The Prince of the Red Desert

WARNING: Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander readers are warned that the following blog post may contain images and names of deceased persons.

Roebourne, 13 August 1889

Mr. Alex. Edgar has arrived in town. While in Condon he received a letter from Mr. Alexander McPhee saying that he had caught a white native about 260 miles inland from Condon, and adding that he wanted to arrive in Condon by mail day.

Unable to arrive in Condon in time, Alexander McPhee (with the Aboriginal man in tow) instead sent a telegram addressed to Mr Edgar in Roebourne which provided additional information about the man. Described as having albinism, the man was considered to be as “white as any white man” and sported light brown hair and sandy whiskers.

Several days later the Acting Government Resident at Roebourne, Mr R. C. Hare, sent a telegram to the Colonial Secretary.

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For three months no more news was heard. Then, on 24 October 1889, the story was once again picked up and reported as if it was new. A more detailed description was printed and the man was said to have white hair, a white beard and white skin. His eyes were grey, he stood at five foot six inches tall and had quite a number of scars on his head and body. He also had the “usual tatoo marks“. Typical of the Victorian era and their fascination for people who were different, they ended the description with…

…he is a novelty if not a freak of nature.

Alexander McPhee was noted to be heading to Perth sometime in the future and it was stated that he would be bringing the Aboriginal man with him.

On 26 December 1889, Alexander McPhee, the Aboriginal man and two other Aboriginal men boarded the S.S. Franklin in Cossack bound for Fremantle. The journey south along the coast of Western Australia took several days and included stops in Ashburton, Carnarvon and Geraldton. On 31 December 1889 at approximately 7pm, the ‘Franklin’ reached its destination.

Three days later it became apparent that Mr McPhee’s decision to come to Perth was for the sole purpose of exhibiting the Aboriginal man to the public.

Exhibition of the Albino Jongon, at the Mechanics’ Institute, Perth, January 4, from 10a.m. till 1p.m. and from 8p.m. till 10p.m.

mechanics-institute
The Mechanics’ Institute in 1894. Courtesy of the State Library of Western Australia.

It is in these notices however that we first learn that the man previously referred to in newspaper reports as simply ‘Aboriginal Albino’ was actually named Jun Gun (often spelt in a variety of ways but more often spelt in this manner).

Advertising was placed in the papers which called people to come and see “the wonder of the nort[h]” for the admission cost of one shilling.

the-west-aust-4-january-1890

Newspaper reporters who attended the exhibition followed up with articles detailing their observations. Most stated that he differed greatly to the “ordinary albino” and then went on to describe him:

Jungun, as the native is called, has none of these peculiarities, but differs from the ordinary aboriginal chiefly in the colour of his skin and hair. The former is of a light brown tinged with red, or what may be called a copper colour. His hair is a very pale brown tinged with flaxen. The irides of his eyes are hazel brown, and there is a slight brownish appearance about the pupils.

Described as being about 27 years old, he was dressed in white pants, was wearing a headdress of feathers and wore a piece of kangaroo bone through his nose.

Many people visited the Mechanics’ Institute both in the morning and evening for the purpose of seeing Jun Gun. During the evening show, he and his two companions sung several of their tribal songs but preferred to do so whilst behind a curtain.

Throughout the exhibition it was noted that Jun Gun was not shy or uncomfortable and Mr McPhee stated that, “He had always found him very tractable in his disposition, and of an even quiet, temper.” How McPhee managed to convince Jun Gun to leave his tribal lands is never touched upon. But, not only had he convinced him to travel to Perth, he had also convinced him to travel to the east coast of Australia.passenger-list

The exhibition of Jun Gun in Perth ran from 4 January until 8 January. Four days later, on 12 January 1890, Alex McPhee, Jun Gun and the two Aboriginal men boarded the S.S. Albany in Fremantle bound for Melbourne. Mr McPhee was recorded as a saloon passenger while “three natives” were recorded in  steerage (right).

On 24 January, Jun Gun arrived in Victoria. The Argus was the first newspaper to pick up the story and stated “The discovery and bringing of Jungun within the confines of civilisation reads very much like a romance.” They also provided background information about how McPhee arranged and was allowed to travel to Melbourne for the exhibition.

To do this he had to give up his employment and pay a deposit of £10 for each native to the Aboriginal Board for their return.

As was the case in Perth, advertisements were soon printed in the paper announcing the opening for 1 February 1890 but, unlike Perth (where he was displayed in the Mechanics’ Institute) Jun Gun was to be displayed in Kreitmayer’s Waxworks and Museum which was located on Bourke Street in Melbourne.

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Kreitmayer’s Waxworks & Museum (centre – with the flag). Courtesy of State Library Victoria.

Jun Gun’s appearance soon became a source of debate among Victorians as to whether he did have albinism or if he was the progeny of a relationship between an Aboriginal person and a European person. In an extremely cringe-worthy article, The Argus began by asking the question “What is it?” and then went on to say:

With a curious and pathetic interest one asks that question when looking at “Jun-Gun,” the Australian albino, at the Bourke-street Waxworks. What is it? this thing brought in from the wilderness, which yet remains to Australia; this queer white flower from the black garden?

At first suggesting that a Doctor look over Jun Gun closely in an effort to ascertain his origin, the writer then touched upon the subject of the lost explorers from Ludwig Leichhardt’s expedition and raised the question as to whether Jun Gun’s appearance was due to him being the offspring of one of these lost men. Leichhardt was a German man and this theory was further enhanced in the 1930s when it was stated that the word ‘Jung’ in German means young. There was much speculation that Jun Gun’s name may have been bestowed upon him by Leichhardt.

Unwilling to fully commit to this theory however, the writer then turned to thoughts of prenatal influence.

the-argus

In a nutshell, the story of Elsie Venner (written by Oliver Wendell Holmes), was a fictional book in which a woman was bitten by a rattlesnake while pregnant. The woman eventually died but her baby survived; a daughter who was said to have snake-like characteristics developed because of the snake bite which occurred whilst she was in the womb.

Alexander McPhee was quick to respond and wrote a letter to The Argus on the same day that the article went to print. His letter was printed in the next day’s paper. While he refuted the claims with regards to Jun Gun having European ancestry (his tribe was said to have never seen a European man before McPhee came along) he also provided additional information in relation to the stories he’d heard from the Indigenous people which may have related to Leichhardt. Fuelled by the claims in the letter, talk soon turned to Leichhardt and the possibility of finding new traces of the lost explorers. A meeting was held and Mr McPhee was invited to attend. The group came to the conclusion that a new expedition should be established to investigate the rumours about Leichhardt. They invited McPhee to lead the party but he refused.

Unfortunately, however, that gentleman’s business arrangements will not permit of his leaving Victoria just now unless he is compensated for loss of time, and nothing definite can be done until this financial difficulty is overcome.

Jun Gun continued to be a popular exhibit at the Waxworks and entertained the crowds by singing his tribal songs and making fire using a stick. While in Melbourne, he visited J.W. Lindt’s studio and had his photograph taken. If you wish to view the photograph on the National Library of Australia’s website, please click here.

The newspapers continued to ask the question as to whether or not he had albinism and to add credence to the claim that he did, Mr Kreitmayer (the owner of the Waxworks) invited several medical professionals and other leading men to examine Jun Gun and provide their opinion. Unable to completely explain his appearance, they rested on calling him a “freak of nature.

the-waxworks

Jun Gun was on display at the Waxworks throughout most of February 1890 and, towards the end of the month, The Australasian (a pictorial newspaper) printed an article as well as an image of him.

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By mid-March the exhibition in Melbourne  began to wind down and his last appearance was announced. On 25 March 1890, Mr McPhee, Jun Gun and the two Aboriginal men wereoverland reported to be travelling overland from Melbourne to Sydney (right).

He was exhibited first in Solomon’s Royal Museum in Sydney and by the middle of April was reported to be heading to Newcastle for exhibition at 53 Hunter Street. William Freeman, the Business Manager, placed an ad in the Newcastle newcastleMorning Herald and Miners’ Advocate (left).

From Newcastle the party travelled back to Victoria and, in early May, The Ballarat Star announced that Jun Gun would be exhibited in Ballarat at the Mechanics’ Institute. The public could view him for the cost of sixpence.

It is elsewhere advertised that the aboriginal albino Jun Gun will be exhibited in Ballarat on Saturday next. This extraordinary individual was annexed by Mr McPhee in the back country of Western Australia, and his appearance in Melbourne caused no little curiosity and speculation.

In Ballarat, unlike what was seen at the other exhibitions, Jun Gun and the two Aboriginal men displayed their prowess with the spear and boomerang. They also demonstrated their defence skills using a shield; batting away cricket balls, boomerangs and sticks which were thrown at them from a distance of 30 yards (approximately 27 metres). Disturbingly, the objects being thrown had such force behind them that the newspaper noted that several boomerangs had been broken.

spear

After the exhibition the aboriginals, who were in full war costume, wearing only trunks, and having their breasts and arms painted, were taken round the Oval, to give the spectators a view of them at close quarters.

It was to be Jun Gun’s last exhibition.

After this date (May 1890) he no longer appeared in the papers unless it was in association with McPhee, Leichhardt and the new expedition.

the-times

Eight months later, on 6 January 1891, The Argus printed a letter (part of which is below) received from McPhee which was dated 8 December 1890.

Sir,- Thinking that many of your readers will be interested in my return trip with Jun Gun to his country, I forward you an account of it. I arrived in Roebourne (the centre of the north-west district of this colony) about the middle of July, and started for a small station about 250 miles along the coast east of Roebourne called Yinadong, whence I started inland with Jun Gun, Timothy, and four horses. We travelled in an easterly direction over rough spinifex country for 150 miles, the only permanent water being a patch of mound springs which extend along a salt marsh for 20 miles. We met natives who knew Jun Gun, and he was so overjoyed at meeting his friends again that he wanted to leave me at once and walk to his country, so I let him go. I offered him flour and tobacco, but he refused them, saying he would rather live with the others on rats and lizards. He took off all his clothes, and got a spear from his mates, and started off with them in high spirits.

Jun Gun, it would seem, after about five months of being on display, had finally returned home.

McPhee continued with his letter stating that he’d met another Aboriginal man who looked similar to Jun Gun and then further mentioned he’d spoken to an older man who said that “when he was a boy he heard of a party of whites and horses dying a long way inland.” Once again a lost party (perhaps Leichhardt’s) was hinted at by McPhee.

Contradicting this letter, another website, The Batavia Legacy, writes that Jun Gun died in 1892 in Healesville, Victoria. Given the fact that the place of death is quite specific I deemed it worthy of follow up. I’ve left a comment on the blog but as at this post’s publishing date, it has not been approved nor responded to.

Their source for this statement however may have originated from a newspaper article printed in The West Australian in 1934. It adds the following extra detail (albeit slight) with regards to Jun Gun’s time in Victoria and adds weight to the aforementioned website’s claim.

He and his full-blooded compatriots, when not on exhibition, were taken up to one of the aboriginal reserves near Healsville (Victoria).

Jun Gun was not mentioned for several years until January 1893 when Western Australian newspapers picked up on a story printed in Frank Leslie’s Illustrated Newspaper (USA) in which he was referred to by the American writer as “The Prince of the Red Desert“.

This article, by comparison to the others, went into a huge amount of detail relating to Jun Gun; providing descriptions of his appearance, his story, his tribe, language, how McPhee found him and even attempting to write the words of a tribal song he was singing whilst in Melbourne. While the accuracy with respect to the Indigenous language (reported as being ‘Naugamont’) has not been ascertained, the article itself provides a fascinating firsthand account of Jun Gun according to the writer’s observations. It is well worth a read.

His squatting, gold-bronzed figure was flanked on both sides by a woolly headed, coal-black native of his own tribe. The three were making the tabbee, the strange music of the irghilly, beating its two blades together rhythmically, rocking too and fro on their haunches, ankles crossed, and singing a low rolling hum in chromatics…

The American further organised a ‘transformation’ while he was at Lindt’s photographic studio and arranged for Jun Gun to be dressed up in a dark blue suit accessorised with a hat and cane. Finding him to be unrecognisable in the clothing, the writer stated, “His bearing was unassuming and precisely what is meant in the best use of the word aristocratic.

Having read through various newspaper articles and records relating to Jun Gun I find myself pondering the question, what was McPhee’s intention? Was he hoping to attract fame and fortune off the back of Jun Gun’s differing looks? Was he hoping that Jun Gun’s appearance would raise questions and ultimately result in a new expedition to look for Leichhardt? Despite the exhibition being about Jun Gun, Leichhardt  was mentioned often and it was McPhee who provided the quotes from Indigenous people about lost Europeans and horses; a carrot which continually enticed others to once again look for the lost explorers.

Early in 1890 (while in Melbourne) Alexander McPhee was described by the Victorian Express (Geraldton, WA) as a “gold prospector, explorer, story-teller, showman, etc.“. Perhaps McPhee (a natural story teller) simply recognised the talk, interest and questions which would arise from Jun Gun’s appearance and decided to use it to his advantage.

Unfortunately, despite all the information that is available, it is all one-sided. We can read about McPhee’s side of the story but we can’t read Jun Gun’s. We’ll never know whether it was Jun Gun’s choice to travel with McPhee or if he felt coerced in some way. We’ll never know how he felt to be on display; to be told to sing his tribal songs and make fire; to be looked over, prodded at and inspected by people full of opinions seeking to prove or disprove his Aboriginality; to stand on an oval and fend off viciously thrown cricket balls all in the name of Victorian era entertainment.  It is my hope that in the end Jun Gun really did return home to his family and his country but, in all honesty, we may never know.

Sources:

Australia’s Cat Invasion

derbyshire-times-chesterfield-herald-21-mar-1857

2,000 cats wanted in Australia. I looked at the above article from 1857 in horror and wondered about its authenticity. Surely not. My attention caught and completely distracted from my family history research, I began to search for more information. What I discovered was a story completely unknown to me; a story which has turned all that I’d known (and assumed) about feral cats completely on its head.

While I have yet to confirm whether the above article is real it was subsequent research which led me to discover more information about the story of cats in Australia. Before discussing cats however, it’s important to provide some background, namely, the history of the rabbit in Australia.

Domesticated rabbits were first introduced in Australia by the First Fleet in 1788. Most likely used as a source of food, they remained largely out of the early newspaper articles. They were eventually brought over to Tasmania and by 1827 it was noted that the wild rabbit population had exploded. While there was a rabbit population on the mainland, these seem to have been mainly kept in captivity. It wasn’t until the late 1850s that rabbits were released in several areas in the hope of establishing a population specifically for hunting. In 1859, 24 rabbits were released by Thomas Austin on his property in Victoria and it is said that the current infestation stems from this group.

As the rabbits bred and infested the whole country many options were looked at as a way to reduce their population and control the spread. Methods such as shooting, poisoning, destroying their warrens, building fences and spreading rabbit borne viruses were all employed at various points in time. One method occasionally mentioned in the history of the rabbit in Australia is the release of cats in the bush in the hope that they would kill and eventually eradicate the rabbits. Of course attempting to remove one pest with another introduced species was never going to work. While I’m sure pet cats have contributed to a fair share of the feral cat population, perhaps some of their numbers also originated in these early intentional releases.

Suggestions of using cats to eradicate the rabbits can be seen in the historical newspapers. An article printed in The Mercury (Hobart, Tasmania) in 1870 asked the question, “Why does not the Rural Municipality of Campbell Town offer a premium on the introduction into that district of wild cats?” Admitting that the feral cat would be considered extremely destructive, they further stated:

31-may-1870

The rabbit problem continued and many people shared their opinions on how to get rid of them by writing to the newspapers. Their suggestions were overwhelmingly in favour of the release of cats into the bush.

In 1878 ‘Subscriber’ from Mount Rothwell, Little River said “I have seen in your columns a good many plans for keeping down the rabbits, but as I have not seen any notice taken of turning out tame cats and letting them run wild and breed among the rabbits, I would thank you to make this public by inserting it in your next issue.” Having tried the release of cats on his own property, he went on to say that he found them rather effective.

‘Anti-Vermin’ went a little further in their letter to The Australasian. They suggested that an Act be passed which would make it illegal to destroy domestic cats. Their thoughts hinged on the assumption that with domestic cats being protected (and not hunted by trappers) they would be free to go about their business which would include the hunting of rabbits.

The Leader (Victoria) received a letter from ‘Farmer’ of Dimboola advising that “…it may be of great advantage to all landholders to get as many cats as they possibly can, and let them loose on their holdings without feeding them.” He also bestowed some sage wisdom on the use of cats, “…nature works better than all Parliament laws…

‘Bushman’ of Kurracca also wrote to the Leader in 1879:

22-february-1879

While individuals and landholders were quick to point out the use of cats as a way to control the rabbits, it would seem that a mass release of cats wasn’t really reported until the 1880s. Opinions (in the form of letters to the editor) continued in much the same way.

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In April 1881 it was widely reported in various newspapers that someone (the name was kept out of the papers) had released 200 domestic cats on his station in places where the rabbits inhabited. The report appears to have its origin in a Geelong newspaper so it can be assumed that this action probably occurred in Victoria. The individual stated that rabbits were no longer seen on the property and they provided an insight (albeit incorrect) into the future of feral cats.

The remedy certainly has the merit of simplicity, as it does not require any labour, and unless the cats develop new tastes it is not one of those which will prove worse than the disease.

Unfortunately the anonymity of the “enterprising” individual means that it’s impossible to ascertain whether such actions were indeed carried out or if the article itself was false.

These ‘evidence-based’ articles however continued to increase as others sought to prove the benefits of releasing cats in the bush and the success they’d had with the scheme. Names also began to be printed with letters and articles, perhaps as a way to add validity to what was being reported.

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On 29 July 1885, the Geelong Advertiser reported that, three months prior to the article going to print, several hundred cats had been set free on the Woolamanata Estate which was located near Lara in Victoria. The cats had the desired effect on the rabbit population and it was noted that there was an “abundance of proof” in the form of rabbit skeletons lying about on the property.

[The cats]…are now scattered about in many directions. A process of acclimatising the domestic cats to the wilds of the bush has to be pursued…

Pleased with the results, those involved only had one real concern.

geelong-advertiser-29-july-1885

Others quickly followed suit. In 1885 the owners of Gogeldrie Station in New South Wales were said to have purchased 700 cats and released them in one go. The owner of Tarwin Station in Victoria wrote a detailed letter explaining how he went about exterminating the rabbits with about 50 cats. Tolarno Station (New South Wales) received 300 cats in late 1886.

Remarkably, such was the interest in cats versus rabbits, even the United Kingdom picked up the story and printed the details in various newspapers in 1886.

cats-rabbits

With the rabbit problem compounding and the land being overrun, it wasn’t long before Parliamentary Acts were passed. The Acts essentially placed the onus of eliminating rabbits on the shoulders of landholders. Inspectors were appointed by the Government and their duty was to inspect properties and issue notices ordering the landholder to take action against the rabbits if their property was found to be infested. Failure to do so would result in a fine.

The realisation that cats were helping with the problem meant that they too eventually became part of the Acts. Domestic cats (feral or otherwise) became protected under the Acts relating to the destruction of rabbits. Anyone found to have willingly captured, sold, disposed of or killed cats on their property (without a permit) would face a fine.

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The Rabbits Destruction Act 1883 (Tasmania)

Sadly, not much changed in the 1890s. In 1892 an advertisement was placed in The Advertiser (South Australia) by the Willowie Land & Pastoral Association.

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Shocked at so large a number, the newspapers contacted the Association to ascertain why so many cats were needed. They advised that while they could easily keep the rabbits at bay on the plains by covering the water with nets, they were unable to protect the gullies as netting was not an option. There were already 500 cats on the Wirrialpa Station and more, it seems, were necessary.

The past experience of the company has shown that no damage is done by the cats, which confine their attention solely to the unfortunate rabbits.

By 1893 it was reported by The Advertiser’s (Albany) Eucla correspondent that rabbits were getting closer to the Western Australian border and that travellers journeying from Fowler’s Bay in South Australia were known to have been killing rabbits for food. Despite the warnings in the papers, no action was taken. In early 1896 the news from Eucla read:

The rabbits have established themselves here now, beyond a doubt, and the advance guard, which passed here some 18 months ago, is doubtless nearing the goldfields by this time. I think that the Government will regret not having made the slightest effort to prevent the inroad of this pests into the colony.

The Western Australian Government did eventually take action against the rabbits. Three years later, in 1899, they decided to use cats.

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The start of a new century saw no change. Newspapers continued to sing the praises of cats being left to roam in the bush so they could hunt rabbits. Anecdotes from the 1880s and more recent examples of cats being found to have ‘done their job’ were printed as if to justify their use. Proclamations continued to be made in Government Gazettes prohibiting the killing of domestic cats. On rare occasions, newspapers admitted that the cats may become a pest but stated “It’s all a question of the devil we know, and the devil we don’t know!“.

In searching for the phrase ‘feral cats’ on Trove the first instance of a newspaper printing their concerns with regards to domestic cats in the bush occurred in 1926. The Register (South Australia) printed a scathing article about the release of pests in Australia and the terrible damage they’d caused, and placed the blame firmly at the feet of European settlers.

…but the conclusion is inevitable, that the white man, who found the face of Nature smiling on this country, a hundred years ago, has since, with his own hands, and by his four-footed importations, changed the smile to an ominous frown.

It continued by pointing out that the problems started with the rabbit and further elaborated that in seeking to destroy the rabbit, man “let loose upon the fauna of this country a series of scourges which may yet be fatal to nearly all but itself.” While they touched upon the dingo as being an introduced species which, after thousands of years, became part of the Australian landscape, they made no exception with respect to the cat.

The domestic cat, however, has been assisted and encouraged to revert to the wild state of its original type.

After years of newspapers printing reports from individuals stating that cats killed the rabbits and that there was no harm in releasing them in the bush, finally, the truth was admitted.

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Professor Frederic Wood Jones (an anatomist, naturalist and anthropologist) went on to say:

Apart altogether from questions of economic utility, these feral cats are a terrible scourge, when we consider the vast numbers of the more rare, interesting, and beautiful members of our native fauna that are annually destroyed by them.

Today millions of feral cats are still found roaming the bush along with the rabbit; the very creature they were initially meant to destroy. The words of Professor Wood Jones may have been printed in 1926 but they still ring true today. Found in every part of Australia, the feral cat still threatens the survival of our native fauna and has caused the extinction of several types of birds and mammals. According to the Australian Wildlife Conservancy (AWC), each night, feral cats kill millions of different native species across Australia.

Vital research carried out by organisations such as the AWC aim to reduce the impact of cats (there is no effective method of completely eradicating them). They’ve also established ‘feral-free’ fenced areas which provide a safe haven for native wildlife within the area by completely eradicating feral predators. In 2015, they announced that in Newhaven Wildlife Sanctuary in central Australia, a feral cat-free sanctuary (the largest feral cat eradication project in the world) will be established in order to return endangered mammals back to the area.

As human beings in the natural environment, we really do have a lot to answer for. Australia existed undisturbed for tens of thousands of years and in a little over 200 years (European settlement) we introduced species which decimated populations of native fauna. The early settlers may have been ignorant of the consequences of their actions but I truly cannot say that they meant well. Free Englishmen emigrated to a completely unknown country for a myriad of reasons (adventure, money, status) but despite doing so, many still sought to recreate what they’d left behind. Rabbits (and foxes) were released for hunting; a sport practiced by the upper classes in England and it seems that in seeking to re-establish a much loved recreation they started a chain reaction first with the rabbit and then with the feral cat.

It’s likely that it will take a very long time before the actions of the past are reversed and feral pests (including cats) are eradicated from the environment. The mistakes of the past have been acknowledged and now we must look to the future. It is through the hard work and research conducted by individuals and organisations such as the Australian Wildlife Conservancy which may in time help restore the balance in the Australian environment.

This blog post was written independently of the Australian Wildlife Conservancy and is in no way affiliated with them. However, if you wish to support them, their cause and the work that they do, please donate via: https://support.australianwildlife.org/

Sources:

Trove Tuesday – Dirk Hartog

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In 1616, Dirk Hartog, in command of the Dutch ship ‘Eendracht’ left Holland bound for Batavia (today’s Jakarta). He was employed by the Dutch East India Company and was accompanied by several other ships when they became caught in a storm and were separated. Hartog and the crew of the ‘Eendracht’ arrived at the Cape of Good Hope without the other ships and upon leaving the Cape, proceeded to sail across the Indian Ocean; taking advantage of the roaring forties (strong westerly winds).

On 25 October 1616, Hartog and his crew accidentally discovered several islands off the northern coast of Western Australia. They investigated and sailed into Shark Bay and landed on what is now known as Dirk Hartog Island. He decided to name the island “Dor Eylandt” (Barren Island) and before leaving, nailed a tin plate (above) to a post erected on the island. The plate bears an inscription which recorded his discovery. Translated from Dutch it read:

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Today marks the 400th anniversary of Dirk Hartog’s discovery of the coast of Western Australia and, seeing as though it also happened to coincide with Trove Tuesday, I thought I’d delve into the historical newspapers on Trove to see how Dirk Hartog and the Island were featured over the years.

A letter by T.J.M. dated February 1827 and printed in The Australian provides us with the earliest mention of ‘Dirk Hartog’ in the papers. The writer, in discussing how to help Australia grow, stated that no more convicts should be sent to Sydney or Hobart. It was instead suggested a penal settlement be established in the areas of Shark Bay and Dirk Hartog Island but there was some concern when considering who had claimed the land.

But here a new question presents itself; that part of New Holland being claimed by the Dutch, it would be necessary to obtain it from them, either by purchase or exchange.

In 1864 it was reported in The Inquirer and Commercial News that a Mr Turnbull from Victoria had made an application to the Western Australian Government to lease Dirk Hartog Island.

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It would appear that Mr Turnbull’s application was unsuccessful or he decided not to go ahead with it because by 1867, Francis Louis Von Bibra had applied for and, in 1869, was granted a pastoral lease over the Island. Incidentally, I have a family connection to Francis Louis Von Bibra. On 26 October 1869 he married Mercy Everett (nee Crampton), my 2nd Great Grandfather’s sister.

It was Von Bibra’s son, Leopold, who (with an exploring party) in 1874 discovered human remains buried on the Island. Thought to have been a ‘malay’ the skull was sent to Perth and likely deposited in the Museum.

human-remains

In 1879 Western Australia celebrated 50 years of European Settlement and The Inquirer and Commercial News provided a very brief (rumoured) history of Dirk Hartog stating that “…there is an old tradition in Holland that the famous Dutch pirate Dirk Hartog buried enormous treasures at some locality along its shores, perhaps on the island which still bears his name.

Most articles throughout this time period continued in much the same way. While it appears this was the first instance in which Hartog’s name was printed in association with buried treasure, other attempts at describing the history of the Dutch in Western Australia were often vague and generally constrained to a sentence or two. While it’s possible they didn’t have a lot to tell, it’s also likely that the English preferred to tell their own stories when it came to the history of Australia.

The first pictorial image relating to Dirk Hartog Island was printed in the South Australian newspaper, The Pictorial Australian, in 1891 and was sent in by Mr E. E. Nesbit of Perth. Drawn from a photo taken by Mr Berringer of Shark Bay, it featured the post which Dirk Hartog used to affix the tin plate. It was said Mr Berringer carried his camera 30 miles on horseback in order to take the photo.

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post-information

Other pictorials showing Dirk Hartog Island were printed in the Australian Town and Country Journal and are well worth a look on Trove. You can view the images here: http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-page5243655

1916 marked 300 years since Dirk Hartog’s arrival in Shark Bay. Unlike today where celebrations have taken place over several days, the occasion was marked by a special meeting of the Royal Historical Society of Western Australia and a lecture given by Mr Siebenhaar held at the Museum. Relics connected to the discovery and settlement of parts of Western Australia (post Dirk Hartog) were put on display and kept on display for the public to view.

In 2016, the 1616 Dirk Hartog Festival celebrating the 400th anniversary has been in full swing since the 21 October with the last day being today. For more information about the festival, please visit the website: http://www.sharkbay1616.com.au/. Otherwise you may like to watch the video below for a snapshot of all the events so far.

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Trove Tuesday – The Karrkaratul

Last week I came across an ABC news article about the sighting of a marsupial mole (Notoryctes Caurinus) by Kiwirrkurra Rangers from the Tjamu Tjamu Aboriginal Corporation. Known as the karrkaratul, it spends most of its life underground and is rarely seen. Reading about the mole and watching the Corporation’s amazing video (above) led me to think about Trove. I wondered what information on the marsupial mole could be found within the historical newspapers. A perfect post for Trove Tuesday!

While the Indigenous people would’ve known about the mole for thousands of years, European people first came across a similar species (Notoryctes Typhlops) in 1888 when Mr Benham (working on Idracowra Station in South Australia) found it amongst the sandhills. Unfortunately for this poor little mole, it was killed and sent to the Adelaide Museum.

Discovery

Hailed as an important discovery in Australian natural history, the mole was first reconstituted and stuffed and then investigated by Dr Stirling (a lecturer on physiology at Adelaide University). Notes were written for a presentation to the Royal Society of South Australia where Dr Stirling stated that it was “evidently an underground burrowing animal, something like a Cape mole (Chrysochloris), but differing in many respects.” He further concluded that the condition of the eyes indicated nocturnal habits while the teeth and remaining contents in the bowel indicated that it fed on insects.

The discovery of a new creature for scientists to study (and the desire to have a better specimen that hadn’t been beaten to death) set off a mole hunting frenzy within central Australia. Less than a year later three more moles (presumed dead) were sent to Adelaide for further study.

Throughout this time Western Australian newspapers barely reported on the discovery of the marsupial mole. Not to be completely excluded however, by September 1900 it was noted that the Perth Museum had been gifted their own specimen; a donation from Professor Baldwin Spencer M.A.

Fast forward seven years to March 1907 and it would appear that the species, Notoryctes Caurinus (karrkaratul) found mostly within Western Australia’s desert country had been captured by Mr P. Trotman.

Trotman

The Aboriginal man accompanying Mr Trotman wanted him to release the karrkaratul back into the wild but, he did not. The mole was instead killed, preserved in spirits and taken to the Perth Museum.

The first meeting of the Western Australian Natural History Society was held a month later at the Museum’s lecture room. The West Australian reported on the events of the meeting and dedicated a considerable portion of the article to the discovery of the karrkaratul. It was stated that “this proved to be the first specimen of the mole that had been collected in Western Australia.

Several more specimens were collected by Mr S. J. Pryor of Wollal [Wallal] in 1910 and 1911 which were both sent to the Perth Museum but, interestingly, the 1911 specimen was noted as being the second mole found within WA with no mention as to what happened to the 1910 specimen.

Pryor

Initially, the moles found within South Australia and Western Australia were thought to be the same species with the scientific name, Notoryctes Typhlops, applied to both. The two types of marsupial mole are considered to be almost identical (it’s nearly impossible to tell them apart in the field) and it wasn’t until 1921 that the karrkaratul (Notoryctes Caurinus) was listed as a separate species.

Species

Throughout the 1920s many more articles about the karrkaratul were printed in the newspapers in order to provide readers with information about the marsupial mole with respect to its appearance and habits.

Description

Tunnels

An interesting snippet from 1927 provided details with respect to the karrkaratul’s tracks (visible in the video at the top of this post) which were said to be like that of small bob-tailed goanna but without the clear footprints.

Track

The rarity at seeing the karrkaratul in the wild unfortunately did not quell the appetite for obtaining specimens. In 1940 Mr Aitken of Wallal sent one to the Perth Museum and, two years later, he sent another three. After this point however the articles continue to be informative and there appears to be no other mention of specimens being collected in Western Australia (of course that doesn’t mean that they weren’t).

Since these early newspaper articles, the fascination with the karrkaratul has not dimmed. The images and video taken by the Tjamu Tjamu Aboriginal Corporation have been shared on Facebook hundreds and thousands of times and there’s been lots of online news articles published (both Australian and International). A creature completely unknown to me, it certainly piqued my curiosity and led me to write this blog post. I guess it’s hard not to be fascinated by the rather adorable karrkaratul.  In a world where everything is nearly always known and visible, the karrkaratul has managed to remain invisible and to this day, still maintains a good deal of its mystery.

Marsupial Mole
The Karrkaratul

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Trove Tuesday – The Bush Barber

To be honest, I’m not entirely sure of the history of the bush barber. John Williamson wrote a song about them and I’ve come across a rather interesting (tongue-in-cheek) article from 1885 which states that they were once old shearers who eventually turned from shearing wool to trimming hair. Who knows, perhaps it may have been true for that period of time but it seems likely that eventually the bush barber was simply a travelling barber who visited various rural towns and stations in the outback in order to cut hair and make a living.

From what I can tell, it looks like they were common up until the late 1930s but then eventually disappeared (perhaps when people were able to travel to barbers themselves).

A closer look at the history of these interesting gentlemen may need to be conducted in the future, but, for now, I couldn’t resist sharing some wonderful images found within Trove.

1882
A Bush Barber (29 July 1882)
1906
The Bush Barber (17 October 1906)
1911
The Bush Barber (29 April 1911)

 

Image
A tonsorial interlude in the Out-Back (28 December 1933)

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