Voyage of the RATTLESNAKE 1852

Southport Visiter, March 12th 1852

Voyage of the RATTLESNAKE,

A startling incident occurred to break the monotony of our stay at Cape York. In the afternoon some of our people went ashore and were surprised to see a white woman come up to claim their protection from a party of natives from which she had recently made her escape, and who, she thought would otherwise bring her back. Of course she received every attention, and was taken on board the ship by the first boat, when she told her story as follows:-

In brief, her name was Barbara THOMSON, and she was born in Aberdeen, Scotland, and along with her parents, emigrated to New South Wales.

About four and a half years ago she left Moreton Bay with her husband in a small cutter [called the AMERICA] of which he was the owner, for the purpose of picking up the oil from the wreck of a whaler, lost in Brampton Shoal, to which one of her late crew undertook to guide them, their ultimate intention to go to Port Essington.

The pilot was unable to find the wreck, in the consequence of quarrelling on board by the loss of two men by drowning and another left on an uninhabited island, they made their way up the Torres Straits, where during a gale their vessel struck a reef on the Eastern Prince of Wales Island.

The two remaining men were lost trying to swim ashore, and the woman was rescued by the natives on a turtling excursion.

One of the natives BOROTO, took possession of the woman as his share of the plunder and she was compelled to live with him, the men treated her well, but the women jealous of the attention given her evinced anything but kindness.

A curious circumstance secured for her the protection of one of the principal men of the tribe. The person, named, PLAQUAI, acting on the belief that white people are the ghosts of the Aborigines, fancied that in the stranger he recognised a long lost daughter by the name of GILOM and she was immediately recognised by the tribe as one of themselves.

From the headquarters of the tribe, an island which all vessels passing through Torres Straits from the eastward must approach within 2/3miles, she had the mortification of seeing 20-30 or more ships go through every summer, without anchoring in the neighbourhood, so as to afford the slightest opportunity to escape.

Last year she heard of our two vessels, being in Cape York, only 2miles distant, from some of the tribe who had communicated with us and been well treated, but they would not take her over and even watched her more narrowly than before.

On our second and present visit however, which the Cape York people immediately announced by smoke signals to their friends in Muralang, she was successful in persuading some of her immediate friends to bring her across to the mainland, a short distance to where the vessels lay. Her native friends believed she had been with them so long, she would not leave, and only felt a strong desire to see white people once more, and that she would be certain to procure some axes, knives, tobacco and other much prized articles.

After landing at Sandy Bay on the western side of Cape York, she hurried to Evan’s Bay. She was asked by Capt STANLEY whether she preferred to stay with us or return with her native friends.

She replied, “Sir I am a Christian and would rather go back to my own friends.”

Capt STANLEY provided her with a cabin and a seat at his table, and medical attention, which very soon restored her health, and she was eventually handed to her parents in Sydney.


Copyright 2002 / To date