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The Peel Web

I am happy that you are using this web site and hope that you found it useful. Unfortunately, the cost of making this material freely available is increasing, so if you have found the site useful and would like to contribute towards its continuation, I would greatly appreciate it. Click the button to go to Paypal and make a donation.


Wanderings in New South Wales, Batavia, Pedir Coast, Singapore, and China; being the Journal of a Naturalist during 1832, 1833, and 1834.

George Bennett, .Esq., F.L.S., Fellow of the Royal College of Surgeons, &c. London, 2 vols. 8vo. 1834.

FROM The Quarterly Review, Vol. LIII, Feb-April 1835 (John Murray, London, 1835)

[1] IF our readers are as weary of new novels as we confess ourselves to be, they will thank us for pointing out a book of travels, which carries one rapidly and pleasantly over a wide diversity of sea and land; presents many objects of natural history, and traits of social peculiarity, well calculated to excite and gratify our curiosity; and is distinguished by a merit now exceedingly rare among writers of this once rough-spun class, namely, freedom from the slang and cant of sentiment. Mr. Bennett sometimes, no doubt, treats of serious subjects in too light a vein; but we acknowledge that, as his offences in this way are not numerous, we are willing to overlook them on account of the satisfaction which results from the absence of pseudo-poetical raptures about nothing. Most recent travellers seem to have been bit with the ambition of rivalling those overgrown babies, male and female, honourable and right honourable, who record the ecstacies of 'what they call their minds' in the gilded paces of the Annuals. We do not pretend to class Mr. Bennett, on the whole, with such authors as Captain Basil Hall and Sir Francis Head; but he has, in common with them, what must be felt as among their chief excellencies—a manly temperament, and a thorough scorn of puerile rhetoric.

We are told little or nothing of Mr, Bennett's own condition, or personal objects—and in this omission we acknowledge another wholesome deviation from the prevalent fashion. We infer, however, that he has been employed for some years as a surgeon in the merchant service; and are hopeful that his literary adventure may stimulate many of the well-educated gentlemen who in these piping days of peace are content with such employment, to improve the opportunities which their mode of life affords for the extension of natural science in almost all its departments. Humbly as their position may be thought of, we are of opinion that it is in their own power, by so doing, to elevate it very effectually in general estimation. The number of persons destined for this branch of [2] the medical profession, who can afford to cultivate and expand their minds by extensive travel at their own charges, is extremely limited. A few voyages in a merchant-ship afford a very good succedaneum, and may serve to fill up not only pleasantly, but in every sense of the word profitably, those years which hang the heaviest on the spirits, as well as the purse, of the young practitioner, whether in town or village. No professional man, it must be remembered, is so effectually fettered to the spot, after he has once settled himself in life, as he who labours in this honourable walk. The lawyer has his long vacation, and usually contrives, in these days of steam-boating, to refresh himself with an annual excursion, either to another of his Majesty's kingdoms, or to some interesting part of the Continent. But a week after he has been bawling himself hoarse in the noisome atmosphere of Westminster Hall, he may be detected in eating pâtés de chamois on the Simplon, or dancing reels in the Hebrides, or gliding in a carriole amidst the gloom of a Norwegian forest; nay, by skilful management, he may re-appear at Michaelmas with a budget of good stories from Moscow or Constantinople—or even bring back with him from Jerusalem a legitimate claim to the style and title of Hadgi. Even the parish clergyman may occasionally command a furlough, and enlarge and strengthen his attachment to his own country and calling by a few months' perambulation of less favoured regions. But the country doctor is a complete fixture; nay, it is considered as the most hazardous thing in the world, even for the first-rate physician or surgeon of London, to absent himself for a fortnight on end, even at the dullest season of the year, from the habitual scene of his exertions. We believe a Halford or a Brodie would no more dream of spending an August at Töplitz or Baden, than a Pemberton or a Follett of passing a winter at Washington or St. Petersburgh. In short, patients are apt to regard and resent it as a positive injury, when they are compelled, by the absence of a first confidant, to make their delicate discoveries to a second. On every account, then, the young Æsculapian, if he has any ambition to 'survey mankind with extensive view,' ought to make carpe diem his motto.

Mr. Bennett's title-page has this defect—that it does not prepare us for finding a considerable portion of his book occupied with observations made neither in New South Wales, nor Batavia, nor China, but on ship-board, while far enough from any land whatever. This part of the work is, however, about the most interesting; and no wonder—for here he has had time and opportunity to test his first-sight impressions by subsequent remark and experiment, much more largely than with respect to any of the announced scenes of his 'Wanderings.' The mass of facts which [3] he has brought together concerning the oceanic birds, in particular, appears to be highly curious. We shall not, however, in this place, consider critically what additions he has made to the materials of science strictly so called—we mean as to the addition of species, if not of genera, to the zoological system; but afford the general reader some specimens of the style in which he describes those incidents of his life at sea which he has turned to solid account in the technical sections of his Appendix.

We begin with a paragraph or two on that well-known phenomenon which has so long perplexed and divided our philosophers,—the peculiar phosphoric light given out by the ocean, more especially and more brilliantly in tropical regions, during the absence of the sun's rays. Mr. Bennett had one splendid opportunity of witnessing this effect when traversing the bay of Manilla. He thus writes:—

'The wake of the vessel is one broad sheet of phosphoric matter, so brilliant as to cast a dull, pale light over the after-part of the ship ; the foaming surges, as they gracefully curl on each side of the vessel's prow, are similar to rolling masses of liquid phosphorus ; whilst in the distance, even to the horizon, it seems ain ocean of fire—and the distant waves, breaking, give out a light of inconceivable beauty.'—vol. i. p. 36.

'It must not be for a moment conceived that the light described as like to a sea of "liquid fire," is of the same character as the flashes produced by the volcano, or by lightning, or meteors. No : it is the light of phosphorus, as the matter truly is, pale, dull, approaching to a white or very pale yellow, casting a melancholy light on objects around, only emitting flashes by collision. To read by it is possible, but not agreeable; and, on an attempt being made, it is almost always found that the eyes will not endure the peculiar light for any length of time, as headaches and sickness are occasioned by it.'—p. 38.

Having stated his concurrence in the opinion, that this brilliant appearance is mainly occasioned by shoals of the molluscous and crustaceous tribes, but that it may often be accounted for merely by the debris of dead animal matter with which sea-water is loaded—our author gives us the result of a practical experiment of his own on the 8th of June, 1832, after a large shoal of fish had been observed:—

'Late at night the mate of the watch came and called me to witness a very unusual appearance in the water, which he, on first seeing, considered to be breakers. On arriving upon the deck, this was found to be a very broad and extensive sheet of phosphorescence, extending in a direction from east to west as far as the eye could reach : the animosity was confined to the range of animals in this shoal—there was no similar light in any other direction. I cast the towing-net [4] over the stern of the ship, as we approached nearer the luminous streak, to ascertain the cause of this extraordinary and so limited phenomenon. The ship soon cleaved through the brilliant mass, from which, by the disturbance, strong flashes of light; were emitted ; and the shoal (judging from the time the vessel took in passing through the mass) may have been a mile in breadth : the passage of the vessel through them increased the light around to a far stronger degree, illuminating the ship. On taking in the towing net, it was found half filled with pyrosoma atlanticum, which shone with a beautiful pale greenish light—and there were also a few small fish in the net at the same time; after the mass had been passed through, the light was still seen astern until it became invisible in the distance, and the whole of the ocean then became hidden in darkness as before this took place. The scene was as novel as it was beautiful and interesting, more so from having ascertained, by capturing the luminous animals, the cause of the phenomenon.'—vol. i. p. 39, 40.

Of the length to which albicores, bonitos, sharks, and dolphins will follow a ship Mr. Bennett gives us many striking instances. One albicore having been wounded on the back by some sharp instrument, leaving a noticeable scar, first caught his attention on this voyage, 3º north latitude, and he continued to recognize it almost daily as far as latitude 11º south—a distance of eight hundred and fifty miles. The length of aerial voyages accomplished by the huge albatross and other oceanic birds is even more extraordinary. In reviewing Earle's residence at Tristan d'Acunha, a few Numbers back, we extracted some curious details as to the habits of the albatross when on shore; but that writer said nothing of the real roc on the wing. Mr. Bennett, says :—

' It is pleasing to observe this superb bird sailing in the air in graceful and elegant movements, seemingly excited by some invisible power—for there is rarely any movement of the wings seen, after the first and frequent impulses given, when the creature elevates itself in the air—rising and falling as if some concealed power guided its various motions, without any muscular exertion of its own—and then descending and sweeping the air close to the stern of the ship, with an independence of manner, as if it were " monarch of all it surveyed." It is from the very little muscular exertion used by these birds that they are capable of sustaining such long flights without repose.'—p.45.

The largest albatross shot by Mr. Bennett during this voyage measured fourteen feet, but we have seen distinct accounts of specimens reaching across the wings to full twenty feet. He proceeds to say:—

' When seizing an object, floating on the water, they gradually descend with expanded or up-raised wings, or sometimes alight, and float like a duck-on. the water while devouring their food ; then they skim [5] the ocean with expanded wings, as they run along for some distance, until they again soar in mid-air, and recommence their erratic flights. It is interesting to view them, during boisterous weather, flying with, and even against, the wind, seeming the " gayest of the gay" in the midst of howling winds and foaming waves.
'To watch the flight of these birds used to afford me much amusement, commencing with the difficulty experienced by them in elevating themselves from the water. To effect this object, they spread their long pinions to the utmost, giving them repeated impulses as they run along the surface of the water. Having, by these exertions, raised themselves above the wave, they ascend and descend, arid cleave the atmosphere in various directions, without any apparent muscular exertion. How then, it may be asked, do these birds execute such movements ? The whole surface of the body in this, is well as, I believe, most, if not all, the oceanic tribes, is covered by numerous air-cells, capable of a voluntary inflation or diminution, by means of a beautiful muscular apparatus. By this power, the birds can raise or depress themselves at will ; and the tail, and great length of the wing, enable them to steer in any direction. Indeed, without some provision of this kind to save muscular exertion, it would be impossible for these birds to undergo such long flights without repose as they have been known to do ; for the muscles appertaining to the organs of flight, although large in these birds, are evidently inadequate in power to the long distances they have been known to fly, and the immense length of time they remain on the wing, with scarcely a moment's cessation.
'When several species of the albatross, as well as petrels and other oceanic birds, are about the ship at the same time, no combats have been seen to take place between them; but on the death of one, the others soon fall upon and devour it'—vol. i. pp. 46, 47.

Another great source of amusement was shark-fishing—of which sport Captain Hall's enthusiastic details must be in every reader's recollection :—

' The capture of one of these voracious animals frequently beguiles a tedious hour during a long voyage. Its struggles, when brought on deck, are very great, but a few severe blows on the nose soon disable it from further exertion. When seizing any object, the animal turns on the side, not (as is generally supposed) on the back. The shark, judging by an European palate, is not good eating: the fins and tail are very glutinous, and are the portions most relished by the seamen ; when dried, they form an article of commerce to China, where they are used in soups. ...... I have seen several sharks and bonitos about the ship at the same time, but I never observed the former attempt to molest the latter.
'Attending the shark is seen that beautiful little fish, the gasterosteus ductor, or pilot-fish ; which first approaching the bait, returns as if to give notice, when, immediately after, the shark approaches [6] and seizes it. It is a curious circumstance that this elegant little fish is seen in attendance only upon the shark. After the shark is hooked, the pilot-fish still swim about, and for some time after he has been hauled on deck; they then swim very near the surface of the water, and at that time I have seen them taken by a basket from the chains of the ship. When the shark has been hooked and afterwards escapes, he generally returns, and renews the attack with increased ferocity, irritated perhaps by the wound he has received.'—vol. ii. p. 266.

The shark, Mr. Bennett says elsewhere, is more wary of taking the bait when unaccompanied by the pilot-fish; he will then come close, and withdraw again, several times before he ventures to seize it ; but when the little pilot is in company it hazards the first advances to the rancid beef or bacon, reconnoitres carefully, and at length reports the result at head-quarters, upon which the huge monster is seen at once to plunge onward, and makes his snap at the bait without hesitation.

' That which is termed muscular irritability, and which is met with in all cold-blooded animals, is well exemplified in, the shark, which perhaps possesses it to a greater degree than other kinds of fish. I have seen a shark transfixed with a harpoon after it had been hooked, so as to cause the viscera to protrude ; it was hoisted on deck, when, after a quarter of an hour had elapsed, the lower part was separated from the upper—the detached lower portion for a long time displayed great powers of vitality;—when the head and upper portion were afterwards thrown into the water, the pectoral fins were moved as in the action of swimming. How long this irritability continued I cannot say, (but from other instances that I had seen I should consider for a long period,) as it soon went astern of the ship. I have frequently seen the animal hauled on deck, the whole of the viscera extracted, and the body, when thrown overboard, swim for some distance in this mutilated state. Again, a shark has been hung up with the abdomen ripped open, the whole of the viscera extracted, and the head detached ; yet symptoms of vitality, or rather muscular irritability, remained for three hours from the time of its removal from the water; and this frequently occasions the spectators to consider that the animal is in a state of suffering. It is only in the cold-blooded animals that we meet with this to such an extent ; in the warm-blooded animals it occurs, but in a very slight degree.'—Ibid. p. 270-272.

Blumenbach, in his Manual of Natural History, says,—' The extraordinary strength of the reproductive power in several amphibia, and the astonishing facility with which the process is carried on, depend, if I mistake not, on the great magnitude of their nerves and the diminutive proportion of their brain. The former parts are, in consequence, less dependent on the latter: [7] hence the whole machine has less powers of motion, and displays less sympathy; the mode of existence is more simple, and approaches more nearly to that of the vegetable world than in the warm-blooded classes; but, on the contrary, the parts possess a greater individual independent vitality. In consequence of this latter endowment, stimuli which operate on one part, or one system, do not immediately affect the whole frame by sympathy, as in warm-blooded animals ; and hence it is that we are enabled to explain the peculiar tenacity of life which is displayed under various circumstances in this class—as, for example, how frogs still, continue to jump about after the heart has been torn out, and turtles have lived for months after the removal of the whole brain from the cranium. The long-continued power of motion in parts which have been cut off from the body, as in the tai of the water-newt and blind-worm, is to be explained upon the same principles.'

The length of time during which this irritability exists in snakes has given rise to the opinion of the vulgar, that ' if a snake is killed in the morning, it will not die before sunset.' Among (numerous instances of such irritability even in the warm-blooded class, the human heart, for some little time after death has taken place, may be stimulated to perform its natural action by being punctured ; and in a limb after amputation, the muscles are excited to contract by the plunge of a scalpel. Of the effects of galvanism we need say nothing.

Among other marine objects discussed in this chapter, we find ' the Guinea-ship' of our old navigators—called, in the dialect of modern sailors, the ' Portuguese man-of-war'—that beautiful molluscous animal the physalia, of which Lamarck enumerates four species, all inhabiting the tropical seas, but some of them seen occasionally in high latitudes during the summer months. They are, of course, more readily discerned in calm weather than in strong breezes, and have then a strong resemblance to a miniature vessel resting on the surface of the waters—whence their popular names, ancient and modern. The vulgar notion that the animal has the power of voluntarily collapsing its bladder-sail, and sinking to the depths of the ocean, when danger approaches, appears to have been for ever disposed of by our author's observations. He found several thrown on the shore of New South Wales in tempestuous weather, the bladder portion still remaining inflated ; and while at sea he frequently landed them on deck from his hand-net in the same condition. The inflated membrane is evidently meant merely to keep the creature buoyant on the surface, while its long tentacula are extended below in search of prey. The bladder is of a light azure hue, streaked with, delicate sea-green, and [8] the most brilliant crimson—nothing can be more beautiful; but the long purple appendages below are dangerous instruments. They twine themselves instantly round their natural prey, or the hand of the rash captor, and inflict pungent and intolerable pain by means of their acrid exudation. Mr. Bennett appears to have subjected himself to a day of great agony by one of these experiments. For what purpose a similar property has been affixed to certain vegetable tribes is one of Nature's mysteries.

On the 'flying-fish' Mr. Bennett bestows several interesting pages ; and he seems to have successfully combated the notion of Cuvier, that ' the animal beats the air during its leap, alternately expanding and closing its pectoral fins.' Our author says, 'the structure of a fin is not that of a wing : the pectoral organs of the flying-fish are simply enlarged fins, capable of supporting, perhaps, but not of propelling, the animal.'

' In fish, the organ of motion for propelling them through the water is, the tail, and the fins direct their course ; in birds, on the Contrary, the wings are the organs of motion, and the tail the rudder. The only use of the extended pectoral fins in the fish is for the purpose of supporting the animal in the air, like a parachute after it has leaped from the water by some power which is possessed even by the whale. From the structure of the fin, I cannot consider it at all calculated for repeated percussions out of the water ; while in that fluid it; continues its natural action uninjured; but it soon dries when brought into contact with the air, and the delicacy of the membrane between the rays would very readily become injured, were the organ similarly exerted in that medium. The greatest length of time that I have seen these volatile fish on the fin has been thirty seconds by the watch. . . . Their usual height of flight is from two to three feet; but I have known them come on board at a height of fourteen feet; and they have been well-ascertained to come into the. channels of a line-of-battle ship; i. e. as high as twenty feet and upwards. But it must not be supposed that they have the power of elevating themselves in the air, after having left their native element: on watching them I have often seen them fall much below the elevation at which they first rose from the water, but never in any one instance could I observe them raise themselves above that height: I therefore regard the elevation they take to depend on the power of the first spring or leap they make on leaving their native element.'— vol. ii. p. 31.

The flight of these animals has often been spoken of as if it resembled that of birds ; but our author says,—

' I cannot perceive any comparison—one being an elegant, fearless, and independent motion—whilst that of the fish is hurried, stiff, and awkward. Its repeated flights are merely another term for leaps.'

Mr Bennett laughs at the common talk about the severe [9] persecution to which these poor things are exposed: he says they are no worse off than any other branch of the animated creation;' but surely he himself paints their situation, when he saw a great shoal of them, near the Cape Verd group, in December, 1832, as I rather more distressing than is usual with either birds or fishes— pursued through the waves by a host of bonitos, and whenever they rose, into air, pounced on by a flock of gannets and boobies. The sight of this double chasse, says the philosophical surgeon, afforded much amusement and interest to those who beheld it. —(p. 35.)

But we must now get ashore, and attend Mr. Bennett in some : of those ' Wanderings in New South Wales' which occupy more than half of his book. He seems to have made good use of the time which his captain's stay at Sydney enabled him to bestow according to his own inclinations in short, to have performed several long and laborious journeys to different points of the colony exploring, to the best of his ability, the manners of all classes of its inhabitants, rational and irrational. On colonial politics he does not say much; and here we shall follow his example, It is, however, his well-considered opinion, after all that he saw and heard, that convicts should no longer be sent to New South Wales otherwise than 'for the purpose of being employed on the public works,' and that free emigration ought to be strenuously encouraged. We are much inclined to believe that the time is come when the society of this colony should be delivered, if possible, from further influx of moral pollution, and a new penal settlement established on some other part of that vast continent. The population of the existing colony is now a large one; and it is the duty of Government to give it the best chance of entirely shaking off the lamentable taint of its original formation, which it can scarcely be expected to do so long as a constant succession of fresh blackguardism is infused into the system. Who can doubt that this is a country which must make a great figure in the world, either for good or for evil, before three generations more shall have passed away ?—or contemplate without alarm the existence of a powerful nation born and reared amidst such a moral atmosphere as at present shocks every new visitant of Sydney, and is but too apt to corrupt and harden the whole being of any one who protracts his residence there ? We believe that, if it were consistent with our feelings of duty to lay before our readers a detailed picture of real life, as it exists even among the upper class of society in that colony—of the domestic crimes and tragedies which have been brought to light there even within the last few years—it would be readily allowed that no fiction could surpass the horrible truth of such a statement. The exceptions are, [10] we well know, many—and we consider them as among the most honourable exceptions in the world; but the prevalent tone of that society in which incidents that we might particularize could have taken place, must be something quite beyond the reach of an unsophisticated English imagination.

But to waive these grave matters ;—the common stones about the extreme severity of labour in the penal gangs are considered by Mr. Bennett as gross and wilful exaggeration. He saw a farm-servant, who had for some misdeed been spending six weeks in one of the 'iron gangs,' on the day of his return to his usual employer's establishment. His fellow-servants immediately remarked how much he had improved in appearance since he left them ; and on being weighed, it turned out that the man had gained twenty pounds in the course of his unhappy six weeks.

What sort of convict makes the best shepherd ? We venture to say no man could have guessed the fact—it is the London pickpocket! He is the laziest of animals, and in that fine climate the shepherd's is the most indolent existence possible.

The surgeon gives us many painful and disgusting details about the aboriginal savages of this region, but has not, we think, added much to the stock of valuable information. He evidently contemplates their utter disappearance at no very distant date; and, in truth, we see no reason to differ from him on this head. These scarcely human tribes must go, almost as surely as the wild . animals, their sport and prey. All attempts at civilization have utterly and completely failed: they appear, indeed, to be very many degrees below even the worst of the New Zealanders,—we mean morally and intellectually, for, as to physical structure, the New Zealanders are a very handsome race—these among the most hideous of all the living caricatures of humanity. They have, however, like all degraded human beings, their share of cunning; and we could not but smile at Mr. Bennett's account of his meeting with one of them, who took his black coat for an indication of the clerical profession, and immediately advanced a claim for a shilling, on the ground that Government gives an annual grant of five hundred pounds for the promotion of Christianity in this quarter—of which, by conversing for a few minutes with the stranger ' white feller' in the said black vestment, this shrewd ' black feller' considered himself to have fairly earned a portion. Mn Bennett explained the gentleman's mistake, and was curious to hear what his notion of a clergyman might really amount to. The answer brought out his pregnant .definition :—

' He white feller belonging to Sunday, get up top o' waddy, pile long corrobera all about debbil, debbil, and wear shirt over trowsel.'—vol. i. p. 210.
[11] He retails elsewhere an old but not a bad story of General Macquarie's attempt to induce the natives to cultivate the ground, by a distribution of seeds and implements :—
' Among the packets of seed sent for distribution were some which contained fish-hooks : these, together with the seeds, were given by the governor to the sable monarch, King Bungaree. Some time after the governor inquired of him whether the seeds had yet come up ? " Oh, berry well, berry well," exclaimed Bungaree, " all make come up berry well, except dem fish-hooks ; dem no come up yet."' —p. 338.

Wherever men can be compared with women, we are pretty sure to find the moral advantage with the latter; and here, it seems, is no exception to the rule. Mr. Bennett has one short story, which we shall allow to speak for itself—dismissing some flourishes with which unlike himself, he introduces it:—

' A female of one of the aboriginal tribes in the Murrumbidgee country cohabited with a convict named Tallboy, who, becoming a bush-ranger, was for a long time sought after by the police for the many atrocities he had committed, but always eluded pursuit. This female concealed him with true native ingenuity, and baffled his pursuers—she would fish and hunt for him, whilst he remained secluded in the retreat she chose. She often visited the stock-keepers' huts at the different stations, and whatever provisions she received from them were immediately conveyed to the unworthy object of her devoted attachment. Although many knew she was privy to his concealment, yet it was found impossible to elude her vigilance; neither promises of rewards—enough to excite the cupidity of any individual, but one in whom a higher feeling was paramount—nor threats, could induce her to acknowledge that she was acquainted with his place of concealment. The brute, however, manifested no kindred affection, but would frequently beat and ill-use her. Whilst she administered to him the refreshing cup of kindness, he bestowed on her misery in return. Shortly after he had, in one instance, given way to his natural brutish disposition, by ill-treating the being who had done so much for him—he was on the verge of discovery, indeed had himself given up all hopes of escape: when she again saved him, by engaging to point out to the police his place of retreat, and led them away, under that pretence, in a contrary direction, affording her paramour time and opportunity to seek out a safer asylum. When she arrived with the police at the spot where she had informed them he last was, he of course was not there, and a strict search in the vicinity was equally unsuccessful: she then left them to continue their pursuit, pretending to know nothing further respecting him. At last he was captured by venturing out too boldly during her absence, was tried, condemned, and expiated his offences on the scaffold at Sydney. She wished to follow him, on hearing he was a prisoner, but that was impossible ; so, reclaimed by her tribe, she was obliged to become an unwilling wife of one of the blacks.
[12] 'This unfortunate female was ordered by her husband; whose word is law, to follow him at a time when she was rendered incapable by illness : on her hesitating, he with savage barbarity struck her with his tomahawk over the head and legs so severely, that she fainted from loss of blood. She was found lying on the ground, and taken to the house of a settler residing on the banks of the Murrumbidgee river, and every kindness and attention shown her; but after lingering, suffering severe mental and bodily anguish, she expired.'

The dingos, or native dogs of New South Wales, are the wolves of the colony—they breed in the holes of rocks, attain great size and strength, commit grievous ravages among the herds and flocks of the settlers, and are hunted by whole packs of European dogs. The cunning of these animals, and the agony they will endure without any external indication of suffering, are favourite subjects with our author, and we must spare room for one or two of his anecdotes :—

' One had been beaten so severely, that it was supposed all the bones were broken, and it was left for dead. After the person had walked some distance, upon accidentally looking back, his surprise was much excited by seeing master dingo rise, shake himself, and march into the bush, evading all pursuit. One, supposed dead, was brought into a hut, for the purpose of undergoing " decortication; " at the commencement of the skinning process upon the face, the only perceptible movement was a slight quivering of the lips, which was regarded at the time as merely muscular irritability: the man, after skinning a very small portion, left the hut to sharpen his knife, and returning found the animal sitting up, with the flayed integument hanging over one side of the face.
' Another instance was that of a settler, who, returning from a sporting expedition, with six kangaroo dogs, they met a dingo, which was attacked by the dogs, and worried to such a degree, that finding matters becoming serious, and that the worst of the sport came to his share, the cunning dingo pretended to be dead. Thinking he had departed the way of all dogs, they gave him a parting shake and left him. Unfortunately for the poor dingo, he was of an impatient disposition, and was consequently premature in his resurrection, for before the settler and his dogs had gone any distance, he was seen to rise and skulk away, but, on account of the rough treatment he had received, at a slow pace ; the dogs soon re-attacked him, when he was handled in a manner that must have eventually prevented any resuscitation taking place a second time.
' These instances may account for the fact why skeletons of the animals are not found in places where they have been left supposed dead. I have more than once been taken where one had been killed, as I desired to have a skeleton, but no remains of the beast were visible; and crows and hawks do not devour animals, bones and all, in this country.
[13]'The Australian dog never barks ; indeed, it is remarked by Mr. Gardiner, in a work entitled The Music of Nature, "that dogs in a state of nature never bark ; they simply whine, howl, and growl: This explosive noise is only found among those domesticated." Sonnini speaks of the shepherds' dogs in the wilds of Eygpt as not having this faculty ; and Columbus found the dogs which he had previously carried to America to have, lost their propensity to barking. The barking of a dog is an acquired faculty—an effort to speak, which he derives from his associating with man,'—vol. i., p. 235.

In this of course, as in every book about New South Wales, kangaroo claims right to fit a considerable space. The chase, by no means a very safe amusement, of the ' old man kangaroo,' as the blacks call the full-grown male, seems to have found great favour with Mr. Bennett, and he sketches some scenes which, as he himself says, might have deserved to be immortalized by the pencil of a Landseer. We content ourselves, however, with one or, two of his lighter pages. An Irishman of his acquaintance had a favourite dog who rashly pursued a large kangaroo into a water-pool and was ducked almost dead for his pains :—

' Pat, in a great rage at the threatened death of his dog, would have shot the kangaroo, but his gun missed fire ; he then entered the waterhole " to bate the brains of the baste out" with the butt-end of the gun ; but the "baste," not fancying to be thus treated, turned from the soused and now senseless dog to his more formidable adversary, and a struggle took place, in which the man was often thrust under water, and victory was promising much in favour of the kangaroo, when some of Pat's companions fortunately coming to his assistance, attacked and killed the animal with clubs, and rescued him in almost an insensible condition. I asked him how he felt when the beast hugged him ; he; replied, "Not very comfortable, he tumbled me about famously; they are mighty strong bastes, and don't seem to like being meddled with." Indeed, many persons when alone are afraid to face large "old, man" kangaroo. A man, recently arrived in the colony, was sent after cattle; he returned in great terror, having come suddenly on the ranges upon a kangaroo, as "large," he said, "as a horse." I asked, him the colour of the animal; he replied, that he did not recollect it; he only wished to get away from the beast, and, running down the hill, was glad when he saw the animal warn't following him. It is probable, when he went down one part of the range, the animal, equally, if not more frightened, descended another.'—vol. i. p. 286.
'The part of the kangaroo most esteemed for eating is the loins; but the tail, which abounds in gelatine, furnishes an excellent and nourishing soup: the hind legs are coarse, and usually fall to the share of the dogs. The natives (if they can be said to have a choice) give a preference to the head. The flesh of the full-grown animal may be compared to lean beef, and that of the young to veal; they [14] are destitute of fat, if we except a little occasionally between the muscles and integuments of the tail. The colonial dish, called a steamer, consists of the flesh of this animal dressed with slices of ham. The liver, when cooked, is crisp and dry, and is considered a substitute for bread.'—Ibid. p. 289.

The passion of the aborigines for hunting kangaroos, opossums, and so forth, appears to be inextinguishable, but to be much more intimately connected with the cravings of the stomach than with any of the nobler stimulants of the chase. The moment the kangaroo is killed, the struggle begins, not, as in an English field, for the brush, as a trophy, but for a limb to be forthwith broiled (with the hair on) and devoured. Nay, in many cases, they do not even wait for any application of fire, but, tearing the animal joint from joint, knock off the end of a bone instanter, and begin sucking the marrow before it has time to get cold. No abundance of beef and potatoes seems to damp in the smallest degree these ancestral appetites ; and no new artificial habits strike deep enough to interfere with their immediate indulgence when opportunity is afforded. A friend of our author observed a native woman, well clothed, and of really decent appearance, engaged in some domestic offices in the plentiful kitchen of a farmer on the Murrumbidgee. He expressed his satisfaction at what he saw, but was assured that, though she had just risen from a capital dinner, if she discovered an opossum on the top of a tree, she would instantly strip herself to the skin, and mount seventy or eighty feet into the air, rather than lose the chance of securing such a bonne-bouche.

We find it still more difficult to sympathise with these people in that rage for the flavour of pounded moths, which collects whole tribes of them as often as the proper season comes round, upon certain masses of granite, not far from the Been Station on the Tumat. Captain Cook was astonished, when at Thirsty Sound, with the profusion of butterflies—' the air absolutely crowded with millions of myriads of them for three or four acres together;' and Captain King, in his Survey of Australia (vol. i. p. 105), describes much the same scene at Cape Cleveland: ' the stem,' he says, ' of every grass tree (xanthorrhea), which plant grows abundantly on the hills, was covered with butterflies, and on their taking wing, the air appeared as it were in perfect motion.' We presume the two captains were not scientific enough to distinguish a butterfly from a moth, and that they both refer to the same species of insect, called by the natives bugong, of the grand annual capture and cookery whereof the present author had an opportunity to be an eye-witness.

' The bugong moths collect on the surfaces and also in the crevices of the masses of granite in incredible quantities: to procure them [15] with greater facility, the natives make smothered fires underneath those rocks, and suffocate them with smoke, at the same time sweeping them off frequently in bushels-full at a time. After they have collected a large quantity, they proceed to prepare them, which is done in the following manner:—

' A circular space is cleared upon the ground, of a size proportioned to the number of insects; on it a fire is lighted and kept burning until the ground is considered to be sufficiently heated, when, the fire being removed, and the ashes cleared away, the moths are placed upon the heated ground, and stirred about until the down and wings are removed from them ; they are then placed on pieces of bark, and winnowed to separate the dust and wings mixed with the bodies: they are then eaten—or placed in a wooden vessel, and pounded into masses or cakes, in colour and consistence resembling lumps of dough made from smutty wheat mixed with fat. The bodies of the moths are large, and filled with a yellowish oil, resembling in taste a sweet nut. These masses will not keep above a week, and seldom even for that time; but by smoking they are able to preserve them for a much longer period. The first time this diet is used, violent vomiting and other debilitating effects are produced; but after a few days they become accustomed to its use, and then thrive and fatten exceedingly upon it.
' These insects are held in such estimation among the aborigines, that they assemble from all parts of the country to collect them from these mountains. The crows also congregate for the same purpose. The blacks (that is, the crows and aborigines) do not agree about their respective shares—so the stronger decides the point; for when the crows enter the hollows of the rocks to feed upon the insects, the natives stand at the entrance, and kill them as they fly out, and afford them an excellent meal, being fat from feeding upon the rich bugong. So eager are these feathered blacks after this food, that they attack it even when it is preparing by the natives ; but as the aborigines never consider any increase of food a misfortune, they lie in wait for the crows, with waddies or clubs, kill them in great numbers, and use them as food.
'The quantity of moths which maybe collected from one of the granite groups it is calculated would amount to at least five or six bushels. The largest specimen I obtained measured seven-eighths of an inch, with the wings closed, the length of the body being five-eighths of an inch, and of proportionate circumference ; the expanded wings measured one inch and three quarters across; the colour of the wings dark brown, with two black ocellated spots upon the upper ones; the body filled with yellow oil, and covered with down.
' When the natives about the Murrumbidgee river heard, on my return, that I had visited the "bugong mountain," they expressed great delight, and wished to see what I had collected. On showing them the few insects I had, they recognised them instantly but I thought there was a feeling of disappointment at their curiosity only, not appetites, [16] being gratified by my little entomological collection.'—vol. i. pp. 270-274.

We have stayed so long with Mr. Bennett at New South Wales, that we must make short work with the rest of his Wanderings.' He gives a fuller and livelier description of Macao, its inhabitants, Portuguese English, and Chinese than we have elsewhere met with; and of Canton itself he furnishes sundry sketches which will also reward the reader's attention. We were amused with the following note:—

' The brilliancy of the Chinese colours for painting, &c., has often been very highly extolled as being superior to the European. What surprise must it create, then, when we are informed that the colours used are of English manufacture, and the Chinese artists are eager for, and anxiously inquire after them! This reminds me of the gross ignorance displayed by one of our countrymen who purchased an elegant London clock at a high price, to take to England as a specimen of China manufacture. But do not we see these follies committed by our countrymen almost every day at Paris ?'—vol. ii. p. 61.

To be sure we do; and we have no doubt much use is made of English colours ; as well of English clocks and watches, in China: but that the Chinese artists have some colours of their own which no European skill has as yet rivalled; is a fact as well ascertained as any in the world.

At Macao the two lions that principally occupied Mr. Bennett's leisure hours were the public museum of rare animals, fossils, weapons, &c., &c., collected at the general expense of the English residents, and the aviary in the private gardens|df one of our countrymen, a venerable gentleman of the name of Beale, who had spent forty years in this distant region, and spared no cost to assemble a vast population of Chinese, Javanese, and Indian birds, which appeared to occupy the whole attention of a considerable establishment of servants, and to be kept altogether in a style that would have done honour to the taste and munificence of any sovereign prince in the world. The recent change in the affairs of the East India Company must, as Mr. Bennett regrets to observe, put au end erelong to the English Museum—nor is it likely that; under any future circumstances, an individual resident will be found either disposed or enabled to rival the useful and elegant collection of Mr. Beale. Our author gives two amusing chapters to this old gentleman's aviary: we must be contented with extracting a single specimen of them—he is talking of the mandarin duck :—

' A drake was stolen one night, with some other Turds, from Mr. Beale's aviary the beautiful male was alone taken ; the poor duck, [17]in spite of her quacks during the distressing scene, was left behind. The morning following the loss of her husband the female was seen in a most disconsolate condition : brooding in secret sorrow, she remainedin a retired part of the aviary, pondering over the severe loss she had just sustained.
' Whilst; she was thus delivering her soul to grief, a gay, prim drake, who had not long before lost his own dear duck, which had been accidentally killed, trimmed his beautiful feathers, and, appearing quite handsome, pitying the forlorn condition of the bereaved, waddled towards her; and, after devoting much of his time and all his attention to the unfortunate female, he offered her his protection, and made a thousand promises to treat her with more kindness and attention than her dear, lost drake. ' She, however, refused all his dffers, haying made, in audible quacks, a solemn vow to live and die a widow if her mate did not return. From the day she met with her loss, she neglected her usual avocations; her plumage became ragged and dirty; she forsook her food and usual scenes of delight.
' Some time had elapsed, when a person, accidentally passing a hut, overheard some Chinese of the lower class conversing together. One said, " It would be a pity to kill so handsome a bird." " How, then," I said another, "can we dispose of it ?" The hut was noted, as it was immediately suspected that the lost mandarin was the subject of conversation. A servant was sent, and, after some trouble, recovered the long-lost drake by paying four dollars for him. He was then brought back to the aviary in one of the usual cane cages.
' As soon as the bird recognized the aviary, he expressed his joy by quacking vehemently and flapping his wings. An interval of three weeks had elapsed since he was taken away by force; but when the forlorn duck heard the note of her lost husband, she quacked, even to screaming, with ecstacy, and flew as far as she could in the aviary to greet him on his restoration. Being let out from the cage, the drake immediately entered the aviary—the unfortunate couple were again united: they quacked, crossed necks, bathed together, and then are supposed to have related all their mutual hopes and fears during; the long separation.
' One word more on the unfortunate widower, who kindly offered consolation to the duck when overwhelmed with grief. She in a most ungrateful manner informed her drake of the impudent and gallant proposals made to her during his absence;—it is merely supposition that she did so ; but at all events the result was, that the recovered drake attacked the other the day subsequent to his return, pecked his eyes out, and inflicted on him so many other injuries as to occasion his death in a few days. Thus did this unfortunate drake meet with a premature and violent death for his kindness and attention to a disconsolate lady. It may perhaps be correctly written on a tablet over his grave—" A victim to conjugal fidelity."'.

Since we are on the chapter of Ducks, we may notice here our author's diverting account of the duck-boats at Whampoa and [18] elsewhere in the neighbourhood of Canton. As is well known, the owners and their families inhabit the upper part of these vessels, while their innumerable flocks of feathered creatures are accommodated in the hold. Mr. Bennett was fortunate enough to inspect some of them just after the rice harvest had been gathered which is the season of joy for the broad-bills, as they are then at liberty to fatten upon the rich gleanings of the paddy-fields.

' On the arrival of the boat at the spot considered proper for feeding the quacking tribe, a signal of a whistle causes the flock to waddle in regular order from their domicile across the board placed for their accommodation. When it is considered that they have gorged sufficiently, another signal is made immediately upon hearing it, they congregate and re-enter the boat. The first duck that enters is rewarded with some paddy, the last is whipped ; so that it is ludicrous to see the last birds (knowing by sad experience the fate that awaits them) making efforts en masse to fly over the back of the others, to escape the chastisement inflicted upon the ultimate duck.'—vol. ii. p. 115.

Mr. Bennett had the good luck to sail, in his return from Canton to Macao, in company with Mr. Davis, the accomplished orientalist, then chief superintendent of the Honourable East India Company's establishment; and he appears to have owed much valuable information to that enlightened gentleman's conversation. But we have perhaps given as much space to this book as the nature of its contents may seem to justify—so we must now close our extracts with the surgeon's account of the mode in which the Chinese and Japanese produce those dwarf trees, which we mentioned in our last number when reviewing Messrs. Fischer and Meylan :—

' The Chinese procure the dwarf orange trees, laden with fruit, by selecting a branch of a larger tree upon which there may be a good supply of fruit: the cuticle being detached from one part of the branch, is plastered over with a mixture of clay and straw, until roots are given out, when the branch is cut off, planted in a pot, and thus forms a dwarf tree laden with fruit. Other means are adopted to give the trunk and bark an appearance of age; and these, with the dwarf bamboos and other trees, must certainly be regarded as the principal Chinese vegetable curiosities.'

In Mr. Bennett's volumes, if our reader has been at all amused with what we have exhibited in this article, he may depend on finding a great deal more of at least as interesting matter: he will, in particular, be well entertained with the author's history of a favourite Ungka ape, which partook his cabin with him during his last voyage from Sincapore to London. This creature seems to have been about the most intelligent and amiable specimen of the turpissima bestia hitherto recorded : he regularly dined with [19] the doctor's mess, and was on intimate terms with most of the passengers—but more especially—which, indeed, will surprise none who have pbserved the manners of animals—with a child on board, whom it attended almost like a nurse. Ungka liked everything in the way of eating and drinking that passes current among men—except only wine; but if he had any relish for tobacco, Mr. Bennett does not mention it. Some few years ago, however, a captain in the Company's naval service brought to this city an animal of (we believe) the very same species, who not only took snuff habitually, but indulged himself with a pipe or two every day after dinner, filling the bowl for himself, and even lighting it very knowingly. This little gentleman, too, was quite free from the Mahometan prejudice against the juice of the grape. A friend of purs visiting him the first week after his arrival in Cheapside, find him in the act of finishing his mutton chop and potatoes, and about to begin his usual pipe, with the accompaniment of some Madeira negus. He was sold for the high price of 500l., but died very soon afterwards.

There are two or three monkeys now in the Zoological Gardens in the Regent's Park, whose passion for snuff affords much amusement to the visiters. They seem to rub it zealously into their eyes and ears, as well as their nostrils, and, after some minutes of triumphant sneezing and snorting, to enjoy the narcotic influence of the Nicotian weed, with the calm contentment of an old-fashioned philosopher.


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These materials may be freely used for non-commercial purposes in accordance with applicable statutory allowances and distribution to students.
Re-publication in any form is subject to written permission.

Last modified 4 March, 2016

The Age of George III Home Page

Ministerial Instability 1760-70

Lord North's Ministry 1770-82

American Affairs 1760-83

The period of peace 1783-92

The Age of the French Wars 1792-1815 Irish Affairs 1760-89

Peel Web Home Page

Tory Governments 1812-30

Political Organisations in the Age of Peel

Economic Affairs in the Age of Peel

Popular Movements in the Age of Peel

Irish Affairs
1789-1850
 
Primary sources index British Political Personalities British Foreign policy 1815-65 European history
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