The forlorn hope: Bennelong and Yemmerrawannie go to England.
Initially, the subject of this article was to be the experience of a little-known Aboriginal youth's sojourn in England. However, as the story unfolded and it became apparent that the youth's experiences were closely bound to those of his travelling companion, Bennelong, the focus had to be on both men.
Bennelong is arguably the best-known Aborigine in the history of white Australia. Almost every Australian has a little knowledge of him and many will be aware he visited England. But ask who the other Aborigine was to sail with him aboard the Atlantic on 11 December 1792 and few will know the answer. Yem-mer-ra-wannie was the youth who `voluntarily and cheerfully' left his native shores to partner Bennelong on their voyage of adventure. Both `were very much attached' (Collins 1971:251) to Governor Arthur Phillip and in all likelihood it was he who persuaded them to accompany him on his return to England.
As early as 3 December 1791, Phillip had written to Sir Joseph Banks: `I think that my old acquaintance Bennillon will accompany me when ever I return to England and from him when he understands English, much information may be obtained for he is very intelligent'. (1) Phillip was astute; he chose very carefully the two Aborigines who were to accompany him to England. Both men were intelligent and, having acquired sufficient European social skills, they could be expected to mix in British society reasonably well. Bennelong being the elder and more mature man was probably expected to assist and advise his youthful companion. The intention of their hosts was to expand the knowledge, understanding and language skills of their guests, with the hope that the two Aborigines would, on their return to Port Jackson, communicate valuable information to the British. Relating their experiences and newly acquired knowledge to their own people would, it was hoped, lead to a better understanding between the two disparate cultures. It was a forlorn hope.
It is obvious from the journals of Captain Watkin Tench that Yemmerrawannie was well known to the governor and his military aides. As early as September 1790, Tench gave a brief description of `Im-ee-ra-wan-yee', saying he was `a slender fine looking youth ... about sixteen years old' (1979:185). (The variation in the spelling of his name probably gives some indication to its actual pronunciation.) He had been initiated, as was the custom, by having a front tooth extracted. Tench, the ever-curious marine, remembered that Yemmerrawannie `suffered severely' following the initiation. The youth proudly `boasted the firmness and hardihood, with which he had endured it' (Tench 1979:278). The local name given to the elaborate initiation ceremony by the Cammeragal Clan, was Yoo-long Erah-ba-diang (Collins 1971:563-83). Captain David Collins and Tench both witnessed such a ceremony.
During September 1790, Tench and his compatriots (probably including the governor) were trying to marry off Yemmerrawannie to an Aboriginal girl who had been residing with the family of the Rev. Richard Johnson. Her name was Boo-ron but, from a mistaken pronunciation by the British, she acquired the name Ab-ar-o'o (Tench 1979:148). Bennelong was also a party to this matchmaking. Tench described the matchmaking scene thus:
The lad, on being invited, came immediately up to her, and offered many blandishments, which proved that he had assumed the toga virilis [garment of virility or coming of age]. But Abaroo disclaimed his advances, repeating the name of another person, who we knew was her favourite. Imeerawanyee was not easily repulsed, renewing his suit later with such fervour as to cause an evident alteration in the sentiments of the lady. (1979:185)
The matchmaking continued the following day but, just at the point when Abaroo's heart was won, Yemmerrawannie turned and paid her no further attention. He, seemingly, was more delighted when later in the day he had his hair clipped and combed (Tench 1979:186). The evidence suggests, however, that later he did take a wife (Collins 1971:251).
This `good tempered lively lad' became a great favourite and was frequently a member of the governor's household. Clothes were made for him and, to keep his mind occupied, he was taught to wait at table. On one occasion Mrs Elizabeth Macarthur dined there, as did the Aboriginal boy, Nanbaree. Yemmerrawannie was serving the guests. His fellow countryman, showing his knowledge, persistently gave orders to him, insisting that when Mrs Macarthur crossed her knife and fork on her plate, he should take the plate away and give her a clean one. Yemmerrawannie followed his instructions dutifully, collecting everyone's plates except Nanbaree's. Infuriated by this treatment, he called in rage, demanding to know why he was not attended to. But, with an air of haughty indifference, Yemmerrawannie only laughed and continued to serve the other guests, completely ignoring Nanbaree (Tench 1979:202-3). He had no qualms in regard to waiting upon the other guests but he could not be persuaded to serve one of his own countrymen. Yemmerrawannie was strong-willed and confident.
On shore, as the Atlantic set sail for England, the New South Wales Corps with Major Grose at their head was under arms to pay the governor all the marks of honour due to his rank. The two Aborigines had to watch and withstand `at the moment of their departure the united distress of their wives, and the dismal lamentations of their friends' (Collins 1971:251).
By 7 February 1793, the Atlantic had reached Rio de Janeiro. The township would have been a source of wonder to the two Aborigines. Later, on 3 April, their ship crossed the equator and the usual ceremonies on crossing the line took place. `Neptune' appeared on deck and Bennelong and Yemmerrawannie `touched it'. Only a couple of lines were written concerning this incident but one gets the feeling that the two Aborigines believed that this Neptune actually did live in the sea (Easty 1793). Two days before they reached England there was some concern and excitement when a French privateer fired three guns at the Atlantic.
There is some doubt as to when the ship actually docked at Falmouth. The generally accepted date is 21 May 1793; however, John Easty states in his journal that, on 20 May, `His Excellency Arthur Phillip went on shore and the two Natives and Mr Alley to proceed on their way to London' (1793?:142). The London Packet, or New Lloyds' Evening Post, in the issue covering Wednesday 29 to Friday 31 May, published the news that `Governor Phillip has brought home with him two natives of New Holland, a man and a boy, and brought them to town'. Reference was also made to `four kangaroos, lively and healthy, and some other animals peculiar to that country'. Continuing, it stated that the natives of Jackson's Bay (Port Jackson) appeared to be `totally incapable of civilisation' and `form a lower order of the human race' (Brodsky 1973:64).
The eighteenth- and nineteenth-century views about civilisation and racial hierarchies stemmed in great part from the religious beliefs of the day, particularly Old Testament teachings. To illustrate that point, the views expressed by the Rev. William Walker of the Wesleyan Missionary Society, the first missionary sent to Australia to preach specifically to the Aborigines, are. relevant: `From the approximation of features to the African, I feel little hesitancy to classify them [Australian Aborigines] with the progeny of him who was cursed to be "a servant of servants to his brothers"'. (2) The quotation is taken from Genesis 9:25 and refers to a curse placed upon Ham, Noah's youngest son, and his descendants. After the Deluge, Ham angered his father by mocking his father's nakedness while he, Noah, was drunk. Noah, in his anger, said: `Cursed be Canaan, a servant of servants shall he be unto his brethren'. This gave rise to a far-reaching prophecy. Ham was darker skinned than his two brothers, Shem and Japheth. His sons, Cush, Muzrain, Phut and Canaan, were also of a dark complexion. The darker-skinned races reputedly developed from this lineage.
It was taught and believed in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries that that biblical curse made the coloured races subordinate to the white race. Invariably, the early evangelical missionaries were tainted with pessimistic beliefs and virtually damned the coloured races because of their biblical ancestors. Times have changed and such Old Testament quotes have been reinterpreted in the light of anthropological studies and modern biblical criticism.
When the two men actually arrived in London is unclear. However, from 24 May to 28 May 1793 inclusive, they had board and lodgings costing three shillings each per day. The bill was paid to a `E. Howson'. (3) A servant was in attendance and a washerwoman attended to their soiled clothes. Earlier, on 21 May, Governor Phillip had ordered clothes to be made for `Yemmeraiwanya' and `Bennilong' by the firm of Knox & Wilson. A hosier and manufacturer, William Dixwell, 22 Bridge Street, Westminster, supplied silk and cotton hosiery. Each man would be identically dressed, having two coats (one green and one of pepper-and-salt mixed cloth), a blue and buff striped waistcoat, a pair of slate-coloured ribbed worsted knee breeches, silk stockings to wear with the breeches, two pairs of fine cotton under-waistcoats faced with spotted muslin dimity, a fine double-breasted spotted quilting waistcoat, a pair of drab-coloured striped breeches and a pair of botelles each. Phillip paid the 30 [pounds sterling] bill. The haste to have the clothes made so soon after their arrival was because the governor, along with Bennelong and Yemmerrawannie, was to be presented to the King (George III) at St James Palace, probably on 24 May.
During the next two months their wardrobe was expanded when sufficient cloth and cambric were acquired to make twelve shirts and eight cravats. Hats, stockings, shoes and buckles and a shaving box, brush and razor were purchased to aid their transformation.
By 6 July 1793, the two `Natives' had moved from their original lodging house to the residence of Mr Waterhouse, Mount Street, Grosvenor Square, in the fashionable West End of London. They continued to have the services of a servant and their clothes were mended and washed as required. Books were acquired and a `Reading Master' and a `Writing Master' were hired to school the two men in those subjects. The education of his guests had always been the intention of Governor Phillip for, once they understood English, `much information' could be obtained from them. (Initially, when he wrote to Sir Joseph Banks, Phillip wrote in the singular, only mentioning Bennelong. Yemmerrawannie was a late addition to his plans.) To broaden their education, the two Aborigines were given the opportunity to see and experience the numerous facets of English life. Horse-drawn coaches and carriages were hired to show them the wonders of London. Tours to see `the Tower, St Paul's, etc' were arranged. Early in August, a boat was hired and the two men went bathing. A few days later, 15 August, with a new pair of gloves and a walking stick each, they were escorted to Sadler's Wells Theatre. (4)
What type of show would their hosts have chosen to impress and entertain their guests? It would, I suggest, need to be vital, full of life and activity, with a minimum of the spoken word. They chose wisely. There was a variety of entertainments to savour. Acrobats opened the program, followed by a musical piece. Next came an illustration `of the Military Movements on the great Theatre of War', a spectacle entitled Honours of War; or, The Siege of Valenciennes, a series of events `in the late Operations of the Allied Armies Commanded by His Royal Highness the Duke of York'. The finale to the piece was a reenactment of the storming of the town and the consequent capitulation and surrender. Stirring stuff, indeed! On a lighter note, the next act was a display of agility on the tightrope. Finally, the evening's performance concluded with some comic entertainment called Pandora's Box; or The Plagues of Mankind, a pantomimic war with the `Powers of Discord' (Hogan 1968). (We shall never know what impressions the two Aborigines took away from the show but they would surely have been amazed and delighted.)
September appears to have been a quiet month socially, only `Washing and Mending cloath's' (sic) being shown in the accounts. No coach or carriage was hired during this month. Yemmerrawannie acquired a new pair of shoes and a bill for `Mending Benalongs shoes' was paid on 5 October, at first suggesting they had done a great deal of walking. However, the seemingly quiet month was because Yemmerrawannie was ill.
Nevertheless, on 8 October, to further advance their knowledge of the world, both men were transported to Parkinsons Museum, situated at the corner of Blackfriars Road and Albion Street. The museum was earlier known as the Leverian Museum, having been formed in the early 1770s by Sir Ashton Lever, an enthusiastic naturalist and curio collector. In 1784 Lever tried to sell his collection but to no avail, so he resorted to selling it through a lottery. James Parkinson, a law stationer and estate agent to noblemen, acquired the museum when he found his late wife had purchased the winning ticket. He came forward to claim his prize five weeks after the draw. Occupying a dozen rooms and a rotunda structure, the museum featured many species of stuffed birds and animals from around the world. Fossils, armour, guns, costumes and `dried sea monsters of every description' were also on display. One whole room was dedicated to various objects acquired from Captain Cook's voyages to the South Seas, including `two chieftain warriors' heads' (Altick 1978:31-2). Visiting such collections was considered a fashionable pastime among the upper classes. Certainly, the two visitors from Australia would have been seen as curiosities themselves.
A week after the museum visit, a coach and a chaise were hired `for the Natives' to travel into the country and about town. By this time it is obvious that there is some concern regarding Yemmerrawannie's health. Three separate account entries on 14 October show that a Dr Blane was paid `for visits to Yemerwany while sick'; `Flannel for Yemerwany's Leg' and `Apothecary's Bill, Mr Vivers'. These three entries are significant because they indicate the beginning of the end for Yemmerrawannie. Seven months later, he was dead--from a pulmonary illness.
Yet the initial problem stemmed from a leg wound or infection of that limb. One can only guess what might have happened. Had his leg been cut during the boating and bathing in August and then become infected? Whatever occurred, this illness weakened his system, leaving him vulnerable to other more serious health problems. The doctor's and apothecary's bills shown in the October accounts were actually for visits made in September, and for the dispensing of various mixtures during that month. Laxatives were dispensed on 7 September; a decoction of bark was administered almost daily between 12 and 18 September inclusive; embrocation was dispensed from 9 to 16 September. It seems that Bennelong had a minor health problem during July and August 1793. Mixtures were recommended by Dr Blane and prepared by the apothecary, Mr Vivers.
In consequence of Yemmerrawannie's illness, both men left the city on 15 October and were conveyed to the Kentish village of Eltham, some seven miles from London. There they took up residence with, or at a house belonging to, Mr Edward Kent. They were supervised by Mr Phillips and his wife. Phillips was steward to Lord Sydney whose family estates lay close to Eltham. Lord (Viscount) Sydney was the former Secretary for Home Affairs after whom Governor Phillip named Sydney Cove. While at Eltham, Yemmerrawannie and Bennelong visited Lord and Lady Sydney, whom they got to know quite well.
Who was Edward Kent? The question has been asked many times, with no conclusive answer. His name does not appear in the Eltham Parish Church baptism, marriage or burial registers. One therefore concludes that he was not from a longstanding Eltham family. His stylish signature appears over a 16-year period (1788-1804) in the vestry minute book. (5) Lieutenant (later Captain) William Kent, 1751-1812, was a nephew of Governor John Hunter, his father Henry having married Mary, a sister of the governor. (6) Lt Kent married a cousin, Eliza Kent. With so many close relationships, it is logical to presume that Edward Kent was a family member.
Lt William Kent was in command of HMS Supply when Hunter and Bennelong sailed for New South Wales in 1795. He received a 170-acre land grant in the district of the Field of Mars, Sydney, on 15 October 1795. In 1802 he was made a magistrate and, by the time he left Sydney in 1805, he held about 1200 acres of land. Eliza Kent did `the honours at Government House, as Governor Hunter was a bachelor' (ADB 1979:46-7).
During the six-week sojourn at Eltham, there is no evidence to suggest that Yemmerrawannie was visited by a doctor. Some liniment and a pair of flannel drawers were purchased for him. One therefore comes to the conclusion that he was sent to Eltham to convalesce. On 26 November 1793, they returned to their former lodgings in London. By now it was late autumn and the bleak, damp, dreary English winter was slowly enveloping them. Governor Phillip, with this in mind, purchased two pairs of `Superfine Thickest Breeches', two pairs of `fine flannel Drawers, four flannel underwears to wear next the skin' and two waistcoats each for his guests. (7) As winter progressed, gloves, night caps and thick greatcoats were acquired to ward off the chilling weather.
Early in December, laxative potions and anodyne draughts were administered to Yemmerrawannie. Dr Blane was in attendance to bleed his patient, to give him medication and to apply a `Large Blister'. Medically, a blister was used as a counter-irritant for pain. One method was to smear turpentine onto a cloth and bind it to the painful area with a bandage. This invariably caused a blister. `Blistered, Dressed and Dressings' is written in the accounts throughout the month. `Decoctions' are mentioned. One entry states `Decoctions of Bark': this was probably cinchona bark, in those days called Peruvian bark, a popular medicine. The ailing Yemmerrawannie was given various `draughts' almost daily throughout December. A further entry is `Decoctions sepcatic': could this have been a mixture to cure sepsis (bacterial contamination from a festering wound; blood poisoning)? Clearly, Yemmerrawannie's ailment resisted the medications prescribed by Blane. It lingered on.
Monday 23 December saw Bennelong at Covent Garden Theatre to see two plays, The Suspicious Husband and Harlequin and Faustus (or, its other title, The Devil Will Have His Own). The latter play featured 14 scene changes, the last two being The Infernal Regions, `with a Shower of Fire', and, finally, The Temple of Glory with `Aerial Spirits' (Hogan 1968:1606-7). There was plenty of movement and spectacle, which would have impressed Bennelong. Directly following the performance, or early next day, he went to Eltham where he spent Christmas and New Year. While he enjoyed good food, wine and the season's festivities, a disconsolate Yemmerrawannie languished in his room, probably dispirited and lonely. Surely, by now, he was thoroughly homesick. Bennelong returned on 5 January. Later in the month, shuttlecocks were purchased. It seems unlikely that Yemmerrawannie had the energy for a game. At month's end, Blane was paid for attending his patient. The apothecary received his fee for the medications he had dispensed throughout December. A schoolmaster was paid `for writing etc'. Whether he was teaching or writing letters for the two Aborigines is not known. Letters may have been despatched to Port Jackson, to be read by someone in authority, to friends and family of the two travellers.
A curious statement on the expense account, dated 30 January 1794, to be paid to Mr Waterhouse, reads: `For two Beds, coverings and furniture (all rendered totally useless) and extra attendance, Fires and lights, etc. during Yemmerawany's Sickness'. It begs the question: why were both beds, coverings and furniture all rendered totally useless? Was it entirely due to Yemmerrawannie's illness? One would expect only one bed being soiled through one or a combination of the following: perspiration, vomiting, faeces (he was given laxatives) or blood. If he was in a stupor or delirious, he may have staggered about the room soiling everything. Furniture could be damaged in the process. A more likely explanation is that the doctor ordered the disposal of the room's contents to stop the spread of any disease. To suggest that the beds and furniture were broken deliberately is unreasonable, in my opinion. Why would they? Servants were on hand assisting the guests throughout their stay in England. Their washing was attended to, shoes and clothing mended, and the lights and fires were kept burning during Yemmerrawannie's illness. I venture to suggest that their beds were made up for them and their sheets changed at regular intervals. Above all, both men proved they could act responsibly in British society.
A coach was hired on at least three occasions during the cold, grey month of February to transport the two men around London. The stage production Harlequin and Faustus at Covent Garden proved to have been popular. It was revisited on Monday 24 February. The Tender Husband; or, The Accomplished Fools was the supporting play on this occasion (Hogan 1968:1621). Ten shillings and sixpence is the price shown in the accounts for the evening's entertainment. Bennelong's visit to Covent Garden two months earlier had cost seven shillings, but the latest show was presented `By Command of Their Majesties', which could explain the extra cost. The price paid suggests that only one of the men attended the theatre, most probably Yemmerrawannie, if his health was sufficiently robust, Bennelong having already seen the production.
Two pairs of `Gauzze [sic] Stockings' were purchased in mid-March. Presuming these were for Yemmerrawannie, it strengthens the evidence that there was a problem with one or both legs. Gauze stockings are light, thin and transparent and excellent support. If Yemmerrawannie's legs were showing signs of swelling, it could point to complications elsewhere in his body. Oedema is easy to see if the ankles are grossly swollen. Although not serious in itself, it can be a symptom of a more serious condition, such as heart disease or pulmonary oedema. The latter, if not treated quickly, can be fatal. The affected person can become extremely short of breath due to the build-up of fluid in the lungs. (Today, prompt drug treatment leads to almost certain recovery.)
Miscellaneous and incongruous substances were still being prescribed as effective remedies for the ills of the body. At this stage, Yemmerrawannie was being given medication known as `Dr. Fothergill's Pills' or, plainly, `Fothergill's pills'. Although Doctor John Fothergill (1742-80) had died some years earlier, his preparation was to be used for generations. `Fothergill used principally the unwashed caix or diaphoretic antimony, a mixture of antimoniate and antimonite of potash and a preparation of very uncertain strength ... He prescribed it together with aloes, scammony, and extract of colocynth.' The pills cost five shillings per box. Scammony, aloes and colocynth are all purgative drugs. A diaphoretic drug induces perspiration. Antimoniatic and antimonite of potash are derivatives of antimony. Fothergill's `chief use of antimony was in chronic distempers, perhaps especially in plethoric conditions, where it quieted the circulation and acted too as an eliminant', wrote his biographer, R. Hingston Fox (Fox et al 1919:38).
Looking at the treatments that Yemmerrawannie was receiving from a modern perspective, one realises that they were mainly of a weakening nature: bleeding, purgatives, inducing perspiration, blisters, leeches and even poultices, (8) to some degree, are all debilitating.
It was on 16 April 1794, a month before Yemmerrawannie's death, when an excursion to the trial of Warren Hastings was undertaken. Hastings (1732-1818) was the first British Governor-General of India. In 1780 he had wounded Sir Phillip Francis in a duel. A revengeful Francis, with the support of others, agitated against Hastings on his return to England. Hastings had been impeached in 1788 for corruption and cruelty. The famous trial dragged on for seven years, with Hastings finally being acquitted on all counts in 1795 (Hastings 1978).
What clear understanding the two Aborigines had of the proceedings unfolding before them is unknown. Someone surely accompanied them to explain, at least briefly, what was taking place. A simple explanation of the salient features of British justice may have been the reason behind taking them to the trial. Later in April, a tailor, LB Pilbrow, measured up both Yemmerrawannie and Bennelong for two suits of clothes: two Super Blue coats, two Masela waistcoats and two pairs of Nankeen breeches. From this evidence alone, one feels that Yemmerrawannie, although ill, was not seen to have a terminal illness.
There is evidence to suggest that plans were already afoot to return the two men to New South Wales. The Surprize, which left England on 2 May and arrived at Port Jackson on 25 October, carried a report which Captain David Collins, the colony's judge advocate and secretary, mentions in his journal: `The two natives in England were said to be in health and anxious for the governor's [Governor J Hunter] departure, as they were to accompany him. They had made "little improvement in our language"' (1971:396). Stating that the two men were `in health' is, at first glance, surprising. Then, on reflection, why mention Yemmerrawannie's condition, thus causing anxiety to his family and friends?
Sometime late in April or, at the latest, 7 May, both men, one ill and the other unhappy and homesick, returned to Eltham. One account for board and lodging at their London address closed on 2 May, so they may have moved out next day. A `Post Chaise to Eltham' was paid for on 7 May. Probably transported on the post-chaise were the following items which were entered in the accounts on the same day: a packing box for eight gowns and bonnets `for the Native Women of New South Wales', plus a number of muslin and printed handkerchiefs.
The rather more puzzling items were `a Chest for Mr Benalong [and] bedding for Mr Benalong on the Ship'. Keeping in mind that Yemmerrawannie was not yet dead, why wasn't his voyage back to New South Wales being catered for? Unless the account dates are wrong, one must conclude that Yemmerrawannie had been sent to Eltham to die. The shipping arrangements were therefore taking place in the knowledge that only Bennelong would return to his native land. A significant point to note is that the final payment to Dr Blane and the apothecary was made on 29 April. One wonders if Bennelong was fully aware of his friend's impending death. It is saddening, indeed, to realise that probably everyone except the youthful Yemmerrawannie knew that he would not make the journey home.
On 18 May 1794, at the age of 19 years, Yemmerrawannie passed away and was buried at Eltham Parish Church, St John The Baptist. The severe English weather may have eventually taken its toll on his weakened body and he succumbed to a bout of pneumonia. My considered opinion is that his problem stemmed from the infection of a leg wound, which over the course of time caused other complications to develop. He was the first Australian Aborigine to die in England. (9)
The vicar of the church, the Rev. JJ Shaw-Brooke, officiated at the funeral. Yemmerrawannie was buried as a Christian among the graves of the local residents of the Kentish village. Eltham Parish burial register records: `May 21. Yemmorravonyea Kebarrah, a Native of New South Wales, died May 18 1794, supposed to be aged 19 years, at the house of Mr Edward Kent'. (10)
This is the only documentation on which the word `Kebarrah' appears. Bennelong would be the only person to have suggested the addition of the name, one undoubtedly of some significance. Dixon et al (1990:154-5) explain kebarrah as `an Aboriginal male who has been initiated into manhood [or] the ceremony in which such an initiation takes place'.
Bennelong caught a stagecoach to London on 23 May and then, two days later, went back to Eltham again for a few hours. Whether he returned to mourn the loss of his young compatriot or to perform death rites, which only he could in that situation, is all conjecture. In the meantime, all of Yemmerrawannie's linen was washed, and a grave-digger was paid for his duties, which included turfing the grave area. Throughout their stay in England, everything had been done to make the two men feel comfortable and welcome. Even in death, Yemmerrawannie received the respectful treatment of his hosts. A `Tomb Stone for Immirawanya' was purchased and suitably inscribed. The cost of the tomb was 6 [pounds sterling] 16s 6d.
Bennelong journeyed to Eltham on 6 June to stay at Edward Kent's house, where Mr and Mrs Phillips attended to his needs. He was probably unwell again or severely homesick and dejected. He remained there throughout June and July, except for occasional visits to London. On 3 July he was taken to Drury Lane Theatre where three plays were being performed: Lodoiska, High Life below Stairs and The Glorious First of June. The latter was a patriotic piece highlighting the achievements of the brave sailors who took part in the `Glorious Actions' of 1 June 1794 under the leadership of Earl Richard Howe (Hogan 1968:1664). The French were defeated in a naval battle of some significance. Remembering the attack on the Atlantic on the way to England, Bennelong may have relished the sight of a French defeat being acted out on stage. It was a fitting end to his time in London.
Chatham, on the estuary of the River Medway, Kent, was Bennelong's destination on 22 July. There he boarded HMS Reliance and prepared for the journey home. The Reliance and the Supply were being fitted out and armed in preparation for the arduous voyage to New South Wales. Six days later, Bennelong made his final visit to Eltham to say farewell to the Phillips. A visit to Yemmerrawannie's grave, to bid his friend a silent good-bye, would have left him with a mixture of emotions. A post-chaise conveyed him from London to Chatham on 30 July, where he had every expectation of sailing for New South Wales in the near future. It was not to be so.
Governor Hunter wrote to the Admiralty Secretary Phillip Stephens on 17 August, reminding him that no order had yet been received for permission to provision and transport three passengers to New South Wales. The three men were `Daniel Paine [Payne], a boatbuilder for the settlement; James Williamson, Gov'rs secretary; Banelong [Bennelong], a native of N.S. Wales'. All three were aboard the Reliance at anchor on the River Medway. By 25 August, the Supply had sailed down the English Channel and arrived at Spithead, near Portsmouth. The Reliance followed sometime later and was definitely at Spithead on 18 September Hunter was still awaiting final instructions, relative to sailing, on 15 October. Both ships were undermanned and on that account were `incapable of proceeding with the convoy now under orders'. Hunter again wrote to Stephens on 3 November, making the point that the two ships had been in commission since March last and that he still had not got the full complement of 87 men he required. Three days later he had his reply: `Your request respecting the number of the complement of the Reliance cannot be complied with'. Having to obey orders, he proceeded to sail, but not far; on 25 January 1795 the ships were anchored in Plymouth Sound. `Our tedious detention in this part of the world will, I fear, be much felt in that to which we are going', wrote Hunter, expressing concern also about the storeship Supply, which had been in great danger of being lost in recent tempestuous weather (HRNSW 1978:225, 249, 251, 257, 258, 264, 280). Among all of his other problems and responsibilities, Hunter showed concern for Bennelong, conveying his anxiety to the Admiralty:
The surviving native man, Benelong is with me, but I think in a precarious state of health. He has for the last twelve months been flattered with the hope of seeing again his native country--a happiness which he has fondly look'd forward to, but so long a disappointment has much broken his spirit, and the coldness of the weather here has so frequently laid him up that I am apprehensive his lungs are affected--that was the cause of the other's death. I do all I can to keep him up, but still am doubtful of his living. (HRNSW 1978:281)
Bennelong must have been on the edge of depression. It was mid-winter again, cold, wet, grey and windy. The sunny clime of his native land would have seemed completely beyond reach.
Hunter's life wasn't plain sailing either. Another storm had `thrown' the Supply on shore, causing so much damage that it had to be unloaded and docked to have its bottom inspected to ensure it was safe to proceed on so long a voyage (HRNSW 1978:281). With the inspection completed, the two ships eventually sailed from Plymouth early in February 1795, (11) in a convoy guarded by the Channel Fleet commanded by Earl Richard Howe, the hero of The Glorious First of June. (12) George Bass, naval surgeon and later explorer, was on board the Reliance. Bennelong was his first patient on the voyage:
Under Bass's care the native made a good recovery and he proved of some use to him on the voyage. From him Bass learned what he could of the native language spoken about Port Jackson. This knowledge was to prove of considerable value, particularly on the second Tom Thumb voyage for Bass was able to carry on a conversation with the natives who he encountered. (HRNSW 1978:247)
Captain Henry Waterhouse wrote to Lord Sydney from Rio de Janeiro on 7 May 1795, informing him that Bennelong was `in perfect health' (HRNSW 1978:318).
It was 7 September 1795 when Bennelong once again set foot on his native soil (Brodsky 1973:66). Did he think, at that moment, of Yemmerrawannie? Probably not. Almost a year after his return home, Bennelong had a letter drafted and delivered to Mr and Mrs Phillips. He had not forgotten those who had assisted him during his stressful time in England:
Sidney Cove. New S. Wales Augst. 29 1796 Sir, I am very well. I hope you are very well. I live at the Governor's. I have every day dinner there. I have not my wife; another black man took her away; we have had muzzy [bad] doings: he speared me in the back, but I better now: his name is now Carroway [the names are frequently changed], all my friends alive and well. Not me go to England no more. I am at home now. I hope Sir you send me anything you please Sir. hope all is well in England. I hope Mrs. Phillips very well. You nurse me Madam when I sick, you very good Madam: thank you Madam, & hope you remember me Madam, not forget. I know you very well Madam. Madam, send me two Pair stockings. You very good Madam. Thank you Madam. Sir, you give my duty to Ld Sydney. Thank you very good my Lord. very good: hope very well all family, very well. Sir, send me you please Some Handkerchiefs for Pocket. you please Sir send me some shoes: two pair you please Sir. Bannolong. (13)
Bennelong died at Kissing Point on 3 January 1813, at an estimated age of 49 years. Reporting his death, the Sydney Gazette was unsympathetic in its assessment: `Of this veteran champion of the native tribe little favourable can be said. His voyage to and benevolent treatment in Great Britain produced no change whatever in his manners and inclinations, which were naturally barbarous and ferocious.' George Bond, a `late Ensign of the New South Wales Corps', quoted a line in Latin `Caelum, non animum mutant, qui trans mare currunt', to convey his feelings concerning Bennelong's visit to England. Translated, it means, `Those who fly across the sea, change the climate but not their mind [or spirit or attitude]' (quoted in Bond 1803:55).
Bennelong, who, it is said, was the first Aboriginal alcoholic, needs to be revisited with empathy. He obviously enjoyed his regular visits to Government House and the company he found there. Probably he was intellectually stimulated by those with whom he conversed. Governor Phillip had stated on numerous occasions that Bennelong was an intelligent person. Now there was a conflict of culture within his own mind. His horizons had broadened, yet his ingrained culture could not be denied. Eventually he chose to rejoin his own people and returned to the bush. He could not win whichever way he turned. Bennelong was perceived to be an outsider in both cultures. Alcohol eventually made matters worse. His mind had been changed with the visit to England.
In conclusion, there are a number of specific items to be examined. First, the accounts: Governor Hunter was rather irritated to receive some expense accounts incurred by the two Aborigines. In a letter dated 5 August 1794, he complained to Under-Secretary King of the Home Office:
The bills, you will observe, are made out in my name as if payable by me, a circumstance which I by no means approve, as it is not convenient to me at present to advance such sums. The order given to supply them with what was necessary for them while in England, as well as what it was judged the surviving one might have occasion for on his return to his native country, did not originate with me; that business began with Governor Phillip, and should, in my opinion, have continued with him untill finally settled. Benelong and I have embark'd on board the Reliance, and as he will yet be further expense, I wou'd wish to know in what manner such expenses are to be defray'd--whether I should keep an account of them as they occur, and deliver it hereafter, or that whatever sum be consider'd sufficient for his use (within which his expenses are to be confin'd), be placed in my hands and accounted for by me.
An enclosure with the letter set out the expenses:
Expenses at Eltham--Bill 63 [pounds sterling] 8s 1d Do. [ditto] in town 96 [pounds sterling] 0s 0 1/2 d 159 [pounds sterling] 8s 1 1/2 d
On 4 September, King recommended that Treasury pay the bills. Earlier in the year, Governor Phillip's request for the payment of 84 [pounds sterling] 14s 0d, being the `expenses incurred for the Two Natives ... between 15 October 1793 and 31 January 1794', had been sanctioned for payment by the Home Office.
Therefore, the cost to the Treasury for the two Aborigines' time in England was 224 [pounds sterling] 2s 1 1/2 d. Since the discovery of more detailed expense accounts a few years ago, that figure needs to be amended. Try as I may, I cannot balance the expense accounts. Nevertheless, I feel confident that the total amount spent by Treasury was close to 400 [pounds sterling] (see Appendix). There are no accounts relative to Bennelong's stay aboard the Reliance between 30 July 1794 and early February 1795 when the ship sailed for New South Wales.
Mr H Waterhouse, who initially paid the bills and at whose house Yemmerrawannie and Bennelong lodged while in London, was almost certainly Captain Henry Waterhouse (1770-1812). He was present at the first settlement of New South Wales in 1788 and the settlement of Norfolk Island. A good friend of Governor Phillip, he was made acting third lieutenant of the Sirius in December 1789. Bennelong and he would have known each other from the early days of the settlement. Serving aboard the Bellerophon, Waterhouse was present at Howe's victory on the Glorious First of June 1794. When Hunter became Governor of New South Wales, he sought the appointment of Waterhouse as second commander of the Reliance, with the rank of commander and power to act in his absence. He was duly appointed and was in charge of that ship when it sailed for New South Wales in 1795. In common with Lt William Kent, he also received a number of land grants in the Sydney area (ADB 1979:573).
One can see a close relationship, a patronage of sorts, between the naval fraternity: Phillip, Hunter, Kent, Waterhouse and even Earl Howe, who had advocated `in the strongest terms' Hunter's claims for the governorship. Without substantiating evidence, I believe that Dr Blane was Sir Gilbert Blane MD (1749-1834). In 1779 he went to the West Indies as a physician to Admiral Rodney and from that time was physician to the fleet (Hastings 1978:222). Yemmerrawannie and Bennelong were therefore treated by a very reputable doctor indeed.
Today, Yemmerrawannie's gravestone sits against the perimeter wall of Eltham Parish Church. The actual plot of ground into which he was interred is elsewhere in the cemetery. Over the years the gravestone has been painstakingly cared for, having been restored in 1882, 1913 and 1938. Former Australian residents financed the 1913 restoration work. Chiselled into the stone are the words `Restored By - Cleaves Greenvice' (Sydney Morning Herald, 14 October 1913). At one period of time, it was an annual event for the children of Eltham to lay flowers on Yemmerrawannie's grave. He has never been forgotten in the village, now a suburb of London, where he died so tragically over 200 years ago.
Since Australia's bicentennial year, 1988, there have been a number of campaigns by Australian Aboriginal groups and individuals for the exhumation and repatriation of Yemmerrawannie's remains. As the actual position of the burial site is not now known, this really isn't a viable proposition. Mrs Margaret Taylor, honorary archivist of Eltham Parish Church, wrote in 1988:
The notion that the remains of Yemmerawanyea lie in neat isolation is naive. The movement of memorials when the present Eltham Church was built in the 1870's, the bomb which fell at Eltham corner in 1944 and the passing of 194 years since Yemmerwanyea's death all mean that it is not possible to locate the actual grave with certainty. Older Eltham residents recall that Yemmerwanyea's memorial was not at its present site pre-war. Where it was before the time of their memory and the evidence of photography no-one can say. It is, therefore, only truthful to state Yemmerawanyea died somewhere in Eltham and was buried somewhere in its churchyard. Eltham's dead had been buried in this sacred ground at least since the early 12th century and the very earth is composed of the community of local ancestral folk. (14)
The late Burnum-Burnum was the most notable of those campaigning for the exhumation and repatriation of Yemmerrawannie's remains. Some of the campaigners clearly distorted the historicity of the Yemmerrawannie story, one activist, Rikki Shields, being quoted as saying, `Yemmerrawanyea went to tell British leaders about the slaughter of his people and asked them when they were going to leave his country' (Daily Telegraph Mirror, 7 February 1991), an opinion which I believe cannot be substantiated.
Another, well-worn statement which cannot be substantiated is that the two Aborigines were `paraded as curiosities' (McBryde 1989:55) during their time in England. Yes, they were obviously curiosities wherever they went but they were not paraded as such. They were, I have argued, shown every courtesy and treated with respect.
Bennelong was remembered by chroniclers in Australia primarily because of his initial attachment to Governor Phillip and some of the military. Later, following his return from England, he was mainly in the limelight because of his brawling and drunkenness, whereas the youthful Yem-mer-rawannie was quickly forgotten once he sailed to England never to return. His claim to fame is the fact that he was the first Aboriginal Australian to die in England and hence largely ignored in historical accounts of early settlement. I hope that I have reinserted Yem-mer-ra-wannie into the historical record.
The money spent on Bennelong and Yemmerrawannie was quite substantial when a comparison is made with the allowances made in New South Wales (1788) to, say, the deputy judge advocate, chaplain and surgeon, all of whom were paid 182 [pounds sterling] 10s 0d per annum.
APPENDIX The totals in the following table have been extracted from separate accounts: Item Total cost Board and lodging 110 [pounds sterling] 5s 0d Clothing (inc. razor, etc.) 78 [pounds sterling] 14s 10 1/2d Servants 46 [pounds sterling] 16s 0d Native women's gifts 16 [pounds sterling] 17s 8d Travel and entertainment 12 [pounds sterling] 11s 0 1/2d Doctor 11 [pounds sterling] 11s 0d Apothecary (inc. pills) 7 [pounds sterling] 17s 6d Washing 7 [pounds sterling] 3s 1 1/2d Reading and writing masters 6 [pounds sterling] 3s 7 1/2d General 23 [pounds sterling] 12s 5 1/2d Total 321 [pounds sterling] 12s 3 1/2d Note: There were 2 halfpennies (1/2 d) in a penny (d), 12d in 1 shilling (s), and 20s in 1 [pounds sterling]. (When Australia converted to decimal currency in 1966, $2 were equal to 1 [pounds sterling].)
(1.) Phillip to Banks, 3 December 1791, Banks Papers, A81, vol. 18, p. 43, Mitchell Library, Sydney.
(2.) W. Walker to the Rev. Watson, 5 October 1821, Bonwick Transcripts 51, folio 198, Mitchell Library, Sydney.
(3.) Treasury Board Papers 1793-94, Public Records Office, T1/733, New South Wales Archives, reels 3555-6. Unless otherwise indicated, the following references are from these papers.
(4.) Theatrical performance during religious and secular ceremonies was a major part of Aboriginal life. Corroborees included mime, song and dance. The initiation ceremony Yoo-long Erah-ba-diang, in which Yemmerrawannie was initiated, could be interpreted as a serious play with eight specific acts or ceremonies.
(5.) Correspondence (1986-91) from Mrs Margaret Taylor, Hon. Archivist, Eltham Parish Church.
(6.) ADB 1979, vol. 2, I-Z.
(7.) Kent Family Papers, A3969, p. 98, Mitchell Library, Sydney.
(8.) One prescription for a poultice in those days was 1lb (pound) rye meal, 2oz (ounces) salt and 4oz barm, kneaded with warm water (note: 16oz = 1lb = 453 grams).
(9.) Having no medical expertise myself, I sought advice from a retired doctor and a consultant physician (thoracic medicine). They read my manuscript and pondered over the little medical evidence available. Their summation regarding Yemmerrawannie's medical condition reads as follows:
Firstly, it must be realised that medicine was very primitive in the eighteenth century and did not really move until the first 25 or 50 years of the twentieth century. Thus the treatments (bleeding, blisters, etc.) are of no help in working out what condition Yemmerrawannie had contracted. The injury to his leg seems to figure on and off through the last seven months of his life. This is most unusual, unless he had a deep-seated infection such as osteo-myelitis of a bone of his leg. This could go on for months and cause debilitation and loss of resistance and he may have developed septicaemia (staphylococcal) which causes osteo-myelitis--or at least the staphylococcal does, and this could have led to pneumonia and death. I think pulmonary tuberculosis would be a possibility, as it was very common in England and he was wide open to an infection of this nature as the Aborigines would have no immunity.
The physician's comments were: `I would have to say there are no details of the illness in question and in view of that I cannot make a single meaningful comment. Any comment I make would really have no authority or basis in science on the information provided.'
(10.) Correspondence and photographs 1988-91 from Mrs Margaret Taylor, Honorary Archivist, Eltham Parish Church.
(11.) There appears to be some doubt as to the actual date on which the Reliance set sail for New South Wales. I could not find conclusive evidence to support one of a number of dates between 2 and 25 February 1795.
(12.) Thomas Townshend Papers, MS Q522, Dixon Library, State Library of New South Wales, Sydney.
(13.) Bennelong to Phillips, 29 August 1796, MS4005, NK4048, National Library of Australia, Canberra.
(14.) Margaret Taylor (Eltham Parish Church) to author.
Altick, R.D. 1978 The Shows of London, The Belknap Press of Harvard University Press, Cambridge, MA.
Australian Dictionary of Biography (ADB) 1979 Volume 2: 1788-1850, gen. ed. D. Pike, Melbourne University Press, Melbourne.
Bond, G. 1803 A Brief Account of the Colony of New South Wales, 981/B, Mitchell Library, Sydney.
Brodsky, I. 1973 Benelong Profile, University Cooperative Bookshop Ltd, Sydney.
Collins, D. 1971  The English Colony in New South Wales, Library Board of South Australia, Adelaide.
Dixon, R.M.W., W.S. Ramson and M. Thomas 1990 Australian Aboriginal Words in English: Their Origin and Meaning, Oxford University Press, South Melbourne.
Easty, J. [1787-93] Journal, Q991.1/16A1, Mitchell Library, Sydney.
Fox, R.H. 1919 Dr John Fothergill and His Friends, Macmillan & Co., London. (History of Medicine Library, Royal Australian College of Physicians, Sydney.)
Hastings, W. 1978 Everyman's Encyclopaedia, J.M. Dent & Sons, London.
Historical Records of New South Wales (HRNSW) 1978 Volume 2: Grose & Paterson 1793-95, facsimile reprint, Landsdown Slattery & Co., Sydney.
Hogan, C.B. 1968 The London Stage 1660-1800: Part 5: 1776-1800, Southern Illinois University Press, Carbondale.
McBryde, I. 1989 Guests of the Governor: Aboriginal Residents of the First Government House, Friends of the First Government House Site, Sydney.
Tench, W. 1979 Sydney's First Four Years, Library of Australian History, Sydney.
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|Publication:||Australian Aboriginal Studies|
|Date:||Mar 22, 2001|
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