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Andrew Petrie's Exploration of Fraser Island & Mary River

The Courier Monday 14 March 1892

The Runaway Convict Bracefield

Mr. Petrie of course knew that during the early days many convicts had escaped to the bush, and had apparently become possessed of the knowledge that somewhere in the vicinity one of these unfortunates named Bracefield had taken up his abode. At any rate, on the next day he was led to make inquiries, and as the result of these he discovered that a white man known to the blacks by the name of Wandie was with a tribe a few miles off.

This personage -an acquaintance with whom Mr. Petrie was anxious to obtain, since it was generally admitted that from their connection with the blacks such men were most valuable guides did not, however, turn up during that day, and Mr. Petrie conceived the idea of writing a note to him in English. This he gave to the blacks to hand to Wandie, which they did.

On receiving this message Wandie, though unable to read it, understood sufficiently that a white man was about, and accordingly set out with the blacks who had borne to him the message. On meeting with Mr. Petrie he was greatly pleased, while Mr. Petrie was as much surprised to find in Wandie the convict Bracefield he had heard of.

It will be necessary at this point to state that Bracefield, like Baker and many others, had absconded from the oppressive rule of Captain Logan shortly after that Commandant's arrival at the Settlement, and at the time of his escape he was a member of the chain gang.

When he had to some extent regained his mother tongue he was profuse in his thanks for his deliverance, but at intervals he would become despondent and terrified. These fits were noticeable only when the Settlement was mentioned and the memory of his treatment there evidently dawned upon him ; indeed some difficulty was at the last moment experienced in persuading him to leave the blacks.

Even when assured that to return would be to his advantage he treated the advice with some degree of hesitancy, but when he did yield he according to Mr. Russell said 'he would work his very best" if the Commandant would not flog him.

Wandie, or Bracefield we will now call him, received kindly attention at the hands of the party, and having been washed, fed, and decked out in odd raiment he became more reconciled. The next day he embarked with his deliverers.

The first place touched at after this incident was a prominent headland where it was supposed Brown, a mate of the ill-fated ship Stirling Castle, had been butchered by the blacks, and in view of this supposition Mr. Petrie called the place Brown's Cape.

This spot is now marked on the map " Double Island Point." Here the same difficulty experienced in landing at Bracefield Cape presented itself, though after they had by strenuous efforts reached the beach they discovered an excellent boat harbour. This was their camping ground for the night.

The following morning they came across a black fellow who, through Bracefield, informed the party that he could direct them to a large river. He was persuaded to accompany them, and by nightfall they had made Fraser Island, where they lay to all night.

Under the pilotage of the native they next day cruised about in the hope of finding the river hinted at by their dusky guide and Bracefield. Weary with their fruitless search, on darkness coming on they had to again rest off Fraser's Island. With the break of day they undauntedly resumed their search and cruised about only to once more find themselves some hours later at the place from which they had started.

Observing fires on the island Mr. Petrie determined to set out for them in the hope of getting information. Mr. Petrie was accompanied by Mr. Jolliffe, while the others, with the exception of Mr. Russell, went in search of water.

The Amateur Master Mariner

To Mr. Russell fell the unenviable lot of watching the boat. How he enjoyed the position of temporary master mariner can best be described in his own words. "Behind me," he says, " was an old camp ; before me the opposite shore-about a mile.

A long wash up the deep shelf kept me on the alert to keep the boat off. I suddenly saw a canoe shoot away from the point over the way full of men. While intent upon their movements a heave brought the boat broadside on almost to my very feet, leaving her to turn herself over upon her keel.

I had the satisfaction of seeing all effects not made fast-guns, my own carbine, and some bedding-quickly subside. What could did float about in a most irritating manner. The powder was in water-tight cases. The next wash helped her off again, and having kedged her out by the stern, I had the pleasant work of picking up the bits. By this time the canoe, paddled by two men standing, was half way across.

Feeling bound to salute I seized the only unloaded weapon I could find, an old Government flint musket, a veritable 'Brown Bess.' Wishing to make a noise I dosed the old thing with unreasonable charge (the other firearms wore loaded, but had been some while under water, and that was inconvenient), rammed home an old-fashioned ball, and having filled a ' pan' big enough to hold a ' peck' of priming, let fly in the direction of the attacking force, while I, to my consternation, flew in the other, and had to pick myself out of a comfortable sand fauteuil into which 'Bess' had blown me.

The ball played ducks and drakes over the water, and my friends sheered off to the left until I lost sight of them behind a sandy point beyond which they were intending to land. Unable to see any of my party returning it was, it seemed, time to take care of myself. Having given ' Bess' a second, but less unreasonable, charge, all that remained was to sit quiet, watch, and wait.

In about a quarter of an hour the first of about a dozen blacks, walking in single file, appeared round the point. They appeared to be unarmed, but on looking through my glass I detected their spears, which they were dragging on the sand by the end jammed in between two toes. When I rose and took 'Bess' in my hand they suddenly and simultaneously picked up the spears, and having stuck them upright into the sand advanced, holding up the right hand. Of course I had to follow suit, and went to meet them in the same confidence. I didn't like it, though.

When within a dozen yards I ' squatted' again, and having some cigars, fortunately, lit one and smoked, made signs to the leader to do the same, which he and the rest at once did; and having stuck a weed into his mouth told him by signs to suck, which he did with such energy that, with one choking gasp, cigar, smoke, and never mind, was propelled nearly into my own face. However, he seemed to like it, for he tried a second time, and took to it like a baby.

No one coming back yet? What on earth shall I do to keep them distrait ? Happy thought ! When I was leaving England the streets of London resounded with the popular song fathered upon ' Jack Shepherd' of highway repute. Dinned into one's ears at every corner and at every turning it was not surprising that the jerky air to which the words had been set should have taken hold of one's retentive faculty.

So at the top of my voice, which I hoped might reach the ears of some of my returning companions, I gave them in all solemnity-unfeigned assuredly-the first part of ' In a box of the stone jug I was born-take away !' and, on arriving at that impressive chorus, 'Nix, my Dolly, palls!' it struck me that it might be suitable to imitate their corroboree-action, and set to work to slap my own thighs with undesirable vigour.

At once they did the same. The ‘flat' sound almost made me deaf to further theatricals on the part of some fifty more vagabonds, who had been at hand all the while in the scrub behind me. But for my ' funk' I could have roared at the sight of some sixty native humanities so gravely and earnestly occupied on their own-counters. We kept it up, both sides, I have little doubt, thinking ' "What shall be done next ?' when to my gladdened sight hove the rest of my associates -whom, it had suddenly struck me, these rascals might have knocked on the head, and I only remained to be disposed of."

Discovery of the River Mary

But to follow Mr. Petrie and his companion. After traversing some distance they found the blacks' camp, but could gain no intelligible information, while the efforts of Mr. Wrietesley's party to persuade a black to accompany them proved equally unsuccessful-a failure Mr. Petrie facetiously attributed to Mr. Wrietesley's red shirt ! However, they again got afloat, and at sundown had the satisfaction of reaching the mouth of the river they had been looking for, and which some years later was named the Mary in honour of Lady Fitzroy.

The party, as may be expected, were glad to camp here for the night. Before leaving the next day Mr. Petrie had obtained several new specimens of timber, Kauri among the number. On the 11th, 12th, and 13th of May the party traversed the waters of the river until they were brought to a standstill by rocks and shingle beds. Having discovered so important a stream Mr. Petrie was naturally desirous of leaning something of the land on its banks and in the interior.

In the hope of gaining information on this point Bracefield, stripped and looking every inch an aboriginal, was twice sent out to find natives to assist them, but was unsuccessful. On a third occasion he came across a large camp, but owing to the numbers of the inhabitants he did not deem it advisable to make his presence known without first informing Mr. Petrie.

Accordingly he returned to the boat, and reported what he had seen. The whole party became anxious to accompany Bracefield on the next trip, but this he declined to allow or at any rate he explained that to pursue such a course meant to run unnecessary risk-and in deference to his wish two of the boat's crew who offered their services were armed and alone allowed to follow Bracefield.

On nearing the camp Bracefield placed his two companions in ambush, and, this accomplished, he, armed with a spear, stealthily drew near to the assembled blacks. On a favourable opportunity presenting itself he bounced in among them waving his arms, and, gesticulating wildly, cried, " Wandie, Wandie." Great was the consternation of the natives, some of whom rushed wildly for their weapons while others, almost too frightened for anything, plunged into the scrub. This exodus had the effect of bringing Bracefield's two friends from their hiding not a little astonished at the nature of their disturbance.

The Finding of James Davis or Duramboi

From the attitude of the blacks it is difficult to say what would have happened had not a man, apparently an aboriginal (who at the time of the disturbance was standing some distance away), rushed frantically at Bracefield, and then to the two white men.

Bracefield, too, by this time had become as greatly astonished as everyone also, for he recognised in the tall man a convict who had worked with him in the chain gang during Logan's time.

It afterwards transpired that during his visit to Fraser's Island Bracefield had, while in conversation with the natives, heard that a white man was with the blacks in the interior; but he had thought no more of it, and had not considered it necessary to inform Mr. Petrie. Having by signs and gestures learned something of the object of the white men's visit he turned to Bracefield. The pair were soon engrossed in conversation carried on in the native tongue, for the strange man of the woods had forgotten his own.

The blacks in the meantime became disquieted, and their attitude towards the two knee-trembling companions of Bracefield was anything but comforting. The dusky warriors were, however, soon brought under control, and after a good deal of trouble, owing chiefly to the difficulty experienced in persuading the newly found convict that the Settlement was not still the place of torment he had known it to be, he was prevailed upon to accompany Bracefield to Mr. Petrie.

As may be expected, Mr. Petrie was somewhat astonished on seeing the latest addition to the camp, who had been known by the blacks as Duramboi, but whoso real name was James Davis. His body, by the number of bruises on it, bore evidence of rough life, and on the whole, we are assured, his appearance was by no means pleasing to the eye, and even after he had been arrayed in a few spare clothes it was not materially improved.

Mr. Petrie, of course, counseled Duramboi to return to the Settlement, but he, as Wandie had done, seemed to have doubts as to the advisableness of pursuing such a course, and even accused Bracefield of having led an expedition formed to capture him and others.

At length, however, he gave in, but asked to be allowed to return to his black friends to say goodbye and to prevent their attacking the white camp, which he feared they would do. Permission was accorded him, and after his departure Mr. Petrie, considering an attack quite within the bounds of possibility, decided that they would sleep in the boat. The precautionary measures were quite unnecessary, for not a native was either seen or heard during the night.

- J. J. Knight