Andrew Petrie's Exploits of the Noosa - Maroochydore Areas

The Courier Friday 10 April 1863


The subjoined memoir has been forwarded to us by our worthy and venerable fellow citizen, Mr. Andrew Petrie, one of the earliest settlers in Moreton Bay. It will be perused with interest, we are sure; and must be regarded as a valuable contribution to contemporary history:-

When I heard the narrative read in your issue of the 14th ultimo, relative to the cannibalism among the aborigines, I thought the following memoranda would not be out of place, should you think them worthy of a space in your valuable journal:

One day in March, 1839, late in the afternoon, I left Brisbane, accompanied by my son John and a boat's crew, in a whale boat, I intended to camp for the night at Luggage Point, which we reached after dark ; but as we were about to land we saw a light on Outer Fisherman's Island. I knew the light was from the blacks fishing there. We made for the island, and arrived there about 10 o'clock that night.

The blacks had about a cartload of mullet lying at their camp on shore. I induced them to go and fish again when the tide answered, which was about 12 o'clock. There were eight or nine fishermen, each tacking his fire stick, and going into the water, and surrounding the school of fish with his tow-row ; at the same time, making a great noise.

One of them caught thirty eight large mullet in one haul of a tow-row, the others had from twenty to thirty each. I salted some of the fish, and filled a small harness cask with them which provisioned our party a fortnight.

I sent the whale boat over to Luggage Point with from ten to twelve bushels of fish, and eight black fellows and their gins, who carried the greater portion of the fish up to the settlement, and divided them among the officers there. The same day I and my party set sail for the north end of Bribie Island, where we arrived on the second day.

On going into the camping ground we were surrounded by between twenty and thirty sharks. The largest ones faced us, and one of them snapped an oar in two. This was in shoal water. We fired several shots into them, but were afraid to waste too much ammunition, as we know that it would be required for the blacks.

We camped on the northern point of the Island that night, and allowed one of the Bribie blacks to camp with us, intending to take him next day to the Mooroocoochie. During the night, however, the fellow absconded, and took one of our blankets with him. We remained a day at that camp to clean our firearms.

When starting for the Mooroocoochie we left the boat in charge of three prisoners of the crown with plenty of rations, firearms and ammunition; and I gave them strict instructions not to let any of the blacks come near them.

I procured a stout Bribie black measuring about 6 feet 2 inches in height, who accompanied us to the river Mooroochedor. We arrived at the mouth of the river a little before sundown-distance traveled about 16 miles-and camped there for the night.

Next day we proceeded to the Bunya Scrub, traveling over a very bad country, and arrived at our destination about two hours before sundown. During that day's traveling we passed a number of blacks digging for roots in the swamps. They followed us and collected all the tribe to surround us. We heard them calling out all around in the bush.

Before we went into the scrub to look for bunya plants I directed one of my men to remain outside to boil a pot of tea, and left the firearms in his charge except a rifle which I carried myself to keep the Bribie black from running away from us. I could see that he was afraid by hearing the blacks calling out all round us, and I had to hit him several times with the muzzle of the rifle before he would find any plants for me.

We were about an hour in the scrub when he bolted from us, pretending that he heard a wallaby which he wanted to kill; and taking this advantage when I was entangled among the lawyer cane.

These prickly canes are very plentiful in the scrub, hanging in all directions from the adjacent trees; and they are properly named "lawyers," for as soon as you got clear of one case another takes hold of you. I could not get my gun leveled in time for him, so could not frighten him into returning. Shortly after this my man outside the scrub fired a gun at the blacks, which made us all leave the scrub as soon as possible.

My son and another man were out some time before I was. The men all appeared to be very much frightened, with the exception of my son John. I told them that the first man I saw show himself a coward that I would shoot him. There were not fewer than one hundred blacks showing out from the bush all round us. Presently three of the boldest of the tribe came straight on towards us. I took my rifle, and accompanied by " Stinking Jack"-my black fellow, I walked to meet them.

Jack and I could see plainly that the three were dragging their spears along the ground between their toes, and they had their waddies and boomerangs in their girdles behind.

One of those three was the only member of the tribe that knew what a gun was, he having been a considerable time with a runaway convict called Black Brown. I made them understand, through my blackfellow, that if they would drop their spears, waddies, and boomerangs, I would drop my gun and meet them; and that if they would not do so, I would shoot them.

The shot that was fired previously passed close by the ear of one of the three, which frightened them a little. After they dropped their arms, I put down my gun and met them. I found that one of these three was the king of the tribe ; his name was Goo-Wa-Boo-Wully, the same blackfellow that was mentioned in the narrative in your issue of the 14th.

They had some fish in their dillies, and gave us a few of them. I told the whole party that I must have some more plants before I left the scrub. I directed my son and two others to take two of these blacks with them to go into the scrub to collect some more plants.

I When they returned, I found that we collected in all about seventy bunya plants; a great number, however, had the tap root broken by the unskilled way that the blacks pulled them out of the ground. I then told the tribe that I would detain the three first blacks as prisoners, and that the sooner we got to the top of the adjoining hill to camp the better.

It was an open forest there, and a place we would be better able to resist the blacks should the tribe meditate an attack. We remained there that night. It was a beautiful clear night, being full moon, which was greatly to our advantage, as the blacks were camped within gunshot all around us.

While we were having our tea, I offered a bit of biscuit to one of the blacks, who was one of the ugliest of the tribe. He smelt it, spit upon it, and threw it away. He looked at me from head to foot. I mentioned to one of the party that I suspected that he was telling one of the other blacks that I would make a good feed for him on the following day, I being the stoutest of the party at that time.

I was right in my conjecture, as I found out from my own blackfellow the next day. I mentioned to one of my party, Richard Jones, that I had never seen a blackfellow that I would like better to shoot than that, fellow, Jones made answer- " For God's sake, do not shoot him, Mr. Petrie !"

The countenance of this black fellow was not made to laugh, because when he tried to do so, his face was so much distorted, and his mouth so large that he was almost hideous to behold. I had the curiosity to lay my rule across his mouth, found it to measure four and a half inches. This act annoyed him very much. He gave me another look, and as soon as his eye caught mine I gave him a piercing look in return, at the same time pointing to my gun, and making him understand that I would shoot him - which frightened him.

Between nine and ten o'clock that night Goo-Wa-Boo-Wully asked me if I would allow him to go, and he would build a canoe for me to take the party across the river, which would save us a day's journey over a very bad road. I told him that he could go, but that I would keep the other two with me.

But he said if I would let the ugly-looking black go with him, he would repair another canoe for the rest of the party, and that they would have both canoes ready for us by sunrise next morning. Shortly after the two blacks left us, I heard one of our party saying to another that it was wrong of Mr. Petrie to let them go, as they were sure to surround and kill us all, I let them know that if I saw the least symptoms of cowardice in my party, I would shoot the man who showed it.

Next morning, the black that I detained conducted us to the crossing place appointed by Goo-Wa-Boo-Wully. We arrived there between seven and eight o'clock, and found them with a splendid new bark canoe, lined with ten tree bark, with cane gunwales and thwarts.

This was expressly built for my son and me. The other canoe was an old one which had been repaired for the rest of the party. I told my son if he was afraid to remain until the canoe would return, that I would stop and let him go first. But he told me that he was not the least afraid, that " Stinking Jack" and himself would remain.

When I was about half-way across there were not less than fifty to sixty blacks close round them. As soon as I saw the blacks surrounding them, I called out to my son, and asked him if I should come back. I made Goo-Wa- Boo-Wully understood that he was my son, and that if they did him any injury, I would shoot them all. He called out to the tribe not to touch either my son or Jack, which they obeyed. The black that was with my son " turned as pale as death with fright."

After I landed from the canoe I saw a solitary pelican swimming the river a distance of about 250 yards from where I stood, my rifle was loaded for 300 yards. I fired, and the ball struck the water one or two yards from the pelican, and then slightly wounded the bird, This astonished the blacks amazingly. They called out to show them more.

I reloaded for the same distance. Two ducks were swimming up the river. I fired at them, and the ball struck the water right between them. The wind of the ball caused them to rise about one foot out of water and drop again, and the ball skipped along the surface of the water for a considerable distance beyond the ducks, which astonished the blacks more.

After my son arrived I gave Goo-Wa-Boo-Wully something to eat; but before he would eat anything he wished to exchange names with, me, which was done by each of us placing our forefinger on the point of his nose, and calling out the others name. While I had my finger on my nose, I said " My name is Goo-Wa-Boo-Wully ;" and he called himself Mr. Petrie, by which name he was known until his death.

At the same time he asked me if I would allow him and some of his friends to come and see me at the settlement. I told him that he could come and bring as many friends along with him as he wished. His answer was that he would come in two or three moons. After this was over the rest of the blacks wished to get across and asked if I would allow them to come.

I told Goo-Wa-Boo-Wully that twenty or thirty could come, showing him numbers by counting on my fingers. During the time they were crossing I was taking a sketch of the river, and when using the Kater's compass I put it on a stand that I had for it. When they saw the card revolving they all jumped back instantaneously, thinking it was something endowed with life; not one of them would touch it, except Goo-Wa-Boo-Wully.

After that I found that Bracefield, a runaway convict, was with a tribe about thirty miles north, and as there was one of his tribe among the rest of the blacks I wrote a note to him, and told a black that it would let Bracefield know what I said.

The black would not touch the letter, but got one of the other blacks to tie a string of grass round it, and he carried the note, holding the grass between his fingers; but he only carried it to the first camp, which was distant about two miles, and, singular to say, it reached Bracefield about four or five weeks after I had written it.

Between two and three years subsequently I look this man from the blacks. He had been about eleven years among them, and was one of the principal parties who assisted to rescue Mrs. Frazer from them.

We camped the next day and night near the mouth of the Mooroochedor, and let Goo-Wa-Boo-Wully and one or two of his friends camp with us. During the afternoon one of the blacks informed me that the blacks that bolted from us would report to the Bribie blacks that we were killed, and said that the Bribie blacks would then kill the three men that we left in charge of the boat at Bribie Island, and take the rations and boat.

We started for Bribie Island next morning, and after crossing the Mooloola River, my black boy and I left the party and traveled down the right bank of the Mooloola to its mouth for the purpose of taking a sketch of the coastline and the harbour of Mooloola. I was informed in 1837 by one of the runaway prisoners that pearl oysters were found there, and when traveling down the bank I picked up a mother of pearl shell of very large size with seven indents in it from one-eighth up to three-eights of an inch in diameter. At the same time the black boy pointed out a number of prints of blacks' feet.

We left the river and went on to a bluff point on the coast, where I took a few fixed points for the purpose of laying down the mouth of Mooloola on Dixon's chart. I knew then that it would be a safe harbour for small vessels to run into. I was above an hour on this point, and during the greater part of the time the black boy annoyed me very much by saying that the blacks would be on us directly.

He showed me the blacks coming towards us and cried, saying they would kill and eat us. I had one more sight to take, which I took, and was looking through Kuter's compass, taking a bearing in the same direction as they stood from me.

They remained steadfast, until I was packing up. Then they came within about twenty yards of us; there were about twenty blacks in all. Those in front had from three to four spears each besides boomerangs and waddies. During this time the black boy caught hold of me and cried out for us to run.

I took the affair quite coolly, though the blacks were still approaching us. When they were within twenty yards I presented my rifle at them, which had the desired effect, and kept them back for some time, while we proceeded on our way. We had not, however, gone fifty yards when the black boy perceived them coming at a quick pace. I immediately turned round and presented my rifle to them; they again stood still.

They followed us for about a mile and-a-half. I had repeatedly to do the same thing. My mind was made up not to fire at them until they reached within spear shot. I could have made sure of killing one or more with one shot, I never attempted to run, or they would have run after us and speared us at once. The rest of my party were about four miles ahead of us. The beach was very difficult to walk on, at the same time having a heavy load to carry in my knapsack. We arrived at the boat some time after sundown.

There were about a hundred and fifty natives surrounding the boat when we got there. Had we been an hour later, the three men left in charge of the boat would have been killed; because the blackfellow that bolted from us at the Mooroocoochie reported to the Bribie tribe that we should all be murdered by the Mooroocoochie blacks, and the Bribie tribe had therefore made up their minds to kill the three men that night, and take the boat and rations.

So soon as the blacks heard us calling for the boat they dispersed. Then the three men came across the passage with the boat to meet us, and I must say that I never saw three men more frightened than they were, for they knew their fate was certain that night.

I told them that they deserved to be speared because they had plenty of firearms and ammunition, and should have been able to resist the blacks. They had lost all courage because they could not go beyond the range of spear shot. They were never allowed to go ashore from the boat all the time I was absent.

We had a pot of tea and something to eat, and I subsequently ascertained from one of my own blacks that the Bribie tribe had bolted about four miles up the passage to their camp. I told four of the party and one blackfellow to come along with me in the boat, and to muffle the oars when we came within a mile of the camp.

We arrived there about ten o'clock, and heard a rushing noise; we fired two shots in the direction whence it proceeded. My blackfellow, one white man and myself, landed and searched all the camp, and found that the tribe had just left. We fired two more shots to frighten them, and it being a quiet night the sound went a long distance. After that we returned to our camp.

Next morning we had breakfast at daybreak. I found out from one of our blacks where a number of the Bribie blacks were camped in the bush. Three men, a blackfellow, and myself, went in search of them, and found a number of them, but could not get within gunshot. I saw the black that stole our blanket the first night that we camped on the island.

I followed him through an open forest about a mile and a half. When I got within two hundred yards of him I presented my rifle, but as soon as he saw me do that he sprang behind a tree, showing his head and shoulders only. I fired, and the ball was buried in the tree that he was behind, which struck terror into him.

After that the tribe told our blackfellow that they would deliver up our blanket and the other articles that were stolen from us. They brought them back, and laid them on the beach beyond the range of gunshot from us. Before leaving Bribie Island we secured all the bunya plants in a water- tight case, with a glass top. Next day we proceeded towards Brisbane, and arrived there all in good health.

Goo-Wa-Boo-Wully kept his appointment and brought about a hundred blacks with him from various tribes. Only about fifty of them would come near the settlement; a few of them came with Goo-Wa-Boo-Wully to my present residence, and most singular to say, during the time I was conversing with them through one of the Moreton Bay blacks, as interpreter, the steamer Sophia Jane came up the river.

When the natives saw the black smoke issuing from the funnel a great number of them bolted. With a good deal of persuasion I got about thirty of them to remain until the steamer came round Kangaroo Point; and as soon as they saw the paddle wheels in motion they all took to the bush, except Goo-Wa-Boo-Wully and five or six of his friends.

It was interesting to hear the various ideas the blacks had concerning the steamer. None of them had seen the habitations of white men before; and this, further, I may mention that Goo-Wa-Boo-Wully was the means of saving the lives of two or three white men since I first saw him.

The steamer Sophia Jane was the first steamer that ever floated on the Australian waters. Her trip to Moreton Bay was to take away all the prisoners, male and female, from the penal settlement.

There never was a more heterogeneous cargo of live stock taken from any port- the commandant and his family, also nearly all the male and female prisoners, together with the flagellator, and every animal that the colony produced after its kind.

- Andrew Petrie