Part Three: their fate is so horrible


Chapter 11: Faraway Places

Paradise Row in Stockton-on-Tees, where William Bayley lived and raised his family. Nineteenth-century Black-and-white engraving, artist unknown.

Most of the relatives and friends of the missing passengers and crew lived in England, where there was a long delay on news from the Torres Strait. The letters they have left behind reveal the unwavering hope and deepening despair that inevitably follow in the wake of those who fail to make it home.

One of those relatives was William Bayley. Having received the two oldest D’Oyly boys into his home he had ensured they got a good education, sending them – in accordance with their mother’s wishes – to a private boarding school, that of a Dr Ferminger, near London. Bayley’s loyalty to the D’Oyly family was due to his devotion to his late wife Elizabeth. When she died in 1832 he had a tall marble monument erected in the Norton Church cemetery at Stockton-on-Tees, upon which he had inscribed a poem that concludes with the words:

And I–But ah, can words my loss declare, Or paint th’ extreme of transport and despair? Oh, thou, beyond what verse or speech can tell My guide, my friend, my best beloved, farewell!1

The verse was probably written by his friend, Thomas Wemyss, who also wrote a poetical lament for Bayley entitled Reflections in Norton Churchyard, which Bayley circulated in 1834. Wemyss was a teacher and bible scholar who edited the journal The Dissenter.

Norton Church near Stockton-on-Tees. Hand-tinted postcard c.1905, property of the author.

In her last letter to her brother-in-law, Charlotte had disclosed that she and her family were about to embark on the long sea voyage back to India, thereby causing anxiety until confirmation came of a safe journey ended. It never did come. By March 1835, Bayley must have known that the D’Oylys had been shipwrecked near the Torres Strait and, by September 1835, that there was a possibility they might still be alive. By that time, they had already been missing for 13 months. He was devastated by the news. He had in his charge two boys whose parents and brothers had been among those lost and speculation about their fate was rife.

Armed with what little he knew, he travelled down to London and called upon Sir John Burrow at the Admiralty, to request a rescue ship. Advised to put his request in writing, he sent Burrow an emotional appeal, inviting ‘the attention of His Majesty’s Government (through you) to one of the most dreadful cases of shipwreck and murder or slavery or both that perhaps ever occurred’. He added, ‘…as it is not unusual for the inhabitants of those Islands to preserve the females for purposes worse than death itself, I do implore the interference of His Majesty’s Government to send out a Frigate of War to rescue the poor surviving sufferers’.2

Governor Sir Richard Bourke. Mitchell Library, State Library of NSW. Artist unknown.

Burrow realised that Bayley’s appeal was based on speculation. He was sympathetic nonetheless, and passed it on to the Home Office, in charge of England’s colonies. A few days later the Home Secretary, Lord Glenelg, sent a dispatch to Governor Sir Richard Bourke at Sydney, instructing him ‘to adopt such measures as may appear to you most advisable for ascertaining the fate of these unfortunate persons, and for rescuing them from their present position’.3 Similar instructions were sent to Rear Admiral Capel, commander-in-chief on the British Navy’s East India station at Bombay. In those days, the Australian colonies were still under the East India station’s command. Since the information supplied was still scanty and without foundation, the usual practice in such cases was to instruct any ships passing through the area to inquire about any shipwreck survivors.

Bayley, meanwhile, continued to write letters to anyone he thought might have information or influence. Among the D’Oyly family’s relatives, imaginations were in full flight on both sides of the Indian Ocean, with particular concern reserved for Charlotte and her fancied existence as a sex slave. Bayley’s name was being mentioned in newspaper accounts, and he began to receive letters from anxious relatives and friends of the other missing passengers and crew.

One such letter was written by a Reverend at Dublin in Ireland. On Christmas Day 1835 he put aside church duties and festivities for a time to write to Bayley for information. ‘I had two friends on board the Charles Eaton – namely Captain Moore and Mr Armstrong,’ he wrote. ‘Paragraphs have appeared in the newspapers stating there was reason to believe the crew reached the Island of Timour [sic].’ He concluded that he entertained ‘very little hope’ that his two friends were still alive.4

In March 1836 the letter from the correspondent in Batavia, with the first brief statement about the four surviving shipwrecked sailors (Piggott having died at Batavia), arrived at Gledstanes. It was copied by their writers and distributed to interested persons. William Wardell – the coffee house proprietor and self-described bosom friend of Captain Moore and later the executor of his will – copied it again and passed it on to Bayley, who was both appalled and elated by its content. If nothing else, he thought, the sailors’ safe arrival at Batavia proved that survival in the seas north of Australia was possible.

A few days later an excited John Wardell sent Bayley a copy of the letter written by Captain Carr and just received by Gledstanes. In the letter, Carr claimed that there could be as many as nine shipwreck survivors at the Murray Islands. The news was ‘of such nature as to encourage the expectation of seeing or hearing of them again,’ wrote Wardell.5

Bayley immediately sent copies of both documents to Lord Glenelg at the Colonial Office, with his own distraught comment on the five sailors who had arrived at Batavia:

There had been a Mutiny on board, for why otherwise should they have left their Captain (Moore) clinging to the Main-chain, and my relatives Captain and Mrs. D’Oyly and their children standing near to the Captain, when the sea was so tremendous as to threaten immediate destruction to all remaining on board.6

Lord Glenelg sent another, more urgent, request to Sir Richard Bourke in Sydney, instructing him to ‘use every exertion in your power for the discovery of the sufferers and for relieving them from the deplorable position in which they are represented to be’.7

The Batavian deposition reached England in June 1836, and it, too, was distributed. John Wardell was greatly heartened by it, despite the grim nature of its content. He was confused about the difference between Timor Laut and the Torres Strait, and he wrote to Bayley, ‘I feel very confident about seeing our friends again; for it appears very evident it is not the custom of the natives to murder their prisoners.’8

Through all of this, no one supplied information to the chief mate’s father, the Rev. John Clare, and the same neglect applied to the families of the rest of the crew. With no news coming their way from Gledstanes, they had been depending on scraps of news picked up from shipping columns.

The Bushbury Church in Stafford where the chief mate, Fred Clare, spent his childhood. Black-and-white engraving published in The Romany Rye by George Borrow, 1903.

Clare was now an old and somewhat melancholy widower of 70. Although officially still the incumbent clergyman for the old Bushbury church in Staffordshire, he had abandoned the vicarage and moved to the Wolverhampton Deanery, where he had closer contact with his three spinster daughters and one other son, the Rev. George Clare, the first vicar of St. Georges at Wolverhampton.9 He knew that his son was assumed lost at sea, but the suspense of not knowing why so many rumours were circulating about survivors became intolerable. He contacted William Bayley, and thereafter the two men maintained a correspondence that sustained them both through their long wait for news. Clare found in Bayley a sympathetic friend who shared his family’s agony. He introduced himself to Bayley with the following letter:

My son was on board the CHARLES EATON, which, I am informed by the newspapers, has met with a disastrous fate; but the nature of that fate I cannot ascertain. In this dreadful state of hope and fear have I and my family been kept, for alas I cannot flatter myself that any rational gleam of hope can be indulged—if they are still alive, the state of slavery and misery in which they are left, is too appalling for the imagination to reflect upon. Perhaps the same wave that engulfed Captain D’Oyly has engulfed my son, and the same moment perhaps has closed the life and sufferings of both: pray communicate what you know, and do an act of kindness to an aged and unhappy father, who can too truly say, that since he heard of the melancholy fate of his son, he has never known a day of comfort, or a night of ease.10

Bayley sent Clare a warm and prompt reply, enclosing copies of Carr’s letter and the sailors’ Batavia deposition, the only fresh tidings he had at that time. Clare and his children eagerly received the information. Within days Clare was writing again to Bayley:

The depositions I have read with unwearied attention, and the result which burst upon my agonised heart is, if these are safe, why may not others be so? Every moment therefore, until the real fact is known, brings with it the alternative sensations of hope and fear, which the transition of a few months must make known to us.11

Clare was, by this time, one of Wolverhampton’s best-known citizens. An Oxford University masters graduate, he had been a lecturer in a protestant seminary for 10 years before becoming the vicar at the village of Bushbury, four miles from Wolverhampton. His teaching years had made him a confident and powerful speaker, capable of delivering stirring – if somewhat stern – sermons from his pulpit, for the benefit of his impoverished congregation of often unemployed coal-mine workers and farmers. Bushbury was part of England’s ‘black country’ of coalmines, but the workings around the village had already been largely exhausted.

For almost 40 years (1800–1839), Clare was also one of the region’s two senior magistrates. It was his true calling and career, but a position that he could only hold by also retaining his position as a clergyman. In order to be a magistrate in those days, one had to be either a member of the wealthy elite or aristocracy, or else you were a clergyman. Clare brought to the magistracy the disciplinary punishments of an old-fashioned religious zealot. The Sabbath day was sacrosanct and any indolent youth who failed to appreciate that fact was liable to end up in the town’s stocks for a few hours, where he had ample time to reflect upon his wicked ways.12 At the same time Clare tried to protect the interests of the poor, particularly against any unfair treatment at the hands of the wealthy mine owners who were the major employers.

The Black Country, Wolverhampton. Staffordshire was transformed by the industrial revolution and the demand for coal. Illustrated London News, 8 Dec., 1866. A representation of the impact of coal mining on rural life.

Clare was a pioneer in industrial relations, trying to tread a cautious path between the mine owners who fuelled the local economy and bands of angry workers who felt their labour was being misused or abused. The industrial revolution was transforming Staffordshire and the magistrates were a part of it. When one angry man damaged some mining property, the crime was such that any other magistrate might have handed down the sentence of transportation to Australia. Clare, however, upon hearing that the mine owner had failed to pay the man his due wages, let him off lightly.

On another occasion he read the Riot Act at a meeting of angry voters in Wolverhampton in his capacity as the local magistrate, and several people were injured – one child very seriously – when troopers opened fire. It was a sad day that tainted the melancholic old man’s reputation and fuelled the argument that clergymen had no business being magistrates. Clare was called before parliament to explain his decision to read the Riot Act but no further action was taken.13

Growing up in the Clare household could not have been easy, with a father who was loving but also judgmentally strict and devout. Clare was now a widower, and his ongoing religious responsibilities at the villages of Bushbury and nearby Wednesfield, where he was also the resident curate, consumed the lives of two of his three daughters. Every Sunday they travelled with him to one or other of the villages, to help him to conduct the service and organise the choir. His life was their life, and all three girls never married. His other son, George, also took up the religious profession and became a vicar. Fred was the adventurous one. He escaped the oppressive life in the Bushbury vicarage and went to sea, becoming a midshipman in the Honourable East India Company’s maritime service. He wrote to his father, probably from Madras (now Chennai), when he transferred across to the Charles Eaton as the second mate, but when he got to London he did not visit the old man and did not tell him that he had now been promoted to first mate. He was, in his own way, still a devout Christian but he had his own life to lead.

His father loved all of his children, but as is so often the case, he loved his absent son in a special way. He was powerless to control his son’s destiny as he controlled the lives of his daughters, and could do no more now than pray for his son’s deliverance from death or, if not that, then pray for his soul.

Every second Sunday the bell at the old Bushbury church would toll out across the valleys to call the faithful to church, and announce that the Rev. Clare was in attendance. Now the toll, toll, tolling of the bell had an especially haunting sound. There stood the old stuccoed vicarage that Clare had organised to have built for his young family, vacant now except for caretakers, and overlaid with images of his son as a child, playing in the long grass of the churchyard. Those images belonged to a simpler time, when Clare had presided over a community surrounded by pastures and sectioned by cottage lanes, where the only sound on most days was the rumbling of cartwheels.

The old man’s heart was breaking, but he tried to put aside his pain by immersing himself in his increasingly onerous duties as a chief magistrate for Stafford. Clare subsequently learned that the man-of-war Tigris had left Bombay on 24 March 1836, on a rescue mission to the Torres Strait. His friends had begun to add to the general pool of news and the old vicar was delighted to be able to make a contribution to the ongoing circulation of information.

A family friend in Sydney had written directly to Governor Bourke asking about any plans to rescue the shipwrecked passengers and crew. He was told that the colonial vessel Isabella would be sent to the Torres Strait to search for them and he immediately conveyed the news to the Clare family by the next ship to England. Another friend in London had been busy compiling news items collected from shipping columns, from which Clare learned that the ship Mercury was supposed to have proceeded with troops from Sydney to India via the Torres Strait, and intended to detour on the way through to look for the castaways. ‘It appears she did not get the troops,’ wrote a disappointed Clare, ‘and she did not sail through Torres Straits so that I must look to the Tigris alone.’14

William Wiseman, still commanding the ship Augustus Caesar, arrived in London in early September 1836 and was summoned on appeal from Bayley to appear before the Lord Mayor, Alderman Copeland, at Mansion House. Wiseman had been following the developments in the story with interest but in his deposition he could add nothing new to what was already known.

The ship Mangles arrived back at London in late September, more than 12 months after her visit to Mer. Captain Carr could hardly have been expecting a warm reception. James Drew, brother-in-law of Thomas Prockter Ching, a midshipman aboard the Charles Eaton, sought him out at the office of Mr Buckle, the then other part-owner (with Carr) of the Mangles,15 and his interview with the captain left him angry and dissatisfied. Carr, he complained, ‘gave a most meagre account of the circumstances’16. Nor was he happy with the responses of two of the ship’s mates, who ‘gave accounts which varied considerably’.17

In the end Drew managed to track down a sailor called Anderson who had been aboard the Mangles when Carr visited Mer, and he proved to be more forthcoming. He prepared a statement in which he outlined his own recollections of what had happened at Mer and received a half crown as payment from a grateful Drew. Anderson had corroborated what would later become Waki’s version of what had transpired. He would later admit to Carr, though, that he had been drunk when Drew interviewed him.18

Armed with Anderson’s testimony, the always impulsive and emotional Drew rushed down to the Lord Mayor and requested that his Lordship ‘give directions to the captain and crew [of the Mangles] to afford all information they possessed on the subject.’ He had reason, he said, ‘to suppose that more was known than had been stated’. Drew based his claim for the Lord Mayor’s assistance on the fact ‘that he had been on intimate terms of friendship with some of the unfortunate passengers, whose relatives and friends were in the most dreadful suspense as to their fate’ and also that he was ‘acquainted with Mr Bailey [sic]’.19 More importantly, his wife, Mary, was midshipman Tom Ching’s sister.

Drew was a partner in a wholesale and manufacturing pharmaceutical company called (at that time) Drew, Herward & Co., which had its premises in Great Trinity Lane, Bread street, close to Mansion House, the dockyards and Leadenhall Street. It was one of the largest wholesale druggists in London and in the 19th century it was a household name in England. His father-in-law, Thomas Ching Snr, was a druggist in Launceston, Cornwall, and Drew was also claiming intimacy with other members of the crew, including perhaps the other midshipman William Perry. He was well placed to take a prominent role on behalf of the Ching family and other anxious relatives and friends, and he plunged into that role with gusto. He had also contacted William Bayley in Stockton-on-Tees and the solicitor came to London to question Carr.

Alderman Copeland had previously shown deep interest in the mystery surrounding the Charles Eaton wreck and had personally interviewed William Wiseman, but on this occasion he refused to oblige. ‘Mr Buckle,’ he said, ‘was a person of first respectability and wholly incapable of concealing any information which it might be proper for the friends of the passengers and crew to receive.’20 Drew’s request, however, made it into the Times and brought the desired response from Buckle and Carr, with the latter not only volunteering to appear at Mansion House but also giving the London newspapers copies of his letter. Although it had already been published in China and Australia, it was the first time it had been released to the public in England. The Times published it on 4 November 1836 and like the Canton Register it added its own critical comment:

It appears extraordinary that on such an occasion as that described, more questions were not asked of the white man, and that, in fact, a narrative should have been written so destitute of minute particulars after so long a survey, and upon a subject of such deep and frightful interest…

At three o’clock on the same day that the above press item appeared, Carr appeared at Mansion House. Many relatives and friends of the missing passengers and crew, including William Bayley, attended the meeting. Drew and William Wardell were there, as also was the Rev. Mr. J. W. Worthington, from the parish of All Hallows London Wall.21

Questions came from the assembly and voices were raised in anger. Bayley was a solicitor and he listened patiently while Carr gave his by now standard testimony then began his cross examination:

BAYLEY:—Did not the European mention his name, or the number who were on the island?

CARR:—Not to my knowledge. He did not say a word to me, neither did the natives. His skin was of the colour of mahogany, and he was naked, with the exception of a piece of skin round his waist. He tried as I heard from part of my crew, to get into the jolly-boat, but the savages drew him back.

BAYLEY:—Did you offer any ransom for him?

CARR:—No. I told my men to lower the boat and take him in. There was no time. I afterwards thought the best thing I could do was to go ashore myself, and I accordingly went into the cutter with six men and my second officer, and approached the shore. They brought an European boy, who appeared to be nearly three years old, towards us, and I offered them some axes for the child.

BAYLEY:—What sort of child was he?

CARR:—He had light curly hair, and was naked. They brought down the boy evidently to induce us to land. I saw a matted bamboo screen, behind which there appeared to be several savages passing and repassing.

BAYLEY:—Did you not fancy you saw some white feet amongst them?

CARR:—No; but I saw a boat building about 30 or 40 yards off. The child was about six yards from me at the time. It was decidedly an European-built boat,22 five planked, and capable of carrying from 20 to 25 persons to Java, at that time of the year. It was built with planks, but of what kind of wood I cannot tell.

BAYLEY:—Did you not see a lady’s petticoat hanging on the bushes?

CARR:—I saw with my glass what appeared to me to be a female garment on the bushes; but I have, when I have touched at the island on previous occasions, given female apparel to the natives. On my previous voyage, I sent one of their females ashore dressed in Mrs. Carr’s clothes.

Then the Rev. J. W. Worthington asked some pertinent questions:

WORTHINGTON:—How many guns do you carry?

CARR:—We have eight guns mounted on board.

WORTHINGTON:—Are not the savages greatly afraid of guns? Do they not throw themselves on their faces when a gun is fired?

CARR:—They do. They are excessively afraid of them.

WORTHINGTON:—My object in asking is to show that there was an adequate force to attempt to rescue those Europeans who might be detained in the island.

LORD MAYOR:—If it is meant to charge Captain Carr with having committed an offence in not making an attack upon the savages, I must stop the investigation. The captain might have hazarded the vessel and her large cargo if he had made any hostile attempt. His heavy responsibility was a serious consideration.

CARR:—If I had killed a single savage, the lives of all the Europeans on the island would in all probability have been sacrificed, and there is no knowing what lamentable consequences might have resulted.

DREW:—Did you offer no ransom for the Europeans when you heard that eight or ten of them were on the island?

CARR:—No; I offered ransom for the child.

At this point Drew began to express himself strongly on Carr’s failure to offer a ransom. He ‘seemed to be so much overpowered by his feelings as to excite general commiseration,’ wrote the Times reporter (probably John Curtis). ‘He was lamenting the fate of his wife’s brother, detained most probably by the natives of the island.’23 Drew, meanwhile, had been anxiously awaiting Anderson’s arrival, for the sailor had promised to attend. When it became clear he had reneged on his promise, the Lord Mayor read out Anderson’s statement. It contradicted Carr’s version of events on many points, claiming in particular that the cutter launched to rescue the man had not overtaken and hooked Duppa’s canoe. The Lord Mayor was dismissive, saying that no credit could be given to that part of Anderson’s statement that differed from those of other witnesses. Carr angrily denounced it, saying that he could not understand Anderson’s motive for ‘interlarding his statement with falsehood’24 as he was a good, sober and steady seaman.

The meeting was drawing to a close, but Bayley and Drew couldn’t resist a parting shot. In their opinion, ‘Captain Carr had not done what it was his duty to have done’.25 The parties then left Mansion House, with Bayley, Wardell, Drew and Worthington having achieved nothing except the satisfaction of giving Captain Carr a thorough dressing down.

A few days later, three sailors from the Mangles visited James Drew at Great Trinity Lane. The account they gave of Carr’s conduct appalled him. ‘They all agree in stating that Captain Carr could have bought them [the man and boy] with the greatest possible ease if he had been so inclined,’ wrote Drew in a letter to Bayley. ‘This conduct is altogether beyond conscience.’26

One of the sailors told Drew that the white man in the canoe had identified himself as Price, a native of Dublin, and that a lady and child had been saved from the wreck along with seven other seamen. Another sailor said the white man had told him another nine sailors had also been saved. Their evidence suggests that the survivor at Mer had a long but garbled and confusing conversation with them in which he tried to explain the circumstances surrounding his shipwreck, but on most points he had been misunderstood.

The Clare family, meanwhile, had received a clipping from Sydney’s Colonist newspaper in which an offer of 100 guineas had been made, specifically for the rescue of one person in particular:


Loss of the Charles Eaton.: To Masters of Vessels going through Torres’ Straits, from this Port, and from this date.- MR. WILLIAM MAYOR, an Officer on board the barque Charles Eaton, cast away in Torres’ Straits in 1834, being as yet unheard of; but believing, from the account of Captain Carr, of the Mangles, recently published in the Singapore papers, and copied from thence into The Sydney Herald of the 28th April, and THE COLONIST of the 5th May that some of the Officers, Crew, &c., are still on Murray’s Island, I hereby offer a Reward of One Hundred Guineas to any Commander of a Merchant Ship (not specially employed by Government for the purpose) who shall succeed in rescuing the said William Mayor from Murray’s Island, to be paid in London on receipt of certificate from the said W. Mayor; and I will remit approved endorsed Bills on London for the amount, to be lodged in the hands of the Agents of the Merchant here, who will endorse him.

HENRY BULL, Brother-in-Law of the said W. Mayor. Colonist Office, Sydney, May 12, 1836.

CAUTION.-The lives of all, if force is used to attempt their rescue, will assuredly be sacrificed-ransom by barter is the only chance.-H.B.27

Henry Bull had married William Mayor’s sister, Elizabeth, in 1832. They had sailed from England with their infant daughter in April 1834, arriving at Australia in September.23 One hundred guineas was a very generous reward from a man who was still recovering from two failed business attempts, including the loss of the schooner Friendship at Norfolk Island one year previously.28 Bull had jointly owned it with the vessel’s captain, John Harrison, and the family was left destitute when it sank in a gale. Since then he had become a part-proprietor and editor of one of the colony’s many newspapers, the above-mentioned Colonist, which may have improved his prospects. Also Elizabeth Bull stated that her brother had been about to come into considerable property when his ship was wrecked,29 so her husband must have been confident there would be no problem with the reward.

Throughout late April and early May of 1836, the Bulls had become increasingly frustrated by the lack of action from the New South Wales government in sending a rescue mission to the Torres Strait. As editor of the Colonist, Bull took full advantage of his position to express both his own and his wife’s dissatisfaction and to offer some suggestions for mounting a rescue mission (Colonist 28 April 1836):

There are at this moment no less than three vessels belonging to the same owners offered to Government for that particular service, viz. the brig Alice, the barque Francis Freeling, and the schooner Currency Lass—either of which, but more especially the latter, would answer the purpose; and His Excellency has not far to look for a commander, Captain C. N [sic] Lewis late of His Majesty’s Colonial Brig Governor Phillip, is well qualified for this important service.

The Governor Phillip had a damaged hull and would be in dry dock for many months, leaving Lewis temporarily without work. He got himself a nice little recommendation from the Colonist but he was probably the best choice to lead a rescue mission anyway.

When the Bulls got no response from Governor Sir Richard Bourke, Henry followed it up with another reprimand (Colonist 5 May 1836):

We have again to complain of the lethargy of the Government in not sending a vessel in search of the crew of this unfortunate barque. Another week has passed, and the humane instructions of the Home government appear to be no nearer execution than when the dispatches were first received. We have seen a letter from Captain King of Dunherd, since our last publication, but it appears that gentleman has merely been requested to lay down certain regulations for the guidance of whoever may go in command.

One week later, with still no official response for the colony’s government, the Bulls had placed their own advertisement in the 12 May edition of the Colonist, offering a reward to anyone prepared to undertake a rescue mission. A cutting was sent to Clare, possibly by the Bulls, who would have been aware of the chief mate’s background from letters sent by the second mate to his sister. It prompted another letter from Clare to Bayley: ‘My family and my daughters particularly wish me to contact you on this occasion and I shall be much obliged by your opinion and advice,’ wrote the reverend, for ‘some of the principal inhabitants of this town [Wolverhampton] came forward in the kindest manner to offer any sum for the same purpose’.

Clare ultimately declined the offer of the generous townspeople, believing any ransom offer was now too late ‘as the fate of the Charles Eaton is so universally known and so many efforts employed to seek them’.31 In an outpouring of emotion, the unhappy father concluded, ‘I cannot help thinking that now something decisive has taken place and that a few months will bring us the tidings of a joyful or heart-rending termination of all our hopes and fears.’32

Clare was correct in believing that they would soon receive definite news. Two days before Christmas 1836, a brief outline of recent events in the Torres Strait reached Gledstanes from Batavia via the homeward-bound Tigris. Their writers made many copies of it and letters were despatched by the next mail coaches. The relatives and friends of the missing passengers and crew spent the Christmas and New Year period overcome with shock and grief. Nothing and no one had prepared them for the news when it finally came. Once again it was the Rev. John Clare who summed up the prevailing despair when he sent a final letter to William Bayley in which he wrote: ‘their fate is so horrible that it precludes the possibility of comment.’33

In April 1839, Clare resigned as magistrate.34 He had no choice. The community he had served for so long considered him too old and too set in his ways. In 1838 he had sent a quarrelsome pauper girl to a penitentiary for a month and the sentence had provoked outrage. It was time to separate the Church from the law. Clare was planning to move out of the Wolverhampton Deanery, and had just spent more than 1000 pounds on a new home called Wood’s End at Wednesfield.35 On 11 July 1839, he was found hanged in the kitchen of the Deanery. A coroner’s inquest into his suicide received evidence that Clare’s health and spirits had suffered a severe shock two years before, owing to the fate that befell his son when he was shipwrecked in the Torres Strait. Mr. Clare never rallied after receiving that afflicting intelligence.36

It was a very sad end for a man who had devoted his life to Christianity and the administration of justice. In his own eyes suicide would have been deemed a heinous crime.

Princess Mary the Duchess of Gloucester c.1834. Published at the time of her death. Illustrated London News, 9 May 1857. Hand-coloured engraving property of the author.

The other person with a close connection to the D’Oylys was Princess Mary the Duchess of Gloucester. Her husband had died in 1834 leaving his widow not unduly distressed. By October 1835 Princess Mary had already been informed that Charlotte had been shipwrecked and she wrote to Bayley, offering her assistance. It was accepted. In July 1836, Princess Mary went to Europe to visit her older sister Elizabeth, the Queen of Homberg, and stayed with her for five months. The holiday was a timely distraction, given that the Duchess was also enduring the painfully long wait for news from the Torres Strait.

The royal family’s extraordinary holiday home, the Brighton Pavilion, in the 1830s. Princess Mary, the Duchess of Gloucester, was staying there with her brother, King William IV and his consort, Queen Adelaide, when she first received the news about the fate of the Charles Eaton. Illustrated London News, 15 Feb., 1845.

By Christmas 1836, Princess Mary was back in England and she travelled to the Royal Pavilion at Brighton in the New Year to stay with the King and Queen. It would have been at this time that she first received the full details of the recent events in the Strait, either via the newspapers or perhaps in a letter from William Bayley.

Princess Victoria (later Queen Victoria) aged 16. Her innocent diary notes for January 1837 alert us to Princess Mary’s distressing illness at the time that the news about her long-time friend reached England. Black-and-white engraving from a painting by Sir George Hayter.

Princess Victoria kept a daily diary and her entry for 10 January 1837 reads: ‘My aunt Gloucester was taken very ill last week with a violent nervous fever, and continues still very ill. She is quite delirious.’37 In those days the now antiquated term ‘nervous fever’ was occasionally used to describe a form of typhoid fever, possibly picked up in this instance while the princess was overseas. More commonly, it was used to describe the symptoms of what was subsequently called a nervous breakdown. Princess Mary was now in her late fifties. She had always been the carer in her family and had nursed her siblings through patches of both short and prolonged ill health. She had suffered a similar breakdown after the death of her sister, Princess Amelia. Now her brother, King William IV, was there for her, as she worked her way through her severe illness and her grief at the news. She had known Charlotte D’Oyly since she was an infant and had witnessed and shared her growth to womanhood. For both women the friendship had been long and genuine.


Notes to Chapter 11

  1. William D’Oyly Bayley, A Biographical, Historical, Genealogical, and Heraldic Account of the House of D’Oyly, London: J. B. Nichols and Son, 1845, p. 153.
  2. HRA, Series 1, vol. XVIII, p. 168–69 for whole of letter. Robert D’Oyly, lawyer and brother of Tom D’Oyly, made a similar appeal but it was not forwarded to New South Wales.
  3. HRA, Series 1, vol. XVIII, p. 168.
  4. William Bayley file. Letter to Bayley, sender’s name obscured by thought to be the Rev. Worthington, 25 Dec. 1835, Mitchell Library, State Library of New South Wales, Sydney, A1074,
  5. William Bayley file, J. Wardell to William Bayley, March 1836. Mitchell Library, State Library of New South Wales, Sydney, A1074,
  6. HRA, Series 1, vol. XVIII, pp. 372.
  7. Ibid.
  8. William Bayley file, Letter from J. Wardell to William Bayley, 22 June 1836, Mitchell Library, State Library of New South Wales, Sydney, A1074.
  9. For biographical information about the Rev. John Clare, see The Annual register or a view of the history and politics of the year 1839, vol. 81, London, J.G.F. & J. Rivington, 1840, p. 136; The Gentlemen’s magazine, vol. 166, p. 209; Roger Swift, ‘The English Urban Magistracy and the Administration of Justice during the Early Nineteenth Century: Wolverhampton 1815–1860’, Midland History, 17, 1992, pp. 75–92;
  10. Thomas Wemyss, Narrative of the Melancholy Shipwreck of the Ship Charles Eaton…, Stockton-on-Tees: W. Robinson, 1837; 2nd ed. Stockton-on-Tees: J. Sharp, 1884, p. 16.
  11. Wemyss 1884, pp. 16–17.
  12. Midland History, vols 13–17, p. 79.
  13. David J. Cox, ‘ “The wolves let loose at Wolverhampton”: a study of the South Staffordshire Election “riots”, May 1835’, Law, Crime and History, 2011, p. 2.
  14. William Bayley file. Letter from Rev. John Clare to William Bayley, 14 Oct. 1836, Mitchell Library, State Library of New South Wales, Sydney, A1074.
  15. By 1835, Captain Carr was also being described as the owner of the Mangles, so presumably they were joint owners before Carr became sole owner.
  16. The Times, 1 Nov. 1836.
  17. Ibid.
  18. See The Times, 5 Nov. 1836 for Anderson’s complete statement.
  19. The Times, 1 Nov. 1836.
  20. Ibid.
  21. The Times, 5 Nov. 1836 for details of the Carr interview. Worthington’s connection to the Charles Eaton was given as being a close friend of William Bayley. He was teaching at the All Hallows at London Wall church school in the City of London at a time when the parish was sending pauper and orphan children to the Children’s Friend Society for shipment to the colonies. Even that connection, however, does not quite fit. Perhaps a relative of Armstrong, Captain Moore, or one of the crew was a parishioner in his church and he had been communicating with Bayley on their behalf.
  22. There is no supporting evidence that this boat ever existed. Carr saw the wrecked stern of an old boat previously washed up on the island and revered by the natives as a kind of religious relic.
  23. The Times, 5 Nov. 1836.
  24. Ibid.
  25. Ibid.
  26. William Bayley file. Letter from James Drew to William Bayley, Nov. 1836, Mitchell Library, State Library of New South Wales, Sydney, A1074.
  27. Henry Bull married William Mayor’s sister, Elizabeth, 10 October 1832, at St Andrew’s Holborn, Middlesex, England. Source: IGI. They arrived in Sydney with one infant child in late 1834. After two failed business attempts, Henry became the editor and joint proprietor of the Colonist in October 1835.
  28. Bull’s own brief autobiography, published in the Colonist 1 October 1835, states that he first met the Rev. Dr. Dunmore Lang in January 1834, when the Bulls were about to sail for Upper Canada. Lang was Australia’s first Presbyterian minister and the proprietor of a religious newspaper in Sydney called the Colonist. He sang the praises of the NSW colony and persuaded the Bulls to change their destination to Sydney. Shipping passenger lists indicate that they came out aboard the Rossendale, which docked at Hobart Town 10 Sept. 1834 and a few weeks later in Sydney. Bull, acting as his own agent, apparently stocked some of the hold with his own adventure cargo, hoping to sell it for a profit at Hobart and Sydney, but the venture failed. Lang had advised Bull not to do that, but he had gone ahead with the idea anyway.
  29. The Sydney Monitor, 22 Aug. 1835, p. 4, gives Bull’s own lengthy and graphic account of the Friendship shipwreck and it makes compelling reading.
  30. William Bayley file, letter from Rev. John Clare to William Bayley, Nov. 1836, Mitchell Library, State Library of New South Wales, Sydney, A1074.
  31. William Bayley file, Clare to Bayley, Nov. 1836, A1074.
  32. Ibid.
  33. William Bayley file, Clare to Bayley, undated but probably January 1837, A1074. For a long time it was assumed that the Rev. John Clare was the clergyman described by George Borrow in his book The Romany Rye (published in 1848 but describing events in 1825). While there is no concrete evidence to support this, Borrow’s description is remarkable for the way in which it does actually appear to describe the widowed Clare and his daughters, or at least people very like them. Clare was no evangelist – or at least not officially – but years of writing sermons had made him a passionate and powerful wordsmith. Bayley was so touched by his letters that he quoted them extensively in his book and they have since been acquired by the State Library of New South Wales as part of the Bayley collection. Today it is still possible to be moved by the old vicar’s tears and fears. He was clearly respected by many of the townsfolk of Wolverhampton and the villagers at Bushbury and Westerfield (he was the vicar for both villages), and the son was like the father in that he enjoyed the respect of his crew.
  34. Records of the Staffordshire County Quarter Sessions, April 1839, item 44.
  35. Law Journal Reports,vol. 24, part 2, 1855, p. 110. Lengthy courtcase about the title to the house and land purchased by Clare. Clare’s unfounded belief that he would lose his money may have contributed to his suicide.
  36. Annual Register or a View of the History and Politics of the Year 1839, vol. 81, London, J. G. F. & J. Rivington, 1840, p. 136. Also see: The Gentlemen’s magazine, vol. 166, p. 209. It was the second sudden death in the Clare quarters at the Wolverhampton Deanery. In April 1838, the Rev. John Clare’s orphaned niece, Sarah Lee Clare, died there at the age of 26 and the circumstances of her demise were not included in her short death notice. It’s known, however, that the Clare womenfolk were devastated by Chief Mate Fred Clare’s death.
  37. Flora Fraser, Princesses: The six daughters of George III, New York, Alfred A. Knopf, 2005, p. 362.


………. …… …. ….

Chapter 12: Colonial Schooner Isabella to the Rescue

In a seaport obsessed with its harbour, custom dictated that one of the best views of it would be reserved for the incumbent of Government House. For Governor Sir Richard Bourke, the vista of busy Sydney Cove in late May 1836 included the activity around the Governor’s Wharf and the colonial schooner Isabella. The prison service employed the vessel primarily to carry stores, troops and convicts to the penal colonies on Norfolk Island and at Moreton Bay. For her next voyage, however, she was taking on extra stores for a mercy mission to the Torres Strait.

When Governor Bourke had received the dispatch from Lord Glenelg raising the possibility that as many as nine shipwreck survivors were being held captive in the Torres Strait, and instructing him to ‘adopt such measures as may appear to you most advisable’,1 he had been less than enthusiastic. In his opinion, sending one of His Majesty’s men-of-war from Bombay or the South Seas to investigate the claim was a more appropriate response. He had to obey the order from the Home Office, however, despite the fact that it would engage the Isabella for several months. The prison service would have to charter another vessel in her absence, placing a strain on its tight budget. Bourke was humane and reasonable but the rumours about survivors appeared to be groundless. The publication of Captain Carr’s letter in the 28 April 1836 editions of Sydney newspapers,2 however, put the question of survivors beyond doubt. Thereafter he acted with commendable speed, although he did have to wait until the schooner had returned from her latest trip to Norfolk Island.

The penal colony at Norfolk Island, serviced in the early 1830s by the colony-owned navy vessel HMS Isabella. Illustrated London News, Dec., 1856.
Moreton Bay penal colony, Queensland 1832
Convict Barracks, Moreton Bay. Detail from a sheet of pencil drawings of public buildings at Moreton Bay, September 1832. Original held in the Mitchell Library, Sydney, NSW. Attrib. to Sockering. Reproduced in J. G. Steele’s Brisbane Town in Convict Days. The Moreton Bay penal settlement was serviced by the colonial schooner Isabella.

The Isabella was registered for 126 tons and measured in feet 76 x 19 x 11 (approx. 23 x 5.8 x 3.4 in metres).3 Commander for the Torres Strait mission would be Captain Charles Morgan Lewis R.N., who volunteered for the assignment. He was a navy skipper employed by the colony on another colonial vessel. Born in Norfolk, England, in 1804,4 he was an ambitious 31-year-old who had previously been a master mariner in the navy of the King of Siam (Thailand).5

Interest in the survivors was widespread and the public expected action. Sailors lined up for a voyage bound to be more interesting than the monotonous treks back and forth to the two penal settlements. The schooner’s full crew compliment was usually 18, but for the rescue mission it was increased to 31.6 Despite the obvious activity surrounding the little schooner, no official statement was issued. Nevertheless, newspaper reporters picked up her destination, possibly via the customs and shipping documents they habitually perused. It was ‘supposed to be the recovery of the survivors of the wreck of the Charles Eaton,’ guessed the Australian in its 17 May edition.

The news excited the attention of a retired seaman, William Barnes, who was now a resident of New South Wales but who had once been the master of a vessel called the Stedcombe. Barnes had his own story to tell. In 1825 the Stedcombe and the Lady Nelson had left a short-lived British settlement at Melville Island, on the northern coast of Australia, on a mission to trade for buffaloes from one of the islands in the Timor sea. Both vessels had been cut off by pirates and everyone assumed that all aboard them had been murdered.7

The Batavia deposition from the five sailors, recently published in Sydney papers, gave an account of two other boys cast away on Timor Laut many years previously. Barnes concluded that they were, in all likelihood, the two ship’s boys from the Stedcombe, names John Edwards and Joseph Forbes. He was horrified to think that they had been in bondage and slavery for so long and he wrote to Governor Sir Richard Bourke with a special plea. The Isabella would be passing near Timor Laut on its return voyage. Could it stop at Timor Laut to make enquiries about the other two boys?8

Captain Lewis of the Isabella received instructions from the Colonial Secretary to call upon Barnes and he did so. Barnes was now a portly stock and land auctioneer, residing in Paramatta but a frequent visitor to Sydney. He gave Lewis every scrap of information that he had collected from his many years sailing around the Timor seas, including his time aboard the Stedcombe. He also lent Lewis his ship’s journal. In return, he received from Lewis an assurance that on the homeward journey he would make a thorough search for the two English boys presumed to be in slavery at Timor Laut.9 Lewis said his farewells to the talkative former adventurer and sea captain with what appears now to be no intention of keeping his promise.

By 24 May most of the crew were aboard and helping with the fit-out. Included among them was William Edward Brockett, who kept a journal that he later published as a booklet. Brockett was from Newcastle in England, and the rescue mission to the Torres Strait would be the highlight of his Australian experience. He was in his twentieth year and was enjoying what we would probably call today his ‘gap year’, while he decided what he wanted to do next. An adventurous seafaring life was appealing but was it right for him? He seems to have been testing his choice by working his way around the world as an ordinary seaman.

Brockett was the son of John Trotter Brockett, a well-known attorney in Newcastle, England and a prominent personality in that city. His father had many other interests besides law, including writing and illustrating books on coins and medals. His best-known book, however, was a useful glossary on the numerous words unique to northern England, for the benefit of southerners who struggled to understand the local idioms. But John Trotter Brockett was also an addicted collector of books, artworks, stamps, coins and antiques. His son had grown up in a house that was described in the following terms by an old friend, the bibliomaniac, Dr. Dibdin:

More than once or twice was the hospitable table of my friend, John Trotter Brockett, Esq., spread to receive me. He lives comparatively in a nut-shell—but what a kernel! Pictures, books, curiosities, medals, coins—of precious value—bespeak his discriminating eye of his liberal heart. You may revel here from sunrise to sunset, and fancy the domains interminable. Do not suppose that a stated room or rooms are only appropriated to his bokes; they are ‘up-stairs, down-stairs, and in my lady’s chamber.’ They spread all over the house—tendrils of pliant curve and perennial verdure.10

William Brockett had spent his childhood in a household where almost constant literary output was a part of everyday life, but living in a small dwelling with a compulsive collector and hoarder couldn’t have been easy.

Captain (later Admiral) Phillip Parker King. Portrait held at the National Library of Australia.

On 30 May, Lewis received his final instructions from Governor Bourke, with sailing directions supplied by Captain Phillip Parker King, RN. He was to proceed directly to the Murray Islands via the outer passage, passing through the reefs at either the Investigator or Cumberland entrances.11 It must have been one of the few occasions when King recommended the outer passage, but Lewis would be following the chart laid down by Matthew Flinders. Flinders had called at Mer – something that King had never done. If there were white people on the Murray Islands, Lewis and his men had to rescue them without resorting to violence, unless it was necessary for the defence of life.

The Isabella sailed from Port Jackson on 3 June, fitted out with cannons and plenty of ammunition, plus a good supply of iron axes and trinkets. Lewis had also accepted a box of goods from Elizabeth Bull specifically for her brother, second mate William Mayor, in case he was alive. Everyone believed that in addition to the lad and child seen by Carr, there were nine or more other survivors at Mer.

Four days later the East India Company’s brig Tigris, dispatched from Bombay and under the command of Commander Igglesden, left Hobart Town for Sydney en route to the Torres Strait. Also on board was Lieut. G. B. Kempthorne, India Navy, in charge of the Indian infantry and the artillery officers and men. Caught in a gale in Bass Strait, she lost her rudder and bulwarks, struggling into Sydney on 12 June. It was a sunny Sunday and a large crowd gathered at vantage points along the government domain and at Garden Island to witness the arrival of what was, for most of them, their first sighting of an EIC man-of-war. The ‘novel attire’ of the Indian lascars (sailors) and sepoys (soldiers) also ‘excited their curiosity’.12

Most of the spectators knew why she was there. The plight of the shipwrecked sailors had aroused their sympathy and they had been demanding action. The smaller government schooner had already been dispatched for that purpose, but the Tigris, with her 10 guns and her ship’s company of 175, was a much more impressive and reassuring sight.

The Tigris, despite her lengthy service in the Indian Navy, was not registered with Lloyd’s Register of Shipping. At the time of her visit to Australia, the East India Station (formerly the Bombay Marine until 1830) was in a depressed state and there was even talk of disbandment. It no longer had a practical purpose and morale among the Navy’s many talented commanders and officers was low.13 Even the smallest of pirate ships could easily outrun the Tigris.14 In size, the two-masted brig-of-war was similar to the average three-masted mercantile barque, but its rigging was more complex and it needed a bigger crew. Brigs-of-war could turn on a sixpence but they often lacked the necessary speed to chase down and engage the enemy.

Sending the brig-of-war to the Torres Strait seems like a crazy decision, but at least it kept the ship and her crew busy for a time. The Tigris looked exotic with all those smart Indian sepoys and artillery gunners in their uniforms, but scurvy had broken out by the time the brig reached Hobart Town, simply for the want of fresh produce in the ships’ stores. Kempthorne was understandably cross that keeping costs to a minimum had endangered the lives of all aboard his ship. ‘The “penny wise and pound foolish” system was in this instance very apparent,’ he later complained.15

The Lieutenant-Governor of Van Diemen’s Land (now Tasmania), Colonel Sir George Arthur, had rendered them every assistance, said Kempthorne, and ‘did all in his power to expedite the departure of the Tigris on her important mission.’16 The immediate supply of water and fresh meat and produce quelled the dreadful disease. There would have been many free settlers in Hobart Town who met the D’Oyly family during the almost nine months they lived in New Norfolk. They had arrived in the colony with impeccable references and Colonel Arthur himself may have organised the swift supply of their convict servants. Who else had the power of expedition in such matters?

Governor Bourke had been unaware of the action taken by the Bombay station and he would have been unimpressed by the overkill in sending two rescue ships to the same tiny island. Fortunately, repairs to the Tigris took 28 days and the man-of-war did not depart for the Murray Islands until 10 July, placing the decision to send the Isabella beyond reproof. Commander Igglesden had a duplicate of the instructions given to Captain Lewis, so that he could meet up with the schooner in the strait.

Brockett, meanwhile, was maintaining his journal of the Isabella’s voyage. The captain, he wrote, had ordered him to scratch some empty glass bottles with the following inscription: ‘C. M. Lewis, Commander of His Majesty’s Schooner, Isabella, is despatched by Government to obtain the people who were lost in the Charles Eaton; June, 1836. (From Sydney). Secret.17 Governor Bourke had ordered Lewis to prepare and distribute a number of these bottles around the islands on the off chance that any shipwreck survivors who read the message would find an opportunity to escape. Lewis would have known by that time that Brockett was up to the task and his scratched words would be legible.

The colonial schooner ‘Isabella’ anchored off Mer. The ‘Isabella’ was a small two-master, rigged fore-and-aft and clearly not at all intimidating. Drawn by W. E. Brockett and published in Narrative of a Voyage from Sydney to Torres Straits in Search of the Survivors of the ‘Charles Eaton , p 11. Sydney: printed at the Colonist office, 1836. Duppa’s plantations are on the extreme right of the drawing.

Sunday 19 June began as a thick and hazy day. At nine o’clock Mer was seen by the lookout up the masthead and at 11 o’clock, having successfully negotiated Cumberland’s passage through the Barrier Reef, the schooner anchored on the northern side of Mer. A group of islanders gathered on the beach, extending their arms in signs of peace and indicating they wanted to trade. Among them the sailors and officers could plainly see a naked white man. It was Waki. He had seen the schooner coming and had gone straight down to the beach, where some of his friends were already launching their canoes.

Lewis, in some doubt as to whether the islanders could be trusted but wanting to encourage them to visit, ordered all the loaded cannons to be pulled back and sent half the crew below. His men were armed, however, and ready to repel an attack if necessary.18 As the canoes were being pushed off from the beach, Waki tried to get into one of them, but his island father stopped him. Duppa was convinced that the last time a ship [the Mangles] had called at Mer, the crew had tried to take Waki away and kill him. Waki pleaded with Duppa for some time but the old man refused to let him go out to the ship. He told Waki to go and hide among the trees on the hill instead.

Four canoes soon reached the schooner and their occupants began making signs of friendship, calling out ‘poud, poud’ (peace, peace). Their platforms were laid out with trade items which they held up in the air, calling ‘torre, torre’ for iron axes and knives in exchange. The schooner’s crew now began to make signs, pointing at their own faces then at the island, by which they managed to ask if there were any white people there. The islanders gestured to indicate there were two. With more signs, Lewis pretended not to understand what the canoeists wanted, hoping they would fetch the white person as an interpreter. The sailors held iron axes aloft to excite the visitors and when there was no progress with the trading, sure enough, the islanders decided to fetch Waki, and returned to the beach. Duppa, however, still refused to let Waki go. ‘I don’t want to leave you,’ Waki reassured him, explaining that he only wanted axes and other articles like everybody else.19 Finally he was allowed to get into Duppa’s canoe and he sat down on the platform amidships while the men rowed him out to the vessel. This time he was determined that there would be no misunderstanding, so he asked everyone to keep quiet until he had spoken to the people on the ship. Lewis had issued similar instructions to his crew and there was total silence as the canoe reached the Isabella. Brockett wrote in his journal, ‘…the unfortunate boy exhibited the mingled emotions of fear and delight.’ Everyone, wrote Brockett, ‘appearing to listen with the greatest attention.’20

‘What is your name?’ asked Lewis.
‘John Ireland,’ the boy replied.
‘How many are upon the island?’
‘Only a child about four or five years old.’ The rest of the white people, said Ireland, had either drowned or been murdered.21

As he later explained it:

My agitation was so great, that I could scarcely answer the questions which were put to me; and it was some time before I recovered my self-possession. Captain Lewis took me down into the cabin, and gave me a shirt, a pair of trousers, and a straw hat. He ordered some bread and cheese and beer for me; but the thoughts of again revisiting my home and friends prevented me from eating much of it.22

Now that one boy had been rescued, brisk trade was permitted, with the scratched message bottles being handed out as presents in the hope they would be found by other survivors. In the cuddy, Captain Lewis waited until he could see that the boy had recovered his senses and was ready to tell his story.

Second raft leaves the wreck of the Charles Eaton.
The best-known sketch for John Ireland’s book The Shipwrecked Orphans, probably because it is the only one in the book that would not be seen today as ludicrously inaccurate and racially inflammatory. It depicts the departure of the second raft.
Portion of a painting by John Wilson Carmichael that its title tells us depicts the handing over of William D’Oyly to Captain Lewis, master of the Isabella. A better title would be that it pictures the moment of John Ireland’s rescue. The lad in the white garment looks like a youth in his teens, with straight black hair. The relaxed islanders in the canoes are waving palm fronds and doubtless shouting “Torre, torre” (Iron, iron) to indicate they are coming out to trade. In many respects (apart from the shirt) the moment is captured with surprising accuracy. Carmichael lived at Newcastle, as also did William Brockett, the young sailor who wrote and illustrated a book on the Isabella‘s rescue assignment. By 1838 he was back in Newcastle. I would guess that at the very least Carmichael read Brockett’s book and the events at Mer captured his imagination. His other painting of the William D’Oyly rescue was commissioned later. The two Carmichael paintings complement each other as historical records of the two quite different ‘rescue’ moments, if any individuals choose on their own behalf to see it that way. Part of the Silent World Foundation art collection.


Notes to Chapter 12

  1. HRA, Series I, vol. XVIII, Lord Glenelg to Governor Sir Richard Bourke, p. 158.
  2. This is the letter dated 4 October 1835 and written by Carr while en route to Canton.
  4. England and Wales Census, 1851.
  5. Sydney Gazette and New South Wales Advertiser , 25 Dec. 1832.
  6. HRA, Series I, vol. XVIII, Sir Richard Bourke to Lord Glenelg, 9 June 1836, pp. 432–34.
  7. Charlotte Barton (A Lady Long Resident in New South Wales), A Mother’s Offering to Her Children. Sydney: printed at the Gazette Office, 1840, pp. 100–136; J. Lort Stokes, Discoveries in Australia; with an Account of the Coast and Rivers Explored and Surveyed during the Voyage of H.M.S. Beagle, in the years 1837‑38‑39‑40‑41‑42‑43, by Command of the Lords Commissioners of the Admiralty. Also a Narrative of Captain Owen Stanley’s Visits to the Islands in the Arafura Sea, Australiana Facsimile Editions no. 33. Adelaide: Library Board of S.A., 1969, pp. 440-78.
  8. Sydney Monitor 30 July 1839.
  9. Ibid.
  10. John Trotter Brockett and Charles Edward Brockett (ed.), Glossary of North Country Words in Use, with Their Etymology, Affinity to Other Languages, and Occasional Notices of Local Customs and Popular Superstitions, 2 vols, 3rd edn, Newcastle-on-Tyne: Emerson Charnley, London: Simpkin, Marshall & Co., 1846, vol. 1, p. xxi.
  11. Named after the first vessels to use them, including Matthew Flinders’ Investigator. Both are close to the Murray Islands.
  12. Commander G. B. Kempthorne, I. N., ‘A Narrative of a Voyage in search of the Crew of the Ship Charles Eaton performed in the year 1836’, Transactions of the Bombay Geographical Society, vol. 8, 1849, pp. 210–36.
  13. Jean Sutton, Lords of the East: The East India Company and its ships (1600–1874), Chap. 11, pp. 127–39.
  14. Sutton pp. 127-39.
  15. Kempthorne, p. 217.
  16. Ibid.
  17. Wiliam Edward Brockett, Narrative of a Voyage from Sydney to Torres’ Straits : in Search of the Survivors of the Charles Eaton, in His Majesty’s colonial schooner Isabella, C.M. Lewis, commander, Sydney: printer Henry Bull, 1836, pp. 10–11.
  18. Captain C. M. Lewis, ‘Voyage of the Colonial Schooner Isabella…’, Nautical Magazine, vol. VI, 1837, pp. 654.
  19. John Ireland, The Shipwrecked Orphans, New Haven: S. Babcock, 2nd edn, 1845, p. 56.
  20. Brockett p. 13.
  21. Australian, 20 Oct. 1836.
  22. Ireland p. 56.
  23. Australian, 20 Oct. 1836.

Raine Island and Detached Reef

Chapter 13: One Night at Boydang Cay

The tradition about a captain being the last to leave his ship is an old one. The crew left behind on the wreck after Moore’s raft disappeared, felt so abandoned, for a time they gave into despair. With their popular chief mate now in command, however, they soon set to work on another raft, made from the remaining spars. The second raft, like the first one, took a few days to build. It was a solid piece of work, with its own mast and calico sail. With only a few damaged biscuits and a little water, the unhappy sailors launched it, trying to steer with the wind. The simple craft sank under their weight, leaving them at the mercy of the current.1

The Great Detached Reef as it looked in the 1890s, based on Admiralty Chart No. 2354. All Australian shipwrecks are heritage protected. There are a number of wrecks on the reef and it is a popular diving site for tour groups out of Port Douglas. Copyright Veronica Peek.

The heavily laden raft made very slow progress. It drifted for many miles before the sailors encountered another reef with enough shelter on its lee side to offer a safe haven for the night.2 After that they saw no more reefs and had entered the inner passage. For two more days they drifted, with all their biscuits and water soon gone.

On the fourth day, they passed an island and could see more low isles ahead. Before they could reach them a canoe came out to meet them, paddled by 10 or a dozen natives who had been fishing on a nearby reef.3 As they approached, the men in the canoe stood up and extended their arms in a gesture that showed they were unarmed and friendly. ‘On their reaching the raft’, Ireland later explained, ‘several of them got upon it, and were gently put back by Mr Clare; he at the same time saying that he thought from their manners that they were not to be trusted. They were very stout men, and quite naked.’4 One man, however, stayed behind on the raft, attracted by a piece of white cloth at the top of the mast. He tried to climb up and get it but the mast snapped, throwing him into the sea. At any other time it might have been amusing but not now, for the raft’s single mast and sail were gone.

Even so, the mood remained friendly. The sailors gave the natives a mirror and a piece of red cloth. The gifts pleased them and they invited the white men to transfer across to their canoe. For a time the sailors hesitated, until midshipmen Tom Ching took the lead. ‘I’m going with them,’ he said, ‘because it might mean getting back to England sooner. At any rate,’ he added as he scrambled into the canoe, ‘I could not be worse off.’ Then everyone followed him and left the raft, at which time the canoeists searched it for iron tools but could find nothing but a few old keg hoops, probably from the empty water cask. These they placed in their canoe and let the raft drift away.

‘It was about four in the afternoon when we left the raft,’ said Ireland, ‘and after passing three islands on our right, and one on our left, we landed on an island which I afterwards found the natives called Boydan [Boydang]. We could plainly see the main land, about fourteen or fifteen miles distant.’ As they approached the beach, Ireland could see a second canoe drawn up on the sand but no huts or shelters of any kind. The ominous signs were already there that this tiny island was fine for turtle and lagoon fishing but hostile to habitation.5

As soon as they had landed, the sailors pointed to their mouths and made signs to show they were hungry and thirsty. With their rescuers walking beside them and still giving every sign of being friendly, they set off around the island, hoping to find food and water. Their journey was short but they were so exhausted by fatigue and hunger, by the time they returned to their starting point they could barely crawl. They had found nothing to eat and no water supply, and could do no more than throw themselves down on the sand in despair. Sensing their weakness, the mood among their rescuers changed. They laughed and seemed to take pleasure in the sailors’ anguish. No longer their hosts, they had become their captors.

Observing this change in their attitude, the chief mate warned his men to prepare for the worst. ‘He read some prayers from a book which he had brought from the wreck,’ said Ireland, ‘and we all most heartily joined with him in supplication. We felt that probably it would be our last and only opportunity while here on earth.’ The men prayed together in a group for a long time but eventually they crawled under some bushes, too tired to resist sleep any longer.

‘Although it will readily be imagined we were little in heart disposed to slumber, yet such was the state to which we were reduced, that most of us fell almost immediately into a sound sleep,’ Ireland later explained. They were encouraged by the islanders who sensed their weak attempts to resist sleep and sought to induce it by putting their own heads down on one shoulder and closing their eyes so that they, too, appeared to be dozing off.

Sleep came slowly to the young ship’ s boy. The sun was setting but it was still possible to see a few islanders moving around on the beach. One of them went down to his canoe and came away from it walking in a strange manner. He was advancing cautiously with a club in his hand but hidden, as he thought, behind his back. Later he dropped it stealthily upon the beach. ‘I told this to the seaman, Carr, who was lying next to me,’ said Ireland, ‘but he, being very sleepy, seemed to make no notice of it, and soon after was in a deep sleep.’

One by one the sailors drifted into slumber and as they did so, the ship’s boy observed with dread that the islanders were creeping forward and placing themselves so that there was one of them between each sleeping form. Ireland was so weary, however, that he, too, eventually fell asleep. As he would later explain, ‘It was utterly out of our power to resist; as we had not so much as a staff or stick to defend ourselves with; and our exhaustion was too great to allow us to quit the place’.6

Image from John Ireland’s book The Shipwrecked Orphans.

After he had been asleep for about an hour, Ireland woke up suddenly to the sounds of terrible shouting. He jumped up instantly and saw that the islanders were killing his companions. The first to die was the little midshipman, Tom Ching, followed by his young friend, William Perry. The next victim was William Mayor, the second mate. ‘The confusion now became terrible’, said Ireland, ‘and my agitation at beholding the horrid scene was so great that I do not distinctly remember what passed after this.’

Some of the sailors had their brains smashed and skulls cracked, while others were stabbed with spears and knives. As they fell wounded, their attackers rushed forward and, seizing them by their hair, slashed or hacked off their heads with razor-sharp knives.

The last person Ireland saw murdered was the chief mate, who put up a tremendous fight. He cleared a path for himself through a group of advancing attackers and raced down to the shore, with several islanders in pursuit. Reaching a canoe, he pushed it off into the sea. His pursuers plunged into the water after him and soon overtook him. Grabbing up the paddles one by one, Clare lashed out at them and was successful for a time, but in the end there were too many attackers and they overpowered him. Abandoning the canoe, he jumped back into the water and again dashed into the midst of his attackers. Breaking through them, he raced through the shallows until he regained the shore, and made off into the bushes. He was increasing the gap between himself and his pursuers when a party lying in ambush jumped up and felled him to the ground, where they immediately killed him and cut off his head.7

When Ireland, who had been staring in shock at Clare’s horrendous death, finally looked around again he could see that he and the other ship’s boy were now the only two people from the raft left alive. A large man, whose name, he would later learn, was Bis-kea, came towards him with a carving knife in his hand, which Ireland the young assistant steward now recognised as having belonged to the cabin galley until placed with the stores on the first raft. Bis-kea seized him and held the knife in such a way that the lad believed his throat was about to be cut. ‘I grasped the blade of the knife in my right hand and held it fast,’ he explained. ‘I struggled hard for my life.’ Finally, Bis-kea threw Ireland down on the ground and, placing a knee upon his breast, tried to wrench the knife away. Still the boy held tight to it, until it cut one of his fingers to the bone. While struggling with Bis-kea, he saw that Sexton was in the grip of a man whose name, he would later learn, was Maroose. In desperation, Sexton bit Maroose and took a piece out of his arm. ‘After that,’ said Ireland, ‘I knew nothing of him, until I found that his life was spared’.

For a brief moment, the boy got the better of Bis-kea and he let go his hold on the knife and ran into the sea. He stayed semi-submerged for a long time with no one in pursuit. He was determined, he said, ‘to swim out and be drowned rather than be killed and eaten.’ In the end, however, fright and weariness got the better of him and he gave up and return to the shore, it being, he said, ‘the only chance for my life’.

Back on the beach, the islanders were going about their gruesome business. They had built a large fire and appeared to have forgotten about the boy. Even so, as he crept back through the shallows in the enveloping darkness Ireland expected death at any minute.

There are two versions of what happened next. In the one recounted by Captain Phillip Parker King, Bis-kea was waiting for him on the shore and came towards him in a furious manner, shooting an arrow at him which struck him in his right breast. ‘On a sudden, however, he, very much to my surprise, became quite calm, and led, or rather dragged me to a little distance, and offered me some fish,’ said Ireland.8

Another version was given to a Sydney reporter, ‘When I returned to the beach the same man again got hold of me, but instead of further molesting me, he gave me some food and water’.9 Bis-kea, said Ireland on another occasion, ‘saved me from violence from the hands of the others.’10

Ireland was left sitting on the beach. He was very hungry but too afraid to eat any fish for fear it was poisoned. Not far off, his captors were dancing around a large fire they had lit upon the sand, before which they had placed, in a row, the heads of all his dead countrymen, still recognisable despite their bloody wounds and sightless eyes. The headless bodies were naked now and carelessly left on the beach. ‘I should think the tide soon washed them away,’ Ireland explained, ‘for I never saw them afterwards.’

The heat from the fire partially cooked the heads, at which time the men began to cut off pieces of flesh from the cheeks and other parts of their faces, plucking out the eyes and eating them with triumphant shouts. ‘This, I afterwards learned, it was the custom of these islanders to do with their prisoners,’ the ship’s boy explained, ‘they think that it will give them courage, and excite them to revenge themselves upon the enemy.’ It was ritual cannibalism in other words. The central islanders, like the rest of the Torres Strait Islanders, had no taste for human flesh. There was an abundance of fish and turtle meat.

In what would become the final version of his story, Ireland stated that Sexton also survived for a time. The two terrified boys sat close to the fire, he said, where the mutilated heads were still on display. Some of their captors, ‘sat like tailors, dividing the cloth and other articles which they had taken from the bodies of the persons killed.’ Already, however, some of the men were showing signs of wanting to be kind. Two of them went down to a canoe, took down its woven-grass sail, and covered the boys to keep them warm again the cold night. To Ireland’s annoyance they ignored his badly cut finger. What followed was a very long night indeed. As Ireland said:

It is impossible for me to describe our feelings during this dreadful night. We fully expected, every moment, to share the fate of those whom we had so lately seen cruelly murdered. We prayed together for some time, and after each promising to call on the other’s relations, should either ever escape, we took leave of each other, giving ourselves up for lost.

At length the morning came; and the Indians, after having collected all the heads, took us with them in their canoe to another island, which they called Pullan, where the women lived.11

Notes to Chapter 13

  1. It’s possible that when the crew were up to their waists in water, as Ireland put it, they were sitting or kneeling down on the raft.
  2. Possibly the other side of the large lagoon at the centre of the Great Detached Reef.
  3. Ireland’s estimate of their number increased over time to 15 or 20. In one account, Ireland was quoted as saying two canoes came out to meet them.
  4. John Ireland, The Shipwrecked Orphans, New Haven: Babcock, 2nd edn, 1845, p. 19. Unless otherwise indicated, all quotes in this chapter have come from this book.
  5. See J. Lort Stokes, Discoveries in Australia…, vol. 1, Australiana Facsimile Editions no. 33, Adelaide: Library Board of SA 1969, pp. 362–63 for a complete description of the island now called Boydang.
  6. In another version of his story, given to the two Tigris commanders, young Ireland said that they did have some arms with them but were too exhausted to post a watch. It cast the chief mate in a poor light, however, by implying that he had been careless, and that may be why the lad subsequently made no further reference to weapons.
  7. ‘Voyage in search of the survivors of the Charles Eaton’. Tales of Travellers: or, A View of the World. vol. 1, no. 56, Saturday, October 28, 1837, pp. 441–43.
  8. Capt. C. M. Lewis, Nautical Magazine, vol. VI, 1837, p. 658.
  9. Sydney Monitor, 19 Oct. 1836.
  10. London Times, 31 Aug. 1837.
  11. Ireland p. 29.

…. ……. … ..

Chapter 14: Mysterious Pullan

Pullan is a low sandy isle with trees and bushes growing on it, a short distance from Boydang. When their canoe arrived there, Ireland saw Portland, the ship’s dog, running along the beach. Next, he saw George and William D’Oyly. A native woman was carrying William but he would not stop crying. George, however, was calm and he came down the beach to the canoe in which Ireland was sitting. ‘What has become of your father and mother?’ Ireland asked. ‘The blacks have killed them,’ George D’Oyly replied, ‘and the captain, and Mr Armstrong, and our ayah.’ He said that he and his little brother were all that remained alive.

Ireland could see cabin doors used in the construction of the first raft decorating some of the canoes. The natives had attached them with great care and they were clearly prized. In the interior of the sandy isle, there were a number of open-sided shelters, within which the ship’s boy recognized several articles of clothing. There was Montgomery’s watch and white hat, and the gown worn by Charlotte D’Oyly when she left the wreck.

Nearby, a number of decomposing heads were hanging by ropes from a pole stuck in the ground. Charlotte’s head was easily identified because some of her long hair was still on it; another he knew as Captain Moore’s face. Ireland spoke to George D’Oyly again. ‘The little fellow gave a very distinct account of the dreadful transaction,’ he later stated. ‘He said he was so frightened when he saw his father killed by a blow on the head from a club, that he hardly knew what he did; but when his mother was killed in the same way, he thought they would kill him and his little brother too, and then he hoped they would all go to heaven together.’1

The attack had been over very quickly. After several days and nights on the raft, the first party had landed on one of the islets, probably on the side facing the Barrier Reef. Pullan is the largest cay in the group labelled by Captain James Cook as the ‘low sandy isles’. It has the tallest vegetation and to the thirsty party on the first raft it would have offered the best prospect of finding water.

It is probable that the people on the island had spotted their raft and sent a canoe out to intercept them. The canoeists would have been friendly and escorted them back to Pullan. The sudden arrival of white people always aroused genuine excitement and curiosity. The women in particular had probably stroked their clothes and hair and fussed over the small D’Oyly boys. There is a good chance that the raft party lived for a brief time and their hosts remained friendly. They would have been utterly exhausted by their ordeal and overwhelmed with relief that they had actually made it to safe land.

Some of the men on the first raft were armed. Based on Ireland’s various accounts we can be reasonably sure that there were men in the party who had a cutlass or knife and there’s a good chance that the two captains, Moore and D’Oyly, had at least one pistol each. What the D’Oylys, Armstrong and Moore should have guessed is that the Torres Strait islanders were obsessed with iron in any shape or form. It was number one on their wish list. They had stumbled across a party of islanders on a fishing expedition, but they were also on the lookout for trade items. The one thing that they desired most to possess was the white man’s ‘magic stick’, the iron object that made a loud noise when you pointed it at someone and that person died from a wound either instantly or very soon after. As a trade item, it was priceless, despite the fact that they had no idea how to use it or any understanding of how the ‘magic’ worked.

The weapons the castaways carried may also have meant that they were potentially dangerous and unpredictable and on no account to be trusted. Everyone except the two D’Oyly children was struck down from behind when their guard was down and instantly decapitated. George said that William had been in his mother’s arms at the time a savage head blow felled her, but was saved by one of the women, who rushed forward to snatch him up and afterwards took care of him. Another woman rescued George in a similar way. These women appear to have been surprised and shocked by the sudden and unexpected attack.

Ireland’s captors at Boydang and Pullan were from one or more of the islands in the Torres Strait. Captain J. Lort Stokes, who visited the cays a few years later, thought that the annual migration to some of the southern islands and sandy isles in Shelburne Bay off Queensland was a recent practice. The visitors, he thought, would make camp there around July and August because it was a favourite time for ships passing through the Barrier Reef. Every time a ship founded, they would hasten to the doomed vessel to strip it of iron, cutlery, cloth and anything else useful to them as trade goods.2 This view was a knee-jerk reaction to the Charles Eaton murders, for the islanders regularly went south for the fishing or turtle-laying season, sometimes remaining at Shelburne Bay for many months.

Many (but not all) shipwreck survivors encountered by Torres Strait Islanders in the first years of contact were likely to be murdered. As far as the islanders were concerned, there were sound reasons for this and Ireland gave a good example of one of them when he described the condition of his own crew-mates. They were so weak from starvation and thirst they could barely crawl along the sand and were insensible with pain. Each of them had apparently lost his senses and the Torres Strait Islanders considered them dangerous. They might kill people, behave irresponsibly, fire at them, or make other harmful magic. Even more worrying, they might try to steal one of their canoes, thereby jeopardizing the safety of the entire fishing party.

White people were at particular risk of being killed because they were initially thought to be ghosts and thus already dead. The severed head of such a person was all that had any value, for trade or ceremony. The skulls of Ireland’s tragically unlucky shipmates were used for the latter purpose. He had already noticed the pole with the heads attached to it, swinging around at the ends of ropes while the flesh rotted away in the sun. As he explained:

Every morning about sunrise, and every evening at sunset, one of the natives went close to the pole, and blew seven or eight times through a large shell; which made a noise somewhat like blowing through a cow’s horn; at the same time looking up steadfastly at the heads.

After this, the other people decked themselves with green branches of trees, and some painted or rather rubbed their bodies over with a kind of ochre, of a red colour and white, and came to the pole with great parade, holding their clubs and spears. Then they made a sort of corraboray [sic] or dance; but I could not trace any signs of religion in these ceremonies, nor detect anything like reverence paid to the pole.3

It was a terrible sight for the children, yet there clearly was ritual in the daily services. Studies by the Cambridge anthropological expedition to the Torres Strait show that one feature of the social life of the central and eastern Torres Strait Islanders was the hero cult known as the Cult of the Brethren. It embraced head hunting, with collected heads often displayed in lodges as trophies for their hero.4

The campers at Pullan were well aware that taking the heads of ‘ghosts’ could lead to retribution from more of their kind. After the boys had been on the island for about seven days, a single ship passed the island at a distance. A week later, two ships sailing in company came closer to the shore, sailing with a fine breeze and with studding sails set.5 ‘The natives seemed very much frightened at this,’ said Ireland, ‘and were in the utmost confusion; they took us, and all the skulls, with the dog, and hid among the bushes until the ships were gone.’ The ship’s boy indicated that he wanted to go to the ships and one of the men, irritated by this, fired an arrow, hitting him in the breast. Speaking of the incident later, Ireland said, ‘a great quantity of blood came from the wound; another then shot at me, but fortunately for me missed his aim.’6

According to one of Ireland’s accounts, the party stayed on Pullan for either a short time or more than two months, i.e. until early November. The island was used as a base because it had a plentiful supply of fresh rainwater, collected from a man-made spring. Not all sandy reef isles have the ability to trap fresh water at their centre, but Pullan was one that did. There were about 60 people on the island, including the women and children, and they drew water from the hole in large quantities for drinking and cooking, yet somehow the hole was always full.

Isle 4 (Wallace Islet) is small with low bushes and no water supply. Isle 1 (Boydang), is the largest island. It has tall trees and the remnants of a man-made waterhole. In the 19th century it was the home-base for Torres Strait Islanders visiting Shelburne Bay and 19th-century visitors reported that there were remnants of huts in its interior.

At least some of the men bonded with the white boys and took them spear fishing in their canoes, while at other times they helped the women to collect shellfish from the reefs. Ireland would later recall the names of only four of the men. They included his own saviour, Bis-kea, and three others called Maroose, Uni-uni and Malgoor. Fish and turtle meat were either broiled in ashes or boiled in large volute shells. If the men had a good fishing day, there was enough to eat. If not, the boys got fish heads and entrails. Once when he was very hungry, Ireland tried eating some grass, but it gave him abdominal pains, which were still recurring many years later.

The only edible vegetation was a small plum fruit, although there were times when the older boys managed to steal a small piece of coconut from their captors’ limited supplies. As for George and William, their pampered lives in India had deprived them of even the most basic survival skills. The islanders had wasted no time in stripping the boys of their clothes and they had no choice but to run naked with the other children. Mosquitoes or sand flies infested the cay and they were soon covered with itchy bites. William cried so much that he drove the women to distraction. They called him Uass, a name that seemed to mimic his heartbroken wailing. In the end, the women used to tie him up to a tree and beat him with a bamboo for making a noise. ‘On one occasion, when the women were beating him, I went and released him, and very nearly lost my life,’ Ireland said, ‘for an arrow was shot within an inch of my head. They sometimes tied him up and left him for several hours.’


Admiralty Chart of the Boydong sandy isles (more commonly called Boydang or Boydan in the 1830s), published in 1894 under the superintendence of Captain W. L. J. Wharton. Of the five cays, only three are named: Boydong Islet, referred to by King as No. 1, Little Boydong Islet ( No. 2), and Wallace Islet, (No. 4). Wallace Islet has bushes and no water, and matches in physical description and location the cay referred to by Ireland as ‘Boydan’. Little Boydong Islet has trees to a height of 20 ft but no water, while No. 1 Islet had trees to a height of 50 ft and there once was a man-made well. It matches Ireland’s description of Pullan. The unanswered question is: to what extent can we trust Ireland’s memory of their names? The islets are so tiny they can barely be seen on this map. What each does have is vast sandy shallows and coral reefs (see photo below). Little wonder they were perfect breeding grounds for turtles.



The first English captain to visit these low islands and describe them was Captain James Cook, who anchored on their leeside of No. 1 island (see map) on 21 August 1770, on his pioneering voyage up the eastern coast of Australia in HMS Endeavour.

Upon this island which is only a small spot of sand with some trees upon it, we saw a good many hutts [sic] or habitations of the natives which we supposed comes over from the main to these islands (from which they are distant about 5 leagues) to catch turtle as these animals come ashore to lay their eggs.7

Although Captain Cook may have been correct in concluding that the natives he saw were from the mainland, it’s likely that they were actually from the Torres Strait. Cook passed by in August, the very time when, according to Ireland, many islanders relocated to the cays for the turtle laying season.

The next recorded visit to these Shelburne Bay islets appears to have been that of HM Colonial brig Kangaroo, commanded by Lieutenant Charles Jeffreys RN. On 24 July 1817 the brig came to anchor off one of the sandy islands in the bay and from the description provided in the diary of a passenger, Thomas Hassall, it may have been Halfway Island.

The next afternoon they came to anchor off one of the sandy islands about lat. 11o 22′ where they saw some natives and canoes. The Captain and a party went ashore where the Aborigines held up both hands, in one of which was a small branch as a token of peace. … Salutations and gifts were exchanged and the visitors came away with the unusual Aboriginal weapon, of some arrows and a bow. Their canoes were also of interest, measuring from 60 to 65 feet in length, and hollowed out of a single tree, with an outrigger on each side supporting a small platform.8

Again, this appears to be a typical encounter with Torres Strait Islanders. HMS Beagle, commanded by J. Lort Stokes, visited the islet already labelled as being Boydan or Boydang on 11 July 1839 and found it unoccupied. Stokes wrote:

Captain King drew his conclusions relative to this island from the circumstance of young Ireland’s stating, that on their way to it in the canoe, after leaving the raft, they first passed three islands on the right northward, and one on the left southward. From the bearings, however, and from our run on the following morning we found it necessary to correct the chart … and I am further inclined, from these corrections, to draw the conclusion that No. 4 of the group [Wallace Island] is Boydan island.9

Captain J. Lort Stokes, commander of HMS Beagle, concluded that Wallace Island was the real Boydang. Portrait by unknown artist, c.1864.

Most people accept King’s view that No. 1 of the group is Boydang, although King himself never challenged his friend’s navigational and observational conclusion. Stokes had, after all, been there and checked it for himself. From the physical description supplied by Ireland, Wallace Island does seem a more likely choice, while the island now called Boydang or Boydong matches the boy’s description of Pullan. The remains of an old, man-made well can still be seen there, so the island was once capable of supplying rainwater. Ireland did state that Pullan had sheltering trees and a man-made well.

The British anthropologist, Alfred Cort Haddon, who compiled Reports of the Cambridge Anthropological Expedition to Torres Straits, read the various reports about the shipwreck and came to the same conclusion, that Pullan was part of the Boydang group. In his introduction to Volume IV of the report (p. 2), Haddon writes: ‘The latitudes of Pullan and Erub are about two degrees (120 nautical miles) apart. We thus have evidence that the Central Islanders voyaged to the islands and sand banks within the Great Barrier Reef to a distance of over 100 miles.’

From this quote we can see that Haddon places Pullan in the same group of cays as Boydang. A positive identification of the historically important Pullan has yet to be made but it is probably the No. 1 islet now known as Boydang. In terms of the maps and charts however, it hardly matters since the whole group of small sandy isles is known collectively as the Boydang Cays.


Digital Collections - Maps - Horsburgh,... Eastern Coast [cartog
James Horsburgh’s map entitled Passages through the Barrier Reef, Australia, Eastern Coast. This segment concentrates on the tracks and reefs in the vicinity of the Stead Passage and the Great Detached Reef, represented here with three simplistic curves.

Before Captain Moore left London, he obtained a copy of Horsburgh’s 1832 chart. We can accept that because he said that he had got a chart of the area at London, and the 1832 version of this one was the current one then available. This is apparently a version of the same map. As nautical charts go, Horsburgh’s works were among the most trusted in the world, renowned for their accuracy. In this instance, however, he has produced a sketch based on information provided by ship’s captains, and it is consequently vague. The Great Detached Reef is given a simple oval shape but he has placed it correctly in terms of its longitude and latitude. He provides co-ordinates for the Indefatigable passage or entrance that was later surveyed by Captain Blackwood and renamed the Raine Island passage or entrance. A copy of the chart has been digitized and can be viewed at the National Library of Australia’s website. I recommend that you check it out.

Samuel Ashmore’s chart called Tracks through the Barrier Reefs, drawn by G. C Stewart, a Sydney draftsman, and printed in Sydney by a local printer in 1835. (G262:6/18) British Maritime Museum, Greenwich, London. For research purposes only. As far as I am aware, the British Maritime Museum has the only surviving copy of this chart.

Given that Ashmore’s chart wasn’t printed until 1835, it’s fair to ask: How did Captain Moore have a copy of it in 1834? The answer is that he either made for himself or had done for him a hand-drawn copy of a chart that Ashmore had drawn up for his own private use. On it he had marked out five passages that had been safely used to cross through the Great Barrier Reef to the Torres Strait. Ashmore made the crossing nine times without incident. In Sydney in the 1830s it gave him an almost legendary status among seafarers. A few conscientious captains, wanting to use the outer passage but fearful of what lay ahead of them, sought information from Captain Ashmore on the best tracks through the Barrier Reef. Ashmore by this time had given up the seafaring life and settled in Sydney. He was generous with his free advice and even allowed a few of them to copy his chart. Captain Moore must have been one of them. It was precisely that kind of interest that encouraged Ashmore to pass his hand-drawn chart over to a Sydney draftsman to prepare it for printing. Before that happened though he laid down two more safe passages on it, supplied to him by the captain of the Argo. The fact that Moore had Ashmore’s chart copied by hand in 1834 indicates his concern about the accuracy of the Horsburgh chart. His hand-drawn copy would not have been as clear as the printed version above.

In the wake of the subsequent disaster that befell the Charles Eaton, Ashmore was accused of producing a chart that was leading mariners to their destruction, by encouraging them to use the outer route to the Torres Strait instead of the inner route. Ashmore and his supporters could counter-claim that most masters of merchant ships already preferred the outer route and the chart helped most of them to avoid shipwreck. Both charts were misleading and when used together they were particularly confusing, but the onus was always upon each individual captain to approach the barrier reefs with extreme caution and to proceed through them only when visibility was very good. In the end, the much safer inner route laid down by Phillip Parker King RN should have been the obvious choice. The location of the Charles Eaton wreck indicates that Moore, in the end, may have placed too much trust in the Ashmore Chart, which incorrectly placed the Great Detached Reef to the west of longitude 142. You could argue that it was the least reliable of the two and Moore was right to regret having chosen to use it instead of the Horsburgh’s chart.

Notes to Chapter 14

  1. John Ireland, The Shipwrecked Orphans, New Haven: Babcock, 2nd edn, 1845, pp. 30–31.
  2. J. Lort Stokes, Discoveries in Australia…, vol. 1, Australiana Facsimile Editions no. 33, Adelaide: Library Board of SA 1969, p. 364.
  3. Ireland p. 30.
  4. A. C. Haddon (comp.), Reports of the Cambridge Anthropological Expedition to Torres Straits…, vol. I: General Ethnography, Cambridge at the University Press, 1935, p. 90 and pp. 347–48.
  5. On tall sailing ships, advantage would be taken of a particularly fine wind by extending the cross-yards with ‘arms’ to which extra sails, called ‘studding’ sails, were attached.
  6. Sydney Monitor, 19 Oct. 1836. This version contradicts the King/Lewis account, in which John Ireland apparently claimed that the arrow wound in his chest was caused by Bis-kea. The ship’s boy, however, was often difficult to understand, a circumstance which frequently resulted in his interrogators drawing the wrong conclusion.
  7. Captain Cook’s Log, 21 Aug. 1770. In Ray Parkin, H. M. Bark Endeavour: Her place in Australian History…, Melbourne: The Miegunyah Press, Melbourne University Press, 1997, p. 433.
  8. Ian Nicholson, Via Torres Strait: A maritime history of the Torres Strait route and the ships’ post office at Booby Island, Nambour, Qld: Roebuck Society Publication no. 48, 1996, p. 53. This is clearly a description of canoes from one of the eastern islands of the Torres Strait.
  9. Stokes pp. 360–61.

Chapter 15: The Cabin Boy’s Adventure

One morning the group at Pullan split in two. One group took John Ireland and William D’Oyly away in a single canoe, while the other two boys stayed with the rest of the party. Someone told Ireland that the two boys who remained behind would be going to another island, but he was never able to learn its name. George D’Oyly was intelligent and deeply distressed by his parents’ murders. It is not hard to imagine the tears he must have shed when the division of spoils separated him from his little brother. He had already expressed the wish to join his parents in heaven and the loss of his brother must have been unbearable.

Ireland’s party left early in the morning, and by midday, they had arrived at a small island some distance to the north. They camped on a sandy beach for the night and set out again the following morning. The canoes contained sealed bamboo joints and coconut shells, filled with water from Pullan. The canoe journeyed north for many weeks, stopping at one island for a fortnight, at other islands briefly and finally at one island for about a month. They stayed at each island for as long as they could get enough food and water, and their diet was the same as it had been on Pullan. Based on Ireland’s account, they avoided the island of Aureed, an important cultural base.1

An accurate depiction of the shelters constructed by the islanders on the exposed sandy beaches and cays. Note the hair wigs plastered with red ochre, the waistband as the only form of clothing, and the bow and arrows that were traded from the Papuan coast. This sketch was made at Mt Ernest Island (Naghi or Nagheer). Pl. no. XVI of: Sketches in Australia and the Adjacent Islands by Harden S. Melville. Tinted lithograph with some hand colouring. London: Printed and published by Dickinson & Co. c 1849.

To understand why this might be so, it is necessary to outline the significance of Aureed’s role in the affairs of the Torres Strait at that time. The people of the Gam-le tribe who now possessed the two boys inhabited a cluster of central sandbanks called Aureed, Uta, Zogarid, Sirreb, Mekek and Warabe.2 Aureed had a few small coconut and tobacco plantations and some she-oaks (casuarinas) and like the rest of the central islands it was fringed by coral reefs well endowed with marine life. However, it had no permanent water supply. It was, nevertheless, an important bartering centre for visitors from other islands.

The Gam le, with few resources of their own, led a precarious existence and depended upon trade with the fertile eastern islands, where garden produce was relatively abundant. In return, the Gam le offered stones from Forbes Island off the Queensland coast, spears from Cape York, and canoes, drums and weapons from Papua New Guinea. They also made turtle oil, collected sea and turtle shells and bartered precious red ochre. Within the Torres Strait trading network, they offered sought-after items in exchange for food and water. They were also prepared to travel long distances for good fishing and turtling grounds and to scavenge from shipwrecks, with everything portable taken from ships having value. Necessity had made the resource-poor Gam le vigorous participants in the Torres Strait economy and because of this, Aureed had become a trading and cultural base, supporting a small but permanent population.3

The central islands shared with the eastern islands the great hero cults of the Brethren, based on the legendary arrival of four brothers in the strait. Malo (also Malu) went to Mer; Segar went to Yam Island; Saeu went to Massid (Yorke Island); and Kulka went to Aureed, where a ‘lodge’ or shrine was kept in his honour and where heads were displayed as trophies.4 Had the canoe party taken the two white boys to Aureed, it might have been well nigh impossible to keep them alive.

William, meanwhile, was still a very unhappy little boy. Every time they stopped at an island, he wanted to stay there. He would sit in the canoe as it glided away from the island and cry for a very long time. Eventually the roving canoe party arrived at the island of Erub (also Darnley Island), in the northeast of the strait, where they were given the customary welcome extended to friends and trading partners. Erub, with its ‘lofty hills and tranquil valleys’5 is one of the greenest of the Torres Strait islands. Its main watering place in those days was a lagoon at Bikar Bay (also Berka Bay), on the island’s northwest coast. The Erub islanders had enlarged the lagoon, so that rainwater collected in the wet season would last through the long dry season, when no rain fell on the island.

Canoes at Bikar Bay c.1943.
Canoes at Bikar Bay 1843. Artist: Harden S. Melville in J. B. Jukes, Narrative of the Survey Voyage of H.M.S.’Fly’, vol.I. London: T. & W. Boone, 1847.

The English called the bay Treacherous Bay, after the murders that had occurred there. In 1793, the merchant ships Hormuzeer and Chesterfield had anchored at Erub and traded on friendly terms. Later, when an eight-man boat party went to the lagoon for water, the islanders killed five of the men, and the sailors may have been trying to take more water than could be spared. The three survivors, prevented by the wind from returning to their ships, eventually reached Coupang at Timor in an open boat. Meanwhile, crews from the two ships, incensed by the killings, destroyed 135 huts, 16 canoes and a number of sugar plantations. They also killed several of the islanders, including at least one man reportedly decapitated as an act of revenge.6

The Erub islanders had no reason to trust or like white people during their early years of contact. The merchant traders who arrived in their ships were afraid of the islanders because of their reputation for murderous treachery. They concealed it, however, behind a great show of hearty bravado, going ashore with friendly smiles and handshakes but with belts stuffed with pistols and cutlasses. At the first sign of trouble, they were liable to panic and discharge their weapons and over the years a number of people had been killed. They were not merely treacherous, but dangerously, alarmingly so, with tempers which could by ignited by a simple act of theft. In the 40 years since the Treacherous Bay incident, the Erub islanders – and the Murray Islanders – had learned how to negotiate and trade in a way that flattered their visitors’ egos, and had begun to develop a good, though always tense and mutually suspicious, relationship with white traders.

Bikar Bay village, Erub, Eastern islands, Torres Strait, c.1943.
Village at Erub (Darnley Island). Plate no. XVII of: Sketches in Australia and the Adjacent Islands, by Harden S. Melville. Tinted lithograph with some hand colouring. London: Printed and published by Dickinson & Co. c 1849.

About 400 people lived permanently on Erub and there were seven villages dotted around its coastline.7 Ireland’s party camped at Bikar village, built on the exposed northern coast but sheltered by Bikar Bay.8 Each village consisted of a cluster of beehive-shaped huts and some open-sided sheds, pleasantly shaded by coconut trees. Within each village were a few family compounds, separated from surrounding huts by bamboo fences. The ship’s boy would later recall the Bikar people with gratitude for, he said, ‘it was here that we were first treated with some kindness.’9 Two men in particular, Mamoose, who had his property close to the fresh-water lagoon, and Ag-ghe, were very good to him. For the first time since the shipwreck, the boys were well fed, tucking into yams, sweet potatoes and bananas cooked in the ashes of a fire, plus large fish grilled in the embers and small fish boiled in shells, washing the lot down with the delicious milk of the green coconut.

Satellite photo of Erub, Torres Strait
NASA satellite photo of Erub (Darnley Island). Bikar village and the clear waters of Bikar Bay are on the upper (northern) side of the island.

The eastern islanders knew that the central islanders lived precariously and were generous with their hospitality. At the same time, they recognised the parasitic nature of their visits. Confronted by the arrogance of their more fortunate neighbours, the central islanders maintained their own sense of equality by offering difficult-to-procure trade goods in exchange. On this occasion, they offered remnants from the first raft to leave the Charles Eaton, including window frames and a calico sail.

Mamoose at this time was still a young man. The Torres Strait Islanders had no system of chiefs but Mamoose went out of his way to be obliging when trading ships called. He also led trading expeditions to a ‘sister’ village on the nearby coast of Papua New Guinea. It was a chore that he disliked, being wary of the coastal Papuans and their reputation as particularly ferocious headhunters. He and several others in his party would be killed eventually on just such an expedition, when they allowed themselves to become embroiled in a local dispute.10

The canoe party stayed at Erub for a fortnight, before sailing back in the direction of the central sandbanks, finally stopping at the island of Sirreb (Marsden Island), a short distance from Aureed and presumably the party’s home base. The women were protecting the two boys and looking after them reasonably well. They called John Ireland Waki and William D’Oyly Uass, as did everyone on the eastern islands. The Torres Strait Islanders rarely used the ‘j’ pronunciation, and Waki was possibly the closest they could get to what may have been Ireland’s childhood name of Jacky. Later, when he was an older youth and young man, Ireland always gave his Christian name as John, and Waki (pronounced Wawkie according to the author John Curtis) is equally likely to have been a traditional island name.

One week later, a canoe arrived at Sirreb from Mer carrying a man called Duppa, his wife Panney, and a few of their relatives and friends. Duppa was a good friend of Ag-ghe, one of the men who had shown kindness at Erub. Ag-ghe had told Duppa about the two white boys now at Sirreb and Duppa and Panney had decided to rescue them. Duppa and his party brought with them two branches of bananas, which they offered as payment for the ransom. They stayed on at Sirreb for three days, taking the boys for canoe rides and treating them with compassion. The ransom payment seems modest but the Mer Islanders would later report that at the time of the shipwreck, they had been at war with the central islanders. It may also have been a form of appeasement.

Duppa’s face wore a gentle expression and he quickly won young William’s trust. The three-year-old became more cheerful than he had been since he had witnessed his parents’ murders. Adoption, although practised throughout the Torres Strait, was a particular trait of the Murray Islanders, which they extended to include children from other islands. The odds were always in favour of someone from Mer bartering for the two boys.

Before Duppa returned to Mer, he stopped en route at Massid (Yorke Island). Some of the men from the group that had elected to stay behind at Pullan had since arrived there, and were now proudly showing off some of the skulls. There was no sign of George D’Oyly and John Sexton. Since Ireland and his little companion now belonged to Duppa’s party, however, no harm came to them. Behaving in a provocative manner towards resource-rich Mer would not have been a good idea.11

When Duppa beached his canoe near his house, the two white boys instantly aroused great curiosity. Ireland described the moment:

…the natives flocked around us, wondering who we were. They began asking those who had brought us a great many questions, and speaking to us in a language very nearly like that of the other natives, and which I was just beginning to understand. Some of the children were very much frightened by us, and ran away as soon as they saw us.12

The Mer men were tall and athletic, with their hair sometimes worn down to their shoulders and twisted into pencil-sized pipes or ringlets. The curled mops, however, usually turned out on closer inspection to be wigs made from human hair, often dressed with oil and red ochre. The women, by contrast, kept their heads close shaven, save for a narrow ridge of hair extending over the crown.13 It was, as many visitors observed, a reversal of the European custom of long hair for women and short hair for men.

Overall, the men were more inclined towards body alteration and vanity, with many of them wearing either a circle of tortoiseshell or a large piece of bamboo through their perforated noses. Some of the men had also cut their ear lobes and distended them down to their shoulders with large pieces of bamboo. All of the men and boys were close to naked, while the women and girls wore knee-length grass skirts.14

Duppa and Panney adopted Ireland. They continued to call him Waki and treated him as their son. Their property was the last one on the western side of the island, right next to a rocky cliff face that terminated the long beach. Within their compound were three very good huts surrounded by a bamboo fence, with a small but excellent plantation out the back.15 The couple had five other children: three boys, one of whom was also called Duppa; another son was Bowdoo; and two daughters called Yope and Sarki. Their youngest son, Kabbi Duppa (Little Duppa), was born after Ireland left Mer and he was also given the English name of John.16

Notes to Chapter 15

  1. In a despatch to Lord Glenelg dated 14 October 1836, Sir Richard Bourke wrote that Ireland was unsure whether they were taken to Aureed. HRA Series 1, vol. XVIII, July 1835–June 1837. p. 575. In 1836 the island was spelt Aurid. Today it is spelt Aureed.
  2. John Macgillivray, Narrative of the Voyage of H.M.S. Rattlesnake, 2 vols, vol. II, London: T. & W. Boone, 29 New Bond Street, 1852. p. 2;. Australiana Facsimile Editions no. 118, Adelaide: Libraries Board of SA, 1967, p. 2.
  3. A. C. Haddon, (comp.), Reports of the Cambridge Anthropological Expedition to Torres Straits, 6 vols, Cambridge: Cambridge at the University Press, 1901–1935, contains useful and interesting information on the central islands. See in particular vol. I, pp. 88–90.
  4. Haddon pp. 88–90 for information on the Cult of the Brethren. See also vol. IV, p. 299 & vol. V, p. 378.
  5. Alexander Morton, ‘Notes of a Trip to the Islands of Torres Straits and the South-east Coast of New Guinea’, Geographical Society of A/Asia, Sydney Proceedings, special vol. 1885, p. 82, described Erub thus: ‘An undulating sea of tropical verdure clothes lofty hills and tranquil valleys, broken only by rugged cliffs and crags of sombre-tinted rock’.
  6. Haddon p. 196.
  7. John Ireland’s estimate; Captain Lewis thought the population was about 260, while an officer aboard the Tigris put the total number at about 200.
  8. John Sweatman, (Jim Allen and Peter Corris, eds), The Journal of John Sweatman: A Nineteenth Century Surveying Voyage in North Australia and the Torres Strait, St Lucia, Queensland: Queensland University Press, 1977, p. 24.
  9. John Ireland, The Shipwrecked Orphans, New Haven: S. Babcock, 2nd edn, 1845, p. 34.
  10. Macgillivray vol. II, p. 47.
  11. One theory is that the islanders had a pair of ghost boys plus a pair to spare. Once Duppa and Panney had identified Ireland and William D’Oyly as the ghosts of their two dead sons, who had drowned in a canoeing accident, the other pair became superfluous and when no other islander came forward to claim them as the ghosts of dead relatives, only their skulls had value as trading goods.
  12. Ireland pp. 34–35.
  13. Sweatman p. 21; J. Beete Jukes, Narrative of the Surveying voyage of H.M.S. Fly, 2 vols, vol. II, London: 1847, p. 196.
  14. Sweatman ibid and Captain C. M. Lewis, Nautical Magazine, vol. VI, 1837, p. 743. The eastern and central islanders are thought to have settled the islands between 3000BC and 2000BC.
  15. J. Beete Jukes p. 203.
  16. Ibid. In later years, Duppa’s sons would be instrumental in fostering a good relationship with visiting whites. Duppa and his family must have realised – or been told – that Waki’s preferred name was John. In 1843 Duppa met the crew of HMS Fly and he had his youngest son with him, a small child he introduced as Little Duppa but also known as John. Jukes made no claim that there was anything about the child’s appearance to suggest he was actually Ireland’s son. According to the author John Curtis, John’s island name was pronounced Wawkie (Shipwreck of the Stirling Castle p. 311.)

Bing Translator

Part Four: a tale of two boys

Chapter 16: Torres Strait Island Home

Duppa began to teach John Ireland how to collect shellfish and grow yams, bananas and coconuts. He also gave the lad a piece of land to cultivate and later, a 20-metre-long canoe from Papua New Guinea. These extraordinary acts of generosity towards a stranger does support the view that Ireland was accepted as the ghostly resurrection of a dead son and brother. Another man called Oby, who had his hut close by, adopted William D’Oyly and he, too, probably saw in the pale-haired child some resemblance to a young relative, now dead. Oby and William quickly formed a strong attachment and everyone assumed the boy had forgotten his parents.

In this watercolour sketch by Melville, Duppa is wearing a red wig and is seated with his with Panney. His oldest son, also Duppa is standing with his new wife, an Erub (Darnley Island) girl. Circa 1845.
In this sketch done at Erub, Duppa is wearing a red wig and is seated with his wife Panney. His oldest son, also Duppa, is standing with his new wife, an Erub girl, c 1842-43. Pl. no. 18 of Sketches in Australia and the Adjacent Islands by Harden S. Melville. Tinted lithograph with some hand colouring. London: printed and published by Dickinson & Co. c 1849.

In time, Ireland began to speak the Meriam language but not as well as William, who soon spoke it as his native tongue. The once miserable youngster ran free and naked around the beach and in the sea, until he was as brown as his playmates. Still, as Ireland observed, ‘Although William was in general more cheerful, he would now and again appear very uneasy. On these occasions, I used to ask Dupper [sic] to allow me to sleep along with the child.’2

Ireland soon mastered a variety of fishing skills and techniques. Large fish were caught from canoes with a spear or a hook and line, while small fish were driven into the shallows before being speared. To catch lobsters, he would go with a party to a sandbank at night and hold up bunches of burning coconut leaves. Attracted by the light, the lobsters would emerge from their holes and were instantly dispatched with a spear. Whenever someone spotted a turtle in the water, a canoe with seven or eight men would move quietly towards it, with half the party crouching in the bow. As soon as they were close enough, the men in the bow would leap out and tie a rope around each flipper, hauling the frightened creature into the canoe.

Weapons were difficult to master. The huge bamboo bows used by the Murray Islanders came from Papua New Guinea and were so taut that only the very strong could pull the twine. Their arrows had sharp tips made from stone or shell and, according to Ireland, were sometimes smeared with poison.3

Although the Murray Islanders had little direct contact with the Australian Aborigines they did, through trade with the central islanders, obtain and use their spears and spear throwers. Nothing terrified them quite so much, however, as the white man’s firearms, about which they were very curious. Duppa asked Ireland about them one day. ‘Some of our people have been killed by them but we couldn’t see or understand what had struck them,’ he said. Ireland was unable to give Duppa a satisfactory explanation. ‘I scarcely knew myself’, he later confessed. ‘All I could tell him I did, but this only made him more curious.’4

Everyone on the island was fascinated by iron and most had at least one piece hung up inside their hut, often of a peculiar shape and size and useless in its present form. Despite their insatiable desire for the metal, there were times when they could find no use for it. Ireland showed them what to do:

One morning, Dupper was trying to straighten a piece of iron bolt, and was beating it very hard with a large piece of stone, without being able to make an impression on it. I told him to make a large fire, and put the iron into it, which would soften it. He did so, and his astonishment was very great when he found it answered the purpose.5

Illustration from The Shipwrecked Orphans depicting Ireland teaching Duppa to bend iron with fire. The artist played it safe with the modest clothing for a children’s book.

The two boys had been at Mer for a few months when a man who lived in a hut near Duppa’s compound died. Duppa warned Ireland that something ‘very dreadful’ was about to happen. The lad was immediately convinced that he would be harmed because of the man’s death. He was lying down in his hut to rest soon after sunset, still feeling very uneasy, when he heard two people outside, rattling shells and breathing very hard. Duppa cried out in a strange language and everyone in the hut hid their faces in the sand. When Ireland asked Duppa what the noise was, he replied, ‘The spirit of the dead man.’

These spirits were called lammoors (or lemurs), which also meant ‘white men’ in the language of the eastern islands. Not convinced they were genuine, Ireland hunted through all the huts near the recent haunting, looking for the costumes the two figures had been wearing, but failed to find them. In time he came to believe in spiritual and magical forces. They had a powerful influence on the lives of Duppa and his friends and they eventually dictated Ireland’s own actions as well.

The Murray Islanders were active participants in the hero cult. Of the four legendary brothers, they worshipped Malo (or Malu, secret name Bomai) and there was a lodge in his honour. According to a comment attributed to Captain Lewis, who visited the island in 1836, ‘The N. E. extremity of the island is held sacred by them, and only visited for the purpose of feasting or preserving the dead’.6 It is likely, then, that this was also the site of their lodge. A number of similar cult lodges were scattered around the central and eastern islands but Malo’s lodge was one of two chief lodges, the other being the lodge at Yam Island. Each shrine had officials, called the zogo-le,7 and at Mer they were drawn from the northern and eastern clans. They organised the ceremonies associated with Malo and practiced his magic, usually for the benefit of their community, but it made other islanders anxious when visiting Mer, for fear they would become victims of their magic.

The photographer who took the original image of a secret traditional ceremony at Mer (Murray Islands) was none other than A. C. Haddon, better known for his involvement with the 6-vol. The Cambridge Anthropological Expedition to the Torres Strait. Black-and-white lithograph loosely based on a black-and-white photograph, property of the author.

Ireland made no mention of initiation into the hero cult; nor did he appear to be familiar with its rituals. He was a lammoor so that is not surprising but he feared the magic powers of the zogo-le. He knew about the islanders’ magic stones and later explained one of their uses to Captain Lewis, who recorded the following comment in his ship’s journal:

… the Murray Islanders … when they wish the wind to blow hard, are in the habit of suspending a stone to the branch of a tree, by a string, and of vociferating loudly, and talking to it, and spitting on it, whilst they turn it about; which they suppose causes a gale. The stone is called by them Dow-yumbe [doiom]8

Mer had a number of clans and groupings, broadly divided into those who lived on the eastern side of the island and those who lived on the western side. The east-siders were excellent gardeners and owned most of the fertile land that made up the northern half of Mer.9 The Komets on the western side, on the other hand, excelled as traders. They had gardens but seemed to spend more of their time catching fish.10 According to this greatly simplified and probably inaccurate division, Duppa, Oby and their relatives, who lived on the western side, were either a part of – or were grouped with – the Komet clan and it is certainly true that they were great traders.

Trading canoe at Erub (Darnley Island) in the Torres Strait. Plate no. XIX of: Sketches in Australia and the Adjacent Islands, by Harden S. Melville. Tinted lithograph with some hand colouring. London: Printed and published by Dickinson & Co. c 1849.

One day Duppa announced that a party was going on a trading voyage to the coast of Dowdai (Papua New Guinea) and that Ireland was to be part of it. It proved to be quite an expedition. There were 12 large canoes, each containing between 10 and 16 men, women and children. Before they left, everyone collected as many shells as their canoes could hold. They were popular with the Papuans and the Torres Strait Islanders exchanged them for canoes, bows, arrows and much-prized feathers. By the time the traders got to Erub, however, Duppa had changed his mind and left Ireland behind with his friend, Ag-ghe. He must have received updated news that alarmed him. He was, said Ireland, ‘afraid the New Guinea people would steal or murder me.’11

The following evening the canoes were back. They had stopped for the night at the island of Damuth (also Jarmuth, Dalrymple, Zamut) and a quarrel over a pipe of tobacco had developed into a bow-and-arrow fight and several people were hurt. The trading voyage was off and everyone returned to Erub. Later, the Damuth people sent a peace message to Duppa’s party but they rejected it and the ill feeling between the two islands remained for some time.

On another occasion, a trading party from Aureed came over and camped on the two small islands of Dauar and Waier, where they received a friendly welcome. Aureed traders were frequent visitors and they brought with them the usual ochre, spear-throwers and shells, plus the stones from Forbes Island prized as zogo stones by the zogo-le.

The central islanders traded with the Peibre clan of Dauar or the zogo-le of Mer but had less to do with the Komet people. Their visits were usually so commonplace they attracted little comment. This time, however, the arrival of the Aureed party greatly alarmed Duppa and Oby. They hid the two boys they had adopted among the trees until the party had gone.

The arrival of the Mangles in September 1835 and her departure without him left Ireland moping and depressed. He stopped eating for days and eventually became ill. ‘I think at times I was lightheaded,’ he said, ‘for I did not know what I was doing.’ He would later say that his body ‘had wasted to a mere skeleton’12 while William was also ill for a time.13 Their life on the island had been far from easy. They had many ulcers, but that was a common complaint in the Torres Strait and the islanders had no treatment for it.

The Mangles visit occurred at a time when cholera epidemics were ravaging the world. Australia was remarkably free of it due to its strict quarantine controls. Nevertheless, Ireland’s statement that both he and William D’Oyly fell ill after the departure of the convict ship suggests that they may have contracted an illness. When Matthew Flinders visited the Murray Islands in 1802 he estimated their population at 700. Commander Igglesden of the brig Tigris, who visited the islands in 1836, thought that their total population was no more than 200. Both estimates were rough but their great difference suggests that the Torres Strait islands were not isolated enough to be protected from the infectious diseases that were frequently transmitted by visiting traders. In 1879, the population of the Murray Islands was head-counted at 374.14

Ireland asked Duppa to make inquiries about George D’Oyly and John Sexton. ‘He could not learn any tidings for a long time; but at length he told me that he understood they were both dead,’ he later said. Then again Ireland also said, ‘When I got acquainted with their language I heard one of them tell another that George D’Oyley [sic] and Sexton had been killed by the natives of Boidang (Boydang) Island. They never told me anything about it, and I only understood it from the conversation between each other.’ A different version of the conversation appeared in his book, in which he claimed to have heard a man say George D’Oyly had ‘got sick and died’ and that Sexton had been ‘speared by one of the natives’. He made no further inquiries about their deaths, being in no doubt that both boys had ceased to exist.15

One evening Duppa and some of his family, including Ireland, the adopted son they now called Waki, went up the hill to look after the house belonging to Duppa’s brother, while he was away in his trading canoe. They were among the first to see the Isabella approach the following morning and they watched as she dropped anchor off the northern end of the island.

Endnotes to Chapter 16

  1. Phillip Parker King, Captain R.N. (with reference to the Log Book of the Isabella by Captain C. M. Lewis), ‘Voyage of the Colonial Schooner Isabella in search of the Survivors of the Charles Eaton’, Nautical Magazine, vol.VI, 1837, pp. 654–62 plus map; pp.753–60; pp.799–806. p. 754.
  2. John Ireland, The Shipwrecked Orphans, New Haven, Babcock, 2nd edn, 1845, p. 38.
  3. Ireland p. 46.
  4. Ibid p. 41.
  5. Ibid p. 52.
  6. King p. 754.
  7. A. C. Haddon, (comp.), Reports of the Cambridge Anthropological Expedition to Torres Straits, 6 vols, Cambridge: Cambridge at the University Press, 1901–1935, vol. I, p. 75.
  8. King p. 756.
  9. Wolfgang Laade, ‘Ethnographic Notes on the Murray Islanders, Torres Straits’, Zeitschrift fur Ethnolgie vol. 94, no. 1, 1969, p. 34. Laade later disclaimed his article because of the number of errors it contained in its printed form. However, his description of the basic division between the gardeners of the east and the fishermen and traders of the west, although obviously an over-simplified breakdown of the island’s economy, appears to be sound enough for the purpose of this book.
  10. Laade p. 34.
  11. Ireland p. 53.
  12. Ibid p. 54.
  13. Ibid p. 51.
  14. Captain Pennefather’s ‘report of a cruise among the islands lately annexed’, dated December 19, 1879. Queensland State Archives Item ID 847019 80/460. Commander Igglesden thought that the population of Darnley Island (Erub) was much greater than that of the Murray Islands. Pennefather head-counted 80 persons on Erub in 1879. Family migration, ‘blackbirding’ or kidnapping for work on the Queensland canefields, plus voluntary recruitment to other industries, would account for much of Erub’s dramatic drop in population.
  15. Ireland p. 56.

…. …. …….

Chapter 17: Exploring the Murray Islands

At the time of his rescue, John Ireland was 17 years old and had been living in the Torres Strait for 22 months. He had forgotten English and mixed what little he did remember with the language of the eastern islands. It suggests that he had spent little time on the retentive process of learning how to read and write. English was an oral tool, easily discarded when no longer useful. Nevertheless, Captain Lewis soon extracted from him a few sparse sentences, and it quickly spread throughout the schooner.

Brockett, the sailor on board the Isabella who published an account of her voyage, concluded that Ireland’s incoherence was caused by his ‘long residence amongst the natives, and the dangers to which he was constantly exposed’.1 He thought that the lad appeared almost stupefied, ‘arising, I should imagine, either from fear of the natives, or from overjoy at his emancipation’.

The general opinion of the schooner’s crew was that the dazed lad had temporarily lost his intellect. Ireland, however, had enough sense about him in the first minutes of his rescue to point out that, contrary to Brockett’s conclusion, the Murray Islanders had treated him with great kindness. To Duppa in particular he owed his life.2 Duppa, meanwhile, was still waiting anxiously in his canoe. Lewis invited him aboard, covered his naked body with a linen outfit and loaded him with presents, so that Duppa was both pleased and satisfied.

The story that Ireland gave Lewis was much, much shorter than the version contained in the previous two chapters, which drew upon many sources. Captain Lewis’s journal, the log book of an unidentified Isabella sailor and Brockett’s published book are united in recording that all aboard the two rafts had been murdered at Boydang almost immediately, save for Ireland and William D’Oyly. At this stage, the ship’s boy said nothing to Lewis about George D’Oyly and John Sexton.3  

Later, after Ireland had eaten a small meal, Lewis assigned to him the role of interpreter and told him to ask for William. Fearing that the islanders might hide the boy to keep him, Lewis suspended all trading until the islanders handed the child over. The canoes returned to the beach but one of them quickly came back, reporting that the child was crying and refused to leave. He was on the other side of the island, said the men in the canoe.

At about seven o’clock the following morning, five canoes came out to the schooner to barter. Lewis continued to forbid any trade, stressing that bartering would resume only after he had the younger boy. For a time the islanders offered passive resistance, standing by the schooner in their canoes but not attempting to send for the boy. Lewis finally ended the impasse by opening the ports and running out the cannons. The men in the canoes instantly understood the threat. One canoe promptly went back to the island but returned with the proposal to give up the child for a payment of iron, made in advance.

A sad farewell. Oil painting by John Carmichael, commissioned by William Bayley, the uncle who subsequently adopted and raised William D’Oyly. Portrays the moment when five canoe loads of Murray islanders escorted William, the lad they had rescued from headhunters and raised for two years, out to the colonial schooner Isabella. Held by the National Gallery of Australia.

Lewis refused the offer, repeating his demands for William. The next day the captain got the result he wanted. A group of about 100 men assembled on a hill, in deep consultation. Among them was a naked white boy, playing with children of about his own size. It was several hours before the group on the hill reached a decision and a party moved down to the shore and boarded canoes. Oby was cradling William in his arms. When man and boy were assisted aboard the Isabella they descended into the cabin, where Lewis gave Oby presents and the usual clothing that such occasions seemed to demand.4 William was sitting on Oby’s shoulders and he made it clear by his screaming that he wanted to stay there. He clutched so tightly to Oby’s hair that Lewis and his men had to use force to break his hold. Commander G. B. Kempthorne of the Tigris gave this description of the two boys when they boarded the Isabella:

William was almost five years old when he was handed over to Captain Lewis, tall, thin, freckled and with long, untidy blond curls. Yet there seems to have been a perception by the artist, John Carmichael, that he was a plump, dark-haired toddler. Detail of painting above. Held by the National Gallery of Australia.

These unfortunate boys were quite naked when found by Captain Lewis, and young D’Oyly had become, in manner and appearance, a perfect little savage, being quite brown and freckled, and his body covered with a thick whitish down. … his countenance was rather broad, but pleasing, and he was tall for his age. His hair, which had never felt a comb, was flaxen, and was long and shaggy, and his eyes were blue: these were characteristics plainly showing his Anglo-Saxon origin. Ireland was tall and thin, complexion and hair dark, and much sunburnt. They both spoke the native language fluently,— so much so, that the latter had almost forgotten his own tongue. He could hardly, when first discovered, put a sentence together, and seemed quite at a loss for words; but he soon got over this defect, and in a week or so after being on board of the Isabella, he spoke as well as any one in the vessel.

… Poor young D’Oyly, when given over to strangers, cried most bitterly, and wanted much to return to his old protectors: his grief at parting with those who had been so kind to him, lasted for several days, and none but Ireland could pacify him. He shunned the faces of all on board, and endeavoured to hide away in some dark corner of the vessel, quite dreading the approach of any one. At night his fears were beyond credence: he would not allow his companion in misfortune to be out of sight for one instant.5

Kempthorne guessed that William was three and tall for his age, but the lad had his fifth birthday a short time after his rescue. Later, in Sydney, when he was almost seven, he attracted the comment from the author, Charlotte Barton, that for a five-year-old, he was remarkably tall for his age.6

The Isabella had no surgeon, and both boys needed treatment for their many ulcers. Brockett observed with some satisfaction that neither of them had tattoos, a circumstance he found surprising. To provide some cheer, Captain Lewis ordered the firing of guns and small arms, to amuse his hosts with a bit of light and a rocket. Judging by the shouts from the beach, the noise frightened some people.

Johns dramatic weight loss seems to have occurred in the nine months since the departure of the convict ship Mangles. Until then, both boys had been well cared for and fed. Post-Manglesvisit, the older lad was malnourished, with illness and attendant loss of appetite the likely cause. Several people also commented on the fact that thick white down covered William’s body. It could be a description of the fine down called ‘laguno’, which is supposed to appear in some of the worst cases of anorexia.7 More likely, his flaxen body hair was particularly noticeable on his sun-darkened limbs.

Within a few days of his rescue, William was happily running around the schooner’s deck. ‘One of the sailors made him a frock and trousers,’ explained Ireland, ‘and another gave him a cap; he looked very curious in them, but at first they made him uncomfortable.’8 William was expressive with his face and hands. He would sit beside the sailors and describe what appeared to be everything that happened after the shipwreck, using signs to demonstrate the murders. It is possible that he remembered some of it; more likely, he was repeating what Ireland had often told him. He adapted so quickly to his new surroundings that Brockett smugly concluded he had already forgotten his island family, becoming ‘more partial to us than he had ever been to them.’9

Weapons of war. The large bows and arrows from Papua New Guinea were particularly prized. According to Ireland, the arrows were sometimes tipped with poison.
Two drums and a tobacco pipe. The home-grown tobacco was stuffed into the top of the smaller pipe and set alight. The smoke was then sucked down into the larger pipe and inhaled.

The schooner remained off Mer for nine days, with the crew going ashore almost every day to barter and, in the case of Brockett and Lewis, make observations and notes. Brockett also made a number of crude sketches of people, scenes and artefacts, scoring a good deal when he bartered some trifle for a curious bamboo instrument that had actually come from Papua New Guinea (as it is now called). Most of what the sailors traded for curios was rubbish. One sailor traded an old stocking. Another got several artefacts for the sleeve of an old blue flannel shirt, while Brockett boasted he got several items for an old steel pen, plus some large, attractive shells for an old brace. He had inherited his father’s passion for collecting.

Sketch by W. E. Brockett of Murray Islanders spearfishing off the beach and cooking their catches. One man is wearing European trousers presumably gifted by Captain Lewis. The landscape appears to be  fanciful. From Narrative of a Voyage from Sydney to Torres Straits..., p. 26.

The Murray Islanders, meanwhile, were trying to outwit their guests to much the same extent that the sailors were attempting to palm off rubbish. One of them tried to steal a knife, while Ireland later admitted that he saw Duppa steal a pair of compasses, but said nothing for fear of offending the man who had saved his life. Lewis thought them harmless, ‘but great thieves and also very much afraid of a gun or small arms.’10

The islanders were actually quite suspicious of the white men, who never ventured ashore without weapons. They would not permit any of their women to go out to the schooner, although Brockett did observe one curious exception. Two women came off in a canoe and waited patiently for a time but were not allowed on board, so they returned to Mer. Ireland then told Brockett that while he had been living on Mer he had been compelled to marry.11 He never spoke of it again and the women may not have been connected with his confession. On the other hand, one of them may have been his bride, anxious to speak to him but thwarted in her efforts.

On another occasion Ireland told Lewis that he ‘was offered a wife, and a plot of ground, if he would only remain amongst them,’12 but he refused, he said, hoping for rescue. How to explain, then, that Duppa did give him a plot of land, as well as a canoe? A possible explanation is that Ireland either married or was betrothed to a local woman but was later too shy to admit it.

One day a boatload of sailors from the Isabella went to a waterhole with eight casks they hoped to fill. There was only enough water left in the hole to fill one cask and it was so muddy it was unfit for use, but the sailors took it any way. As Lewis dryly commented with remarkable lack of concern, ‘It appears that the island is very deficient in water’.13 There was a stream in a valley on the southeastern corner of Mer but it flowed only briefly after each downpour of rain. Man-made waterholes or wells dug deeply into its bed, however, stored enough water to last for months. During the wet season, the islanders collected rainwater in huge bi-valved shells; in the dry season, coconut milk was the principal drink.

While the sailors were busy scooping out the dredges from the waterhole, one of the islanders, an unfortunate fellow disfigured by something like leprosy, clumsily tried to remove an empty cask. It was one white man’s artefact that the ship’s crew could doubtless spare – but Lewis and his crew were incensed by what they regarded as an act of unforgivable deceit. Trying to steal a large cask from under the noses of the watching sailors seems so unlikely that it is probable that the poor man, wishing to prove his usefulness, had merely intended to fill it from another source.

Many of the descriptions of the Torres Strait Islanders in the 1830s have come from men like those aboard the schooner. They are superficial observations but they are useful, even if they do reflect the white man’s prejudices at that time. The following extract from the logbook of an anonymous sailor aboard the Isabella is less widely known and may therefore be of interest:

Thursday 23rd.—Fine weather, the natives on board, offering their trifles for sale and viewing the different things about the decks, especially the small arms, which they did not appear to like after having seen one or two birds shot by the Captain; lowered the boats down and man’d them to go to a small Island divided from Murray’s by a narrow passage, called by the natives Dower [sic]; upon landing with one of the natives of Murray’s Island, the Captain and four men went to see if they could find any inhabitants, or any thing that might lead to any further discovery of the unfortunate ship; there were about ten or twelve small huts surrounded by a bamboo fence entirely forsaken by the inhabitants and nothing left but a very dismal spectacle of about 25 human skulls hung in a line at the foot of a large tree, and two or three in several of the huts surrounded by shells of different kinds, several things of very rough workmanship were obtained by the Captain, the principle of which were masks, and about six or eight wooden swords made of a very hard wood, and appeared to be very formidable weapons.14

Captain Lewis, assuming that the island was uninhabited despite clear evidence to the contrary, simply helped himself to any masks, swords or shells he found there. The definition of theft did appear to depend upon the nationality of the offender. Ireland hastened to assure Lewis that the human skulls were those of relatives of the island’s inhabitants and not connected to any shipwreck.

At eight o’clock on the morning of Tuesday, 28 June, the schooner left her anchorage off Mer. Before she sailed, Duppa collected coconuts, yams and tobacco from his garden and brought the produce out to the schooner as a gift for his adopted son. ‘He then asked who was to have the care of my canoe, bows and arrows, and other articles?’ reported Ireland. ‘I said, his son, Bowdoo; with which he seemed very well satisfied.’ On the previous night, Lewis had entrusted Duppa with a note for the captain of the next ship to call, in which he outlined the fate of those aboard the Charles Eaton and stated categorically that he had rescued ‘the only two living.’15

Unknown, 19th century face mask from an island in the Torres Strait, Australia Rietberg Museum Accession number RME 1. Donation from Eduard von der Heydt, Oceanian section of the Museum. Source/Photographer Guérin Nicolas, Wikimedia Commons.

Notes to Chapter 17

  1. W. E. Brockett, Narrative of a Voyage from Sydney to Torres Straits: in Search of the Survivors of the Charles Eaton, in His Majesty’s colonial schooner Isabella, C.M. Lewis, commander, Sydney: printed at the Colonist, 1836, p. 19.
  2. Phillip Parker King, Captain R.N. (with reference to the Log Book of the Isabella by Captain C. M. Lewis), ‘Voyage of the Colonial Schooner Isabella in search of the Survivors of the Charles Eaton’, Nautical Magazine, vol.VI, 1837, p. 655.
  3. See Brockett and King/Lewis accounts. Also Anon., Australian, 21 Oct. 1836.
  4. King/Lewis, Nautical Magazine, vol.VI, 1837, p. 661. On 21 June, 1836, a white boy called William was taken from Mer. Coincidentally, exactly 100 years later, on 21 June 1936, a boy was born on Mer who would grow up to challenge the notion of terra nullius and mount the first successful claim in Australia for native title. It was, of course, the great Eddie Mabo.
  5. Commander G. B. Kempthorne, I. N., ‘A Narrative of a Voyage in Search of the Crew of the Ship “Charles Eaton,” performed in the year 1836’. Transactions of the Bombay Geographical Society, vol. VIII, 1844, pp. 336–351 but in particular p. 227.
  6. Charlotte Barton, (A Lady Long Resident in New South Wales), A Mother’s Offering to Her Children. Sydney: printed at the Gazette Office, 1840, p. 81.
  7. Commander G. B. Kempthorne, I. N., ‘A Narrative of a Voyage in search of the Crew of the Ship “Charles Eaton…” ’ p. 227.
  8. John Ireland, The Shipwrecked Orphans, New Haven: S. Babcock, 2nd edn, 1845, p. 60.
  9. Brockett p. 15.
  10. King, Nautical Magazine, vol. VIII, 1839, p. 110. Written in the letter Lewis left behind with Duppa and collected by Captain Igglesden.
  11. William Bayley file, thought to be Brockett to Bayley, undated but probably August 1837. Dixson Library, State Library of New South Wales, Sydney, A1074.
  12. Ditto.
  13. King, Nautical Magazine, vol.VI, 1837, p. 662.
  14. Australian, 21 Oct. 1836.
  15. King, Nautical Magazine, vol. VIII, 1839, p. 110. Also William Bayley file, Igglesden to Gledstanes, inclusion.

….. …”” ….. ……

Figs. 1. Flying Squid; a singular description of flying fish. 2,6,7,8,9 Marks cut in the natives’ shoulders. 3. Hut. 4. Shows the manner in which they bury their dead. John Ireland informed me [i.e. Brockett] that there were a great number of people hanging up in different parts of the island, as represented in the figure. 5. Wooden instrument, which they wear in their ears to extend them. From Narrative of a Voyage from Sydney to Torres Straits…, p. 21.


Chapter 18: Return to Erub

John Ireland told Captain Lewis that the Erub islanders frequently visited Boydang and were on good terms with the men who had murdered his shipmates. However, said Ireland, there had been no contact between Erub and Mer for about 14 months. It was an unusual circumstance, given that intermarriage between these two neighbouring islands did occur and there were many individual ties of friendship. Lewis decided to pay Erub a visit. According to Duppa, the skulls of the white people were on a small island to the southwest, but the captain was unsure how to find the island and hoped the people at Erub would give him better directions.

On Tuesday, 5 July, the Isabella anchored off Erub’s Bikar Bay. In the usual manner of the Torres Strait, a large group of islanders assembled on the beach and began waving boughs and making signs of peace. A delegation in a single canoe approached the schooner soon after, while several other canoes launched at the same time held back and kept their distance. When the men in the vanguard canoe came close, they immediately showed signs of alarm, perhaps because of the two white boys standing on the deck, or perhaps from the sight of so many armed sailors. The moment of anxiety passed, and the canoeists began calling out ‘Waki!’ and ‘Uass!’ Ireland quickly identified two of the men as part of the group who had murdered his companions and thought they had been present at the time. Using the ship’s boy as an interpreter, Lewis made it clear there would be no barter until the islanders had given up any white men they were holding on the island. The men in the canoe vigorously denied the accusation.

On the following day, many canoes visited the schooner to barter their trifles. Included among their occupants were two or three women. The sailors took this to be ‘a token of wishing to be upon friendly terms,’1 but ‘no information to be got of any of our unfortunate countrymen, although they profess to give every information in their power’.2 That evening, Lewis proposed once again that they fire off the schooner’s cannons. There were several islanders on board at the time and the loud reports terrified them, while those still on the beach scampered for cover, convinced they were under attack. When told the rockets were entertainment, they were not amused.

As the days passed, the relationship between the villagers and the ship’s crew became guardedly friendly, though Brockett guessed that it was ‘occasioned principally by the fear of the fire arms which we had in our possession.’3 The schooner, meanwhile, was running seriously short of water. Having seen the reservoir at Bikar Bay, which seemed to hold an ample supply, Captain Lewis struck a bargain, promising one iron axe for every two full casks. To test the deal, the sailors took two empty casks ashore. A group of women rolled them to the reservoir and filled them, while the men sat on the grass and watched.

On a subsequent watering excursion, the Erub Islanders ‘immediately stuck a small green bough in the cutlass belt of each man’4 and the schooner’s crew took this as a ‘sure sign of friendship’.5 One man even insisted on sleeping aboard the schooner, and the crew initially took this as another sign of wanting to be friendly. However, he was ‘observed by many of the different watches to be watching them very narrowly as they were walking up and down with their side arms.’6 The warm and fuzzy feelings produced by the gesture with the green boughs soon wore off, and the sailors succumbed to paranoia, convinced that their water was poisoned. Their suspicion evaporated when the islanders collecting the water freely drank from it.7

The atmosphere during the time that the government schooner was at anchor off Erub was very tense. The schooner’s crew was suspicious and anxious. Even so, Lewis continued his inquiries and insisted on inspecting the interiors of all the dwellings, something that the Erub islanders deeply resented. Although assured by the Murray Islanders that he had rescued the only two survivors, inconsistencies in the boy’s story convinced Lewis of the need for a thorough search at Erub. Governor Bourke had also instructed him to look for survivors from other shipwrecks at every island where he made landfall.

Old Duppa (left), Mamoose (centre) and Seewai (right) at Erub. Duppa’s oldest son, also Duppa, married an Erub girl and went to live at Bikar Bay, where he established cordial relationships with visiting crews. His parents became regular visitors and were staying with their son and his new wife when this portrait was drawn. Melville spells Mamoose as Mammos — and he may be right. Harden S. Melville 1843. In J. B. Jukes, Narrative of the Survey Voyage of H.M.S. ‘Fly’, vol. I. London: T. & W. Boone, 1847.
Sketched at Erub by Harden S. Meville, c.1842. In J. B. Jukes, Narrative of the Survey Voyage of H.M.S. ‘Fly’, vol. II. London: T. & W. Boone, 1847. the group is named from left to right as: Doodegas, Manoo, Warti and Darras.

The Isabella remained at Erub for so long that it began to look as if the captain was reluctant to leave, despite ample signs that his hosts were becoming increasingly anxious to get rid of him. Duppa’s friends, Mamoose and Ag-ghe, were always courteous guides around the island and the sailors appreciated their efforts, showering the two men with presents. The rest of the islanders quickly began to ignore the visitors and resumed their daily chores. They were great anglers and had built a number of stone piers that they used to trap fish. During the visit by Captain Lewis’s expedition, many of them were hard at work building an exceptionally large one.

On 17 July, the schooner finally left Erub, although Lewis still had no additional information about where to find the skulls of the murdered castaways. She had gone only a short distance when visibility became so poor that Captain Lewis ordered the schooner back to Bicar Bay. This time the reception was far from friendly. The white men were like guests who refused to leave and the Erub islanders were bored with them. For Brockett, their lack of enthusiasm for the second coming was further proof that they were not to be trusted.

A native dance at Darnley Island [Erub]. Pl. no. XX of: Sketches in Australia and the Adjacent Islands by Harden S. Melville. Tinted lithograph with some hand colouring. London: Printed and published by Dickinson & Co. c 1849.

The islanders, to their credit, wisely decided upon forbearance, and that evening they entertained the ship’s crew with a dance. The performers decorated themselves with leaves and headpieces, while about 50 squatting musicians supplied the beat, some by striking a piece of bamboo with a stick, others by slapping their rumps. At the end of the evening, every one of the entertainers insisted on shaking Captain Lewis by the hand with their characteristic scraping and clawing motion, accompanied by affectionate embraces.

While this spirit of goodwill prevailed, Lewis was able, the next day, to have a useful conversation with a large group of islanders. With Ireland acting as interpreter, they told him the heads of the lammoors murdered at Boydang were at the island of Aureed. A canoe loaded with Aureed islanders had left some days ago, they said, to prepare for the schooner’s visit. The plan was to collect piles of tortoiseshell as a gift of appeasement. For two weeks, Lewis had tried in vain to extract any useful information about Aureed’s location. Yet the Erub islanders had steadfastly denied that they had any information to give. Not even offers of iron had persuaded them to betray their friends. On this occasion, however, they flocked around Lewis in great numbers competing with each other to blab out precise directions on how to find Aureed. Could it be that word had reached Erub that Aureed was now safely deserted?

Lewis decided to sail directly to Aureed to collect the remains. The Erub islanders assured him that he would have no difficulty finding it, since it was the only one of the flat central islands with coconut palms. According to the King/Lewis account, the suddenly quite chatty group also told Ireland that a man called Cut-Cut killed Charlotte D’Oyly. George D’Oyly’s murderer came from Zamut (Dalrymple) and was called Maam, while Sexton had been killed by a man called Abuyu, who came from an unnamed island near Papua New Guinea.8 The ship’s boy further claimed that he easily recognised the latter two, although he had never met them and they were not among the group at Boydang. None of this information was passed on to Lewis, although it may be an example of Ireland being so obtuse and contradictory in his statements that people had trouble understanding him. He would claim in his own book (The Shipwrecked Orphans) that no islander had spoken to him directly about George D’Oyly and John Sexton.9

Before leaving, Lewis extracted a promise from the villagers that they would never harm any white person cast upon their island. They assured the captain that ‘all the people who had been hitherto murdered, had been destroyed by their fathers, and not by any now living’.10 It was probably a reference to the murder of the Hormuzeer’s boat crew. More than 40 years after the event, the consequences of that occurrence still weighed heavily on everyone’s minds.  The last thing the islanders wanted was to get caught up in another white man’s vengeance party. Better to send Lewis to Aureed where he could collect the skulls he was looking for and leave the Strait. By making that statement though, they were also assuring Lewis that no Erub islanders had killed any of the Charles Eaton shipwreck survivors.


Notes to Chapter 18

  1. Australian, 21 Oct. 1836.
  2. Ibid.
  3. William Edward Brockett, Narrative of a Voyage from Sydney to Torres’ Straits : in Search of the Survivors of the Charles Eaton, in His Majesty’s colonial schooner Isabella, C.M. Lewis, commander, Sydney: printer Henry Bull, 1836, p. 29.
  4. Australian, 21 Oct., 1836.
  5. Ibid.
  6. Ibid.
  7. Ibid.
  8. Phillip Parker King, Captain R.N. (with reference to the Log Book of the Isabella by Captain C. M. Lewis), ‘Voyage of the Colonial Schooner Isabella in search of the Survivors of the Charles Eaton’, Nautical Magazine, vol.VI, 1837, pp. 759–60.
  9. Ireland’s London deposition, The Times, 31 Aug. 1837.
  10. King, Nautical Magazine, vol.VI, 1837, p. 800.

Chapter 19: Looking for Answers

Lewis was on the move again, and the schooner sailed past many small islands before finally dropping anchor for the night off Sirreb. When the crew went ashore, they predictably found it deserted. Knowing that the schooner would be coming their way, the inhabitants had stripped the islet before fleeing. Lewis and his men searched it thoroughly but found nothing, not even any huts to burn.

NASA satellite photo of the Yorke islands in the Torres Strait

NASA Satellite photo. Yorke Islands group. Yorke Island on the right is made up of two islands, with Massid the larger and Kudala the smaller. The other three islets are Rennel (L), Marsden (C) and Keats (R).

….. ””’

Lewis then set his course for Yorke Island. It was made up of two isles, the larger being Massid, the smaller he called Cuderal (Kudala). Ireland had told Lewis that when he had stopped at Massid for a few days with Duppa while en route to Mer, he had seen the skulls of some of his former shipmates there.

A small group of people appeared on Massid’s beach, waving the usual branches as a sign they wanted peace. They were very nervous and offered a few coconuts and tortoise shell but refused to take anything in return, although they eventually accepted a few empty bottles. They gave every sign of wanting to bolt for the bushes at the first sign of trouble. The ship’s boy was now bold in his role as the only interpreter and demanded they hand over the lammoors. They had none, the islanders anxiously assured him. Nor had they any white man’s skulls. The men that Ireland had previously seen on their island with the skulls had been visitors from Aureed, they said, who had brought them to show off. They had left Massid, ‘having heard that the schooner was on her way to punish them for the murder they had committed’. They also said that ‘all the white men had been murdered, and that some of the skulls had been sent to New Guinea.’1   Lewis finally accepted that they were telling the truth. He let them pass unharmed through the circle of bayonets and they scurried away to rejoin their friends. His party waded across to Kudala but its inhabitants saw him coming and raced to their canoes, paddling furiously away. Brockett and a few other sailors gave chase in a boat but were unable to overtake them. Nor did they find any skulls on the two islets.

These NASA satellite pictures are great and it’s no wonder that they are becoming so popular. This group of Islands is named the Bourke Islands after Governor Sir Richard Bourke. Lewis got lost for a time wandering around them because they all looked alike. Aureed can be seen in the lower centre. Sirreb was also part of this group and it, too, was a home to the Gam-le people of the central isles.

For the whole of the next day, the schooner wandered around a group of small islands that Lewis called the Six Sisters, but his lookouts could find none that matched the description of the one they were seeking. On the following day, however, the schooner anchored off a small, low island with coconut palms. It had to be Aureed.

Apart from three howling dogs, the beach was empty. On the northeastern extremity of the island a small village could be seen but it was forsaken and in ruins. That afternoon Lewis loaded several boats with armed sailors and they went to the deserted village, where they torched the huts. The small grass structures were standing close together upon an open, sandy point. The flames instantly consumed them and reduced them to ashes.

Aurid Island (now Aureed Island), Torres Strait.
NASA satellite photo. Aureed Island looking very bare following a long dry spell.
The tortoiseshell mask found at Aureed, adorned with human skulls. Black-and-white etching from Brockett’s book, Voyage to the Torres Straits…, published at the Colonist office, 1836.

The men then walked to the coconut trees near the centre of the island, expecting to find either the inhabitants or more huts, but there was nothing except a scattering of debris from a wrecked ship, including a few deck planks and the bar from a hen’s coop. They kept moving but found it unpleasant because the island was thick with flies.2 Eventually they came upon an avenue, lined on both sides with ochre-painted shells. At one end, there was a tree-shaded clearing, apparently used for feasts and ceremonies. At the other end, there was a low, thatched shed in a dilapidated condition. Inside they found a huge mask, crudely resembling a man’s face. It was a single turtle shell, smeared with red ochre and decorated with cowry and other smaller shells. Attached to its rim were human skulls. Other skulls were carelessly stacked in a pyramid-shaped pile. Some bore marks of violence; some were tied to the rim with European rope. A few even had strands of hair, driven into indentations by blows apparently made with an axe. Upon two or three were tufts of light-coloured hair, while on others the hair was dark.3 One skull with long strands of brown-gold hair was clearly that of Charlotte D’Oyly. The sailors were looking at the crude skull house used by the Kulka fraternity of the Cult of the Brethren.

Lewis ordered his crew to remove the roof from the shed to prevent damage to the mask, and they carried it carefully back to the boat. The sailors then began to search the island thoroughly, for the sight of the skulls had put them in a vengeful mood. They found a plantation of tobacco and destroyed it. Then they found a pile of drinking cups made from coconut shells and smashed them to pieces. The following day they set fire to the whole island and burned everything on it, including the skull house and all the plantations. In the ashes of the island, they found two more European skulls, scorched now by the fires they had lit. They took them aboard the schooner and deposited them with the others in a case. The Isabella sailed soon after, but not before Captain Lewis had renamed the island Skull Island. The name, however, didn’t catch on.

Map of the Torres Strait islands, drawn by the author.

The Gam-le from Aureed – and the Massilegas at Massid – subsequently had a reputation as ruthless, treacherous head-hunters who roamed the Torres Strait killing any person unlucky enough to fall into their hands, with shipwrecked sailors particular targets. The Kulka lodge at Aureed told a different story. As cult lodges go, it was a poor specimen. Until the fresh additions from the Charles Eaton, it had housed just 28 old skulls, presumably of Torres Strait Islanders, some possibly of relatives, collected over what must have been a very long time. As head-hunters go the Gam-le obviously were not that successful. If anything, they were classic victims, too weak to repel an enemy and too dependent to offend a friend. The only European skulls at Aureed, as far as we know, were those from the Charles Eaton. It suggests that the Gam-le had killed no other white people. After the Isabella crew ravaged their island, they chose not to reoccupy it for fear of further retribution.

After leaving Aureed, Lewis anchored his schooner for the evening off Halfway Island. Finding nothing there of interest, or any people, his crew rested for two days. From the number of initials carved into trees it was clear that many European ships had anchored there. On their last night at Halfway Island, Lewis put another letter in a bottle and buried it under a prominent tree, upon which he carved the words ‘Dig Under’:

This vessel was dispatched by the Government in search of the Survivors of the ‘Charles Eaton’ wrecked on the Barrier Reef 2 years ago.— I have also called at nearly the whole of the Islands to the Northward after finding two of them on Murray’s Island; William Doyley [sic] & John Ireland cabin boy of the Charles Eaton the former a Son of Captain D’Oyley [sic] of the Bengal Army. Ireland relates the awful Catastrophe having seen the whole of his mates on the 2nd Raft consisting of all the crew murdered in his presence. The Captain & Passengers shared the same fate by the 1st Raft about a week before on the same island called Boydang by the savages of Aureed.4 [my italics]

That last conversation at Erub, or what little of it he was told, in no way changed Lewis’s conviction, that everyone else from the two rafts had been killed almost instantly at Boydang.

On 31 July, the Isabella arrived at Nalgi (Double Island then but now Twin Island). There was an outrigger canoe drawn up on the beach and six Torres Strait Islanders were moving around. They were visitors from another island, ‘trying to catch turtle’ John said. With nothing to trade, they began waving their arms and crying out ‘poud, poud’, (peace, peace). Along the beach, some of the men found teak deck planks and a mast, but since they appeared to be old and much weathered, they were cut up and used for firewood.

Shortly after this, the Tigris came to anchor nearby. She was a small brig but she still managed to dwarf the little schooner. Captain Igglesden was soon aboard the Isabella and sought permission to take William D’Oyly back to his grandfather in Calcutta. Said grandfather, Henry Williams, had actually died in January, 1834. There were, nevertheless, many more D’Oyly relatives still living in Bengal. Igglesden needed something to show for his long, costly and fruitless expedition. Returning triumphantly to Calcutta with the little boy would certainly have been better than nothing and taking the youngster straight back to his wealthy relatives in India made sense. Captain Lewis, however, refused to comply with his request.

HEIC’s brig-of-war Tigris at anchor off Double Island in the Torres Strait, August 1836. Sketch by W. E. Brockett, Narrative of a Voyage from Sydney to Torres Straits in Search of the Survivors of the ‘Charles Eaton’ , p.35.

The Tigris surgeon, Hughes, examined the Aureed skulls, pronouncing 14 of them to be European (revised at Sydney to 17). Two of the skulls were female, while another two were a bit smaller than the rest and Ireland concluded that they belonged to Ching and Perry. There was no skull of an eight-year-old child, so George’s skull was definitely not among them. There is no evidence that the Isabella and Tigris captains had a copy of the Batavia deposition, which included Sexton’s name. That being so, there is a very good chance that neither was then aware that another ship’s boy had been part of the crew. Had they known that, they would doubtless have questioned whether one of the smaller skulls was his.

Igglesden, Kempthorne and some of their officers had a talk with Ireland, who was, by this time, sufficiently reacquainted with the English language to be coherent. Later, Igglesden sent an account of the conversation with him to the Messrs Gledstanes.5 In the following extract Igglesden refers to the second raft: ‘on their reaching an Island (Boydang) the natives came off and killed them all with their clubs with the exception of this boy’. Igglesden, however, may have been the first person to extract from the ship’s boy the information that at least one other boy (George D’Oyly) had also survived. ‘The eldest boy lived for about 3 months,’ wrote Igglesden in a letter to his friend, Dr Wilson, of Sydney, ‘Ireland supposes they had suspicions of the older boy for some reason & therefore killed him.’6

Of all the people aboard the Charles Eaton, Sexton was the one Ireland should have remembered most vividly. They shared a Christian name and as ship’s boys together for nine months, they must have shared many chores. According to the children’s book later published under Ireland’s name, the two spent at lot of chummy time together on Pullan, fishing and climbing trees. Yet initially Ireland could not/would not recall the other boy’s name. To say of him that he had a poor memory for names is putting it mildly. Until reminded of it, he had forgotten George’s name as well.

Brockett would later say of Ireland that it was wise to humour him ‘as his temper is rather testy!’ and that ‘He is also apt to be confused when questioned by anyone.’7 He added that the lad ‘seemed to me to dislike to disclose matters’ and concluded that Ireland wanted money for his story. Brockett was writing at the time with the petulance of a thwarted author, but there does seem to be an element of concealment in the Ireland’s behaviour.

Another explanation for his failure to mention Sexton is the initial difficulty people had in trying to understand him. In their attempts to fill in the many gaps in his story, they were too hasty in drawing their own conclusions. Even so, Ireland spent many hours on the homeward journey alone with Lewis in the captain’s cabin, helping him to compile a dictionary of the Meriam language for the benefit of other mariners. Yet it would appear that not once on the homeward journey did the lad tell Lewis any stories about the time he spent on Pullan with another ship’s boy.

The man-of-war with its large compliment of uniformed officers and soldiers was impressive. There is every indication that to the best of his ability Ireland was trying to cooperate fully, giving the two Tigris commanders a lengthy account of what happened to the crew aboard the second raft, including details of the actual massacre.8 Again though, he made no mention of Sexton at all. It was as if the lad had never existed.

One theory is that the survivor later identified as Sexton was actually the Sydney resident William Hill. No age was ever given for Hill but there was a young lad of that name attending a private school in Sydney in 1826.9 Sailors in those days were often in their late teens. If the other survivor at Boydang had only been with the barque for a couple of weeks, it would certainly explain why Ireland forgot his name. This ‘other boy’ had survived because he had bitten his attacker on the arm, drawing blood. According to island custom, that made him a blood relative of his attacker and his life was initially spared. To say that this other survivor was Hill is a neat piece of theorising but there is no real evidence to support it, beyond the fact that Captain Moore had included Hill in his crew list ex-Sydney but apparently omitted Sexton, while the sailors at Batavia had supplied a modified version of the ex-London crew list that included Sexton but omitted Hill.

In 1839, Captain Watson of the schooner Essington called at Mer with some gifts for Duppa that a Mrs Anne Slade (see later chapters) had given to him for that purpose. Unlike Captain Lewis, Watson was able to ask Duppa and many other Murray Islanders specific questions about the fate of George D’Oyly and John Sexton. Everyone he questioned, including Duppa, admitted that the two white boys he was enquiring about were taken to Erub and murdered, probably by Aureed islanders. When Captain Watson moved on to Erub and put the same question to the people there, they confirmed what the Mer islanders had told him.10 Watson had no interpreter but some of the islanders were beginning to understand English. The responses he got vindicated Captain Lewis’s belief about the fate of the other two boys.


Notes to Chapter 19

  1. Phillip Parker King, Captain R.N. (with reference to the Log Book of the Isabella by Captain C. M. Lewis), ‘Voyage of the Colonial Schooner Isabella in search of the Survivors of the Charles Eaton’, Nautical Magazine, vol.VI, 1837, p. 801.
  2. Sydney Monitor, 14 Oct. 1836.
  3. Australian, 21 Oct. 1836.
  4. William Bayley file, Igglesden to Gledstanes, enclosure, Dixson Library, State Library of New South Wales, Sydney, A1074.
  5. William Bayley file, Igglesden to Gledstanes.
  6. Igglesden to Wilson, letter dated 19 Aug. 1836, published in the Sydney Herald, 26 Oct. 1836.
  7. William Bayley file, thought to be William Brockett to William Bayley, undated but probably August 1837, Dixson Library, State Library of New South Wales, Sydney, A1074.
  8. Commander G. B. Kempthorne, I. N., ‘A Narrative of a Voyage in search of the Crew of the Ship “Charles Eaton,” performed in the year 1836’, Transactions of the Bombay Geographical Society, vol. 8, 1849, pp. 210–236.
  9. ‘The half-yearly examination of the Pupils of Mr. Bradley’s Seminary took place on Wednesday, the 21st instant, at his residence in O’Connell Street. Two silver medals and a silver pen had been provided by the master, as a stimulus to the juvenile competitors. The medals were awarded to Masters William Hill and Joseph Underwood.’–Sydney Monitor, 30 June 1826. Hill was a Sydney resident and more self-effacing than the other five clued-up and experienced sailors hired at Sydney.
  10. Watson, Thomas, ‘Logbook of the schooner Essington, on file at the National Library of Australia.

….. …..

Chapter 20: King and Bourke

If you climb Mount Macedon in the Australian state of Victoria, and take in the view from its summit, you will be retracing the steps of Governor Sir Richard Bourke and Captain (later Admiral) Phillip Parker King, who got there before you in March 1837. The two men were part of a small party that left Sydney in February on board H.M.S. Rattlesnake, commanded by Captain Hobson. Bourke and King stood together in dusty Collins Street while Bourke officially proclaimed Melbourne a town, then spent several weeks riding around Port Phillip District, living in tents and visiting western Victoria. King would also have enjoyed the voyages to and from Melbourne, aboard the notoriously uncomfortable HMS Rattlesnake. Although he was managing his family’s sheep farm near Parramatta, he was happy in the company of men who shared his navy background.

HMS ‘Rattlesnake’. Illustrated London News, 12 Feb. 1853. She was broken up at Chatham in January 1860.

Australian readers remember him as the commander of the 1818–1820 expedition that surveyed that part of the eastern coastline left unfinished by Captain Matthew Flinders, working from a small cutter called Mermaid. From 1821–22 he carried out an extensive survey in H.M.S. Bathurst, concentrating on the north and northwestern coasts of Australia. His accurate survey of the inner passage from Sydney to Torres Strait (King’s Route) was familiar to most nineteenth-century mariners.1

Governor Sir Richard Bourke preferred to live at Government House, Parramatta. Painting by George Wiliam Evans, 1805. Wikimedia Commons.

A neighbour of King during the 1830s was Governor Sir Richard Bourke, who preferred to work in the more comfortable and rural surrounds of the Parramatta government house, rather than his official residency near Sydney Cove. In theory, King and Bourke should have been close friends and they did get on reasonably well, since each respected the other’s integrity and intellect. Ideologically, however, a political gulf between them prevented Bourke from accepting King into his small inner circle of close friends.

Bourke proudly proclaimed himself a ‘Whig’, and saw himself as the people’s Governor. He introduced many reforms, including checks on the ease and severity of punishment handed out to assigned convicts by district magistrates. King, by contrast, was a conservative free settler, opposed to any relaxation in the level of convict discipline. He shared this and many other right-wing views with his brother-in-law, Hannibal Macarthur, at that time a member of the New South Wales Legislative Council and a vigorous opponent of many of Bourke’s reforms.

Bourke and King were most in harmony during the period of their involvement in this story – between mid-1836 and early 1837. Bourke was almost 60 years old and suffered from bouts of ill health and melancholy, the latter brought on by the death of his wife in 1831. King was 15 years younger than Bourke, with a small daughter and six active sons. He was also the leading authority on the seas around the Great Barrier Reef and the Torres Strait. When, in early 1836, the Home Office instructed Governor Bourke to send a rescue mission to find any Charles Eaton survivors, King had been the obvious person to turn to for advice. The mission was one of great interest to mariners and King put his mind to the task willingly, freely and, it seemed, without any strings attached. He drew up the sailing and tactical instructions supplied to Captain Lewis before his departure and for King it was hardly an onerous task.

John Ireland and William D’Oyly sailed back into Sydney Cove aboard the government schooner on Wednesday, 12 October 1836, four months after they had been collected from Mer. The first people to hear of the Isabella’s return were the men aboard the custom’s launch who went out to meet her. They picked up a few rough details of what had transpired in the Torres Strait and quickly spread the word. The Sydney Monitor was just about to put the latest edition of its afternoon paper ‘to bed’ but it squeezed in the following announcement:

We stop the press to announce that the ‘Isabella’ has arrived from Murray’s Island, and brings up two of the crew of the ‘Charles Eaton’, and a child, the son of Captain D’Oyle [sic]; the rest of the crew were murdered by the blacks. These survivors were ransomed for tomahawks/&c. The ‘Isabella’ has also brought up some skulls of the unfortunate passengers who fell victims to the ferocity of the Islanders.2

Thereafter, reporters from all four Sydney newspapers tried to out-scoop each other for the best interviews and coverage of what was clearly a sensational local story. The following report, published in the Colonist 13 October, is typical:

…the whole of the crew & passengers … succeeded in reaching a small island … that within an hour from the time of landing, the whole of them had been barbarously murdered by the natives, with the exception of the cabin boy & a male child of Captain D’Oyly’s then about two years old.

The Colonist was actually lucky to get a brief version of events. Despite the furore caused by his return, Lewis was refusing to release any details of his recent mission, presumably because he wanted to save it for a forthcoming book. When reporters sought information, he gave them nothing but an impenetrable silence. They had to rely on hearsay and gossip, picked up in the inns and taverns where the sailors hung out. As a result, many of the stories published over the following week were inaccurate in their details.

The Sydney Herald, for example, stated that the boys had been rescued from Erub while the mask, said the reporter, had been painted with red and green paint. The same news item also reported that two other boys had initially survived as well, and had been allowed to exist for some months.3 This information had presumably been procured from one of the Isabella sailors. Someone among the crew, perhaps on the homeward journey, had concluded from Ireland’s garbled account that a fourth boy had survived for a time as well. Captain Lewis was so annoyed by some aspects of the report, he lodged a complaint at the newspaper’s office. A few days later, what was supposed to pass for an apology appeared in the Sydney Herald:

We have been requested by Captain Lewis to state that it was from Murray’s Island he obtained the two lads of the Charles Eaton, and not ‘Darnley’s Island’ as we had stated in our last edition. If Captain Lewis had given us, or any of the Sydney papers a rough report of his voyage (and he has not furnished them with one word on the subject), this mistake would not have occurred. We hope the Government will furnish the public with an official Statement of the expedition as soon as possible, to allay the excitement the melancholy affair of the Charles Eaton has created.4

The newspapers, meanwhile, were being surprisingly inventive in finding their own sources for meatier stories. Some of their reports were so long, they ran to thousands of words and extended over four full columns. Their coverage was extraordinary. The Australian, for example, triumphantly announced that it had perused a letter from one of the officers aboard the Tigris.5 Later, it reproduced verbatim a log book kept by one of the sailors aboard the Isabella.6

The normally staid Sydney Herald stole the march on all of them by publishing a line drawing of the mask, the first editorial illustration to appear in an Australian newspaper. As well, the Sydney Herald managed to get hold of John Ireland for a first-person interview. The reporter was no less confused by Ireland’s muddled style of talking than everyone else had been. When Ireland referred to ‘another boy’ on the second raft, the reporter, having not heard Sexton’s name mentioned in any previous reports of survivors, assumed he was referring to George D’Oyly and wrote a story that placed George on the second raft.7

Again, it was the Sydney Herald (27 Oct.) who beat the Australian (28 Oct.) to a scoop account from Captain Igglesden, although this introduction to it is their own:

Notwithstanding the discreditable manner in which the public have been deprived of even a bare outline of the late expedition in search of the survivors of the ill-fated ship Charles Eaton, we are at length enabled to gratify our readers with the subjoined particulars, from the pen of Captain Igglesden, the Commander of the Hon. E. I. C.’s brig Tigris, and obligingly furnished us by an old friend of the Colony,—Dr. Wilson, R.N.

The Australian also made an oblique reference to the difficulty in obtaining information about the voyage. By this time, the official silence surrounding the Isabella’s return was so pointed it was becoming embarrassing. The newspapers had gone to extraordinary lengths to praise the schooner’s commander and crew for the success of their mission, but were still unable to elicit any information from Lewis.

Finally, on 26 October, a fortnight after the schooner’s return, the Colonial Secretary’s office issued a very brief, five-paragraph press release based on Lewis’s journal. Beyond that, Lewis had nothing further to say. In choosing to give the Charles Eaton rescue mission such extensive coverage, however, Sydney’s media proprietors had merely read the public mood. The story had aroused enormous interest among the colonists and John Ireland and William D’Oyly were ‘objects of great curiosity’.8

Captain Lewis had initially been in a cheerful mood on his return from the Torres Strait, speaking openly of the book he would soon publish from his journals and logbook. For a master whose duties mainly consisted of ploughing back and forth between Sydney and Moreton Bay or Norfolk Island, he had just completed the highlight of his career. At about the same time, however, Ireland gave his statement on the shipwreck. Governor Bourke had a copy of the crew list supplied in the Batavia deposition that included Sexton’s name. For the first time Ireland began to speak with some degree of clarity about George D’Oyly and the ‘other’ boy, whose name, everyone agreed, was Sexton.

We can only guess what happened as the result of Ireland’s expanded version of his story. We know that the unexpected silence on the Charles Eaton rescue mission prompted indignation from the newspapers, followed by some ultimately valuable attempts to fill the void. We also know that both Bourke and King read the Lewis logbook and documents and the Governor decided to exclude the captain from further involvement. Bourke handed the material over to King with the request to prepare it for publication. There were relatives in other countries with considerable influence and the whole matter required great delicacy.

King promised to produce a book that would ‘procure for Mr. Lewis the same approbation in the eye of the public as the voyage it records has already deservedly obtained’.9 The image of Lewis that emerges from King’s account is that of a man who was always cool under pressure and behaved with impeccable judgement. In carrying out his mission, Lewis had merely been following Governor Bourke’s instructions. If he was, at times, heavy-handed in his dealings with the Torres Strait Islanders, it was because Bourke had told him that he would ‘do well, without betraying alarm, to be yet very suspicious and watchful, whenever they appear inclined to be most friendly.’10

Captain Lewis must have been nonplussed by John’s Sydney deposition but he steadfastly maintained that both Sexton and George D’Oyly were dead. Ireland had contradicted Lewis’s own claim that everyone else from the Charles Eaton had been killed and eaten soon after landing at Boydang. He was now vulnerable to claims that he had failed to conduct a proper interview with Ireland, had not established the deaths of the other two boys beyond all doubt and had made no proper search for them.

King was astute enough to know that with Ireland’s deposition he now had a much more interesting book on his hands and one to which he would be happy to attach his name. Governor Bourke was ‘easily induced’11 to finance its publication from the public coffers and it went to press in Sydney in mid-March 1837. On 6 June 1837, Bourke sent a letter to Lord Glenelg, in which he made a valiant attempt to justify the unusual expenditure on the book. He had decided to publish it, he wrote:

…for the satisfaction of the friends of the deceased Persons, and also with a view to disseminate such additional knowledge of the passage of Torres Straits as was acquired during the voyage.12

To increase its value for navigators, the book included the Flinders chart of Torres Strait, overlaid with the tracks of both the Isabella and the Tigris and pinpointing Aureed and several other small but previously unknown central islands. A guide to the language of the eastern islanders, compiled by Lewis from Ireland’s first-hand knowledge, was also included for the benefit of traders or whalers calling at Mer or Erub. The print run was 1022 and the publishing cost was £49/1/2.13 It was certainly unusual for Governor Bourke to authorise the expenditure of public funds on a project that could have been handled by private enterprise.

In his later letter to William Bayley, Brockett stated that he knew that Ireland had been ‘taken in’ at Sydney.14 Did Ireland seriously expected money for telling his story to Governor Bourke? It seems unlikely. The colony of New South Wales had already spent a great deal of money on his rescue and Governor Bourke had given him an allowance to live on for five or six months. Perhaps Ireland expected money or some sort of publishing deal from Captain Lewis for his help in compiling the dictionary. Brockett, however, did not elaborate.

Governor Bourke distributed copies of the book in high places. Fifty copies were sent to the Colonial Agent General, one to Lloyd’s, with an unspecified number to be passed on to Lord Glenelg’s department and the Admiralty. The rest of them went to bookshops. The book is, as all would agree, a gem, and certainly the fullest account of the shipwreck. All later versions of the story have drawn from it. It also, incidentally, reinforced the view that the Isabella mission was an outstanding success and a credit to the colony.

The first editorial correction occurs when it describes Lewis’s interview with Ireland aboard his schooner. King understandably inserts all the details contained in Ireland’s Sydney testimony, but the lad had actually told Lewis little and what he did say was vague and inconsistent.

The next correction occurs when King states that Lewis decided to visit Erub ‘in the hope that the Aroob (Erub) people might know something more of the fate of Sexton and D’Oyly than the Murray Islanders’.15 This conflicts with the letter entrusted to Duppa just before Lewis sailed for Erub, in which the captain confidently announced to the next visiting ship that he had obtained ‘the only two living’.16

Then there is King’s own statement that on his arrival in Sydney, Ireland had deposed to ‘the information he received on the deaths of Sexton and the elder D’Oyly’. This comment suggests that Ireland was already in Sydney when he offered the details supposedly obtained at Erub as irrefutable proof that the other two boys were dead. My final quote from the book is a statement of King’s own belief and reflects what he was told:

The fate of George D’Oyley [sic] and Sexton is still in some remote degree uncertain. Every pains and trouble seem to have been taken to ascertain the certainty of their fate; and Mr. Lewis has no doubt of the fact. Had either been alive, the desire of possessing the valuable iron implements which were offered in exchange for them, would have insured their being brought forward by the Indians; and their not having done so, is a more than presumptive proof of their not being in existence. The same story of their having been murdered was told throughout the islands without prevarication, together with the names of the murderers, as well as the circumstance of the hair of young D’Oyley [sic] having been preserved as an ornamental trophy.14

King’s compilation was commendable in that he hoped it would ensure that no false hopes were aroused in the Sexton and D’Oyly families. Yet despite his efforts there were many relatives in England, including George D’Oyly’s two older brothers and his uncle, William Bayley, who now began to entertain notions that one or both of the two boys might still be alive.18

Melbourne as it looked in 1837 when Governor Bourke officially declared it a town. Engraving property of author. Artist unknown.

Not long after Governor Bourke placed the book in the hands of the printers, Captain (later Admiral) Phillip King and Governor Sir Richard Bourke sailed on H.M.S. Rattlesnake for the new colony in the Port Phillip district. Bourke’s acceptance of King as part of his travelling party may be an indication of the friendship that had blossomed between two men on opposite sides of the political spectrum. King’s invaluable assistance with the Isabella mission, however, was not entirely without self-interest. There was a vacant member’s seat in the Legislative Council following the death of Mr Archibald Bell, and King confidently expected that it would be his. He was named as a member of the Council in 1829 but had been unable, at that time, to fill the seat. King nevertheless believed that he was entitled to the next vacant seat. 19

Governor Bourke thought differently. King’s brother-in-law, Hannibal Macarthur, was already on the Council and Bourke objected to near relatives holding two of only seven open seats. When Bell’s seat became vacant, he recommended the appointment of Sir John Jamison, a man who supported his vision of what was best for the colony.

When, on their return to Sydney, King found out that Bourke had nominated someone else for the seat, he was outraged, claiming prior entitlement but also that the Governor had failed to acknowledge his services as promised. In a letter to Lord Glenelg, enclosed with King’s complaint to the Home Office about this perceived injustice, Bourke wrote:

I am happy at having this opportunity of acknowledging the professional services wh. Captn. King has at various times very willingly rendered to this Government, which, as he correctly states, I intimated it was my intention to bring under your Lordship’s notice. This fact might serve to convince him that, notwithstanding a wide difference in opinion upon general or Colonial Politics, Captn. King’s character does not stand low in my estimation. But this favorable opinion does not appear to me to offer any good reason for placing him in a position where I apprehend he would soon be arrayed against my administration, and according to the best of my judgment against the true interests of the Colony.15

The professional services referred to by Bourke included the assistance King had supplied in drafting instructions for the Isabella’s mission and, later, his discreet editing of the captain’s journal and the compilation of the book.

In February 1839, King became a member of the Council on the recommendation of Governor George Gipps, Sir Richard Bourke’s successor. Despite his links through his family to the anti-emancipist party, Gipps found him liberal in his politics. Within two months, however, King had resigned from the Council to take up a position as resident commissioner of the Australian Agricultural Company, although he retained his council seat until October 1839.21 His taste for politics was not, it seems, so very great after all.

King’s interest in the Charles Eaton story was always genuine, as also was his deep concern for the lives of those mariners who used the Torres Strait. He continued to promote the inner route as a much safer alternative to the outer route and distributed written instructions to accompany his charts. He prepared a map of the eastern entrances to Torres Strait for the proprietors of Nautical Magazine, published in their journal in 1837, and in 1843 published for private distribution sailing directions for a safe route to and through Torres Strait, from Breaksea Spit to Booby Island.

Appendix: A Tale of Two Paintings

.The National Gallery of Australia has in its collection an oil painting by the famous 19th-century British maritime artist John Wilson Carmichael. It is out of copyright and I have already used it a couple of times in this post to illustrate my research. Now I would like to use it again to illustrate my research into the painting itself.


Notes to Chapter 20

  1. Dorothy Walsh (ed.), The Admiral’s Wife: Mrs Phillip Parker King: A selection of letters 1817–56, Melbourne: Hawthorn Press, 1967, p. 6.
  2. Sydney Monitor, 12 Oct. 1836.
  3. Sydney Herald, 13 Oct. 1836.
  4.  Ibid , 20 Oct. 1836.
  5.  Ibid,  14 Oct. 1836.
  6.  Ibid, 21 Oct. 1836.
  7. Ibid, 20 Oct. 1836.
  8. John Ireland, The Shipwrecked Orphans, New Haven: S. Babcock, 2nd edn, 1845, p. 62.
  9. P. P. King, letter to editor, Sydney Gazette and New South Wales Advertiser, (the Government’s own newspaper) reproduced in Phillip P. King, Capt. R. N., F. R. S. (ed.) ; A Voyage to Torres Strait in Search of the Survivors of the Ship Charles Eaton, which was Wrecked upon the Barrier Reef, in the Month of August, 1834, in His Majesty’s Colonial Schooner Isabella, C. M. Lewis, Commander, Arranged from the Journal and Log Book of the Commander, by authority of His Excellency Major-General Sir Richard Bourke, K. C. B., Governor of New South Wales, etc, etc, etc. Sydney: E. H. Statham, 1837, p. xvi.
  10. King  p. xi.
  11. HRA, Sir Richard Bourke to Lord Glenelg, 6 June 1837, Series I, vol. XIII, p. 775.
  12. HRA, 6 June 1837, p. 775.
  13. HRA 17 May 1837, pp. 755–56.
  14. William Bayley file, Brockett to Bayley.
  15. King, pp. 31–32.
  16. Ibid.
  17. King, Nautical Magazine, vol.VI, 1837, p. 806.
  18. Colonist, 1 Aug. 1838, copy of a letter that Mrs Anne Slade received from William Bayley, in which the latter expresses his belief that George D’Oyly and John Sexton might still be alive.
  19. Australian Dictionary of Biography, vol. 2, 1788–1850, Douglas Pike (gen. ed.), Melbourne: Melbourne University Press, 1967 pp. 61–63. Online:
  20. HRA, Sir Richard Bourke to Lord Glenelg, 6 June 1837, Series I, vol. XIII, p. 775.
  21. Australian Dictionary of Biography, pp. 61–63. Online.

Bing Translator

[] ← Previous Next → [ Part Five] … …

Part Five: sad epitaphs and savage retribution

(includes Waterloo Creek and Myall Creek Massacres)

Chapter 21: Eliza Fraser and Anne Slade

The Charles Eaton shipwreck was just one of two disasters the Sydney newspapers were following at that time. They were also covering the arrival of Eliza Fraser, widow of Captain James Fraser, and the other survivors of the wreck of the Stirling Castle. The two shipwreck stories competed for public attention. The 350-ton brig Stirling Castle had left Sydney on 16 May 1836 and was wrecked on what is now called Eliza Reef, north-east of Moreton Bay, Queensland, on about 22 May. One man drowned but the captain, his wife and 10 of their crew took to the safety of the longboat, while the boatswain took charge of the pinnace and the rest of the crew.

Portrait of Eliza Fraser, artist unknown, used to illustrate the book Shipwreck of the Stirling Castle by John Curtis (1837). Wikimedia Commons.

For several weeks the two boats drifted together from reef to reef, until the seven men in the pinnace separated from the Frasers and their party in the leaky longboat and took off for the Moreton Bay penal settlement alone. The captain’s party beached at what is now called Fraser Island and was found by a party of Aborigines, but not before six of the longboat crew had also abandoned their ineffectual captain and his wife. All but one of the men aboard the pinnace perished, and the sole survivor was rescued and taken to Moreton Bay. Of the longboat party, Aborigines killed Captain Fraser, the chief mate and one seaman, while two men drowned trying to swim from the island to the mainland.

The Aborigines then took the rest of the party – except the second mate – across the sea to mainland camps. Three of the men subsequently escaped and walked back to Moreton Bay. A party of soldiers and convicts from the penal colony then rescued the second mate from Fraser Island, whil Mrs Fraser, a seaman and a ship’s boy were snatched from Aboriginal camps on the mainland. The individual stories of the Stirling Castles eight survivors were harrowing but Sydney’s readers were particularly interested in what the captain’s widow had to say.1

One week after her arrival in Sydney, Mrs Fraser, hobbling from a spear wound in her ankle that would leave her crippled, visited the Sydney Herald and gave her version of what happened after the wreck of her late husband’s ship. Her story has since become an Australian legend, due in part to her willingness to talk openly of her suffering, although some parts of her story became more lurid with each retelling. Initially she refrained from overstating her ordeal. She also displayed seemly gratitude for her rescue by the soldiers and convicts from the Moreton Bay penal colony. Her interview was given more prominence than John Ireland’s interview, probably with the same reporter, in the following day’s edition of the Sydney Herald.2 It was to be the first of many times that the widow upstaged the cabin boy. Eliza Fraser would prove to be a very good self-publicist.

Both the Sydney Herald and the Sydney Monitor set up a subscription for Eliza Fraser and the other seven survivors from the Stirling Castle, and they raised more than £400.3 Mrs Fraser took the lot. She condemned the survivors who deserted her husband and succeeded in discrediting them as villains. Some of the mud she slung around attached itself to those of the crew who had done her no wrong.4

On 17 November, the skulls found at Aureed were given a Christian burial at the Sydney cemetery in Devonshire street. A surgeon re-examined them and identified 17 of them as European but confirmed that George D’Oyly’s skull was missing. In late 1838 a large memorial tomb for the victims was erected under instructions from Governor Sir Richard Bourke, but George’s name was omitted from the list of those whose remains may have been interred.5 The Isabella crew, meanwhile, were busy in another direction. As the Sydney Herald observed (20 Oct. 1836):

We are not aware whether any of our speculating ship-masters have already taken a hint since the arrival of the Isabella from Torres’ Straits, of sending an armed vessel in search of tortoise-shell, etc. amongst the numerous islands in those parts; but if they have not, they may avail themselves of the idea. It is reported that several hundred weight of this valuable commodity was picked up by the people of the Isabella with merely the trouble of calling at the islands for it.

Tortoiseshell was fetching up to 28 shillings per pound in Sydney,6 almost the equivalent of four weeks’ wages for junior before-the-mast seamen, who were paid 30–32 shillings a month.7 Other items such as sea shells and island artifacts were also attracting good prices. For most of their four weeks in the Strait, the Isabella crew had actually been conducting a profitable trading mission and it soon became common knowledge. The most successful trader was Captain Lewis, who came back with chests filled with tortoiseshell and other souvenirs. He eventually donated most of the artefacts, including the huge Aureed mask, to the new one-room museum at the Council office in George Street. They later formed part of the original collection of the Australian Museum.8 All save for a few spears was subsequently lost when the museum, then set up in the Garden Palace at the Botanical Gardens, burnt down in 1882 (see Australian Museum website).

George Street Sydney looking south. Artist: Henry Curzon Allport, January 1842. State Library of NSW. Wikimedia Commons.

Everyone was making a big fuss of William D’Oyly. Governor Sir Richard Bourke was particularly kind to him and for a time everyone assumed that William would stay with him until the governor himself escorted the child back to England. Very soon, however, a Mrs Anne Slade sought permission to take charge of the orphan. Mrs Slade presented herself as an old acquaintance of the D’Oyly family and an intimate friend of William Bayley’s late wife, neé Elizabeth D’Oyly, whom she referred to familiarly as Betsy. Governor Bourke accepted Anne Slade’s claim and handed William into her care. Her connection with the D’Oyly family was so tenuous, however, she had to write a letter of introduction. She addressed her letters to Sion Hill at Kirby Wiske, being unaware that the family had left Sion Hill over 20 years ago. The new owner, Joshua Crompton, kindly and promptly forwarded her letters to William Bayley.9

Mrs Slade, née Cameron, was the daughter of Captain John Cameron, the master of the ship Jane Duchess of Gordon, when it sank in 1809 with the loss of all lives. Captain Tom D’Oyly’s 13-year-old twin brother, Edward jnr, had been among those who perished.10 It was ‘an event in which your family and myself were mutual sufferers’ Mrs Slade explained in her letter to the D’Oylys.11 Anne, then aged 11, and 18-year-old Elizabeth D’Oyly, had briefly exchanged letters until the Camerons moved to Scotland.

Governor Bourke already knew that Anne’s husband, George Milner Slade, was not quite the respectable public servant everyone supposed him to be and the NSW Government despatches relentlessly catalogue his shame.12 He was paymaster for the Army’s 6th Battalion 60th Foot Regiment in 1815, based in Jamaica, when his funds were deficient by £1,639, the equivalent of about 10–15 times his annual salary. The misappropriation had occurred at a time when Slade’s commanding officer was his brother-in-law, Colonel Wharton. Slade convinced his fellow officers that he had been following Wharton’s orders, passing the money over to his trusted relative on promise of repayment.13 Slade was court-martialled and dismissed from the Army, but avoided transportation to Australia and was soon released from prison on the understanding that he would pay off his debt to the Crown. On his return to England, he married Anne Cameron in the belief that she would inherit property on the death of a relative. With the additional expectation that he would soon find well-paid work in Australia, he charmed two of his close relatives into foolishly standing as sureties for his debt to the Crown.

The Slades arrived in Sydney aboard the Regalia in January 1820. It is perhaps a testament to George’s personality that in 1821 Governor Macquarie gave the disgraced and inexperienced ex-Army pay clerk the office of Sydney Coroner, on a salary of £90 per year, with fees and travelling expenses amounting to an additional £70. By the standards of the day, it was a modest income. Slade considered it ‘inadequate to the support of a family’14 and his wife was forced to start a girl’s school, putting in long hours and a lot of hard work for a mere pittance. As for her inheritance, it either failed to eventuate or else it proved to be less than expected.

Slade defaulted on his repayments to the Crown and his two guarantors had to honour his debt. Their outrage at being stuck with such a huge expense prompted a letter from Anne Slade to one guarantor claiming that the War Office had already proceeded against her husband, seizing property to the value of £170.15 Anne’s letter implied that her husband was unable to help his unfortunate guarantors because the sheriff had already stripped him of his assets. Thereafter the Slades were careful not to own any property that the sheriff could confiscate, choosing instead to rent a house in Sydney’s George Street, large enough to do double duty as a seminary for girls.

Slade, after a brief stint as secretary to the Australian Agricultural Company (AAC), eventually opened a store on the AAC’s land grant at Port Stephens. For a time the Slades appeared to be successful merchants but their business got its start with a £400 bank loan and borrowings from yet another gullible friend. When it failed, Slade was bankrupt and went to gaol for over a year.16 Alone and penniless, his wife was obliged to reopen her little school in Sydney. She had lost everything, including all of her household furniture, two horses and some bullocks. Although the colonists had been unaware that their former coroner had been court-martialled out of the Army for embezzlement, the failed business at Port Stephens hurt local creditors, including the Bank of Australia. Anne’s efforts to salvage her dignity and support herself, by resuming her school while her husband was in gaol, inspired at least one comment from the press:

‘’Tis education forms the common mind.’—Mrs. Slade, whose husband formerly was Coroner for Sydney and who once held the Secretaryship to the Millions of Acres Company, is on the eve of opening a seminary for young ladies. We are glad of this; as the paucity of female schools in Sydney is by no means subject of congratulation; and the acquirements of this lady cannot fail to render her a very valuable acquisition.17

The news item expressed some admiration for Anne’s personal qualities and kindly refrained from mentioning that her husband was currently in prison.

Hyde Park Barracks, Sydney, drawing by Hardy Wilson in 1914. Building designed by Francis Greenway. National Library of Australia

By late 1830, Slade had organised his release from gaol by taking advantage of the new Insolvent Debtors’ Act, and in 1831 a sympathetic Governor Darling made him the sole clerk to the Board for the Assignment of Convict Servants, a rather junior position but one he was lucky to get. The Assignment Board’s offices took up space on the ground floor of the three-storied Convict Barracks in Hyde Park, which included quarters for the superintendent and some guards. The Slades, however, were now tenants in Reibey’s Buildings, Lower Castlereagh Street, where Anne had fitted out rooms for her seminary.18

When Anne’s brother, Lieut. Col. Charles Cameron, died in 1827, the Slades raised his infant daughter, Anne Slade Cameron. In October 1834, she died suddenly after a ‘lingering illness’, aged eight years and three months.19 Anne had no children of her own and must have been heartbroken, while the fact that the child’s death took place at her latest boarding school was an additional blow. The school failed dismally despite the posh-sounding advertisements Anne placed in the newspapers.

When the Home Office abolished the three-man convict Assignment Board in late 1836, Sir Richard Bourke was sufficiently impressed by Slade to make him the Commissioner of the Assignment Office. Slade now had sole responsibility for the allocation of all male convicts and a handsome salary of £300. When Bourke subsequently learned of Slade’s shady past as an embezzler and debt defaulter, he did not withdraw the promotion. It was trusting of Governor Bourke not to have been more careful. Slade worked alone in the Assignment Board office and had no clerks to help him. There were occasional oddities and people were suspicious about why some settlers seemed to get a bigger or quicker allocation of convict workers than others, but Slade kept a proper set of books and nothing in his written records was ever irregular.

It had taken 16 years but the Slades were now affluent colonists and Anne was reinventing herself as the wife of a respectable senior public servant, finally putting her years as a hard-working and low-paid schoolmistress behind her. It was at this time that she took control of William D’Oyly. We can picture her stepping out from her new home in Liverpool Street in summer whites, with little William in tow. There is no doubt she basked in the attention created by his notoriety. Apart from Mrs Salting, she was the only woman in Sydney able to claim prior acquaintance, however slight, with his family. As a foster mother, she served very well. She had tenderly written in a letter received by William Bayley: ‘When the poor little fellow was brought to me he put his arms around my neck and called me Mama’.20 She promised his family that ‘every affectionate care and attention that he could experience from the kindest mother he shall receive from me.’21. She also wanted William to stay with her for long enough to remember her. Having got her hands on William, Anne Slade was in no hurry to give him up. She needed time to build up his weight, she explained, and to get his language skills to the point where he could speak English tolerably well.

Anne’s reputation as a boarding-school teacher was too well established. Many colonists believed that Sir Richard Bourke had placed William D’Oyly in her care as a paying student at her boarding school, and did not realise that the Governor had actually responded to her offer of charity. The Sydney Herald incurred her indignation when it published the following titbit (27 October 1836): ‘The child D’Oyley [sic], who was taken from Murray’s Island, we understand, has been very properly sent to a boarding-school, until the Government hear from his relatives, who are said to be persons of considerable wealth.’ Anne promptly informed the Sydney Gazette that the Sydney Herald had its facts wrong:

The fact is, that Mrs. Slade, wife of G. M. Slade Esq., of the Assignment Board, wrote to His Excellency the Governor, requesting that as she was intimately acquainted with the boy’s father and all his family she was desirous of having him placed under her charge, by which His Excellency assented. Mrs. Slade has with the greatest kindness adopted the lad as her own.22

The Colonial Secretary at that time was Edward Deas Thomson, Sir Richard Bourke’s son-in-law. While Anne Slade took great delight in adopting William D’Oyly, Thomson’s wife, Anna, had similarly offered sanctuary to Eliza Fraser. Although initially announcing that she would be leaving immediately for England to be reunited with her now destitute family (she had three children), Eliza Fraser enjoyed the Thomson’s hospitality for four and a half months. If Anne Slade wanted to boost her social standing in Sydney, attaching herself to Anna Thomson for charity appeals was a good place to start. The ladies collected fine clothes for Eliza Fraser and Mrs Slade held a fund-raising party in her home.23

The occasion brought together Eliza Fraser and John Ireland for perhaps the only time. Ireland still had very little to say about his experience and was looking very thin but otherwise healthy. Mrs Fraser, however, had a nasty leg wound and could be depended upon to spin a good yarn, albeit one based more on vitriol than veracity. Anne’s invitation to Ireland was only partly an act of goodwill. She probably also wanted to question him further about George. Anne was dissatisfied with the claim that George’s death was properly established, but if she thought that she would be able to extract more information out of Ireland, she was mistaken.

There is no record of the conversations at the party but we do know from other published accounts that Eliza had no kind words to spare for the Aboriginal tribes she had encountered. Speaking of her husband’s former chief mate, Charles Smith, for example, she would later state: ‘The savages applied burning brands of fire to his legs, which burning upwards, literally roasted him alive, his whole body being burned to a crisp, and presenting an awful proof of savage barbarity!’24 While Mrs Fraser gave differing accounts of Smith’s death, the fact that many colonists did believe that indigenous Australians burnt their captives alive can be largely attributed to Eliza Fraser’s stories.

By late February 1837, William had been living with Anne and George Slade for about four months and everyone in Sydney considered him a child worthy of the utmost compassion. Everyone that is, except for the next-door neighbour, a man called William Savage. As far as Savage was concerned, the boy was, well, a bit of a brat I suppose. Savage had pigeon houses and he complained that the boy was continually throwing stones into his backyard. Anne was standing at her back window one morning when she saw Savage climb onto the roof of his home and look over the edge into her backyard. She then saw him throw a stone and rushed out to find William with a bloodied head. When Savage appeared before the police bar two days later, Anne admitted that William was in the habit of chasing after the pigeons when they flew into her yard, in the belief that if he could put salt on their tails he could catch them. As well, she conceded, ‘the child might have thrown stones at the birds.’ Savage had to pay a fine of £5 within three days, or face imprisonment for two months. He left the bar ‘amidst the indignant murmurings of a numerous auditory.’25 William’s small head wound put him in bed for a time and delayed his departure for England by about 15 months.

Anne Slade was a feisty Scot of good stock whose life had been a struggle since her father, Captain John Cameron, went down with his ship. During her years in Australia, she had lost everything twice and had supported many of her brother Charles’s children on the limited income from her boarding schools. She had become a resourceful, no-nonsense woman who made no secret of her dissatisfaction with the Isabella rescue mission. Captain Lewis, for one, seems to have detested her. When he met the Mayor of London in 1838, he gave Governor Sir Richard Bourke sole credit for taking care of William D’Oyly in Sydney and made no mention of the Slades.

On 15 June 1837, Anne Slade was facing court again, this time as the defendant:

Mr. George William Jackson v. Mrs. G. Milner Slade.–This was a case in which plaintiff sought to bind defendant to the peace. It appeared, by the evidence of Mr. Jackson, that a night or two previously the key of the hall door was missing, and thinking that defendant, who lives in the same house, had it, he sent his servant for it; when he heard Mrs. S. acknowledge that she had it, but would not give it up, and that if any one troubled her again she would stick a knife in them.26

The Bench dismissed the case when the plaintiff and his servant admitted they were not in the least bit afraid of Mrs Slade, but Jackson had nevertheless succeeded in portraying her as a co-tenant who made death threats.

What the Slades wanted was a home to match their new status, and they eventually acquired or rented property at Darling Harbour on a little peninsula with pleasant surrounds, a great view and no close neighbours, which they called D’Oylyville.27 (I know, ouch). When the news got back to Slade’s unfortunate guarantors in England, as it invariably did through a friend in Sydney, they were outraged.28

The period between October 1836 and mid-1838 when Anne Slade cared for and tutored William D’Oyly was the high point of her life. She had finally gained some respect for her generous spirit and Christian charity and she basked in the glow of her own reinvention. According to Brockett, William had been healthy and active during his time aboard the Isabella, but the author Charlotte Barton, who met him, described William as ‘remarkably tall for his age’ but very thin, with a ‘sad cough’.29 She formed the impression that without the kind intervention of the Slades, William would have died. Her comment on his height reflects the fact that William was more than a year older than everyone supposed.

Meanwhile, back in England, William’s two brothers would very soon begin to await his return. It would be two years before he met his family. John Ireland would later report to William’s relatives that Mrs Slade was keeping him in Sydney30 and he was surely right. Yet it is also clear from her letter to the D’Oyly family that Anne and her husband adored the little boy. William was an attractive lad but according to a smitten Anne he was also intelligent, clever, affectionate and endearing. It was perhaps typical of the Slades that they should covet someone else’s child.

In August 1837, the Rev. J. W. Worthington finally wrote a letter of complaint to The Times newspaper in London:

…as yet I have not even received from the authorities at Sydney any news of Doyley [sic] and Ireland, who might, at least, have reached this country as soon as Mrs. Fraser, who says she saw them at Sydney, and am not enabled to send my friend, Mr. Baylay [sic], even the comforting intelligence of the arrival of his nephew.

Inevitably, the complaint reached Sydney. Governor Sir Richard Bourke had departed for England on 5 December 1837. Until his replacement, Sir George Gipps, arrived, Colonel Snodgrass was now the Acting Governor. In January 1838, Snodgrass had a meeting with Captain Lewis and they came up with a plan to get William back to his family. Lewis took 18 months leave-of-absence on half pay to escort the boy to England. Before he left, Captain Lewis used his friendship with Henry Bull, the editor of the Colonist newspaper, for a bit of chest thumping and self-promotion:

It seems Her Majesty’s Government have at last come to the resolution of forming an establishment in Torres Straits for the protection of unfortunate sufferers who may be wrecked on the Great Barrier Reef and its neighbouring sea. This measure has been, we hear, adopted … in consequence of the suggestions of Captain C. M. Lewis…31

And later, after he’d already sailed:

Captain Lewis has gone to England with the prospect of being appointed to undertake a survey of the Northern Coast of New Holland; and we believe it has already been proposed that a missionary station or settlement should be established in that quarter, under the superintendence of a Commandant. From his experience and various qualifications we know no one more suitable to be entrusted with the superintendence of such a project than our esteemed friend .32

In his conversations with Henry Bull, Lewis had cut no cloth to cover his naked ambition. The worthy captain had returned from the rescue mission with grandiose delusions that were too obvious for Bull’s readers to take seriously.

Bridehead and estate, at the head of the River Bride. Evelyn Waugh’s novel, Brideshead Revisited, borrowed the name. In the 19th century it was the family home of Chalotte D’Oyly’s uncle, the very wealthy banker Robert Williams, and on his death, her cousin, also Robert Williams, inherited the estate. Black-and-white photo, c. 1910, photographer unknown. Property of the author.

William D’Oyly and Captain Lewis finally embarked for England aboard H.M.S. Buffalo in May 1838. The parting was heartbreaking for Anne Slade but even tougher on young William, who cried so much at departure time that everyone present was deeply affected.33 He had loved and lost three sets of devoted parents in just three and a half years. After a rough voyage that made all aboard the Buffalo fear for their lives, Lewis handed the boy into the temporary care of Charlotte’s cousin, the wealthy banker Robert Williams of Bridehead, who was now the Member for Doncaster on the death of his father. William Bayley had already been granted legal guardianship of William. The lad was seven years old when he met his uncle for the first time (D’Oyly-Bayley, 1845). ….

Notes to Chapter 21

  1. See Michael Alexander, Mrs Fraser on the Fatal Shore, London: Michael Joseph, 1971, for a full account of the Stirling Castle wreck and Eliza Fraser’s experiences. See also John Curtis, Shipwreck of the Stirling Castle… To which is added, the narrative of the wreck of the Charles Eaton in the same latitude, London: George Virtue, 1838.
  2. Sydney Herald, 20 Oct. 1836.
  3. Sydney Gazette and New South Wales Advertiser, 25 Jan. 1838.
  4. Alexander p. 123.
  5. Sydney Gazette and New South Wales Advertiser, 27 Dec. 1838.
  6. Sydney Herald, 20 Dec. 1837.
  7. The Times, 2 Nov. 1837.
  8. See Chapter 3.
  9. William Bayley file, Anne Slade to D’Oyly family.
  10. Sydney Herald, 21 Oct. 1836.
  11. William Bayley file, Anne Slade to D’Oyly family.
  12. New South Wales – Governor’s Despatches to the Secretary of State for the Colonies, vol. 48, June–Dec. 1845, Mitchell Library, Sydney, ML A1237. This file contains enough documents, letters, etc., to make up a fairly comprehensive biography of the Slades, and most of the information that I have on them comes from this source.
  13. New South Wales – Governor’s Despatches to the Secretary of State for the Colonies, vol. 48, June–Dec. 1845, Mitchell Library, Sydney, ML A1237.
  14. New South Wales – Governor’s Despatches, ML A1237.
  15. Ibid. Letter from Anne Slade to George Moger.
  16. New South Wales – Governor’s Despatches, ML A1237.
  17. Australian, 9 April 1830.
  18. New South Wales Post Office Directories, 1832–1836.
  19. Sydney Herald, 13 Oct. 1834.
  20. William Bayley file, Anne Slade to D’Oyly family.
  21. Ibid.
  22. Sydney Gazette and New South Wales Advertiser, 1 Nov. 1836.
  23. Michael Alexander, Mrs Fraser on the Fatal Shore, London: Michael Joseph, 1971, p. 105.
  24. John Curtis, Shipwreck of the Stirling Castle…, London: George Virtue, 1838.
  25. Colonist, 2 March 1837.
  26. Ibid, 15 June 1837.
  27. Ibid, 16 March 1839.
  28. New South Wales – Governor’s Despatches op. cit.
  29. Charlotte Barton (A Lady Long Resident in New South Wales), A Mother’s Offering to Her Children, Sydney, printed at the Sydney Gazette Office, 1840, p. 81.
  30. Ireland’s London deposition, The Times, 31 Aug. 1837.
  31. Colonist, 5 May 1838.
  32. Ibid, 7 July 1838.
  33. Ibid.
  34. Bayley, William D’Oyly, A Biographical, Historical, Genealogical, and Heraldic Account of the House of D’Oyly, London: 1845.



Chapter 22: The Rush to Print

When he had first arrived in Sydney, John Ireland had sought treatment at the Sydney hospital for his ulcers. Captain Lewis alone had taken pity on him, and for a time he continued to live aboard the Isabella, entrusted with keeping an eye on the chests of tortoiseshell and artifacts that Lewis still had in his cabin. Lewis had hired a new steward, a man called Lilly, but he had soon been sacked for drunkenness and Lewis had given the task of minding the chests to Ireland. It was a temporary arrangement while the schooner was at dock for refitting. The government eventually paid for a room in a boarding house where Ireland could stay. He roamed the streets attracting the curious stares of passers-by. Finally, the Sydney Herald displayed some sympathy for his plight:

The lad Ireland, the companion of D’Oyley [sic], still remains unprovided for, and expresses an ardent wish to get a passage to England, where he has an aged father and mother who must have long since given him up as a lost child. To those who have the means of benevolence, a more unworthy object might be found than this poor lad, to whom a trifling outfit and a passage home, would be no mean gift.1

Ireland would have known about the charity fund set up for Mrs Fraser, and may have been hoping for a similar initiative from the Sydney Herald on his behalf. Sydney’s citizens, however, were unimpressed by the needs of a fit young lad who, by his own admission, met with kindness from the islanders. Ireland’s failure to disclose matters immediately after his rescue may also have worked against him. A job offer did finally come Ireland’s way, but not the hoped-for charity handout. He was actually living on a government allowance when the Sydney Monitor finally published its own appeal on his behalf:

The young man Ireland, brought from Murray’s Island on the Isabella, appears to be in a destitute situation. He is no seaman, and cannot obtain profitable employment in that capacity. Some speculators are endeavouring to prevail upon him to accompany them on a voyage among the islands in the character of an interpreter. He declines the offer being afraid of the dangers from which he has providentially escaped, on the one hand and being anxious to see his parents in London on the other. He is without shoes.2

Ireland, meanwhile, was soon busy in another direction. At Captain Lewis’s request, he appeared in court on 16 November to act as a witness. Lilly, Isabella’s ex-steward, was charged with stealing tortoiseshell and seashells belonging to his captain. Ireland was able to identify some of the shells displayed in evidence as being among those he had obtained by barter for Lewis. Lilly was convicted of theft and sentenced to seven years transportation to Van Diemen’s Land.3 The Sydney Monitor adopted a different slant:

Now we happen to know that the Isabella was ordered from the Dock Yard to the Commissariat, after her arrival, by our much respected Harbour-Master, Captain Nicholson, for the purpose of discharging all the trade she had procured, and the supplies that she had brought back. We should, therefore, like very much to know how it is that this tortoise shell has been left so long on board. The Government have for some time had a communication on the subject, but did not choose to take notice of it.4

In the following week’s issue it was still grumpily pursuing its complaint against Lewis without success:

We were, and still are of the opinion that the officers of His Majesty’s vessels, whether colonial or otherwise, are not entitled to trade on their own account.5

The problem for Captain Lewis, and for the rest of the schooner’s crew, is that they were paid very little for their recent, dangerous voyage. Lewis, for example, got his regular wage of £12 per month plus rations, amounting to about £54 for his arduous and difficult role as commander of the Isabella rescue mission. Sydney at that time had its fair share of public servants earning that much and more for dipping their quills in ink pots. Lewis was being paid the same rate as a junior clerk. He had a house ashore and a young wife. We can forgive him for trying to supplement his meagre income by whatever means he could. He was a master mariner but he was in a low-paid rut and he was desperate to get out of it. Nevertheless, the court case revealed the extent to which the Isabella rescue mission had doubled as a trade mission, with details emerging of the crew bartering for the precious tortoiseshell at every island they visited, and even scouring the beaches for anything they could find. Lilly’s lawyer even implied that Lewis had been acting for Henry Bull as an agent, a charge he strenuously denied, although he did admit that an offer to sell the tortoiseshell to Bull was on the table at the time of the theft.

Ireland did have some friends. William Brockett had been a visitor during his temporary time aboard the Isabella, if only for personal reasons. Brockett had decided to publish his journal of the rescue mission and he acted with commendable speed, anxious to have his booklet out while the tragedy was still fresh in the public mind. He hired a local artist and engraver, a Mr Fernyhough, to improve his rough drawings, but he also wanted succulent titbits from Ireland. ‘I know many things relative to the crew, voyage etc which have never appeared in any of the publications,’6 Ireland hinted mischievously to Brockett, but refused to enlarge on what they were.

Brockett was not the only one to use Fernyhough’s services. The engraver had only just arrived in the colony and set up a shop front, when the Sydney Herald jumped in and got him to engrave an image of the Aureed mask, which became the first illustration ever published in an Australian newspaper (20 Oct. 1836). Brockett went ahead and sent his manuscript to the Colonist’s printing office, paying all costs and expecting to reap a small profit from bookshop sales. He delivered free copies of his booklet to all the newspapers, hoping for favourable reviews. Most editors obliged, but Brockett had trusted too much the honesty of those involved in a very competitive press scene. The NSW Literary, Political & Commercial Advertiser republished his booklet, almost word-for-word, in its next edition, and the short-lived Sydney Times followed suit.

The Sydney Gazette commiserated with Brockett (29 Nov. 1836): ‘one of our colonial papers has in the most unhandsome manner published nearly all his little work, which put him to considerable expense and trouble to prepare for the press, and which has been the means of preventing the sale of the pamphlet’. The writer advised Brockett to sue the Commercial Advertiser in the Court of Requests, ‘which being a Court of conscience he would surely obtain a verdict.’ When N. L. Kentish, the editor and proprietor of the Sydney Times, attempted to defend his plagiarism, he got a stinging rebuke from the Colonist, in the form of an anonymous Letter to the Editor, but likely to have been from the Colonist editor, Henry Bull:

Mr. Brockett is the only son of a wealthy and most eminent and respectable lawyer in the north of England, whose historical and other talented productions have acquired him that celebrity in the literary world, to which he is so justly entitled. Young Brockett inherited in common with his countrymen, that insatiable desire for sea life, which his friends were quite unable to suppress – and in his choice of profession he will appear in no way singular amongst the youth of that part of England of which he is a native, where nine boys out of ten become Sailors in spite of all impediments. …

This, Sir, is the young gentleman, who Mr. N. L. Kentish (in excuse for pirating his Narrative) terms a common sailor boy…7

Just two weeks after Brockett’s little book appeared in the bookshops, on 1 December 1836, the following display advertisement started appearing in the major newspapers in Sydney and Van Diemen’s Land:


In the Press, And shortly will be Published, A NARRATIVE of the Voyage of the Government Colonial Schooner Isabella, in search of the Survivors of the Charles Eaton, wrecked in the Torres’ Straits, prepared from the Official Report of the Voyage.


For three and a half months, this boxed display advertisement appeared in every issue of the major Sydney papers and in Hobart Town and Launceston. The campaign went on, and on, and on, 35 pre-release ads for a book that had yet to be printed. The Colonist missed out on the little revenue maker. It was already running its own months-long advertising campaign for Brockett’s book. Whoever was responsible for the new round of advertisements for a similar book was crushing Brockett’s little effort. By February 1837, the disillusioned author had packed his boxes and sailed home to Newcastle.

Finally, in mid-March 1837, this new book went to press, followed by another round of advertising. The publicity blitz was for the colonial government’s own account of the shipwreck and rescue, eventually entitled Voyage to Torres Strait in Search of the Survivors of the Ship ‘Charles Eaton’, compiled and edited by Captain Phillip Parker King and based in part on the logbook of the Isabella’s captain, Charles Morgan Lewis. Who paid for this costly attempt to bury private enterprise? The printer got his money from the colony’s military chest and presumably Governor Bourke would have been reluctant to spend the chest’s funds on that much advance publicity. According to Governor Bourke, the book lingered in the press until he sailed off in HMS Rattlesnake on his visit to Port Phillip. And while it lingered, the newspapers kept running the advance publicity. In the end the campaign was probably paid for out of profits from the sale of the book.

The lengthy campaign implied, at least in the mind of the newspapers’ readers, that the resulting book was going to be a worthy tome, an absolute mine of useful information about the Torres Strait. When it finally appeared as a slender pamphlet it disappointed mariners, who had hoped for something better. The Colonist, despite it’s own interest in the sales of Brockett’s book, generously published a favourable review, although it did place its emphasis on editor Henry Bull’s friend, Captain Lewis. There was a ‘sting in the tail’, however. One month later the Colonist re-published a lengthy but anonymous letter to the editor of the Commercial Journal that was actually a critical review of the book. It includes the following comments:

I did hope, I say, that the appointment of Captain King to the supervision of the Journal was for the purpose of embracing the favourable opportunity which this voyage afforded of collating for the public good all the scattered data of the last twenty years−embodying such authenticated discoveries as would bring our knowledge to the present time.

The Narrative published under the sanction of the Colonial Government by Captain King is meagre and void of useful detail in the extreme, being but a trifle better than Brockett’s Narrative. This “mountain in labour,” which has disappointed public expectation, is wholly unworthy of the colonial administration, thus imitates the apathy of the Home Government in our geographical affairs, and is also unworthy of the distinguished officer to whose gestation it was confided.

The critical review is signed TRAVELLER and the anonymous author has a point. The book does regurgitate material from the published account by Matthew Flinders of his 1804 visit to the Murray Islands. It is possible that the critique was written by Captain Lewis, despite the fact that he was still employed in the colony’s navy. Certainly there would have been many in the colony who believed he was the letter’s author. Lewis was still smarting at being prevented from publishing – and profiting from – his own book from his journal. His close association with the Colonist newspaper and strong friendship with Henry Bull may have influenced the editor’s decision to republish the stinging review.

Lewis by this time had received a letter from William Barnes, the former master of the schooner Stedcombe: had Lewis heard anything of the two missing ship’s boys, presumed to be at Timor Laut? Captain Lewis called upon him and told him: ‘it was not in his written instructions to search for them: therefore he could not take [it] upon himself to do so,’ and that was the end of that. The dismissive response he got from Lewis shocked Barnes. Governor Bourke, when he eventually got to hear about it, may well have been equally annoyed. His instructions to Lewis for the rescue mission had sanctioned in general terms the rescue of other castaways.8

John Ireland had been hoping to return to England on the same ship as William D’Oyly but when he heard that the boy’s departure would be delayed by a small head wound he took a job on board the Florentia, bound for London. The ship left Sydney in February 1837 and reached London on 17 August, after a slow trip hampered by rough seas and storms.9 Relatives and friends of Captain Moore, the D’Oylys and Tom Ching were awaiting his arrival. Brockett had beaten Ireland back to England by a few weeks and carried news to William Bayley of his pending return.

Eliza Fraser had also left for England in late February 1837, but not before she secretly married Captain Alexander Greene, master of the brig Mediterranean Packet, recently arrived from New Zealand. This clandestine event took place on 23 February, at St Andrew’s Presbyterian Church in Sydney. The witnesses were two people sworn to secrecy.10 The Mediterranean Packet sailed for Liverpool soon after the marriage, leaving behind a town unaware it had just handed over about £400 to a woman presumed to be destitute, but who had already become the spouse of a well-paid master mariner. Since she was happily ensconced in the captain’s cabin, Eliza Fraser enjoyed a first-class passage home. As well, she had filled her chests with fine garments donated by the charitable women of Sydney and Moreton Bay. Some would later say that the hasty marriage was very convenient for her. Others would claim that Captain Greene was exploiting her and she was already a little mad.

The newlyweds arrived at Liverpool on 16 July 1837 and wasted no time in trying to solicit more handouts, this time from Liverpool’s charity funds. The stories she was beginning to tell of her experience were so outlandish, however, they aroused immediate suspicion. And when their chief mate admitted she was the captain’s wife, her appeal for charity was instantly dismissed. Undaunted, the Greenes set out for London, arriving there on the same day as John Ireland’s ship. The Greenes were too canny to allow themselves to be upstaged by Ireland’s story. Still concealing their marriage, they immediately applied to the Colonial Office for funds for ‘a widow in needy circumstances’11 and when they had received no reply from Lord Glenelg after a mere couple of days, immediately applied for an audience with the Lord Mayor of London, Alderman Thomas Kelly. Their unseemly haste, despite the many weeks they had spent seeking charity in Liverpool, suggests, despite their subsequent denials, that they were now very anxious to get in quickly with the widow’s harrowing tale.

Ireland, meanwhile, returned to his parents at Stoke Newington and was introduced to a new baby sister called Sarah, plus two sisters and a brother who had grown taller in his absence. He was told of little Eliza’s death, and that there was a brother, Edward, whom he would never know. Born while John was living on Mer, the two-year-old had died only weeks before John’s return. There was also an elderly relative or two squeezed into his family’s modest cottage.12 For someone who had been a child when he left home, it must have been an isolating experience. So much had happened in his absence. For his still grief-stricken parents, however, there was pleasure in knowing that fate had taken four children from them and graciously given one of them back.

The Irelands, father and son, their spirits high with hope and expectation, paid a visit to the office of the Messrs Gledstanes. Everyone was polite to John Ireland and listened to his story, after which the proprietors handed him a single sovereign. One of the clerks, perhaps embarrassed by his employers’ miserliness, gave the lad another half sovereign.13 Ireland was cast back into the streets of London where his story had begun. He did have, however, a few useful contacts, including James Drew and the Rev. Worthington. Drew had previously visited George Ireland and informed William Bayley (William Bayley file) that the father:

…had promised to bring his son to me the minute he arrives. I shall endeavour to get his examination before anyone can by any possibility tamper with him. His father says that he is a very good and well disposed boy. This man also gives Considine [sic] the carpenter of the men arrived at Batavia an excellent character.

Constantine had been part of the original crew ex-London and apparently the only one of the other four survivors known to Ireland’s family. He must have given an account of himself that satisfied George Ireland.

Father and son did visit Drew and Worthington as promised, and the two men were so angry at the way Gledstanes had treated their only surviving employee, they took Ireland’s case to the Lord Mayor at Mansion House. In addition, they wanted to generate enough public outcry to encourage proper nautical surveys of the Torres Strait. Overall, their motives were honourable. Eliza Fraser, however, got there first.

The Mansion House in London. Engraving by J Woods after a picture by Hablot Browne and R Garland. Published 1837.

Mayor Kelly agreed to enquire into her circumstances and she appeared before him at Mansion House on 23 August. Also present was John Curtis, a reporter from The Times. Curtis had already written a hasty account of the Charles Eaton story, compiled from reports received from Sydney and other sources, but needed an interview with Ireland to complete it. At the same time, he was following the stories on the Stirling Castle shipwreck and was already interviewing Eliza Fraser and some of the crew. They were cooperative and provided him with plenty of original, unpublished material for his book. Mrs Fraser, as she was still calling herself, presented a deposition at Manor House that made sensational copy. It was well reported in the English press and there is no denying that the circumstances of her shipwreck and survival were harrowing. Her story, however, had elements that were similar Ireland’s own. Michael Alexander, in his book Mrs. Fraser on the Fatal Shore (1971), points out one deliberate fabrication in her Mansion House testimony. She described the fate of one of the seamen, James Major, who had been aboard the pinnace when it separated from the main party in the long boat, and whose fully-clothed body was later found in the ashes of a campfire that he may have rolled into while asleep. According to Mrs Fraser, however:

While Major was at work, the chief of the tribe approached him and tapped him on the shoulder. At this instant the poor fellow received a blow on the back of the neck from a waddie or crooked stick, which stunned him. He fell to the ground, and a couple of savages set to work, and by means of sharpened shells severed the head from the body with frightful lacerations. They then ate parts of the body, and preserved the head with certain gums of extraordinary efficacy and affixed it as a figure bust to one of their canoes.13

There are elements of this macabre fabrication that appear to have been lifted straight out of John Ireland’s account of the massacre at Boydang. As well, Ireland had spoken of his fear during his time in the Torres Strait that he would be killed and his skull attached to a canoe as a figurehead. He may even have mentioned that fear to Eliza Fraser when he met her at Anne Slade’s party. After three days of lurid stories in the London press that portrayed the Australian Aborigines as fearsome head-hunters and cannibals, there was little left for Ireland to say that was fresh and new.

Mayor Kelly agreed to launch a public subscription to raise funds for the destitute widow. Later, when it became common knowledge that she was married to Captain Greene, a man more than capable of supporting her and her children, the substantial sum raised by the Lord Mayor’s subscription was given to Eliza’s three children instead.

When Ireland’s turn came to appear in the Justice Room at Mansion House and he fronted up on 30 August, the atmosphere was markedly different to that which had greeted the Greenes. His appeal application would be heard by Alderman Pirie, a shipowner and a much tougher proposition than Mayor Kelly. Pirie knew that the Greenes had duped people and he was determined not to let that happen to him. The following summary of the meeting is based on the Times account (31 Aug. 1837). Worthington’s name is incorrectly given as Wellington.

James Drew, having identified himself as midshipman Tom Ching’s brother-in-law, opened the proceedings with an attempt to give a brief outline of the fate that had befallen the cabin boy’s shipmates. Pirie interrupted him. ‘I’m aware of the circumstances of the loss of the vessel and the report that several murders had been committed,’ he said impatiently. He then asked Ireland several questions upon the subject, which he answered without hesitation. Drew then changed tactics. He said ‘his object in appearing at the Mansion-house was to press the necessity of the interference of the Colonial Government’ since people wrecked on the Torres islands were being subjected to horrible treatment. Espousing the inner passage to the Strait, he added that it ‘would be necessary to have an accurate survey taken of the coast as the coral-reefs were forming islands every day.’ Pirie was still unimpressed so Drew changed tack again and began to present the cabin boy as a worthy object for charity:

DREW:—The general practice amongst the savages to murder any white people wrecked on their islands—a practice well known by European nations—ought to have caused great efforts long before this. Bad as the case is which had been recently laid before the Lord Mayor [Stirling Castle], the atrocities committed in the case of the unfortunate crew and passengers of the Charles Eaton were still more frightful, not one more than Ireland and young D’Oyly having been saved out of about 26. The poor lad had been two years along with the child among the savages, and had arrived not many days since from Sydney, having worked his passage home, and is now without a situation and penniless.

PIRIE: A more respectable house than that of Messrs. Gladstone [sic] and Co, who are, I believe, the owners of the ship Charles Eaton, is not in London. Everybody who knows anything about shipping is aware that remuneration as to wages ended with the loss of the vessel, so that the lad has no legal claim upon the owners whatever.

WELLINGTON [WORTHINGTON]:—Although there can be no legal claim, the dreadful circumstances of the case, and the fact that Ireland is the only survivor of the crew, are sufficient of themselves to establish a sort of claim on the sympathy of the owners.

PIRIE:—You should make application to Messrs. Gladstone [sic] on the subject, and endeavour to procure employment for the young man.

Not much sympathy there. Speaking of the Mangles visit, Ireland himself made it clear that he was angry with Captain Carr. ‘It has been said that I shunned those who tried to get me away,’ he said. ‘Never was anything more false or ridiculous.’ Carr’s claim that the cabin boy loved his island life so much that he wanted to stay at Mer was no help to Ireland’s application for charity. If Ireland’s anger also reflected, bye the bye, Drew’s own anger with Carr well… that was just a bonus.

The statement contained additional information that Ireland had withheld at Sydney, and it later became the basis for his own children’s book, The Shipwrecked Orphans, which went to press not long after the meeting at Mansion House. The publisher, Dean and Munday, had its offices in Threadneedle Street, not far from Drew’s business in Bread Street, so presumably it was Drew who organised the contract for Ireland. Dean and Munday published general titles but specialised in children’s books. The choice of title is interesting, given that Ireland’s father was very much a visible presence at that time and there were no secrets about his family.

In the week that Alderman Pirie interviewed Ireland at Mansion House, the Wemyss book (based on William Bayley’s files but entrusted to his writer friend for publication) went on sale in London bookshops, and they advertised it extensively in the newspapers to coincide with Ireland’s deposition. It was hardcover, included quotes from numerous documents, cost one shilling, and had been published initially in The Dissenter magazine, a Stockton publication edited by Wemyss. Bayley hoped to make a tiny profit from the tragedy – probably for William – and he was one of many with a similar goal. Bayley (a solicitor) was also the only person to write to Brockett for permission to quote from his book. Unfortunately, Ireland’s deposition contradicted the Brockett and Wemyss books on a few points, making them seemingly less reliable sources.

Much of the Wemyss book, Narrative of the Melancholy Shipwreck of the Ship Charles Eaton…, did simply rehash Brockett’s book, although Wemyss added excerpts of letters privately and personally addressed to Bayley. Poor young Brockett was the one who really missed out in the rush to print with so many people plagiarising his book. He gave up any dreams of being an author and studied for the bar instead, eventually becoming a lawyer in Durham. The second edition of the Wemyss book (1884) contains fresh biographical material about the authors and may be a better book because of it.

Drew must have got the necessary endorsement from Mansion House because he went ahead and set up a benevolent fund for John Ireland. In fairness to Gledstanes & Co., they may have offered to employ Ireland again, a proposition he would have rejected, as Curtis observed in him ‘a great disinclination to return to sea, if he can obtain other employment.’15 The following day (1 Sept. 1837) The Times published the following advertisement:

WRECK of the CHARLES EATON. – The appalling details of the wreck of this unfortunate ship have been fully before the public and in consequence of the utterly DESTITUTE STATE in which the only adult survivor, JOHN IRELAND, is left, it has been resolved to lay his case before the benevolent public. After being badly wounded in the hand, and very dangerously speared in the side, he was detained two years by the natives and underwent the greatest deprivations and hardships until rescued by Capt. Lewis, of the Isabella, and he finally worked his passage home from Sydney to this country penniless, and with scarcely decent covering. The assistance therefore of the benevolent is earnestly requested to get together a sufficient sum of money to relieve his immediate wants, and eventually to place him in a situation to gain an honest livelihood. Subscriptions will be thankfully received by Messrs. Drew, Heyward, and Co., Great Trinity-lane, Bread street, London.

Subscriptions already received:
Rev. Mr. Worthington, B. D. 2 2 0
Thomas Ching, Esq. 2 2 0
James Drew, Esq. 2 2 0
R. H. Pigeon, Esq. 1 1 0

Ireland’s charity appeal was off to a modest start with seven guineas in donations. More importantly, there were some impressive names on that short list. The Rev. Worthington could encourage his congregation to donate, and three big names in the pharmaceutical trade had already donated to the fund. Ching’s Brown Lozenges for Worms and Ching’s Yellow Lozenges for Worms had made the Cornwall family wealthy and famous, while Drew’s company was a wholesale druggist and supplier, representing medicines and remedies that were trusted and widely used. The biggest coup of all though, was R. H. Pigeon, a respected man about London. He, too, was a pharmacist, but he was also at various times the Treasurer at Guy’s Hospital and ditto at Christ’s Hospital. Pigeon and Drew were movers and shakers in the Pharmaceutical Society and good friends. They were men who would normally have had no trouble finding suitable work for Ireland around one of the hospitals or warehouses. The appeal got some negative publicity, however, with the publication of the following letter from W. S. Deloitte, master of the Florentia. The Times published it in their next edition:

Sir: Observing in your paper of today an appeal to the public in behalf of the only adult survivor of the crew of the unfortunate ship Charles Eaton, and as he is known by a great number of persons both in England and New South Wales to have returned by the ship Florentia, commanded by me, I think it but justice to the Governor of New South Wales, the public, and myself, to state that, instead of his working his passage home, being in this country penniless, and with scarcely a decent covering, he was amply supplied with clothes by the Government at Sydney, previous to leaving, and £10. 8s was given into my hands to be paid him on arrival in London. He also signed the ship’s articles as an ordinary seaman, at 30s per month.

The balance paid to him on the 19 August 1837 being

9 6  6
10    8   0
19  14   6
And he has plenty of clothes.

I make this statement to you, not from a wish to prevent his receiving assistance from the compassionate; but I think that you will agree with me that truth only should be made use of for that purpose.15

Deloitte was being petty. John Ireland had worked his passage home, he was now unemployed, and (according to the Curtis reportage) he had not claimed to have ‘scarcely a decent covering’. All the same, there is something about that last sentence that would have suggested to the reading public that in Deloitte’s opinion, Ireland was being dishonest. It implied that once again some very good people had been duped.

Little wonder that Ireland was disgruntled when Curtis approached him. The Times journalist was unsuccessful in getting much for the forthcoming book that he was now anxious to rush to press. Ireland, with his own book deal in mind, was back to being uncommunicative, although he did, for the sake of accuracy, agree to check the manuscript. Curtis was lucky that there were no stringent copyright laws then, because he shamelessly plundered the Brockett and Wemyss books then tossed in some homilies from other sources and some word-for-word copies of other accounts. Curtis did a reasonable job with the section of his book devoted to the Stirling Castle. Most of his book had already been laboriously type-set before the Greenes appeared at Mansion House, and he was forced to defend their behavior in his book to avoid a costly re-typeset. The section on the Charles Eaton is a swift cut-and-paste job and it shows.

Drew’s motive in exaggerating Ireland’s circumstances was similar to that of the Greenes in that he wanted to present Ireland as a pitiable object worthy of charity. He also came close to calling Captain William Carr a liar, despite the fact that Carr had plenty of witnesses to back his version of Ireland’s confusing behaviour with the Mangles crew.

At this point, Ireland fades out of the news. In 1845, The Shipwrecked Orphans was re-published under his name in America and reprinted in 1846, 1848 and 1850 (abridged edn). If there was an ultimate winner in the rush to print that produced five books in quick succession and numerous published first-person accounts, then it was probably the book’s American editor ‘Thomas Teller’ and his New Haven publisher, S. Babcock, who were catering for the lucrative American market.

George Tuttle was the real name of the writer who used the pseudonym ‘Thomas Teller’. He specialised in retelling traveller’s tales for a penny magazine, which also sold to the American market. He wrote numerous children’s books for his publisher, S. Babcock. Tuttle clearly never spoke to Ireland directly and was taken in by the book’s title, believing that Ireland was an orphan. He was also unaware that Ireland only gave oral accounts of his experiences. There has to be some doubt about whether Ireland or his family got any financial benefit from the additional editions published in his name. Tuttle does not state that he obtained permission from Ireland to republish his book. More likely, he did a deal with the London publisher for American editions.

Ireland may have returned to Australia and spent time as a fisherman at Williamstown, across the harbour from the fledgling town of Melbourne. I was unable to confirm this, but a pencil sketch by Liardet of Williamstown’s foreshore in 1841 (held by a Liardet descendent and sighted once) does show a row of makeshift huts and one of them is labelled by the artist as belonging to ‘John Ireland, fisherman’. Since it is likely that Captain Lewis called upon him during his visit to London in 1838, it does seem possible that Lewis encouraged Ireland to settle in Australia. If John Ireland did briefly become a fisherman, then he resumed a lifestyle similar to that which he had adopted in the Torres Strait.

Another account has it that he was returning to England in about 1844 and went ashore at Cape Town, where he met up with the Hull family and told them his story. He had booked into a guesthouse near the foreshore for a few days, he said, and had been surprised to find his sister and her husband there. They were new immigrants from London.17 In 1842 the seaport of Williamstown did go through a severe but temporary economic downturn. Labourers, no longer able to find any work there, left the village and for a time it was almost deserted. A descendant of the Hull family also records that according to what Ireland told them, he had acquired the nickname Tommy Roundhead. In the 19th century, Tommy Roundhead was a nickname occasionally given to individual Aborigines in frequent contact with settlers. When the ship’s boy Joseph Forbes was finally rescued from Timor Laut in 1839 he was sometimes called Timor Joe. The only survivor of a large-scale massacre on a New Guinea island (he was a Chinese emigrant) was known on the Victorian goldfields as New Guinea John. Similarly there would have been settlers in Australia who knew that Ireland had lived with natives for a time so the claim that he was given a local Aboriginal nickname is plausible. The fact that he was wiry, dark-haired and sunburned may have encouraged its use.

After 1837, there are no records in Britain that I have been able as yet to incontestably link to this John Ireland, making it plausible that he either went back to the merchant marines, albeit very reluctantly, or else he emigrated. The two oldest Ireland boys, George Jnr and John, were close in age and grew up together, a little apart from their much younger siblings. George eventually became a successful businessman, running a printery with a staff of 17. He married and in 1843 had a son and named him John.18 The door does open a crack to admit the possibility that the child’s young uncle had disappeared out of the record books because he was deceased.

Initially, Eliza Fraser fared much better than Ireland. She got, in all, more than £950 in donations and a final mention in Henry Stuart Russell’s book Genesis of Queensland (1888). According to Russell, she was appearing in a London tent show, probably in the late 1830s, because the author, who was visiting the city at the time, saw a man carry a gaudily painted placard for the show, emblazoned with the following – now infamous – advertisement:


I remain doubtful about whether the woman inside the tent was really Eliza, given that Alexander Greene was an experienced master mariner and reportedly comfortably well off. The Greenes had told John Curtis that they would be moving to New Zealand and they did so, apparently losing Eliza’s money buying land for which the title had already lapsed.20 This was possibly connected to the infamous Wakefield scheme. She is believed to have died as a result of a carriage accident in Melbourne in 1858. The Melbourne Argus reported no accident of that nature, but they may have missed the story. A man called Alexander Greene did have a carriage accident in Melbourne and it may or may not be connected to Eliza:

The Argus, Friday 9 April 1869. City Court Thursday April Minor Charges, -Alexander Greene charged with allowing his horse and buggy to run away, was fined 10s.

It’s possible that Eliza Greene sustained injuries in an accident that eventually lead to her demise. Most people would agree that it is probably a good idea to keep an open mind about the exact place and circumstances of her death, especially since it isn’t listed in Victoria’s Pioneer Index of Births, Deaths and Marriages, or even in the all-important Index of Inquests.

Inevitably, the events surrounding the Charles Eaton faded from public memory, although Captain Lewis did manage to maintain a public profile for another decade. Governor Sir Richard Bourke had promised him a reward for the Torres Strait rescue mission. However, Bourke’s successor, Governor Sir George Gipps, rejected his application for either a land grant of 1,240 acres or a gratuity of £300.21 To add further pain to the rebuff, the Isabella was sold while Lewis was returning William D’Oyly to his relatives, and he was told by the Colonial Office in London that he no longer had a job in Australia. During his time in England Lewis did exactly what Anne Slade had done and basked in the reflected notoriety of his little charge. It really did seem as if everyone wanted a piece of the action. The Times treated Lewis like a hero when he presented William to the Lord Mayor of London, during an unnecessary public handover to William Bayley:

Young Doyley [sic], upon being brought into the presence of the Lord Mayor, appeared to be greatly frightened, and clung to Captain Lewis with filial affection, sobbing violently during the whole interview.20

And then:

The poor child during the interview could not be prevailed upon for a moment to leave Captain Lewis.21

The Times then published the contents of some of Lewis’s letters, written during his time in the Torres Strait, including the claim that the skulls at Aureed were ‘arranged near a place where they generally feasted on the dead’.22 Finally there is this:

The Lord Mayor expressed his gratification at seeing the poor child in safety, and hoped that Captain Lewis would be rewarded for his resolute and judicious conduct in making the search for the unfortunate passengers and crew, and recovering the child and Ireland…23

So once again it was all about the reward. Such praise from the Lord Mayor had to be a worthy endorsement, surely? It was heady stuff but when Lewis received the news that there was no job to go back to in Sydney, he responded quickly to his dilemma. He persuaded William D’Oyly’s relative, Robert Williams M.P., to write a testimonial for him and what he got was an offensively brief scribbled note. It weakly praised the captain’s ability in effecting William’s rescue and ‘the kindness in care of the child during his passage home.’25 Lewis, who had sacrificed nine months’ salary and placed himself in a financially perilous position when he agreed to return William to England, really did deserve something better. He seems to have failed to impress the Williams family with his behaviour.

With the more effective and useful backing of the Colonial Secretary, Lord Glenelg, Lewis also applied to Gipps for a position as Harbour Master and Master attendant, preferably at Sydney but Melbourne would do. When he arrived back in Sydney aboard the Cornwall, after an appalling journey during which 18 children died (Sydney Monitor 2 Sept. 1839) he also carried with him a recommendation from Lord Glenelg who wanted his claim for a £300 gratuity reconsidered. Gipps complied and presented the claim to the Legislative Council members but they rejected it once again.26 They gave two reasons for this. Firstly, the Council took the view that since the Charles Eaton was an English trader it was up to the English government to pay Lewis a reward if they chose to do so. Secondly, it believed that giving in to Lewis’s persistent demand for a reward for rescuing two castaways would set a dangerous precedent that other ship’s captains might follow. Gipps gave Lewis a job instead.

Lewis left for Melbourne on 25 November 1839 to take up his new posting as Port Phillip’s first harbour master, with the appointment officially approved in May 1841, at which time his salary was increased and then increased again to £300 per annum. Lewis considered it an insultingly small amount, given that Sydney’s harbour master got twice as much for an easier harbor.27 He did an admirable job for what was already proving to be a difficult anchorage for shipping. He soon discovered, for example, that the small and open whaleboats used by pilots were simply not seaworthy enough to handle the rip at Port Phillip heads and the savage squalls blowing in from Bass Strait. Most pilot boats were only about eight or nine metres long and were manned by a pilot and four rowers, assisted by a couple of sails. It took them a whole day just to row out to the heads and back to the fishing village at Williamstown. In July 1840 two pilots went out to meet an incoming ship in an ordinary ship’s boat purchased from the Duchess of Kent and were never seen again, although the wreckage of their capsized boat was later found.28

On Lewis’s recommendation, the 46-ton revenue cutter Ranger was converted into a cruising pilot station, sailing up and down outside the heads on standby to intercept any approaching vessels. With pilots actually living on board, the problem of pilots being reluctant to put to sea in bad weather was solved to some degree. The Ranger cutter, together with two more whaleboats, was fitted out and handed over to Captain Lewis on 21 April 1841.29

Lewis seems to have fancied himself as a bit of an explorer. The Australian (13 February 1841 and post) reported that he had returned from a mission to Corner Inlet to rescue survivors of the Clonmel, which had run aground there, announcing that he had discovered a vast inland lake. Local fishermen, who knew the area well, promptly informed the public that the ‘grand harbour’ at Corner Inlet that Lewis had supposedly discovered was actually well known to them as a sea channel. Since they had treated the channel as their own private secret, the newspapers took the view that the first person to announce the existence of the channel had the right to claim its discovery.

In August 1845, the now retired Captain Lewis, having just returned from a visit to England, travelled to Sydney with another petition to the Legislative Council. In it, he explained that due to ill health he was no longer able to attend to his duties as harbour master at Port Phillip. Lewis, although still a relatively young man, had suffered a stroke that left him partially paralysed and mentally disturbed. He had become obsessed with getting a reward for the Isabella mission and for his role in returning William D’Oyly to his relatives. According to his petition, his physical and mental conditions were the result of a coup de soleil, i.e. severe sunburn or heatstroke, brought on as a direct result of his work as Port Phillip’s harbour master, for which he claimed he was surely entitled to some government compensation. He reminded the Legislative Council of his services in the Torres Strait, and requested either a grant of land from the Crown or the sum of £300. He also pointed out that he had ‘erected a house on some government land, at a cost of upwards of £300, as it appeared without proper authority, and for which compensation to the amount of £100 only had been allowed.’

The NSW Legislative Council finally took pity on him and reluctantly granted him a gratuity of £300, but only in lieu of a pension, whereas Lewis would surely have been expecting it in addition to a pension.30 One year’s wage equivalent instead of an annuity was a terrible outcome. Lewis returned to Wales soon after to live as an invalid with his elderly parents. He died in January 1853, aged 48.31 The only lasting tribute to his pioneering role as Melbourne’s first harbour master is the channel at Corner Inlet, which bears the name ‘Lewis Channel’.

George Milner Slade, having lost his job when the Legislative Council abolished his position as Commissioner for the Assignment of Convicts in 1840, was appointed to the role of Sydney Coroner again, this time on a generous salary of £300. The Governor, Major Sir George Gipps, considered Slade ‘a very trustworthy servant,’ and said that ‘he should not like to put him out of office without finding him another’.32 The offer was subsequently withdrawn, and it may be that the year Slade spent in the debtor’s prison now made him ineligible for the position. Slade was unemployed for 17 months and struggled to survive until all of his money was gone, when the Government Gazette (August 5 1842) announced that ‘His excellency the Governor [Sir George Gipps] has been pleased to appoint Mr. George Milner Slade to be clerk to the bench of the magistrates at Brisbane, Moreton Bay.’ The Slades had established themselves as comfortably wealthy, respectable colonists in boom-town Sydney and now George had been given a low-paid clerical position in what was then a penal outpost, with a free population of not much more than 140 civilians. He had been banished and after the way he treated his guarantors, you could say that he got what he deserved.

After his arrival at Moreton Bay, Slade managed to acquire a second position as the young settlement’s first postmaster, which earned him an additional annual income of about £25–£30, on top of his other salaries of about £162. Slade ran the post office from a rented cottage and employed his brother, John, to help him. Poor Anne Slade though. She must have been devastated by the sudden loss of social status and most of her worldly goods (once again). She was in her late-forties when she died in Brisbane North on 24 September 184633 after a short illness. Her husband died suddenly in 1848.34 After his death, his post office accounts were found to be deficient but only by a small amount.35

Notes to Chapter 22

  1. Sydney Herald, 27 Oct. 1836.
  2. Sydney Monitor, 11 Nov. 1836.
  3. Australian, 22 Nov. 1836.
  4. Sydney Monitor, 16 Nov. 1836.
  5. Ibid, 23 Nov. 1836. The Sydney Monitor appears to have at least partly misjudged Lewis’s motives. Forty-five artefacts were handed over to the Australian Museum. Most of them, including the Aureed mask, were lost in a fire in 1882. Eighteen arrows collected at Mer by Lewis survived the fire and are still held by the Museum in Sydney. The tortoiseshell, particularly any that had been left intact and hadn’t been carved into artefacts, was sold.
  6. William Bayley file, letter from Newcastle, thought to be William Brockett to William Bayley, and the two men did exchange letters, undated but probably July 1837, Dixson Library, State Library of New South Wales, Sydney, A1074. Also see Thomas Wemyss, Narrative of the Melancholy Shipwreck of the Ship Charles Eaton: and, the Inhuman Massacre of the Passengers and Crew; with an account of the rescue of two boys from the hands of the savages in an island in Torres Straits, London, 1837, 2nd ed., Stockton-on-Tees: J. Sharp, 1884,
  7. Colonist, 1 Dec. 1836.
  8. Sydney Monitor, 30 July 1838
  9. John Ireland, The Shipwrecked Orphans, New Haven: S. Babcock, 2nd edn, c.1845, p. 64. ‘Thomas Teller’ self-nominated as ‘editor’ in the American edition.
  10. Michael Alexander, Mrs Fraser on the Fatal Shore, London: Michael Joseph, 1971, p. 124.
  11. Alexander, p. 127.
  12. UK Census 1841.
  13. The Times, 31 Aug. 1837.
  14. Alexander, p. 130.
  15. John Curtis, Shipwreck of the Stirling Castle…,, London: George Virtue, 1838, p. 312.
  16. The Times, 2 Sept. 1837.
  17. David Morris, Africa. Also email to author from David Morris. Charlotte Ireland, John’s oldest sister, appears in the 1841 census still living with her mum and dad, then disappears from all records kept in the UK, making it likely that she did indeed marry and emigrate post-1841. In 1842 she was 17 years old. Brother John also disappears from UK records and either went back to sea or emigrated. So far, Australian and South African records examined by the author have yielded no conclusive trace of either of them. The rest of his family lived out their lives in the Hackney-Stoke Newington area.
  18. Alexander, p. 156.
  19. Ibid.
  20. See: Allan McInnes, ‘The Wreck of the Charles Eaton’, read to a meeting of the Royal Historical Society of Qld, 24 February 1983, for details of Lewis’s attempt to get a reward from the government for leading the rescue mission. Also see HRA, Series I, vol. XVIII, pp. 432–36, 775.
  21. Morning Post, 26 Dec., 1838.
  22.  Ibid
  23.  Ibid
  24.  Ibid
  25. Petition by Charles Lewis to Governor Gipps with accompanying letter. Colonial Secretary’s Correspondence: Letters. Received: Port Phillip AONSW 4/2741, letter 46/1623 (Archives Office, New South Wales).
  26. Noble, Captain J., Port Phillip Pilots and Defences, Melbourne: Hawthorn Press, 2nd ed., 1979, p. 11. The book contains brief account of Lewis’ career as a harbour master.
  27. Port Phillip Herald, 14 Jan. 1840.
  28. Ibid, 4 Aug. 1840.
  29. Noble, p. 11.
  30. Sydney Morning Herald, 1 Nov. 1845; Maitland Mercury & Hunter River General Advertiser, 23 Aug. 1845 & 8 Nov. 1845; Morning Chronicle 6 Sept. 1845.
  31. Ibid.
  32. Source: IGI.
  33. HRA Series I, Vol. XXIV, correspondence between Governor Gipps and G. M. Slade, pp. 661–70.
  34. Australian, 13 Oct. 1846.
  35. Moreton Bay Courier, 22 April 1848.

Chapter 23: The D’Oylys Revisited

By the time William D’Oyly left for England his oldest brother, Tom, was already a student at the East India Company’s Addiscombe College at Croydon in London. Both the Duchess of Gloucester and Sir Charles D’Oyly had been soliciting on his behalf.1 Tom left for India in 1838, where he served as an ensign – and later a lieutenant – with the 45th Native Infantry.2 He was stationed at Shahgeampore and then at Dacca, before being transferred to Benares. In 1841 Bayley was still living in Paradise Row, Stockton-on-Tees, and the UK census shows that the only other occupants of his house were his oldest son, William D’Oyly Bayley (who was his articled clerk) and a maid. The rest of his family was scattered, with 10-year-old William and his slightly older cousin, Edward D’Oyly Bayley, already in a London boarding school. Lieut. Tom D’Oyly wrote to that young cousin, Edward, expressing regret that he had only received one letter from little William. He had been very ill he explained to Edward. Tom also mentioned in his letter that he had been in touch with his aunt, Frances Currie, on his arrival in India and she had been able to answer his questions. Some of them may have been about the deaths of his parents, including the fact that they had gone to New Norfolk instead of returning to England. If so, then perhaps a painful or perplexing issue was finally resolved.

The Bengal Army was fighting a campaign at that time against Afghanistan, for commercial gain. In the disastrous retreat from Kabul in January 1842, the Bengal Army suffered a major defeat. It lost 100 officers, about 4500 gunners and foot soldiers and about 12,000 camp followers. Tom’s company was not involved in the Afghan campaign, but he lost many friends from his Addiscombe days. He was stationed only a short boat-ride from the Chunar Fort and could go there looking for ghosts. Perhaps he found them, or perhaps the spirits of his parents were at hand when he finally succumbed to spasmodic cholera and died on 24 April 1842 at the age of 20. He had been immensely popular with his company and his fellow officers buried him at Benares with full military honours, an unusual tribute in a country where youthful death was a commonplace. A grieving William Bayley also had a memorial inscription to Tom added to his wife’s monument at the Norton cemetery.3

The elite Bengal Horse Artillery. Edward’s riding master was his uncle, Major William Geddes. Illustrated London News, 27 January 1849.

According to William Bayley, at the time of his death Tom appeared at the Bayley house between the hours of 12 and one in the morning, at almost the exact time that he died in India. His son, William D’Oyly Bayley, was prepared to testify to this, for the visitation had occurred – and been talked about – some weeks before the news of Tom’s death reached England.

The Lucknow residency prior to India’s first War of Independence in 1857. Edward D’Oyly was rushing to its defence when he was killed. Illustrated London News, Supplement, 20 March 1858.

With the Bengal Artillery now rebuilding from scratch after the disastrous march from Kabul, Tom’s younger brother, Edward, avoided the lower-ranked infantry and graduated into the prestigious Bengal Horse Artillery, where his uncle, Major William Geddes, was the riding master. He arrived in Calcutta in 1842, a few weeks after his brother’s death, and must have felt the loss of yet another family member very keenly. He married at Ferozepore in India in 1846 and had a son, Edward, in 1847. During the sepoy uprising (1857–1859, better known today as the First Indian War of Independence), the Bengal Horse Artillery’s Third Brigade rushed to the defence of besieged Lucknow. On 5 July 1857, a small band of mutineers attacked the brigade at Sassiah, en route to Lucknow. Captain Edward D’Oyly died of his injuries at the age of 33. His wife and son had apparently predeceased him.4 He fought heroically to the end and a couple of books on the 1857 Indian uprising commented on his heroism.5 Edward left his entire estate to a ten-year-old orphaned cousin/niece he was apparently raising as his own daughter.

The battle at Allalabad, 1857. the Royal Horse Artillery on the way to the defence of Lucknow. Illustrated London News, Supplement, 20 March 1858.

William Bayley was obsessed with the Charles Eaton story for many years. He added yet another inscription to the side of his wife’s memorial at the Norton cemetery for Tom snr, Charlotte and George, and he arranged for the publication of a book on the shipwreck with the assistance of his good friend, Thomas Wemyss. In 1840–1841 he commissioned the well-known artist, John Wilson Carmichael, to paint two oil paintings to hang in his Stockton home, one of the wreck of the barque and one of William’s rescue. The National Library of Australia in Canberra purchased the latter in 2010. Entitled: ‘The Rescue of William D’Oyly’ it represents a bit of a coup for the library. You can view it online at the library’s website. It has an interesting provenance. In 1920 it was hanging in the home of Sir Warren Hastings D’Oyly, the 9th baronet and nephew of Sir Charles D’Oyly, the 7th baronet.

Now finally we come to William. Many people loved him but his destiny was out of his control. When his guardian died, he was 16 years old and reportedly penniless. Unlike his two older brothers, William never attended the HEIC’s Addiscombe military seminary, at Croydon in London. One explanation is that he failed the entrance exam. The earlier recommendation of the recently deceased Sir Charles D’Oyly6 stood for nothing if he did not qualify. More likely, William’s delayed education meant that he was already too old for entry. The Addiscombe house rules stipulated that you had to finish the two-year course before your 18th birthday. Fortunately, there was an alternative route available and William took it. In 1848 he got a direct posting to Madras (now Chennai) as an unranked cadet, attached to the 35th Native Infantry.7 After two years of in-the-field training he was ranked an ensign. His promotional opportunities, however, were less than those of an Addiscombe ensign. His relatives were in the faraway Bengal presidency of India, and there was no one to support him during his difficult first years in India. In 1852, his cousin, William D’Oyly Bayley, placed the following notice in The Gentleman’s Magazine:

Death Notice

13 August 1852– at SAMULIOTTOK, Presidency of MADRAS, EI, of dysentery, aged 20, WILLIAM ROBERT D’OYLEY Esq. HEICS. Youngest son of the late Captain D’Oyley, and nephew of the late William Bayley, Esq., of Stockton-upon-Tees. Deceased was upwards of two years in the hands of savages of Murray’s Island, Torres-Straits, after the murder of his parents and one of his brothers on their voyage from Sydney to India in 1834.8

According to the Madras Army records, and the records of the Madras Military Fund, William D’Oyly died on 22 March, 1852. The dysentery that ultimately caused his death was often a severe and frequently fatal symptom of cholera. .

Notes to Chapter 23

  1. T. Wemyss, Narrative of the Melancholy Shipwreck of the Ship Charles Eaton…, 2nd ed., Stockton-on-Tees: J. Sharp, p. 32; William Bayley file op. cit. Edward D’Oyly to William Bayley, 1841; William D’Oyly-Bayley, A Biographical, Genealogical and Heraldic Account of the House of D’Oyly, London 1845, p. 148.
  2. William Bayley file op. cit. Thomas D’Oyly to his cousin, Edward D’Oyly Bayley, 1842.
  3. Most of the personal details about the three D’Oyly boys were supplied by William D’Oyly Bayley, A Biographical, Genealogical and Heraldic Account of the House of D’Oyly, London 1845.
  4. Bengal Service Army Lists, reference. IOR/L/MIL/10/52; HIEC Army Cadet Papers, IOR/L/MIL/9/220/141–48. British Library, Oriental and India Office Collections.
  5. Hervey Harris Greathed, Letters Written during the Siege of Delhi, London, Spottiswoode and Co., edited by his widow, 1858, pp. 97–98, 115; Peter Stanley, White Mutiny: British Military Culture in India, 1825–1875, United Kingdom: C. Hurst & Co., 1998, p. 100.
  6. Sir Charles D’Oyly had also initially intervened on the boys’ behalf to get all three of them into Addiscombe College.
  7. Madras Service Army Lists, IOR/L/MIL/11/59–date 1854. British Library, Oriental and India Office Collections.
  8. ‘Australasian BDM’s 1840–1864 from the Newcastle Courier’.….

…. …… ;;;;

Chapter 24: The Waterloo Creek and Myall Creek Massacres: Bloody retaliation in Charles Eaton’s wake

Two days after the Isabella arrived back in Sydney, the following comment on the outcome of her mission was published in the Australian:

One cannot help, at such a recital as this, forgetting that the actors in this scene of carnage have some excuse in their ignorance, and wishing that it were possible to revenge, by the extermination of the whole race, the uncalled-for murder of our unhappy countrymen.1

Given that 24 people were murdered off the coast of Australia, expressions of outrage were only to be expected. It is questionable, however, whether the uneducated among the convicts and settlers were capable of making the distinction between mainland Aborigines and a small and distant group of Torres Strait Islanders. The massive publicity the cabin boy’s story received could only have inflamed the existing racism against the native tribes. When Eliza Fraser arrived a few days’ later, the Government newspaper, the Sydney Gazette (20 Oct. 1836) allowed one of their ‘correspondents’ to vent his spleen:

…to send them Missionaries; why they might as well be introduced at the levee of his Satanic majesty; a truce with such milk and water means; the only best missionaries among these gentry are the red coats, the sharp, quick, sudden remedy of a shower of Bullets, and tickling them in the ribs with triangular pointed steel, would work a radical reformation, kill and destroy should go forth as a fist not to be recalled until ample retribution is exacted from the savages. Have we not before us the fate of the crew of the Oldham at Wallis’ Island, the Charles Eaton at Murray’s Island, and now the Stirling Castle on our own shores ; with these facts staring us in the face, with the blood of these slaughtered men crying aloud for vengeance, can the public, the mercantile interest in particular sit down contented and talk of sending missionaries to the poor benighted blacks, who would mumble the finger of an European in their mouth with as much glut as a child would suck a stick of barley sugar. If these men are benighted enlighten them, by all means, with a flash of musquetry [sic] and roar of cannon.

On 23 March 1837 the ship Mangles, still under the command of Captain William Carr, departed from Portsmouth for Sydney on her eighth voyage as a convict transport. Major James Nunn and a detachment of the 80th Regiment were escorting 308 male convicts.2 The ship arrived at Port Jackson on 10 July, after an impressively fast voyage of 107 days. It was time enough for Carr and his officers to entertain Major Nunn with the Charles Eaton story, and the vital role the Mangles and her master had played in alerting the world to the existence of survivors. By the time Nunn reached Sydney, his interest in the ‘melancholy shipwreck’ must have been well and truly aroused.

Five months after his arrival at Sydney, Nunn took up a new position as Commandant of the New South Wales Mounted Police. John Ireland was already on his way back to England. William D’Oyly, however, was still walking the streets with Anne and George Milner Slade, a poignant reminder of the fate that had befallen his family. At the museum in George Street, the Aureed mask was on display to visitors, while the King/Lewis book had just gone on sale in the bookshops and it was the first to include the cabin boy’s graphic details of the bloody murders. The book sold so well that within a few months it had a second print run. At the old Sydney cemetery a large memorial tomb would soon be erected for the victims’ skulls.

Murderous attacks by displaced Aborigines were common in the first decades of Australia’s white settlement, as also were provocative or retaliatory attacks by isolated whites. By late 1836, however, the indigenous tribes were under unusually intense siege from disgruntled squatters and convicts moving out onto the northern plains. Some of the worst atrocities against the Aborigines were reportedly taking place on Binguy station, the run of a settler called Daniel Eaton. The local tribes were fighting back and there were the usual reports of Aboriginal marauders killing stock. Then between June and October 1837, a stockman and four shepherds were killed by Aborigines in three separate incidents on three different stations.3

While the colony waited for Governor Sir Richard Bourke’s replacement, Sir George Gipps, to arrive, Colonel Snodgrass was vigorously pursuing his duties as Acting Governor. Having been informed of the murders that had recently occurred in the north, he summoned Nunn and his instructions to the police commandant were incautiously blunt. Nunn was to proceed to the northern plains, where he was to suppress the outrageous behaviour of the native tribes.4 Nunn left Sydney on 26 December 1837 with a party of troopers, and met up with his subaltern, Lieut George Cobban, at Jerry’s Plains. Cobban and a number of troopers joined Nunn’s expedition, while at the town of Invermein the party added a sergeant, John Lee, and perhaps another six troopers. During their long sojourn through the Gwydir River region of New South Wales, Nunn and the troopers often camped for the night at stations along their route and the gossip around the campfires included stories about real and supposed atrocities committed by the local tribes. What we do not know is whether Nunn contributed to those fireside chats with lurid details of the Charles Eaton killings, gleaned from personal conversations with Captain Carr but also from the King/Lewis book. Given his long shipboard confinement with Carr, it would have been remarkable if he didn’t.

On 26 January 1838 Nunn’s party reached a lagoon on Waterloo Creek, where they stumbled across a very large number of Aborigines. One of the men in Nunn’s party was speared in the leg. According to Sergeant Lee, they pursued the Aborigines downstream, running them down with their horses and shooting them on sight.5 Nunn and Cobban later claimed that no more than a few Aborigines were killed.6 Sergeant Lee, however, reported that ‘from what I saw myself, I should say that from forty to fifty blacks were killed’.7 Lee’s estimate is the one that most people seem happy to accept, although not all Australian historians agree.8

Typical Aboriginal encampment. Black and white engraving by John Skinner Prout.

Roger Milliss has written a very full account of Nunn’s actions in his book Waterloo Creek (1992) and there are many other published accounts. Suffice for me to say that on 22 July 1839 there was a judicial enquiry into the incident, held at the courthouse in the town of Merton, but the conflicting eyewitness accounts from Lieut. Cobban and Sergeant Lee, with their widely different estimates of the number of Aborigines killed, resulted in no charges being laid. Prior to that judicial enquiry, the stockmen in the Gwyder River region would have assumed that the events at Waterloo Creek (or Slaughterhouse Creek as it was then called) had attracted no disciplinary response at the seat of government in Sydney.

Not long after Nunn’s party returned to Sydney, some of those stockmen, inspired by Nunn’s punitive expedition and believing they could kill the Aborigines with impunity because they wrongly assumed it wasn’t a criminal offence, embarked on a murderous ‘drive’ against the local tribes. It culminated in a particularly cold-blooded attack at nearby Myall Creek, and the victims were up to 28 trusting Weraerai Aborigines camped around huts at Dangar’s station. Today we remember the Myall Creek massacre for two reasons: firstly, seven of the convicts who participated in it were hanged; and secondly, the details of what happened, exposed in police interviews and court proceedings, were horrifying.

At about 4.30 on the afternoon of 10 June 1838, a party of 11 gun-toting, horse-riding stockmen rode up to Dangar’s station, where a clan of about 43 unarmed Weraerai families had set up camp around the huts. Ten of the stockmen were convicts, assigned to stations in the region. The ringleader, however, was a free squatter called Fleming. Previously, the Weraerai camped at nearby McIntyre’s station, staffed at that time by a lone convict hut-keeper called Andrew Eaton. Eaton was kind to them and considered them harmless, and it would appear that they had a similar friendly relationship with the two assigned convicts at the neighbouring run taken up by Richard Wiseman.9 At some time around the end of May, Eaton encouraged the Weraerai clan to move off McIntyre’s station and over to Dangar’s run, convincing them they would be safer there. The original suggestion for the move had apparently come from Kilmeister, the stockman at Dangar’s, with the clan’s arrival timed to occur when his overseer was absent at another station.

When the armed convicts reached Dangar’s station, they found about 33 Aborigines there, predominantly women and children. Earlier on the same day, 10 of the Weraerai’s youngest and fittest men had been enticed away to nearby Newton’s station to help strip bark, leaving behind their helpless families and a few old men. The convicts knew this. On the previous day they had called at Newton’s station and were told by the convict hut-keeper, Robert Sexton, that the Weraerai bark-stripping party was on its way. Hearing this, the stockmen rode off, satisfied that the fittest of the Weraerai had been separated from their families. When they arrived at Dangar’s, their firearms and threatening attitude frightened Anderson, the hut-keeper, but Kilmeister shook hands with every one of them and promptly joined their drive. His was an act of particular treachery, since he had spent the previous week or two dancing and singing with the Aborigines and playing with their children.

The convicts bound the Weraerai women and old men by their hands to a long piece of rope and dragged them to the dry and sandy bed of Myall Creek, where they dismounted from their horses and hacked or clubbed their captives. The stunned victims, including many babies and children who had been crying and clutching their mothers, fell to the ground and the convicts decapitated all of them. Three months later, 11 of the killers went on trial in Sydney, the ringleader Fleming having fled and eluded capture.

Given that the cast of main characters in the Charles Eaton story was very small, it is interesting that three surnames associated with it – Eaton (twice), Sexton, and Wiseman – should crop up again closely associated with the events at Myall Creek. Some of the 11 convicts may have noticed it as well. It is just a coincidence but they may have felt that it linked them in an indirect way to the massacre in the north. I am also tempted to wonder whether the convict hut-keepers, Andrew Eaton at McIntyre’s station and Robert Sexton at Newton’s station, were as innocent of any participation in the killing plot as they later presented themselves to be.10

More significantly, the convicts at Myall Creek chose a particularly messy and bloody technique. They not only clubbed, shot or slashed their victims – in themselves common practices – but also mutilated them by hacking off their heads. Since they were not head-hunters, they had no use for the heads as collectable trophies and left many of them to lie where they fell.

Hyde Park, Sydney c.1840. In the background is the Government Mint on the left and the Convict Barracks at the right. Artist (thought to be) John Rae.

The men who committed the Myall Creek atrocity were motivated by genuine fears for their own safety. The decision to decapitate their victims seems unnecessarily bloody and pointless, however, unless we interpret it as an act of revenge for similar atrocities committed against their countrymen, of which the Charles Eaton murders were the best known, although there was at least one other instance as well. On the Liverpool Plains run of Sir John Jamison, three stockmen had been beheaded and dismembered by Aborigines in 1833. We can easily believe that somewhere in the warped minds of the convict stockmen lurked the notion that they would give the Aborigines a dose of their own medicine, their education being such as to render them incapable of distinguishing between Aborigines and Torres Strait islanders.

Many of the convicts passed through the convict barracks at Hyde Park in Sydney when George Milner Slade had his office there, attached to the convict Assignment Board. Their stay in Sydney had been brief. Slade worked alone and personally handled every male convict landed at Sydney. It meant that at least six of the convict murderers could claim to have seen or heard of someone with direct involvement in the Charles Eaton story, for their assignment officer had very kindly adopted William D’Oyly, the poor little orphan boy.11

The 11 convicts who went to trial in Sydney were originally acquitted of the charge of murdering an elderly Aboriginal male at Dangar’s station. Seven of the convicts, however, were recharged with murdering an Aboriginal child instead. Four of the convicts escaped the second charge in the misplaced hope they would give evidence for the prosecution. There was a lot of support for the murderers in the colony, but in the end, the seven convicts were found guilty of murdering an unknown Aboriginal child. On 18 December 1838, they were hanged at Sydney Gaol.

You could mount the argument that at least the convicts had the excuse of ignorance. No such concession is possible for the editor of the right-wing, pro-settler newspaper the Sydney Herald. On the day that the second trial commenced, he published an editorial designed to sway the jurors’ verdict and it includes the following comment:

—we may, it is hoped, be permitted to ask (inter alia) what attempts have been made to secure and punish the murderers of part of the crew of the Charles Eaton, and of the Stirling Castle? What steps have they taken to avenge the death of the parents of young D’Oyley [sic], who has been cast upon the world ‘a houseless, homeless wanderer?’ He may, hereafter, be present when some ranter may arise in a public place, and talk of the ‘interesting’ people of New Holland! But how will his blood boil in his veins when he remembers that by these ‘interesting’people he has been made an orphan—consigned to the charity of strangers,

Cast a wanderer on the world’s wide stage—

If the erudite editor of the colony’s major newspaper was incapable of distinguishing between the ‘interesting people of New Holland’ and a far-distant group of Torres Strait islanders, what hope did his readers have? As far as this editor was concerned, the two were one and the same. He could quote from Atherton by William Pitt Scargill (1831), but neither knew nor cared that D’Oyly had already gone home to wealthy relatives in England.

On 19 December 1838, the day after the seven convicts were hanged at Sydney, the new Governor, Sir George Gipps, sent a despatch to Lord Glenelg at the Home Office, informing him of the outcome of the recent trial. Included in it was his own brief summing up of the crime as revealed to him in statements from witnesses, which he had obviously read with great care. In his view:

…it appeared on the trial that, for some weeks previous to the 10th June, not less than fifty Blacks of all ages and sexes had been living at these different stations (but mostly at Mr. Dangar’s) in perfect tranquillity, neither molesting the Whites nor being themselves molested by them. In consequence of some old quarrels, however, or possibly from accounts having reached the place of occurrences in other quarters, [my italics] a determination seems to have been formed by the white men to put the whole of the Blacks to death.12

Gipps does not state what ‘occurrences in other quarters’ he thought might have contributed to the stockmen’s decision to decapitate a party of peaceful and friendly Aborigines, but he would have known about the Charles Eaton and also the murders of some of the shipwrecked crew from the Stirling Castle. It is also worth keeping in mind that the events at Waterloo Creek and Myall Creek occurred while the King/Lewis account, published in 1837, had a second print run and was enjoying good sales in Sydney’s bookshops, as also were a number of other books on the same topic. Brockett’s book was still on sale, as also was the book by Wemyss and the Eliza Fraser book by Curtis. Ireland’s children’s book was on sale in a Sydney bookshop in late 1838. When you add to them the newspaper reports about marauding Aborigines out on the northern plains and a number of stockmen recently murdered in the southern districts, it is not surprising that the colony was awash with racism of the worst kind. Little wonder that the defendants in the Myall Creek massacre trial received misplaced support from so many colonists.

When it comes to atrocities committed against one’s own countrymen, it is amazing how long memories can be. On 3 October 1936, almost exactly 100 years after the Isabella returned with Ireland and D’Oyly, and article appeared in a Sydney newspaper written by Walter E. Bethel. It gives a brief account of the tragedy then concludes with the following paragraphs:

There are many stories, equalling in intensity and pathos that of the Charles Eaton, that have Torres Strait for a background and the rest of the lengthy Australian coastline has its annals of effort and sacrifice.

It is well that these tragedies that have attended British occupation of Australia should not be forgotten, for they are irrefutable title deeds to the possession of the Land of the Southern Cross – a grim reminder, despite the not too rapid growth of population, that ‘this bit of the world belongs to us’.13

According to Bethel’s reasoning, the British had every right to claim the entire continent as their own, prior Aboriginal occupation notwithstanding, because the blood spilt by the D’Oylys, Moore, Clare and many other British mariners, had purchased for the rest of the white settlers their ‘irrefutable title deeds’. How much more likely then that there would be some among those living in Australia at the time the tragedies occurred who would use that spilt blood as an excuse for indiscriminate acts of violence against Aborigines. More recently, Ian Nicholson, commenting on the Charles Eaton and similar tragedies in his book Via Torres Strait (1996) writes:

From our early mariners’ point of view there need be no ‘sense of guilt’ for alleged atrocities against the Aboriginal race. Indeed, the number of innocent, unarmed shipwreck survivors, including women and children, brutally murdered by Aborigines and Torres Strait Islanders well before any attempted white settlement of North Queensland in particular, leads to an entirely different conclusion. By their initial actions the natives were mostly seen at the time as barbarous cannibals, who could not be trusted, and their actions naturally brought the risk of some retaliation upon themselves later. Continuing atrocities made this inevitable.14

Nicholson is pointing out that tragedies like that which occurred at Boydang in 1834 contributed to the belief at that time that the Aborigines’ and Torres Strait Islanders’ own acts of violence against shipwreck survivors invited retaliation. To that extent then, many colonists would have seen the particularly bloody ferocity of the Myall Creek attack on an innocent tribe as just such a response.

Writing from Sydney in July 1834, Charlotte D’Oyly commented in her letter to her two sons in England that ‘a few years back, this spot was unknown to Europeans, it was inhabited by a race of blacks, who are now on the decrease, while the former are increasing wonderfully, and filling the country.’15 She had no way of knowing when she penned those words that others would use her own violent death to justify the displacement and decimation of the indigenous race.


Notes to Chapter 24

  1. Australian, 14 Oct. 1836.
  2. Roger Milliss, Waterloo Creek, Ringwood Victoria: McPhee Gribble, Penguin Books Aust. Ltd, 1992, p. 12.
  3. Milliss 1992, p. 159 quoting Edward Mayne, the Commissioner for Crown Lands and Protector for Aborigines at Liverpool Plains (1838–1843) who referred in his address to the Legislative Council Committee on Police and Gaols in 1839 to ‘the first murder of two shepherds at Mr Cobb’s station’ (two more shepherds where killed at Cobb’s in December 1838), which was ‘done in revenge for another outrage’ against the blacks, supposed to be similar to a slaughter of 200 Aborigines at Gravesend mountain.
  4. Milliss 1992, pp. 1, 3.
  5. Lee’s deposition, HRA, Series I, XX, pp. 251–52.
  6. HRA, Series I, XX, pp. 250–56.
  7. Ibid.
  8. The historian Keith Windschuttle, in his trilogy The Fabrication of Aboriginal History, disputes many of the popular beliefs about the numbers of Aborigines killed in frontier massacres, including those at Waterloo Creek, where there is room for the argument to be put that Cobban’s estimate was the correct one. I tend to the view that if only three or four Aborigines were slain, it would not have been seen by the local stockmen as evidence that they could kill 28 innocent people a few months later without repercussions. What they believed they got was a carte blanche for wholesale slaughter.
  9. Richard Wiseman was the son of the emancipist Solomon Wiseman. He had an older brother called William who was not Captain William Wiseman.
  10. In late 1836, 22-year-old Robert Sexton was sentenced to life and transportation to Australia. He depart England aboard the ship Prince George on 20 December 1836 and arrived in Sydney on 20 August 1837. With Sexton on board the Prince George was his younger brother, Burrows Sexton, aged 19. The two brothers had been sentenced to life for stealing a lamb, while their 50-year-old father, John Sexton, who was also transported, got 14 years for receiving it. Andrew Eaton arrived on the Surry in 1836. He was eventually granted a Ticket of Leave. George Milner Slade personally handled the allocations for both men as hut keepers and since the assignment office was on the ground floor of the convict barracks, there is a possibility that one or both men caught glimpses of young William D’Oyly.
  11. Of the convicts charged over the murders, Charles Kilmeister arrived on the Lord Lyndoch in 1833; James (Jemmy) Oakes arrived on ship Larkins 1829 was re-assigned in 1837 to Namoi River; Edward Foley arrived on Roslin Castle in 1833, aged 24. Sentenced to transportation for life for assault and levelling. At 29, he was the youngest of the seven convicted murderers hanged for their crime; John Johnson, aged 24 when he arrived on the Norfolk 1829; John Russell, a groom was 25 when he arrived on the Eliza in 1827; William Hawkins was 27 when he arrived on the Albion in 1828; James Parry arrived on the Royal Admiral in 1835, worked on Daniel Eaton’s station;.John Blake was 23 when he arrived on the James Laing in 1834. In 1837 he was assigned to James Glennie on the Patrick Plains. He was a butcher by trade and was married with two children. Sentenced to transportation for life 29 July 1833 for sheep stealing. Although identified as one of the murderers, he avoided conviction; James Lamb was 23 when he arrived on the Asia in 1825. Avoided conviction; George Palliser, was 20 when convicted of stealing a coat and sentenced to seven years transportation. Arrived on the Exmouth 1831.Described as ‘a quiet well disposed man’. Granted Ticket of Leave in 1835. Avoided conviction; Charles Toulouse, no arrival date known, avoided conviction. Slade was the convict assignment officer from 1831–1840 and handled six or more of the convicts involved in the Myall Creek massacre.
  12. HRA Series I, XIX, Gipps to Glenelg, pp. 700–04.
  13. Walter E[dmond]. Bethel, newspaper cutting [Sydney Sun], 3 Oct. 1936, Small Pictures Collection, Dixson Library, State Library of New South Wales, Sydney.
  14. Ian Nicholson, Via Torres Strait, Roebuck Society Publication No. 48, Nambour, Qld, 1996, under the subheading, Genuine Mariners Not Guilty.
  15. William Bayley file, Charlotte D’Oyly to William and Edward D’Oyly, Dixson Library, State Library of New South Wales, Sydney, A1074.

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Copyright for this manuscript is held by the author: Veronica Peek, of Melbourne Australia. Not to be reproduced in any form without permission.

Bing Translator