Talking to Robbie Buck and Wendy Harmer on their ABC Radio program this morning (30 May 2018), I told them about the Indigenous leader Bungaree or Boongaree, the first Australian born person to circumnavigate Australia on board HMS Investigator with Matthew Flinders in 1802-3.
This lithograph by the travelling artist Augustus Earle (1793-1838) was the first ever printed in Australia. In 1821 Earl obtained one of the two lithographic presses brought to New South Wales by Governor Sir Thomas Brisbane, who wanted to map the southern hemisphere stars.
Edward Smith Hall, the crusading editor of the infant Monitor newspaper, found space to mention Earle’s lithographs on 11 August 1826:
We are gratified in being able to state, that Mr. Earle, the Artist, has at length succeeded in producing several excellent specimens of the well-known Native Chief of Sydney, Bungaree, which, we understand, is intended for sale, and, as usual with Mr. Earle, at a very low price. As a first attempt of the kind in the Colony, it has been dedicated to General Darling. The likeness is faithful—and, considering the difficulties, Mr. Earle has had to contend with, great credit is due to that gentleman.
That’s an extract from my book King Bungaree, written way back in 1992. It’s now as scarce as hen’s teeth, but available in many libraries.
In lithography the artist draws directly onto a flat stone using greasy ink or a chalk pencil. The stone is immersed in water and then wiped over with printing ink, which is rejected by the wet areas and accepted by the greasy areas. Prints are taken straight from the stone.
This was a new technique for Earle, which explains why the words “KING BUNGAREE” on his subject’s breastplate were reversed.
Bungaree stands on the heights of The Rocks on the western side of Sydney Cove (now Circular Quay). Behind him at Dubuwagulye, we see Fort Macquarie, erected by Governor Lachlan Macquarie. Today on this point of land, named after Bennelong, the vaulted roof shells of architect Joern Utzon’s masterpiece, the Sydney Opera House, float up like billowing white sails against the blue sky.
Bungaree, of course, was originally from Broken Bay, north of Sydney. See my brief biography of Bungaree at The Dictionary of Sydney online at
Governor Sir Ralph Darling succeeded Governor Brisbane.
THE SECOND LITHOGRAPH
Bungaree was the subject of the first and second lithographic portraits produced in Australia. Charles Rodius captured Bungaree in a double portrait, hatless at left in profile and wearing his signature naval hat and jacket at right.
The Sydney Monitor of 6 March 1830 reported (page 26):
In all these excursions of Governor Phillip, and in the neighbourhood of Botany Bay and Port Jackson, the figures of animals, of shields, and weapons, and even of men, have been seen carved upon the rocks, roughly indeed, but sufficiently well to ascertain very fully what was the object intended. Fish were often represented.
Arthur Phillip, The Voyage of Governor Phillip to Botany Bay … 1789
Keith Vincent Smith 2018
The Indigenous people of Port Jackson and coastal Sydney, who called themselves Eora (‘people’) did not read or write, but they left an eloquent witness to their artistic expression, culture and spiritual beliefs in hundreds of galleries of figures outlined and engraved on the flat sandstone rocks. They included ancestral heroes, shields, whales, sharks, fish, eels, kangaroos, echidnas and lizards, that were often clan or personal totems.
A totem is an emblem or image from nature, and the Eora regarded these as part of their identity. In Aboriginal society totems link the human, natural and supernatural worlds.
Captain Arthur Phillip, governor of the convict colony established at Warrane (Sydney Cove) in January 1788, was one of the first Europeans to see this artwork. Phillip named the settlement at Sydney Cove in honour of his powerful mentor Lord Sydney at the Home Office in London. He told Sydney in a long letter dated 15 May 1788:
In Botany Bay, Port Jackson, and Broken Bay we frequently saw the figures of men, shields, and fish roughly cut on the rocks; and on the top of a mountain I saw the figure of a man in the attitude they put themselves in when they are going to dance, which was much better done than I had seen before, and the figure of a large lizard was sufficiently well executed to satisfy every one what animal was meant.
On 17 April 1788 the British officers made another discovery, in which, wrote Surgeon John White in Journal of a Voyage to New South Wales (London 1790, page 139)
We saw, however, some proofs of their [Aboriginal] ingenuity in various figures cut on the smooth surface of some large stones. They consisted chiefly of representations of themselves in different attitudes, of their canoes, of several sorts of fish and animals; and, considering the rudeness of the instruments with which the figures must have been executed, they seemed to exhibit tolerably strong likenesses.
In his first book, A narrative of the expedition to Botany Bay’, published by J. Debrett in Piccadilly, London in 1789, Marine Captain Watkin Tench observed (page 79): ‘On many of the rocks are also to be found deliniations of the figures of men and birds.’
None of these First Fleet narratives gave their readers in Britain a glimpse of these unique art works. The illustration above, from the second edition of Phillip’s book, printed in London in 1807, must be based on the imagination of the artist ‘W.G.’ and the engraver, identified only as S. Sharp.
ABORIGINAL ROCK ENGRAVINGS AT POINT PIPER: 1802
The engraving Dessins exécuté par les naturels, from an original drawing by Charles Alexandre Lesueur (1778-1846), was included as Item 22 in the exhibition Eora: Mapping Aboriginal Sydney 1770-1850, curated by Ace Bourke and myself at the Mitchell Library, Sydney in 2006.
I first saw it in 1988 in an innovative exhibition, The Coming Of The Strangers, curated by Baiba Berzins, then Mitchell Librarian at the State Library of New South Wales in Sydney. It was also included in Berzin’s book of the same name, published by Collins Australia in that year. As Berzins wrote:
This is the first visual record of Aboriginal rock engravings in the Sydney region, which are frequently mentioned in the written accounts of early European settlers and visitors.
Lesueur’s drawings were published in Paris in 1824 in the Atlas of the second edition of François Péron, Voyage de découvertes aux terres Australes. He drew these unique Aboriginal figures in 1802 while in Port Jackson (Sydney Harbour) with the French expedition commanded by Nicolas Baudin.
Lesueur was the first European to survey and record the vast stone art galleries around Sydney Harbour. Two images of figures at Willara (Point Piper) can be identified in the illustration ‘Aboriginal Carvings’, published by the artist George French Angas in 1847. Point Piper is a rocky sandstone headland on the western side of Rose Bay which today contains Sydney’s most expensive real estate.
The kangaroo in right profile drawn by Lesueur, which appears as No. 6 in the group illustration (top of this page), seems to be the model for the Aboriginal engraving seen and recorded by William Augustus Miles, who accompanied Angas to Point Piper in 1845. Two eels are carved into the sandstone at the foot of the drawing. The kangaroo is No. 11 in Angas’s plate ‘Aboriginal Carvings’ but the image has been flipped horizontally by the engraver, a common practice at the time.
Lesueur’s No. 5, the bird-like figure at middle-right, which is supposed to represent the Dieu des Montagnes bleues (‘God of the Blue Mountains’), appears as No. 10 in Angas.
This is visual proof that Lesueur and (probably) other French voyagers visited Point Piper during their five months stay in Sydney.
The ambiguous caption to the French engraving, which translates into English as ‘Drawings done by the natives’, has prompted the mistaken speculation that these figures were drawn on paper by Aboriginal artists. This is even assumed on the website of the Museum du Havre in France, which houses the drawings made in Australia by Lesueur and Nicolas-Martin Petit.
The first blacks with whom the whites associated were those of Sydney and Botany Bay, followed by those of the Hawkesbury, Hunter, and Twofold Bay. To the dialects of those places we naturally turn for the earliest aboriginal words in use among the white men.
The most interesting vocabulary in my possession is one taken down from the lips of Bennilong, one of the two Sydney blacks who went to England with Gov. Phillip in 1792. Attached to this is another taken from a George’s River black named Walwarra, in 1803, by Thomas Jarrett Ives, who lived with the blacks and spoke their language.
Both vocabularies were printed at the Sydney GAZETTE office in 1809. In the Botany dialect I find the first record of the word “myall,” the name given to a stranger.
So wrote Archibald Meston in an article headed ‘Aboriginal Names’,printed in The Bulletin, Sydney, on 18 April 1896 (page 27). He listed several words from ‘Botany Bay’: boomerang, wombat, wommera, yarraman, wonga-wonga, gunya, waddy, woolaba (wallaby), wallaroo, heelaman, budgerie, corobberie (corroboree) and currajong.
When Meston’s son E.A. Meston reprinted the same text in ‘Mestonian Flashes’ (Cummins & Campbell’s magazine, August 1955, p.13), he deleted the words ‘in my possession’. The two manuscripts, if they ever existed, cannot be located.
Following the Bulletin article, Meston published varying dates for the printing of the vocabularies: 1808, 1809, 1810, 1812, 1814 and 1822. Meston said the ‘Ives’ pamphlet had 24 pages in one article and 36 pages in another. ‘Thomas Jarrett Ives’ was soon replaced by ‘James Ives’, apart from one instance, in which he is referred to as ‘Thomas Ives in his pamphlet of 1808’.
[The Queenslander, Brisbane, 14 March 1903, page 596]
Meston wrote (Sydney Morning Herald, 12 September 1912, page 8):
James Ives, who arrived in Sydney in 1800, lived for ten years among the aboriginals and spoke fluently the dialect from Port Hacking to the Hawkesbury River.
A STRAW MAN?
Over a period of 30 years Meston frequently quoted ‘Ives’ in the constant stream of articles and letters printed in newspapers throughout Australia, most often to refute or ridicule other linguists for their ‘grotesque blunders’. Were these variations caused by an ageing loss of memory, or did Meston set up “Ives” and his vocabulary as a “straw man” to be knocked down? Was he just a convenient fabrication?
Meston’s best explanation of the background of ‘James Ives’ occurs in an article in TheDaily Telegraph (Sydney, 6 November 1915, page 6), which, he said might ‘terminate the discussion on “Ben Buckler”, a placename at Sydney’s Bondi Beach.
In the year 1810 two men named James Ives and Benjamin Buckler left the penal settlement, and went away amongst the blacks of Botany Bay and Port Hacking, south, apparently, as far as Illawarra. There is no evidence to prove they were free men or bond. These men lived with the blacks for ten years, and Ives could speak fluently the language from Illawarra to the Hawkesbury. In 1822, a pamphlet written by Ives (who was an educated man) was published at the Sydney “Gazette” office, and contains the only reliable vocabulary ever written of the aboriginal language from Sydney north and south from the Hawkesbury to the Illawarra. Even over that area there was a common dialect, which differed, however, very considerably in the names of plants and animals. “Ben Buckler,” who was a Yorkshireman, was killed, (according to Ives), on the coast somewhere in the vicinity of Bondi, while standing on the edge of a cliff on a shelf of rock, which collapsed. For many years, it was known as “Ben Buckler’s Leap.”
After stating his arguments against the suggestion that the placename Ben Buckler was ‘a corruption of the native word, “Baalbuckalea”’, advanced by Hugh Wright, the first Mitchell Librarian at Sydney’s Mitchell Library, Meston continues:
It appears that Ives’ pamphlet, which consist of only 24 pages, is extremely rare. A copy was given to me by an old ex-convict 42 years ago, being obtained by him from the house of an officer to whom he was an assigned servant, somewhere on the Hunter River. In my work on the aboriginals, to be completed in about two years hence, the whole of Ives’ pamphlet will be incorporated verbatim. The old man to whom it was given told me very seriously not to part from it, as I would “never see another.”
On 7 July 1916 Archibald Meston penned a letter from Brisbane in reply to one sent by John Anderson Ferguson (1881-1969) on 23 June 1916. There is no record of the original letter from Anderson, who did not list the Ives leaflets in his Bibliography of Australia.
Archibald Meston, letter sent to JA Ferguson, Brisbane, 7 July 1916 MS 3303, National Library of Australia, Canberra
Elizabeth Street, Brisbane J.A. Ferguson Esq
Dear Sir Your letter of 23rd June received today — You evidently refer to the small word [list] written by James Ives & published in 1814. at the “Sydney Gazette” office, a work of 36 pages entitled “Language and some customs of the Botany Bay Black Natives”, a Copy of which was given to me in 1870 by an old ex convict who told me there had been only ten copies printed & that I would have no chance of [page 2] ever seeing another. Is there another copy?
And where? Mine will be incorporated Verbatim in my forthcoming work on the Australian Aboriginals to be published — I hope — in the next two years. Ives pamphlet is the only existing work on the Vocabulary of the old aboriginals from Broken Bay [Botany Bay?] & Illawarra. It is a remarkable work. Ives was evidently an educated man & fortunately spells all his words phonetically. He was Ten years among the blacks. Only two pages are indecipherable. It is printed on very rough paper. Sincerely yours, A. Meston
There was indeed a shortage of printing paper in Sydney in the period 1809-14, when inferior paper stock was imported from China. Some issues of the Sydney Gazette were cancelled and others printed on ragged, coloured paper.
Meston’s proposed book was never published. According to his obituary in the Daily Mail, Brisbane (5 April 1924, page 14):
He had a good knowledge of the different aboriginal dialects, and in years gone by he had made many notes of the meanings of aboriginal words. He claimed to be one of the few white men who had witnessed the “bora” ceremony. He contemplated writing a book on the aboriginals, but like many others, with good intentions let the time slip by and nothing definite was accomplished.
Archibald Meston, who lived from 1851 to 1924, was a fascinating and controversial character : a journalist, poet, explorer, botanist, historian, ethnologist, showman and politician. He was 27 years old when he became a member of the Queensland State Parliament. He was Protector of Aborigines in southern Queensland from 1897 to 1903. Meston had a lifetime interest in the Indigenous people of Australia, particularly those in Queensland, and was familiar with many Aboriginal languages.
Born in Scotland, Meston came to Sydney with his parents in 1859. They settled at Ulmarra on the Clarence River in northern New South Wales. Meston was also a muscular athlete, boxer, crack axeman and rifle shooter and, as he boasted, was skilled at spear-throwing. Tall and wiry, he affected a waxed ‘handlebar’ moustache and dressed like a dandy. He claimed (Sydney Morning Herald, 25 March 1922):
I have been among these [Aboriginal] people since seven years of age, in after years speaking their language, and being initiated in their Bora ceremony. I know all their laws and customs, and am skilled in the use of their weapons.
FROM THE LIPS OF BENNELONG
Bennelong, the Wangal man captured at Manly Cove in 1789 on the orders of Arthur Phillip, first governor of the convict colony of New South Wales, became the major informant of the Sydney coastal language to First Fleet officers.
A vocabulary ‘taken down from the lips of Bennelong’, still exists. He gave the words to master shipwright Daniel Paine, probably during the voyage home from England to Sydney aboard HMS Reliance in 1795. It is held at the National Maritime Museum in Greenwich, UK.
A second Bennelong vocabulary in what Meston called ‘the old Beeal-Beeal dialect of Botany Bay’ [SMH 19 October 1921, page 11] , as well as the Georges River words attributed to ‘Walwarra’, would be a crucial addition to the dozen exisiting Eora wordlists. Who knows what they might contain? Meston said that only 10 copies were printed.
A ‘free man’ named James Ives was appointed a police constable at Liverpool [Sydney Gazette, 3 May, 1832], but was ‘dismissed for improper conduct’ one year later. [Sydney Herald, 20 May 1833]