Sunday, December 7, 2008

A Little Girl

Eclipse Island
A little girl, strayin' from the East.
It is the 1820's.
Our Allegiance-
India, England and
Not a white woman to be seen.
Sealers, they say
Are the scum of the Earth
They sailed her here,
This motherless child.

The lost child - painters love that theme. Led away by the twittering Gidaichy birds, deep into the bush, never to be seen again.
Sealers stole this lost little girl and took her to the ends of the earth, so far away that no one knew the sound of her name, and they dropped her over the edge.
She may have hailed from Van Diemans land, stolen with her mother for wives and divers of crayfish.
It is 1827, wild days. Allegiances were with India and England. Gangs of sealers roamed all along the south coast, dropped off by their boss on some godforsaken island with three months of victuals and told to await the return of the schooner. They could be waiting eight months, a year, forever. They found things to do with their spare time, like mounting violent raids to steal women from the mainland.

In Albany, sealers from the Hunter, a Hobart owned schooner, slid into the harbour in their dinghy to find the Amity and Lockyer waiting for them with a few questions.
"Why is there the body of a man on Green Island with a bullet through his side?"
"And why are there four more men marooned out on Michaelmas Island?"
The Major didn't know about the girl yet.

They were a colourful assortment, the gangs of the Hunter and the Governor Brisbane. Thomas Tasmin was a 'Blackman', as was Robert Williams, probably African Americans. William Hook was a Maori, Pigeon - a Sydney Aborigine. This was back in the Wild West days, long before the administration got bored enough to fiddle in eugenics or introduce a White Australia policy.
Not that the sealers would have taken any notice. These men were feral, pelagic like the Great White sharks that roamed the same winedark seas, well outside the jurisdiction of any fledgling nation state.

Hook confessed to taking the men out to the island, because he'd been asked to. The Aborigines wanted to go muttonbirding. I don't think they expected to have to swim back and it seems that they were quite dismayed to see the boat leave for shore again.

Four other sealers must have been feeling opportunistic with some of the tribal men away and, armed with cutlasses and guns, had left on a foray at 5 a.m. and abducted four woman from Oyster Harbour. Two escaped. The other two were taken to Breaksea Island.

On discovering this, Lockyer checked all the other islands around the Sound for women and culprits. On Eclipse Island, that craggy dinosaur of granite and low scrub that lies off Torndirrup, Lockyer found another woman, in terrible condition, "who had obviously suffered much at the rough hands of the sealer," Samuel Bailey.
The little girl is almost an aside when D.A.P. West tells the story in The Settlement on the Sound. After all the drama and public floggings to appease justice and assure the local Nyungars that they were Nice Ghosts, Lockyer "himself escorted the unfortunate woman and a small girl who had been Bailey's unwilling slaves."

A small girl.
The locals welcomed back their women but indicated that the Sydney Aborigine Pigeon should take the child home to his people. She wasn't Nyungar. She didn't belong with the two Tasmanian women, Dinah and Moonie, nor the woman stolen from the mainland opposite Kangaroo Island.

Lockyer wanted to keep Pigeon as he was a worthy interpreter. (Interesting huh? 270 language groups coast to coast.) So on the 24th of January 1827, three days after he officially annexed the whole western third of the continent to the British, he put the little girl aboard the Amity and sent her to the Governor in Sydney to deal with. He also put her persecutor Samuel Bailey on the same deck, to stand trial in Sydney for the murder of the Aboriginal man on Green Island, and sent the Maori, William Hook, to testify against him.

England's stake in the whole of Australia had been proclaimed and the work of the Amity was finished at King George Sound.

And the little girl? What happened to her? Did she survive? I think about her sometimes and wonder. The stories of Aboriginal women and children stolen by sealers are usually only documented in the form of begging letters requesting flour rations from the colonial administration. Maybe she is somewhere in the state records of New South Wales. I'd like to find her.
She is a lost child. She is folded back into history, stitched like a wraith of smoke into the inky night.


  1. You sure have a thing about those Sealers. Reckon you might be one reincarnated, or maybe share some genes??

  2. I think it is the scottish selkie blood

  3. Hey, you did finish it....I nearly missed it cos it didn't show up as unread on my blog. Great story and I hope to hear much more!!