Source Documents
caswell : aboriginals, port stevens, 1841 

Emily Caswell : Aboriginals at Port Stevens, 1841.

Emily Caswell : Aboriginals at Port Stevens, 19 October 1841.
Quoted in:
Colville, Berres Hoddle : Robert Hoddle, Pioneer Surveyor 1794-1881.
Research Publications, Melbourne 2004, pages 254-256.

In 18xx, Hoddle secured a property, later named Tanilba, on the shores of Port Stevens, north of Newcastle.
Letters to the family in England were by xxx, but in 1840 the task was taken over by her daughter, Emily.

In her second letter, Emily describes the climate, the property, and gives a brief history of their settlement of the district.
She notes the rapid decline in the local indigenous population over the last 30 (?) years-
when we first came, all around the Beach we saw nothing but their Camps and Canoes but now there are not more than a dozen left of our Tribe.

In describing the Aboriginal life, Emily notes that
little children 8 years old swim under the water, in summer they are generally half the day in the sea.


Page 254

We are still living at Tanilba a very pretty place.

Papa has built a very nice house lately containing 7 rooms besides stores and cellars it is situated in the midst of a large garden abounding with every sort of fruit.
In front is the beautiful harbour of Port Stephens - quite on the opposite shore is Carrington belonging to the A. A. Company and Tahlee the residence of the Commissioner.
This village is partially hidden from us by an island.
On each side is a small bay so that we are nearly surrounded by water.
About 20 miles from us is the village of Raymond Terrace.
It is here the steamers from Sydney land their Passengers and goods.
It is very pretty and increasing fast.
A Church and Court House have been lately erected, and as we know some very agreeable families here it is a nice change to ride in
... I have been lately staying at Stroud [with Sarah and her husband?] another small pretty village but this belongs to the Australian Agricul­tural Company.
The houses are all built of brick there and there is also a nice brick Church presented to the Directors of the Company by Sir Edward Parry.

This country is very warm and we are subject to hot winds in summer which is as you may think rather unpleasant.
There are so many fires around us that we

Page 255

feel almost suffocated with the heat.
Imagine yourself in a bark hut with these hot winds blowing through the crevices, nothing but hard salt beef to eat, also Damper a sort of Cake baked in the ashes made of flour and water well kneaded
- Tea boiled in a quart Pot - the gentlemen when they first come to the Country enjoy it and call it rusticating.
In a bachelor's cottage Cups and a Teapot are luxuries seldom known.
The Bedsteads are sheets of Bark hung with the Skin of the Bullock forming a delightful Harbour for smaller insects.
The mosquitoes are so numerous you are obliged to keep fumigating the rooms.
You often see snakes pushing their heads through the slabs and sometimes they get into your bed.
Certainly our hut when we first arrived was better than this - one room was plastered but there was as much mud on the Floor as on the wall.
The bush was so thick you could not go a mile from the house without losing yourself.
When we came first we brought natives to cut the Trees down to allow our Cart to pass
we left at four in the morning and arrived at dark.
Mamma had to wade through a swamp before we got to the hut.
But now we're all quite comfortable and the Country being more populated people on their first arrival do not experience so many difficulties as some years ago.


As the White people increase so the blacks seem to decrease - when we first came, all around the Beach we saw nothing but their Camps and Canoes but now there are not more than a dozen left of our Tribe.
Papa has made one of them a king by giving him a Plate made of Brass which is worn round the neck.
His Majesty often brings us fish and oysters which he sells for a little flour and sugar.
In the fruit season he is particularly gracious to us but in winter he generally honours some Public House with his presence, he indulges himself with any strong drink the people will give him.
He has already distinguished me by the title of Sister.
I of course am sensible of the honour conferred, I cannot of course say anything of King Jimmy's appearance except that it is far from prepossess­ing.
His dress is a blanket thrown over his shoulders coming rather below his knees - if he does get any article of dress given him he seldom keeps it above a week.
The blacks are divided into tribes, each tribe having so much land allotted to them.
They very often fight and after the fight the Victors generally have a Dance or Corroberary.
They light a fire when it is quite dark - the women sing the men dance around.
What they call dancing is little more than jumping up and down throwing their hands about.
They sometimes also imitate the Kangaroo Emu &c.
When a man dies belonging to a tribe they all change their manner [?] and go in mourning rubbing their faces with white clay - they are very superstitious they think when the blacks die they use the expression jump up white' - they suppose we were all blacks once.
They live in camps made by sticking three sticks stuck in the ground and covering them with bark for protection against rain and cold.
The fire is made in front.
They live on fish and oysters, native fruits opossum and sometimes they kill the Kangaroo.
 I cannot say they are very industrious they sleep nearly all the day - they are not as

Page 256

ingenious as the New Zealanders [Maoris], the women make nets to carry their food in.
The men can make hooks out of the oyster shells they also make all their weapons.
In some parts of the Colony they are very savage and destructive but here they are harmless inoffensive people.
The children are rather pretty they have beautiful black eyes and being stout their features do not show.
Little children 8 years old swim under the water, in summer they are generally half the day in the sea.
I must conclude my description of the Natives as my paper is nearly finished.
Tanilba is very pretty but miserably dull - as we have no boat we seldom see any of the Carrington people ...

Colville, Berres Hoddle :

Robert Hoddle, Pioneer Surveyor 1794-1881
Research Publications, Melbourne 2004.

Return to Surfer Bio menu


Geoff Cater (2014) : Emily Caswell : Aboriginals at Port Stevens,1841.