'Observations made on a journey to the natives at Toorbal, August 1841' (Part Two)

The Zion Hill Mission was founded as a Lutheran/Presbyterian/Pietist mission during 1838 in what would later become Nundah, Brisbane. This was the first free European settlement in the region, which was still the Moreton Bay Penal Settlement. The missionaries had limited success in converting the local Aboriginal people to Christianity.

In August 1841, the Rev. Christopher Eipper and Gottfried Wagner went north to an Aboriginal initiation ceremony at Toorbul. On this journey they were guided by Wunkermany and two other Aboriginal men from the Mission. The journal of this trip gives a valuable insight into the social landscape of the time, with some amusing incidents demonstrating a sense of humour on both sides. This is Part Two:



Old missionary cottages on Zion's Hill, Nundah, ca. 1895. John Oxley Library.

Observations made on a journey to the natives at Toorbal, August 1841 (Part One)

Colonial Observer (Sydney), 21 October 1841

'Observations made on a journey to the natives at Toorbal, Aug. 2, 1841.

By the Rev. Christopher Eipper, of the German Mission to the Aborigines at Moreton Bay.

(concluded from our last.)

Monday, August 9. - We went to have a view of the neighbouring island, Yarun*, to which its inhabitants had invited us. For this purpose we had to cross two arms of the bay in a canoe of the natives, which was just large enough to hold us both and two young men to row it. These canoes consist of one piece or sheet of bark, each end of which is gathered up into a bundle, a stick forced through it to form it into the shape of a bow. The edges of the sheet are strengthened with strong pieces of split cane, which are fastened on with small cords of cane wound over them and carried through small holes of the bark; two or three ties are fastened across these edges at different places; lest the sides should bend so low as to let the water in. Our vessels were thus certainly not very convenient, as we had to sit almost immoveable and could not stretch our feet; yet it was comparatively safe, at least, the natives, who love life as well as any one, consider it to be so; they know well that their vessel cannot stand against wind and waves, therefore they would not venture to cross if the sea were ruffled but slightly.

The natives of Toorbal had all along expressed a desire that we should cultivate ground at their own places of abode, and especially Naimany, the Lord of Yarun, wished us to do so on his island, but we found the soil very sandy, so that we could think of acceding to his wishes. We went across the island to the sea coast, when we found that we were about seven miles outside Moreton Bay, Moreton Island lying to the southwest from us. Our two natives had not taken the least provision with them; they had only tasted a little dangum on our arrival on the island in the morning, which some old women had given them ; they would therefore fain have stayed on the beach to gather nugire, a small shell-fish in a blue shell (in taste it resembles that of the oyster) and dig dangum in the neighbouring swamps. The sky was, however, threatening rain, and as we heard that on the beach opposite the mainland, large huts would be found, we crossed the island again, and spent the night in one of those huts. They were certainly the best constructed and largest huts we ever have seen, some about twenty feet in length and all well covered; the sticks which formed the frame-work were so nicely joined that they might remind one of a gothic archway. As a small fire could not be kept up inside without being incommoded by the smoke, we were very warm and comfortable, for without, the wind and waves were howling dreadfully, so that we had scarcely any hope to be able to cross Deception Bay the next morning. Here we took our last provisions for supper; of which our hungry boatmen also partook.

The next morning the wind blew very fresh, but fell off about ten o'clock; we had fortunately espied a canoe on the beach, in which we could at once cross over to the main land; otherwise we should have. been obliged to return by the same way by which we came over yesterday, and have lost therewith the whole day. Here we saw also the junction of Moreton and Deception Bay. Having crossed the latter, we went for some time along the beach, and then turned westward, but our guides took first their breakfast out of the swamps, and being young men th'y were very particular to dress themselves carefully before they made their appearance again in the camp, significantly replying to our enquiry, why they did so, the ladies will see us. 

In the afternoon our attention was suddenly arrested by a great noise, caused by beating sticks together, and as we saw all the women run with their long and pointed sticks, which are used in digging dangum; we ran also to ascertain what this meant. But what a scene did we behold! The whole of the women were engaged in a regular battle; it was quite overwhelming to look at this fight of women, than which no contest of men could be fiercer; some had actually froth before their mouth. Each had her antagonist, who parried her blow by holding, her stick between her fingers over head; and then immediately returned the stroke, which was parried in the same way; when they got close together, they took hold of one another, each endeavouring to throw the other down. Some had their fingers and elbows bleeding when we arrived; but unable to look at it any longer, we rushed betwixt them, and at last succeeded in separating them at the peril of getting a few blows; They then settled the matter seemingly with words. It was a love affair that had brought the whole sex to arms. Some old women, however, were very much displeased, and pointed their spears at ours; yea, one threw it at Mr. E.

The late execution of the supposed murderers of Mr. Stapylton has had thus far a salutary effect upon them, as they have a great fear of being brought before the Commandant at Brisbane Town; thus, when we wishing to know the cause of this quarrel used a word similar in sound to Brisbane Town, whether they were immediately frightened, and enquired if I would tell the Commandant of this quarrel they would be pulled up; on other occasions they begged we would not tell. the Commandant anything, because it was only a trivial thing. They seem nevertheless to have well understood the nature of the punishment and of the crime for which it was inflicted; for some said that next their king must be pulled up, who killed not less than ten black men.

Of the women, that soft sex, we could thus form no good opinion, especially when the next morning two were again found fighting, whose husbands were quietly looking on as the wives beat each other; we separated them, threatening we should tell the Commandant of their quarrels. The men were certainly upon the whole as bad in their way, with the exception of a few, who by their conduct gave us great joy; one, whose wife was sick, desired us to pray for her recovery, who. appeared to be really concerned for his partner, to whom with another sick woman we sometimes gave some rice and tea. Wunkermany used to kneel down with us to prayer. In the night the young men had a dance, for which they had painted upon their bodies stripes with clay; the women and girls beat time by clapping their hands against their laps as they were sitting upon the ground; they sang also, or rather repeated a few words in a singing tone. Their dancing does not exactly consist in jumping or moving about, but in a measured movement of arms and limbs to the right and left. We did not really expect to see so much propriety on such an occasion; we were much more disgusted with the appearance of. young girls and women, their nakedness appeared more offending than ever before.

When the Toorbal and Bonyer natives heard that we had not found the soil of Yarun eligible for cultivation, they seemed to rejoice in it, and invited us to inspect their own ground tomorrow. Accordingly we went on.

Wednesday, Aug. 11. - Went with a great number of the Bonya natives to their own ground - the distance is not very great, but as they were hunting kangaroo it was late in the evening when we arrived at the place where we were to spend the night. For the chase of kangaroo they have nets which they place across an open plain, wherever they have seen the walks of their prey. They prefer, and if possible, select a place which is enclosed by water, so that the kangaroos when driven and frightened by their shouting, are sure to come against the nets, where some men are stationed to despatch them with the spear or club. Whoever spears a kangaroo has the right to take the skin, to choose the best part for himself, and, to divide it as he likes, which is generally done neatly, but sometimes strife ensues through their greediness. Otherwise, without nets and driving it is a mere accident if they catch a kangaroo; We started two large kangaroos before the nets were put up, which the natives suffered to escape without troubling themselves to spear them.

On several occasions, and particularly in the following instance, we found the natives labouring under the mistake or rather superstition, that out of a book we could know what had happened at a distance or who had stolen any article. The party had separated itself into two divisions, one of which was joined by Mr. W. to continue the chase, whilst Mr. E., whose foot was sore, went with the other slowly, when at last they stopped by a fire to wait for the others. There they roasted some snakes, which they had killed, and a sucking kangaroo; but all at once they desired Mr.' E. to look into his book, and to find out if Mr, W. with the other party, had killed a kangaroo; and when Mr. E., knowing what they meant, told them that he had no book with him, one of them untied Mr. W.'s bundle, and taking out his New Testament, opened it, saying, Mr. Wagner, large kangaroo, after which he shut and replaced it. This superstition has arisen from a very unpleasant circumstance: one of our brethren had his axe stolen by the natives, which another of the brethren mentioned to a third, who had a book in his hand, and was reading in the hearing of some natives, and as this person knew already the name of the thief, he mentioned it to the one who had addressed him, which led the natives to conclude that he had this knowledge out of his book. Thus we were applied to by Wunkermany to look into our book who bad stolen his pipe.

The ground over which we went this day was very good, and the natives were very particular in asking us for our opinion of it, and took great delight in pointing out to us their respective property. We spent the night on the edge of a large swamp, to which late in the evening our kangaroo hunters resorted. They had not been very successful, having killed only one small kangaroo, of which they gave us a bit of the tail and part of the leg; expressing at the same time their regret that we had so little to eat. Of the rest of the kangaroo more than ten men were participating; but some made up their meal with other animals they had met with on the chase; for one had an oppossum, another a snake, a third a guana, &c. When it was night we held our evening worship; most of them had never heard us sing, and they showed great delight at it, requesting to hear more, for it did them good in their belly.

Thursday, August 12. - The next morning it was resolved, that they would first go to the sea and catch fish, and gather oysters, and from thence they would conduct us to the mountains. But as our guides, when leaving Zions-hill, had only spoken of a weeks absence, and as our brethren might begin to be concerned for our safety; Mr. E. thought better to go back to Toorbal, and from thence to return home, whilst Mr. W. would make a longer stay in order to. visit the mountains. One of the natives was appointed to conduct Mr. E. back to Toorbal, where he arrived about noon. From thence Wunkermany and Jemmy Millboong conducted him to Twinshills. They took partly a different road from that by which we had come to Toorbal; the Deception River was crossed at its mouth by swimming across, but the place, where we had deposited wine and provisions, on the way to Toorbal, we were not able to reach that day, as my foot was still sore, and Wunkermany had run a thorn into his heel, since Monday last we had entirely been subsisting upon the natives' food, viz, pounded dangum and Kangaroo flesh, which we boiled with a little salt. This day I had eat nothing except a small bit of Kangaroo flesh; and drank the water in which it had been boiled, I felt consequently very hungry, especially after travelling more than twenty miles and swimming across three Rivers; The night. also was the worst I have spent on this journey; as my clothes had got wet when swimming through the rivers, so that I had no cover for the night.

Friday, August 13. - On the morning, we continued our journey until we came to the spot where our provisions lay, where we made a hearty meal. In the afternoon we crossed the Pine River, and on approaching the second arm thereof were not a little surprised, to be overtaken by Mr. Wagner and two natives, who had this day come all the way from Toorbal. The natives had, after my departure changed their mind, and would not' go to the mountains, because they had not their wives with them; Mr. W. therefore had returned with them to Toorbal the evening before, and early in the morning his brother Anbaybury had conducted him with two other natives to the Deception River by the road, which we had come to Toorbal; but when Anbaybury did not find there my footsteps, he insisted that I had not yet returned, but had gone fishing with the Toorbal natives, and declared his intention to return, whereby the two others became also wavering.,Mr. W. however, took up his bundle, saying he would go on, although he was sure to lose his way; this moved thereby these two so much, that they sprang up and took his things, saying they would go with him, When he joined me he had not tasted anything this day, but taking a crust of bread with his two companions, he went on at so brisk a rate that I with my sore foot and tired guides could not follow him; he reached Zion's Hill a good while before me, having travelled this one day upwards of fifty miles.

This Anbaybury is a shrewd little man, as the following anecdote will show. He said one day to Mr W; that when he (A.) was at Zion's Hill, he did everything for Mr. W., fetch wood and water, bark, prepare clay, chop wood, work the ground with the hoe, &c. Now, as Mr. W. had come to his abode, he ought to do the same for him ( A.) Mr. W. told him it was quite right that he had done so, for he had paid him well; but he ought to consider that he (Mr. W.) was a missionary and Anbaybury black fellow. Now, as he had come to him to Toorbal to visit him, it was a shame that he, as his brother, had never come to fetch wood or water for him, nor had he built a hut to live in it. When he heard this, he changed his tone, and said, he would have done all for Mr. W. if he had come to the place where his tribe had their camp.

Mr. W. crossed after my departure from him over a creek, on the other side of which the territory of the Bonya natives begins, to which his brother. Anbaybury belongs; the soil here is very eligible for cultivation, and more so, the farther we went. At this the natives evinced great joy, saying, if we would bring hoes and axes with us their women should work, and they should hunt for us, and when the crops were ripe, they would not sleep but watch them. But it was necessary to have fire-arms, lest strange natives should rob them. They quite exhausted themselves in making promises of good behaviour and industry; but their joy was not quite pure, for we had before observed the whole of them moved by jealousy which tribe should have tho benefit of cultivation amongst them; every tribe striving to lower the other in our opinion; the Toorbal natives had said that the Bonya natives were liars, they would starve us if we went to them, &c. And when Anbaybury had silenced them in this respect sufficiently, they said, as we were leaving Toorbal, that the Bonya tribes would kill us. It was therefore the interest of the Bonya tribes to make a good impression upon our minds in their favour.

Concluding remarks.
This journey has inspired us with new hopes, that if we have but mastered the language of these aborigines, much may be done for them under the Divine blessing; we trust we have advanced one step further to this desired end by this journey, and if the brethren who are to follow us do a little more, the mount of this difficulty will, with the help of the spirit from on high, by degrees be surmounted. With regard to residing among the natives we think it quite safe; and we found no difficulty to to live upon such food which the natives eat, as dangum, oysters, fish, kangaroo, but not every stomach is able to bear it; once a day it may be required to have an European meal, rice, peas, pork, &c. In the morning we went about begging some pounded dangum for breakfast, which we never were refused; but fish and kangaroo, are not so easily obtained from the natives. It will not do, however, for any long time, to be left at the mercy of many, it is much better to attach oneself to one family, who will provide as well as they can for their guest; my brother Dunkely's wife was ever ready to pound dangum for me when I told her I was hungry, though she would have to borrow it.

We had opportunities to observe the manners and habits of the natives very closely, and found that the children are for the greatest part of the day idle at home, and that it would be proper to keep school with them, which we have recommended to the brethren who will have to go after us. Thus a sort of wandering school will in future be established among them. Of the wretched condition and degraded state of these heathens we have had additional experience; and our hearts have been stirred up within us to renew our exertions for their benefit, and to be more fervent in our intercessions at the throne of God for the outpouring of his spirit upon them. During the time of our absence our brethren at home have daily met for prayer; and since our return these exercises have been continued greatly to our refreshment, and we firmly believe to penultimate benefit, of these benighted heathen, God in his mercy and loving kindness will vouchsafe us an answer of peace to our supplications. May the day soon' dawn when they will be visited by the day-spring from on high by the tender mercy of God; and when praise will wait for him, not only in Zion, but also in the wilderness, and from the mouths of the redeemed natives at Moreton Bay.'

* Bribie Island