius or one of those who had been “forwarded” from King George’s Sound.
In Sydney, bureaucracy relentlessly pressed on. Colonial Secretary McLeay was still concerned with the recovery of the expenses arising from Robinson’s voyage in the Hunter. On 1 October 1827, McLeay again wrote to Burnett notifying the latter that he had also written to the Acting Chief Secretary of Mauritius, Archibald W. Blane, to notify him that he should ensure that the charges were entered into the ledger against the Van Diemen’s Land account rather than the New South Wales account:
I have had the honor to receive and submit to the Governor your letter of the 3rd Ultimo, stating in reply to mine of 13 June, No. 30, that had not Messrs Champion and Charlton, Owners of the schooner “Hunter”, been both insolvent, His excellency Lieutenant Governor Arthur would not have failed to institute proceedings against them for recovery of the expenses incurred on account of certain Black Women who had been landed from that vessel in the Island of Rodrigues, and forwarded by the Government of the Mauritius to this Colony.
In reply, I have the honor to draw Your attention to that part of the communications from the Chief Secretary at the Mauritius, dated 28 February 1827 (a copy of which has been forwarded to you) where it is stated that the sum of £148.0.0, One Hundred and forty eight Pounds has been charged the Government of this Colony, and I am directed to acquaint you for the information of His Excellency the Lieutenant Governor, that as the Women alluded to were Natives of Van Diemen’s Land, and the owners of the vessel also resident there, it appears to the Governor that the amount above mentioned ought to have been charged against that Government, as distinguished from that of New South Wales.
A communication, requesting that this may be done, has accordingly been addressed to the Chief Secretary, A. Blane.
The remark regarding Alexander Charlton and Frederick Champion being insolvent is a puzzle. It is not evident that they were even in partnership having gone dissolved their partnership only 3 weeks after their purchase of the Hunter. If, in fact, they were insolvent, they did not go through the usual rather public process that other insolvents endured. As far as can be ascertained, Robinson never suffered any consequences for abandoning his sealing gang(s). It seems likely that Archibald Blane in Mauritius likely heeded the advice of Alexander McLeay in Sydney and amended his colony's ledger to show the expense as a charge against Van Diemen's Land rather than New South Wales. In summary: Of the 5 women and 3 children who had departed King's Island on 5 August 1825, three women and a child arrived at Launceston 23 months after their departure. They were subsequently joined by 2 of the 3 women who had been forwarded from King George's Sound; the fate of the third woman of this latter group is unknown. After the death of the woman at Launceston, the fate of the survivors is unrecorded apart a brief reference to their amazing experience which arose more than 5 years later when James Backhouse and George Washington Walker, members of the Religious Society of Friends, commonly known as Quakers, visited the Aboriginal settlement on Flinders Island which had been formed following Lieutenant Governor Arthur’s campaign to end hostilities between the Aboriginal inhabitants of Van Diemen’s Land and the British settlers invading their lands. Backhouse, on 9 October 1832, recorded in his journal:
…The settlement consists of an oblong area close to the shore, surrounded except on the east by a slight fence of boughs ten feet high to cut off the wind. Within it are a number of small huts for the officers, stores, etc. and three large ones for the Aborigines. We visited the latter, who were chiefly, with their dogs, seated around their fires roasting mutton birds and wallabies. They made many expressions of pleasure, some in their own language and others in English, which a few of them can speak tolerably well. A few know a little French, having at one period been some time at the Isle of France, where they were taken by a whaling vessel.
With that observation, an extraordinary story came to an end.
Timeline — Aftermath
- 3 AUG 1825 Schooner Hunter departed King's Island with 3 sealers, 5 Aboriginal women, 3 children;
- ?? AUG-SEP 1825 (6 weeks) Hunter visited Kangaroo Island, recruited others gang members;
- ?? OCT 1825 Kangaroo I. gang (plus Aboriginal women?) left at King George's Sound, sailed westward;
- ?? OCT 1825 King I. gang left at King George's Sound while Hunter returned to Launceston;
- 9 MAR 1826 King I. gang picked up from King George's Sound, 5-man gang left;
- 25 MAY 1826 King I. gang left at Rodrigues while Hunter continued to Isle of France;
- 12 DEC 1826 Arrived at Port Louis, Isle of France per schooner Deux Charles & boat;
- 4 JAN 1827 Death of Waterip~ in Civil Government Hospital Port Louis due to dysentry;
- 30 JAN 1827 Death of unidentified child due to "dentition";
- 11 MAR 1827 Ship Orpheus, Duff master, departed Port Louis, with 4 women?, 1 child;
- 12 MAY 1827 Ship Orpheus arrived Sydney with 3 women, 1 child of King I. gang;
- 22 MAY 1827 Ship Admiral Cockburn, Capt. Cooling, with 2 women, 1 child departed Sydney;
- 23 May 1827 Schooner Hunter, Craig master, arrived at Sydney from Launceston;
- 11 JUN 1827, Ship Admiral Cockburn, after calling at George Town, arrived at Launceston.
- 11 JUN 1827 Brig Ann, Grimes, arrived Sydney from King George's Sound, 12 sealers, 3 women;
- 22 JUN 1827 Cutter Governor Arthur, departed Sydney for Launceston with 1 + 2 women;
- 7 JUL 1827 Cutter Governor Arthur arrived Launceston;
- 20 AUG 1827 Death of unnamed woman at Launceston, interred outside burial ground;
- 9 OCT 1832 James Backhouse, A few Aborigines know a little French,...
Visit the stories of Robinson's other castaways:
Castaways 1; Major Lockyer's ...complete set of pirates
Castaways 3; Robinson's Crusoes
- Copyright for the extracts from the file CSO 1/121/3067 resides entirely with the Tasmanian Archives & Heritage Office (TAHO); for the narrative text, the author is Daniel K. 'Dan' Cerchi (aka Dan Farrar, profile manager for this page), Melbourne, Australia, 2021. Be mindful of the 35 years of research and the eye-watering expense incurred in visiting the key places mentioned in this work: Isle of France (Mauritius), Île Saint-Paul, Île Amsterdam, King George Sound, Recherche Archipelago.
- ↑ TAHO; CSO 1/121/3067, pp. 67-116; aka “Certain Black Women Natives of Van Diemen’s Land.” This extensive correspondence file was requested from the then Archives Office of Tasmania on 23 MAY 2003; 49 pages as 37 A3 photocopies were supplied. The following transcriptions are by Daniel K. Cerchi aka Dan Farrar, the Profile Manager. The file is composed of 26 documents which contain correspondence between the authorities at Isle of France (Mauritius), New South Wales, and Van Diemen’s Land plus other documents. The order of the documents within the file are arranged inconsistently. A “List of Papers” which identified the “purport” of 14 documents sent to the Colonial Secretary of Van Diemens Land is at pp. 83-85. These documents are numbered from (1) through (14). Doubt not that bureaucracy can be confusing! For clarity of the narrative, the documents are arranged here in date order, location, & file page number, then the original heading (typically an item number not necessarily in sequence) in bold.
- ↑ TAHO; CSO 1/121/3067, pp. 95-97. The copy was signed by John Finniss, Acting Chief of Police.
- ↑ TAHO, CUS33/1/3 p. 137. CSO 1/121/3067, pp. 91-94 (1st part).
- ↑ TAHO, CUS33/1/3 p. 137. CSO 1/121/3067, pp. 91-94 (2nd part).
- ↑ TAHO, CUS33/1/3 p. 137. CSO 1/121/3067, pp. 91-94 (4th part, an afterthought, moved up).
- ↑ TAHO; CSO 1/121/3067, p. 98, item (5); a true copy witnessed by John Finniss, Actg Chief Comr of Police.
- ↑ Mauritius Gazette, No. 61, Saturday, 3 June 1826, Govt. Notices (part 2), p. 6.
- ↑ Hobart Town Gazette, 28/10/1826, p. 3 (Trove).
- ↑ Mauritius Gazette, No. 61 Saturday 3 June 1826, Govt. Notices (part 2), p. 5. The Gazette was a bi-lingual publication. This notice was published in French, followed in English. Copper sheeting was used as an anti-fouling measure and to prevent attack on the ship's timbers by worms.
- ↑ Mauritius Gazette, No. 62 Saturday 10 June 1826, Govt. Notices (part 2), p. 4.
- ↑ Mauritius Gazette, No. 70, Saturday, 5 August 1826, Govt. Notices (part 2), p. 4.
- ↑ Mauritius Gazette, No. 72, Saturday, 19 August 1826, Govt. Notices (part 2), p. 3.
- ↑ TAHO; CSO 1/121/3067, pp. 114-5, item (B No. 39); A letter from Alfred Stephen dated 18 June 1829. No source for this statement has been found in contemporaneous records. Perhaps 'somebody' had spoken with Robinson.
- ↑ Colonial Times and Tasmanian Advertiser, 20/10/1826, pp. 2, 3 (Trove), (Trove)
- ↑ Colonial Times and Tasmanian Advertiser, 10/11/1826, p. 2 (Trove).
- ↑ Nicholson, 1983, p. 120, apparently citing TAHO; CSO 63/1/1 p. 249; Hobart Town Gazette, 11/11/1826, p. 2 (Trove).
- ↑ HRA Series 3, Vol. 4, p. 458, dated “George Town, 20 Nov., 1826.”
- ↑ Colonial Times and Tasmanian Advertiser, 1/12/1826, p. 3 (Trove), this report incorrectly stated “Tuesday last”. The news must have taken a day to reach Launceston.
- ↑ TAHO, CUS33/1/3 p. 137. CSO 1/121/3067, pp. 91-94 (3rd part).
- ↑ TAHO; CSO 1/121/3067, pp. 89, 90; John Finniss, Acting Chief Commissioner of Police to A. W. Blane, Acting Chief Secretary to Government.
- ↑ Robert Montgomery Martin; Statistics of the Colonies of the British Empire in the West Indies, South America, North America, Asia, Austral-Asia, Africa and Europe, Wm. H. Allen & Co., London, 1839, p. 503.
- ↑ The Orpheus, Duff master, had originally sailed from London via Rio de Janiero to Sydney where it arrived on 13 September 1826 carrying a contingent of the NSW Corps. It had then sailed from Sydney on 11 October 1826 bound for the Isle of France where it was "lying in the harbour" on 30 January 1827. The Australian (Sydney, NSW), 3/4/1827, p. 3 (Trove).
- ↑ TAHO; CSO 1/121/3067, p. 101; Dated, 24 February 1827, Port Louis.
- ↑ TAHO; CSO 1/121/3067, pp. 86-88. A. Wm. Blane to Alex McLeay.
- ↑ TAHO; CSO 1/121/3067, Port Louis, pp. 99-100; Port Louis, Isle of France, 3 March 1827.
- ↑ The Sydney Gazette and New South Wales Advertiser, 14/5/1827, p. 2 (Trove)
- ↑ TAHO; CSO 1/121/3067, p. 102; Sydney, New South Wales, 12 May 1827.
- ↑ TAHO; CSO 1/121/3067, p. 103; Sydney, New South Wales, 14 May 1827.
- ↑ TAHO; CSO 1/121/3067, p. 104; Sydney, New South Wales, 21 May 1827.
- ↑ TAHO; CSO 1/121/3067, pp. 70-71. Alex McLeay to Lt. Cooling R.N.
- ↑ TAHO; CSO 1/121/3067, p. 106; Sydney, New South Wales, 22 May 1827. The receipt was witnessed by John Terry.
- ↑ TAHO; CSO 1/121/3067, p. 67 [& Note p. 68]; Sydney, New South Wales, 22 May 1827.
- ↑ The Sydney Gazette and New South Wales Advertiser, 25/5/1827, p. 2 (Trove).
- ↑ TAHO; CSO 1/121/3067, p. 107; Sydney, New South Wales, 2 June 1827.
- ↑ TAHO; CSO 1/121/3067, pp. 108-9; Sydney, New South Wales, 7 June 1827.
- ↑ The Australian (Sydney), 13/6/1827, p. 2 (Trove); The Sydney Gazette and New South Wales Advertiser, 13/6/1827, p. 2 (Trove), each of which included an extended report of the voyage. The 3 ships from which the sealers had been left behind were confusedly identified in the reports as the Hunter, Governor Brisbane and the Belinda. The first report included the snippet that the Commandant of Melville Island was reduced to a diet of rice and bandicoots!
- ↑ TAHO; CSO 1/121/3067, pp. 73-4 [& Note p. 75].
- ↑ TAHO; CSO 1/121/3067, pp. 78-9. Alexander Mcleay to John Burnett, esq.
- ↑ The Sydney Gazette and New South Wales Advertiser, 25/6/1827, p. 7 (Trove); Colonial Times and Tasmanian Advertiser (Hobart, Tas.), 13/7/1827, p. 2 (Trove).
- ↑ TAHO; CSO 1/121/3067, pp. 76-7. A. E. Abbott to John Burnett, esq.
- ↑ TAHO; CSO 1/121/3067, pp. 81-2. E. A. Abbott to John Burnett Esq.
- ↑ TAHO; CSO 1/121/3067, pp. 110-111.; Sydney, New South Wales, 1 October 1827. Alex. McLeay to John Burnett Esq.
- ↑ Journal of James Backhouse, 1832; reproduced in N. J. P. Plomley; Weep in Silence, Blubber Head Press, Hobart, 1987, pp. 224, 246 and note 7, p. 280. The note is confusing in that it seems to conflate several French speaking women at different locations. Further the date should read 12 November 1832, rather than 12 December 1832. Two women were identified in the note as Bung and Jackey. Jackey and another woman, Maria, had been ‘liberated’ from sealers at Circular Head by Ensign W. J. Darling, the Commandant on the Island, nearly a month after Backhouse’s visit to Flinders Island.