aboriginals, port stevens, 1841
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,
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
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 thatlittle
children 8 years old swim under the water, in summer they
are generally half the day in the sea.
EMILY'S LETTERS: CASWELL FINALE
... 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.2
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
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
feel almost suffocated with the
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
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
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,